One of the most common questions I get asked by engineers is “where should I spend my money to get the best sonic results?
Should I go for a new microphone or a better preamp? Or maybe a fancy plugin or a legendary piece of studio hardware?”
Well, in most cases, the answer is… None of them! They should be upgrading the one piece of studio equipment that is often overlooked and under-budgeted for, the humble monitor speaker.
You can be using a $20,000 Neumann U47 through a vintage Neve 1073 with a Bluestripe Urei 1176 for some glorious compression to record with.
But if you can’t accurately monitor the sound, all the best equipment in the world won’t make a blind bit of difference because you don’t actually know what you’re listening to.
As the legendary audio engineer Andrew Scheps (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adele, Metallica, Beyonce, U2, Black Sabbath, etc.) often mentions, “It doesn’t matter what equipment you use to create the mix, the only thing that’s important is what comes out of the speaker.”
And if you don’t know what’s coming out of the speaker because you’re using low-quality monitors with a restricted frequency range, your mixes will never sound good.
So, I decided to take an in-depth look at the 5 Best Studio Monitors Under $2000 to find the one that is perfect for your setup, so let’s get started.
Focal Shape 65 – Best Sounding Studio Monitors
For this review, I’ve decided to start at the upper limit of a fraction under $2000 and then work down to the more affordable options. And what better way to start than with Focal?
Focal’s Shape range of active studio monitors combines an ingenious design with numerous settings that are perfectly optimized for the acoustics of small listening rooms.
They excel at producing a wide and extremely precise stereo image. This allows the bass frequencies to be controlled and articulated. While the lower mid-range and mid-range are extremely neutral, with no masking effects. This makes the equalization of these essential frequencies much easier.
The tweeter provides crystal clear, very high-end definition, allowing you to add as much or as little sparkle as the mix needs.
Featuring a portless design but with a double passive radiator, each speaker can be placed anywhere you like without affecting the sound quality, including near a wall.
There are also numerous settings for optimal integration that provide accurate control delivering the sound you need in the toughest acoustic environments.
If you want the best-sounding studio monitors for under 2000 dollars for use in a pro production studio or a truly serious project studio, then the Shape 65 are the ones for you.
- Quickly and easily make better mix decisions.
- Easy-to-tweak EQ.
- Super-accurate transient details.
- Passive radiators allow flexible positioning.
- Sub-bass response is, understandably, not as good as larger, more expensive monitors.
- Automatic bypass can be annoying and can’t be switched off.
Dynaudio Evoke 10 – Most Versatile Studio Monitors
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For my second set of speakers, I’ve decided to think a little outside the box. I’m a huge fan of the Dynaudio Core Series, but there isn’t much chance of getting a single speaker within our 2000-dollar budget, let alone a pair of them, so I’ve included the Dynaudio Evoke 10s instead.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “but these aren’t a ‘proper’ pair of studio monitors?” and you’d be 100% right; they are not. But neither was the legendary Yamaha NS10s.
It all started with Bob…
I’m sure that most of you reading this will be well aware of Bob Clearmountain, the unrivaled Godfather of Mix Engineers. I know it’s hard to believe, but before Bob, mix engineers simply didn’t exist. At the time, all records were tracked by a tracking engineer (plus assistants) under the guidance of the producer. Then when recording was finished, the tracking engineer would mix the record.
However, major projects needed quicker turnaround times, and that’s where Bob came in; he would start ‘mixing’ the songs while the tracking engineer was finishing off recording the other tracks on the record. And the rest, as they say, is history, with mix engineers now being seen as an all-important part of the process of making the song as good as it can be.
But, what has this got to do with the Best Studio Monitors?
Well, Bob Clearmountain didn’t want to mix on the massive main monitors that studios had at the time. He thought they were unrealistic in terms of what real-life listeners had in their homes, and he was right. So he went out and bought himself a pair of affordable Hi-fi speakers, some Yamaha NS10s.
He then took these to every session and mixed on them. As other early mix engineers started to appear, they adopted the NS10’s because they worked so well for Bob. And that is basically why you will see a pair of NS10’s on the meter bridge of just about every console in every vintage studio picture from the late ’70s onwards.
Therefore, you don’t have to have a dedicated pair of studio monitors to mix on, you just need some really good speakers, and you won’t get much better than the Dynaudio Evoke 10.
They simply sound amazing…
These are serious Hi-Fi speakers built to audiophile standards that deliver an accurate and defined mix with no ear fatigue.
The 14cm long-throw mid/bass driver is constructed from MSP (as used in the much more expensive Core series), which gives them an extended frequency response while maintaining incredible midrange performance.
The 0.4mm diaphragm is the perfect combination of lightness, damping, and stiffness, ensuring optimum performance. This allows the whole unit to move as one for a perfect balance of bass and midrange performance.
And for the high frequencies, the 28mm Cerotar soft-dome tweeter gives you all the clarity you need to get those mixes sounding exactly how you want them to.
Depending on your setup, these are also by far the most versatile speakers in my review. If you happen to be a bedroom producer or live in a studio, you can use them to perfect your mixes as well as for general music listening. Two for the price of one, you can’t get better than that!
- Precise sound.
- Detailed and soft.
- Not fatiguing.
- Sonically, there are none, but some will always be thinking, “Should I have gone for ‘proper’ studio monitors?”
- Many will want black studio monitors, not wooden ones.
Neumann KH 120 A – Best Portable Studio Monitors
Next, we have a pair of monitors from one of the most famous names in pro audio, Neumann. Famed for producing the three most recorded vocal microphones in history, the U47, U67, and U87, as well as other legendary studio equipment from preamps to cutting lathes.
