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While musicians frequently obsess about the best studio gear for their home recording studio, they don’t often think about computer monitors. That’s understandable, as only a few monitors are made specifically for producers and musicians. Any old monitor or tiny laptop screen could suffice if you’ve got the passion and work ethic to produce music. However, expanding your music-making setup with the perfect monitor (or monitors) for your budget and workflow can make you even more efficient, and every little shortcut helps when you have so much to do to create your best work. Monitors give music producers many choices, including resolution, aspect ratio, curved displays, touch sensitivity, portability, and more. It won’t take long to zero in on the best choice for your style, and when the best monitors for music production start to make a difference in your tracks, it will be time well spent.
I have approached music production as a serious hobby for about 20 years and, during that time, have also covered music production full- or part-time with outlets such as Electronic Musician, MusicTech, Gearspace, and DJTechTools. Unlike studio monitors for playing back your mix with the flattest frequency response possible, the visual monitors for music production aren’t tailored for the specific task. These are mainly general-use devices, not the exactingly calibrated ultra-expensive screens you’d use for color grading or graphic design, for example. So, after consulting with the PopSci staff, I based these selections on general quality and value for money as they pertain to the different needs of music producers, such as size, setup flexibility, convenience, budget, and other features. I also took into account the consensus opinions of critics and general users.
Whether money is tight or is no object, our monitor picks have something to offer a music producer’s work. When the computer is your studio’s centerpiece, every monitor is another window into your creative world. From a portable touchscreen to a super-wide curved behemoth suitable for a space station, all these monitors deserve a musician’s attention for different reasons.
Why it made the cut: Audio artists using Apple desktops or laptops have a classy and dazzling 5K Retina display to make music production look great and hopefully sound equally good.
Many music producers tend to use Apple computers. The Apple Studio Display was made to complement Apple desktop computers—such as the Mac Studio—with a stunning 5K Retina display and a gaggle of additional technology not usually found within a monitor. It has three microphones and a 12MP ultrawide camera with support for Apple’s Center Stage technology, which keeps you in the middle of the frame while you move around. In our tests, both the microphones and webcam are serviceable, though the latter needs a lot of light to look its best. The Studio Display’s most interesting feature is its built-in A13 Bionic processor, which powered Apple’s iPhone 11. This powerful chip has enough overhead to allow the Studio Display’s speaker system to play back Dolby Atmos tracks with better separation.
The aforementioned speaker system is comprised of four force-canceling woofers and a pair of tweeters. In our experience, the Studio Display’s audio system blows away other monitor speakers, so much so that you could get away with using them while A/Bing rough mixes of your tracks. Plenty of people stream tracks off their laptops, after all, and this is a big step up. We still recommend getting a pair of speakers to audition how those final mixing choices hit. The Studio Display’s speakers are perfectly fine for casual music listening and video streaming, too.
The Studio Display was designed to be used with a Mac, so it has no HDMI ports. Instead, it has one Thunderbolt 3 port to connect to your computer and three USB-C ports to connect peripherals. The plus side—if you’re a MacBook user—is that the display will charge your laptop, too. Apple offers the Studio Display in three configurations: One with a static stand, one with a VESA mount, and a third height-adjustable stand. The latter costs an extra $400, which brings the display’s price up to a whopping $1999.
You can use the Studio Display with a PC equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 port, but you’ll lose some of its best features. Center Stage and Spatial Audio simply won’t work. However, much of the music production industry runs on macOS, whether you’re running Apple’s own Logic production software or ProTools. This is the highest-priced monitor we recommend for music production, but if you run on a Mac, it’s your best option.
Why it made the cut: PC music producers can take advantage not just of the Asus ZenScreen Touch MB16AMT’s multitouch screen for multitouch music apps but also enjoy its easy portability for taking their music on the road.
While Mac-using music producers may have the fancy whiz-bang tech of the Apple Studio Display, PC users can make music on multitouch monitors using full-featured
Windows DAW programs with multitouch support, like FL Studio, Bitwig Studio, Cakewalk Sonar, and others. Taking advantage of PC multitouch support with the Asus ZenScreen Touch MB16AMT adds the extra perk of lightweight portability. It measures 9 mm in thickness and weighs just under 2 pounds, making it easy to take with you whether at home, in the rehearsal studio, or at a live show. A built-in 7800 mAh battery powers the monitor at full brightness for about 4 hours—more than enough time for the average stage show—and its case folds into a four-position stand, including portrait and landscape orientations.
