Mackie CR4 Review – Home Studio Monitors on a Budget

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So today we’ll be reviewing a pair of multimedia computer speakers, the Mackie CR4’s. I chose these for review because I was looking for a new set of computer speakers after the left speaker of my maudio av40’s started to go out on me after having owned them for only about 2 and a half years. So not wanting to buy any more m-audio crap, I decided to give the Mackies a try out.

Mackie is best known for making music studio equipment like loudspeakers, monitors and mixing boards and these are their entry level speakers, the cr4’s. They sell for a 150 bucks, and their main competitor in this price point are the maudio av42’s, which are the successor to the av40’s I previously owned.

The cr4’s are small stereo speakers designed to be used on your desk with your desktop or laptop for all types of media consumption like watching movies, listening to music, and playing video games, or for the amateur music producer looking for monitors on a tight budget.

So lets get these unboxed, go over some of the design and features, give you my sound and listening impressions and finally, let you know if they’re a good choice for use as your main desktop computer speakers

Design/Features

As you can see, these speakers have a simple, clean design and is one of the reasons I picked them. These are the limited edition version which just mean they have the silver trim here instead of the usual green color. The green color isn’t really my thing, but could look cool if you have certain razor branded products like a laptop or death adder chroma mouse or some kind green themed computer setup.

As far as included accessories, they include some red and black color high gauge (aka thin) speaker wire, a pair of rca’s and an 1/8 inch audio cable. One cool thing is they do include a nice set of foam isolation pads, which are good for keeping desk rattles and speaker vibrations to a minimum. And you can set them in a few different configurations, aiming them at a very slight upward or downward angle depending on how you plan on arranging them on at your desk.

back of mackie cr

The outside of the speakers have a nice powdered coated black matte texture to them, with a plastic baffle on the front. They measure 8.8 inches tall, 6.1 inches across and 7.3 inches deep. They use 4 inch woofers and ¾ inch tweeters. On the front we have a nicely dampened on/off volume knob that has a white light ring around it. I don’t prefer lights on the front of my speakers, but ultimately its not distracting or blindingly bright.

Moving down the speaker you have a convenient auxiliary port for plugging in a phone or other audio device and a headphone out. and then you have the Mackie logo on the bottom left, a stick figure man jamming out, a logo which I personally think is pretty cool, and kinda makes me wish they included a free sticker.

One added feature of these mackies (at least for speakers in the price range) is that they include  balanced trs inputs. If you don’t know what balanced inputs are they are just an audio input with a ground wire included inside. So as rca’s just have a positive and negative wire inside the cabling, balanced inputs have a positive negative and a ground, and having the ground basically just reduces noise and reduces interference in the audio signal. If you are going to be using these to mix or produce audio, then that is a nice feature to have.

On the back you also have your rca inputs, the bass ports, and spring clip speaker terminal mounts, which actually feel very sturdy for spring clips. Then of course you have an on/off switch and a non detachable power cable. Finally, one cool feature they have on the back is the ability to select which side you prefer your powered speaker on which is convenient for cable management or for choosing which side of your desk you prefer to have the speaker with the volume knob on.

Sound

I thought the sound quality on these speakers were nice, as I found them to be much clearer and louder than my maudios. With the volume control at max, these speakers did not distort until I started getting into the high 70s in the volume control in windows. With the volume knob set at 50%, the speakers played loud (easily into the 90 decibel range) and distortion free even with windows at 100% volume. So no complaints at all in the loudness department

I would have found these to be a good replacement set of computer speakers if I hadn’t unfortunately been spoiled by a pair of vanatoo t1’s that I auditioned just prior to these. But since those are more than 3x the cost, its really not a fair comparison. Listening to a variety of different music for many many hours, I was happy with how the Mackies performed but just I found them a bit too lacking in the low end for my taste. Given that they’re only rated to play down to 70 hz, this shouldn’t come as too big a surprise as its about all you could reasonable expect for speakers with only 4 inch woofers.

There was also a slight hiss similar to the audioengine speakers I tried out (which was ultimately a deal breaker for me with those), but this isn’t noticeable at all unless you are putting your ear right up to the speaker, and would not have been a deal breaker for me at this price point.

For $150 bucks, these are a good set of desktop computer speakers but ONLY if you plan on doing any kind of audio or production work with them, as they do provide very clear and detailed sound and play decently flat. But I think if you mainly play a lot of media on your computer like music listening, movie watching, or video gaming you would be a lot happier getting a nice 2.1 speaker system like the Logitech Z623. The paired subwoofer in that system will give you a more robust and better listening experience overall at a slightly better price, although won’t be quite as accurate. But the logitechs are my goto recommendation for computer speakers under $150 bucks.

