In terms of convenience and price, it’s hard to beat a pair of quality active monitors. Whether you plan to mix and master in the studio or edit effects and dialogue in a multimedia environment, you can find powered reference speakers that meet your needs in size, power, and price.
In this article, we focus on biamped, 2-way monitors for two studio situations—small models designed for use within cramped quarters or when portability is a requirement; and larger sizes suitable for mixing and other critical listening uses. (Prices are MSRP for individual monitors unless otherwise noted.)
Desktop and Portable
In this category, we look at products that are small enough to sit on the desktop or wall mount in an editing suite; specifically, models with low-frequency drivers that are 5" or smaller in diameter. In some cases, the diminutive size and low weight of the monitor will make it a good choice for traveling.
Fender Passport StudioFENDER
The Passport Studio ($599/pair street) system is designed for reference monitoring on the go, with two speakers that can be snapped together for easy portability, just like the models in Fender’s Passport P.A. line. In this case, the setup provides 150W of Class D amplification and weighs a total of 18 lbs.
The speakers—a 5" polyglass LF driver and an inverted tweeter—are made by Focal. Like many systems intended for desktop use, the Passport Studio puts all of the electrical components in one (active) cabinet that connects to the second, passive cabinet using a single cable.
The active speaker has a front-panel 3.5mm stereo input, a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, a volume control, plus bass and treble EQ controls. Within a rear-panel compartment are a pair of balanced 1/4" TRS inputs and the connector port for the satellite speaker. And like the Passport P.A.s, the passive cabinet has a rear-panel storage compartment for cables.
The company’s PM Series of personal monitors includes the PM0.3d ($149/pair street), the PM0.4d ($199/street), and the PM0.5d ($349/ pair street). As the model numbers indicate from low to high, the fiberglass-cone woofers are sized 3", 4", and 5", with a 0.75" tweeter in each. The power rating for the models ranges from 30W to 58W.
The PM0.4d and PM0.5d offer unbalanced 1/4" and RCA inputs. The PM0.3d is a paired system, combining a powered speaker with RCA inputs, a stereo 3.5mm input, a volume control, and a 3.5mm TRS output that connects to the passive speaker. This model also includes adhesive feet that tilt the speaker upward.
The 50W, Class D powered 8010A ($395 street) is designed specifically with pros in mind for both stereo or surround work. Here, a 3" woofer and 0.75" tweeter are housed in a die-cast aluminum case that is just over 7.5" tall and weighs in around 3.5 lbs.
Genelec includes an Iso-Pad base for decoupling the monitors from your desktop. Threaded holes are also provided for wall mounting. Other pro-level features include an XLR input, as well as an input sensitivity switch, standby mode, and various lowcut settings, the latter of which are accessed via recessed DIP switches.
With a 4" Kevlar LF driver and 1" silk tweeter that together offer 45W RMS, the VXT4 ($299 street) is designed for chores such as editing, sound design, or surround. The combo input jack makes it easy to interface the VXT4 with balanced (XLR and 1/4") or unbalanced (1/4") signals. As with KRK’s larger active monitors, you’ll find a groundlift switch, an input level control, switchable automuting, a limiter, and a clip indicator.
For situations in which you need to protect the speakers, the VXT4 comes with a removable metal grille. Rubber gaskets are included to decouple the speaker cabinet from the grille and screws.
The CR3 ($129.99/pair) and CR4 ($199.99/pair) constitute Mackie’s recent foray into budget-priced stereo playback systems for desktop and travel. As with Fender and Fostex above, these systems are sold in pairs, with one cabinet housing the active components. Cabling is included, as well as foam pads to decouple the cabinets from the desktop.
As you might expect, the CR3 has a 3" woofer, while the CR4 has a 4" woofer. A 0.75" silk-dome tweeter is used in both. The systems weigh 5.5 and 7.1 lbs respectively and are designed to work in casual and professional environments by providing RCA and balanced 1/4" TRS inputs, as well as a stereo aux input and a combination level control/ power switch on the front panel.
Small, solidly built, and hefty, the KH 120 ($749) sports a 5.25" low-frequency driver and 1" tweeter, weighs in at 13.7 lbs, and provides 50W of power for each driver. As you might expect, given the price, this monitor, though small, is designed for professional use, particularly in broadcast and surround situations, desktop or install.
