Nowadays it’s hard to tell what’s a “pro” setup and what’s a “project” studio. I mean, I’ve seen Grammy-winning millionaire producers work on what most people would call a “demo” setup and still go platinum.
So what are we really calling “pro”? Is it the cost of the gear, or the success the studio has? Like, is someone who spends a ton of money on their gear but never actually releases anything successful more professional?
Things have changed, man.
But one thing that hasn’t changed, even for the most basic setups, is how important it is to hear an accurate version of your mix. You can work in the box all you want, but if you’re jamming out to a hyped-up version of the truth, you’re not gonna be happy with the end result.
That’s why there are really expensive, high-end monitoring speakers out there. They’re basically the most important piece of gear besides your computer. And yeah, they can get pretty pricey, but let’s be real, quality always costs more.
Is it worth it? I think so. Do you need the most expensive ones? Probably not, but luckily there are a ton of options that will still get you what you need.
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Active vs. Passive Monitors
So you’ve got two basic categories of studio speakers: Active and Passive. Passive is the older type of monitoring where you had to connect the speakers to an adequate amplifier to power them.
While they still sounded pretty good, it created a bunch of problems. Amplifiers could overheat, speaker cables created a lot of static, and mismatched power requirements could damage speakers.
Active monitors with power amps built into the cabinet itself became the way to go, not just for performance but also for portability. You could move your monitors easily if you needed to set up in different locations.
For this article, I’m mainly gonna focus on what I consider the best of high-end active monitors. I just think it’s more relevant to today’s average producer, musician, and reader.
Top High-End Speaker Brands
There are a ton of fancy monitor brands out there, like Genelec, JBL, Barefoot, ATC, PMC, Neumann, KRK, and Focal.
But check it, I’ve been working in different studios for five years and did a ton of research, and narrowed down my top picks to these studio brands and one hella fancy audiophile brand:
- Bowers and Wilkins
It was tough. So many good choices, but these brands really stand out musically.
Now, let’s get up close and personal with each one.
ATC (that’s short for Acoustic Transducer Company) is a British company that’s been around since the mid-70s. They were super important in coming up with the active monitoring systems that are used in all speakers today.
These guys are killing it in 2023! They design and build all their stuff themselves, using only the best materials and latest technology. And get this, incredible artists like Lenny Kravitz, Mark Knopfler, and Pink Floyd are their exclusive clients. How cool is that?
Their flagship active monitor ATC SCM25A Mk2 is versatile and can be used as a midrange or nearfield speaker. It has a 6.5″ woofer, 3″ midrange driver, and 1″ dome tweeter.
Unlike most budget monitors, it has a midrange driver that improves accuracy. It can even be used for mastering.
The 235W tri-amped monitor delivers powerful low end with 109 SPL. ATC equipped it with magnet vents to prevent overheating and noise, so you get maximum power with minimum distractions.
The mk2 version adds a new “dual suspension” tweeter that takes the high end to new heights and lowers distortion. These monitors are the real deal. I’ve used them at Abbey Road in London for an orchestral rock session and fell in love with the crisp and detailed sound.
If you can’t afford the ATCSCM25 3-way option, don’t worry. You can still get most of its features with a cheaper model, the ATC SCM20ASL Pro mk2.
However, it’s a more traditional 2-way monitor and lacks the midrange driver. Instead, you’ll only have a 6.5″ woofer and a 1″ dome tweeter. But there’s a silver lining: with only 2 drivers, you get a 250W LF/50W HF bi-amped design, which means even more power to the low end.
There’s this company called Advanced Dynamic Audio Monitors (ADAM) from Germany, founded in Berlin around March 1999.
I still remember seeing them for the first time at NAMM and being like, “Whoa, what’s up with that crazy alien-looking tweeter?” It seriously looked like it came straight out of a nuclear reactor or something.
But it’s actually super cool technology they’ve got going on. They call it the S-ART folded-ribbon tweeter. Basically, instead of using the usual dome tweeter that looks like half a ping pong ball, they use a folded ribbon.
And what this does is it pushes the air way faster, which makes the high end go all the way up to 50 kHz. Now, I know what you’re thinking – humans can’t even hear past 20 kHz, right? Technically, that’s true. But the extra “air” the extended range creates actually gives you more detail to work with.
Adam’s S-series studio monitors like ADAM Audio S3H sit horizontally with four drivers and have a DSP-based system to accurately tune the speakers to your room specs, among other juicy features.
You get two 7″ ELE woofers for true low end without harmonic overtone bumps. You also get a 4″ midrange and an S-Art tweeter. The S-Art is a 2.2″ tweeter using a whole new technology.
These monitors have a frequency range of 26Hz – 50kHz so no sub is needed. They’re considered three-way midfield monitors but also work great as nearfield.
On the other hand, the ADAM Audio S2V 7 Inch is a 2-way monitor is similar to the ATC but with one ELE 7” woofer and a smaller 1.6” S-ART Tweeter. The S3H has a loud 126dB SPL while the S2V tops out at 120dB. The S2V has two bass reflex ports under the woofer for sweet bass reflections.
They are suitable for small rooms and can be placed against a wall. DJs may love them for their portability, but they are still made in Berlin. No disrespect to DJ readers out there, but some IG posts show shaky workflows.
These guys are a freakin’ awesome Danish company that has been around for a hot minute. They started out way back in 1977 making fancy-pants audio parts for European car stereo systems. Everyone from Volvo to Bugatti has used them as a factory standard.
Then they split their divisions and added Home systems and Pro Audio.
