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  • Mackie Reach Portable PA System

    Welcome to another Pro Review, HC’s unique interactive format. We encourage participation from everyone—users of the product, potential users with questions, and the manufacturer. The object is to make this an “open source” review without the limitations on space of print, the potential bias of having a single reviewer, but more importantly, to tap the expertise of the community to dive really deeply into what a product can—and cannot—do, so you can know exactly what to expect. For more information on what Pro Reviews are all about, please check out the FAQ.

    Hardware Pro Reviews typically start off with a photo tour of the unit, and a description of the basic specs. Fortunately, our very own Phil O’Keefe already did an Expert Review on Reach, and he pretty much covered that kind of material. And although I usually include a picture of everything that comes with a product, in this case it’s just the Reach unit itself, an AC line cord, and the Quick Start…so it’s not very photogenic. However I couldn’t resist including a photo of what it looks like without the metal speaker protection grille (which you can’t remove—this was a picture circulated by Mackie). So in real life, you won’t be able to enjoy the “Road-Warrior-Meets-Futuristic-Graphic-Novel” vibe, but I thought you’d want to see it.


    Nor is this going to be your typical Pro Review, because we’re going to try something different.

    This all started because I’ve been using FRFR (full range, flat response) amplification systems for guitar since 1968. I realize amps are great signal processors, but I try to get my sound before it hits the amp so I don’t have to deal with amp variables—and that way, I get the same sound live through a PA or going direct in the studio. This is also why I built a lot of my own effects (and why my QuadraFuzz included an analog speaker emulation). I started playing through keyboard amps, then plugging into front of house PA systems for bigger gigs, then segued into the Bose L1 as a “guitar amp” for live performance. Since working with Gibson I’ve been using the Cerwin-Vega P1500X because it has a 15” speaker for the main driver, so I don’t need a sub. I had been getting my sound mostly with laptops running amp sim software, however I’ve been quite taken with the Line 6 Helix (the subject of another Pro Review) and with it, I can have a single unit instead of laptop, MIDI footswitch, interface, etc.

    But I also like something that “moves air” in the studio so I can mic it, and when talking with Phil one day, he’d mentioned the Reach…then at NAMM, I met with the folks at Mackie and asked if anyone was using the Reach as an FRFR system, or for presentations or other applications. One thing led to another, and they immediately saw the Pro Review as way to explore all the ways to use Reach. So, here’s the plan.
    Last edited by Anderton; 03-13-2016, 09:19 PM.
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  • #2
    The Plan

    We’ll kick off this review with my evaluating the Reach as a simple, portable FRFR amp. How well does it work live? Does it do what I want in the studio? Can using it with Helix replace—or at least complement—my beloved Line 6 DT25 and Peavey Windsor amps?

    Then after that, I’ll ship the Reach off to our esteemed hipster editor Chris Loeffler, who will evaluate it as a PA in coffeehouse gig context. Granted that’s more of its intended application, but I want to know how well it handles the task—how big a room can it fill? Is it easy to set up? Is the remote app helpful and useful?

    Then we’ll check out using it for presentations, like workshops and trainings. If you’re a gigging musician, you might be able to get another income stream by renting out your Reach (and maybe your live gigging experience) to corporate presentations, parties, and such.

    Of course what I’d really like to know is how well it performs on a cruise ship gig, but apparently there’s not enough in the budget to send me on a cruise to Hawaii to check it out. Maybe next year.

    But—and this is the most important part—if you use Reach, how are you using it? What kind of gigs are you using it for? What are your favorite features? What could be improved? Have you tried linking several units together to get more volume?

    Remember, a Pro Review isn’t just the voice of a reviewer, it’s the voice of a community and offers interactivity that goes far beyond the “comments” section in an article. It’s also a great place to ask questions that only a manufacturer can answer. People from Mackie will be monitoring this forum and standing by not just to answer your questions, but to do so without resorting to marketing-speak.
    Last edited by Anderton; 03-13-2016, 09:22 PM.
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    • Hoppy Shimko
      Hoppy Shimko commented
      Editing a comment
      You write really well, Craig. You are a gem.

