The best affordable studio monitors | DEFINITIVE OPTIONS!
Hi friend and Welcome!
Finding out what the best affordable studio monitors are becomes a pretty simple solution once we get down to brass tacks. Before we get started in deciphering details though, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this review
After the introduction & backstory, I will break down 2 essential options that have come up time and again in my research. For each:
What these monitors are good for
What you will need?
Thoughts from Stu’s notepad
Similarities & Differences
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!
Back when I was searching for studio monitors, I did a lot of digging. I was aware of the KRK line but eventually found out that they are more hype than substance. The sound is decent, but overall they don’t provide you with an honest frequency response, and if you’re looking for studio monitors, that’s what you want. What are studio monitors?
It doesn’t make sense to buy a pair of speakers that’s going to hype the low end while rendering everything else muddy. For that reason alone I won’t even recommend any KRK monitors today. I will however mention two other really good options and provide a video comparison that actually includes the KRK Rokit 5 sound. You will see just how terrible they are in comparison to the other 2.
Backtracking, when I was looking for the best entry-level option, I came across the JBL LSR 305. It just kept popping up in my searches, so I read as many reviews as I could about them. Nearly every review I read was stellar, so I had to bite the bullet and get them.
I don’t regret the purchase at all.
They’re worth every penny and more and have been going strong in my studio since 2014. With that in mind, let’s dive right into the review!
I will also be reviewing the Yamaha HS5, which also came up many times in my search.
(Note: I want to touch on something quickly also before we get started. I think that reviewers include way too many options in their “best of” articles nowadays. When you get down to specifics like we are in this review, there should be only a couple of options, 2-5 at most in my opinion. Include any more and people just get overwhelmed (including myself). It also tells me that those reviewers didn’t take enough time to narrow down their search. They say a few words about the product and then move on much too quickly. I want to come to a consensus rather quickly on the best 1 or 2 if possible. That aside, here are the 2 that I recommend).
The LSR 305’s are by all accounts an entry-level studio monitor meant to satisfy the needs of the producer/engineer looking for exceptional, reference-level sound quality.
They are active, meaning they don’t need a separate amp to power. They do however need AC (alternating current) power. AC simply means the power frequently reverses direction many times per second. The standard is 60 Hz, with hertz being your typical unit of measure.
Basically, just plug these bad boys into the outlet from your JBL’s and shut up. Just kidding! These monitors come with two cables, as each needs its own power source. Basically, they are MONO speakers and need 2 separate cables running from the back into whatever you are using to receive and transmit the signal.
Some common sources and DAC’s (Digital to Analog interfaces/mixers) that are used with the JBL’s:
An audio interface. What does an audio interface do? I personally have the Scarlett 2i2. It’s a beast of a unit and powers my JBLs magnificently. It uses 2 balanced TRS line output jacks and goes really well with the combo balanced TRS to XLR cables. What is XLR? You could also go with the Scarlett solo, which has unbalanced RCA outputs rather than balanced TRS.
Image control waveguide technology proves to be really beneficial in producing pristine, crystal clear sound, and a wider stereo image. This same technology was used in JBL’s higher-end model monitors (upwards of $20k).
Very accurate. They give stereo sound rather than surround sound. Don’t expect them to be your go-to home audio speakers.
No RCA inputs.
No protective grills on the woofer.
Bass is ported on the back, which may present problems if your monitors are up near a wall or corner of the room. If this is the case, you should invest in some acoustic foam (mentioned earlier).
Tweeter material seems fragile. I did gently touch my finger on it and can confirm this. Just be extra careful I suppose. I haven’t had an issue with them, however.
If you need to return these, you will have to contact customer support to get a special ground only return. The material is considered hazardous.
Some say they are too bulky and look ugly. While I can see the bulky complaint, they aren’t ugly in my opinion. They are kind of big, however, so be aware if you are really strapped for space.
Check out this video review/sound test!
What these monitors are good for
Definitely mixing, hip hop production, and general listening. They have such a flat and accurate response, but somehow still remain a joy to listen to. Remarkable!
What you will need?
You will need some sort of receiver, interface, or mixer (as mentioned above), acting as a mediator/middle man of sorts, to transmit a signal between the computer and the speakers.
Check out this in-depth explanation of Bit depth vs. sample rate. It goes into some of the logistics behind digital to analog, explaining specifically why you need an interface to communicate with your computer!
As for cables
You may not necessarily need all of these cables. This is just to kind of get you started and show that there are a lot of ways to connect speakers to an interface or mixer!
2 balanced TRS to XLR cables (the ones I personally use and prefer)
2 balanced TRS to TRS cables
For the Behringer UCA 202
dual 1/4 in. TS to dual RCA
For a typical mixer
XLR female to dual XLR male
For your iPad
3.5 mm TRS to dual XLR
For your home audio receiver
Your receiver basically takes the audio in from your CD player, turntable, etc., and releases it out again, amplifying the sound out of the JBLs. (not unlike the other setups). If you plan to use these in a home theater setup, you will need to check the manual (or the back) of your receiver to see which audio out cable you will need. A common one would be:
dual 1/4 in. TS to dual RCA. The RCA cables would run from your receiver to each of the monitors.
They are near-field monitors, meaning that they sound best when you’re near them! Sounds obvious, but the farther you are away, the less impact the sound has. This is especially true for the higher frequencies that lose a bit of energy at a greater distance. That said, you want them both facing diagonal towards you, creating a 3 point, equilateral triangle. Also of importance, they will sound much better at ear level. This means you should invest in some stands (if space allows), or build 2 simple shelving units on the wall. All of this really depends on your studio space. For me right now, they sit on my desk in a triangle formation and still sound great. I’m currently looking into elevating them though for improved clarity.
