People usually play guitar through an amp, however, if you are an aspiring Rock/Metal artist and want to see what you sound like in the studio with or without an amp, or if you do not have an amp available and you are using modeling effects through your computer, then using a pair of studio monitors for output is an excellent choice. You’ll get a better understanding of your actual guitar tone/sound once you hear the recorded playback through your monitors. It is also a good choice for people who don’t do gigs anymore, and don’t feel the need to have a guitar amp at home.
When choosing studio monitors for monitoring or recording guitars, you want to stay away from monitors that are more bass driven. Monitors heavy on the bass side are more suited for EDM/Electronic or DJ type of musical genres. For guitar driven music you want something that is more in line with your genre i.e. something with a more even bass response.
A good pair of studio monitors should always give you a good frequency response with a flat output. Amps and speakers are meant to add color, while studio monitors are made to be neutral. They do not hype up frequencies. This can be better explained by imagining if you are asked to paint a picture of a beautiful sunset while wearing yellow or orange glasses. Once you are done, your colors will be all over the place since the tinted glasses will heavily impact your vision. The concept is the same for speakers or amps. Your playback is heavily influenced, while studio monitors allow you to paint the picture without any glasses on.
The next thing you want to decide is the speaker size. Studio Monitors come in many different sizes but we do not recommend getting anything less than a 5 inch speaker, an 8 would actually be a lot better. Even if you have a small or compact studio, you can just turn the volume down. Bigger speakers work perfectly fine in smaller spaces and give you an added advantage of lower distortion levels.
Moving on, you want to decide how much money you would like to spend on your monitors. Monitors in the $100 or below range are probably not a good choice. When you enter the $200 to $300 range, then that is where you start seeing more entry level monitors that will get the job done for a home studio. However, it will be tough to find something professional under $400 or even $500, you ideally to be in the +/- $1000 range if you’re building out a big studio, and if you are really feeling it then the $2000ish range is where you’ll find monitors that the big boys use. Don’t fret about spending too much money though, identify your use case and go accordingly, you can always upgrade later on if you need to
The final thing you should know is that if you’re going for recording professional or even semi-pro tracks, then you need to treat your room, at least partially. An untreated room will get in your way of getting an accurate playback. If you are unable to do so, then you’ll have to probably switch between a pair of headphones and monitors and estimate things, which will not always result in the best output.
Best Studio Monitors for Guitar Monitoring and Recording Reviews
Focal Alpha 80
Despite its affordable price, the Alpha 80 is considered one of Focal’s best-performing studio monitors. It is an active bi-amplified monitor which incorporates some of Focal’s handy inventions, such as the Polyglass cone woofer and the inverted-dome tweeter. The Alpha 80 boasts Class AB amplifiers which supply 100W to the LF and 40W to the HF for a total of 140W. It also offers a frequency response of 35Hz-22kHz with a max SPL of 109dB.
As for the design, the Alpha 80 has a height of 397mm, a width of 287mm, and a depth of 348mm, and weighs 28.2lbs. It also offers a front-ported 15mm MDF enclosure giving you more options for its placement. On the backside of the monitor, you’ll find a balanced XLR input, an unbalanced RCA input, an HF/LF shelving knobs, an input sensitivity switch, and an LED indicator.
Furthermore, the Alpha 80 has an auto-standby feature which will activate after thirty minutes if no audio signal passes through the monitor. While in the auto standby mode, the power usage is reduced to less than 0.5W, which might be sometimes advantageous. To unmute, simply send an audio signal to the monitor, but it might require a few seconds to get it going. The LED indicator on the rear of the monitor indicates if the auto-standby mode is ON/OFF.
Throughout our tests, we were really satisfied with the Alpha 80’s sound quality. It is a near-field monitor, so its position is very crucial to get the best out of it. We set it up at a distance of 2m facing towards us, with the tweeter at ear level, and its performance was fantastic. It accurately portrayed every instrument in the mix without any coloring, making it a great choice for instrument recording and monitoring. The guitars (and other instruments) sounded fantastic, giving the mix a three-dimensional feel. As far as the low-end goes, the bass was so powerful it felt like it was punching our chest! It has a wide frequency response that goes down to 35Hz, which eliminates the need for a subwoofer to a certain extent.
The high-end also felt very transparent and balanced without any distortion as we were able to listen for hours without experiencing any ear fatigue. For testing purposes, we went back and listened to some of the previous mixes that we had made, and we can easily hear even the slightest errors. This makes it a well-rounded monitor that works effectively across the entire frequency spectrum, which is exactly what you should look for in a studio monitor.
