October 22, 2014

Mackie’s MRmk3 Series Studio Monitors [REVIEW]

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Perhaps more than any other single investment you’ll make in a home studio, monitors are the most important. No matter the quality of the rest of your studio components, inferior monitors will render everything else moot, skewing your perception of what it is you’re actually doing in your mix.

Seattle’s LOUD Technologies, parent of the Mackie brand, have rolled out some pretty innovative new loudspeakers in the recent past, including the DLM series loudspeakers (for mobile DJs and similar applications), which I reviewed in these pages in 2013. While Mackie’s new MRmk3 Series studio monitors may not embody the sorts of technical innovation that the DLM line represented, they’re still a pretty strong new contender in the mid-price band for monitors.

For this review, Mackie loaned me a pair of MR8mk3 monitors—the 8-inch version. While the company also makes a 6.5-inch and 5.25-inch version of the product, in my personal view, 8-inch main drivers are the smallest I’d consider for serious use, and given the attractive price point ($250 a piece, street price), I’m not sure there’s a solid case to be made for going smaller, other than perhaps home-theater use and similar applications.

Mackie also loaned an MR10Smk3, the matching companion sub-woofer. With a 10-inch driver, the MR10Smk3 extends the low end to 35 Hz, while allowing you to position the output of the low end of the bass spectrum on the floor where it arguably is most effective. The addition of the sub runs roughly $350 street price.

I’m a bit dubious about the use of sub-woofers for true studio monitoring and mastering applications; with this particular configuration (used with the 8-inch monitors), you’re gaining just 3 Hz of low-end according to Mackie’s own specs. In any event, in my experience, I’ve found using a sub-woofer in the studio skews the EQ balance of my mixes a bit, probably due in part to the challenges involved in tuning them to the room. Your mileage may vary, of course, and for outside-the-studio applications, the ability to add thunderous bass might well be a plus. Additionally, with the higher low-end specs of the smaller monitors (46 Hz for the 6.5-inch model, and 57 Hz for the 5.25-inch model), adding the sub might be the only way to get the full frequency spectrum you’re looking for.

Obviously, the MRmk3 series are all self-powered, with integrated amps perfectly matched to the drivers. The MR8mk3 monitors sport a 1-inch silk dome tweeter along with the 8-inch poly main driver, with RMS power of 85 watts for ample sound in the studio, while MR10mk3 sub pumps 120 watts.
I appreciated the physical design of the monitors. Both drivers are a bit recessed, making them perhaps slightly less vulnerable to casual physical damage (although with their largely unprotected drivers, virtually all studio monitors require some care when placing or moving them). And the slick, backlit Mackie logo on the front bezel to indicate “power on” was a nice, branded touch. Otherwise, physically speaking, they are roughly the same dimensions and weight as most 8-inch driver-based monitors I’ve worked with.

Connectivity to the MR8mk3 units follows the industry trend toward full flexibility—you can feed audio with XLR, balanced ¼-inch TRS, or unbalanced RCA connectors. The back panel also features a rotary level control, plus two levels of bass boost, and one level each of high-end cut and boost, all for tuning the monitors to your environment.

When you add the MR10Smk3 to the mix, the connectivity needs a little more robustness. Input to the sub is via XLR or balanced ¼-inch TRS, while output back to the monitors is provided as ¼-inch TRS only. For tuning, it provides a polarity reversal switch, plus a crossover frequency adjustment control (variable), and a rotary level control as well, with 0 as its center point, and up to 30 db of cut or up to 6 db of boost, depending on the direction your turn the knob.

The MR8mk3 monitors sport a rear-port design that the company says provides smoother, extended-bass response. Front vs. rear porting seems to be one of those things that engineers and marketers like to argue; I’m not convinced I’ve observed any substantive difference in one vs. the other, but to be certain, even without the matching sub, these babies have healthy, pure bass response according to my somewhat subjective testing gear. (My ears, to be specific.)

Listening back to past projects whose sound I know quite well, the reproduction seemed to me to be crisp, tight, and flat—as I would want it to be. And after a few weeks of testing in the studio, I have to say I’ve come to like them there. They sound great, they have a nice aesthetic, and given their great price point, I feel confident they’d make a great addition to nearly any home studio, whether you’re upgrading from smaller drivers, or equipping your first studio from a standing start.

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