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5 Great Studio Monitors & Speakers Under $500: Reviews 2017
Five Good, Cheap Studio Monitors
Having spent a lot of time recording music both at home and in the studio, I can tell you that monitors make a big difference in the quality of your mixes. A good set of speakers lets the true tone of your recordings shine through clearly and let you mix to perfection. Finding the best studio monitors under $500 can be a bit tricky. With a limited budget, you need to choose a brand and model a bit more carefully.
In a perfect world, the best cheap studio monitors will accurately reproduce your recordings and let you optimize the mixing and levels for the widest variety of speakers and devices, so you're sure it will sound good wherever it's played. They need to be accurate, clear and noise free, with a wide frequency response. They also have to be well balanced, so your bass doesn't overpower the mix.
This article will feature five of the best studio monitors under $500, and we'll be reviewing each one in detail to give you the upsides and potential downsides before you dive in. With each item we review, I'll explain what kind of studio setup it would work best with. We'll also touch on some 'must have' features that a good cheap set of studio monitors ought to have. Let's get started!
'Must Haves' for Affordable Studio Monitors
What a good inexpensive studio monitoring set should do
When you're after the best studio monitors under $500, don't let that make you believe you need to compromise too much. There are actually a lot of decent options in this range, and depending on your needs you'll probably be very happy at even a fraction of that cost. That said, be a careful shopper. Here are a few things that I'd consider to be musts with any set of cheap studio monitors.
- Wide Frequency Range:
Most cheap studio monitors under $500 will advertise themselves as having a huge frequency range, but it doesn't always turn out as advertised. The best way to get an indication of the range is from unbiased customer reviews. Another good indication is whether or not the speaker has multiple drivers. In any event, monitors in this price range should be able to handle highs and lows fairly well, or they're not worth your time.
- Neutral, Balanced Sound:
Another somewhat intangible thing is sound neutrality. The best studio monitor speakers below $500 will exhibit a neutral, color-free sound quality. That doesn't mean the sound lacks vibrance, it just means it's not slanted towards a particular frequency or type of music. A set of monitors that's bass focused isn't always great, since the low end can muddy up the whole mix and give a skewed perspective. Again, customer reviews are the best indicator of sound neutrality.
- Magnetic Shielding:
If you're planning on using your monitors near your computer setup (as most recording studios do), you'll want to make sure they're magnetically shielded. Even inexpensive studio monitors below $500 can come with some pretty large drivers, and strong magnets can wreak havoc on your computer and storage. Shielded monitors prevent this. If there's any concern with monitors and computer proximity, I'll be sure to mention it in the individual reviews below.
M-Audio Studiophile: A Cheap Set of Studio Monitors Below $500
M-Audio is a company owned by Avid, and it is heavily invested in the studio recording business. These speakers are expressly built as good, cheap studio monitor speakers, and they bring a lot to the table.
The four inch polypropylene woofer and 1" tweeter combination that the AV 40 uses result in a great frequency range and clarity. The cabinet is solid MDF vinyl coated construction, which I always like for sound vibrance. There are 1/4" and RCA unbalanced inputs, so if you use 1/8" or something else you'll need an adaptor.
Overall these are among the best cheap studio monitor speakers on the market, and they'll provide a nice sound quality and neutral tone to your workstation while you're mixing it all together. With a good, neutral mix of lows, mids and highs, and magnetic shielding for use near your computer, this is one of my top recommendations.
Akai: Production Studio Monitors with Built-In Digital Audio Interface
When you record music or vocals onto a computer, most of the time you're going to be using a digital audio interface to communicate between the speakers and your recording software.
This is one of the best studio monitors under $500, and what's more it includes an audio interface built in! This helps you save desk space and keeps expense low, with one less thing to have to buy.
As speakers, these Akai studio monitors are cheap and offer a great sound quality. One thing you'll notice is they're lightweight and portably small, so you don't have to worry about a cluttered desktop. They look great and provide even tone and crystal clear sound reproduction that will surprise you considering how small they are.
The audio interface is a bit limited with only a couple of inputs, but it's great for the solo artist looking to record with a single mic or guitar. If you need more inputs, you can always get an external audio interface; these cheap studio monitors will work great with other interfaces as well.
Behringer TRUTH: Good, Inexpensive Active 2-Way Studio Monitors
Behringer came onto the market as a lower priced alternative to the more expensive brands out there, and they consistently produce excellent equipment for any studio on a budget.
These are some of the best studio monitors under $500 because they're affordable yet highly usable and have a big sound. With a high frequency tweeter and a huge 6 and three quarter inch woofer, the frequency range is huge and well defined. There are built in amplifiers so you won't need an external one, and you'll be amazed by how loud these little speakers can go.
This set of studio monitor speakers comes with 1/4" and XLR inputs, and the sound quality shines. It's a little weaker in the extreme low end, but I actually prefer it that way, for a more 'balanced' mix and neutrality when I'm putting something together.
The speaker cabinets themselves are heavier than you'd expect (a positive thing for sound and vibration isolation), and overall they're a great option for a recording studio with a limited budget but big sound requirements.
KRK Rokit: Powered Studio Monitor Speakers With Stands
First off, KRK is one of my favorites for studio monitoring (both for speakers and headphones). These speakers are among the best cheap studio monitors around for this price range, and they will not disappoint.
KRK is all about the well thought out design. The tweeters, for example, are recessed, which is more than just a stylistic choice, as it's optimized for directing away from the housing so nothing gets lost. There are tons of input options on the speaker, including XLR and the standard quarter inch input.
These inexpensive studio monitor speakers are also intended specifically for studio purposes, and they're built to replicate the sound exactly as it was recorded. Coloration or a muddled frequency response are not issues here. The Rokit 5's are the smallest of the series, but they're good for big sound despite being diminutive. They're amplified too, and each driver is individually powered.
And the bonus? These are great studio monitor speakers well below $500, and they come with XLR cables and two stands so you can place them wherever you need.
Yamaha HS5: Among the Best Studio Reference Monitors for the Money
Yamaha is a big player in the recording studio business, and their speakers can run to be pretty costly. They're generally worth every penny, however, and they sound great and last forever. This is a set of studio monitors for just under $500. They're ordinarily a lot closer to a thousand, so it's a pretty deep discount.
With 8" cones, 1" tweeters and 120 watts of amplified power, these create a huge and gorgeous sound for their size. They really are fantastic reference monitors because they're tuned to reproduce your exact recording mix more accurately than most of the competition.
They work well at all output levels too, so they're awesome for filling the room with sound, or for lower volumes with just a single mixer sitting at the workstation. Great bass and high frequency response mean you'll be pleased no matter what kind of music you're dealing with.
Read the customer reviews for a look at the cult following these surprisingly affordable studio monitor speakers have.
Putting Together a Home Studio?
If you're researching a set of affordable studio monitors, I'm guessing that you're planning to do some home recording. Whether you're improving your current setup or starting from scratch, I hope you'll browse my other articles, as I've written a number of pieces on the topic, focused primarily on beginner level stuff and inexpensive gear.