  • #3
    Initial Impressions

    The Quick Start manual starts off with the usual multi-lingual Ode to Lawyers: “WARNING!! Do need eat. Do not throw into swimming pools. Not suitable as a means of aerial transportation. This unit has been certified under FCC Ruling 4,223,556 as a Class Q device operating in compliance with sub-section s(1.3.55)[ab]{derivative of the 12th root of 2}. If it causes interface with radios, turn off your radio. Do not dispose of by cutting into little pieces and feeding to pigs.” I don’t know if anyone actually reads all this stuff, but at least it keeps lawyers gainfully employed. As a public service, I’ll sum up these kind of instructions in all manuals for you: Don’t be stupid.

    On page 6 the lawyers go away, so you’ll find a couple of typical setup diagrams and a description of the controls. Apparently someone at Mackie got the memo that people don’t like to read manuals, so the instructions are short, concise, and well worth the 90 seconds it will take you to read and understand them…otherwise you might wonder (among other things) what the footswitch jack does.

    If you know that outputs plug into inputs (and are by nature impatient), you’ll know enough to get the system running so you can test whether it makes noise. However, it’s vital to go to Mackie.com/support to get info on the Connect app—this is a crucial element for getting the most out of Reach, as it allows for Bluetooth control over Reach parameters. It supports both Android and iOS, as listed in the accompanying chart. Note that the Android list is of devices that have been tested and known to work; however, Mackie expects Connect to work with any Android OS higher than 4.1.

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    While you’re online make sure to grab the Owner’s Manual, which is basically an expanded version of the Quick Start Guide (which is also available for download, as is a spec sheet). Although it’s easy to get Reach up and running, it’s important to understand the bigger picture and read the tips included in the full manual.

    So Reach is set up in my studio (and it was light enough not to be a problem hauling it up a flight of stairs), Helix is plugged in, and my Les Paul Standard is plugged into Helix. But we’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the results, because the lovely young ladies who live next door just got back from spring break, it’s late, and this is probably not a good time to see just how loud Reach can go…see you tomorrow.
    Last edited by Anderton; 03-14-2016, 12:04 AM.
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    • #4
      Entering the Land of FRFR for Guitars

      The most important point to remember about a full-range, flat-response system is that all the tone happens before the amplifier. A lot of presets that sound fine going into a cabinet will sound like a swarm of bees going through an FRFR system, because the FRFR system will reproduce all those buzzing highs—if you’re used to an amp cabinet rolling off about 5 kHz, it ain’t gonna happen with a full-range frequency response.

      As mentioned, I’m using the Line 6 Helix so its cabinet emulations take care of the overall sound. However, the Reach does have four sonic signatures: PA, DJ, Solo, and Vocal. Here’s the frequency response. PA is the light blue curve, DJ the green curve, Solo the purple curve, and Voice the dark blue curve.

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      Some definitely worked better than others. You might assume PA would work best, but it has a bit of a bass bump that settles down around 500 Hz, and somewhat of a midrange droop around 5 kHz. It’s okay, and much better for guitar than the DJ setting, whose bass emphasis makes the guitar sound flabby and undefined.

      On the other hand, the Solo option sounds like it was made for guitar. The bass response rolloff that starts at about 150 Hz doesn’t affect the lowest notes of the guitar much, but “tightens” up the sound considerably, not unlike an open back cabinet. Meanwhile, the slight prominence at 1-5 kHz brings up the “meat” of the guitar and increases articulation. As to Voice, it has less bass, which takes away some of the guitar’s power, and lacks the midrange definition of Solo. The verdict: Use Solo for electric guitar…I’ll be checking out my Gibson J-45 acoustic tomorrow.

      One aspect that was a bit of a surprise was that the big bump around 12 kHz didn’t really make a difference. I was fully expecting to have to put a notch in that range, but the reality is that real amps don’t have much energy at 10 kHz, and the Helix emulations faithfully reproduced the lack of response at that frequency. I even tried boosting at 12 kHz to hear if I could get it to sound sizzly, but no go. Conversely, cutting at 12 kHz didn’t make any difference either.

