The quality of sound you can get for under AUD$400 in your home studio in 2019 (well, basically 2020 now) has improved dramatically over the last decade. Gone are the days of over-emphasised thumping bass and screeching tinny high-ends on entry level monitors, now you can quite easily pick-up monitors with a fairly neutral frequency response that’ll get you started and last many years. Here’s a few good quality options to check out.
Presonus Eris E5
These compact units feature a 5.25” woofer and 1” silk tweeter and have been a popular choice for many producer’s first pair of monitors, particularly with its understated good looks. The front bass port means they’re more suited to smaller, cramped spaces where it’s not possible to have them sitting out from the wall.
Frequency response is spec’d at 53 Hz to 22 KHz, so it gets quite low, but not quite a full range of sub-bass frequencies. However, a low frequency roll-off control is provided so you can add Presonus’ Temblor subwoofer down the line if you choose and the Acoustic Space switch allows you to adjust EQ if boundary bass boosting does occur.
What we liked: Good looks, EQ options, LF roll off
JBL 3 Series LSR 305MKII
JBL have a long reputation of high quality, powerful sound. The LSR 305MKII (5” woofer) monitors have only just officially dropped below $400, so they’re a newcomer to this price bracket. Much of the feature set on the MKII 3 Series monitors has its origins in JBL’s ultra high-end range of monitors like the 7 Series and even the legendary M2s. This includes such features as JBL’s patented Image Control Waveguide, giving incredibly detailed imaging and a broader sweet spot. Very impressive technology for an entry level monitor.
Frequency response is spec’d at 43Hz to 24KHz, which is quite incredible for a speaker at this size and price point — it means it can hit those low sub bass F and G notes that a lot of hip-hop and bass music is written at. Just keep in mind that with a rear bass port, these monitors will need to be positioned away from the wall (at least 30cm) for optimal sound. Thankfully the handy boundary EQ switch located on the back panel attenuates low end to help compensate for frequency variations (eg LF buildup) in the room. Coupled with the HF trim switch, the LSR305 MKII has plenty of EQ control when required and presents an incredibly linear response, exactly what one seeks in a studio monitor.
What we liked: Linear, accurate sound, detailed imaging, frequency response
Typically known for their DJ products and very much considered the industry standard in that world, Pioneer also offer some tasty studio monitors, with one set being the S-DJ50X.
This simple and tidy looking 5” monitor (with a 1” soft dome tweeter) monitor offers flexible input source options and EQ control. Their front ported design gives nice low end response and there’s HF level adjustment to boost and attenuate if required. Boasting a frequency response of 50Hz – 20kHz, they give users a pretty solid representation of the low end that DJs, Producers and alike will need. The auto standby function is a nice touch, with the monitors automatically turning themselves off after 25 minutes of no input signal being detected. With a max SPL of 107dB, the S-DJ50X’s pack a punch for the price. A simple, easy to use monitor.
What we liked: Slick design, high SPL, auto standby function
The CR range from Mackie have been on the market for quite sometime and have offered users a variety of entry level monitor in bite sized packages. The CR5BT is the largest model in the current CR family and offers some interesting features at this price point.
The first thing to note with this pair of monitors is they’re just that, a pair, as one monitor houses the power amp and connections and the other is simply a passive monitor. Connections are simple, TRS and RCA and the volume pot is located on the front, which can be convenient for quick adjustments. The 5” woofer and .75” silk dome tweeter push out 103dB SPL (peak) with a frequency response of 50Hz – 20kHz, a sound response. The ability to connect and play music via Bluetooth is where the real value of these monitors kicks in. Although not exactly a “pro” feature, some may find this feature useful when not using the monitors for mixing or editing but for general playback at home. For those not needing as many pro features and like the convenience of wireless connection, the CR5BT’s a worth a peak.
What we liked: Bluetooth connectivity, included accessories
Alesis Elevate 5
These humble little guys pack flexible connectivity and simple operation into a solid wooden cabinet.
The Alesis Elevate 5’s offer a respectable frequency response of 55Hz – 20kHz and nice detailed clarity and the Elliptical waveguide gives a wider stereo image; nice features and spec for the price. Like the Mackie CR5BT’s above, this pair is a one powered, one passive configuration with a very simple back panel. The bass boost switch is fun for when you want to crank those lows, but perhaps not designed for mixing in mind, who knows. The volume control and headphone output located on the front are a nice touch, making them ideal for desktop positioning. Nice little design.
What we liked: Simple design, compact form factor, headphone output
Volumes of Value
What one can get for under AUD$400 in the world of studio monitors is pretty nuts and there’s some superb options available as we’ve highlighted here. In this space features are all fairly similar and get you to a point before the inevitable leap to the upper echelon of professional studio monitors. Frequency response wise, the JBLs take the cake, but of course — that’s only one consideration. Keep in mind monitor placement in your room, the connections and any bonus features that are valuable to you (like the Mackie’s Bluetooth connectivity). And of course, if possible, head to a reputable retailer that has a range of monitors available to listen to in person, there’s no substitute for your ears.