I believe the best onstage monitor is powerful, it has great sound quality and DSP, and it works as a main if you need it to.
In this post, I’ll explain what makes a good stage monitor, my top recommendation, and what other monitors caught my eye as good choices. It isn’t easy to find the right fit, and the wrong monitor can be an expensive mistake. Read on to learn about the best stage monitor for your needs.
Powerful, has great sound quality and DSP, and it works as a main if you need it to.
Top Pick: QSC K10
Powerful, has great sound quality and DSP, and it works as a main if you need it to.
Why You Should Trust Us
I’ve tried out a lot of different stage monitors in my time, and I’ve asked some musician friends for recommendations to help me come up with a big list of potential buys.
I then narrowed down the list by trial and error, along with some research, until I settled on the best stage monitors you can buy at good value. I wanted to find options that were accessible, but provided a lot of variation for different needs.
What To Look For In A Stage Monitor
Here I’ll break down what I consider to be the most important attributes that monitors have. These are not all the ways that different monitors differ, and you might find that you have particular needs that make something not on this list a priority. But this should provide the most information to most people who use monitors.
Powered vs Unpowered
The biggest divide among stage monitors is whether or not they have their own power source included. Every sound source needs to be boosted in strength before the signal hits the speaker in order for it to be loud enough. In an unpowered monitor, the amplifier that provides this boost is sold separately.
In a powered one, the amp is inside the casing and there’s no need to buy another. In general, powered monitors tend to cost more up-front compared to unpowered ones, but less than buying a monitor and amp combo.
There are good options in both categories, although the best powered monitors tend to have better sound quality and durability, as well as portability.
The best match for you depends on a few things, like what you plan to do with the monitor and whether you already own a set of amps, as well as how much money you are willing to spend at one time. Powered monitors are heavier, but unpowered ones require carrying two separate pieces.
In-Ear vs Stand-Alone
There is a big difference in how monitors work. On the one hand, you have the classic on-stage speakers that point at the band. On the other, you have the in-ear style. In-ear monitors are essentially small earbuds that put the output directly in each band member’s ear. In-ears have a lot of special advantages.
First of all, if your equipment and mixer are good enough, you can send each band member a customized monitor track that helps them hear how their instrument is working in the mix.
Next, in-ears can provide a more direct sound channel that won’t get lost among the instruments or the venue noise. However, in-ears are often more expensive and can be visually distracting.
They also might impose more wiring constraints on the band. Standalone monitors themselves come in different forms depending on where you plan to position them on stage: the traditional wedge, larger fill-ins that are meant to stand off to the side, rack or stand-mounted monitors that can sit closer to the level of the musician’s ears, and so on.
There’s a lot of factors that determine the best form factor for your needs, like whether you tour, the composition of the band, which and how many instruments you use, and the size of the venue or venues you usually play.
Whether you go unpowered or powered, you will find that the size and ability of the monitor to project sound will make a big difference. If you play in big venues or have to deal with a lot of sound, you will need a bigger monitor.
For both powered and unpowered models the preferred measure is watts, with more wattage indicating higher potential volume before distortion and other problems set in. In a powered monitor, the wattage refers to the power of the included amp, while for an unpowered monitor the wattage is an indicator of how powerful an amp you can connect to the monitor.
In general, more wattage is better because you can play at greater volumes without distortion, giving you more useful range of volume. However, you generally also need to pay more for higher power, so don’t buy more than you need.
The minimum useful watt rating is 100 to 125 watts, but you might need more according to your circumstances. It may take some trial and error to decide the right amount of capacity your band needs.
Unpowered monitors are a little more flexible in this regard because you can swap out the amp easily. Frequently, you will need different sizes for different instruments, and instruments that use more bass need more power.
Much goes into the quality of sound coming out of a speaker. A monitor should impart as little distortion and alteration to the sound as possible because it is important for musicians to get an accurate depiction of how the house hears their sound.
There are many different characteristics that add up to the overall sound quality of a monitor. Perhaps the most important is the frequency response. The monitor needs to be able to produce sound in the correct frequency over the entire range of your output.
You can see the frequencies that you use from within your mixing and mastering software. Make sure you can find a monitor that will cleanly reach that entire range. Otherwise, you’ll hear distortions, popping, clipping, and other effects creeping into the mix.
Test out different monitors to make sure they meet your needs ahead of time, because you can’t always get all the information you need from just reading the specs online.
Every musician knows how easy it is to wind up overspending on gear. Monitors can be quite expensive, especially if you have to buy a full set of them at the same time. For that reason I prioritize models that give you a lot of bang for your buck.
That sometimes means I put aside the most high-end brands because although they offer the best quality, the results do not justify the price tag. It’s a good idea to set yourself a budget before even starting your search.
Do not go above your budget no matter how attractive the offerings are. If you compromise on your budget you will inevitably be disappointed by the results as well as be short of money.
If your budget does not allow you to get a monitor that is acceptable, then save more money and wait. Over time, newer and better monitors come out and older models drop in price, so your value will only increase.
It may or may not be a good idea to try buying used. I generally always buy new so that I can be assured nothing is wrong with the monitor, but you can sometimes get a great deal on a used model that still works.
After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.
|Has excellent sound quality and a wide range of onboard mixing and EQ options to polish your sound||$699.99|
|Easy to fit on stage||$199.94|
|Bass is excellent and provides a powerful tone without getting washed out or muddy.||$159.95|
|Come with 2 quarter-inch ports||$143.50|
|minimalist monitor, good sound quality||$119.99|
|Very easy to carry around||$116.89|
Our Recommendation: QSC K10
I’m going to start out big with the QSC K10 2-Way Powered Speaker. Each unit will run you $750, so they are a little pricey, but the quality makes it well worth the investment.
