Field Test: Mackie HR626

Sep 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Daniel Keller

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Let's face it, monitor reviews are tough. Trying to describe with words how something sounds is like the old tale about the four blind men and the elephant: Each one has a completely different idea of what it is, based on what part of the beast he's touching. In discussing speakers, no matter what music and methods you use to base your judgments on, your chances of finding common ground with a majority of people are pretty close to nil.

But despite being the single-most subjective item in the studio, monitors are, beyond a doubt, the most indispensable. Whether we're painstakingly tweaking the EQ on a high-resolution orchestral master or slicing and dicing 12-bit loops on a hip hop track, we make our decisions based on nothing more than how it sounds. And, finding a set of speakers that will tell the truth, time and time again, is somewhat akin to unearthing the Holy Grail.

The concept of powered monitors is unarguably a great one. An amp and speaker perfectly matched, with an absolute minimum of cable capacitance between them, opens a world of possibilities for new sonic-performance benchmarks. The convenience factor's not bad either, with less cable and easier setup and calibration, particularly in creating a surround system.

The HR626 monitors (MSRP: $899/each) are the latest in Mackie's line of powered near-fields, aimed at filling a niche between the larger HR824 and the more diminutive HR624. The HR626 employs two 6-inch woofers, the design concept being to maintain the more midrange sonic characteristic of the smaller, lower-mass cone while achieving greater low-end extension than a single six. The HR626 sports the same passive radiator technology as the HR824, which also helps the bottom end. A 1-inch domed tweeter sits between the woofers. A 100-watt amp powers the bottom end, with a 40W amp for the tweeter.

TAKING THEM FOR A SPIN

I worked with a pair of the HR626s in my project room, a large (30×18) and relatively live space. I set the speakers on decoupled pedestals about three feet in front of a treated flat wall. Mackie incorporates a three-position switch to adjust low-frequency response based on whether the monitors are placed in a corner, against a flat wall or away from vertical surfaces. Input connections were courtesy of a pair of matched Mogami cables with ¼-inch Switchcraft connectors on either end, connected to the outputs of a Tascam FW-1884 audio interface. The bulk of my source material was final mixes played back via S/PDIF from a Denon CD player, as well as their original multitrack sessions in Steinberg's Nuendo.

I chose an intentionally eclectic variety of source material, including neo-'90s grunge, acoustic-flavored jazz, punky post-'80s ska, and theater music featuring both a string quartet and synthetic textural atmospheres. For reference's sake, I would occasionally A/B the Mackies with the familiar monitors I've mixed on for nearly a decade: an exceptionally accurate speaker built by Bob Norberg, the mastering guru at Capitol Studios in Hollywood.

Generally speaking, the differences to the Norbergs were subtle. The Mackies offered little by way of surprises, and that's a good thing. Low-frequency content was tight, without being boomy (though I can certainly see where a sub would be useful in some bass-heavy contexts). Higher frequencies were clear without being overly shrill, and imaging was spot-on, with subtle nuances in the mix turning up right where I remembered them.

Mackie's documentation suggests that you can mount the HR626s either vertically or horizontally. In practice, I found the center sweet spot to be a bit too narrow when using them in the vertical position; if you tend to swivel in your chair now and then (okay, I admit to it), some center-panned aspects tend to move with you a bit too much. I noticed little of this with the speakers in a horizontal orientation, where the sweet spot was more generous.

The HR626s really shine in the mid-range, where many monitors, particularly powered ones, tend to falter and miss the mark. Some systems under-compensate, producing a tone with warmth but lacking in subtle definition. Others are too aggressive, with a brightness that, after a few hours, is like fingernails on a chalkboard. But even after working with the Mackies for over eight hours, I felt very little in the way of that all-too-familiar fuzzy and fatigued feeling.

As for how loud they'll go, I don't do a lot of earbleed mixing, but I pumped them up to 11 for a few minutes at a time. The 626s have a compressor-based safety net to keep the components from being damaged at high SPLs, but I never really heard it kick in at a high level. I'm sure that there's a point where it becomes operational, but it seems to be pretty close to the pain threshold.

SUMMING IT UP

No amount of verbiage will substitute for your own ears. For my part, I'd be quite comfortable having the HR626s as my primary monitors. They translate well across the full spectrum, have a nice tight image and don't get in your face. Personally, I couldn't ask for more.

Mackie, 800/258-6883, www.mackie.com.


Daniel Keller is a Southern California-based writer, musician and audio geek. He is currently installing a surround system to better monitor the voices in his head.






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