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Anderton

Mackie Reach Portable PA System

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I have used the Mackie Reach at a handful of gigs now in varying environments. Acoustic and vocals playing inside small/medium venues and also an outdoor wedding. I haven't had any issues with not getting enough sound. In fact last night I was asked to lower the volume a tad.

 

I have a 58 mic set at 0db and my Taylor at +3. From there I typically only need to put the main at 0 to +4 to have a good singer/songwriter volume.

 

There does seem to be the magic order to stream Bluetooth music but once you crack the Contra Code it's a great feature.

 

Controlling via the app is what really makes this worth the price.

 

For years I have played a Peavey Escort but unless you get the top end, the other models don't have any monitor capabilities and I found myself struggling to hear at certain venues (loud and rowdy marines!) The Reach has solved that issue with the side monitors.

 

If you want to rock arena's this ain't the system for you. If you play "Wagonwheel" every night to tourists in solo or duo setups then the Reach will be your best friend! Light to carry, no speaker cables, 4 inputs so no need for a mixing board.

 

ONE trip from the car to the stage and I have all the gear I need!

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Thanks very much for the hands-on report. Again, what you're saying is consistent with what I'm finding.

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Time for a Presentation...

 

One of the planned applications for testing Reach was a presentation, and as luck would have it, a suitable opportunity presented itself. Harmony Central's own Dendy Jarrett and his wife own a salon and spa in Nashville called Seraphim, and the Aveda representative was arriving early last Wednesday to give a presentation on their new products before the salon opened. However, the place was being cleaned and the air conditioning was on full blast; the ambient noise was substantial enough to drown out the Aveda rep, especially for those employees listening in the further reaches of the salon instead of the main reception area. Nor is a rep supposed to yell...

 

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Which resulted in a quick call from Dendy. "Hey Craig, you wanted to try out Reach for a presentation, right? Well, here's your chance." So off I went to Dendy's salon, with the Reach, mic, and mic cable in the front seat of my VW. We set it up, cranked up the volume, startled the hell out of everyone, cranked down the volume from "too loud" to "loud enough," and handed the mic to the Aveda rep.

 

The sound extended beyond the reception area--an important factor--but the other element that Dendy noticed was the quality of the voice. Although admittedly the rep has a good speaking voice, the sound was full and crisp, without harshness or boom. This gave a certain "authority" to the voice, although Reach's EQ was in the flat position so that may have accounted for the low end fullness. The voice position, which is optimized for maximum presence, may not have had the same low end but this wasn't a situation where we could say "hey, could you stop talking for a minute so we can try some experiments with the EQ?"

 

Again, Reach's performance was consistent with my experiments, as well as those of people in this thread who've actually used it: No, you're not going to put Clair Bros. out of business, but for small-to-medium-sized venues, Reach really does reach...in this case, to the outer corners of a salon during a period of high ambient noise.

 

But I do think his wife owes me a haircut. Just sayin.'

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An additional update. I've used this about 1/2 dozen times. My results are similar. I've been playing to a bit larger rooms, with more bodies at recent gigs, than my previous report. It continues to deliver as I expected it to. Even getting response from the crowd, asking 'what are you doing different tonight?' from some of my regulars.

 

I've yet to use this in a 'duo' setting, but for solo work it's been top notch. I do know I will reach it's dB limit soon, but I'm curious to know when.

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Looking forward to keeping this review rolling! :-)

 

 

Funny you should say that, I'm shipping it off to you tomorrow for your part of the review :)

 

FWIW I'm doing two more tests tonight before packing it up. If anyone else wants me to test anything else, now's the time to speak up.

 

 

Keyboards: The main thing I wanted to see here is whether it would work for a singer/piano player using a sampled acoustic piano sound. I already know it works fine with synths, but I'm wondering what kind of EQ would give the most realistic piano sound.

 

Guitar, mic, and drum machine doing background percussion: I want to see how well it would work for a solo act playing in a restaurant-type context with this roster of gear.

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Sampled Piano, Guitar+Voice+Drum Machine

 

For keyboard, I used the True Pianos virtual piano from 4Front Technologies, hosted in Cakewalk SONAR on a laptop and running through an Apollo Twin USB 3 interface (also the subject of a Pro Review). Based on how Reach was with program material, the results were pretty much as I expected; the sound is clean, and had no problem handling the piano's range of frequencies.