      As to volume, it was a long day and I didn’t get home to try out the system until around 9 PM. However, even at half-throttle it was still loud enough that I was concerned about potential noise complaints. I’ll try to get home earlier so I can see just how loud it goes. However, I was able to determine that Reach did indeed render the sound the Helix produced, and even without cranking it up full, it could get pretty loud. Stay tuned...
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      • #5
        Kids, Don’t Try this at Home

        One of the reasons I love doing Pro Reviews is because I never know what’s going to happen. Unlike a traditional review where you work with something for a while and then sum it up, what happens in a Pro Review is nearly real time. Life is always more interesting without a net

        I was able to leave Gibson early (well, at least early for me) and decided to crank Reach to the max back at home. Based on what I found out yesterday, I chose the Solo position, and dialed in a big-sounding Line 6 Helix power chord preset. I turned up the master volume all the way, then went to the individual input and turned it up.

        It was loud. As in LOUD. As in effing LOUD, to the point where even though I played at that level for only about a minute, my ears had the aftereffects for another 15 minutes thereafter. And, there was also no sign of breakup. Granted, that might be hard to determine in a guitar preset with distortion, but I can tell the difference between “good” amp distortion and “bad” overload distortion. As further confirmation, I didn’t drive it hard enough to light the overload light, so there was still room to go but I needed to modify the Helix preset for more output.

        I will say that the sound quality was surprisingly good. Reach wasn’t straining, breaking up, or acting weird. Now, I have to give props to the Helix, because it really does sound wonderful…but the takeaway here is that Reach didn’t take away anything from it. What I hear in my headphones or over studio monitors while recording with it is basically what I heard coming from Reach. (This bodes well for my plans to try miking it to get the sound of “moving air into a microphone” that’s a challenge for even the best modelers.)

        Anyway, I still don’t know exactly how loud Reach can go, and it’s not something that’s neighborhood-safe. So, there’s a slight change of plan.

        On the weekend, I’ll take over a room at Gibson that’s used for creating videos (and where I did all my Cerwin-Vega P-Series testing, so I know I can get away with volume). I can’t use this space during the weekday because there’s almost always someone in the building, and I really don’t want to be voted “Most Unpopular Guitar Player Ever” among my compatriots (even though of course I would never play "Stairway to Heaven"). However, this means that over the next couple days, I can download the app and get familiar with it…and I suspect this is an important part of the Reach experience, so I might as well get into it sooner rather than later.

        Meanwhile, here are a few conclusions…
        • Even without additional testing, it's already clear Reach makes a fine FRFR guitar amp. It’s much cleaner and louder than what I expected for this size and price. I haven't tested it with bass or acoustic guitar yet, but that's on the agenda.
        • I still don’t know how loud it can go...suffice it to say I’m packing Etymotic hearing protection (flat response and all that) this weekend for the next round of testing.
        • I assume that Reach would become compromised at this volume if you wanted to put a whole band through it, but if each band member had one of these, you could make some serious noise.
        • The relatively light weight is welcome. Very welcome.
        • Placement matters. Ideally, you want to get it off the floor for the best projection.
        I won't be doing anything on the review tomorrow because I have several after-hours meetings, but I'll be reporting back on the app later in the week.
        Last edited by Anderton; 03-15-2016, 08:06 PM.
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        • #6
          I'm watching this for more info. I think this is what I'm looking for. I do acoustic shows in the summer time, and it bothers me that it keeps me off of my Harley. I want to find a portable PA like this, and a short scale guitar that I can strap to the back of the bike, and take it to gigs. I'm hoping I can see this in person soon, and check it out.

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          • #7
            App Time

            Let's take a trip to the App Store, which of course iPad owners visit every other day anyway to download the latest and greatest updates for various apps. I don't have a suitable Android device for testing the associated app, but I do have an iPad 2 from the dawn of time. If the app works with it, I assume the app will work with any later variants.

            The app takes up 4.6 MB in the iPad (including documents and data) upon first being downloaded, so the footprint is minimal. Every Reach parameter you can control is represented in the app except for the on-off power switch, and parameters that follow the digital paradigm to save hardware costs (e.g., one rotary encoder with switches to choose the various channels) are fully represented graphically. However, the app also controls parameters you can't access physically from Reach. For example, the physical Reach lets you choose one of four effects, while the virtual Reach can select one of 16. Having played with the Mackie 1608, I'm hip to the Mackie app live mixing style - big, bright faders and buttons that you can work with fat fingers, in a dark club, after misplacing your glasses, while being bumped into by drunks.

