Until I tried the JBL 306P MkII I was of the opinion that “proper” monitors started on the £500-£1000 price range. The JBLs made me reconsider this and while they and a couple of recent additions in the sub £500 region perform admirably, I’d still recommend anyone looking at getting a first pair of monitors hold out until they had enough to look in this part of the market as choice increases significantly. While there are some viable monitors available for less there is also some gear we’d avoid. Once you’re spending close to £1000 there are lots of respectable options and it comes down to what you prefer. Here are eight we’d recommend you check out.
Pricing is in British pounds, prices are per pair, are from Google and are intended as a guide only.
Neumann KH 80 - £818
The KH80s are the smallest of the Neumann range but they are arguably the cleverest. Small and full of powerful DSP which allows you to tailor the response of your monitors to your room without needing any knowledge of acoustics or a measurement mic.
In the recent article on the KH80s we explain how there are three different modes of DSP setup. From simple settings on the back panel via a four position switch, through guided questioning via the control app which guesstimates the appropriate settings from information you input about your room through to detailed setup from a measurement taken using third party software.
These little monitors sound good straight out of the box and sound better when set up appropriately for your room. Proper DSP monitors for under £1000 are definitely worth considering.
HEDD Type 05 - £730
ATM or ribbon tweeters probably look like the stand out feature of these monitors and while the ATM tweeter does sound great it’s only one of the things about these compact two ways which made them stand out to us. Like all the HEDD monitors the type 05 have the option of phase linear crossover filters but uniquely this isn’t done using DSP built into the monitors but by accessing the processing available in the user’s computer. The HEDD lineariser plug-in handles crossover phase correction natively.
With the addition of the optional Dante bridge card the Type 05s can be used as a Dante endpoint, still a relatively rare feature at any price point and with the solid performance from the custom LF driver with its unique honeycomb-sandwich-material construction and its impressively solidly constructed ported cabinet this is our favourite of the HEDD lineup - Impressive considering it’s the smallest and the cheapest.
Genelec 8030C - £830
Genelec have had huge success in the mid level monitor market and while much of their range is too expensive to be represented in this area of the market, their smaller 8000 series monitors do qualify. We’d recommend the 8030C as its 5” woofer offers the best compromise for a 2 way design.
The 8000 series have been around for a long time and have become so ubiquitous in installs and education that they are almost seen as a boring choice but having used many, many pairs of these we’d say that their success is deserved, they sound good and are bulletproof in operation. The more modern versions support DSP correction via Genelec’s GLM software and some even support AoIP via ASE67 but the 8030C is a straight, all analogue affair. Accurate reliable monitors.
ADAM Audio A5X - £590
Between ADAM Audio’s entry level T Series that cost around £500 for a set and top tier S Series monitors which are at around £2,000 is the popular AX range. A pair of A5X are a serious set of active monitors you should consider. Unlike the monitors we’ve mentioned in this list the AX’s feature power on/off and volume controls on the front of the monitor, which saves users from having to reach around the back to turn the monitors on and off. The aesthetics can also be changed by way of pre cut stackable skins which is a neat touch if you feel the matte black finish is a bit boring.
The sound is pure ADAM Audio, plenty of detail, punch and range, even from this A5X 5.5" powered studio monitor.
Dynaudio LYD 7 - £872
Dynaudio’s LYD range of LYD 5, 7 and 8 are really good sounding speakers but the 7 really is the pick of the bunch. The 5, while sweet sounding, is really lacking in the bottom end while the 8 to our ears, somewhat over-eggs the low end pudding. The 7 however hits the sweet sport of nice clear top end from the traditional Dynaudio soft dome tweeter and plenty of nice solid bass from the 7 inch woofer newly designed for the LYD range without being fake or overly flattering, you still have to work when you mix on a pair of LYD 7 speakers.
LYD also benefits from some very clever onboard DSP that allows you to install the speaker far closer to walls and corners that one would normally recommend. The LYD range was designed with the home studio and small project studio in mind, so while you are getting professional high end speakers with Dynaudio’s level of build quality and attention to detail, you are getting them for what you might call a project studio price tag. We think that Dynaudio have created a great sounding monitor that is going to work in any small to medium sized space. And if you’re not a fan of white speakers, they do also come in black.
Presonus Sceptre S6 - £1098 (yep, we know…)
These nudge in slightly over budget, though the lowest price we found was under £1000, the typical retail price is a little higher. If you happen to find a little extra cash down the back of the sofa then while Presonus make the extremely respectable Eris monitors, which would definitely qualify for inclusion in this list, a more interesting choice is the Sceptre 6 coaxial monitors. Coaxial monitors are an excellent way to address the timing issues introduced by different path lengths from multiple drivers and by having the HF driver mounted in the centre of the woofer point source performance can be achieved. The Sceptre 6s also incorporate DSP processing, though unlike the KH80s this doesn’t extend to full room calibration.
The output of the 6.5” bass driver and 1” horn loaded compression driver can be tailored using the rear panel controls to tailor LF output to compensate for boundary effects and the HF response can he tailored to taste.
EVE Audio SC204 - £675
EVE Audio has three monitors that fit into this price range. The SC203, SC204, and SC205. The SC204 sit squarely in the middle in terms of both size and price.
EVE Audio SC204 are two-way active studio monitors with a bi-amplifier in each, and a short term total output of 100W. This model, featuring a 4” Silver Cone woofer, with response down to 64 Hz, and the RS1 Audio Motion Transfer (AMT) tweeter, are excellent in smaller listening environments. The rear rectangular bass port is designed with no hard edges for higher efficiency on lower frequencies. Like all EVE Audio speakers, the SC 204 monitors feature their unique single push knob operation to configure volume and filter settings.
Mount them on a regular microphone or speaker stand, via their threaded screw inserts on the bottom. Or use the threaded screw inserts on the back for wall mounting with an optional adaptor plate. Connections are via balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA cables. They sound much bigger than you would expect for their size and easily hold their own as primary near field monitors.
Focal Shape 50 - £816
While we haven’t tried a pair of these James is a longtime Focal user and considering the shared tech and heritage between these Shape 50s and the Twins James has used for years we thought they deserved an honourable mention.
They feature the inverted dome tweeter found on all Focal monitors and like the three way SM9, rather than using bass ports they feature passive radiators which offer an alternative way to tune the compliance of the air in the cabinet without any port chuff, something we remember fondly from the Mackie HR824s which were so popular in the early 2000s.
Stylish, apparently good sounding and a little different, we must get to try some of these soon.