If you’ve got a home recording studio or project studio, you know how valuable space can be. Real estate is prime for all your audio gear, instruments, computer workstation, acoustic treatments, and more. This is where rack-mountable studio monitors can be a smart solution.
Rack-mountable studio monitors, as the name suggests, are monitors specifically designed to be mounted in a standard equipment rack. This allows you to save space by mounting your monitors off your desk and integrating them seamlessly into your existing rack setup.
Beyond the space-saving benefits, rack-mount monitors come with other advantages over their standalone counterparts:
- Create a clean, integrated studio setup with all gear in one place
- Conveniently position monitors at ear level in the rack
- Keep your workstation clear for other equipment and tools
- Easily transport your full monitoring system as one rack unit
- Flexible mounting options (horizontal, vertical, or tilted)
- Ability to combine with other rackgear like audio interfaces
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting rack-mountable monitors:
- Active monitors include internal amplification, while passive monitors require external amps
- Acoustic performance may differ from standalone monitors
- Physical size and weight needs to accommodate your rack
- Positioning affects stereo imaging – plan where they will be placed
To help you find the right rack-mounted monitors for your studio, we’ve put together this list of the top 5 rack-mountable studio monitors available today based on critical performance, features, and overall value.
1. Genelec 8320 AMC – Accurate Imaging and Mix-Ready Performance
The Genelec 8320 AMC is an active monitoring system purpose-built for rack mounting. This high-end monitor packs Genelec’s trusted acoustic design into a compact, rack-ready 2U enclosure.
- 2-way monitor with 6.5″ woofer and 3/4″ metal dome tweeter
- Rear-ported bass reflex design optimized for rack mounting
- 50W Class D amplifier powers each driver actively
- AutoCal 2.0 room response calibration system
- Analog and digital audio connectivity (XLR/RCA/AES/EBU)
Given its pedigree, it’s no surprise the 8320 delivers excellent clarity, imaging, and detail. The all-aluminum Minimum Diffraction Enclosure minimizes coloration allowing you to hear the true mix. Even in the nearfield, the imaging is precise with a wide sweet spot. The RMSTM Room Management System reduces room modes for accurate low-end response down to 38 Hz. From lush vocals to booming lows, the Genelec maintains accuracy.
This is a professional grade monitor ideal as the main set of nearfields in studios needing quality rack-mounted reference monitoring. It’s also great for mobile rigs and post-production setups needing compact but uncompromising sound.
- Superb imaging and clarity for critical mixing
- AutoCal 2.0 for simple acoustic optimization
- Compact size with versatile rack-mounting options
- Balanced analog and digital connectivity
- Expensive for budget home studios
- Requires rack space of at least 2U
2. Presonus E8 XT – Compact with Fat Low End for the Price
This lightweight powered 8-inch monitor squeezes impressive bass response into a super slim 1U rack enclosure. Part of Presonus’ Eris monitor line, the E8 XT gives you accurate sound in a accessible rack-mount form factor.
- 8″ Kevlar low-frequency transducer
- 1″ low-mass silk dome tweeter
- Class AB amplification up to 100W
- Boundary compensation switch
- XLR/TRS analog connections
Given its size, the E8 XT sounds surprisingly full and spacious. The Kevlar woofer delivers strong, focused lows down to a claimed 35 Hz. The silk dome tweeters render crisp highs without harshness. Overall the sound is quite balanced and smooth across the spectrum with suitable depth for nearfield monitoring. Imaging is also coherent if a bit diffuse when extremely close-up.
Due to its compact 1U size, lighter weight, and fair price point, the E8 XT fits well in home studios and mobile racks needing quality sound on a budget. It also works as a supplementary monitor for tracking or mixing while traveling.
- Compact 1U form factor
- Impressive low-end weight for size
- Smooth, balanced sound suitable for nearfields
- XLR and TRS connectivity with +4dBu/-10dBV selectable levels
- Limited in very low bass response
- Imaging less precise compared to larger monitors
- Angled positioning not possible
3. Focal CMS50 – Pristine Imaging and Neutrality
This compact active monitor from Focal combines neutral sound with flexible mounting options. With a sleek contemporary design, the CMS50 delivers the renowned Focal studio sound in a rack-ready form.
