Budget Studio Monitors: Good Enough or Keep Saving?

Maybe you’ve already had a look through our range of studio monitors and noticed that, while a lot of models look virtually identical, there can be a pretty big difference in price. The question is: is it actually worth saving up for a more expensive set of monitors? Especially when there are models that seem to have the same list of specifications but come at a cheaper price. Here, we separate the trees from the woods.

Why Bother with Studio Monitors?

Before we get stuck in, it’s maybe worth saying why you would even bother with studio monitors in the first place. The truth is that studio monitors are better at telling you the truth, because they give you a more honest and neutral view of the sound of your mix. Normal stereo hi-fi speakers might sound warmer and more pleasant, but they’re actually designed to enhance the audio image simply because they’re all about the best listening experience – which is not actually what you want when you’re mixing a track. When mixing, you need to be hearing everything through a completely neutral system, this way you can hear everything as it actually is and, once your mix is done, it’ll also sound reasonably accurate when played through the thousands upon thousands of different kinds of speakers and hi-fi systems that are out there in the world.

If you need something to compare it to, imagine that you suck at playing darts but still want to at least hit the dartboard. In that case, you’re better off aiming for the bullseye rather than at the doubles. The same kind of concept applies to studio monitors. Hi-fi speakers sit on the edges of our ‘sonic dartboard’ since they fill the sound in with their own colour, while studio monitors sit right on the bullseye. Because you’re aiming for that central, average point, your mix is far more likely to sound good on an array of different speakers.

Different Speakers

There are four different types of speaker (according to this blog):

  • Affordable hi-fi speakers
  • Affordable studio monitors
  • Studio monitors that lie outside of your budget
  • Bad monitors

Affordable Hi-Fi Speakers

Affordable hi-fi speakers (so normal speakers that are designed for your living room) are affordable and often offer quite a lot for relatively little money. To compare: for around £200 you can pick up a decent studio monitor with a six inch woofer and a tweeter, but for the same price you could easily pick up a set of two hi-fi tower speakers with two eight inch woofers, a four inch mid speaker and a tweeter. It’s not that strange to go for speakers like this, especially if you’re listening to music with a lot of depth (for example, music that reaches the 30 Hertz mark, like the double basses of an orchestra).

Not Recommended

For casual listening, you can’t go wrong with a good set of hi-fi speakers. But mixing through a set of hi-fi speakers just isn’t recommended. As soon as someone hears them through a set of studio monitors, they’ll notice that the mid-range frequencies between the 500 and 1,500 Hertz mark sound a bit thin, or that the high-end in the drums sound overbearing, especially the cymbals and snare. Basically it’ll sound like you boosted the 5,000 Hertz range through the roof, all because you mixed your track through a set of speakers that simply aren’t honest.

Does this mean that hi-fi speakers have no place in the studio? Not strictly, no. If you’re spending weeks upon weeks composing and arranging, then sometimes it’s better done with the help of hi-fi speakers. And if you’re writing something big, then feel free to grab a pair of tower stereo speakers. But as soon as you get to the mixing phase – and definitely the mastering phase – then you really need to do it with the help of some studio monitors.

Budget Studio Monitors: Good Enough or Keep Saving?

Affordable Studio Monitors

In terms of cost, a set of affordable studio monitors can be a great idea, and luckily, there are plenty to choose from. Generally, the size of a monitor will dictate the price – so the bigger the monitor, the more you pay. Nevertheless, even a simple and cheap studio monitor is going to be better than a hi-fi speaker when it comes to mixing. So if your budget is limited, then there’s really no shame in just picking up a pair of studio monitors for a hundred or a couple of hundred quid.

Budget Studio Monitors: Good Enough or Keep Saving?

Studio Monitors That Lie Outside of Your Budget

These models can be unattainably expensive, and are more like some utopian holy grail reserved for really high-end studios. However, the audio reproduction of monitors like this is even flatter and the phases are even tighter. If you have the money to spend, you can also get three-way monitors, where the mid-woofer is well tuned for reproducing the frequency range of the human voice. While they’re well worth the investment, your bank account might not agree. Also, if you’re building a jobbing studio and depending on a steady flow of clients, then be aware that you’re one of many studios fishing in the same pond. At some point, those eye-wateringly expensive monitors won’t mean anything if you have nothing to mix through them. So think smart and buy smart.

How Much Are They Costing Per Year?

