Hands-On Review:Mackie HR824mk2 High Resolution Active Studio Reference Monitor
Mackie’s next-generation studio monitor reinvents the sweet spot
By Dana Ashe
Having first built my project studio in 1997, I’ve seen it go through a number of incarnations, all prompted by the enticement of “more features, better sound.” Since then, I’ve learned that not every upgrade equals an improvement—so when I find something that does the job right I’m inclined to stay with it. Such is the case with my Mackie HR824s. When it comes to monitors, I firmly believe that they’re the most important part of the audio chain. That’s why I was quite prepared to bite the bullet when choosing my monitors. At the time, I was leaning heavily in the direction of some highly touted European-made studio monitors. However, starting my studio on a shoestring budget forced some tough choices. I could spend more money on monitors and have less left over for actual sound-producing units, or try to find an affordable, comparable speaker. I had already bought my Mackie 32-8 based on the “thumbs up” of Eddie Kramer (producer of Jimi Hendrix), so I figured if Mackie could please his ears with a mixer, they should be able to do the same with monitors.
I did an A/B comparison with the recently (1996) released HR824s and the aforementioned European fare (at twice the price). Quite honestly, I didn’t hear a thousand dollars worth of difference. In fact, I actually found myself favoring the sound of the Mackies, particularly in the area of bass response. They’re accurate, non-fatiguing in long mixing sessions, and have a sweet spot that goes on forever. Once in place, I never thought about upgrading the HR824s to a “better” pair of monitors.
So, naturally, when a pair of Mackie HR824mk2 monitors landed on my doorstep for review, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. I wasn’t sure how Mackie could make the next generation any better outside of some very smart-looking repackaging. I was also a little concerned that the redesigned monitors would sound completely different than my trusty old HRs, and as such, I would have to relearn the sound in order to make a valid judgment. Worries aside, I plunged in.
Like its predecessor, the HR824mk2 is a two-way, active high-resolution monitor featuring an 8-3/4"
woofer and 1" tweeter. The first thing that struck meabout the HR824mk2 was its new look. The wood cabinet sports a glossy piano black finish, and the front features the new Zero Edge Baffle, a single piece of charcoal-gray cast aluminum that has rounded contours to minimize edge diffraction. Perched atop my speaker stands, they looked ultra-pro ... and super-smooth.
As with the original HRs, getting the HR824mk2s connected is a breeze. (Be sure to read the Quick Start guide, though—there are a few quick and easy things you need to do when turning them on for the first time.) You still have a choice of hookup options—XLR, TRS, or RCA—so you can connect the HR824mk2 to pretty much any interface, including home theater amplifiers. Since my monitors would be placed against a wall, I took advantage of the Acoustic Space selectors on the back, which allow you to compensate for room characteristics in relation to speaker placement.
Would the sound of the HR824mk2s match their sweet new look? Time to find out . . .
Low-down on the sound
I initially gave the HR824mk2s a listen with a couple of CDs. First up was a rock ’n’ roll classic, U2’s War. I was blown away. The drums were tight, the bass punchy, and I heard textures in the Edge’s guitar that I never knew were there. Next I tried something from the electronic genre: Imogen Heap’s Speak for Yourself. Even with several electronic and “organic” elements sharing the same frequency range, the songs sounded crystal clear. The piano lived comfortably amid synth pads and the alto timbre of Imogen’s voice. In the low end, I heard electronic thwips and thuds I hadn’t been able to decipher before without headphones. The folks at Mackie had somehow managed to improve the already killer bass extension of the HR824. Unbelievable!
As my next test, I pulled up a rough mix of a song I had recorded, a moderately paced alternative-pop number featuring a combination of instruments—drums, bass, keyboards, acoustic guitar, and vocals. Right away I could tell the mix was out of balance—too much low end and not enough mids. Scrapping the settings of my rough mix, I started over from scratch. It wasn’t long before the song fell into place. I could hear everything so clearly on the HR824mk2s, it was easy to determine where each element should live and how much EQ each track needed—if any at all.
I was really pleased with the final mix: the bass was super-detailed and tight, the mids on my acoustic guitar tracks were defined and articulate, and the highs shimmered—even on my HR824s, the cymbals never sounded so crisp. When I moved out of my usual sweet spot and walked around my studio, I was stunned—I could hear everything just as clearly, no matter where I stood. My sweet spot seemed to follow me wherever I went.
The last test involved trying out my mix on my lousy computer speakers, my home system, and my car stereo. The freshly mixed track played perfectly on all three—a testament to the accuracy of the HR824mk2s.
The last word
While I wouldn’t have thought it possible, Mackie has succeeded in preserving the character of the HR824, while delivering even better sound quality. The HR824mk2 offers incredible depth of field, superior bass extension with even more detail than its predecessor, ultra-articulate mids, and crisp, shimmering highs. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m ready to retire my HR824s and bring in the next generation. Heck, maybe I’ll get a couple of HR624mk2s for my home cinema setup too.