Why are some studio monitors more expensive than others?

If you peruse our range of studio monitors, you’re likely to see quite a difference in price. But why are some studio monitors more expensive than others? As always, there are plenty of differences between the teams when it’s a game of cheap vs expensive studio monitors on the playing field.

As ever, the trick to taking home the right pair lies in identifying your budget, and the qualities that are most important to you…

Cheap vs expensive studio monitors

So, to the crux of the matter: just why are some studio monitors more expensive than others? A studio monitor is made up of plenty of different components: woofer, tweeter, crossover(s), amplifier(s), the cabinet itself, electronics for the inputs, eq and level controls etc.

Additionally, these components may have just been picked off the shelf from various manufacturers, or some may have been hand-made by the monitor-maker themselves to fit their specific design requirements.

All of these things mean that there are a lot of variables that influence the cost of a studio monitor. Fortunately though, by breaking those up, it’s easier to get a handle on the features that matter most to you, letting you choose the right pair of monitors for your production style and room, as well as your budget!

Bass extension

If you want to get low, you need to produce longer wavelengths, which means a bigger driver, a bigger cabinet in which to put it, and (usually) a bigger amplifier. In general, if you find a series of monitors you like, moving up the sizes will give you that ‘family’ sound, but with more at the rumbly end.

Cheap vs expensive monitor speakers

Comparing the frequency response of the Yamaha HS50M and HS80M shows the increased bass from the bigger woofers

Changing the bass response can also mean changes to the way the speaker is ‘ported’. A more complicated ported cabinet design can improve the bass response and reduce noise from the port, but a more complicated cabinet design means more complicated manufacturing, which increases the price.

Flat frequency response

When you’re mixing, you don’t want any nasty surprises. If your monitors didn’t reproduce the frequencies between 1 and 4 kHz very well, you’ll add lots of eq to compensate and be in for quite a shock when you listen back to that rim shot on your ear buds…

What you’ll be after, is a monitor that is quite ‘flat’ in terms of its frequency response; one that reproduces each sound frequency at an approximately equal level. While you should still check your mix on a few other systems, having a nice flat response means that you should be adding in or taking away lots of frequencies with your eq that could come back to haunt you on a different system!

Unity The Boulder - flat frequency response

They’re not the cheapest monitors, but Unity Audio’s The Boulder monitors have an enviably flat response!

Loudness without distortion

Volume takes more. Bigger amplifiers, and speaker cones that can handle that power. As the cones get to their limit, they stop just moving out and in as a single unit (pistonic action), but different regions of the cone start doing a bit more of their own thing.

Now, this makes cranked guitar amps sound sweet, but it’s probably not what you want from your mixing reference speakers. If you want huge sound pressure levels, without things turning crunchy, you’ll probably be looking at more expensive monitors.

Transients, detail and the time domain

It’s all very well looking at the frequency response, but that only tells one part of the story. You might well have a monitor speaker that heads down into frequencies that should only be used with extreme caution if you live next to a tectonic plate boundary, but that doesn’t mean that your kick drum won’t sound like mince.

You’ve slaved to get that kick tight and punchy, but, according to your monitors, it’s woolly and smeary and sounds like someone’s cranked up the decay on an 808 to full. Nicely tuned ports, quality cabinet construction and various other internal aspects of the speaker and how the woofer interacts with its amplifier can all determine how tight things sound, from kicks, to side-sticks, to hats.

And also things that aren’t percussion.

Cheap vs expensive studio monitors – which for you?

Obviously, our studio monitors buyer’s guide goes into a bit more detail, but when you’re looking for studio monitors, bring some music you know well and trust your ears! You might want to prioritise low-frequency extension over accuracy, or you might want something that is a bit ‘hyped’ in the mids for critical vocal mixing.

There are other things that influence the price as well. Having the controls for power, volume, room correction eq etc on the front panel means additional components and effort in the construction, adding to the price.

What ever you’re looking for in a studio monitor, our recording specialists are on-hand if you have any questions and can talk you through our extensive range!

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Fynn Callum

producer, guitarist, engineer & dj
From indie guitarist to deep house producer via Northern Soul dj; mix engineer, producer and gear enthusiast. Jaffa Cake aficionado.

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