You may not want all the hassle of a complex USB audio interface.  So, if you long for simplicity in your desktop audio set up then a pair of USB speakers may well be the solution.

No complicated interfaces or messy cables, just plug in your USB speakers and get listening, mixing, or whatever you want to do (even recording!).

Most of the speakers listed below are magnetically shielded (surprisingly the Adam Audio models are the exception).  In general near field studio monitors are magnetically shielded, which means that you can have them close to your computer and other bits of electronic equipment without the fear of interference from the magnetic waves they generate (as these should remain inside the shielded boxes they are housed in).

Here we’ve rounded up 6 of the best USB studio monitors currently available.

1. Alesis M1 Active 320 USB nearfield studio monitors

USB near field monitors

These magnetically shielded monitors provide 10 w per channel RMS (so 20w total output), which doesn’t make them the beefiest speakers in the world, but if you’re looking for more power check out Alesis 520’s mentioned below.  They should certainly be sufficient for everyday desktop monitoring.   The bass boost button may help (annoy the neighbours at least).

They recording 16-Bit audio at 44.1 or 48kHz and provide 1/4″ plugs and standard RCA jack inputs on the rear.  There’s also a standard TRS headphone output on the front panel together with a monitor volume (plugging in headphones cuts the main output).

I do like the look of the Alesis 320’s but I can’t help noticing the similarity of the rear panel to the Akai RPM’s!  Or is it just me……?

Here’s the specs rundown for the M1 active 320’s:

  • USB 1.1 audio interface
  • 16-Bit delta sigma / 44.1-48 kHz recording and playback
  • Pro-grade 1/4″ plugs and standard RCA jacks
  • Works with iPad via Apple USB Adaptor (sold separately)
  • TRS Headphone output
  • Two ¼” phone jacks inputs
  • Stereo 1/8” TRS mini-jack input
  • Stereo RCA inputs
  • 1/8” TS output to passive speaker
  • Switchable power supply
  • Magnetically shielded for placement near TV and computer monitors
  • Woofer: 3” lightweight, magnetically-shielded
  • Tweeter: 1” silk dome
  • Frequency Response: 80 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Power: 10W per channel RMS
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 88dB weighted

If you’re not a fan of black speakers, then you may prefer the white housing version, but personally I like the standard black.

You can pick up a pair or Alesis M1 active 320 usb powered USB monitors at Amazon for around £85.

Links and further reading

Alesis product pages and specs for the 320 USB studio monitors 

2. Alesis M1 Active 520 USB nearfield studio monitors
 
If the Alesis 320’s don’t pack enough power for you, then the sleek and attractive Alesis 520 USB active studio monitors pack more of a punch.

They house a bi-amplified speaker design delivering 30W per channel RMS (in total a 60w system).

A clean front panel offers volume control, 1/4″ headphone output  (headphones mute speakers when plugged in).  There’s also a bi-coloured LED on the from provides handy indication of presence of signal (blue) and clipping(red).

Magnetic shielding ensures that you don’t have to worry about placing them too close to your screen.

A pair of 1/4″ balanced inputs inputs are provided as a convenient way to connect the stereo output from your mixer, mp3 player or computer, together with an integrated USB audio interface capable of recording 16-Bit audio at sample rates of 44.1 or 48kHz.

The 520’s indicate that they are also audio class compliant, meaning the should work plug and play without any special drivers for Mac or PC.  A closer look at the specs  on the Alesis site reveals that the 520’s also work with the iPad via the Apple camera kit.

Here’s the full spec for the 520’s:

  • Low-frequency driver: 5” lightweight, magnetically-shielded, ultra-stiff polypropylene cone with rubber surround and high power handling voice coil
  • High-frequency driver: one-inch silk dome with magnetic shielding
  • Frequency Response: 56 – 20,000 Hz
  • Power: 30 W per channel RMS
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >90dB weighted
  • Digital Conversion: 16-bit delta sigma, 44.1kHz or 48kHz sampling rate
  • Inputs: Two balanced 1/4”
  • Polarity: Positive signal on “+” pin creates forward cone displacement
  • Input Impedance: 10k ohms
  • Input Level: -10dBV nominal, balanced
  • Dynamic Range: >80dB
  • Dimensions:  (WxDxH) 7.25″ x 8.875” x 10.625”

You can buy the M1 Active 520 USB monitors at Amazon.

Links and further reading

Alesis product pages and specs for the 520 USB studio monitors 

3.  Adam Audio ARTist 3

The Adam Audio ARTist 3’s offer a compact and versatile package to deliver you the acclaimed Adam Audio sound.  Utilising the same X-ART tweeter technology they use in their pro speaker range to achieve superior high frequency together with carbon fibre mid-woofer cones.    The internal amplifiers provide 25w per channel (RMS) and additional high frequency tuning is possible via a control on the rear.  Each unit in the pair is identical and is capable of being either a slave or master when set up with an interlink cable, meaning that the volume control will work on either the right or left unit.