The Alpha 80 is Focal’s first 8-inch woofer studio monitor, yet it performs far better than the Focal Shape 65. For one thing, the Alpha 80 has a lower frequency response of 35Hz compared to the Shape 65’s 40Hz, while the Shape 65 has a substantially higher frequency response (45kHz). Furthermore, both monitors offer Class AB amplification, but the Alpha 80 provides far more wattage (140W) than the Shape 65 (105W). The Alpha 80 now features a standby mode which can be pretty useful sometimes but also has its downsides. Moreover, the Alpha 80 offers the Shape 65’s HF and LF shelving knobs, but not the Hi-Pass Filter and LMF EQ.
In terms of design, the Alpha 80 is slightly bigger, however, they both weigh the same at 28.2lbs. As for the sound quality, the Alpha 80 and the Shape 65 are different worlds. We found the Alpha 80 to offer more depth and comprehensiveness compared to the Shape 65. While the Shape 65 provides a lower frequency response than the Alpha 80, it lacks the three-dimensional feel and the extra bass punchiness provided by the Alpha 80. The woofer size is indeed different, but we felt that the Alpha 80 is an upgraded version of the Shape 65.
While the Alpha 80 performed admirably, it is not without flaws. The auto standby feature is useful; however, it does not provide complete control over it. We would’ve appreciated it if we could disable it, or at least lower the threshold at which it activates. Another slight downside is that mid-bass goes much lower than intended, which might be slightly inconvenient in specific music genres. However, they are incredible if you’re considering using them for guitar recording or other sub-centric genres!
With everything considered, the Alpha 80 is an excellent all-around monitor. It proved to be an excellent choice not just for guitar recording and monitoring. It’s straightforward without being overbearing or adding color to your blends. It also displayed its versatility with its EQ settings, making it an excellent value for your money!
Focal Alpha 80 Benefits
The monitor demonstrated incredible sound quality with pristine highs and powerful lows
It offered a “three-dimensional” feel which is due to the clarity of separation between every instrument in the mix.
It has a wide frequency response which reduces the need for a subwoofer.
The monitor did not feel overwhelming while working with it as we didn’t experience any ear-fatigue
Focal Alpha 80 Drawbacks
The monitor does not give you the ability to disable the auto-standby feature (Or increase the threshold).
The mid-bass goes lower than intended which can be frustrating for certain music genres but works incredibly for guitars.
Kali Audio in-5
The Kali Audio IN-5 features a unique architecture. It is a three-way studio monitor with a 1-inch coaxial tweeter, a 4-inch mid-range, and a 5-inch woofer. The three drivers are powered through Class-D amplifiers that supply 80W to the woofer, 40W to the mid-range, and 40W to the tweeter for a total of 160W. The Audio IN-5 also offers a frequency response of 39Hz-25kHz, a max SPL peak of 115dB, and headroom of 20dB.
The backside of the monitor features a volume knob, a dip switch reference guide, a TRS input, an RCA input, an XLR input, and 8 dip switches that serve several purposes. Switches 1-3 adjust the boundary EQ compensation settings, switches 4-5 control the LF trim, switches 6-8 control the HF trim, and switch 8 toggles ON/FF the RCA input. All of which allowed us to tailor the sound to our studio room, and adjust the LF/HF to our liking.
The Kali IN-5 measures 382mm tall, 282mm deep, and 206mm wide, with a weight of 23lbs. It also offers voice coils and magnets, resulting in an incredibly precise low-end with a great low-frequency extension.
Sonically, we were really impressed with the 5-IN’s sound quality when we first heard it. Its architecture eliminates the off-axis division, which is inherent in two-way studio monitors, resulting in a precise and detailed stereo image. It demonstrated every instrument in the mix incredibly well, giving a three-dimensional feel to the audio atmosphere.
We also tried them with and without a subwoofer, and the difference was barely noticeable. It features a low-noise port tube and frequency response that goes down to 39Hz, both of which result in a solid bass that isn’t exaggerated or hyped. Furthermore, it offered a wide stereo separation when it came to background vocals (and instruments like guitars, piano, etc..) as we were able to move around within the room without noticing any major differences. We found the IN-5 to be very honest with a very flat response since it outputted the sound just as intended without any coloring to our mixes, making it a great choice for guitar recording, and music production in general.
In comparison with its predecessor, the Kali IN-5 seems like a nice advance over the Kali LP-6. Both monitors boast Class-D amps, however, the IN-5 outputs 80W of power more than the LP-6. This is because the IN-5 is a three-way studio monitor which requires more power to operate the extra mid-range driver. Both monitors also have the same frequency response of 39Hz-25kHz, but with the LP-6 offering less max SPL (112dB) compared to the IN-5 (115dB)
Furthermore, we expected the IN-5 to lose out on some bass clarity compared to the LP-6 due to the woofer size difference, but it didn’t! In fact, we found the bass on the IN-5 to be more clarified than on the LP-6. We believe this is because of the three-way architecture, that incredibly helps in the mid-to-low range. In terms of design, the IN-5 is taller and deeper than the LP-6, however, the LP6 is slightly wider than the IN-5.
