Apple Studio Display review: A luxury worth paying for?

Launched alongside Mac Studio, Studio Display is an Apple product that seems designed to divide opinion among commenters. When it was announced, the attention was drawn to the seemingly high price tag for its specs screen. Then, shortly after the launch, everyone was excited about the quality of the webcam.

These types of feedback, or “snapshots,” are all too common in the immediate aftermath of Apple’s launch, and quickly fade as more sensible views begin to emerge. And while the Apple Studio Display is pricey, and it’s true that the webcam isn’t the best that Apple has included in their products, there are plenty of reasons why you might consider buying one.

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Apple Studio Display review: What you need to know

Let’s start with what you get for 1500 pounds. The main specifications of the studio monitor are fairly straightforward. This is a 27-inch screen with 5K resolution of 5120 x 2880 pixels, peak brightness up to 600cd / m², support for “P3 wide color gamut” and more than “a billion colors”.

It comes with built-in speakers, a three-port USB-C hub on the back (the fourth port is a Thunderbolt 3 port that carries video input), a 12MP webcam with Apple centering capabilities (it can be set up to follow you across the room) and three microphones to complete the Video calling experience.

Add in the ability to use TrueTone to match your room’s ambient light color temperature and auto brightness, and you’ll have a screen that looks just as fit for life on an executive desk as it does in a creative worker’s studio.

There are, of course, things this monitor can’t do well. It does not come with HDR support and the panel does not have full 10-bit support. Perhaps most surprisingly, it does not come with Apple ProMotion’s adaptive 120Hz refresh rate technology.

However, as a high-end companion for the M1 Mac mini or Mac Studio, it seems to be a good partner. Think of the Studio Display as part of the iMac’s mods — the display portion of the 27-inch iMac — and you start to make a lot more sense.

Read next: The best monitors you can buy

Apple Studio Display review: Price and competition

Unlike most monitors, you have a number of configuration options with Studio Display. You can buy it with the standard tilt stand for £1,499 or, for the same amount, you can buy the monitor with a VESA mount and without a stand, allowing you to add your own. The third option is to buy the monitor with Apple’s own tilt and height stand, which adds an unreasonable £400 to the price. One thing to note at this point is that you can’t upgrade the tilt mount to a VESA mount or a height-adjustable mount, so make sure you make a good choice at this point.

Your next choice is whether or not to upgrade to Apple’s anti-reflective nano-texture glass. This replaces the standard glossy finish for a matte finish and adds an extra £350 to the price. Again, I advise you not to bother with this unless you are working in a very bright environment with bright light directly on the screen. Apple sent me a Studio Display with standard glass and in my workspace – a bright room with skylights above it and a somewhat crowded shelving unit behind – I barely noticed any reflections.

How do these prices compare to competitors then? On the other hand, the base price is quite reasonable if you compare it to the competing professional caliber monitors. One example from the Japanese specialist, Eizo, is the CG2730. This is a 27-inch monitor that costs about the same as a studio monitor. It has a lower 4K resolution than the Apple monitor and lacks a webcam, microphone, or speakers. However, it does come with a height-adjustable mount, a hood to keep reflections to a minimum and a built-in calibrator to keep the image calibrated over time.

It doesn’t look good for a studio screen if you compare it to its more consumer-friendly premium competitors, however, with higher refresh rates, HDR support, and more exotic panel technologies like OLED and Mini LED appearing more regularly.

Take the 34in Alienware AW3423DW, for example: a curved QD-OLED (QD-OLED) gaming monitor with a 175Hz refresh rate, HDR support, and up to 1,000 nits of brightness. At £1,099, it’s £400 cheaper than Studio Display, and it’s better in many ways. Again, though, the resolution (3440 x 1440) isn’t that high.

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Apple Studio Display review: Design

However, one area where none of Studio Display’s competitors can compete is aesthetics. As we’ve come to expect from Apple over the years, the design of this screen is impeccable. The body is built from solid aluminum, finished in smooth anodized silver with a slim body measuring 19.5 mm thick.

The panel is covered with anti-reflective glass and enclosed on all sides by a 14mm wide frame. The tilt-adjustable stand provided with my review model allows for smooth, easy, one-handed adjustments. Hundreds of tiny perforations along the top and bottom edges of the screen allow air to be drawn in and expelled to cool itself.

