If you’ve ever tried mixing something you recorded at home on computer speakers, your stereo speakers, or even headphones, you know that it’s nearly impossible to get a great, objective sense of the mix. So having the right monitors is essential to any recording setup.
I have known some artists that record and pre-mix their tracks exclusively in headphones, but this is an unideal long-term solution, especially for artists who record often. Headphones color the sound so that it always sounds good in order to sell more headphones, but studio monitors are designed to give you a more unbiased the sound and a more accurate impression of the mix.
While many pro studios spend tens of thousands on high-end monitors (and believe me, they do it because it’s just that important), you won’t need to spend that much for a decent pair. Read on to find some great options at different price levels, and if you’re looking for more tips for putting together your home studio on a budget, visit the other articles in our ongoing Beginner’s Home Studio Guide series.
Full disclosure: I actually own a pair of these. In fact, they’ve been a mainstay of my studio for the last 10 years. They’re reliable, durable (they’ve survived several moves), and most of all, they give me an accurate sound when mixing.
The Yamaha HS8 is considered by many to be a “pro-level” monitor, able to give a producer great sound in any room. There’s also something to be said about the price; at $350 a pair, they’re probably not going to break the bank (6.6″ and 5″ speaker cone options are also available for just a bit less). In fact, they’re among the highest quality options at the lowest price point.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “How to Choose a DAW: 7 of the Best DAWs for Every Musical Need”
Mackie HR 824mk2
If you’re privy to conversations happening in the pro-audio engineering world, you’ll already have heard of Mackie. They’re another solid brand with a great reputation. But that name comes with a slightly heftier price tag of around $700 for this set. Yet, inarguably, that price is also well worth it for the clarity of sound that the HR 824s provide.
The Zero Edge baffle design allows each section of the mix (highs, mids, and lows) to be heard with minimal distortion. It includes low-frequency response controls that allow the monitors to be adjusted to fit any room or scenario. It’s available for a bit cheaper in a 6” model.
+ Learn more on Soundfly: Master essential techniques of recording and premixing a high-quality demo at home and on a budget with our free course Demo Recording 101.
Like the two other brands mentioned, Genelec is also a staple brand in many recording studios today. Its typical line is very pricey, but this nice little model was released as the company’s attempt to balance high-end performance with affordability. It has a number of great features, including the ability to automatically power off if there isn’t a signal, a bevy of useful inputs in the back to accommodate more complex studio needs, and a switchable filter.
Also, like the other models listed, the M040 has the versatility to work in many different room sizes and setups. But be prepared to shell out a bit more because these babies will set you back around $900.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “Essential Tips for Recording Pro-Quality Vocals”
Once you’ve set them up, I recommend spending some time listening to professional mixes through your new monitors. This will help you get an idea of the little quirks and intricacies of your particular model. This will also let you know how good, radio-quality mixes are supposed to sound through your system and give you a target to aim for when mixing.
I also recommend not placing your monitors directly on a desk. Vibrations through the desk and off the wall can cause sound reflections which affect the accuracy of the sound coming from the speaker. Setting up some simple foam panels around the room will also help to minimize reflections, but don’t worry, I’ll cover that in a future article!
Ideally, you’re going to want to either wall-mount the monitor speakers or mount them on their own stands on either side of your workstation. Always set them up at about ear height and angled just a bit towards your head. I use stands similar to the DR Pro wood studio monitor stands, and they’ve worked well for me. If you don’t have the room for speaker stands, don’t worry — buying a monitor isolation pad (basically just a shaped piece of foam) and putting it underneath the monitors, between them and the desk, can be a great workaround.
It’s important to pick the right monitors for your studio, and these are only a few suggestions, but there are a ton of options at every price point. The sound of your monitors should reflect the types of projects you’re recording, so I recommend visiting a high-end music store (many will have a pro-audio room) and auditioning monitors to see which ones fit your needs the best. But it’s important to remember that you don’t need top-of-the-line speakers to get a great sound.
In fact, YouTube superstar Andrew Huang created his entire course Making Music From Everyday Items with an incredibly simple and, for the most part, low-cost studio setup. Also, he made an entire song with a kitchen pot.