            Here's the main mixer for adjusting the four different inputs. Note the big Mute buttons, and how the fader for Channel 2 is glowing like it's on mushrooms because that's the fader I'm actually moving.

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            You can also select an individual channel or the Aux bus. Note the Reverb Send fader, and the three-band EQ which you can't access from the Reach unit itself.

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            And since we mentioned the 16 effects, here they are. Here's where you have access not just to the effects, but to the reverb return, monitor level, and master level.

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            There are also several "system-oriented" screens. The list at the top of the image below shows what they are - Main EQ, Footswitch, Feedback (as in removing, not adding), Side Monitors, Phones, Memory, and the About screen that lets you know about the software rev and such. This one chooses the four main EQ curves, but note they're presets - you can't actually modify these curves.

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            This is the screen for saving and recalling three different presets.

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            You can turn the side monitors on and off via the app, although it's easy to do so on Reach itself.

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            ...and here's one for when it's time to tune your guitar, or monitor while setting up without disturbing all the people in the audience who are buying drinks. Since the reason you have a gig is because the place where you're playing thinks the people who come to see you will buy drinks, this is very handy to avoid discouraging them from fulfilling their mission of keeping you gainfully employed.

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            We're almost done showing the various app screens. Here's the footswitch screen, which is admittedly not very exciting, but does the job.

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            And finally, check out the About screen. This isn't just about the software version, but assuming you have internet access, you can download the manual, go the Mackie web site, or order takeout. Well okay, you can't order takeout. But I'm sure you can with something else on your tablet.

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            Now that we know the lay of the land for the app, we'll try to see just how loud we can make this sucker from a nice, safe distance. It will also be interesting to see what kind of...uh, reach...the iPad has in terms of controlling Reach from a distance,
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            • #8
              Originally posted by Graunke View Post
              I'm watching this for more info. I think this is what I'm looking for. I do acoustic shows in the summer time, and it bothers me that it keeps me off of my Harley. I want to find a portable PA like this, and a short scale guitar that I can strap to the back of the bike, and take it to gigs. I'm hoping I can see this in person soon, and check it out.

              Hey, thanks for chiming in! Remember you need to allot about 27" x 9.5" x 9" and I assume you'd need to balance it properly, but I think this might indeed be Harley-friendly. If you want to see it in person, this link will take you to a place on the Mackie site for entering your zip code to find the nearest dealer.

              But your question raises a question, and I hope someone from Mackie is reading this and can respond. I realize you can lug Reach around in its designer cardboard box, but a carrying bag with handles, like what Bose does, might make for a useful accessory...something you could zip up after the gig so Reach's exterior doesn't get scratched & weird. Anyone from Mackie care to take this question?
              N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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              • #9
                I think a carrying bag for the Mackie Reach would be an excellent accessory!
                **********

                "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

                - George Carlin

                "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

                - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

                "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

                - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

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                • #10
                  Originally posted by Anderton View Post


                  Hey, thanks for chiming in! Remember you need to allot about 27" x 9.5" x 9" and I assume you'd need to balance it properly, but I think this might indeed be Harley-friendly. If you want to see it in person, this link will take you to a place on the Mackie site for entering your zip code to find the nearest dealer.

                  But your question raises a question, and I hope someone from Mackie is reading this and can respond. I realize you can lug Reach around in its designer cardboard box, but a carrying bag with handles, like what Bose does, might make for a useful accessory...something you could zip up after the gig so Reach's exterior doesn't get scratched & weird. Anyone from Mackie care to take this question?
                  We do have a bag on the way that you will be able to purchase from any authorized Mackie dealer. You can see a list of a few dealers here http://bit.ly/1UngQqf

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    Originally posted by Mackie Gear View Post
                    We do have a bag on the way that you will be able to purchase from any authorized Mackie dealer.
                    Glad to hear it, that's a much more elegant solution than the blanket I used to wrap the Reach before putting it in my back seat...!
                    N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                    • #12
                      Bluetooth Time

                      Time to test the Bluetooth, which I did with an iPad. It all went well…as soon as I remembered that once Reach discovered the iPad, I had to touch the Reach entry under the Bluetooth settings for the two to pair.

