Review: Mackie DLM Series Loudspeakers

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I don’t know about you, but when I look at loudspeakers, I don’t exactly get warm fuzzies inside about the potential for technological innovation.

It seems that speakers haven’t really changed too radically over recent years. Sure, some sound noticeably better than others, but aside from the typical variations in quality and price (which are often very much related), speakers just aren’t something I think much about—even as I lug them from gig to gig.

Late last year, I was, to put it bluntly, “enlightened.” I was summoned on behalf of DJ Times to Seattle, the home of LOUD Technologies, parent of the Mackie brand, for what was promised to be the unveiling of some impressive new loudspeakers. With my “speakers are speakers, right?” attitude, I headed to the Emerald City with, shall we say, low expectations.

But when the folks at Mackie lifted away the covers on their new DLM line, I was immediately struck by the size of what I saw—small!—and assumed I’d be underwhelmed. Then the audio came on. To say my jaw dropped would be an understatement: I’ve never heard such great sound quality from such a tiny package—proving that yes, there’s room for innovation in loudspeakers, and I was looking at (and hearing) it first-hand.

One of the single worst parts of doing mobile gigs is schlepping all the equipment around, and central to that effort is the PA system itself. When I first started doing mobile gigs, I decided I’d forego the amp and speaker combo in favor of self-powered units, and ended up picking out two-way, top speakers with 15-inch drivers, and a single, rather typical 18-powered powered sub. The tops are usually awkward for a single person to handle—they’re huge—but it’s doable. The sub? That’s a two-person job—period. Moving footlockers full of cables is no picnic either, but getting audio moved around and set up always reminds me that I’m truly earning my fee.

I recently had the opportunity to try out Mackie’s DLM line first-hand. For the evaluation, Mackie loaned me a pair of DLM8 full-range top units (it’s also available as a 12-inch—logically enough, the DLM12), and the matching sub-woofer in the line, the DLM12S. All boast 2,000 watts of system power, delivering tons of headroom despite the compact form factor.

Let me just say this right up-front: The DLM8 sounds better than my leading brand two-ways with their big 15-inch main drivers, despite being nearly half the size. How or why? I don’t fully understand, but Mackie calls it TruSource—a combination of custom-designed drivers (one 8-inch main, and one 1-¾-inch tweeter, that are integrated and use a single, shared magnet), plus digital DSP-based audio processing. I remain in disbelief that it’s possible. But even better, I can carry one DLM8 in each hand since they’re just 22 pounds a piece.

Mackie brings the same innovations to the DLM12S. Once again, despite the 12-inch driver, it is as effective as my 18-inch, with the decided advantage that I can carry it around myself. It weighs 48 pounds, so it’s no featherweight, but grasping the pair of side handles and hugging it close, it’s easy to move around without an assistant to share the duties.

The DLM8 and DLM12 top units sport excellent connectivity options—XLR, TRS or RCA—and handle mic, line, and instrument sources, including stereo. The DL2 digital mixer sports an easy-to-use digital interface (there’s even a bright OLED screen), allowing you to adjust levels with ease, and which even include an array of effects, making them attractive for live performance use. There’s even an integrated kickstand for use in stage monitor situations.

The DLM12S has the same versatility for routing signals, and, of course, lets you band-pass the audio to the top units. There’s a pole mount in the top for stacking one of top units above it, too.

Thanks to the systems’ diminutive size, I was able—for the first time ever—to get my entire DJ set-up into the back of my midsize SUV, including my cable and lighting footlockers, to work a recent wedding gig. (It normally requires splitting the gear between two vehicles—with my cohort and me driving separately.)

I’m not an audio engineer, nor do I possess the necessary equipment to analyze the output of the DLMs from a technical perspective. But I can say this: They deliver a punch, and they sound incredible, easily surpassing the performance of my usual system. My wedding clients wanted me to recreate a club experience for them, and with the help of the Mackie DLMs, that’s exactly what I gave them (much to their satisfaction).

As much as I loved the DLMs I used, the size and performance comes at a price. The DLM8 top units are roughly $700 a piece (street), while the 12-inch version (DLM12) pushes the per-unit price to around $850. The DLM12S sub is in the neighborhood of $1,000. So total price as-tested? Right around $2,500.

Bottom line? Mackie proved me wrong: There’s plenty of room for innovation in loudspeakers. And while that innovation may require an investment, when it’s time to upgrade your mobile PA, the DLM series should be on your comparison list.

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