With its unusual driver configuration, this active loudspeaker hopes to do away with the need for separate stage monitors.
Compact line-array speakers seem to be flavour of the month, but although the Mackie Reach looks like a small line-array speaker, it actually differs in a number of important ways. A traditional line array provides a naturally wide dispersion pattern, but it needs to be pretty tall, and also have a large number of drivers, to achieve this. Mackie have instead used just three tweeters, in a relatively conventional-looking cabinet; but they fire into offset, specially shaped waveguides to deliver a 150-degree coverage from their relatively small enclosure. One tweeter points directly ahead while the other two are splayed left and right, while the low/mids are covered by two forward-facing woofers.
The cabinet, which measures 711 x 218 x 241mm and weighs in at 14.2kg, is moulded from rigid plastic and designed for pole mounting. Top and rear handles are built in, making the speaker very easy to handle, and the drivers are protected by a powder coated steel grille. A carry bag is available as an optional extra.
Now, any regular reader of our live-sound section will have seen me banging on about the need for small PA speakers with performer monitoring built in. Studiomaster were the first company I know of to take up the challenge, with their extremely cost-effective Starlight system, which is also available with coloured LED stage lighting too. We tried those at a band gig (SOS January 2015) and they worked really well insomuch as conventional monitors proved quite unnecessary — so the concept works.
At first glance it appears that Mackie have done the same thing as regards monitoring, but looking a little closer, there’s a four-inch speaker on each side of the cab, not just on one side. Why would you need monitoring that points both ways? The answer is that the side speakers are not just about monitoring. These so-called EarShot speakers utilise small but powerful full-range drivers and can be turned on individually or as a pair, so you may choose to have just one running to act as a side-fill monitor, or have both in action to widen the coverage pattern of the speaker up to 250 degrees. This latter mode is useful if you choose to use a single Reach speaker in a small venue where the audience is very close to you. In most cases, this will provide plenty of coverage for all the audience as well as allowing you to hear yourself.
The ARC or Amplified Radial Curve array comprises three one-inch dome HF compression drivers crossing over at 2.6kHz to a pair of 6.5-inch mid/low drivers. The four-inch Earshot speakers have their own level setting, accessed either from a master rotary encoder or remotely via the free Mackie Connect app. This app is the same as used for the FreePlay system we reviewed in January 2016.
Mackie specify the maximum SPL as 126dB, but that is calculated rather than measured and so is likely to be a little less in real life because of driver power compression. Nevertheless, given the wide dispersion of these speakers, that’s still quite a lot of level. DSP amplifier and driver protection is built in, very low frequencies are filtered out to avoid stressing the speakers below 50Hz, and safety compressors come into play if the drivers are pushed too hard.
Power comes from Class-D amplifiers: the tweeters are fed from a 60W amplifier, the woofers from a 120W amplifier and the two side-fills from a 50W amplifier each. These ratings are continuous RMS, with the peak power being double those figures. The frequency response at the -3dB points is 55Hz to 17kHz, and is 10dB down at 20Hz and 20kHz.
But there’s a lot more to the Reach than built-in monitors. The speaker incorporates a sophisticated digital mixer, and by using the Mackie Connect app on an iOS or Android phone or tablet you can control levels, EQ, effects, monitoring and other parameters wirelessly.
Remote control relies on Bluetooth, which also provides the option to stream audio wirelessly from your mobile device to the aux input. The main mixer channels comprise four XLR/jack ‘combi’ inputs for mics/line/instrument sources, plus a stereo aux mini jack for bringing in wired audio from mobile devices (this overrides the Bluetooth feed when a cable is connected). There’s even a headphone output so that you can practise using the mixer and its built-in effects. An optional footswitch allows the performer to bypass the effects. By default, the footswitch input expects to see a latching switch, but you can use the Mackie Connect app to change to a momentary one.
If you want to expand the system, there’s a Link output (sourced after the master level control) that allows two Reach speakers to behave as one larger system, with stereo effects. When in Link mode, the Link out carries a mono sum of channels 1 to 4 but only the right channel of the Bluetooth, aux and effects signals, so as to facilitate true stereo effects and music playback. The Link out may also be used to feed a standard powered loudspeaker or a subwoofer.