Personally, I use these speakers, so I’m totally biased, but I can definitely vouch for their sick accuracy. I haven’t even upgraded mine in a decade because, as the saying goes, “If you know your speaker well and it works, don’t change it.” I actually made that up, but it’s kinda true. The DYNAUDIO Core 47 is the brand’s one of the best offerings to date
Check out this 3-way monitor, similar to the one from ATC with a 7” woofer, 4” mid, and 1” tweeter. It packs a punch with a whopping 1,150W tri-amped speakers (500W LF, 500W MF, 150W HF) compared to the measly 235W from the ATC.
This smaller Dynaudio speaker delivers a killer frequency response without the need for hype. Don’t be tempted by instant gratification, as other brands like Genelec and KRK might sound better than they really are.
Stick with Dynaudio for unmatched results when mixing.
I have been using the DYNAUDIO BM6A ever since I started mixing. It’s a 2-way monitor with a 6.7″ woofer and 1″ silk dome tweeter. It only has 200W of power, and its frequency range goes from 41Hz to 21kHz, but these little guys are brutally honest. You can even tune them manually to your room and really dial in any reflective roll-off.
Overall, they just sound legit – tight low end, no reflections. If the mix sounds fantastic, you’re in heaven. If it’s garbage, well, it’s garbage.
So, check it out: Focal is this super cool French company that’s been killing it since the late 70s. They make all kinds of sweet stuff, from HiFi gear to professional monitors, just like ATC.
And get this – they’re all about that French pride, baby. Like, everything they do is sourced, designed, and produced right there in France, and they don’t mess around when it comes to quality. It’s legit.
Their FOCAL TRIO6 BE is a 3-way monitor that competes with the big dogs. It has an 8″ woofer, 5″ mid, and 1″ tweeter, with a frequency range of 35Hz-40Hz, boasting serious low end. While it may not have the same spread and range as its ADAM competitor, it’s still impressive.
What sets these monitors apart? The Beryllium inverted dome tweeter. This design pumps more energy to the extended highs, creating a super present sound that’s not overly hyped. They also have a “Focus mode” switch that turns them into a 2-way monitor for more reference-like sound.
Let’s also talk about the little brother version, the Solo6, which is a 2-way speaker. It has a frequency range of 35Hz-40kHz and a bass roll-off option at the back that’s perfect for smaller, echoey spaces. It also has sub-dampening features for wall mounting and a Focus Mode that’s super useful. It’s better than NS-10s.
PMC is another rad British company. It was started back in 1991, Peter Thomas and Adrian Loader.
So these guys came up with the BB5-A, which is one badass main studio monitor that’s known all around the world. Big names in the music industry, like Prince and Stevie Wonder, have used it.
And you can hear it in a ton of blockbuster movies, like Titanic, Mission Impossible, Game of Thrones, Iron Man 1&2, Skyfall, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more.
These guys even scored an EMMY Award for their industry contribution. PMC is pretty much everywhere, even in the big leagues like leading mastering houses and broadcasters.
The PMC 6 Powerd Studio Monitor is a bona fide powerhouse. You won’t believe what this bad boy can do with its advanced DSP technology that lets you customize it to your specific room acoustics, and it even has a built-in limiter to protect drivers.
With a frequency range of 20Hz to 25kHz, a 6.5″ woofer, and a 27mm soft dome tweeter, this monitor delivers top-of-the-line sound quality.
And yeah, it ain’t cheap, but if you’re looking for the best of the best, the PMC 6 is definitely worth considering.
Another one of their offerings I’d like to talk about is the PMC result6. This is one fancy-schmancy speaker from those Brits at PMC.
It’s got some super cool tech that lets you tweak the sound to fit your room just right, plus a built-in thingy to keep the drivers safe.
And get this: it can play sounds from 20Hz to 25kHz, thanks to the 6.5″ woofer and 27mm soft dome tweeter. That’s pretty insane for not using a subwoofer.
Yep, that Neumann, the legends behind the dopest mics ever. Neumann also is the real deal when it comes to studio monitors. They’re all about that accuracy, clarity, and precision.
They come with advanced DSP technology to calibrate to your specific room acoustics, making sure your sound is always on point. They also got waveguide optimization, automatic standby, and tons of input and output options so you can customize your setup to your heart’s content.
Some of the top producers and engineers today hold the KH line of monitors in high regard.
For those who want an insanely powerful monitor, the KH 420 is where it’s at. This 3-way active monitor features two 10-inch woofers, a 3-inch midrange, and a 1-inch tweeter, delivering a frequency response of 26Hz – 22kH.
While not the best specs, Neumann has a way of shining a tad bit extra. It features their MMD (Mathematically Modeled Dispersion) for incredibly smooth performance in any acoustical setting.
And if you’re looking for great sound quality in a smaller package, you have to check out the KH 310. This three-way active monitor takes accuracy to a whole new level with its 8.25-inch woofer, 3-inch midrange, and 1-inch tweeter, producing frequencies from 34Hz to 21kHz.
Bowers and Wilkins 805D4 (Passive Audiophile Speaker)
These speakers are for serious music lovers and cost $8,500 plus an amplifier.
But who cares, right? These speakers look absolutely gorgeous. They have a sleek, beautiful glossy finish that’s totally drool-worthy, just like their probable owners.
The specs are 49Hz-28Khz, but they have one of the best stereo field imaging in the market and are super-detailed without fake EQ. The perfect addition to a dream home mansion.
Man, It was tough to pick the best speakers out there. I know some of you might disagree with my choices and hold a grudge against me for not mentioning KRK, JBL, and Genelec.
Don’t get me wrong, those speakers are great but they sound a bit too hyped up. When it comes to mixing, I want to hear the truth, not some polished version of it.
If you combine any of these fancy brands with good ears, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.