However, if you already have a decent subwoofer in your setup to pair with these mackies, then I would definitely recommend giving them a try.

vanatoos vs mackie cr4

I actually ended up purchasing an 8 inch martin logan subwoofer to pair with these, and as you can imagine that made a really huge difference. Much more  full and complete sound, but it also nearly doubled the total system price so at that point I decided to go ahead and spend a little more scratch and keep the vanatoo’s transparent ones, and I was happy that I did.

Now the Mackie cr’4s are definitely not a bad set of computer speakers and would be a great choice for music producers who are looking for an inexpensive pair of studio monitors, but I just think for most people and what they use their computers for a dedicated and matched 2.1 speaker setup would be a more ideal and cost effective solution.

PROS:

  • clear and accurate
  • good inputs/controls
  • decent studio monitors for price

CONS:

  • not enough bass for typical computer user

Check the latest pricing on Amazon.

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13 Responses

    • they are clearer. the av40’s are solid, but i dont’ trust maudio as much as mackie as my older av40’s died on me. the cr4’s are a slight step up.

  1. Hello! Great review! I was wondering how did you connect the speakers to the sub? I want a 2.1 sound system with crystal clear audio and a deep bass and that seems to be the best solution.Thanks

    • hey john, you just would need to hookup your sub to the back of your pc, assuming you have a sub/center channel out on the back. do you have that?

  2. Hello,
    Your review game me some real nice ideas to consider. I wanted to get the Mackie’s CR4 but was really worried about the lack of bass. Putting a subwoofer would probably fix my issues.
    Would you say getting the CR3s along with an 8′ sub would give me a decent sound?
    Also, I wanted to use the Mackies as an amp for a synthesizer, but is there any way to connect the subwoofer to the monitors? Or am I just asking for too much from this basic setup?

    Thank you

    • hey raphael, i think you may be asking a bit much. there is no way to power the sub from these monitors. you have space issues? i would def get the cr4’s over the cr3’s you will lose too much midrange even with an 8″ sub.

      • I see… One can dream hahaha
        Space is somewhat an issue, but it can be fixed. I think the CR4 might the best option in the end.
        Thank you for your response!

  3. Good review, but I must correct you here, buddy.

    All unbalanced wires have a ground connection.

    What balanced cables do is add a negative wire which sends an inverse signal to the one being sent by the positive wire.
    The signal is then flipped at the transformer stage, thus cancelling
    spikes/interference.

    Its a process called ‘common mode rejection’.

    Your welcome!

  4. Rant mode: ONPersonally, I think it’s all a bunch of hooey, Genelecs on down the line. I think we’ve all been duped. These are all supposed to be reefcenre monitors , right? Analogous to a calibration microphone, an acoustical coupling measuring device , if you like. Supposedly with no coloration, not favoring one frequency over another so one can get at the unbiased sonic truth of things. But not one of these speakers is anywhere near ruler flat . It’s all semantics and marketing. If they’re not flat, if they’re not sonically accurate, then what makes these so-called reefcenre monitors any different than any other [decent] consumer speaker where subjectivity is the name of the game? (i.e., I like this one, I like that one. This one seems to translate well. etc.) Why not just go out and buy whatever you like, then run everything through an EQ to suit your personal subjective taste? I’m sorry, but I don’t see the difference. On top of everything, you throw crossovers and the enormous effects of your room (near-field or not) into the mix, and what semblance could there possibly be of an accurate reefcenre?One person in this blog/thread pretty much nailed it. First, you need to minimize your room’s standing waves and reflections any way you can (there are easy ways to determine what your standing wave frequencies are based on your room dimensions). Then you need to place a calibration microphone ($50-$100) in the sweet spot and pink the room using a pink noise generator and an RTA (Real Time Analyzer). (Allen & Heath sells a simple software third-octave RTA for about $20 that works just fine.) Then you need to compensate for what the room and the speakers (and crossovers) are doing to your sound by using maybe a third-octave EQ. Or, another real simple yet effective way to do this, though not terribly cheap (yet cheaper than some monitors), is by using IK Multimedia’s ARC (Acoustic Room Correction) plugin ($600), which is awesome. (I’m not a dealer.) It very effectively eliminates the unwanted effects of your speakers, your speaker’s crossovers, and the room itself, not to mention correcting for phase distortions.Until you address these basics, you’ll have to just accept the fact that your sound your sonic point of reefcenre is colored, affected, biased, subjective. In other words, certain loud resonant frequencies will be masking their quieter neighboring frequencies and you won’t be getting an accurate representation of what’s going on. It’s already hard enough trying to mix and master knowing what the average person is going to do to your music by playing it on every kind of speaker in every kind of room (or car) imaginable. If you think your reefcenre monitors (in your room) are telling you the truth, try measuring them sometime. You’ll be shocked.

    • you make some great points really. i mean people should manage expectations on a pair of 150 powered desktop speakers. i don’t think anyone seriously thinks they are getting ‘reference’ quality with these guys.

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