- 5″ Flax woofer and aluminum/magnesium dome tweeter
- 2-way coaxial driver design optimized for nearfield
- Class AB amplification with 50W LF and 50W HF
- Oversized front ported bass-reflex enclosure
- Side/rear mounting with tilt adjustment
The CMS50 produces clean, articulate sound with stunning imaging precision. The coaxial driver aligns perfectly for coherence across the entire frequency range. Details come through with clarity and realistic transients. While compact, the bass has surprisingly good extension down to 45 Hz. Overall the tone is smooth and balanced suitable for mixing.
This is a very versatile monitor great as both main or secondary/rear monitors in project and home studios needing accurate imaging. Also works well for audio editing and mastering.
- Extremely accurate, lifelike imaging
- Linear frequency response with neutral tonal balance
- Compact but solid low-end extension
- Flexible mounting with tilt adjustments
- RCA and XLR connectivity
- Price is higher than similar sized models
- Limited acoustic controls
4. Yamaha HS5I – Compact with Room Control for Accuracy
Part of Yamaha’s iconic HS Series, the HS5I puts refined 5-inch reference monitors into a rack-friendly form factor. With built-in acoustic controls, they deliver surprising bass response despite the small size.
- 5” woven Kevlar woofer, 1″ dome tweeter
- 50W LF amplifier, 50W HF amplifier
- Acoustic Space Control for room adjustment
- High Trim response compensation
- XLR, TRS, and RCA connectivity
While compact, the HS5I pack a punch thanks to the rear bass ports and acoustic controls. The lows feel developed and full, avoiding thinness. The high end remains crisp without excessive graininess. Overall the frequency response feels quite natural with a smooth midrange. The stereo image locks in nicely when properly positioned.
A great option for home studios and multimedia setups thanks to the balanced sound and acoustic controls. Also solid for adding rear monitors to an existing HS monitor-based studio.
- Room compensation controls helpful for placement flexibility
- Quality bass response from a small driver size
- Familiar Yamaha studio monitor sound signature
- Reasonable price for a reliable major brand
- Angled positioning not possible
- Some acoustic coloring remains compared to larger models
- Not as compact as some 1U designs
5. Mackie MR524 – Flexible Placement at an Affordable Price
This compact powered monitor combines vintage looks with modern connectivity and acoustic design. The MR524 adapts Mackie’s proven studio monitors into an affordable rack-ready package.
- 5.25” polypropylene-coated woofer, 1″ ferrofluid cooled tweeter
- 100W Class D power amp with analog and digital inputs
- Acoustic Space and High-Pass Filter controls
- Flexible mounting angles up to 25 degrees
- Vintage aesthetics with wooden side panels
Despite the vintage vibe, the MR524 delivers clean modern sound. The bass feels punchy and extended, while the highs remain smooth. The midrange is natural if slightly forward. Imaging is coherent when positioned properly. While not completely neutral, the fun sound works well for tracking and mixing.
Great for home/project studios that need quality powered monitors with flexible rack mounting options. Also works for multimedia use thanks to the USB playback connectivity.
- Flexible mounting angles for positioning
- Vintage retro design with wooden sides
- Great bang for the buck value
- USB input for direct playback monitoring
- Sound not as linear or neutral as higher-end models
- Limited acoustic tuning capabilities
- Angled mounting affects width
How to Choose Rack-Mountable Studio Monitors for Your Setup
If these top 5 options have you considering rack-mounted monitors for your studio, here are some factors to weigh as you assess your options:
Match Monitors to Your Specific Usage
Consider what you will primarily use the monitors for to select the right specifications:
- Tracking/recording: Look for flatter response with excellent midrange clarity to accurately monitor takes.
- Mixing: Precise imaging and neutral tonal balance is key for mix decision-making.
- Mastering: Needs similar accuracy to mixing but also ultra-high resolution detail.