 

The Voice and Solo EQ positions didn't cut it for me, because you don't want to short-change the piano's lower registers. If I was just playing piano, the DJ setting brings out the low-end richness without sounding boomy, and the extra highs added the requisite "air." The sound was a little larger than life, which is not a bad idea if you're playing live with a sampled instrument.

 

However when adding voice, although I could trim the mic's low end with the channel EQ and leave the DJ master EQ in place for the piano, I preferred using the PA master EQ setting and the channel EQ to increase the piano's low end somewhat. I suppose in theory it shouldn't make much difference, but for some reason I liked it better.

 

With guitar, voice, and drum machine, it would depend on context. Again, Voice and Solo weren't appropriate. I liked PA best overall, but if I was playing a venue where I wanted a somewhat more aggressive sound, without having a bass I could set the master EQ to DJ and bring out the drum machine kick. Admittedly that's kind of ersatz bass, but it filled in the low-frequency "hole."

 

One takeaway is that you can counteract the master EQ response to some degree with the channel EQ controls, but I think it's better to start off with everything flat, choose the master EQ response that sounds best, and then tweak individual channels. The other is that as with guitar, for reproducing a solo instrument, Reach doesn't break a sweat and for many situations, is all you'd need.

Edited by Anderton
added Apollo Twin USB pro review URL
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Conclusions...So Far

 

Before I pass the baton to Chris Loeffler (Reach kinda looks like a corpulent baton, I can get away with saying that), here are my conclusions.

 

I originally was going to check out Reach solely as a full-range, flat-response system for guitar because it looked easier to lug around than most guitar amps. But I must admit when I first saw the box for Reach, I figured it was one shipment out of two. Nope. It really is that small. So of course, I wasn't sure what to expect because with PAs, less is usually not more.

 

As it turned out I could get really loud feeding it with the output from a device like the Line 6 Helix (the subject of another Pro Review - being able to use all these things together sure is convenient) or any other processor that produces a line level output. I tried some other multieffects, and all of them had sufficient level to drive Reach to the max. But if you're just going to feed in a dry electric or acoustic guitar, you pretty much need to count on using some kind of preamp to drive Reach to its maximum possible volume.

 

The one thing that kind of mystified me were the occasional comments on web "reviews" about a mic not being able to drive Reach sufficiently. With an SM58, your basic industry standard dynamic mic, I had no trouble encountering feedback before reaching maximum volume. I don't know if people just weren't aware you have individual channel settings or what, but it sure seemed like there was plenty of gain, and you would need to back off even further with a "screamer" vocalist.

 

Nor did I find the Bluetooth app problematic, as long as I didn't so something dumb like go out of range (and as mentioned previously, there was no corner of my house that was...uh...out of Reach). I did seem a little more cryptic to stream audio, but I was always able to get it working without much fuss.

 

Although I didn't play out with it, my experience would tend to confirm what others here have reported: No, Reach doesn't violate the laws of physics, but it does a fine job with small-to-medium venues for solo acts and ensembles. It certainly gave a great account of itself for presentations, and it's unobtrusive enough that you'll be able to cope when the venue points you to some tiny sliver of floor space they call a "stage."

 

It would be a nice gesture if you got a gig bag for what you pay, but I'm sure Mackie has to hit a price point; given the competitive nature of the personal PA market, maybe the gig bag would have taken Reach above the psychologically important three-digit price. But I doubt if that will be a deal-breaker for most people.

 

Reach is petite but powerful, but most of all, it sounds clean. It doesn't fuzz out on the low notes, and it assaults your ears on the high end only if you let it. Even plugging in multiple sound sources, which you'd expect to be Intermodulation City, was surprisingly good...I attribute this to the multiple speakers, which means no individual speaker has to work that hard.

 

So that's the bottom line for me: It does what you'd expect it to do, but more. It generated more level than I expected, it worked better as a guitar amp than I expected, the app was more helpful than I expected, and streaming loud music through was more fun than I expected.

 

Over to you, Chris!

 

 

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Ordered myself the carrying bag from Sweetwater last week. I can get in and out of my shows in one trip to the car now!

 

Played to the first venue I reported on for the second time. The capacity of the room is 180, and it was at about 120 this time around. I had more than enough headroom to cover. I would say for a duo or trio where everyone doesn't sing, this would work great.

 

This rig is the singer songwriter's dream rig, as far as I'm concerned. I still haven't figured out how to get it all on the Harley safely though.