It’s usually minimal in concept elsewhere too, with only four USB-C ports on the back (a Thunderbolt 3 port, three 10Gb/s USB-C ports), and no on/off button or controls Others and no display on the screen of any kind. Yes, you got that right. If you have any plans to use this with a Windows machine, don’t worry. The only way you’ll be able to toggle the calibration or make any kind of adjustment is to connect the display to your Mac. While I’m on the subject, having only one input is a bit surprising in an expensive monitor. This means that if you want to switch sources — say, from your desktop Mac Studio to a MacBook Air — you’ll have to switch cables.

Despite its external simplicity, the screen is feature-packed in other places, and it’s impressive. The built-in six-driver audio system, jutting out from the grilles on the bottom edge of the screen, is probably the best I’ve heard of any screen. Loud, has a lot of body and even a little bass.

I’m a little less enthusiastic about support for Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos. The overall sound quality is very good, but there’s only so much that a downstream speaker system can do. The sound effects travel from left to right across the screen effectively, but the sound is locked centrally in front of you; It couldn’t match the sound stage of a decent pair of desktop stereo speakers, let alone a full surround speaker setup.

The triple mic array is equally good, capturing sounds with a body and clarity that the mics on most regular webcams can’t match. Only the webcam itself is disappointing. Exposure and color quality are good but the photos themselves have a little soft side, even in good lighting conditions.

Read next: Our roundup of the best 1440p monitors

Apple Studio Display review: Picture quality

But you don’t buy the Apple Studio Display for its webcam image quality. It’s an added convenience, sure, but that’s all there is to it. This screen lives and dies with its image quality, so how does it work on that front?

Out of the box, it’s quite impressive, despite the specs. Plug it in, launch the Display panel from macOS Preferences and you’ll see, in addition to the ability to toggle automatic brightness and True Tone settings, you have a number of different presets to choose from. This is where the professional element of the monitor comes into play.

The default is “Apple Display (P3-600 nits)”. In this mode, you can adjust the brightness by yourself and enable these two settings for a comfortable daily working experience.

You will need to disable Auto Brightness and True Tone if you are doing any kind of color important work. With these turned off, I measured a peak brightness level of 566cd/m², which is not far from Apple’s 600cd/m², a contrast ratio of 1,052:1, which is good but no big shakes, and a white point of 6,967k, which is a bit on the the cold side.

Color accuracy against DisplayP3 in this default was impressively good at 0.46 (the lowest, the better) and color coverage was also up to scratch, with 100.2% of the P3 color space represented, equivalent to 97.4% of AdobeRGB and 141.4% of sRGB .

If your needs are more specialized, you’ll need to select one of the Studio Display’s eight pre-calibrated presets. This series works (if you’ll forgive the pun) from SDR video – “HDTV Video (BT.709-BT.1886)” – to wide-range photography – “Photography (P3-D65)” – and good old sRGB with done. Throwing a few other people as a good measure.

In each of these modes, the settings are completely locked, including brightness, True Tone, and auto brightness. There is absolutely no way to accidentally modify something and take the color accuracy out of the game, which is a very good thing.

The only thing you can change is the white point and the brightness level if you find that they have deviated over time. Simply head over to the “Fine Calibration” option in the “Preset” drop-down menu and fill in the form with the measured and target color coordinates, and the studio monitor will do the rest. I did this with a photography preset (P3-D65) where I found the white point was a bit on the cool side and had the desired effect. You’ll need a color calibration tool to do this, however, because Studio Display doesn’t have one built in.

The color accuracy turned out to be excellent across the board. In photographic mode, I averaged a Delta E of 0.55. In photography and web (sRGB) it was 0.68 and in HDTV video (BT.709-BT-1886) it was 0.59. These are the resolutions that fit a professional level display.

I also found the brightness uniformity to be very good, with excellent results across the entire screen except for the lower left and right corners, where the consistency has dropped quite a bit.

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Apple Studio Display review: Verdict

It all goes a long way in making up for the shortcomings of Apple Studio Display. No, it doesn’t have a Mini LED or OLED panel, and there is no ProMotion adaptive update. But what you get is unmistakable color accuracy and very good image quality, especially for a monitor with an ‘only’ IPS panel. It’s also 5K Ultra HD, which is perfectly suited to Apple’s laptops and desktops.

Enjoy a great speaker system, a good built-in microphone set and a webcam that, while average, isn’t quite as bad as some do, and you have a very nice All-in-One, and a semi-professional display.

The caveat, of course, is that the price is undoubtedly high for a screen of this type and specifications. However, if you think of the Apple Studio Display as a 27-inch iMac without the baggage of a built-in computer — an upgradeable iMac, if you will — the price could become a lot easier to swallow.

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