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Apple Studio Display review: A luxury worth paying for?

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,499
inc tilt adjustable stand

The Apple Studio Display is an all-in-one monitor like no other, but it’s expensive for what you get

Pros 
Beautiful design
Excellent colour accuracy
Impressive speakers
Cons 
Expensive
No height adjustment as standard
Weak webcam
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Launched alongside the Mac Studio, the Studio Display is one of those Apple products that seems destined to split opinion among commentators. When it was announced, all eyes were drawn to the price, which seemed high for a monitor of its specification. Then, soon after launch, everyone was up in arms about the quality of the webcam.

These sorts of reactions, or “hot takes”, are quite common in the immediate aftermath of an Apple launch and soon fade away as more sensible points of view begin to prevail. And while, yes, the Apple Studio Display is expensive and it’s true the webcam isn’t the best Apple has ever included in its products, there are equally plenty of reasons why you might want to consider buying one.

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Apple Studio Display review: What you need to know

So let’s start with what you get for your £1,500. The headline specifications of the Studio Display are fairly straightforward. This is a 27in display with a 5K resolution of 5,120 x 2,880 pixels, peak brightness of up to 600cd/m², support for “P3 wide colour gamut” and over “a billion colours”.

It comes with built-in speakers, a three-port USB-C hub on the rear (the fourth port is a Thunderbolt 3 port that carries the video input), a 12MP webcam with Apple’s Centre Stage capabilities (it can be set up to follow you around the room) and three microphones to round out the video-calling experience.

Add the ability to employ TrueTone to match the colour temperature of the ambient light in your room and auto brightness and you have a monitor that seems just as well suited to life on an executive desk as it is in the creative worker’s studio.

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

However, as a high-end companion for an M1 Mac mini or the Mac Studio, it looks like a good partner. Think of the Studio Display as part of a modular iMac – the monitor part of a 27in iMac – and it starts to make more sense.

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Apple Studio Display review: Price and competition

Unlike most monitors, you have a number of configuration options with the Studio Display. You can buy it with the standard tilt-adjustable stand for £1,499 or, for the same amount, you can buy the monitor with a VESA mount and no stand, allowing you to add your own. The third option is to buy the monitor with Apple’s own tilt- and height-adjustable stand, which adds a rather unreasonable £400 to the price. One thing to take note of at this point is that you can’t upgrade the tilt stand to a VESA mount or the height adjustable stand, so make sure you choose well at this stage.

The next choice you have is whether or not to upgrade to Apple’s anti-reflective nano-texture glass. This supplants the standard glossy finish for a matte finish and adds a further £350 to the price. Again, I’d advise you not to bother with this unless you work in a very bright environment with lights shining directly on the screen. Apple sent me a Studio Display with the standard glass and in my workspace – a bright room with skylights above and a fairly busy shelf unit behind me – I barely noticed any reflections.

How do these prices compare with rivals, then? On the one hand, the base price is quite reasonable if you compare it with rival professional-calibre monitors. One example from Japanese specialist, Eizo, is the CG2730. This is a 27in monitor that costs roughly the same as the Studio Display. It has a lower 4K resolution than the Apple monitor and lacks its webcam, microphone or speakers. It does, however, come with a height-adjustable stand, 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 the Studio Display if you compare it with more consumer-friendly high-end rivals, however, where higher refresh rates, HDR support and more exotic panel technologies such as OLED and Mini LED all make more regular appearances.

Take the 34in Alienware AW3423DW, for instance: a curved QD-OLED (quantum dot OLED) gaming monitor with a 175Hz refresh rate, HDR support and peak brightness of up to 1,000cd/m². At a price of £1,099 it’s a good £400 cheaper than the Studio Display and, in many ways, it’s superior. Again, though, the resolution (3,440 x 1,440) isn’t as high.

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Apple Studio Display review: Design

One area where none of the Studio Display’s rivals can compete, however, is aesthetics. As we’ve come to expect from Apple over the years, the design of this monitor is impeccable. The chassis is built from solid-feeling aluminium, finished in smooth anodised silver with a slender body that measures 19.5mm thick.

The panel is topped with an anti-reflective glass and surrounded on all sides by a 14mm wide bezel. The tilt adjustable stand supplied with my review model allows smooth, easy one-handed adjustments. Hundred of tiny perforations along the top and bottom edges allow the monitor to draw in and expel air to cool itself.

