Mackie CR3 Review: Compact and feature rich the Mackie CR3 monitor speakers are a practical and affordable reference product that are ideal for the amateur producer or video editor.
Mackie is a widely respected American born brand that’s been in business since the early 90’s. Mainly producing Pro Audio technologies and Live Music solutions, Mackie has always focussed their attention on producing highly functional, and powerful, devices that have a great urban/industrial vibe.
With the CR (Creative Reference) series, Mackie has created two flexible, but most importantly affordable, models that can be used for multimedia playback… and pretty much anything that you can throw at them. Both have the same size (0.75”) high frequency tweeter, but the CR3 is a tiny bit smaller than the CR4 because it has a 3” low/midrange driver, whereas the CR4 has a 4” 3” low/midrange driver in a slightly larger cabinet.
It has to be said that both models are really quite small, although they do pack a punch. This smaller footprint means that they can fit into small spaces easily, and still give you the power and volume that you need for a small to medium size room. With this said, if you have a medium size space you probably want to go for the larger CR4 model just so you can fill the room easier and experience more bass presence.
As I said before, both the CR3’s and the CR4’s do have a lot of power for their compact size and can fill the room with sound, but just so that you’re completely comfortable with how they’ll sit on your desk these are the measurements of each;
Mackie CR3 Size: 6” deep, by 5.5” wide, by 8” tall.
Mackie CR4 Size: 7” deep, by 6” wide, by 9” tall.
Design and Features:
Just like many of Mackie’s products, the CR3’s have a really nice clean and crisp urban styling that would look great on any electronic music producers mix station. Unlike some of the competitors, both the CR3’s and the CR4’s have a few design advantages that scream quality and help to create an accurate frequency response so that you can have pinpoint accuracy with all your mixes. The first design advantage is that the cabinet is actually made from a wood composite material (MDF), instead of a cheap to produce plastic enclosure which has a habit of playing havoc with the way in which sound internally reflects, and actually this is how the bass on the CR range sounds so well controlled. Next, we turn towards the faceplate because Mackie have recessed the mid/bass driver and tweeter and surrounded it with a high density plastic wave guild baffle to help with imaging and lowering small amounts of distortion as the sound is exiting. Imaging is important because it helps you pan the instruments within a three dimensional environment. Getting this right can mean the difference between a cluttered mess and a clean texture rich mix, and the CR3’s seem to be on the money in this area with excellent imaging for the current RRP. Finally both of the models in the CR range have a rear firing bass reflex port. Importantly a bass reflex port helps the bass have body and punch, but unfortunately the CR range have positioned this on the back of the cabinet. Because of this it’s best to not position them too close to a wall (30cm+ is a good idea) so that the bass doesn’t reflect off the back wall and become indistinct. It would have been better if this was positioned on the front, but so long as you follow the distance rule you’ll have no problems at all.
Although we all know that eating and drinking around our equipment is a really bad idea, it seems that Mackie has taken some precautions. Although not necessarily stated within the specifications, the silk dome tweeter appears to have a protective coating so that it can withstand accidents at least to some extent. Just like the tweeter the low-mid frequency driver has a polypropylene surface coating to protect in a similar way, although this does not mean that you should eat or drink around them. With this said it would have been great to see a mesh guard included, but for the price I don’t think that Mackie could have included anything more.
It’s important to know that with the CR3 and the CR4 models, both are powered by the same 50watt amplifier. So that you don’t have to take up two power sockets, both amplifiers are included within one master speaker and a cable goes across to power the satellite speaker. The amplifier can comfortably power the monitors to a maximum peak SPL of 97dB for the CR3 and 100dB for the CR4. Just as a guide, this output is roughly similar to a chain saw, or pneumatic road drill at 1m, and from this you can totally understand that this is more than enough for mixing, or even the odd blast playback. Just remember that at this volume it is recommended that you only listen to music at this volume for a maximum of 30 minutes a day.
As expected with such small driver speakers, there is some compromise with the super low bass frequencies. Baring in mind that the human range of hearing is 20Hz – 20kHz, the CR3 is capable of 80Hz – 20kHz playback, whereas the CR4 has a moderate edge with an extension from 75Hz – 20kHz. Unfortunately this does mean that you’ll be missing out on the super sub-bass frequencies, but this is unavoidable and there still is a great deal of extension. It might be best in this case to add a low frequency roll off to your recordings to avoid any potential playback issues on other systems. Saying this it is advisable with most mixes that this is done to clear up your mix, unless you need to super low for effect.