- Multimedia: Require good frequency range for full-spectrum playback but don’t need a completely linear response.
Also decide if these will be your primary studio monitors, or supplementary monitors for additional rooms/setups. This affects how strictly you need to adhere to precision reference-level sound.
Determine Active vs. Passive Design
- Active monitors have internal amplification built-in, making setup easier but at an increased cost. This is the most common type of rack monitor.
- Passive monitors require adding external amplifiers and volume control. This gives more component flexibility but requires additional gear and setup.
For most home/project studios, active monitors provide a simpler inflated option. But advanced users may favor the open-ended expandability of a passive rack monitor system.
Select the Right Physical Size and Configuration
Consider the dimensions of your rack and room to choose the appropriate monitor size and layout:
- Sub-8 inch monitors: Compact with limited bass extension but good imaging. Ideal for smaller rooms and racks.
- 8-inch monitors: A good balance of size and low-end weight for many setups. Popular for rack mounting.
- Larger monitors: Require more mounting space but deliver fuller lows and larger sweet spot.
- Stereo pairs vs. single: Pairs allow stereo mixing capabilities in one rack unit. Individual monitors can be spread apart more.
- Angled mounting: Some monitors allow angled mounting for better alignment – but this takes up more rack height.
Check Connectivity for Your Configuration
Most rack monitors include XLR and TRS connections to easily connect to audio interfaces. Many also add:
- RCA: Allows hookup to consumer playback sources
- Digital AES/EBU or S/PDIF: For noise-free digital integration
- Optical: Lightpipe connections for long cable runs
Having flexible input options allows for simple integration in your specific rack setup and workflows.
Factor in Weight, Mounting, and Hardware
The physical mounting requirements are also important considerations:
- Weight: Heavier monitors often have better stability but weigh down racks more.
- U space: Will usually be 1U or 2U but larger models may take up 3U or more.
- Included rack ears: Convenient but sometimes limited adjustment options.
- Third-party brackets: Allow more flexible tilt/angle positioning.
- Threaded mounting holes: Needed for securing brackets and rack ears. Check spacing matches your gear.
Listen Firsthand Before Buying
With studio monitors, it’s always ideal to listen firsthand before purchasing if possible. This lets you assess factors like:
- Frequency response linearity
- Imaging accuracy
- Sweet spot size
- Overall tonal characteristics
Even if buying online, try to listen first at a local pro audio store if able. Failing that, read through reviews carefully to learn how the monitors measure up sonically.
FAQs About Rack-Mountable Studio Monitors
Let’s go over some of the most frequently asked questions about rack-mountable studio monitors:
What are the benefits of rack-mounted vs standalone monitors?
The main benefits of rack-mounted monitors include:
- Save desktop space: Mounting monitors off the desk leaves room for other gear.
- Integrated setup: Having monitors and interface in one rack keeps things neat and consolidated.
- Convenient positioning: Place monitors at ear/eye level rather than below it.
- Portability: Easy to transport monitors safely in a mobile rack case.
- Aesthetics: Sleek look with all gear neatly mounted in a rack column.
Are rack-mounted monitors worse for acoustics than standalone?
Not necessarily, although close placement to walls can further emphasize reflections and room modes. Some techniques to optimize acoustics with rack monitors:
- Angle slightly inward for accurate imaging and reduced sidewall effects
- Place acoustic treatment strategically around monitors to absorb first reflections
- Utilize DSP room correction features like Genelec AutoCal to compensate for room acoustics
- Supplement subs add in a subwoofer placed away from walls to improve low-end linearity
How do I determine the right size/configuration for my needs?
Consider factors like:
- Room dimensions: Larger rooms benefit from 8-inch monitors or bigger
- Use case: Mixing demands higher precision than tracking or multimedia
- Desk space: Bigger tops allow farther speaker spreading
- Stereo/mono: Stereo pairs allow proper left/right imaging but require more space
A single 8-inch monitor, or a stereo pair of 5-inch, should suit many home studios well.
What connectivity options do rack-mount monitors typically have?
