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Apple Studio Display – brilliant or flawed? 6 months on…

Whose it for, what’s it like, and is it for you?

Apple 5k Studio Display
image courtesy of author

The story so far

The Studio Display was released earlier this year, and since mine arrived, I have used it virtually every day. But, online, it would seem that not everyone is as happy as I am with the choice.

We all know the Studio Display is expensive, making it a premium monitor, and at that price point, you’d be right to expect it to be – well, perfect. But since day one, it has been beset with issues.

From the very beginning, the camera was, and if I am being honest, still is rubbish. There have been reports of a high-pitched whining noise, and speaker issues as well.

Firmware updates have certainly helped, but Apple probably should have done a better job from day one. Was it rushed out to pitch alongside the Studio Mac at this springs Peek Performance event? Who knows, but, I had been waiting years for a (nearly) affordable Apple branded monitor when the Studio Display was finally unveiled. And, after hours of use per day, over the last almost 6 months, I am still delighted with the choice I made.

Design

I know design is highly subjective, yet I feel fairly safe in making design one of my favourite elements to this Studio Display.

Macs are often designed and bought for a specific user or environment in mind. Let’s take the 24-inch iMac for instance. With its funky, bright, bold colours, it was clearly, from day one, a Mac destined to be bought and used, in the large part at least, by a non-pro demographic. Sitting on a student’s desk in a dorm, at the front of a hairdressers or at the entrance to a restaurant. That is where that iMac belongs.

The Studio Display, though, was released alongside the Mac Studio. It was always presumed that a more pro-level user would buy and use this display. The all-aluminium body, with its unibodied shape, futuristic sharp edges and minimal design, all shout professional. It simply shouts Apple from all angles. The stand, which, fairly, received some criticism, is still a well-engineered thing of beauty. Could Apple have at least included the height & tilt option as a basic choice? Yes, probably they should have had in my opinion, but even so, the way the basic option stand works, is so smooth, and feels premium. The exterior has intentionally been kept as sleek and clean as possible. There are no controls on it, anywhere, whatsoever. The entire display is controlled through your connected Mac – natively. And that brings me on to my next point…

The ecosystem

If you are as deeply entrenched in the Apple walled-garden as I am, then this is another benefit you’ll find in choosing this Studio Display monitor.

Everything you do with it, just works seamlessly with your other devices. The wake-up from sleep time, is indecently fast. Controlling your connected AirPlay & Bluetooth devices is simple and efficient. Brightness, volume, and your control centre choices all work reliably throughout too. I’ve had no issues in six months, at all – no drop-outs, frozen screens, or any unreliability. Yes, it cost more than say the LG 5K Ultrafine, but it more than pays back that cost in the way it goes to work for you each day.

Oh, and one small point…the name….they certainly got it right with the name. While their competitors flail about with a meaningless stream of numbers and digits, Apple nailed it – super short and simple –Studio Display! There is no forgetting or mistaking what this one is called. Sort of like Elvis or Madonna! Love that.

Cost

This one thorny subject gets bought up all the time. Just like design, in some respects, value is subjective. I have not lost touch with reality when saying that. I would never try to deny that the Studio Display has a hefty price tag around its pretty little neck. But, you can only compare it to the market opposition.

The LG Ultrafine 5K panel remains the obvious choice for comparison, and that monitor is only $200 less. And that $200 buys you an awful lot of Apple quality. The endless black plastic, the creaks, and rattles of the LG, all become a thing of the past with Apple’s Studio Display.

Put it this way, is a Bentley better value than a Maybach? It is pretty hard to argue value at that price, but if you are in the market for that kind of quality car, then it is clear that is the marketplace you need to be making comparisons with.

The same is true with displays. You can find cheaper 4K or 5K displays, but not 27”, aluminium, retina displays. The adage of ‘you pay for what you get’ holds as true here as it does, with cars or houses. So is the Studio Display value – yes, if that is the kind of display you are in the market for.

