Last Updated on May 17, 2022.
Why are studio monitors different than audiophile speakers? This is a question that I genuinely asked myself many times over the years, and I guess you are asking the same question now too.
Speakers come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s a reason why audio engineers use studio monitors for mixing and mastering, often more than just a single pair since each pair offers something the others don’t.
However, does this mean that studio monitors are better than audiophile speakers? Is there even a difference between the two? And which one is right for you?
I will answer all of these questions in this article, and more!
Disclaimer: There are a lot of different opinions on this subject and people tend to get into all sorts of heated debates about it. I’m not here to tell you one is better than the other, or that you should only use studio monitors for mixing, for example, since you could definitely do so with audiophile speakers, but rather to give you my opinion on what I experienced with both setups and to help you make a reasonable choice depending on your needs.
Now, without any further ado, let’s get started.
Difference between studio monitors and audiophile speakers
Studio Monitors are designed to have a flat frequency response to allow the listener to hear everything that is going on without it being altered in any way by the speakers, whereas audiophile speakers generally have some EQ applied to them to make the audio sound more pleasing.
It’s worth noting, however, that this is a very broad statement and that there’s a lot more going on. But generally speaking, studio monitors are not designed to make music sound great but rather to help the audio engineer understand what frequencies need to be balanced, and audiophile speakers’ aim is to make the music come alive and to make it sound better, which is quite different.
Studio Monitors tend to sound “Dull”
While this might be subjective, since studio monitors are designed to sound flat, they also sound a lot duller than speakers that have been EQ’d to not sound this way.
I used to own a couple of high-end audiophile speakers (well, not that high-end but still pretty darn good), and I distinctly remember music sounding absolutely phenomenal through them.
Since I moved to a different country, I decided to sell them and now I only own a pair of regular flat-sounding studio monitors, and even though I thoroughly enjoy them and also use them for producing music, the way they sound isn’t as pleasing, at least not to me, but they are a bit better for general music production (again, this all depends on a lot of things)!
Studio Monitor Brands claim studio monitors are the same/better than audiophile speakers
Some brands that manufacture studio monitors claim that if audiophile had any sense at all, they would use studio monitors for listening to music. I mean, isn’t music being produced on studio monitors? So, doesn’t it make sense to listen to it through them?
While this may be a very solid argument in essence, it’s actually somewhat flawed, and here’s why; Typically, studio monitors are chosen for their ability to give the recording and mastering engineers a specific set of parameters that they are interested in so that they can affect the audio in a specific way while mixing/mastering. This may not, and probably won’t, line up with what we as listeners are interested in, but the engineers need to be able to critically listen to specific frequencies and how “balanced” they are to be able to make a proper decision.
It’s also worth adding that studio monitors are designed to be used in an acoustically treated room, meaning that there won’t be too many sound reflections going on, whereas audiophile speakers are designed to sit in a living room, or any other “regular” room where acoustic treatment isn’t really present.
All of this to say that both technologies are different and serve a different purpose as well as a different audience (most of the times, at least). But to answer the claim about studio monitors being better than audiophile speakers, it’s not the case. They are different and serve a different purpose.
Studio Monitors are “flawed”
Although studio monitors are designed to sound accurate and flat, some of the most-used ones, such as the Yamaha NS-10’s, accentuate some areas of the mix, which can be a desired characteristic if you want to hone in on specific frequencies to achieve better separation between instruments that share that frequency spectrum.
Most studios have two or three pairs of monitors, and some are given specific tasks. For example; Certain console mounted monitors, such as the NS-10 I just mentioned, do a fine job of reproducing the crowded midrange band, and this helps separating vocal tracks from guitars, hi-hats, etc., which is definitely a huge benefit.
Which one should you get?
Well, as far as mixing/mastering goes, I would recommend studio monitors and the best ones you can get, since studio monitors essentially work as your “ears” while producing music, which needs to be as neutral as possible and show you everything that is going on.
However, if you’re only interested in listening to music, the reality is that it depends on your taste. Some people like more hiphy-sounding speakers, while some others love the more flat- and neutral sound of studio monitors, and this is something you’ll have to figure out for yourself.
In short: Studio monitors are designed to sound flat and not very exciting, but they tend to reveal a lot of what is going on this the mix which allows you to make great decisions while producing music, whereas audiophile speakers make music come to life, sound more appealing, have more energy, etc.
Again, some listeners prefer studio monitors for regular music listening, while some others prefer the excitement that audiophile systems bring to the table.
Studio Monitor Recommendations for every budget
For most people, who I assume as beginners or just enthusiasts who like to produce music every now and then, I’d recommend going with something affordable. Just make sure that they are decent speakers and not the ones being marketed as “Studio Monitors” when, in fact, they sound like garbage! Yes, I’m looking at you PreSonus Eris e3.5 and e4.5.
In this case I have two recommendations:
I tried both and, in fact, I own a pair of the Kali LP-6, and they sound great and only cost about $300 a pair.
For people looking to up their game, I’d recommend these:
If you’re thinking of getting your first set of studio monitors, then make sure to check out this article I wrote about the best studio monitors under $300.
I think it’s pretty clear that it’s mostly a matter of preference, especially for people who are solely interested in listening to music, since audiophile speakers tend to add warmth and a little bit of color to the signal.
Music producers may benefit more from studio monitors, although a combination of various systems is definitely the way to go since you need to be able to gauge how the mix is sounding in those different audio systems.
If you simply want music to sound exciting, go with an audiophile/Hi-Fi setup, but if you’re a music producer then either get studio monitors or both.
I hope this information was useful!
Have a great day!