In addition to an XLR input and M8 holes for mounting, the KH 120 has output level switches, an input gain control, and three bands of EQ control— bass cut, low-mid cut, and treble boost/cut— to offset any acoustic effects due to placement. The controls and DIP switches are recessed to avoid accidental changes.
Designed to be a low-cost alternative for multimedia work and general music production, the Prodipe MS 4C (€149/pair; around $164) is a powered coaxial speaker system in which one of the cabinets powers the pair. The 4" woofers have a shielded Kevlar cone with a 1" silk-dome tweeter in the center.
The powered cabinet has stereo inputs (two RCA jacks and a 3.5mm TRS jack), a 3.5mm output to connect the second speaker, and a master level control. The pair puts out 20W RMS. Designed with the desktop in mind, the bottom of the cabinets are beveled slightly, allowing you to tip each monitor back so that the speakers aim upward toward your ears.
Tannoy Reveal 502TANNOY
The feature set of the Reveal 402 ($139 street) and Reveal 502 ($179 street) go even further into catering to both professional and consumer needs. The 50W and 75W monitors, which have 4" and 5" woofers, respectively, include XLR and unbalanced 1/4" inputs. A 3.5mm stereo aux input is for Monitor Link mode, which lets you send the stereo signal to the other monitor with the included cable—convenient for casual listening. A switch on the rear panel determines which speaker is left or right.
Each model includes a high-frequency cut/ boost and a stepped volume control. The bottom of the cabinet has a rubber pad for decoupling.
If you’re looking for these features in a Tannoy model with a larger low-frequency driver, the Reveal 802 ($272 street) has an 8" woofer and is rated at 100W.
In this category, we have monitors with low-frequency drivers that are 6" or greater in diameter. These provide playback with a truer bass response than smaller drivers can offer, which is more suitable for mixing and mastering work.
Adam F7ADAM AUDIO
Adam built its reputation on high-quality, albeit pricey monitors that feature proprietary X-ART (eXtended Accelerating Ribbon Technology) pleated-diaphragm tweeters, which the company claims provide nearly flat playback up to 50 kHz. However, Adam now offers the more affordable F5 ($274 street) and F7 ($449 street), both of which feature 3" X-ART ribbon tweeters.
The F5 has a 5" LF driver and is rated at 50W RMS, while the F7 has a 7" LF driver and is rated at 100W RMS. However, these Class AB monitors share other features: A balanced combo jack and RCA jack are the input choices; switches for high- and low-frequency boost/cut; a highpass filter switch for use with a subwoofer; and a level control. Rear-panel wall mounts are also included.
Dynaudio BM12 mkIIIDYNAUDIO
Now in their third rev, Dynaudio BM Series monitors were developed for mixing and critical-listening situations. Despite the model number, the BM5 mkIII ($729 street) has a 7" woofer, a 1.1" soft-dome tweeter, and 100W of Class D power with a DSP-controlled crossover. The BM6 mkIII ($899 street), on the other hand, has the same driver size but Class AB amplification and greater output—a total of 150W.
The next step up is the BM12 mkIII ($1,229 street), which features an 8" woofer, a 1.1" tweeter, and 150W of Class AB output. The desktop model, the Compact mkIII ($629 street) has a 5.7" woofer and offers 100W of Class D power with a DSP-based crossover.
In addition to providing pro-level audio quality, Dynaudio keeps things simple. The BM6 and BM12 have a single XLR input, an input level switch, a 3-setting highpass filter, and an additional 3-band EQ section to help deal with boundary issues. The BM5 and BM Compact add an RCA input and include a switchable Sleep mode and remote input. All four models are bundled with high-quality speaker isolation stands made by Iso-Acoustic.
Focal Alpha 80FOCAL
Focal made a big splash recently by releasing affordable monitors while maintaining the sound quality the company is known for. Featuring Class AB power, the biamped Alpha 65 ($449) has a 6.5" woofer and is rated at 105W, while the Alpha 80 ($599) features an 8" woofer and is rated at 140W. Both monitors have a 1" inverted-dome tweeter, XLR and RCA inputs, high- and low-shelving filters, a +6dB boost switch, a built-in compressor and limiter, and a standby mode that kicks in after 30 minutes of non-use. They weigh 21 lbs and 28 lbs, respectively.
