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The Best Studio Monitors Under $500 (A Pair)

by | Studio Monitors | 1 comment

This article on the best studio monitors under $500 a pair is the second in a series on the best studio monitors available today.

In a previous article I focused on the best monitors under $300 a pair.  Please check it out if you’re looking for monitors in that price range.

This article is going to focus on the best monitors between $300 and $500 a pair.  The extra $200 make a big difference in a monitor’s size, construction and sound reproduction quality.

At the $300 and $500 price point you can get some very good pro level studio monitors that will be excellent for home studio recording, small project studio music production, video editing, or any other uses.

The Best Studio Monitors Under $500 A Pair

Yamaha HS5

NS-10 successor
  • The Best Studio Monitors Under $500 -Yamaha HS5
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KRK Rokit 8

user favorite, 100W
  • The Best Studio Monitors Under $500 -KRK Rokit 8
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JBL LSR308

excellent detail, imaging
  • The Best Studio Monitors Under $500 - JBL LSR308
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M-Audio BX8

accurate, balanced
  • The Best Studio Monitors Under $500 -M-Audio BX8
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Studio Monitor Buying Guide

First off, if you are new to buying monitors, please check out my Studio Monitors 101: A How-To Guide To Buying The Best Studio Monitors For Your Home Studio article.  You’ll learn the differences between monitors and speakers, types of studio monitors, monitor design, what to look for, and much more.

Monitor Basics

The main role of studio monitors is to give you an accurate, uncolored and transparent picture of the music you are creating.

At this price point, manufacturers are able to incorporate high-quality components and engineering to create great sounding monitors.  Monitors below $300 usually feature lesser-quality components and design in order for manufacturers to make a profit.

Generally, more expensive monitors give you the following features and benefits:

  • a larger woofer size (8” and up) for tighter and deeper bass response
  • better tweeter design and construction for tight focused highs
  • better cabinet construction/port design for improved sound reproduction, imaging, clarity and bass response
  • more power for increased volume without distortion
  • flatter frequency response overall

So, get the best monitors you can afford!

My advice is that spending just a little more is well worth the additional money.  A pair of monitors around $500 a pair vastly outperforms those priced at $300 a pair.   And you’ll end up with monitors that won’t need to be replaced or upgraded for many years.

Review Criteria

All monitors were chosen based on their widespread use and reputation in the professional music community.

I also add my insights gained from my 25+ years of experience running a very successful music production company, running Audio Addiction Music Library, a production music library with global distribution, and recording in major studios.

OK, let’s move on to the monitor reviews!

Pro Tip

The key to killer mixes is an accurate monitoring system that is placed in an acoustically treated room.  You’ll get the best results with your monitors by including proper studio acoustic treatment like acoustic panels, bass traps, diffusers, etc.

The Best Studio Monitors Under $500 A Pair

Important Note: Many prices you see in online stores are for only 1 monitor, which is really misleading! This article only includes a pair of monitors that are under $500.

Also note that all the monitors I’m including are powered near-field monitors which will provide the best value and features for the money.

Yahama HS5

The Yahama HS5 is a successor of the famous NS-10M monitors that countless rock and pop records were produced and mixed on in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. NS-10s were the industry standard, and just about every studio back then had a pair.   I still own a pair (now in the closet!) that I used for years with great results.

The NS-10M was not the greatest sounding monitor, but producers and mixers found that their mixes on them beat out mixes on most other near-field monitors, regardless of the cost.

Just listen to a lot of classic rock tracks from the 70s that were mixed on them – they still sound fantastic!

Yamaha has brought that heritage into the modern day HS5 studio monitor, and added refinements that make it an outstanding monitor in its price class.

Yamaha HS5 Specs:

  • Woofer: 5” cone
  • Tweeter: 1” Soft-Dome
  • Design: 2-way non-ported
  • Frequency response: 54 Hz – 30 kHz
  • 70 watts: 45 watt LF amp + 25W HF amp
  • XLR, ¼” TRS inputs
  • Weight: 12 lbs.

Check price:
Amazon | zZoundsGuitar Center

These monitors were the winner of the Electronic Musician 2014 Editor’s Choice Award.  This is not surprising, as there are hundreds of very positive reviews on Amazon and other stores.

The HS5s are well-built, with advanced construction using technology derived from Yamaha’s 100 years of piano design experience.

Yamaha HS Series Powered Studio Monitors

Soundwise, the vast majority of users really love the clear detailed highs and mids without the muddiness found in lower-priced monitors.  Despite having a small 5” woofer, they offer very clean and tight bass reproduction at normal listening volumes.

Importantly, many studio owners find that their mixes are more consistent after upgrading to these from lower-priced monitors.  Quite a few buyers upgrade from the Rokit 5 or other monitors in the under $300 range, and found a huge difference in sound quality for just a couple hundred dollars more.  With monitors, you do get what you pay for!

For dance, hip hop or electronica producers who love an extended low end, adding the Yamaha HS8 Studio Subwoofer (around $450) really makes a solid professional monitoring setup.

Each monitor has use-controllable Room Control parameters to correct for exaggerated bass buildup that may occur when monitors are being placed near walls or corners of a room.  There is also a High Trim control to allow for customized high frequency response.

The HS5s are available in both black and white.

Note: The HS5s do not come with cables, so you will need to pick them up separately.

KRK Rokit 8 Generation 3

The KRK Rokit 8 is the bigger brother of the previously reviewed Rokit 5, which is a user favorite.

The main differences are an 8” woofer vs. 5”, and 100 watts of power vs. 50 watts. These changes have resulted in the Rokit 8 weighing almost double the Rokit 5!

With the Rokit 8 the frequency response is extended on the low side to 35Hz from 45Hz, giving it better bass response, and with 100 watts you can playback tracks at higher sound levels without distortion.

