The 10 Best Stage Monitors
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in December of 2016. Few things are as frustrating as not being able to hear your own voice or instrument on stage, as it makes it hard to pick up cues and ensure you're hitting the right notes. A good floor or pole-mounted monitor provides singers, guitarists, drummers, and everyone else in the group with a reliable reproduction of their channel, and does so without taking up too much space. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 07, 2020:
Far from simply being an extension of an output channel, as was the case in times gone by, the modern foldback monitor can include a variety of features for use in both practice and live performance applications. Nowadays, active monitors can incorporate auxiliary inputs, with dedicated level controls through which you can feed backing tracks or your backline mix; digital signal processing, to control dynamics or add effects; and even mobile apps, for sonic manipulation on the fly.
This latest revision of our ranking introduces the Samson RSXM12A early on in our list, as it is an affordable and basic, yet very well-made example, with high-quality components and impressive output for this price point. We then upgraded the RCF NX12-SMA to the newer RCF NX 10-A II, which retains many of the previous model's best features, including its low-vibration rugged birchwood construction, but utilizes state-of-the-art components and sound designing technology to achieve professional-quality sound reproduction, albeit at a high price.
Next, we replaced the Behringer Eurolive B210D with the Behringer Eurolive B205D, as this is ideal for close monitoring of vocals and line-level instruments, thanks to its front-facing control panel, and is the perfect accompaniment to a digital drum kit or keyboard setup. We then upgraded the Yamaha DBR Series to the newer, DSP-equipped Yamaha DXR10MKII.
Finally, we upgraded the Electro-Voice ZLX-12 to the more recent Electro-Voice ELX200-12P. This has the distinction of having a backlit display for its digital signal processing functions, with a single rotary knob to control them all, making it quick and intuitive to get the desired results.
June 27, 2019:
As you may be aware, there are two kinds of speakers: passive and active. Monitors come in both varieties. Passive monitors consist of a cabinet with a woofer and a tweeter mounted inside, but no amplifier. If you know your way around sound system design, the JBL JRX212 is probably the one for you. It's inexpensive and rock-solid, and in more than one way: you can coax a ton of sound out of it without damage, and it won't give way if a guitarist uses it as a stepping stool in the middle of an intense solo. But if you don't want to go through setting up an external amplifier, you'll want to go with an active monitor.
If you just need extra volume for one or two singers, get the Powerwerks PW4P, which is especially convenient because you can affix it right to the top of a traditional mic stand. It's not for big shows or low instruments like kick drums or bass guitars, but it works well for many singers. The Alto TX210 is a step up and is great for small bands just starting to gig, and the Behringer Eurolive B210D is an even bigger advancement. Neither is incredibly loud, but they are accurate and reliable and have great sound quality. If you need to make plenty of noise on a budget, the Rockville is hard to beat, but it's very heavy and pretty large, as well. Plus, some users find it to distort when it's really cranked.
If you're willing to make a somewhat sizable investment, Turbosound and RCF make really great equipment. Not everybody wants to spend over a grand on a monitor, of course, and if that includes you, check out QSC's K10.2, which is nearly on a par with those two but costs hundreds less. In the middle of the price range, boasting excellent bang for the buck, are the Yamaha DBR10 and Electro-Voice ZLX-12P. The first is quite loud and the second even louder, and they both sound fantastic, especially in light of their affordable price tag.
D&B Audiotechnik D&B Audiotechnik is basically a household name among professional sound engineers. Handmade in Germany with an extremely high-end pedigree, their speakers are used in big-name productions throughout the world. In fact, if you've been to a big outdoor music festival in the last decade, there's a very good chance you've heard them for yourself. While they're particularly famous for their stadium-rocking line array systems, their floor monitors are every bit as renowned. dbaudio.com
Clair Brothers After mixing a successful show for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in 1966, Clair Brothers became likely the first professional sound company ever to tour with a band. They're now a fixture of events worldwide and push the envelope with industry developments, including a 52,000-square-foot rehearsal space that's currently the largest in the world. Their products do cost a ton, but even if you don't have a commercial-grade budget, you can sometimes find quality offerings on the used market. clairbrothers.com
Meyer Sound One of the few manufacturers trusted by music industry giants like Ed Sheeran and Metallica, you can be certain that anything from Meyer is of top quality. Ask any professional engineer and they'll agree. You may not be able to justify their newest models for your garage band, but if you're outfitting a concert hall or other large venue and want the best, they may be the way to go. meyersound.com
How Stage Monitors Can Improve Your Sound
All of these distractions can make it harder to hear and to concentrate on the music you’re playing.