Regarding the drawbacks, we found the Kali IN-5 to have some downsides that are worth addressing. By default, we found the low-end to be deficient and required to be modified using the dip switches. This modification, while very simple for an expert, especially with the help of the quick dip switches guide on its backside, might be irritating for an unskilled user. We also noticed that the tweeters produced a slight buzz when no sound is playing. Of course, every studio monitor has a slight buzz/hiss, however, the IN-5’s buzz felt a little bit more prominent. This is not to say that it’s loud; we only heard It when we were close to the monitor, however, the buzz becomes undetectable when playing music.
All things considered, the Kali IN-5 is an incredibly well-rounded studio monitor. While not the easiest for beginners to use, the dip switches demonstrated their viability. They allowed for room compensation and LF/HF modification, resulting in outstanding outcomes during testing. The monitor also provided an amazingly flat response making it an amazing studio monitor for guitar recording.
Kali Audio in-5 Benefits
The monitor offers dip switches, providing a wide variation of EQ control settings.
The unit is a three-way monitor which eliminates the off-axis divisions inherent in the two-way studio monitors
The bass sounds incredible without feeling exaggerated.
The monitor has an accurate stereo image, which portrays every instrument in the mix.
Kali Audio in-5 Drawbacks
Dip switches might be hard to use for beginners
A slight buzzing sound when no music is playing.
The Yamaha HS7 (and the HS-series) inherits the NS-10’s amazing capabilities along with its iconic white cone, meant to transmit your mixes with precision and clarity. It is an active bi-amplified nearfield studio monitor (available in two colors: black and white) with a 1-inch dome tweeter and a 6.5-inch cone woofer.
The rear of the monitor offers a bass port, a volume knob, a TRS and XLR jack inputs, a room control switch, and a high trim switch. It measures a width of 210mm, a height of 332mm, a depth of 284mm, and a weight of 18.1lbs. It features a frequency response of 43Hz-30kHz and a crossover frequency of 2kHz. The HS7 also boasts Class AB amplifiers which deliver a total of 95W (60W low-frequency driver, 35W high-frequency driver).
Regarding the sound quality, we found the HS7 to produce an incredible bass with a flat and smooth response. It felt very accurate as it portrayed every mix that we had produced on it precisely without any coloring to the low/high end. In other words, if you can get your mix to sound good on the HS7, it’ll sound good anywhere. This makes them a great choice for music production and instrument recording/monitoring.
Furthermore, the ROOM CONTROL and HIGH TRIM switches were a real standout. We were able to modify the sound by reducing unnecessary low-end (using the ROOM CONTROL) and regulating the high-frequency response (using the HIGH TRIM), both of which improved the sound quality. We also found the HS7 to demonstrate every instrument in the mix accurately (especially string instruments such as guitars), producing a lifelike stereo image.
The closest to the HS7 is no other than the monitor having a slightly smaller dome in the same HS series, the HS5. The HS7 has a wider frequency response than the HS5 with its low end extending down to 43 kHz compared to only 54 kHz in the HS5. This slight difference means that the HS5 will definitely need to have an accompanying subwoofer for the listener to be able to experience music the right way.
Another difference between the two monitors is the loudness as the HS7 can get way louder with its 95W of output power compared to the 70W in the HS5, however, this also means that the HS5 has an advantage in power consumption as it only needs 45W of power compared to 55W for the HS7 (which is typical for larger sized monitors). Consequently, while the hs5 will fill a small treated studio, going any larger will require the HS7.
Despite being a good offering for its price, the Yamaha HS7 has some drawbacks that we’ve come across throughout our testing. On the sound performance side, in their attempt to achieve a flat sound signature, the HS7’s mids felt way more emphasized than other frequencies. We don’t know the reason behind the Yamaha’s choice of boosting the mids but not the highs and lows, but this made their listening experience somewhat irritating. This is especially noticeable if the music we were listening to had errors in its production as they were much more apparent. However, this downside relies heavily on the type of music genre you’re producing. We found the high-frequency (string instruments) and low-frequency instruments to work fine on the HS7. But, if the music genre you’re considering includes a lot of mids, you’ll have to get used to the HS7’s midrange.
Another problem we faced was the volume levels with the speakers. While they can get relatively loud, we wouldn’t recommend cranking them up all the way as they are prone to distortion and start to sound muddled as if the speakers have more information than they can handle. It is common for monitors at this price point to have mild distortion; however, this may be avoided by not turning the volume up to the maximum.