Common connections found on rack-mount studio monitors include:
- XLR: Balanced connections for hookup to audio interfaces
- TRS: Balanced connections for interface hookup
- RCA: Unbalanced connections for consumer playback devices
- AES/EBU: For noise-resistant digital transfers
- S/PDIF: Coaxial digital connections
- Optical: Lightpipe connections for long cable runs
Having options like XLR, TRS, and RCA allows for flexible connectivity in different studio setups.
Can I adjust the angle/positioning of rack-mounted monitors?
Rack-mounted monitors are typically more limited in physical adjustability than standalone monitors. However, some models like the Mackie MR524 include tilting mounting brackets. Third-party brackets can also add more angle options. Really optimal positioning may require separate satellite stands instead.
Are rack monitors more difficult to plug in/wire up?
Rack-mounted monitors do often require a bit more planning and setup since:
- Channels are close together so spacing is important
- Wiring often goes directly back through a rack
- Physical access can be tight in rack confines
However, with proper cable management and layout planning, rack monitors can end up very neat and accessible. So setup difficulty depends heavily on your particular rack design.
What kind of enclosure is best for rack-mounted monitors?
Common rack monitor enclosure materials:
- MDF wood: Affordable but prone to physical damage
- Coated plastics: Durable and low cost but not as acoustically inert
- Aluminum: Lightweight and strong but may add metallic coloration
- Sealed enclosures: Reduce resonance but limit bass response
- Ported enclosures: Extend low-end reach but also boost resonance
No single ideal construction exists – benefits vary case by case. Rigidity and damping are most vital.
How do I know if a rack monitor will fit my equipment rack?
Always check technical specifications like:
- Height: Will it fit your rack spacing (i.e. 1U, 2U, etc)?
- Depth: Fully accommodate front-to-rear monitor depth?
- Width: Fit within rack rails and leave room for access?
- Mounting: Line up with rack threaded screw holes?
Test fitting monitors or using rack blanks can help avoid issues down the line. Leave room for ventilation around monitors.
Should I work with acoustic treatment with rack monitors?
Even with rack-mounted monitors, acoustic treatment can make a substantial difference by:
- Absorbing early reflections off nearby surfaces
- Reducing comb filtering from mixing direct and reflected sound
- Helping linearize problematic room modes
So while room correction features in monitors help, physical acoustic treatment pays off. Focus on early reflection points and bass traps.
What should I look for in amplification with rack-mounted monitors?
Key factors for rack monitor amplification:
- Adequate clean power for the driver sizes used
- Minimal noise/interference in rack environs
- Quality components for reliability and safe operation
- Sufficient headroom to avoid distortion at higher volumes
- Efficient class D or PWM amplification to reduce heat buildup
Low noise, sufficient power, and clean amplification allows rack monitors to deliver their best performance.
Mounting studio monitors in a rack opens up valuable workspace while neatly integrating monitoring into your studio ecosystem. While rack-mounted monitors present some additional considerations compared to standalone monitors, the right model can provide quality sound along with unique advantages.
The key is first carefully analyzing your specific studio needs and setup. Determine if you require extremely linear reference monitors, or if more flexible multimedia designs could suffice. Factor in physical dimensions and mounting requirements to ensure monitors fit your existing rack.
Arrange to audition short-listed monitors in person when possible to make sure the sound quality meets your critical listening needs. This helps choose monitors tuned for your particular use case rather than relying on specs alone.
With the proper research and planning, rack-mounted monitors can deliver superb audio fidelity within arm’s reach. They eliminate the need for bulky separate monitor stands while integrating beautifully into your studio ecosystem.
The top picks presented above represent the cream of the crop to get you started. Models like the Genelec 8320 AMC and Focal CMS50 provide genuine studio reference sound in a conveniently small package. More affordable options from Presonus, Yamaha, and Mackie also impressed with their value.
So if you’re looking to reclaim some space and minimize monitor clutter, give rack-mounting your monitors a try. Just be sure to choose the right monitors and plan mounting carefully. With quality rack-mounted reference monitors in place, you can finally get the most out of your studio real estate while benefiting from their seamless integration and focused sound.