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Mackie MR Series

Active Monitors
Published March 2018
By Paul White

Mackie MR Series (left-right): MR524, MR624 and the MR824, with the MRS10 sub (far right).Mackie MR Series (left-right): MR524, MR624 and the MR824, with the MRS10 sub (far right).

With Mackie’s experience in making monitors, it’s no surprise that their affordable new range punches above its weight.

Mackie have reinvented their monitor range several times since the original HR824 was released way back in 1997. In 2008, the company launched a more attractively priced MR range of speakers (see SOS July 2008 review), following it up in 2011 with a MkII range (reviewed SOS October 2011) and now, as reviewed here, a third iteration.

This new MR line is distinguished by a much more stylised external profile than previous models, though there’s more to the baffle shape than cosmetics — the baffles incorporate Mackie’s logarithmic waveguide, designed to match the dispersion of the tweeter to that of the woofer so as to give a wide sweet spot for consistent listening.

There are three speakers in this new range, plus the MRS10 sub (see box), with the first number in the product title being the approximate woofer diameter, in inches. The MR524’s woofer is 5.25 inches, the MR624’s is 6.5 inches and the MR824’s woofer is eight inches, and all feature a smooth polycarbonate cone free of corrugations, a roll surround, and a slightly concave dust cap. All three speakers feature the same one-inch, soft-dome silk tweeter, but as only the quick-start manual was available at the time of review, further technical details were a little thin on the ground.

Sporting a black plastic foil finish, the cabinets are rear ported, so shouldn’t be placed right up against a wall, but for all other placements, rear-panel controls allow the response to be matched to the room position. These comprise a three-position acoustic space switch (quarter space, half space or free space) and an HF trim control that can be set to ±2dB as well as flat. The supply voltage can also be switched from 100/120 to 220/240 Volts, and the power inlet is a three-pin IEC socket with separate power switch. My tests were done with the speakers set flat and with the placement switch set to half space. Three types of input socket are available: balanced XLR, balanced quarter-inch jack and unbalanced RCA phono. A rotary level control is located to the right of the filter switches.

Listening In

We were supplied the MR524s and MR824s for review, as well as the MRS10 subwoofer, but to start with I set up the MR824s in my studio without the sub. This model, which has a crossover frequency of 1.9kHz, has a specified 38Hz to 20kHz response (-3dB) producing a peak SPL of 113dB, which turned out to be more than adequately loud for a typical ‘near-ish’ monitoring setup. It measures 400 x 256 x 320 mm, which makes it similar in size to the majority of two-way eight-inch monitors. Each speaker weighs 10.4kg and power comes from 65W of bi-amplified Class-A/B amplification.

Tested with a range of material, the first thing that struck me about these speakers was the imaging, which revealed a very solid phantom centre image, well-defined stereo positioning and also an almost three-dimensional perspective. There’s plenty of detail but at the same time these are very smooth-sounding speakers that are easy to listen to. In comparison with my Event Opals, which have a very tight and well-controlled bass, the MR824s sounded noticeably more rounded at the low end, suggesting that time smearing is occurring because of the tuning of the port — but to put this into perspective, it is no worse than for most similar speakers, and the Opals (which cost significantly more) just happen to be extremely dry at the bass end. The lows can be dialled back a little by changing the ‘space’ switch setting, with quarter-space mode pulling back the bass end the most. Good-quality speaker platforms would also help keep the bass as tight as possible.

When I checked the price of the MR824s they cost rather less than I was expecting given their performance, making them a good choice for anyone with a room longer than around four metres, working on a home studio budget.

Switching to the MR524s, which have a 57Hz to 20kHz frequency response (-3dB) and a 2kHz crossover frequency, the change in the low end is predictably very noticeable, with less very deep bass but at the same time less of that sense of port-related ‘overhang’. There’s still a decent punch to the low end but it is definitely scaled back in comparison with the larger MR824s.

In a smaller room, the MR524s would work well just as they are, as they would be less likely to aggravate the room mode problems that afflict pretty much all small spaces. A further side benefit of a less pronounced low end is that the speakers provide a clearer window into the mid-range. In terms of imaging, the width and sense of perspective is still there, so for smaller studios my inclination would be to use a pair of MR524s without a sub, then double check what the bass is doing by listening on good headphones. With a peak SPL capability of 108dB, these speakers certainly go loud enough for comfortable long-term monitoring. In larger rooms the sub can turn them into an effective full-range system and also allow a little extra overall level, as my tests confirmed. At normal monitoring levels the sub seems to be barely ticking over and added the requisite visceral depth.

The pricing of all these speakers is competitive given their audio quality, though this section of the market is fairly strongly contested with plenty of worthy competition.  

Alternatives

For affordable monitors that are still up to the job look at the PreSonus Eris range, the Fostex PM range, Alesis (I have a soft spot for the old grey Monitor 1 MkII), Event and any of the smaller Tannoy two-way systems. Also consider offerings from JBL, KRK, Swissonic and Samson.

Aye, There’s The Sub

The MRS10 subwoofer employs a 10-inch glass/aramid-composite woofer powered by a 120W amplifier, handling low frequencies from 180Hz down to 35Hz (-3dB). As the MRS8 already goes down to 38Hz, that particular model probably won’t benefit much from adding a sub unless used in a large room treated to allow accurate bass reproduction, but the two smaller models would make good candidates. The peak SPL available from the MRS10 is an impressive 119dB, yet the ported, all-wood enclosure measures just 382 x 321 x 386 mm, weighing in at 15kg.

Adding the subwoofer to any of the MR series ‘tops’ is straightforward as the MRS10 includes the necessary filtering to split the signal between the sub and the main speakers. Stereo inputs and outputs are available on balanced quarter-inch jacks and XLRs. The controls are pretty simple, with two switches looking after auto energy saving and signal polarity, with the setting of the signal polarity switch depending on where in the room the sub is located (generally the setting that delivers the loudest level at around the sub/top crossover frequency). A rotary control sets the crossover frequency anywhere between 40 and 180 Hz while the level control runs from +6 to -30 dB. As a rule the sub should only be loud enough that you just miss it when it is bypassed. If you actually notice that you are running a sub then it is probably too loud. A footswitch jack allows the sub to be bypassed, whereupon the crossover filters are taken out of circuit so the full-range signal reaches the main speakers.

The correct placement for any sub can be reached by trial and error or by employing our favourite trick of standing the sub where you normally sit, then listening around the front of the room, close to the floor, until you find the spot where the bass sounds the most even. That’s the best place for your sub. Usually this will be away from corners but also not too close to the centre of a wall. [For more advice, see our Setting Up A Subwoofer guide.]

Published March 2018