All in all, the HS7 is an incredible monitor if you’re considering guitar recording and monitoring. It is very flexible as it offered EQ settings which allowed for room compensation. It also features decent sound quality, with great lows and amazing highs. Therefore, instruments sound incredible on the HS7, especially guitars, making it a great choice for instrument recording and monitoring.
Yamaha HS7 Benefits
The monitor offered great neutrality in the low/high ranges.
The unit demonstrated its flexibility through the EQ settings which added to the sound quality.
The HS7 accurately portrayed the instruments in the mix, giving a lifelike stereo image.
Yamaha HS7 Drawbacks
The midrange felt emphasized and colored, unlike the high/low ranges which made them somewhat irritating to listen to.
The monitors produced a muddled sound when cranked up to max volume.
According to our scoring model, you’ll find that the highest variance is in the Additional features, Price to Performance, and the Wattage categories. As you can see, the Yamaha HS7 scored the lowest in every category, which is justifiable considering it’s the cheapest out of this lineup. As for the Focal Alpha 80 and the Kali IN-5, it’s a very tight competition as they go head to head in every category. The IN-5 outscores its competitors by a large margin in the additional features category, solely due to the dip switches the Kali usually offers on their monitors. The IN-5 is also far less expensive than the Alpha 80, although both performed really well throughout.
The Kali IN-5 provided incredible consistency throughout our tests.. It demonstrated fantastic results, scoring a 9 in the Additional features and Wattage categories. Its lowest score was an 8 in the sound quality and frequency response categories. For reference, Alpha 80’s lowest score of 8 is also the HS7’s highest in the sound quality category, which is really impressive as they cost almost the same. This shows the incredible value the IN-5 provides for its price. You typically want a well-rounded monitor that provides consistency and value, which is exactly what the IN-5 is.
However, this isn’t to say that the Focal Alpha 80 is not good. It provided almost the same results as the IN-5 while also scoring the highest in the price to performance and the frequency response categories. However, what really gave the IN-5 the edge over the Alpha 80 was the number of valuable features it offered. It is not that the Alpha 80 didn’t have useful features, the IN-5 set a very high standard for this lineup. In terms of every other category, the Alpha 80 either scored the highest, tied with the IN-5, or was outscored by only a variance of 0.5. The Alpha 80 remains a great alternative as it was surpassed by a small margin (average score of 8.3). So, if you want a higher frequency response, with an incredible value, the Alpha 80 is also a decent option.
Therefore, the best studio monitor for guitar recording and studio monitoring is the Kali IN-5 with the highest average score of 8.5. The monitor is well known for the great value it provides, its amazing features, and its huge wattage. Its unique architecture allows it to accurately portray every frequency across the spectrum. The IN-5 improves upon its predecessor’s flaws making it an incredibly well-rounded monitor. It now provides higher wattage, higher max SPL, and more defined bass, all of which provide incredible sound volume with amazing clarity. On top of that, it also features incredible lifelike stereo imaging, making its instruments sound three-dimensional. Given its price and value, the IN-5 is definitely one of the best choices for guitar recording and monitoring on the market.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a Studio Monitor a better choice for Guitar vs. an Amp?
It depends. A guitar amp has a very specific purpose and that is to give you the guitar sound you are looking for. In that regard, it is superior than anything else and nothing can actually replace tube or solid state guitar amps. However, studio monitors are more geared towards musicians who want to record at home. You’ll get to hear what you sound like on a record. Good monitors will give you an accurate playback without any color.
Another use case for having studio monitors is if you live in an apartment or if for some reason you do not have a guitar amp, or if you want to play at a lower volume (tube amps only sound good at incredibly high volumes), then you can hook up your guitar to your computer, use modeling effects ( e.g. guitar rig) and get your playback through your monitors.
What do I need to look out for when buying Studio Monitors for Guitar?
Other than a flat frequency response, you want your monitors to not be heavily bass driven, since guitar driven music does not call for that. You want to decide on the speaker size (the bigger the better) and how much you would like to spend. At the end of the day, you just want to get something that sounds good to you.
How much should I spend on Studio Monitors for Guitar?
There really is no straightforward answer for this. If you’re just getting something to accommodate your needs for a home studio then anything in the $200 – 500 range will get the job done. For a more professional environment, $1000 – $2000 or even more. Just don’t get something really cheap or you will regret it.
Do I need anything else other than Studio Monitors for Guitar Monitoring and Recording?
You will definitely need some more equipment. For starters, you will need an audio interface to hook up your guitar to your computer, there really is no way around this one. You can get a cheap solo interface for about $100 that will last you forever. If you want to connect more equipment such as a mic etc.. then you will need more channels (Inputs/Outputs), so you’ll have to spend a bit more to get something nicer. You’ll also need some cables to hook up your guitar, and then obviously whatever other equipment you want to further expand your rig.