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This article was originally published in issue #37
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I was chatting with my mate Seb a little while back; he’s a very fine guitar player and songwriter with a PC based recording set-up at home. He’s recorded whole albums there, but he isn’t really “into” the studio stuff - it’s just a way to get his music recorded. His monitoring is certainly not pro-level, and it got me thinking that there must be a lot of people who need something better than standard computer speakers but who don’t really need to do heavily analytic listening. At about the same time, a big box containing a pair each of Mackie’s 3” and 4” ‘Creative Reference Multimedia Monitors’ arrived for review. Being a bit slow, it took me a few days of wondering what the heck a Creative Reference Multimedia Monitor is supposed to be before I made the connection.
The CR series speakers are not-quite studio monitors, but a lot more than standard computer speakers. They have wood enclosures, ¾” soft dome tweeters and either 3” or 4” main drivers. Dimensions are compact, maximum (peak) output levels are a reasonable 97dB and 100dB for the 3 & 4” models respectively, and the quoted frequency responses, supported by rear-panel ports, are 80 – 20k Hz for the 3”er and 75 – 20k Hz for the 4” (-3dB points) which are in the order of an 4th or 5th above what you’d expect for real studio monitors.
All of the active electronics are within one speaker that can be set as the right or left of the pair. You get a pair of ¼ inch balanced jack inputs on the back (for connection to an audio interface perhaps), a pair of unbalanced inputs on RCA sockets (useful for output from a laptop for example - cable included), spring terminals for the cable to connect the two speakers of the pair (cable included), bass reflex port, power switch and the left/right selector. The second speaker just has the port and the spring terminal pair. With the speakers connected and in place (you may need to play around a bit with positioning to get the best response - there are no EQ or ½ space compensation switches) you can adjust the volume from the front panel (thank-you Mackie) and also connect a portable device to a front panel 1/8” socket (cable included), and there’s a headphone socket that mutes the speakers. Even better - the box contains a pair of lightweight foam isolation wedges to stand the speakers on.
Plug them in and fire them up. Firstly, you’d better like green - the speaker surrounds and power indicator (round the level control) are quite, er, striking. The sound is satisfying, upper mids and highs are easy to listen to and well focussed with a good stereo image - which is pretty well a hallmark of Mackie monitors. If you’re used to full range systems you will notice that the bottom end is light. Psychoacoustics play a lot of tricks on us, and it’s easy to hear a phantom lower octave when you’re just listening to music, but for making mix decisions you will notice that it’s hollow. Possibly because of the light bottom-end, timing is tight, and the tuned port helps with the impression of lower frequencies, but both models’ ports can get a bit raspy if you turn up the levels too much.
If the CRs were presented as dedicated studio monitors I’d have to say that they’re limited, but as a pair of compact and easy to use multimedia speakers they work very well. I used them for some audio and video editing and they were great for that - and I reckon you could get a large part of a mix done using them, perhaps with a check on the low end on a more full range system. Possibly the real mark of the speakers is that I enjoyed listening to them when I wasn’t even thinking about the review, and in fact I’m listening to music on them as I type. Of the two, I’d probably go for the slightly larger 4” version as the low-end extension over the 3”er makes the whole speaker seem a bit better balanced to me. The Mackies are in a very, very competitive price bracket, and it’s always going to be important to check if you like the general timbre, but I’m guessing that a lot of people will, and will find them very easy to live with. On the whole? Probably not the best choice for a dedicated studio set-up, but they don’t claim to be. Good as a multimedia rig, and very easy to listen to.