Recently I have noticed a trend in speakers where manufactures a tending to make active speakers that fall somewhere between older computer style speakers and low cost nearfield studio monitors. This isn’t surprising when you think about it. These days we do a huge variety of things on our computers. I for instance create music videos, play video games, Skype, listen to music…. and that was just today!
It would be awesome for everyone to have high-end studio monitors while I play CoD or HoTS (don’t ask me to get into those), but not really practical for someone who doesn’t already have them to record music.
The Creative Reference 3 (CR3) and CR4 speakers from Mackie are great speakers for blogging, making podcasts, creating non-music YouTube videos, and editing video. They are not really designed to be used for serious music recording and mixing, but can function as basic monitors. (Read my guide on Making a Home Recording Studio)
If you want to hear what the Mackie CR3 and CR4 speakers excel at then read on!
Mackie CR3 and CR4 Sound Quality
In a lot of ways these speakers are similar to normal active nearfield speakers. They are not like nearfield speakers though in that they don’t have any equalizer switches or frequency shaping, and only one of the speakers is active. These limitations really hurt their usefulness in professional music mixing applications.
The Mackie CR3 does sound pretty good overall. It gives a very airy treble and sounded transparent and open. When listening to kick drums you can tell the bass is a bit lacking, and the high bass roll off point really stood out because of it.
It had an unexpectedly deep sound stage and was noticeably solid and crisp. However, when pushed hard the Mackie CR3 reaches it’s limit quickly. An music with a lot of low-end bass created terrible distortion and audible turbulence near the opening of the ports.
The CR4 did better with the deep bass than the CR3 as it has an extra 10Hz in the low-end. This improvement was noticeable and appreciated, though any lower than that and you will hear the distortion around the ports again.
The CR4 also had a better mid-range that was a bit more natural and full.
The CR3 drives a 3 inch polypropylene coated woofer and a .75 inch silk dome tweeter cooled with ferrofluid with 50 watts of power. Mackie gives the frequency range of 80Hz-20kHz. The CR4 however has a 4 inch woofer and the enclosure is a little bit bigger. This is the reason the bass range is lowered to 70Hz. Everything else about these 2 speakers is the same.
The focus of my site is on home studio recording and the equipment involved in making your own. So of course I did a side-by-side comparison test with some comparably sized active studio monitors. They performed well as speakers, but were a far cry from actual studio monitors.
The trad-off for the above lacking features is that they are much easier to use and have more outputconnection options that normal.
That said, both the CR3 and CR4 monitors were pleasing to the ear and worked more than well enough for a whole host of different uses. Both do are great speakers for non-mixing uses, but I recommend spending the extra $50 or so to get the CR4s.
Mackie CR3 and CR4 Build Quality
The CR3 and CR4 enclosures are both made of wood and have a small footprint. The CR4 is slightly bigger as I mentioned before. They both have ports on the rear to help out the bottom end frequencies and have smooth high frequency waveguides.
The enclosures contain amps for both the right and left speakers. There is a volume knob on the baffle of the speaker. The volume knob is also the speaker’s power switch. On the front panel are also a headphone jack and an Auxiliary input jack. There is also an unbalanced RCA jack (redwhite, leftright) and a balanced TRS jack.
There is a position select toggle that allows you to choose which speaker (left or right) is the master.
Both speakers come with acoustic isolation pads that are designed to minimize booming bass and allow you to tilt the speaker for more focused listening. Included is a 18 inch stereo RCA input cable that will allow you to connect your computer’s sound output, and a 18 inch cable that you can plug into the headphone jack on your phone or tablet. They also give you a pretty good amount of speaker cable to connect to a receiver.
With all of the inputs and outputs on these speakers it is extremely easy to simply connect to your phone, tablet, or computer and start listening.
Mackie CR3 and CR4 Video Review
Here is the official video from Mackie regarding their CR series:
Mackie CR3 and CR4 Costumer Reviews
Just about everyone who purchases then speakers loves them. The ones who are disappointed in them were expecting them to be professional quality studio monitors. They seem to have a pretty big following in the video editing world, and I can understand why. These speakers are definitely powerful enough for that purpose.
Most agree that if you compare them to similarly priced desktop or shelf speakers, these perform very well.
The biggest complaints I’ve seen are that they don’t get very loud and they lose accuracy when pushed to their highest levels. I agree and mentioned this problem above.
The other complaint I’ve seen is much more troubling. There is a trend on reviews and forums of people complaining that these speakers fail on them after about 6 months (on average), and that Mackie customer support was frustrating. I only used these speakers for a short amount of time, long enough for this review, so I obviously didn’t experience this issue.
The second issue is obviously troubling, though a certain amount of failure is expected in the “budget” range.
The bottom line is that these are good speakers, but not good mixing monitors. If you need speakers for budget monitors or to listen to music for the entertainment value, play video games, watch movies, or 100 other reasons, then you will be very happy with them.
If you want studio monitors with the full range and accuracy needed for mixing and mastering music, then you need to spend a little more and get real studio monitors. For a comparably sized and priced monitor I recommend the KRK RP5G3 monitors. (My Review)
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Do you agree with my assessment of these speakers? Let me know in the comment section below!