The company also offers the Alpha 50 ($349), which has a 5" LF driver and a 65W rating. However, this model is also somewhat heavy (16 lbs), making it less portable than many of the desktop-sized monitors above. Yet it provides the same overall feature set as the larger models.
The DSP-based PX-5 ($499/pair street) has a 5.2" woofer and provides a total of 53W, whereas the PX-6 ($599/pair street) has a 6.5" woofer yielding 78W of total output. The 1" tweeter on both models is made of polyester fiber and laminated with a urethane film.
An XLR and 1/4" combo input and RCA jack sit next to a rotary control that is used for level and tone. A FIR-style digital network filter optimizes playback accuracy. Handy features include automatic standby and level fade-in during power-up that mitigates damage to the drivers.
Among its wide range of high-quality studio monitors, Genelec offers the M040 ($895 street), which provides a total of 130W of Class D amplification at an affordable price. This model features a 6.5" woofer and a 1" tweeter utilizing the company’s Directivity Controlled Waveguide.
Suitable for stand, shelf, or wall mounting, the M040 has a combo jack that accepts XLR and 1/4" input, an RCA input, and a set of recessed DIP switches for level and low-end attenuation.
For desktop use and more portable situations, Genelec has the M030 ($625 street), providing many of the same features as the M040 but with a 5" woofer, 0.75" tweeter, and a total of 80W output. It weighs 8.8 lbs.
Gibson Les Paul 8GIBSON
Gibson recently made a solid foray into the world of studio reference monitors with the Les Paul 6 ($799 street) and Les Paul 8 ($999 street). Pricier than many models in this roundup, they’re designed with high-quality audio playback in mind. Available in a Tobacco Burst or Cherry Burst finish, the Les Paul monitors have dual front-panel bass ports, a non-woven carbon-fiber woofer, and a 1" carbon-coated titanium tweeter.
With 6" and 8" woofers, respectively, the Les Paul 6 and Les Paul 8 are each rated at 247W and support XLR, balanced and unbalanced 1/4", and RCA input. Bass and treble boost/cut knobs and a volume control are also available, along with a standby button for saving energy when the monitors are on but not in use.
For studios that want the same design and build quality in a desktop and portable size, Gibson also offers the Les Paul 4 ($599 street) featuring a 4" LF driver, a total output of 103W, and the same complement of rear-panel features as the larger models. (For a full review of the Les Paul 8, visit emusican.com.)
Originally developed for its M2 Master Reference Monitor, JBL’s patented Image Control Waveguide yields a wide sweet spot while providing high-resolution playback. However, this enhanced waveguide technology is now available in the company’s affordably priced, Class D powered, pro-level LSR3 Series studio monitors: The LSR308 ($219 street) has an 8" driver, a 1" soft-dome tweeter, and offers 112W total output. It has separate XLR and 1/4" TRS inputs, a volume control, and switches for input sensitivity and HF and LF trim. (Visit emusician.com for a full review of the LSR308.)
For desktop and mobile situations, JBL also offers the LSR305 ($129 street), which features a 5" woofer and a total output of 82W. The monitor weighs just over 10 lbs.
The popular and affordable Rokit series is in its third generation and available in three models: the 100W Rokit 8 G3 ($249 street) with 8" driver; the 73W Rokit 6 G3 ($199 street) with 6" driver; and the desktop-friendly 50W Rokit 5 G3 ($149 street) with 5" woofer. Featuring Aramid glass-composite woofers, 1" soft-dome tweeters, and Class AB amplification, the Rokit G3s have individual XLR, 1/4" TRS, and RCA inputs; a volume control; and individual HF and LF controls.
The company’s VXT6 ($449 street) and VXT8 ($599 street) offer a step up in quality, with woven Kevlar woofers plus greater output from their Class AB amps—90W and 180W, respectively. In addition to a balanced combo input and a volume control, they feature switches for HF and LF adjust, ground lift, auto mute, and limiter. The switches are covered to protect them from accidental changes.
Mackie MR8 Mk3MACKIE
The company’s MR Series is up to the mk3 level: With a redesigned waveguide and front baffle that is symmetrically bowed forward, the three new models include the MR5mk3 ($149 street) with a 5.25" woofer, the MR6mk3 ($199 street) with 6.5" woofer, and the MR8mk3 ($249 street) featuring an 8" woofer. Each model has a 1" silk-dome tweeter and Class AB amps providing a total of 50W, 65W, and 85W, respectively.