The ZenScreen Touch MB16AMT exhibits good brightness and contrast for a portable monitor and employs Asus Ultra-Low Blue Light and Flicker-free technology to alleviate eye strain. Besides its 10-point maximum touch sensitivity, it also works with the included stylus and a small joystick control for navigation.
The ZenScreen Touch MB16AMT is not only a PC monitor; it connects to computers, tablets, smartphones, game consoles, and cameras through its micro-HDMI and USB-C ports. However, turnabout is fair play, so while Mac users can connect to the ZenScreen Touch MB16AMT, that comes with very limited touch functionality, and connecting to an iPad doesn’t support ZenScreen touch functionality at all.
Why it made the cut: The most luxurious, high-performance curved monitor for being completely immersed in music production, the Samsung Odyssey Neo G9 performs at a level as high as its price.
Samsung’s mammoth Odyssey Neo G9 49-inch Mini-LED monitor is aimed at gamers and designers. But many music producers want their studio to be a visually stunning and welcoming place to spend long hours of creative work, so this monitor can go a long way toward making a project studio feel like a serious command center. Mini-LED is an advanced display technology that uses much smaller backlights than QLED, giving it deeper black levels, contrast, and brighter HDR performance. For that, the Odyssey Neo G9 carries a premium list price of about $2,300. However, an Odyssey G9 model for a $1,500 list price is basically the same except for using QLED display technology.
Both monitors wield a world-class 240 Hz refresh rate (which requires HDMI 2.1) and 1 ms response time, for wonderfully smooth motion handling. The 32:9 aspect ratio display offers the screen space of two 27-inch 1440p monitors, and a curvature of 1000R, which supposedly matches that of the human eye’s field of vision. The 1000R measurement means that the curvature would form a circle with a radius of 1 meter (1,000 mm) if extended. Fans of curved monitors like the greater feeling of immersion they enjoy from the more natural way they utilize your peripheral vision.
Musicians may also want to do gaming and/or video work to justify buying the Odyssey Neo G9. Either way, they’ll enjoy massive screen real estate and a brilliant picture with very high brightness and contrast levels.
Why it made the cut: For making music with more screen space than a 16:9 monitor, the LG 34WP65C-B ultrawide display delivers a beautiful picture and higher-end specs for a reasonable price.
At around $500, the LG 34WP65C-B is considered a budget-minded ultrawide monitor for the specs it boasts, which include a fast 160 Hz refresh rate, 4 ms response time, and compatibility with NVIDIA G-Sync variable refresh rate and HDR10. Those features are more nods to gaming and multimedia creation than music production. However, if you’re scoring music to picture, those advanced specs are handy for dealing with video. And the 21:9 aspect ratio is the normal cinematic ratio for viewing full-screen movies without letterboxing. The 3440 x 1440 resolution supplies 33% more screen space than a Full HD 1920×1080 display, making a huge difference when working on large DAW projects or having other applications open while producing music.
Anyone can enjoy the 34WP65C-B’s strong contrast, brightness, and image sharpness even if you’re not gaming or working with video between music sessions. And the curved display can lend a deeper sense of immersion when working with the monitor, although its 1900R curvature doesn’t bend nearly as much as the Samsung Odyssey Neo G9 above. For flexibility in your studio, the 34WP65C-B has height and tilt adjustment and wall-mountability. Its two 7W internal speakers are more powerful than most monitors’ sound systems—loud enough to play some podcasts while you’re making beats out of your main speakers or to use as a mixing reference when testing your productions on low-grade speakers.
Why it made the cut: As a dual-setup monitor, the HP VH240a gives musicians more screen space for less money than many ultrawide monitors and the ability to use them in landscape or portrait modes.
If you’re choosing a dual-monitor setup for music production, chances are you like to have the versatility to set up each monitor to contain certain software apps or windows. The HP VH240a 23.8-inch IPS LED display pivots easily from landscape to portrait orientation so that producers can have one horizontal monitor and one vertical. The vertical display can be good for breaking out the mixer window from DAW software and setting up plug-in instruments and effects, while the horizontal display has the DAW timeline with all recorded tracks. Or a vertical monitor can also suit software that works particularly well in an oblong shape, like Propellerhead Reason 12.
When placing both monitors in landscape position, the VH240a has a very thin bezel to minimize the “bezel gap” space between screens that many people loathe when using dual monitors. These displays also have height and tilt adjustment, a 178-degree viewing angle, and VESA compatibility for mounting to walls and stands. The internal 2W speakers are rather weak, but can still be used for checking musical productions on a low-level consumer setup.
