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Powered Creative Reference Multimedia Monitors

By Phil O'Keefe

 

There's been a transition in audio ever since the advent of personal computers and especially the introduction of devices like the iPod and other portable MP3 players, with more and more listeners using earbuds and headphones today than ever before. However, there are still some things that speakers do better than cans; for example, it can be difficult to share the listening experience with others when using headphones. Headphones are also typically less than ideal in their stereo reproduction and low frequency response, which means it's also a good idea to cross reference any mixes you've done on them with speakers. Of course, not everyone needs ultra-high end powered studio monitors, but low-end computer speakers are often so bad as to be unacceptable even for things like multimedia production or even casual & entertainment listening. Is there an alternative in-between those two extremes? Well that's exactly what Mackie is attempting to provide us with in the form of their new CR Series Multimedia Monitors. Let's take a look at the details.

 

 

What You Need To Know

  • There are currently two different CR Series Creative Reference Multimedia Monitor models - the CR3 and the CR4. Both share similar feature sets and specs; I'll point out the differences as needed, but many features are common to both models. The sound of the two is similar, with the CR4 sounding slightly bigger, louder, and fuller than the CR3.
  • The CR3 uses a 3" woofer, and the CR4 uses a 4" woofer. Both are polypropylene coated, and both speaker models use a .75" ferro-fluid cooled silk-done tweeter. The tweeters are mounted in a waveguide, and the stereo dispersion and imaging are quite good, especially for speakers in this size an price range.

  • The cabinets are made of wood instead of plastic like you'll find on most multimedia speakers, and custom-tuned rear firing bass ports help to smoothly extend the bass response, making these speakers sound bigger and fuller than their relatively small size would otherwise suggest.
  • The dimensions of the speakers are nice and compact, which makes them easy to fit on to a crowded desk. The CR3 measures 8.2" H x 5.5" W x 6.2" D, while the slightly larger CR4 measures 8.8" H x 6.1" W x 7.3" D.
  • The CR Series Multimedia Monitors feature 50W (peak) power amps. They are not bi-amplified; a single amp per speaker powers both the high and low frequency drivers.
  • The crossover frequency is 3kHz for both models. 
  • The power amps for both speakers are housed in one of the two speaker cabinets. The second speaker is completely passive, with no onboard amps of its own. It is connected to the powered speaker via standard (and included) unshielded speaker cable. This means that one speaker is a bit heavier than the other. The passive CR3 weighs 3.1 lb and the powered one weighs 5.7 lb. For the CR4 the weights are 4.6 and 7.1 lb respectively. A master volume knob on the amp-equipped speaker has a built-in switch, and and a green ring around it illuminates when the speaker is powered up and the volume knob is turned on.
  • The rear panel of the powered speaker features a speaker placement switch that allows you to position the powered speaker and its front panel jacks and master volume control on the left or right side, depending on your personal preferences. A main power switch is also located on the rear panel of the powered speaker.

  • Maximum (peak) SPL is rated at 97dB for the CR3 and 100dB for the CR4.
  • Frequency response is listed by Mackie as 80Hz-20kHz for the CR3 and 75Hz-20kHz for the CR4, with no tolerance specs given.
  • Mackie includes a front panel 1/8" stereo aux input jack, which makes it super-easy to plug in your smart phone, tablet or portable music playback device. They even include a short stereo 1/8" TRS cable for this purpose. You also get a front panel mounted 1/8" stereo headphone jack. Connecting to this automatically mutes the speakers for silent listening.

  • Speaking of cables, pretty much everything you need is thoughtfully included. Not only do you get the speaker cable to connect the passive / satellite speaker and the 1/8" TRS cable for connecting your MP3 player or smart phone, but you also get a 1/8" TRS to dual RCA cable which is perfect for connecting the output of your laptop computer to the CR series Multimedia Monitors.
  • For use with other gear, the CR series also feature 1/4" balanced / unbalanced input jacks on the powered speaker's rear panel too.
  • To top off the included accessories, Mackie includes some two-piece foam acoustic isolation pads to set your Creative Reference speakers on. They aren't as thick or as heavy duty as some other models, but they do help to isolate the speakers a bit from the surface they're sitting on which improves overall sound quality, and they also allow for a bit of up/down angling to better position the speakers relative to your listening position. 


Limitations

  • There are no room or placement compensation controls, and no EQ controls of any kind on the Mackie CR series Multimedia Monitors. Any playback EQ you want to use will need to be dialed up on your playback device.
  • The low frequency extension is not really adequate for full-range music reproduction with sufficient accuracy in the bottom two octaves to make using these speakers practical as your primary monitoring reference for music mixing.
  • I'd love to see a small subwoofer added to the CR series to help augment the lows. I suspect it would be a very popular addition to the line.

 

Conclusions

Depending on your needs, the CR series does represent good value and will serve well for those who need something that's better sounding than the average computer speaker, but who don't need the high-end sound, features and price tag of full-blown professional studio monitors. While their response is relatively flat, for music mixing, I would not feel comfortable using the Mackie CR Series Creative Reference Multimedia Monitors as a primary reference since they lack the ability to accurately reproduce the lowest two octaves of the audible frequency spectrum. Something along the lines of Mackie's own MR series would be a better choice as an entry-level studio monitor, although the CR series can do a good job of representing what your mix will sound like on the type of smaller computer speakers that most consumers use.

 

The CR series are not going to replace studio-grade monitors in a recording studio environment, and shouldn't really be considered as a primary reference even for home studios, but to be fair, Mackie makes no claims that they are suitable for that purpose. However, if you need a pair of good sounding multimedia speakers for the computer in your spare bedroom, or something to use when writing or playing with music apps on your iPad, or for use with your office PC (or Mac) so you can listen to music while you work, they'll do the job just fine - and probably sound much better than your existing PC / multimedia speakers. They would also make a good choice as playback monitors for a video editing suite or workstation, so if you do a lot of video production for corporate videos or Youtube, they're definitely worth your consideration. In fact, I'm sure that a lot of people will appreciate just how high the sound quality of these speakers is considering their diminutive size and price tags, and Mackie is no doubt going to sell them by the truckload.


Resources

Musician's Friend Mackie CR3 Creative Reference Multimedia Monitors online catalog page ($129.99 MSRP, $99.99 "street", per pair)


Musician's Friend Mackie CR4 Creative Reference Multimedia Monitors online catalog page ($199.99 MSRP, $149.99 "street", per pair)


Mackie's CR series Creative Reference Multimedia Monitor web page


Mackie CR series overview video:

 



Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines. 
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