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"Reach kinda looks like a corpulent baton"

 

Thank you for that. The package (*couch*) that arrived on Friday is now that much more intimidating! Playing with it now!

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Chris, make sure you check out the Bluetooth aspects (and also make sure you've downloaded the latest version of the app). I've read some comments online where people said they had connect problems, but it worked flawlessly for me.

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Given his love of Finnish death metal whaling songs, he may be having a hard time booking a gig where he can try it out.

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Hmmm... the benefit of getting something after Craig and Phil have run through it is I can usually skip the user manual :-)

 

The downside is I need to find something to say that hasn't already been covered by them. :-(

 

My first impressions upon receiving the Reach were "That package isn't big enough to be the Reach" and "Yeah... way too light to be the Reach". I was, of course, wrong.

 

I personally really dig the small size and relative ease of transportation it offers (not that I don't love hauling over 100 pounds of gear with my current PA setup), and it has a nice aesthetic to it. Just for giggles, I ran a Tech21 Oxford pedal into it as well as an acoustic guitar. As Craig and Phil have already reported, a simple preamp to bring them to line level made quite a bit of difference. Loud for sure (too loud to crank in my house), and I ended up running music through it for the day to see if I could find any weak links or developed hearing fatigue (I've found a couple of hours with something tends to bring out any sonic quirks that may not be immediately notices), nope, solid as could be and great dispersion.

 

I've got a few more paces I'll be running it through for fun, and next week we'll get this bad boy out for an acoustic open mic!

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:lol: Actually, I heard that Finnish Death Metal Whaling songs are actually becoming really popular in the Northwest... ;)

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Wow. Ok. I brought the Reach outside this morning to push some air in nature (er... my backyard). While it's not technically possible to violate the noise ordinance in my town, I probably ticked off some neighbors. I easily beat out a loud drummer on an acoustic kit without introducing any breakup, this time using my old Vox Tonelab with direct out. I confess I cheated and used an old ART Tube MP to boost and round out the modeler a bit, but I've removed any fears this won't hold its own in an open mic situation with loud instruments. More to come :-)

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Speaking to Craig's question about Bluetooth connectivity... no issues whatsoever with the newest version of the Mackie Connect (2.0.1) on the latest OS for iPhone 5S, so maybe issues people were experiencing were addressed with an update? It looks like the last update was six months ago, so that's either quite a grudge to hold or there may be an OS issue coming in to play as well?

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While I'm waiting to bring it to an open mic jam, I invited over a couple of buddies to play through the Reach simultaneously to test how well it kept channels distinct when pushed loud with multiple instruments. I ran a vocal mic, two acoustic guitars, and a bass (run through a Tech21 Sansamp). While the bass was understandably somewhat lacking in subs (even the nicest PAs I've played through want a subwoofer if you're running a bass direct), I was very pleasantly surprised how well the instruments stayed separated, especially with some basic mixer tweaking with the Connect app. Definitely washed away the last reservations I had about taking it for a maiden voyage in a real-gig situation next week! :-)

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As the temperature hit triple digits and Medford Beer Week commenced, I had the opportunity to haul out the Reach for three distinctly different applications over the last week: an outdoor private party with spoken word and acoustic singer-songwriter performances, to lift the voice of local trivia master Jeremy Homes above the boisterous and (somewhat) inebriated crowd at Walkabout Brewery's trivia night, and to provide some backing music to the brunch crowd at Adam's Deli (owned by HC Senior Editor Ara Ajizian). Details below :-)

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Outside House Party-

 

Studio Fuwfuwa owner (and occasional HC design contributor) Jeremy Holmes regularly hosts couch-surfing travelers in his Southern Oregon residents and meets his share of interesting, artistic types. Last year, one of his guests, traveling Seattle artist and storyteller Wonder, regaled him with stories and bits of performances, and they discussed doing "something" the next time she passed through town. That something took the shape of an invite-only house party in the backyard of his turn-of-the century farmhouse.

 

Food was BBQed (well, grilled), beer flowed (responsibly), and stories and music kept the small crowd entranced throughout the evening.

 

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For those you have dealt with the logistics of small outside gigs, they can be something of a nightmare when it comes to sound. While bigger gigs can involve enough power to push through the elements, smaller venues like vineyards and part pavilions find you fighting less-than-perfect acoustic spaces, phase-shifting breezes, and awkward refractions.