The KH 120 is a compact near-field professional studio monitor designed using the latest acoustic and electronic and acoustic simulation and measurement technologies to ensure reference-quality performance. The solidly built, durable aluminum cabinets not only minimize resonances but also offers better heat dissipation.
These days lots of mixing environments are not optimal. With so many people now mixing on laptops in bedrooms, living rooms, or even hotels, proper acoustic room treatment is often very lacking.
Neumann have taken this into consideration with four position bass, low-mid, and treble acoustic controls that allow the user to tailor the sound depending on the environment they are in. This, along with the bi-amplified class-AB analog amplifiers offering large headroom, delivers exceptional transient response and dynamic range.
Perfect for mobile producers…
If you need a pair of the best compact studio monitors to mix in various locations, then you really can’t go wrong with the Neumann KH 120 A.
- Very accurate and detailed sound.
- Excellent controls let you precisely tweak the sound to your liking.
- Solid build quality.
- Compact and portable.
- Design allows it to be positioned flush against a wall.
Adam Audio A7X – Award-Winning Studio Monitors
Numerous awards and countless dedicated fans, including high-profile audio engineers and record producers, made the A7 an absolute legend in near-field monitoring.
Now, the legend continues with the improved and updated A7X. And this isn’t some heavily marketed cosmetic change with a cool ‘X’ added for effect. Adam has revised all the drivers and amplifiers, as well as the cabinet. This result is a speaker that the company claims is the new benchmark in near-field studio monitoring.
The X-ART tweeter features extended frequency response, which now extends all the way up to 50kHz. It also has a higher efficiency as well as allowing for higher maximum sound pressure levels driven by its dedicated 50W A/B amp.
And for the lower frequencies, the newly designed 7 mid-woofer features a much bigger voice coil and is driven by a 100W PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) amplifier with double the power compared to its predecessor. This produces an amazing sound and almost distortion-free musical reproduction.
On the front panel, you will find a power switch and a volume control. On the rear, there is a high-frequency gain control and pair of shelf filters for the high and low frequencies. And for complete compatibility, there are balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA connectors.
A quality nearfield active studio monitor from one of the most professional monitor companies in the audio industry, and all this for less than a 2000 dollar price point, what more could any engineer ask for?
- Excellent performance throughout the entire audio spectrum.
- More transparency and air than the original A7.
- Sensibly priced for a quality speaker.
- No magnetic shielding around the woofer.
Yamaha HS8 – Best Budget Studio Monitors
The HS8 follows in the sonic footsteps of the absolutely legendary Yamaha NS-10’s (which I’ve already discussed), which up until about ten years ago could be seen in every picture of just about all professional recording studios taken since the late 1970s.
They were easy to recognize by the iconic white woofer, which is still a trademark of the HS8. But it was the signature sound and the accuracy of the NS10 nearfield reference monitors that made them a genuine industry standard for a reason. However…
Why shouldn’t you buy a pair of Yamaha NS10’s?
If they were so good and ‘legendary,’ you are probably wondering why not get a pair of them. Well, there are quite a few reasons. First off, they are now expensive because everything vintage now costs a fortune. But on top of that, they haven’t been produced for over 20 years, so replacement parts (the tweeters are notorious for blowing) are hard to find and also expensive.
But even more importantly, manufacturers have made significant improvements in studio monitor design over the last two decades and what is being produced now are actually the flattest in terms of frequency response and most accurate speakers ever made. Therefore, the HS8s are the perfect choice for most engineers especially those on a tighter budget.
An improvement on the legend…
The NS10 was famous for its 1550Hz peak of around an amazing 7db. So they are by no means ‘flat’. The HS8s, however, are much flatter, giving a more honest, precise reference of your mix. This makes them a lot easier to work on than the older NS10s.
The newly developed transducers featured in the HS Series achieve astonishingly smooth response over a wide bandwidth. They utilize an advanced magnetic field design that regulates the flow of magnetic response that provides seamless, natural sonic transitions.
Two is better than one…
Featuring a bi-amp design, each HS 8 has a separate dedicated amplifier for both the tweeter and the woofer to deliver high-resolution sound with an exceptionally flat response across the entire sound spectrum.
The cabinets are designed to remove unwanted resonance as well as increase the accuracy of sound reproduction. They are constructed from a resilient and very dense MDF with a damped acoustic response perfectly suited for reference monitors.
You won’t get better for the money…
If a $2000 pair of speakers just seems like a little too much to spend at the moment, you won’t get better than a pair of HS 8’s; they are, without doubt, the best budget studio monitors you can buy.
- Excellent clarity.
- Quality construction.
- Good range of tuning options.
- Fantastic value for money.
- More expensive speakers have a better bass response but at this price, just buy an additional subwoofer.
- None for the price.
But which studio monitor is the very best?
To be 100% honest, every pair of high-quality studio monitors I reviewed were excellent in their own right, so if you are on a tighter budget than $2000, just go with whatever is within your price range.
However, if you are going to spend the whole lot, you won’t get better than the…
Focal Shape 65
…for the price. Fantastic sound, incredible build quality, and immense sonic control make these the best of the best.
However, if you want to spend quite a bit less than $2000, the…
…are an excellent choice and probably the best value for money studio monitors you can buy. They sound fantastic, have a classy look, and are fully featured.
Plus, with the extra money left over, you can buy yourself a quality subwoofer such as the Yamaha HS8 Subwoofer to get all the bass frequencies you could ever want. And if you think that white is a little too Sci-Fi or Rich Rapper for your taste, they are also available in good old black.