In order to support a variety of applications, the monitors include balanced (XLR and 1/4" TRS) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs with a continuously variable gain control and switches for adjusting playback response (bass boost and high boost/cut). The bass-reflex port on the rear has also been redesigned.
Presonus Sceptre S8PRESONUS
The Sceptre monitors utilize a custom coaxial design (for speaker coherence alignment) that works together with DSP time correction to form a technology PreSonus refers to as CoActual. The two models are the Sceptre S6 ($599 street), with a 6.5" low-frequency driver, and the Sceptre S8 ($749 street) with an 8" driver. Both utilize a 1"-diaphragm compression driver, with 32-bit/48kHz digital signal processing to correct frequency and time issues, and 90W of Class D amplification dedicated to the HF and LF driver of each model of monitor.
Aimed at pro and personal studios, the speakers offer balanced inputs that accept XLR and 1/4" TRS connectors, and an input sensitivity control (-10dBv to +4dBu) is included. Their electronically accessed EQ controls for low cut and high boost/cut help you adjust the monitors to fit room placement. A highpass filter is also included when you’re using the Sceptres with a subwoofer.
While we’re on the subject of coaxial speaker arrangements, Prodipe offers a trio of such monitors— the 75W TDC 5 (€299; around $329) with a 5" aluminum-cone woofer; the TDC 6 (€349; roughly $384) with a 6.5" woofer and a total of 90W; and the TDC 8 (€ 399; about $439), with an 8" aluminum-cone, low-frequency driver and 140W total. Each model has a 1" silk-dome tweeter, balanced XLR and 1/4" TRS inputs, and an unbalanced RCA input, with input level and high-frequency controls.
Prodipe PRO 5 V2 The 75W Studio Monitor Pro 5 V2 (€259; roughly 285) and 140W Studio Monitor Pro 8 V2 (€359; about $395) 2-way monitors each feature an aluminum low-frequency driver, silk-dome tweeter, an input level control, adjustable high-frequency, and the same input selection as the coaxial models. The 90W biamplified Pro6 (€299; around $329) has a 6.5" woofer and the same I/O and rear-panel controls, but it sports two 1" silk-dome tweeters.
Last but not least, the company offers the Pro8- 3W (€649; about $720), a 3-way, tri-amped system with an 8" woofer (90W amp), a 4" mid-frequency driver (40W amp), and a 1" tweeter (20W). Designed for horizontal positioning, the Pro8-3W has a high-frequency control like the Pro 5 V2 and Pro 8 V2 models above, as well as a mid-frequency knob, both of which are located on the front panel. The input selection and rear-panel volume control are also the same as on the Pro-Series products.
Samson Resolv RXA6SAMSON
New in the company’s Resolv series of 2-way active studio reference monitors are the RXA models, which utilize a 2.5" air-displacement ribbon tweeter. The RXA5 ($199 street) pushes 70W and has a 5" woofer, while the RXA6 ($249 street) offers 100W and has a 6" woofer.
Below the rear-panel bass port, you’ll find balanced XLR and 1/4" inputs, an RCA input, high- and low-frequency boost/cut controls, and a volume knob. Wall mounts are included for installation purposes.
The 2-way Samson Resolv SE5 ($124 street), SE6 ($149 street), and SE8 ($199 street) monitors (with 5", 6.5", and 8" woven carbon-fiber woofers, respectively) have a 1.25" soft-dome tweeter and front-panel bass port. The Resolv SE5 accepts RCA and 1/4" TRS input, while the two larger models add an XLR input jack and produce a total of 100W each. All three have a volume control and HF boost/cut.
Yamaha’s flagship nearfield HS Series studio monitors are available in three sizes—the HS5 ($250), with 5" woofer and rated at 70W total; the HS7 ($399), with a 6.5" woofer and 95W total rating; and the HS8 ($499), with 8" cone pushing a total of 120W. All models have a 1" dome tweeter and are housed in MDF bass-reflex cabinets.
The monitors accept balanced and unbalanced input (XLR and 1/4" jacks provided) and include a lowcut switch, high cut/boost, and a level control. The HS Series monitors are available in black or white. (Visit emusician.com to read a review of the HS5 monitor.)
Adam Audio adam-audio.com