 

After running the vocal mic direct into the Mackie (which sounded fine), we did a little tweaking to round it all out, as the jumps in volume between spoken work in a deeper voice and falsetto yodeling needed to be addressed seamlessly. We routed the acoustic guitar (Taylor GS-1 Mini, to my recollection) through a Radial PZ-Pre for a bit more shaping of the Expression output. All in all, it took less than five minutes to dial the vocals and guitar to the space. Obviously, she had experience with live sound systems, but that speaks to how much a cursory knowledge transfers to ease-of-use of the Mackie Reach (without instruction manual).

 

Fortunately, the "untamable" outdoor situation was fairly minimized by the backing shed and ample surrounding foliage. As such, wind became less of an issue (it was windy) and there was little in the way of bounce back (ah, shrubs... nature's diffusers). That said, I recall my similarly powered Carvin PA from the early 00's getting lost in open spaces, so I was pleasantly surprised to here the Reach "sit" right acoustically. It was full and present without needing earsplitting volume, and very articulate.

 

We even pulled it off without the obligatory mic feedback every movie includes whenever someone steps up to the mic!

 

iOS integration turned out to be a big plus for her, given that she already uses a mounted iPad for some loops and longer spoken pieces. Not having to incorporate another piece of technology for control was seen as quite the boon. While we ultimately took "sound person" off her list of responsibilities so we could adjust to the audience space, it was extremely helpful to get a baseline from the performer's perspective. I'd like to think we stayed true to it ;-)

 

The combination of diminutive size, big sound, and fair price tag certainly caught the attention of Wonder (who lugs around a cobbled together live sound system for venues that don't include a sound system) and I suspect it was only the financial uncertainties of the touring road ahead that kept her from trying to purchase the evaluation unit.

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Trivia Night at Walkabout Brewery-

 

Let's be honest... trivia night at your local pub isn't exactly the first situation you think of when you think "good live sound". Add brewery taproom aesthetics (concrete floors, relatively sparce hard walls, low ceilings, the occasional flickering of neon tubing guaranteeing dirty electrical, and drunk people) and you've got almost the exact opposite challenge faced by outdoor venues. Maybe that's why there are typically two types of vocal projection at trivia nights... shouting over the crowd and pleading for quiet or a crappy Karaoke-cum-PA CE device purchased at Walmart.

 

That said, when I first proposed testing out the Reach to Walkabout's proprietor and brewmaster, there was a moment of silence while he imagined the muffled, bass-heavy abrasiveness of a BINGO announcer jolting his customers out of their conversations. Fortunately, his love of music (I met him through a coworker at Musician's Friend) and lackadaisical sentiments about what actually goes down in the tap room on a busy night granted me a "What the heck, why not", which I chose to take as an enthusiastic "Heck yeah!".

 

Apparently, cell phones, $5 ear buds, and flat-screen TVs have trained a large section of the non-musician community to accept the mere amplification of an audio signal as being sufficient recreation of sound, with exaggerated bass a a plus for arm-chair "enthusiasts"). The trivia master went from skepticism (and an unexpected amount of "microphone fear") to smiles in the five minutes it took me to load the Reach to the side of the bar, plug my SM58 directly into the Reach, and handed him my iPhone to tweak.

 

While the SM58 can be considered the lazy solution to mics, I felt that in a noisy environment where the purpose was to be heard clearly, the focused, somewhat upper-mid heavy SM58 would provide the right amount of cut and clarity without being aggressive. It did. While not the most trained (nor clear-headed) evaluators of audio engineering, the general consensus of the audience could be paraphrased as "He just sounded louder, not like he was using a loud speaker".

 

There isn't much to be done about a noisy, reflective room, but the claim of 150 degree dispersement held true, with even sound distribution throughout the tap room (especially when further back than five feet), meaning people in one corner of the room had a nearly identical experience to one sitting in the middle of the room, while the origin of the sound was still localized to the speaker.

 

Between rounds, we piped music through the Reach via an iPhone playlist that was decidedly better sounding than the venue's wall mounted system.

 

The result was a rapid and more-than-typically engaging trivia experience thankfully devoid of "What" and "Can you say that again". Given that trivia night is something on the verge of becoming a franchise-ready service within Southern Oregon, the ability to clearly communicate and insert music during down times made the Reach a potentially profitable acquisition for the host, who has gigs nearly four nights a weeks and gets paid based on audience participation, attendance, and tips.

 

 

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