Considering all of the above, the Mackie CR3’s and CR4’s are exceptionally well built for such an ultra affordable retail price. I haven’t seen such a well built monitor in this price range before.
Both the Mackie CR3 and CR4’s have the same features and, let me tell you, this is an area that certainly is not lacking! Mackie have gone all out on a limb to produce what may be the most flexible multimedia monitor speakers around. The sheer flexibility is class leading and, when you consider their compact size, they are ideal for a whole host of applications, including: video editing, mixing, music playback, as a sound bar alternative, live DJ monitoring, and referencing from a higher end pair of monitors. So, let’s list all the connections and our thoughts on each of them:
Main Features, Connectivity, and Included Items:
1) Illuminated (green) faceplate On/Off volume control – This allows quick access to turn the monitors on and off, and also to increase or attenuate the output volume with precision.
2) Front panel standard 3.5mm Auxiliary input – This allows you to easily connect a portable audio device into the monitors without having to turn to the rear of the device.
3) Front panel 3.5mm headphone output – This allows you to plug your favourite headphones into the monitors if you are short of an extra output on your control surface. However, there are many headphones just with a ¼” jack (the larger headphone connector) and this cannot be connected without an adapter.
4) A pair of foam acoustic isolators – This primarily helps to isolate the cabinet from the surface which can have an undesirable impact on the frequency response, helps to reduce the impact on your neighbours, and allows you to aim the monitors at your ears for increased fidelity.
5) A manual left and right speaker position selector – Now you have no worries about what speaker is which, and you can place the master speaker closer to the power outlet.
6) A mono TRS jack input – This allows you to easily connect your monitors to your mixer via TRS to TRS or XLR to TRS cables, but these are the only cables that are not included. To purchase your own you’re looking at £10 – £15 minimum.
7) RCA input – This allows you to connect the monitors to almost anything, but a 3.5mm cable to RCA (3m) and 3.5mm jack to jack cable (1m) is included… the possibilities are endless!
8) Finally all you need to do is to connect both speakers with the included speaker wire. There’s nothing fancy about this cable, although it could be longer. The cable included is 2m long.
The Mackie CR3’s are a very confident and well composed pair of reference monitor speakers that would ideally suit any amateur producer. It has to be said that these speakers do produce a very honest and open ‘reference’ environment that is free of bass inflation, or indeed shelved or hyped treble. The CR3’s are perfect for mixing and have unparalleled clarity in their class. However, for those who intend to purchase these speakers purely as a playback medium it really is important to remember that these won’t suit those who require ‘more bass’. With that out of the way the CR3 monitors appear to have great imaging for their price and make it easy to pan instruments effectively within the stereo field, without any heavy central congestion. I have noticed that the CR3’s don’t necessarily have an exceptionally wide stereo width, but what on offer is more than adequate for standard (less-complex) mixes. In terms of the depth of field, the CR3 monitors seem to, again, have an adequate composure, and thankfully don’t have too much of a crushing effect on the dynamic range thanks to a modestly timed transient response, although the midrange is a little indistinct until they are driven to a moderate level. What this means is that you’re able to have more control of the way in which you compress your instrumentation at higher levels, because you’ll be able to hear modest differences in attack and decay well and this will help you create a well balanced environment. Furthermore, the CR3’s do seem to have a tighter transient attack in the low midrange and mid-treble bandwidths, which I have found really helps you to nail your sculpting of supporting rhythmic elements – perfect for electronic music production. With this said, the most important aspect from a pair of monitor speakers is how well they translate. I have found that the mixes I produced on the CR3’s to translate really well at modest to high volume levels with my much more expensive Dynaudio BM6a MK2’s and various high value headphones. Granted the CR3’s are nowhere in the same league, but this demonstrates how accurately they allow you to mix your music. Usually this fidelity comes from spending a lot more on a pair of monitors, so I’m actually really impressed with their performance, especially for a pair of monitors with a 3” bass/mid driver, and would happily have them as secondary reference pair.
Mackie have done an exceptional job with both the CR3 and CR4 reference monitor speakers, and I would go as far to say that they are a confident and class leading pair. This really is a pair of speakers that can be used in an enormous amount of situations and I’m so impressed with the whole package. In light of their incredible clarity, at modest to high volume levels, The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Mackie CR3 Creative Reference Monitor Speakers with a full five star rating.