With a response time of 5 ms and a refresh rate of 60 Hz, the VH240a is not intended for high-intensity graphical applications like video editing or gaming. Still, it does have great color reproduction and contrast for its price. For musicians looking for a straightforward dual-monitor setup with aspect-ratio flexibility, a pair of VH240a displays will set them up with more screen space for a lower total price than many ultrawide monitors.
Why it made the cut: One of the only displays made specifically for music production, the Slate Media Technology Raven MTi2 brings multitouch commands and task-batching shortcuts designed by producers, for producers.
Slate Media Technology calls its Raven MTi2 multitouch screen a “production console,” because it’s made to replicate a similar workflow to mixing music on a large-format mixer. It is still a computer monitor you can use for your other computer work, but it is purpose-built for hands-on music production.
The Raven MTi2’s accompanying software allows specific multitouch gestures, long chains of macro commands, and other control over seven major DAW programs on Mac and PC: Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, Steinberg Nuendo, Presonus Studio One, Apple Logic Pro X (Mac only), and MOTU Digital Performer (Mac only). Some operations are simply intuitive, while others take some time to learn certain gestures or set up its Batch Command System for initiating chains of repetitious tasks—up to 1,000 key commands and mouse clicks in a single action.
Producers using the Raven MTi2—or the 43-inch Raven MTZ (which costs three times the price at almost $3,000)—tend to either love it more than any other computer music workflow or have a difficult time getting used to it. A Raven display has to be your computer’s main monitor, but you can also use it with other standard monitors or another Raven unit. Besides just the freedom to have instant access to any amount of mixing channel faders and controls, track zooming, automation curves, waveform editing, plug-in windows, and much more, the Raven MTi2 also gives you a customizable Raven Toolbar for transport controls and other common controls, and an iOS Slate Remote app for accessing Batch Commands and other tools.
Philips Computer Monitors
Why it made the cut: When a music producer just needs to expand a laptop screen for a decent price, the Philips 272E1CA is a good monitor that steps up with excellent performance and some extra features.
Music producers on a budget have good news: It’s easier than ever to make high-quality tunes affordably with just a laptop, some software, and a minimal amount of other hardware, such as a microphone, headphones, and a MIDI keyboard. Yet there’s still some bad news with that setup: laptop screens can feel very cramped when packing them with DAW windows for track timelines, a mixer, and plug-ins. People often overlook a secondary monitor for a laptop as part of a music studio. Still, your studio sessions can be much more productive when you have that important extra screen real estate.
The Philips 272E1CA 27-inch Full HD doesn’t stand out in any one particular area, but it is a solid, well-rounded monitor for producing music on a budget. It curves at a rate of 1500R, which is in the middle of the range for curved monitors and should lend a comfortable feeling of immersion in your music work from your peripheral vision. It also has a moderately boosted 75 Hz refresh rate for fluid motion handling, which along with a sharp, legible picture should help spare your eyes of strain after long hours of perfecting your sound. Along those same lines, Philips includes its Flicker-free and LowBlue mode technology for optical ergonomics. And if your eyes feel good, but your brain needs a little break, the 272E1CA includes gaming enhancements like AMD Freesync for locking the monitor refresh rate to the graphics card for less choppy playback, plus a SmartImage game mode for optimizing the picture for different types of games.
If you’re making music using only headphones, there is a 3.5mm jack for both audio input and output, and the 272E1CA has a modest pair of 3W built-in speakers that should only be used to test how your music sounds on cheap speakers. All told, it’s an excellent way to expand upon a laptop screen for a budget-minded music studio.
It’s rare these days for computer monitors to be exclusive to an operating system like macOS or Windows. However, some of them have limited functionality on one or the other operating system. For example, Apple displays may not allow Windows users to change certain settings or toggle Mac-only technology. And many touchscreen monitors only provide limited touch control to Mac users. But your available space, budget, and personal preferences for a monitor matter even more than your choice of the operating system.
A large monitor can help speed up the music production workflow by giving you the space to arrange digital audio workstation (DAW) windows and the screen real estate to place your favorite plug-ins in their own zones. Sometimes, the bigger the screen, the better it is for making music. But how much space does your music studio have for a monitor or multiple monitors? And do you need the monitor to be height adjustable, wall-mountable, and/or pivotable between landscape and portrait orientation? Not all computer monitors come with all those setup options. If you’re very tight on space or want a mobile music-making setup, a portable monitor may be right for you.
