Good set of studio monitors are essential for any music producer and while budget can be sometimes limiting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you couldn’t find a decent active studio speaker on a budget. The best studio monitors under＄200 are considered to be entry level but offer great value for money and are suitable for producers, who value versatility on a budget.
These types of speakers are designed to be used in a near-field listening configuration, and while bigger is many times considered to be better, this is not necessarily the case when comparing studio monitors: a typical budget studio monitor is an upgrade from desktop computer speaker and offers more “truthful” frequency response and range than conventional hi-fi speakers.
For many starting hobbyists, the key is to make a well informed budget-conscious decision that will enhance the ability to create better mixes in a typical home studio or semi-professional studio environment.
Here are the key points to look out for when comparing active studio monitors in this price range:
The physical ability of the active speaker to translate energy into movement is a sum of it’s main components: woofer, tweeter, crossover filters, dedicated amplifiers and the surrounding cabinet. Therefore it’s important, that these perform efficiently together, maximizing the studio monitors’ ability to play music producing as little coloration as possible.
Studio monitors in under＄200 category will offer a good starting point for anyone serious about mixing but cannot reach the depth and clarity offered in more expensive category.
The most popular nearfield speaker cabinet is a 2-way design, meaning that the speaker consists of separate woofer and tweeter elements.
Typical woofer size in this price range falls in the smaller 4-6.5” category. In this size the woofer element is obviously too small to produce sub-bass frequencies, and combined with the tweeter element the speaker has a combined frequency range between 45Hz-25kHz. While it might not sound like much, this range is usually more than adequate to help the producer do critical decisions regarding the mix.
Keeping in mind, that nearfield monitors are not typically designed to offer high sound pressure levels, and with a listening distance being closer to 1.5 meters, the studio monitors don’t have to produce a lot of sound either: the built-in amplifiers are designed to provide enough power for the woofer and tweeter elements to create a great sounding and balanced speaker.
Here are the good news for the bedroom producer: smaller physical size and lower sound pressure levels incidentally translate to more controlled playback in a less controlled room.
Studio monitors in Yamaha’s HS product line are praised for their ability to deliver excellent performance and bring a notch of professionalism in all sizes. While many small form factor nearfield monitors tend sound mediocre on workstation or console shelfs, the HS5 provides good amount of detail, imaging and transient response in such a small speaker. The clarity and sound quality of these speakers fall in the upper tier of speakers comparable in size, use and cost.
Overall sound of the HS5 is detailed and airy at the top, provides clean and natural midrange but lacks a little bit with the bass response.
Built in Room Control Filters in HS5’s provide 2 or 4dB low-shelf cut below 500 Hz when activated, and gives HS5 an ability to be placed close to the wall without causing any significant blurring in the low-frequency response.
At 5” the physical size of the speaker and frequency range it offers (74-24Hz) might be limiting for some, and adding a separate subwoofer (such as Yamaha HS8S) will be beneficial for those, who are looking to use HS5 as the only wide-range monitor.
Mackie HR-series has proved hugely popular among the small and medium-sized project studios along the years. The 6” HR624 is a versatile speaker with clarity that many lesser monitors cannot touch. These Mackies perform great as mix-critical reference monitors and as living room audiophile speakers.
Overall, the highest range of frequencies in HR624 are pronounced and upper range of frequencies are clean, which is beneficial especially for mixing vocals. The low frequency response is tight but it’s said to be a little bit bass heavy.
The internal passive radiator design at the back of the speaker provides more oomph for the low end but can prove problematic in less controlled rooms. The built-in bass roll-off switch makes it easier to situate the monitors closer to walls.
The Presonus Eris series has pretty much become the standard of budget monitoring. Eris E5 are considered best-balanced in the series and their price-performance value is greatly proven by it’s popularity.
Overall, the Eris E5 sounds fairly detailed, clear and offers a precise midrange, which works especially well on mixing voices. The low-end could be described more as lean but natural.
Presonus Eris range features front-firing bass ports, which is effective in eliminating the standing wave problems associated with using the speakers closer to the wall. The speaker can also produce surprisingly high SPL (Maximum peak at 102 dB).
The used 5.25” woofer combined with 1” silk-dome tweeter produce a frequency range of 53Hz-22kHz according to manufacturer, which is quite impressive for this size category, but a separate subwoofer speaker would be essential for wide-range applications.
The newest contender, Behringer, has become a serious player in the budget studio monitor category since launching the Nekkst series. The K8 is the biggest of the range and offers a lot for the money.
The Nekkst K8 sound could be described as natural. The highs are articulated, middle frequencies offer good clarity for vocals and instruments, and the bass is definitely there, but lacking a bit of the punch of a typical 8” speaker. The Advanced Waveguide Technology provides a generously wide sweet-spot.
The Behringer Nekkst range features front-firing bass-ports, which used together with the speaker’s built-in Room Compensation allows the speaker to be placed close to the wall with no significant blurring to the low end.
The Nekkst K8 features 8” woofer and 1” silk-dome tweeter, enabling the speaker to provide a frequency response between 40Hz-20kHz.
The JBL LSR308 has been receiving a lot of love from the music producers and it’s proven successful both in project studios as well as living room audiophile speakers.
Overall, the JBL LSR308 is a naturally good sounding speaker, with clear treble and slight added brightness at the highs, a clear and detailed midrange. The otherwise powerful bass can be in some occasions perceived as slightly tubby.
LSR308 cabinet is a bass-reflex type with a rear port and at this size is potentially difficult to place close to a wall.
The LSR308 features 8” woofer element and 1” soft-dome waveguide tweeter, and offers a frequency response between 37Hz-24kHz.
There are many good active studio monitors costing a little under＄200 but only few stand out offering a satisfying balance between detail and an enjoyable listening experience, that keep you creating accurate mixes and enable you to mix for longer periods of time without causing significant ear fatigue.
The grand prize of the Best Studio Monitor under＄200 goes to Behringer Nekkst K8, which is a recent addition to the market and was designed as a collaboration between Behringer Music Group and KRK’s founder Keith R. Klauwitter.
The Nekkst K8 offers a natural sound, includes great speaker and room compensation features, and is an exceptional value for money at ＄199 per single speaker.
Small to medium-size project studios as well as DJ’s will appreciate the monitor speakers’ adaptability to less-than-ideal monitoring environments. The lack of overly hyped low end will most likely prove beneficial for getting the mix right (which is ironical considering KRK’s historically hyped low end performance). As an upgrade from desktop computer speaker and giving you the ability to create better mixes in a typical home studio or semi-professional studio environment, you simply cannot go wrong with the Nekkst K8