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3 of the Best Budget-Friendly Studio Monitors on the Market

December 19, 2020
by
Tristan Mendoza
Learn about some of the most popular and affordable music production speakers, ranging in price from $149 to $359.
Three different studio monitors.

As a creative individual, your needs are ever-growing. While it's fun to invest in preset packs, plugins, instruments, and more, it's important to remember that you’ll make almost every mixing and mastering decision based on the speakers at your disposal. Owning quality studio monitors can help you produce better mixes, shine new light on your favorite reference tracks, and possibly reduce ear fatigue.

There are tons of studio monitor brands and models, all using different technology and promising a unique listening experience. Let's dive into a few of the most intriguing studio monitors that are sure to elevate your listening situation without breaking the bank.

1. Kali Audio's LP-6 Studio Monitors ($149/Each)

An image of Kali Audio's LP-6 studio monitor.
Figure 1: Kali Audio's LP-6 studio monitor.

First up is the Lone Pine-6, or LP-6 active near-field monitor by Kali Audio. In the follow video, Charles Sprinkle of Kali Audio, he makes the distinction that they do not produce "cheap" monitors, but rather, “inexpensive” monitors. In the same interview, Warren Huart states that the word “cheap” implies “not good,” while inexpensive implies “doesn’t cost a lot.” Crafted by former JBL engineers, the Kali Audio LP-6 monitors are the least expensive option on this list, but they punch well above their weight class.

The Kali Audio LP-6 makes use of 6” woofer and boasts a frequency response of 38-25,000 Hz. A front bass port ensures clean bass delivery without buildup, even when placed against a wall. Support for all standard input types such as XLR, TRS, and RCA means the Kali Audio LP-6 will easily connect to your gear.

At $149/each, these studio monitors bring something precious to your studio—attention to detail. The LP-6’s shape, rear user controls, and packaging materials all serve a purpose to the consumer; this is evident the moment you receive the product.

The boxes that your LP-6 monitors arrive in are just regular white cardboard boxes, and the reason for this is interesting. In the following Sweetwater interview, Co-founder of Kali Audio, Nate Baglyos, mentions that you receive plain white boxes for one main reason—rather than spending money on fancy packaging, they’ve invested that money into the speaker’s woofer.

There’s a custom bass port under the woofer that expels air from the front—rather than the back—ensuring that bass doesn’t build up if you place the LP-6 near a wall. This means that these monitors play nicely with small studio spaces.

The shape of the bass port is also meant to prevent the sound of “chuffing,” which is noisy turbulence created by air leaving the port at different speeds. When your speakers produce clean low-end, mids and highs feel less cluttered as a result.

Baglyos also mentions that the custom-shaped tweeter waveguide ensures that “the sound is spreading out in an ideal manner.” This means that the direct sound from the speakers and the reflected sound from your room should match one another. The result is improved stereo imaging at no additional cost, making it easier to place track elements within the stereo field.

One of the more notable design decisions Kali Audio made to their affordable studio monitors was the addition of a boundary EQ. Rather than simple EQ knobs or sliders, Kali has included a series of dip switches that let you compensate for environmental factors, such as whether the monitors are placed near a wall, on stands, on top of a desk, on top of an angled mixing console, or wall-mounted. Dialing in the right settings is easy because each LP-6 monitor includes a diagram on the rear that demonstrates which dip switch settings to use, given your particular listening situation.

There are eight switches in total. Three of these switches control the boundary EQ settings, four of the switches allow you to adjust LF and HF trim options (+/- 2 dB), while the eighth switch toggles power to the unit’s unbalanced RCA input, letting you connect consumer devices—when not in use, this RCA switch should be toggled to the OFF position to avoid unwanted interference.

An image of the graphics on the back of the LP-6 (1) that indicate how to set the dip switches (2).
Figure 2: The graphics on the back of the LP-6 (1) that indicate how to set the dip switches (2).

With a pair of Kali Audio LP-6 studio monitors, you should be able to achieve a usable sound without expensive speaker calibration software and an advanced understanding of room acoustics and acoustic treatment. However, if you’re looking to sound-treat your studio for an optimized listening experience, this acoustic treatment guide for home studios is a great place to start.

It's clear from the way that Kali Audio tackled the development of the LP-6 that this company is more concerned with performance than flashy marketing—which is good news for you. Decisions like ditching a pretty-looking box in favor of quality components, providing boundary EQ controls, and designing the speaker's cabinet effectively show an attention to detail that you rarely find at this price point.

For music producers on a limited budget, working in a small home studio, the Kali Audio LP-6 is a great option. Truthfully, there aren’t many speakers at this price point that even come close to stacking up against the LP-6. For further information, you can view the full list of Kali Audio LP-6 tech specs here.

2. ADAM Audio's T7V Studio Monitors ($249/Each)

An image of ADAM Audio's T7V studio monitor.
Figure 3: ADAM Audio's T7V studio monitor.

Starting at $249/each, ADAM Audio’s T7V active near-field studio monitors provide you with some serious sound quality. ADAM Audio is a big name in the studio monitor industry, but a big name doesn’t always come with a big price tag. ADAM has made their signature high-end technology available to producers and engineers on a smaller budget.

The T7V includes XLR and RCA inputs, a frequency response ranging from 39-25,000 Hz, a 7” woofer, and a rear-ported design. The rear bass port can reduce the sound of audible “chuffing,” but potentially result in bass buildup if placed next to a wall—this is something to take into consideration if you’re working in a small studio space.

