Best speakers to buy in 2023: 10 best small studio monitors

Who says bigger is always better? These compact monitors will give you audio clarity in even the tightest of spaces.

The modern studio is more compact and affordable than ever before. And, although opting for larger, more expensive monitoring solutions can garner the most accurate results, smaller speakers can offer a surprising amount of clarity for audio production.

Smaller studio monitors are nearfield by nature. You won’t be using these in wide-open studios, but in spaces such as bedroom studios, living rooms, audio-post studios, and so on. These will sit perfectly on your desk, taking up minimal space while providing you with an enjoyable and assured listening experience.

Buying tips

When comparing models, we advise checking the availability (and flexibility) of any EQ or onboard digital signal processing (DSP) for customising the sound. Models with little or no customisation may need the help of additional room correction software in an untreated listening environment – an extra cost that needs to be factored in.

And with stated frequency ranges, be aware that manufacturers measure this to different tolerances, often making smaller monitors appear more capable of bass reproduction than they actually are. Therefore, a monitor with a frequency range of 55Hz upwards at -3dB is going to have much more bass than a similar low frequency extension measured down to the -10dB point.

That said, whether you’re looking for an extra pair of reference monitors, kitting out your home studio or just fancy some new speakers for your multimedia listening, these mini speakers are primed for the job.

Best small studio reference monitors at a glance

  • KRK GoAux 4
  • PreSonus Eris 4.5 BT
  • ADAM Audio A4V
  • Genelec 8020D
  • Neumann KH80 DSP
  • IK Multimedia iLoud
  • IK Multimedia iLoud MTM
  • Mackie CR3-X
  • JBL One Series 104-BT
  • Behringer Truth 3.5

KRK GoAux 4

KRK GoAux 4
KRK GoAux 4. Image: KRK

KRK’s GoAux 4s represent a killer proposition for monitoring on the move. These four-inch active monitors come with desktop stands, a neat carry case and a measurement lapel microphone to use with the basic onboard room correction function. Aside from this, there are simple push-button controls for high and low-frequency boost/cut.

You can connect the GoAux in a variety of ways, including jack, RCA, Bluetooth and USB audio. There’s also a 3.5mm stereo aux in plus a headphone out. Oh, and they sound excellent, too – in our review we judged the audio quality to be in the same league as much more expensive offerings from Genelec.

KRK GoAux 4 key features:

  • Price per pair: $375
  • Design: 2-way, rear-ported
  • Drivers: 4-inch woofer; 1-inch dome tweeter
  • Sound customisation: high/low frequency adjustment (+2dB/flat/-3dB); automatic room correction with included measurement mic (limited to low and mid range)

PreSonus Eris 4.5 BT

Presonus Eris 4.5 BT
Presonus Eris 4.5 BT. Image: Presonus

PreSonus’ flagship studio monitor range, Eris, features two dinky monitors: Eris 3.5 and Eris 4.5. We’ll focus on the slightly bigger Eris 4.5 BTs here, named so because of their 4½ -inch woofer, because their price is still hard to turn down. The most recent BT model offers Bluetooth connectivity, and for extra bass, users can opt for the add-on, Sub8 subwoofer.

In our review of the original, non-Bluetooth Eris models, we said: “We hadn’t expected that much from the Eris 4.5s because they closely resemble computer speakers and are priced accordingly. Given those caveats, the sound quality was absolutely remarkable. Although they have all the tone-shaping controls of their bigger brothers we felt less inclined to tweak them because the Eris 4.5s sounded so good straight out of the box.”

Presonus Eris 4.5 BT key features:

  • Price per pair: $199
  • Design: 2-way, rear-ported
  • Drivers: 4½-inch woofer; 1-inch tweeter
  • Sound customisation: high frequency and low frequency gain dials (+/- 6dB)

ADAM Audio A4V

Adam A4V
Adam Audio A4V. Image: Adam Audio

The most compact speaker in ADAM Audio’s new A-series, the A4V – as the name suggests – features a four-inch woofer paired with the brand’s much-lauded X-ART ribbon tweeter. In terms of onboard DSP, there’s no corner-cutting when compared to the A7V we reviewed in March this year, with a multitude of handy ways to tweak the sound within your own listening environment.