Quality colour

Of course, the main thing you’ll be buying this display for, is the consistency, and delivery of colour. Straight out of the box, this display is colour calibrated by Apple engineers. Working in 5K at this screen size, gives you all but, double the resolution of 4k – and it shows.

Working at the standard arm’s length from the screen, you’ll not be able to detect any pixels etc in text or images. I will never work on a display that is not a pixel packed Retina display again. Once you’ve got used to it, there really is no turning back. At 5120×2880, you’ll get 218 pixels per inch. Although not to everyone’s taste, or need, you’ll also have the option for True Tone technology.

You get P3 wide colour with support for up to one billion colours and 600 nits of brightness. I love all those 600 nits too. Working with that brightness may not be required in every workflow, but for me, working with images and video most of the time, it makes the day that much more tolerable, and less taxing.

And, the fact it is only a 60Hz panel, and not 120Hz, has again not been anything that has caused me issues. Come to that, or the lack of any backlit zones, equally, has not caused me problems. OK, so I can view true HDR content on my MacBook Pro, but that is where I am lucky to have these two working side-by-side. It is not unusual for me to work and edit on the Studio Display, then flip it to the MacBook Pro for granular, fine colour grading edits and colour correction, before exporting and saving the final project.

Audio & Camera

So, for your money, you will get some very useful, but may be, not wonderful extras on your monitor.

The onboard gear, webcam, mics & speakers, are good enough to get you through your online conference calls, and daily content consumption needs, for sure. Good enough, that you’d not have to spend any extra money, or have any extras peripherals on your desk at all in fact.

The six speaker system is perfectly good enough to listen to podcasts or music on. The speakers are equipped to support Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos playback – where applicable. So, the speakers get a big yes vote.

If you make many video calls, then the three mics in the display will do a good enough job. Clearly, they are not the studio quality mics they claimed, but are certainly good enough for calls.

The webcam is, well, pitiful! I have switched mine out for a Logitech Brio 4K camera. Although the firmware updates have helped with the colour quality and framing, it’s still not a camera I’d want to use. But, if camera quality is not all that important to you, then you could get by. Hey – at least it’s there, right?

The bad bit

What’s the one thing I really don’t like?

Well, that would be the fact that the power cord is designed to not be detached. Why, why, why did Apple decide in their wisdom, that we’d not want to remover the power cable – ever? I can find reason to defend them on most choices, or at least see their logic, but the power cord still baffles me. It just makes no sense however I look at it.

For instance, last night, deciding I wanted to bring the Studio Display to the studio space today, I had to remove it from my home studio set up. The back of my desk is tight on space at home.

If the cable had unplugged from the back of the display, I’d have got the job done in under two minutes. But, as I had to feed the plug back up through the top of the desk, it took more like 20 minutes! Frustrating and needless.

Wrapping up

I am not going to hide from the fact that the Studio Display is priced at a premium price-point. Clearly, it is not a display aimed at, or suited to, everyone.

If you are just needing a decent quality, secondary monitor, then there are plenty of 4K, more keenly priced options out there that may better suit your requirements and budget.

But, if consistent, quality, colour calibration is a concern to you, and your workflow, then you really should do yourself the favour of popping out to your local store and checking one out. The design, retina panel and 5K display seal it for me every time I sit in front of it.

The LG Ultrafine I compared it against a few months back is a good panel. But in the larger picture, the smallish saving you’ll make, over the course of the lifetime of the display, in my mind, doesn’t add up to the benefits you’ll be gaining in the same time frame. And the design and look of the Studio Display cannot be underplayed. When you see, it, it inspires creativity.

The peripherals maybe flawed, but at least, they’re there! In honesty, the mic & speakers are more than good enough for average, daily use, it is only the camera which continues to be troublesome.

Did you buy a Studio Display, and what do you think of it? Have you suffered from any of the issues, like the whining or intermittent speaker problems?

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