Musicians have to deal with a ton of distractions when performing on stage. Amateurs in cover bands deal with drunken hecklers at the bars they play, more experienced indie artists deal with the strange acoustics of small but popular clubs, and wildly successful professionals have to contend with the clamor of thousands of adoring fans. All of these distractions can make it harder to hear and to concentrate on the music you’re playing.
Many players and singers will turn to in-ear monitors to give them live feedback while performing, but these require everything from fully charged batteries to a capable and trustworthy sound engineer. The best thing for you to use when trying to maintain a reference to your sound during a live performance is a stage monitor.
Whether you’re a musician yourself or you own one of the venues described above, a few investments in your PA system will pay greater dividends. That’s because when a musician can hear a balanced mix of the song they’re playing, they’ll be able to make any and all adjustments needed to make it sound the way it does on their records or in their heads. An out-of-tune vocalist can find their pitch, or a soloist lost in the chord changes can find their way back to the rest of the group.
The best example of the need for a good stage monitor, however, comes in the form of the drummer. In the majority of rock bands, the drummer traditionally sits behind the guitarists, bassists, singers, keyboardists, and pretty much every other imaginable instrumentalist. All of those performers place their amplifiers on stage alongside the drummer, where he or she can scarcely hear what’s coming out of them. That makes it very hard for the backbone of the band to know what’s going on in front of them. If the guitarist skips a section of the verse and starts the chorus early, the drummer might not pick up on it until it’s too late. Unless, of course, there was a stage monitor sitting next to the drum kit, pumping out a perfect mix of the song that's underway.
What To Look For In A Stage Monitor
The vast majority of stage monitors are built to sit at an angle, so that when you place them on the ground in front of you, their sound will travel up toward the ears of the intended musician. Since this basic build can make one monitor seem very much like the next, it’d be tempting to just grab the most powerful model that you can afford and call it a day. There are, however, two very important questions you need to answer first: where will you be using your monitor? and what kind of music do you play?
If you’re in a rock band and the venues you frequent are rather loud and rowdy, you’re going to need something with some significant power.
If you’re in a rock band and the venues you frequent are rather loud and rowdy, you’re going to need something with some significant power. Fans at these venues can get rather rambunctious, and there are usually drinks on stage that are liable to spill at any moment. That’s why investing in a stage monitor that boasts a high degree of durability is key here, even if it doesn’t put out the highest-fidelity sound.
Tamer musicians like folk artists can afford to invest in a monitor that ignores ruggedness in favor of superior sound quality, and their genre doesn’t demand a tremendous amount of power, either. If you’re a singer/songwriter type, then a monitor that can double as a miniature portable PA system in its own right is an excellent choice, especially if you can plug a guitar and a microphone into it and even do a rudimentary mix between the two. These mixing options can also come in handy if you want to adjust your monitor's performance without consulting the engineer.
All of the above points are true for venue operators, as well. A rock club needs more powerful, more durable monitors that don’t need to sound as good, while a coffee house can get away with something much smaller and daintier.
Other Tools For Perfecting A Live Performance
Stage monitors can make an incredible difference in the quality of your live sound, but they are by no means the only thing you can employ to improve your performance. Obviously there’s no replacement for time spent in rehearsal, but a musician can only rehearse so many hours in the day, and there’s no reason not to give yourself a competitive edge over the next act.
Stage monitors can make an incredible difference in the quality of your live sound, but they are by no means the only thing you can employ to improve your performance.
As we mentioned above, in-ear monitors are a great solution for live feedback, especially if you have the time to perfect their settings and the live engineer to help you integrate them with the venue’s PA system. These aren’t necessarily a replacement for stage monitors, either, as you can use a stage monitor to relay the sound of the band, while putting just your own voice through your in-ear monitor, giving you enough audible separation to make sure that you’re in tune with the music. However, venue owners should shy away from in-ear monitors as an investment, since asking Saturday night’s band members to wear the same ear monitors that Friday night’s musicians wore is no way to endear yourself to the artists.
A good rack-mounted tuner is another invaluable piece of equipment, as multiple band members can share it and make sure that everyone is in tune to the same standard. There are several rack-mounted effects out there that can make you sound great live, but the tuner is likely the most important one among them.
Finally, there’s the microphone you use to sing, and this piece of equipment is vital. If you’re used to relying on your venue to provide you with a decent mic, then you know how wildly one club’s options will differ from another’s. By investing in your own mic that you take with you wherever you play, you both ensure the baseline quality of your vocals and keep the band’s songs sounding as consistent as possible, which will only strengthen your brand.