By way of features, the mixer offers a three-band EQ (80Hz, 2.5kHz and 5kHz) on each channel as well as 16 preset digital effects, including the expected reverbs, delays and combinations thereof. Four of the effects can be selected and adjusted from the Reach control panel, but to get at all of them you’ll need the app. There’s also a multi-band feedback destroyer to ensure maximum level without feedback, which may be turned on from the speaker control panel. And, knowing that many bands go back to the same venues on a regular basis, Mackie have provided the ability to save three system presets for instant recall. As with all the Mackie active speakers I’ve looked at over the past couple of years, there are several overall EQ presets that can be selected for different applications: PA, DJ, Soloist and Voice. The PA setting is the closest to a flat ‘unvoiced’ response, while DJ mode has the expected smile curve to emphasise the lows and highs. Solo combines low cut, a lower-mid dip and a presence boost, while Voice has a deeper low cut combined with a presence lift.
The rear panel is where you’ll find the IEC mains inlet and power switch, the four ‘combi’ inputs, the quarter-inch jacks for the Link I/O, footswitch input and headphone out, the 3.5mm aux input mini-jack input, and an overload LED to warn when a mixer channel is near to clipping.
All the controls are on the side panel, where a large rotary encoder is used to make changes and a horizontal bar display above shows the current value. From here you can select the system EQ type and one of four effects types, decide which if any of the two side speakers to activate, and control the four main inputs, the main out, and effect and monitor levels. You can’t get at the channel EQ from the panel, though — you’ll need the app for that. Bluetooth pairing is also handled from this panel, and there’s a button to engage the anti-feedback processing. Adjusting the effect level is achieved by pressing and holding one of the four channel select buttons, at which point the bargraph turns from white to green indicating that you are now adjusting the effect level for that channel. If you use the app to load in an alternate effect preset, it is remembered when the speaker is powered off, along with any channel EQ changes.
Setting up the Bluetooth link was reasonably straightforward, though I did have to switch the speaker off and back on again before everything agreed to talk. The Mackie Connect app is extremely friendly and shows graphs of the system curves on the setup page. Pressing the three-fader icon button below each of the channel faders brings up the three-band EQ and aux send page, with arrows to allow you to move through the channels without having first to return to the mixer view. There are five channel faders (the aux is stereo), followed by an overall effects level fader, below which is an icon that takes you directly to the effect presets page. There are separate master faders for the main and monitor output levels, but both monitor speakers run at the same volume — you can’t control them separately other than to turn them on or off.
We tested a single Reach speaker at a duo pub gig with acoustic guitar, vocals and some electric guitar, where the side speakers provided plenty of level for us to work without additional monitoring. There was adequate level available for vocals and acoustic guitar, though I did notice that when the Reach was provoked to feedback, the feedback frequency would sometime distort and shriek in a slightly disconcerting way before being brought under control by the anti-feedback system, so ringing out before the gig starts is the order of the day.
In normal use the sound comes across as clean with only the slightest hint of plastic-box mid-range coloration, and activating both side speakers provides an impressive coverage angle for the audience as well as acting as an effective side-fill monitor.
The in-built mixer covers all the basics, though as mentioned you need to run the app to adjust the channel EQ or to select different effects. Having four main channels capable of accepting mics, plus a stereo aux input, is quite a luxury as most speakers with in-built mixers just give you a couple of mic inputs. The remote-control aspect is also a big bonus for those mixing their own sound as they play — get a phone or iPad stand to fit onto your mic stand and you’re in business.
On a practical level, the speaker is nicely portable, not difficult to lift onto a stand, and it takes up very little room in the back of the car. It copes well with smaller acts such as duos or solo artists but would probably struggle in a band-with-drums context, unless used in pairs, ideally with a sub.
While you can buy more powerful speakers for the price, the Reach is a fraction of the weight of most of them, takes up little space in the car, has a spectacularly wide coverage angle and includes its own mixer with effects and EQ. All in all, a very practical and elegant solution for smaller gigs.
The only other speakers I know of with built-in monitoring are the Studiomaster Starlights, though they don’t include wireless mixing.