But what’s really great about the ARTist’s is that they have no less than four different inputs: RCA (Cinch), XLR, a 3.5 mm mini stereo jack and an USB port allowing the ARTist 3’s to connect to just about any audio source.  So these really could be the answer to your desktop listening dreams.

You can pick up Adam Artist 3’s at Amazon 

Links and further reading

About the Adam Audio X-ART eXtended Accelerating Ribbon Technology

A very complementary in-depth review and sound test of the ARTist 3’s by Michael Lavorgna at Audiostream.com

Adam Audio web pages for the ARTist 3’s

4.  Adam Audio ARTist 5

At nearly £800 a pair the Adam Audio USB speakers are certainly not the cheapest, but they are the best spec’d of the models mentioned in this post.  If you’re serious about the sound quality you want to achieve and also want versatile USB connectivity, these are the ones for you.

They share similar connection and technology vital statistics to the ARTist 3’s mentioned above, but these large units are capable of driving up to 50w (RMS) of sound.

Here’s a short video with Adam Audio about the ARTist 5’s at Musikmesse 2011.

Here’s a rundown of the specs for the ARTist 5’s:

  • Frequency response: 50 Hz – 50 kHz
  • THD 90dB/1m > 100 Hz: ≤0.6 %
  • Long term output: ≥102 dB
  • Max. peak: ≥110 dB
  • Crossover frequencies: 2500 Hz
  • Input impedance: 30 KOhm
  • Weight: 15.4 lb (7 kg)
  • Magnetically shielded: No
  • Height x Width x Depth: 11.5″ (290 mm) x 7″ (175 mm) x 8.5″ (220 mm)
  • Finish: Black glossy, White glossy
  • Warranty: 5 Years

You can pick up a pair of Adam Audio ARTist 5 Active Loudspeakers at Amazon for around £795Also available are some desktop stands capable of accommodating either the ARTist 5’s or ARTist 3’s: http://www.bartlettshifi.com/product_detail.asp?sku=1693

Links and further reading

http://www.adam-audio.com/en/multimedia/products/artist-5/description

A great write up from the guys at Harmony Central

5.  Akai RPM3 Production Monitors with USB Audio Interface 

The Akai RPM3’s combine a compact monitoring solution with a discrete integrated audio interface built in.  The integrated 2×2 USB audio interface allows you not only to playback audio from your computer, but also to record it!

Akai USB reference monitors

Hook up your sound source to the 1/4″ TS, RCA or 1/8″ Stereo inputs on the back.  You can also add bass boost with a switch on the rear (although Akai’s specs don’t indicate what specific frequencies are boosted).

Akai USB reference monitors 

Here’s the full spec breakdown for the RPM3’s:

  • Woofer: 3” lightweight, magnetically-shielded, polypropylene cone with rubber surround and high power handling voice coil. 4 Ohm impedance.
  • Tweeter: 1” silk dome
  • Frequency Response: 80 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Bass Boost: 4.8dB at 100Hz
  • Power: 10 W per channel RMS
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 88dB weighted
  • Inputs: 1/4″ TS, RCA, 1/8″ Stereo, USB1.1
  • Input Impedance: 20k ohms
  • DAC/ADC 16 bit delta sigma, 44.1kHz or 48kHz sampling rate
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 6.0” x 5.0” x 7.5” / 15.3 cm x 12.7 cm x 19.0 cm
  • Net Weight (total): 7.5 lbs / 3.4 kg

The RPM’s retail for around £99, but you can usually find them slightly cheaper at Amazon.

Links and further reading

http://www.akaipro.com/rpm3

6.  Samson Studio GT

Another pair of great looking speakers!

Connect a guitar to the ¼” input on the front panel using a standard ¼” instrument cable (the ¼” input can accept either a high impedance or low impedance source). They can also take 2 balance XLR inputs from a pair of mics for instance, so these may well be a good solution for the podcasters out there.

They come bundled with Cakewalk® Sonar LE music production software, so you can get recording and multi-tracking straight out of the box.

LED clip indication is also include

USB near field monitors

Here’s the feature and spec breakdown for the Studio GT’s:

  • Active studio monitors with USB audio interface
  • 4.25-inch magnetically shielded, inverted cone, copolymer woofer
  • 1-inch silk dome high frequency driver
  • 2 x 20 watts of internal stereo power
  • Two combination mic and instrument/line inputs
  • Two 1/8-inch stereo headphone outputs with level controls
  • Includes Cakewalk® Sonar LE music production software
  • Mic and instrument/line gain control with clip LED
  • 16-bit 44.1kHz/48kHz
  • Stereo RCA and 1/8-inch aux inputs
  • 2-position switch for no-latency direct stereo and mono monitoring
  • Mix control to balance computer and audio sources
  • USB and speaker cable included

Samson Studio GT – Active Studio Monitors with USB Audio Interface

Links and further reading

Manufacturers web pages for the Studio GT’s


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