An image of the bass port on the rear of ADAM Audio's T7V.
Figure 4: The bass port on the rear of ADAM Audio's T7V.

ADAM Audio’s T7V includes the unique U-ART ribbon tweeter design that ADAM Audio is known for, at a budget-friendly price. The U-ART tweeter, rather than being a dome, is a pleated piece of polyamide film. The large surface area moves four times as much air as a piston-based design, reducing distortion at high sound pressure levels.

A ribbon tweeter also results in reduced ear fatigue. Once ear fatigue sets in, you’ll become prone to making poor mixing and mastering decisions, and start to feel physically drained as well. Since the U-ART tweeter delivers less distortion in the high-end at high sound pressure levels, both audible and inaudible, you’ll be able to work quite effectively for a significant period of time.

An image of the T7V's ribbon tweeter.
Figure 5: The T7V's ribbon tweeter.

Ribbon tweeters have been labeled as overly directional in the past, when it comes to high-frequency dispersion—this results in a narrow listening sweet spot. ADAM Audio has solved this issue by making use of the High Frequency Propagation (HPS) waveguide used in their high-end S Series studio monitors. The ADAM Audio T Series' waveguide ensures wide high-end frequency dispersion and a more forgiving sweet spot.

ADAM Audio has taken the features that make its high-end studio monitors great, and packed them into an affordable product. Technology like the U-ART ribbon tweeter—that has typically been reserved for expensive monitors—from a company as renowned as ADAM, is quite a steal at this price point. For further information, you can view the full list of ADAM Audio T7V tech specs here.

3. Focal's Alpha 65 Studio Monitors ($359/Each)

An image of Focal's Alpha 65 studio monitor.
Figure 6: Focal's Alpha 65 studio monitor.

Last on this list is Focal's Alpha 65 active near-field monitors. Focal is a veteran in the world of high-end audio. It has its hands in pro studio audio, car audio, home theater audio, and more. This company certainly knows a thing or two about building speakers. Focal has been successfully supplying studio monitors to working music industry professionals for decades—this company has a reliable track record.

Focal’s Alpha 65 brings you a 6.5” woofer and a 40-22,000 Hz frequency response. The frequency response of these monitors isn’t quite as wide as the other studio monitors on this list. However, sub frequencies should be handled by a subwoofer anyways, while the linear response of frequencies between 20-20,000 Hz is arguably more important than a speaker’s maximum frequency value. You can learn how to properly set up a studio subwoofer here.

The Alpha 65’s front bass ports are a plus if you need to set up near a wall in a small studio, and the XLR and RCA ports will allow you to connect to your audio interface or consumer gear without any issues.

The most unique part of Focal studio monitors, and usually the selling point, is the inverted-dome tweeter—this component offers multiple benefits. The inverted dome creates a wide listening sweet spot, unlike most other dome-based tweeters. You should be able to move around your listening position without losing much of the detail and defined stereo image that the Alpha 65s provide.

Another benefit of the inverted dome technology is that the internal voice coil is positioned up against the tweeter because the tweeter faces inward. This means the tweeter will respond faster and more accurately because the voice coil acts uniformly on a larger surface area than if the coil were attached to a convex tweeter—in which the only contact the coil and tweeter have is on the edges. Ultimately, the Alpha 65s will reproduce a broad, detailed, and accurate high-end, helping your mixes translate well to most playback systems.

The Alpha 65 includes smooth, continuous low- and high-shelf controls. The LF Shelving knob allows you to boost/attenuate gain +/-6 dB, while the HF Shelving knob allows you to boost/attenuate gain +/-3 dB.This lets you tweak the frequency response of these studio monitors to quite a significant degree if necessary. Every room is unique, and these rather aggressive shelving controls can help integrate a pair of Alpha 65s into your studio effectively.

An image of the shelving controls on the rear of Focal's Alpha 65.
Figure 7: The shelving controls on the rear of Focal's Alpha 65.

Focal offers impressive customer service options. On top of your Focal dealers' return policy, you can purchase an additional service package called Focal Care. This service package gives you a five-year protection plan that covers potential damage to your studio monitors. If you need to send your studio monitors in for an assessment, repair, or even a total replacement, Focal will ship you a pair of loaner monitors overnight so that you never have to stop creating music. You have the entire standard warranty period to purchase Focal Care if it’s something you’re interested in.

If Focal Care is of significant importance to you, and you’re willing to spend a little extra cash on the inverted dome tweeter design and shelving features that the Focal Alpha 65 delivers, you won’t be disappointed with these studio monitors. For further information, you can view the full list of Alpha 65 tech specs here.

The Kali Audio LP-6 has almost no worthy competition around the $150 price range, and it integrates well with most home studio thanks to the built-in boundary EQ. ADAM Audio’s T7V monitors are a good fit if you're looking for big brand-name studio monitors at an entry-level price—just make sure to position them away from a wall. Finally, the Focal Alpha 65s deliver impressive tweeter technology, highly-adjustable LF and HF shelving knobs, as well as the ability to purchase Focal Care.

Studio monitors are like Instagram filters; if you become familiar with them, you can make them work. No matter which set of studio monitors you choose from this list, you’ll be off to an excellent start. To learn more about what makes a "good" studio monitor and how studio monitors work, check out Black Ghost Audio's studio monitor buyer's guide.

Join the Black Ghost Audio group on Facebook to connect with musicians and producers looking to network and pay for your freelance services. Leave a comment below if you have any questions regarding this article. Your feedback is always appreciated!