KRK ROKIT G3 Features and Benefits

KRK Rokit 8 Gen 3 Specs:

  • Woofer: 8” aramid glass composite cone
  • Tweeter: 1” soft-dome
  • Design: 2-way ported
  • Frequency response: 35 Hz – 35 kHz
  • 100 watt total bi-amped Class A/B amplifier
  • XLR, ¼”, and RCA input jacks
  • Weight: 24.6 lbs.

Check price:
Amazon | zZoundsGuitar Center

The Rokit 8 delivers professional level results for not a lot of money.  Buyers frequently comment on the crisp sound and tight bass.  Lots of 4 and 5 star reviews on multiple online stores point to satisfied users around the world.

The inclusion of an RCA input jack on the Rokit 8 is very handy for non-professional home studio setups. Many home studio owners end up connecting their monitors to non-pro level mixing boards or other gear which may only have RCA outputs.

Some users have pointed to noise problems when connecting through the unbalanced RCA jacks.

It is important to know that RCA connectors are unbalanced and thus are not designed to reduce noise and hum.  The noise issue is fixed when connecting through the XLR or balanced ¼” jacks.

Note that these are not small monitors – they are 12.4” deep x 10.8” wide x 15.6” high.  You will likely need to place them on speaker stands.  They also weigh almost 25 lbs. each, so make sure your studio setup can comfortably fit them.

JBL LSR308

The JBL LSR308 is the bigger brother of the previously reviewed LSR 305.  The LSR308s do not disappoint, especially in being able to crank the volume!

JBL LSR308 Specs:

  • Woofer: 8” long-throw
  • Tweeter: 1” soft-dome woven composite Neodymium
  • Design: 2-way rear ported
  • Frequency response: 37 Hz – 24 kHz
  • 112 watt total bi-amped Class D amplifier
  • XLR and ¼” input jacks
  • Weight: 18.9 lbs.

Check price:
Amazon | zZoundsGuitar Center

JBL has been making high-end speakers and monitors for many decades and have continually honed and utilized their leading technology into crafting quality monitors at lower price points.

The 3 series monitors are the first to employ the Image Control Waveguide technology which was developed for their flagship M2 Master Reference Monitor which cost $20,000 a pair!

These technologies have led to the LSR308’s best attributes: deep mix depth and detail, a wide “sweet spot”, excellent imaging and a wide stereo landscape.

JBL 3 Series Powered Studio Monitors

Note: these are pretty large monitors that will likely require speaker stands.  Because of this, the LSR308 is known for its deep bass response which is unusual for monitors under $500.

One of the LSR308’s key strengths is that they are loud!  They are able to output up to 108 dB for those of you who like to test the limits of your hearing!

One review site put the LSR308 to the test against a pair of Dynaudio BM6As.  The LSR308 held its own with maybe a bit of mid and low end “fuzziness” compared to the BM6As.  But the kicker is that the BM6As are about $1,800 a pair, so that’s a great testament to these monitor’s sound quality!

M-Audio BX8 Carbon

M-Audio is a U.S. based company well-known for their monitors, USB audio interfaces, keyboard controllers, microphones, and more.

The BX8 is the highest-end monitor in their BX series line, the other models being the BX5 and BX6.  It was redesigned in 2014 to receive a “carbon” update which included both an internal and external redesign.

M-Audio BX8 Carbon Specs:

  • Woofer: 8” Kevlar curved cone
  • Tweeter: 1.25” silk-dome
  • Design: 2-way rear ported
  • Frequency response: 38 Hz – 22 kHz
  • 130 watts total (70 watts LF, 60 watts HF) bi-amped Class AB amplifiers
  • XLR and ¼” input jacks
  • Weight: 26.4 lbs.

Check price:
Amazon | zZoundsGuitar Center

The BX8 is known for its accuracy, with deep detailed bass and balanced highs.  Sound on Sound Magazine did a detailed review in 2014 and found that it had “a smooth but detailed high end, warm but not too flabby lows” and a good tonal balance.

It is also very well constructed. Each monitor weighs almost 27 lbs., so monitor stands are likely a must.

Note that the port is located on the rear, so you will need to leave some room behind the each monitor to let the sound breathe.

For very small rooms, the bass from the BX8 may be too much (especially if you have no acoustic treatment) and if so, the smaller BX6 or BX5 models might be a better choice.

The BX8 is the first monitor I’ve seen with special monitor placement LEDs to help situate you in the best mixing “sweet spot”.  According to M-Audio:

“Pinhole-mounted LED placement cues help locate and light up the sweet spot to ensure a speaker placement that reliably translates stereo information and frequencies. When the LEDs turn bright, you know you’re dead center and ready to start mixing your sessions or laying down tracks.”

The BX8 comes with their Acoustic Space Control calibration tools that helps provide optimal acoustic conditions for tracking, mixing, and monitoring.

Overall, the BX8 is an impressive monitor that has found a home in many studios around the world!

Other Noteworthy Monitors

Here are some runner-ups that didn’t quite make my list.  But check them out, as you may find a great deal!

Conclusion

Choosing the right studio monitors is not easy and should be done only after careful consideration.  Your budget, the size of the room you are working in, and or course the sound quality of the monitors are all very important.

What you’ll find is that there are no “perfect” monitors – they will all sound different in different studios.

Your recording hardware or software, your computer soundcard, your AD/DA converter, and especially your room – these all end up coloring the sound in different ways.

So trying to find the perfect monitors that everyone agrees on isn’t realistic.

Instead, look for quality monitors in your price range that have provided great results for many studio owners over the years.

And finally, don’t forget your room acoustics!  High-quality monitors only reach their full potential in a properly treated room.

 

 

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