All these options may come with some amount of extra cost. Large and smaller (portable) monitors can cost more than middle-of-the-road 24- or 27-inch displays. Other high-tech options like the high resolutions of 4K or 5K, fast refresh rates and response times, and curved displays also affect the price. Because music studios generally have the potential to sap a budget fast (though our guide to an affordable home studio setup can help), the computer monitor may not be the highest-priority area in which to sink money. If that’s the case, there are plenty of low-cost monitors that are perfectly functional for music production and premium products that offer lavish displays optimized for high-powered gaming and visual media production. Depending on your wants, you can easily spend less than $200 or more than $2,000.
Given the space available, would you rather have one large monitor or a pair of smaller ones? For gaming and movies, “ultrawide” monitors—those with a 21:9 aspect ratio as opposed to the widescreen 16:9 ratio—have become popular enough to start coming down in price. However, a dual-monitor setup with two smaller displays may still give you more total screen space for the same or less money. With dual monitors, you have more setup flexibility to perhaps wall-mount one monitor but not the other, to orient one monitor horizontally and the other vertically, or to set one monitor at a different resolution than the other. Many music producers embrace dual monitors as a natural way to separate a DAW mixer window from the track timeline window.
However, dual-monitor setups give you a “bezel gap” between the displays that annoys some people, and you have to be sure your computer can handle the dual system. The best ultrawide monitors cater to gamers, so you often get advanced display technology for a sharper picture, richer colors, and smoother motion handling. But those characteristics vary and also are available in certain 16:9 monitors. If you’re scoring music to picture, the ultrawide 21:9 ratio matches the cinematic aspect ratio, so you get a fullscreen view when playing movies, rather than the screen-wasting letterboxing during movie playback on a 16:9 monitor.
Computer musicians are always looking for more ways to gain hands-on control over software controls, not only for the faster, more natural workflow, but also for avoiding potential repetitive stress from constant mouse-clicking. A touchscreen monitor gives you another layer of hands-on operation in addition to any other hardware control surfaces and MIDI interfaces you have. Those touchscreens also help Windows users much more than Mac, because certain Windows DAW software has built-in multitouch support. The exceptions to that rule are the Slate Media Technology Raven multitouch displays, which use proprietary software to connect both Mac and Windows computers to allow hands-on control of certain popular DAWs.
As another Mac option, music producers in the Apple ecosystem can often use an iPad as a multitouch remote control—if they use a DAW with an iPad control app, such as Apple Logic Pro X, Presonus Studio One, Avid Pro Tools, and Steinberg Cubase.
Much like all the gear in your studio, the range for a monitor can stretch to match your needs and desires—going from basic to premium. For that reason, our picks range as well, coming in at $150 to $1,500.
Some music producers use two monitors (or more) because it can be very helpful to separate the workspaces of a DAW program into separate windows and then place those windows on their own monitor. A common scenario detaches the DAW mixer into a separate window that goes onto its own display, while the DAW track timeline has its own monitor. Particularly for complex productions, that gives producers more dedicated space to work on track automation, zoom in on tracks to edit them in the timeline, and have a large view of the mixer and/or instrument and effect plug-ins. More monitor space can save time from clicking around to collapse and expand DAW windows while working. If they’re scoring/sound designing/mixing to picture, the artist will also often have a third display dedicated to video playback.
A 32-inch monitor is not too big for music production. Suppose you are accustomed to making music on a laptop screen or a small monitor. In that case, you may be surprised how quickly you get used to having more screen space once you add an extra monitor, start using a dual monitor setup, or upgrade to a very large or ultrawide monitor. It can feel very liberating, for example, to have a favorite synthesizer or sampler open and visible in a large format at all times, rather than it being buried underneath other windows or disappearing as you select other tracks in a DAW session.
The best size monitor for music production may be the largest-sized monitor you have space for and can afford. That’s not necessarily the answer for all music producers. For instance, some producers believe that they eventually become too dependent on the screen and prefer to find ways to make music while looking at the screen less. And many producers create, mix, or master great music with just a laptop. However, there’s always a time when the display is necessary, and it’s often the case that more screen space is better. You always have the option to turn off displays when it’s time for your ears to do the work.
Some music producers may prefer a monitor with the highest resolution, like the 5K Apple Studio Display, for maximizing monitor space with the crispest picture. In contrast, others may prioritize the dedicated DAW multitouch control of the Slate Media Technology MTi2. Perhaps a portable monitor for expanding upon a laptop’s screen on the road will make the most positive difference to a producer’s life. Regardless of the preferences, computer monitors are an often overlooked aspect of the music production setup. Whether it is a very modest investment or a big-ticket purchase, a strategically chosen monitor can give any studio a visual refresh.
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