DSP ranges from simple physical controls to alter the frequency response to account for positioning near walls or desk mounting, through to more detailed software control via a network port on the speaker. Better still, you can take advantage of a 60-day free trial of Sonarworks’ SoundID Reference to apply room correction; the measured, corrective response can then be loaded directly into each of the monitors, meaning less latency and CPU load. You don’t need to pay for a Sonarworks licence unless you end up moving the monitors, which would require further measurement.

Adam Audio A4V key features:

  • Price per pair: $999
  • Design: 2-way, front-ported
  • Drivers: 4-inch woofer; 1-inch X-ART tweeter
  • Sound customisation: 4-band physical controls; 6-band advanced mode EQ via A-Control software; Sonarworks integration

Genelec 8020D

Genelec 8020D
Genelec 8020D. Image: Genelec

A tough, all-metal construction has made Genelec 8020D monitors a go-to choice for location and broadcast sound since the first 8020 model was released in 2005. There’s no clever GLM signal processing on offer here (users can try the likes of Sonarworks SoundID Reference and IK’s ARC instead), but there are a series of ‘set and forget’ dip switches to tailor the high and low extremes plus a 200Hz desktop notch filter. Plus, a screwdriver-operated dial can be used to accurately match the level of the left and right sides – something not always possible with smaller monitors.

The 8020s sound far bigger than you’d expect from a 4-inch-woofer monitor. If you fancy a future upgrade, they play nicely with Genelec’s range of active subwoofers and happily sit beside larger siblings in a surround set-up; there are even brackets available for wall or ceiling mounting.

Genelec 8020D key features:

  • Price per pair: $1,100
  • Design: 2-way, rear-ported
  • Drivers: 4-inch woofer; ¾-inch tweeter
  • Sound customisation: dip switches for bass roll-off, bass tilt, desktop filter and treble tilt; level fine control

Neumann KH80 DSP

Neumann KH80 DSP
Neumann KH80 DSP. Image: Neumann

Though Neumann is revered for its iconic studio mics, the brand’s acquisition of Klein + Hummel in 2009 extended its stalwart reputation to the monitor market. These four-inch speakers are among the most expensive on this list, but they deliver on the investment. The soundstage is solid and deep, and with their front-firing bass reflex ports, they offer more tightly controlled bass than they have any right to at this size.

Apart from their stellar sound quality, which reveals unheard nuances in your favourite tracks, they also have switchable low-mid profiles depending on your setup (freestanding or small, medium, large desk). To tailor the sound further, the Neumann.Control app and optional measurement mic allow fine-tuning of their response to your room.

Neumann KH80 DSP key features:

  • Price per pair: $1,099
  • Design: 2-way, front-ported
  • Drivers: 4-inch woofer; 1-inch tweeter
  • Sound customisation: dip switch presets tuned to location in room; level fine control; network-controlled DSP including room correction

IK Multimedia iLoud

IK Multimedia iLoud
IK Multimedia iLoud. Image: IK Multimedia

They might look like retro computer speakers, but IK Multimedia’s iLoud monitors pack a serious punch for their size. These perform competitively against larger speakers, with EQ switches to shape the sound to suit your environment. These are a little more expensive than the lowest budget monitors, but you’ll find these more suitable for production and mixing in a home or portable set-up.

In our review, we said: “Up against our more expensive monitors they surprisingly held their own in the bass – one area where we thought they might fall down, given their size. There must be some colouration added here, we would assume, but IK has done it very well, and the bass sounds round and twangy when needed and not as artificial as some monitors many times the price.”