It’s typically minimalist in conception elsewhere as well, with only four USB-C ports on the rear (one Thunderbolt 3, three 10GB/sec USB-C), no on/off button or other controls and no onscreen display of any kind. Yep, you’ve got that right. If you had any plans to use this with a Windows machine, don’t bother. The only way you’ll be able to switch calibration or make any kind of adjustment is by connecting the display to a Mac. While I’m on the subject, only having one input is also a bit surprising in a monitor this expensive. It means if you want to switch sources – say, from your desktop Mac Studio to your MacBook Air – you’ll have to swap cables around.

Despite its outward minimalism, however, the monitor is jam-packed with features elsewhere, and impressively so. Its integrated, six-driver speaker audio system, which fires down out of the grilles on the bottom edge of the screen, is probably the best I’ve heard in any monitor. It goes loud, has loads of body and even a modicum of bass.

I’m slightly less enthused about the support for Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos. The general sound quality is very good, but there’s only so much a downward-firing speaker system can do. Left to right sound effects transition across the screen effectively, but the audio is mostly locked centrally in front of you; it can’t match the sound stage of a decent pair of stereo desktop speakers, let alone a full surround-sound speaker setup.

The triple microphone array is equally good, capturing voices with a body and clarity that the mics on most ordinary webcams simply cannot match. Only the webcam itself disappoints. Exposure and colour quality are fine but the images themselves are a little on the soft side, even in good lighting conditions.

READ NEXT: Our roundup of the best 1440p monitors

Apple Studio Display review: Image quality

But you’re not buying an Apple Studio Display for the image quality of its webcam. It’s an extra convenience, sure, but that’s all it is. This monitor lives and dies by its image quality, so how does it perform on this front?

Out of the box, it’s very impressive, despite the so-so specifications. Plug it in, fire up the Display panel from the macOS preferences and you’ll see, in addition to the ability to toggle auto brightness and True Tone settings, that 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’re able to adjust the brightness yourself and enable those two settings for a comfortable day-to-day working experience.

You’ll want to disable auto brightness and True Tone if you’re doing any kind of colour-critical work, however. With these turned off I measured a peak brightness level of 566cd/m², which isn’t far off Apple’s quoted 600cd/m², a contrast ratio of 1,052:1, which is okay but no great shakes, and a white point of 6967K, which is a little on the cool side.

Colour accuracy versus DisplayP3 in this default mode was impressively good at 0.46 (the lower, the better) and colour coverage was also up to scratch, with 100.2% of the P3 colour space represented, equivalent to 97.4% of AdobeRGB and 141.4% of sRGB.

If your needs are more specialist, then you’ll be wanting to select one of the Studio Display’s eight precalibrated presets. These run the gamut (if you’ll forgive the pun) from SDR video – “HDTV Video (BT.709-BT.1886)” – to wide gamut photography – “Photography (P3-D65)” – and good old sRGB with a few others thrown in for good measure.

In each of these modes, the settings are completely locked down, including the brightness, True Tone and Auto brightness. There’s absolutely no way of accidentally adjusting something and knocking the colour accuracy out of whack, and that’s a very good thing.

The only thing you can change is the white point and brightness level if you find those have drifted over time. Just head to the “Fine-tune Calibration” option in the Preset dropdown menu and fill in the form with your measured and target colour coordinates, and the Studio Display will do the rest. I did this with the Photography (P3-D65) preset as I found the white point was a little on the cool side and it had the desired effect. You’ll need a colour calibrator to do this, however, as the Studio Display doesn’t have one built in.

Colour accuracy turned out to be excellent across the board. In the photography mode, I measured an average Delta E of 0.55. In Photography & Web (sRGB) it was 0.68 and in HDTV Video (BT.709-BT-1886), it was 0.59. Those are levels of accuracy befitting a professional level display.

I also found that brightness uniformity was very good, with excellent results across the entire display save for in the bottom left and right corners, where consistency dipped very slightly.

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Apple Studio Display review: Verdict

All of which goes a long way to making up for the Apple Studio Display’s deficiencies. No, it doesn’t have a Mini LED or OLED panel and, no, there’s no ProMotion adaptive refresh. But what you do get is unerring colour accuracy and very good picture quality, especially for a screen with “only” an IPS panel. It’s also a super sharp 5K resolution, which is perfectly suited to Apple’s macOS laptops and desktops.

Throw in a superb speaker system, a decent integrated microphone array and a webcam that, although mediocre, isn’t quite as bad as some are making it out to be, and you have a very impressive all-in-one, near-professional display.

The caveat, of course, is that price, which is undeniably high for a monitor of this type and specification. However, if you think of the Apple Studio Display as a 27in iMac without the baggage of a built-in computer – an upgradable iMac, if you will – then the price might well become a lot easier to swallow.

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