Being that the bass is ported on the rear, you may want to consider some room treatment in the form of a couple of acoustic foam panels and bass traps for the corners of your room. Acoustic Sound Treatment. It’s impossible to get a perfect sound in a bedroom, but taking this extra step will help the sound coming out of the JBL’s immensely. If you plan on having these sitting on your desk, these will go a long way in improving the overall sound coming out of them.
A great pair of monitors that excel in mixing and reference applications. They can also be used as all-purpose computer speakers, and do quite fantastic in this regard. They provide a flat, honest representation of your mix, and are the best resting at ear level. The only glaring complaint is that they’re ugly. The rest of the cons that I pointed out are rather nit-picky but had to be addressed.
Input types: 1x XLR, 1x 1/4″ (TS). Find out about your cables!
Weight: 11.7 lbs.
The Yamaha HS5 is the perfect reference monitor for your small to medium-sized room. They do best as monitors rather than easy listening speakers. The sound is very flat, neutral, and clean. You will be able to tell a bad mix from a good one almost instantaneously. With such a revealing set of monitors, if your mix sounds good on these, it will sound good on anything!
They also have a rock-solid build and will sound bigger than their footprint. A ton of reviewers reported being able to pick out even the smallest of details, which comes in handy when you really need to dissect a mix and find flaws quickly.
Tight, flat, and clean sound. Very neutral.
Clear highs, mids, with just enough low end.
The clarity and separation of highs, mids, and bass are phenomenal.
Very revealing. If your mix sounds good on these, it will translate extremely well to other sources.
Minimal changes required after the initial mix-down. Very accurate and true.
Solid construction/heavy enough.
They may not provide the punch that people are looking for. You may have to upgrade to the HS8’s or add a subwoofer.
What these monitors are good for
Hip hop production. Some were saying that while they are good for hip-hop, don’t buy them solely for this purpose, as the bass may be a bit difficult to mix. There’s simply not much there, and it’s been said that if you can hear the bass on these, you have too much.
Guitar performance (Critical listening).
Good with the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and 2i4.
Not as good for
Your home speaker set up. Definitely don’t buy these expecting them to bring the house down. They are reference monitors and won’t do quite well if you need something loud/entertaining.
What you will need?
An audio interface is highly recommended with these. I touched on the 2i2 above, but generally, you want a good interface because these really won’t sound too great without one. It will give you a good, clean digital to analog conversion, and will power the monitors with relative ease. Check out some of these helpful links on sound!
One reviewer said that the Yamaha HS5’s are better than the LSR 305’s, Adam F5’s, as well as the Adam F7’s. Check out my JBL LSR 305 Review! If what he said is true, you’re in for a world of excitement if you purchase the HS5’s. I’ve had the LSR 305’s since Dec. of 2014 and they are phenomenal as well.
Make sure to purchase balanced cables to avoid noise/ground floor issues.
There were quite a few people complaining about a lack of low end on the HS5’s. As mentioned above, they do well with hip hop, but if you were going to be mixing only that genre, you might consider the HS8’s. They are better suited for that. You may also purchase a separate sub-woofer if you’re really craving that bass.
The HS5’s are pretty bright overall and work best in small to medium-sized rooms.
You may opt to treat your room for the optimal mixing environment. Check out my post on Acoustic Sound Treatment!
After your ears adjust, the HS5’s will really start to sound fantastic.
A modification on these is said to bring out the bass, among other things. Check out this review for specifics!
A great reference monitor with a rock-solid build. It may not have quite the bass response that some are looking for. A separate amp or the upgraded HS8 are viable options here.
Similarities & Differences
They are both entry-level options with 5″ drivers.
They both have a pretty flat frequency response.
Both are very revealing.
The HS5’s have 70Watts of power, while the LSR305’s have 82Watts.
The 305’s are overall a bit more powerful, while still being neutral. They have a deeper bass response than the HS5’s. It is said that to get more of a punch, you may have to purchase the HS8’s and bypass the 5’s altogether. You can also pair a subwoofer with either and get a pretty rad impact.
The HS5’s are a bit more suited for mixing in my opinion. The treble is a tad brighter, and you may be able to pick out flaws in a mix better with the HS5’s overall. You can see from the frequency response of each. The 305’s have a 43Hz – 24kHz response, while the HS5’s go from 50hZ – 30kHz. If you listen carefully to the demo below you will hear these subtle differences in each.
Some say the JBL’s are really ugly. It’s a myth, lol. Why? In the stock photo, they are given way too much light. It makes them look really glossy and bright, which they are not. Whoever took that photo decided to make sure that we could see them clearly. Great job! Lol. But no, the 305’s don’t actually look like that in the studio.
Sound Test (Ignore the Rokits, lol).
Tough call. The HS5’s may be better for mixing, but the lack of bass turns a lot of people off. Still, they get stellar reviews and can be paired with an amp or you can upgrade to the HS8. If you need the absolute best mix with entry-level monitors, the HS5’s are where it’s at. They are a tad better for mixing than the 305’s according to my research.
The 305’s have been sitting in my studio since 2014, and I absolutely love them. They really knock my socks off, especially when they are pushed to the max. I have yet to put the dial on 10, and they really hit hard in my bedroom paired with the Scarlett 2i2. The bass on them goes deeper than the HS5, so if you’re strapped for cash, need more bass, but can’t splurge on the HS8’s, I would definitely consider the 305’s. They are also remarkable for mixing. As you can see, it’s a close race!
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.