In my personal studio, I've relied on ADAM S3-A's (Tape Op #33) as my main monitors for the past five years. But for many years before that, I counted on Mackie HR824's. I purchased the HR's after bringing home and demo'ing speakers from JBL, Genelec, and KRK-pretty much all that was available back then for powered monitors I could afford. Although I thought the Genelecs were best at reproducing detail, the Mackies were half the cost, had better low-end extension, and mixes I completed on them translated better. I bought the Mackies. (By the way, I've mentioned this before, but I'll say it again. If you're serious about gear, it's always best to demo that gear in your own space, at your own pace, and on your own work. This is especially true for speakers, because the same speaker will sound very different as you move it from room to room. Therefore, it's a good idea to maintain a relationship with a dealer that will not only provide you with informed advice but will also allow you to demo gear in your own studio.) So when I unpacked and fired up a pair of Mackie's new HR824mk2 monitors, I was both happy to be reacquainted with an old friend and pleasantly surprised that my friend now has more brains, more beauty, and more brawn than
when we last spent time together. Like the first incarnation, the new HR824mk2 is bi-
amped, one amplifier each for the 8.75" woofer and the 1" tweeter, and there's a flat, honeycomb-structured passive radiator in the back. Due to the additional surface area that the passive radiator contributes, the HR824 (both original and mk2) is capable of producing much lower frequencies than hinted by its size, and it doesn't suffer from vent noise like ported designs sometimes do. New to the mk2 version is a titanium-dome tweeter (as opposed to aluminum) and a massive, cast-aluminum front plate that incorporates a carefully-calculated waveguide for the tweeter and smooth, radiused edges all around. The mk2's slightly-larger speaker cabinet is finished in a piano-like mirrored finish, but below the skin it retains wood construction, purportedly because the designers felt that the wood imparted a more natural sound than metal, in line with the original HR's.
Even if two different speakers have similar specifications or were built from similar design goals, pretty much every speaker "family" I've heard has had an identifying personality that can't be explained by measurements. My original HR's are very neutral sounding, with a tendency to get a bit too thick in the low mids when pushed hard, but without any of the "hyped" bottom or top end that many other affordable studio monitors seem to exhibit. They tend to "disappear" and become transparent very easily for me, so I can concentrate on the mix instead of how the sound is getting to my ears. Speaking to the folks at Mackie, I expected the mk2 to be a very subtle step up from the original. Mackie didn't want to revoice the speaker; in fact, they wanted to keep its voicing as close to the original as they could while improving what they could by leveraging the expertise of engineers both at Mackie and sister company EAW. In that light, the engineers have succeeded.
My first listen on the HR824mk2 pair in my carefully-treated control room was of the high-resolution (24-bit, 88.2 kHz) pre-mastered mix of "In Defense Of" by A Town Called Robot, the 44.1 kHz mastered version of which is on the freebie CD that comes with Tape Op: The Book About Creative Music Recording, Vol. II. This song, my favorite on the CD, was engineered by long-time gear reviewer Chris Garges. It's a great reference track with lots of open space, density,
cohesiveness, tasteful use of effects, and an artistful balance of grit alongside pure tones-a very dynamic mix with fantastic sounds all-around.
A/B'ing between the old and the new versions of the HR824 (yes, I still have my original HR's), the mk2 does indeed have the same personality as the original. It's still very neutral, it's still unhyped, and it still exhibits a bit of low-mid swampiness, although much less so. But along with the reduction in midrange murk, there's a huge improvement in imaging, and the highs are significantly more detailed. The low end also has more clarity. Perhaps much of this is due to the smooth, solid, one-piece aluminum baffle-less resonance and less edge diffraction. These improvements are definitely not subtle, but again, the mk2 does not wander far from the original Mackie HR sound, like it or not. Me? I'm a fan.
The HR824mk2 sounds well-balanced across the whole spectrum. Highs aren't too hot. Lows are prominent and smooth down to frequencies that many project studio rooms, limited by physical size and/or lack of proper bass treatment, can't handle anyway. And if the low mids are still a little bit cloudy, that only makes you work that portion of the mix harder (which in my mind, is the toughest area to get right). I've heard more than one fellow engineer say that they dislike the original Mackie HR824 because of its supposed smiley curve response. I couldn't disagree more. Perhaps these engineers have become accustomed to monitors that lack the original HR's or mk2's very extended lows-much more than other speakers of similar size.
Switching between my ADAM S3-A pair and the Mackie HR824mk2 pair, I immediately appreciated the wider sweet spot of the HR824mk2. In conjunction, the mk2 has better dispersion than the S3-A. The ADAM is slightly uneven as you move left to right; the horizontal arrangement of the drivers is probably to blame, causing phase cancellation near the crossover region as you move your ears in the horizontal plane. Because of the HR824mk2's vertical driver arrangement, the phase of the drivers remains constant as you move your head sideways. Unfortunately, the HR824mk2 tweeter's waveguide necessitates the fairly large distance between the mk2's drivers, and it's not hard to pinpoint the location of each driver, even when you're not trying. The HR824mk2 has more usable low end than the S3-A, reaching down to 35 Hz with no trouble. But the ADAM sounds tighter between 80 Hz and 160 Hz, as well as in the midrange. Keep in mind that the S3-A is four times the cost of the HR824mk2-$2675 vs. $650 street-and the two speakers have very different personalities.
I originally mixed the Tape Op book's CD track of Bettie Serveert's "1 Off Deal" on my ADAMs. The song was performed live in my studio-all the instruments recorded in a single take followed by Carol's vocal performance in a second, single take. It was pretty much a "flat fader" mix, strictly in the spirit of the half-day, put-up-some-mics-and-hit-record tracking session. Later when I revisited the mix, I wasn't happy with it for a number of reasons, so I did a second mix with much more care taken into finding a place for each instrument and working with all the bleed between the mics. For this second attempt, I mixed on the Mackies, and as I mentioned earlier, the HR824mk2 really made me concentrate on cleaning up the low mids. In the end, I was happy with the result, and it still very much retained its "recorded live" character. Jeff Lipton of course worked his mastering magic to make my mix sound even clearer, but as Jeff knows, I tend to favor a warmer midrange and I tend not to scoop out the mids or add highs. What came back from mastering didn't change in character from what I heard mixing on the Mackies. Also worth noting here are some of the nice touches that exemplify the care (and humor) the people at Mackie put into their products. For example, the well-designed packaging includes an inner cardboard "caddy" that not only protects the drivers during shipping but also allows you to safely lift the monitor out of the box without breaking your back (or the monitor). The Mackie logo on the front panel rotates if you want to mount the speaker sideways or upside down. The logo actually looks like a washer/dryer knob that should be pulled and turned; that's how I discovered that you could re-orient it without tools. The light around the pushbutton power switch is a soft, white glow from a diffused LED, not a naked, burn-yer-eye-out blue LED; it turns red on overload. There are OmniMount receiver holes in the bottom of the cabinet, so hanging them on a wall is a no-brainer. The controls on the rear panel and down-facing connectors are labeled with explanations that are better than what you read in most user manuals. And speaking of the user manual, it's well written, and some of the expected Mackie-style jokes are actually funny now... or maybe my sense of humor has changed as I've gotten older! Speakers are a very personal choice, but I would not hesitate to recommend the HR824mk2 to anyone looking for a neutral, active studio monitor.
($849.99 MSRP each; www.mackie.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.