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                      However, for some reason the Connect app refused to open…it just said “waiting.” I thought perhaps this was because after I downloaded it, I selected “demo” mode. So, I deleted the app, and re-installed. After that, it worked fine.

                      Do remember that Reach remembers your settings, which on one hand it desirable if you have your settings for a recurring gig, but if for example you were playing the Reach REALLY LOUD somewhere, then brought it back home, set it up, and turned on the system without thinking, all those REALLY LOUD settings were still intact. So after the system is set up, I’ve gotten into the habit of turning on Reach and then turning down the volume before doing anything else.

                      In terms of working the faders, you will hear that the faders are quantized into steps if you move them while something is playing. This isn’t a huge deal in live performance, but you need to be aware of this. Perhaps a future revision of the app could interpolate between steps (the old Panasonic DA7 digital mixer did this to turn 127 MIDI controller steps into 1,024 steps so you couldn’t hear the quantized levels when moving the faders).

                      The faders are good about not responding to “false positives”—you need to touch the fader positively, and then move it. One feature I truly appreciate (although others might not agree) is you can’t tap somewhere along the fader travel, and have the fader jump to where you tapped. While this could have its uses, it would increase the odds of a potential “level accident” happening. However, it might make a good preference for situations where whoever is mixing has a stable setup, and isn’t moving around a club or being jostled by clubgoers.

                      As to how loud I could get it…well, I’m glad I brought hearing protection, because it really is as loud as a typical mid-sized combo amp when you crank it up. Of course, one big difference is the tone doesn’t change when you crank it. Also, I found that using the EQ to kill the highs gave a sweeter tone, which is to be expected. You'll note from the meters that Reach is pretty much maxing out here.

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                      However there was also a bit of a surprise when used as a guitar amp, which I’ll cover in the next post. What I'll say for now is after the "volume test," my opinion of Reach as an FRFR guitar has gone up another notch. It's really quite impressive.
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                      • #13
                        Controlled Feedback

                        One aspect I like about using a pole-mounted guitar amp is how easy it is to get controlled feedback. I first found this out when playing through the original Bose L1 cylinder speaker, where placing the neck in parallel with the speaker make it easy to do feedback. Reach is great with feedback, and even when it was sitting on the floor, because of the sheer volume it can create it was easy to do controlled feedback. Granted, I was playing through a high-gain Helix program using a Les Paul Standard, which produces more "tonal" feedback than "squeals," so I had an unfair advantage. Still, even at reasonable volume levels, it wasn't hard to get great feedback effects. It's also possible to get feedback at low volumes if you touch the headstock to the Reach cabinet...it's almost like having a Sustainiac or E-Bow in the picture. (This is a trick I use when jamming with DJs - not only are sustained sounds helpful when transitioning from one song to the next, but visually speaking it's a crowd-pleaser ).

                        This got me curious to see what the Reach's Feedback Eliminator would do. I had no idea what to expect because of course, a mic feeding back is different from six strings vibrating at various fundamental and harmonic frequencies. I need to check this out further to see if there's a way to get predictable results, but I did notice that when the first bit of feedback at a relatively low frequency hit, the Reach app indeed showed a notch at that frequency. This made it easier to concentrate on getting feedback with the higher tones. However because Reach is continuously scanning for feedback, and what I was doing was kind of a moving target, I need to do more analysis. The Feedback Destroyer may or may not have potential as something you can actually use with guitar, but it seems intriguing enough that I'm going to spend a little time finding out.

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                        • #14
                          Phantom Power?

                          By the way...although so far I've been testing Reach as a guitar amp, I've been trying out some mics with it. Note that Reach does not provide +48V phantom power, so you need to use dynamic mics. Granted, condenser mics are not a popular choice for most live situations, but I felt this was worth mentioning.

                          Back to the feedback...by the way, note that you can subscribe to this thread and get an email notification when there's a new post. Just click on the "+ Subscribe" button toward the upper right, above the first post.
                          Last edited by Anderton; 03-22-2016, 10:07 AM.
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                          • #15
                            I saw this on the Mackie site, this review is great because I'm considering a Reach. I have a question, my act is guitar, mic, and sometimes a Beat Buddy on some songs. You always talk about using guitar with a Helix. Can I plug elecrtric guitar directly into the Reach? I hope you can answer my question. Thank you.

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