Here is what makes the QSC K10 excellent. First of all, these are big, 1000-watt speakers. You can easily use them as mains in a larger indoor venue. In fact, it is quite common to see musicians who use a couple units as their mains and then one more as the onstage monitor.
It has excellent sound quality and a wide range of onboard mixing and EQ options to polish your sound. The field of sound it projects is both wide and deep, covering a very wide angle without any dead zones, overlap, or variance.
The inputs include combo XLR/quarter-inch TRS and RCA phono, so you can use a full signal chain with a mixer. The outputs are dual XLR and XLR mix out.
The onboard DSP governs 2 types of EQ. The high-frequency settings are “Vocal Boost” which is a midrange booster and “Flat” which preserves the source. On the low end, you get “Normal” for the flattest response, “Deep” for extension of the bass, and “External Sub” if you want to connect an external subwoofer.
There’s a feature called GuardRail that prevents clipping and popping. It weighs 32 pounds, which is quite light for its size, and you can play it vertically or as a wedge.
It is also easy to mount up on a pole or stand, and that plays very well into its coverage angle. The frame is a tough mix of aluminum, hardened plastic, and steel.
Clearly the feature set on the K10 is geared toward being a main, but the simple EQ and the power make it an extremely good monitor as well. With a mixer, some mains, and one of these, you have everything you need to run a band of any size.
Yes, it is a major investment, but it’s going to last a long time, you can tour with it, it has the power to cut through in loud venues, and it can push through a clean, balanced sound that is just right for monitoring. This is a high-water mark for stage monitors.
Runner-up: Peavey PV 12M
In the runner-up spot, I have a somewhat more budget-friendly choice: the Peavey PV 12M. It’s a 12-inch monitor that goes for $200.
This is a more traditional powered wedge monitor that can’t pass for a main, but you probably won’t need it to. It has two deployments: 30 degrees and 45 degrees. You can also mount it on a pole. It is rated for 500 watts. There are two quarter-inch inputs to let you fit it into your signal chain.
This is clearly a different approach from the K10, and it makes a lot more sense for a lot of bands. Budget-wise it is very doable and it functions exactly as it is meant to as a monitor- not much in the way of extra features, just a clear and simple sound that consistently gives you the feedback you need.
It’s tough enough to tour with and is actually a little heavier than the K10 at 41 pounds. From the floor it is unobtrusive and easy to fit on stage. On a pole it is even easier to use.
You will benefit most from this monitor if all you need is a good, reliable speaker, whether it’s for bars, a church, traveling and gigging, or anything else.
The Rockville answer to the Peavey PV costs a little less at about $150. It’s still a 500-watt monitor, so not much has changed.
It has only one input and one output. The input is line/mic and the output is a combo XLR-TRS, so you can do a little mixing or similar work, but that isn’t quite enough ports for some people.
It has a big 12 inch woofer that might be the highlight of the speaker: the bass is excellent and provides a powerful tone without getting washed out or muddy.
It’s a wedge. There are indicators for LED power and for clipping. It comes with a 3-band EQ and a filter for feedback. The carpet and rubber feet help secure it in place and keep the frame off the floor.
The RSM12A is tough, but a little heavy at 46 pounds. All in all, this is a slightly cheaper 500-watt monitor with a slightly smaller feature set, so it is just about what you would expect. The low end makes it very good for heavy guitars, drums, and similar instruments.
The SA-10M are another choice on the budget end of the spectrum, at about $200 for a pair. These are considerably smaller monitors. They are 10-inchers, but are only rated for 100 watts, so they might have trouble cutting through in a loud venue like a crowded bar.
They come with 2 quarter-inch ports. Perhaps the biggest upside to the SA-10Ms is their size. They weigh just 22 pounds each, they have a very low profile, and they take up very little room on stage.
They also have a balanced frequency response, so they work for any instrument, vocals, or drums. They are cheap, convenient, and easy to transport.
If you perform outdoors and in smaller venues, such as at weddings, then consider the SA-10M as a value buy. The low price tag doesn’t mean the quality is low- these are durable and have good sound quality.
They are just small and a lot less powerful than other options, and they don’t have output ports, DSP, or any other fancy features. These are unpowered, so you will need to put an amp in front of them in your signal chain.
The Behringer VS1220F costs about $120. It is a 150-watt monitor with a quarter-inch input and a wedge form factor. It is unpowered. The VS1220F has a single 12-inch driver for the bass and hardwired overload protection.
This is a fairly minimalist monitor. You will need to provide an amp to power it, but it does not need much to drive it. This model is similar to the last one in that it has no extra features or special abilities.
It has a particularly good sound quality for this price point, especially at the low end, so it works well for drums and other instruments that hang out in that part of the spectrum.
It’s great for bands, DJs, solo performers, and anyone else who is willing to hook it up to an amp or their main speakers and forget about it.
Don’t expect it to cut through a lot of background noise but for the price, it’s easy to outfit a band with a full set of monitors for less than you would spend on a single high-end stage monitor.
The PW4P is a tiny speaker at just 50 watts, but it is powered, so there’s no need for an amp. In fact, it works well as a performance speaker in small, indoor venues.
Remember that a practice amp is around 15 watts, so this is plenty of power for a room-sized venue. It works well as a monitor in bigger venues.
With a 4.5 inch horn, XLR mic input, and quarter-inch line input, it can work with vocals as well as instruments. It sits on the floor as a wedge, or you can mount it on a pole. At 10 pounds it is very easy to carry around.