If you really have the money and work is stable, but you’re still not sure if the investment is worth it, then have a think about the following: a good studio monitor lasts years. You can spend £2,000 on a studio monitor (so that’s £4,000 for the pair) and enjoy mixing through them for a good ten years or more. This evens out the cost to around £400 per year in exchange for working with some top-class monitors. If you can afford that £400 a year, then you can afford to set yourself up with a great studio. The bottom line is, listening and assessing are the core tasks of a recording and mixing studio, so your studio monitors better be good. It’s also worth noting that studio monitors last way longer than the expensive computer you use to run your recording software.

Budget Studio Monitors: Good Enough or Keep Saving?

Bad Monitors

We’re 100% serious when we say this: bad monitors are useful too. If you’re mixing pop, then there’s a big chance that people will be listening to your work on a car stereo, on an old TV, a portable radio or a cheap Bluetooth speaker. These kinds of speakers strip away all of the sparkle and detail from the mix. As such, there are monitors you can get that aren’t actually designed for honesty – but rather, a different kind of honesty. Since, they show you what your mix will sound like through the worst sound system going. A good example of a ‘bad monitor’ is the Avantone MixCube. Often, you’ll only need one of them, since most portable speakers or consumer systems these days only have one speaker as well. Do you actually need a monitor like this? You probably do. But it should never be your only monitor. These monitors are purely designed to serve as an extra listening test, so you can check the sound in the worst case scenario. If you don’t have any monitors yet, then get a standard set of studio monitors first. If your studio is already stacked with everything your heart desires, then adding one or two ‘bad monitors’ might be a good idea.

Budget Studio Monitors: Good Enough or Keep Saving?

How Do You Know Which Monitor is Good?

This is tough, and also really subjective and even personal. We could just name a couple of well-known brands that are really good, but again, personal preference will always make the final decision. For example, if we added a photo of a producer working with a set of affordable old Yamaha NS-10s, it probably wouldn’t be the first time you’d seen it. But the truth is, while these monitors are modern classics, the sound actually comes close to the hi-fi experience, so they’re more often used to mimic real-life listening situations rather than mixing. Of course, some manufacturers will tell you that their monitor is the perfect monitor, which is just as useless. So, the best thing you can do is listen to and test as many different monitors as you can, seek some good and reliable advice and do some research. Then you’ll be able to tell a genuine recommendation from a sales tactic and make the right decision for your studio.

A Little Advice About Studio Size

To give a clinical description of sound: it’s simply a pressure difference within a specific medium. Say that medium is the air in your studio space, where sound pushes the air molecules around, messing with the pressure and creating vibrational waves. Lower frequencies (so lower pitched notes) have long vibrational waves while higher frequencies (higher pitched notes) have short vibrational waves. If those lower frequencies don’t have enough space to travel (and be audible), then your studio monitors are probably too big. Of course, everyone wants big and fat bass, especially if you’re mixing EDM or orchestral projects, but if you’re working in a small space then it’s just not physically possible.

If you are in a small space and get a massive monitor anyway, then those lower frequencies will just bounce back and forth off the walls and will be heard back in your mix, inverted, creating a hole in the frequency spectrum of the entire mix. If you don’t notice that this is because of the acoustics of the space, then you’re likely to start boosting that missing frequency range with an equalizer. to the point where, when someone puts on your track in a larger room, they’ll wonder why the basses are so loud. In short: while having a good set of monitors is a big help, making sure that the acoustics of the space you’re mixing in are fully optimised is just as essential. Otherwise, it just doesn’t make any difference how much you spent on those monitors.

For more, see our blog about how to use a subwoofer in your studio.


  • Writing, compositing and arranging on hi-fi speakers? Great!
  • Mixing or mastering? Studio monitors, studio monitors and again – studio monitors. Always!
  • Expensive studio monitors? They’ll certainly add value (they’re not expensive for nothing). But every link in the chain is important, so if the acoustics in your studio are bad, then shelling out for an expensive monitor is like throwing good money away.
  • Bad monitors? Brilliant for double-checking your mixes for the masses, bad if they’re all you’ve got!

See also…

» Studio Monitors
» Studio Subwoofers
» Studiomonitor Controllers
» Studio Monitor Stands
» Studio Monitor Isolation
» Audio Cables
» Audio Interfaces
» All Studio & Recording Gear

» What Is The Best Studio Monitor For Me?
» Do I Need An Amplifier With My Studio Monitors?
» Studio Subwoofers – The What & Why
» How to Record Audio on a Budget
» The Difference Between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones
» What is S/PDIF?
» Get the Best Out of Your Studio Monitors with Absorbers & Diffusers
» The Finer Points of Studio Monitor Placement
» How to connect studio monitors

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