IK Multimedia iLoud key features:

  • Price per pair: $349
  • Design: 2-way, front-ported
  • Drivers: 3-inch woofer; ¾-inch tweeter
  • Sound customisation: high cut, low cut and desktop filter switches; ARC 3 room correction software frequently bundled at low/no extra cost

IK Multimedia iLoud MTM

IK Multimedia iLoud MTM
IK Multimedia iLoud MTM. Image: IK Multimedia

IK Multimedia’s iLoud MTMs are slightly bigger than the iLouds and employ a three-speaker design for a more powerful sound, but will still fit neatly on your desk space or bookshelf. Thanks to the dual woofers, you’ll get a defined, tight mid-range, as well as an uncoloured bass and smooth high-end. The iLoud MTM also ships with a measurement mic for tailoring the speaker’s response to your room.

In our review, we said: “Small studio monitors have definitely come of age with IK and JBL, and the MTMs will be a serious contender against speakers going right up in size and to over four figures in price.” They are not as cheap as some – but still cheap for studio monitors – and I wouldn’t hesitate using them as secondary monitors and even my primary ones if I had space..”

IK Multimedia iLoud MTM key features:

  • Price per pair: $349
  • Design: 2-way, front-ported
  • Drivers: 3-inch woofer; ¾-inch tweeter
  • Sound customisation: high cut, low cut and desktop filter switches; ARC 3 room correction software frequently bundled at low/no extra cost

Mackie CR3-X

Mackie CR3-X
Mackie CR3-X. Image: Mackie

Mackie’s entry on this list is another mind-bogglingly affordable pair of speakers, with the CR3-X sitting at just $99 for a pair. You’ll find these easy on the ear in production environments, during multimedia playback and referencing for lower-end sound systems. The CR3-X’s custom-tuned ports and waveguide will give you a reasonably comprehensive idea of the stereo image, even when you’re not quite in the sweet spot. There’s no sound customisation here, but they are a viable starting point for building a new setup.

In our review, we said: “Although the CR3-X monitoring system isn’t feature-packed with EQ controls and room placement filters like many modern monitors, the inclusion of Pro Tools First software more than compensates, making them an extremely attractive proposition for budding bedroom producers starting from scratch.”

Mackie CR3-X key features:

  • Price per pair: $99
  • Design: 2-way, rear-ported
  • Drivers: 3-inch woofer; ¾-inch tweeter
  • Sound customisation: none

JBL One Series 104-BT

JBL One Series 104 BT
JBL One Series 104-BT. Image: JBL

Available in both Bluetooth and non-Bluetooth versions, the two-way JBL One Series 104 come with a mission to “provide the most accurate sonic presentation of any monitors in their class”. They don’t fall short of that mission at all, with a coaxial design that offers a wide sweet spot.

In our review, we said: “Overall, the JBL One Series 104s stand up incredibly well, given price and size. They deliver best-in-class performance – certainly, you won’t find anything at this price point that gets close. These are about as good as it gets for the price and, size-wise, there’s simply nothing else out there that beats them.”

JBL One Series 104-BT key features:

  • Price per pair: $149
  • Design: coaxial, rear-ported
  • Drivers: coaxial driver with 4½-inch woofer and ¾-inch tweeter
  • Sound customisation: none

Behringer Truth 3.5

Behringer Truth
Behringer Truth. Image: Behringer

Behringer’s latest line of compact speakers is incredibly affordable, starting at just $99 for the 3½-inch base model. There’s an aux input, headphone socket, a choice of TRS jack and RCA connectors for the main stereo input, plus the ability to easily tweak high and low frequency content via two dials on the back.

For $20 more, the BT variant of the Truth 3.5 adds the convenience of Bluetooth connectivity, but for those who have the budget and space – and enjoy a bit more bass – the range also features 4½-inch models.

Behringer Truth key features:

  • Price per pair: $99
  • Design: 2-way, rear-ported
  • Drivers: 3½-inch woofer, 1-inch silk dome tweeter
  • Sound customisation: High and low frequency gain dials (+/- 6dB)

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