Those looking to get into music production are presented with a very real problem. Monitoring is by far one of the crucial tools every producer in the world has at their disposal. However, considering the requirements of proper monitoring, the real question is whether or not you can do it on a budget, or do you need to get a set of $500 monitor speakers at the minimum?
Table Of Contents
|Image||Studio Monitors / Rating||Summary||Check Price|
|+ -|| Tascam VL-S3 |
Total of 4.03/5
The underdog which has proven to be quite competitive with great hardware.
|+ -|| Alesis M1 |
Total of 3.70/5
Pretty compact set of monitors that's built for use on the go.
|+ -|| Mackie CR3 |
Total of 3.83/5
Pretty compact set of monitors that's built for use on the go.
|+ -|| M-Audio AV32 |
Total of 3.70/5
Decent performance and great waveguide design makes these speakers a great choice.
Tascam VL-S3 are proper studio monitors designed for a very specific application. They are super compact but pack a lot of heat. Tascam has managed to answer the needs of users who work in tight spaces and whose studios are pretty small. VL-S3 will get you the performance you need in such environments, while completely blowing much better models out of the water. Their response is incredibly flat and would be borderline perfect if the bass could reach lower than 100 Hz. However, that lack of low-end response is perfectly normal for 3“ speakers, so VL-S3 isn’t alone in having that single flaw. If you are after small, capable and relatively powerful speakers, Tascam VL-S3 is the answer.
Alesis has given us some pretty awesome budget monitoring solutions. The M1 series of speakers is just another example of that. These puppies were designed to bring a bit of extra versatility, as well as meet the needs of producers who are frequently on the road. Lightweight, portable and fairly powerful, these speakers offer a great balance of price and performance. Once cool thing is the Bass Boost feature, which essentially turns the M1 monitors into standard desktop speakers. This is awesome for those occasions when you just want to listen to some music. All in all, this set of speakers offers a lot for the given price, making them a solid value package.
Mackie CR3 monitor speakers have been one of the most popular choices for a long time now. They are at the very bottom of the CR series as a whole, but they are more than capable of carrying their own weight. What we have here is a set of active speakers with some 50 Watts of power under the hood. Speakers are of standard size for this segment, but they are properly voiced. There is definitely some bias, but again, that is completely expected in this price range. Those who are looking for a proven set of budget monitors that can be used for multimedia as well should definitely check out Mackie CR3.
M-Audio AV32 have been, and still are some of the go to monitor speakers in the affordable segment. You get that standard 3“ woofer, 1“ tweeter configuration, but with a twist. M-Audio has used a pretty aggressive waveguide design that opens up the stage a bit when you need to hear everything in your mix. What this speaker lacks are features. However, at this price, we simply can’t complain. With 20 Watts of power combined, you are looking at a fairly decent output for use in smaller studios. It might take you a bit of time to position these where you are getting the best results, but that’s just the fact of the matter.
For a very long time, there has been a discussion regarding budget monitor speakers. You will find those who claim that you can definitely get the job done using a $100 set, while others will claim that nothing less than a $300 set of monitors will be enough. Both of these are sort of right. One metric which is used to judge all monitor speakers, no matter what their price is, would be their ability to produce transparent sound. The flatter that response is across the frequency range, the better. Some of the best monitors on the market are considered that because they are flat as a pane of glass.
Can a $100 set of monitor speakers be as flat? No. That’s the truth. However, can they be flat enough where you can hear the issues in your mix and correct them? The answer to that question is a solid yes. Budget monitors will get you that kind of performance under certain conditions and to a certain extent. What almost every monitor in this price range lacks is the low end. Manufacturers are using smaller low-frequency drivers, most of which are in the 3″ territory, whose architecture physically prevents them from reaching too low in the range. However, everything above about 100Hz is quite decent depending on the model.
The hardware of any given speaker is just one variable in the equation that will dictate the performance you can expect. Positioning the speakers and the way they have been tuned plays a major role. Budget monitor speakers have their limitations in terms of space they are able to saturate with good quality sound. Almost every single model in this category is a near field unit. That means you will have to be rather close to the cabinets in order to experience their fullest potential.
Using small monitors like these in a large room might cause a few issues. That’s why most of the brands involved with making budget monitors design their models for small home studios. On a similar note, most manufacturers will make their budget speakers very user-friendly. This most often means active speakers with built in amps and various controls. Some of them will let you adjust the bass response. In practice, this means that you can use them for monitoring, but also for general music listening.
This is one of the most frequently asked questions in the community. The short answer is yes, it’s always better to save money and get the best gear possible. However, budget speakers like the ones in this price range have a purpose of their own. First of all, not everyone can afford more expensive monitors. Asking a beginner to invest their hard earned money into an expensive pair of passive monitors can be a bit too much. Doing so not only ties down funds that could have been used for something else, but it also means that our newbie producer will have to get an amplifier and a few more pieces of gear before they can start mixing.
On the other hand, some beginners simply want the multifunctional nature some of these monitors offer. This is where all of the experienced purists will start to scream at the screen. Yes, monitoring is extremely important and there is no substitute for quality sound. However, we have to understand that music production is a skill that is developed over time. Starting with a cheap set of speakers is much better than having none at all. Even the experienced producers will tell you the same thing.
Using bookshelf speakers, or general purpose speakers for monitoring is not a good idea. Right off the bat, we have to emphasize that bookshelf speakers are biased in one way or another. Cheap bookshelf speakers are biased even more in order to hide some of their imperfections. Mixing music with bookshelf speakers is like trying to talk with someone in a club where music is just too loud.
You will probably understand what that person is talking about, but you will miss out on most of the details. While monitor speakers may not be the best thing for enjoying music on a daily basis, their transparency is absolutely necessary if you want your music to sound even remotely good. Bookshelf speakers have their place, but mixing music is definitely not it.
Finding a good budget monitor speaker may be a bit tricky, but it is far from impossible. The models we’ve listed above are by far the best ones you can find at the moment. Some of them were on the market for a long time, while others have entered the race just recently. If you are just entering the world of music production and you don’t have a huge budget, you should definitely check out some of these monitors. While they might not be the best monitors in the world, they will get you by until you get something better.