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Getting started with your home recording studio is kind of a big deal. Whether it’s starting a podcast, or making music we always have to invest in some essential home recording studio equipment. Fortunately, companies like Mackie have stepped up and provided tons of affordable and reliable studio equipment.
One of these essentials is the studio monitors. Studio headphones are nice and all but if you are making music, you must get a feel for the audio when it’s delivered through a couple of loudspeakers as well.
This is where the Mackie CR3-X Studio monitors come into play. They are the best studio monitors when it comes to providing the best bang for your buck. The monitors can deliver objectively accurate audio and the form factor on these monitors is small enough to fit into a home studio without compromising on performance. So in this article, I’ll go over the Mackie CR3-X in terms of its design, sound performance, and reasons why you may want to supplement your $100 studio headphones with this pair of affordable studio monitors.
Table of Contents
Drivers: 3” Woofer, 0.75” Tweeter
Frequency Range: 80Hz-20kHz
Channels: Stereo (2-channel)
Wired Connectivity: 1 x ¼” TRS pair, 1 x RCA pair, 1 x ⅛” TRS (3.5mm Stereo in), 1 x ⅛” TRS (3.5mm Stereo Out for headphones)
Wireless Connectivity: Separate Bluetooth model available for purchase
Dimensions: 7.1”x5.5”x8.1” (LxWxH)
Software Included: Pro Tools First, Musician Collection of Plug-ins
Looks and Build Quality
At a glance, these studio monitors look very stylish. The all-black cabinet has a rough egg-shell finish with the front metal plate having a brushed and smooth texture. The 3” woofers look pretty intimidating along with the 0.75” tweeters located above the woofers. There is no speaker grille covering the drivers and therefore, might look a little too exposed. Nonetheless, the green trim adds a nice touch although it won’t go well if you’re color coordinating your entire setup.
There’s the Mackie logo on the bottom left of each driver and they light up when the drivers are turned on. On the front of the main monitor, there’s a volume control knob and a ⅛” TRS (3.5mm) port for headphone stereo output.
All in all, these Mackie CR3-Xs look pretty decent and have a modest (yet modern) appearance to them. However, despite their appearance, these monitors do not feel very sturdy, and because of the bookshelf-style design, the drivers do not project sound at an upward angle. So you might need to use a desktop stand or a wedge if you feel like the audio doesn’t reach the same level as your ears.
Controls and I/O
The controls and connectivity options on these studio monitors are pretty basic, yet they have a couple of extra tricks that make them very flexible and easy to work with.
At the back of the active speaker, there are options to connect a ¼” TRS pair, an RCA pair, and an unbalanced Stereo In. Unfortunately, there are no XLR, USB, or Optical I/O ports. Therefore, depending on your setup you might have to purchase some adapters or a decent audio interface that works with Windows.
One noteworthy feature about this pair of monitors is the ability to switch the stereo channel in the active speaker between left and right. It’s a small thing but helps tremendously when you don’t have enough space or cable length.
Another awesome feature is the stereo out 3.5mm port on the front panel of the active speaker. This is quite handy when you have to switch over to studio headphones. It provides an extra port so you don’t have to plug back into the interface. Also, you don’t have to manually turn down the volume when using headphones as the speakers stop producing when the front port is plugged in.
When it comes to imaging and soundstage, these pair of monitors are pretty basic but they get the job done. Both channels can be distinguished very easily and they rarely cross over unless the monitors are placed too close to each other. Fortunately, the 6.5 foot long passive speaker cable is more than enough to keep them apart and the channel switching feature (switch the active monitor between left and right stereo) also helps with setting up the environment. Speaking of which, beginners: make sure to soundproof your studio properly before you invest in these studio monitors.
Distortion at higher volumes is very common for small affordable studio monitors and the pair of Mackie CR3-X studio monitors are no exception. These aren’t advanced enough to employ DSP (Digital Signal Processing) technologies, so you better be prepared for this. Fortunately, you won’t have to turn the volume down too low to hear the distortion go away.
The 3-inch polypropylene-coated woofers are impressive for the price. The audio is neutral and accurate enough for most applications, even at distortion-free lower volumes. However, the frequency range of these studio monitors is 70Hz to 20kHz, so when getting down to low frequencies, especially in the sub-bass range, it’s going to sound a little weak and thin.
Another thing to note is that this pair doesn’t have a subwoofer output, and you will have to use one separately or get the model that includes the CR8S-XBT subwoofer. I recommend going for a wireless subwoofer to connect with your audio interface.
In conclusion, this pair of studio monitors are undoubtedly more focused on the highs. The audio is accurate and the 0.75-inch silk-dome tweeters happen to do a very impressive job. Everything on the upper end of the spectrum is very neutral and distinct.
What’s In The Box?
1 x Pair of Mackie CR3-X studio monitors
1 x RCA cable
1 x 3.5mm aux cord (⅛” TRS)
1 x Passive speaker power cord
What We Like
Left and Right channels can be switched easily
Know Before Buying
Base unit lacks Bluetooth
Missing USB connectivity options
No subwoofer output
The Mackie CR3-X Studio monitors are one of the best studio monitors for beginner home recording studios. Mackie provides these accurate-sounding monitors at a very reasonable price. Although these monitors are very flexible and easy to work with, there are some notable quirks such as the distortion at high volumes, weak sub-bass, and the lack of tuning options. So if you are considering this pair, I recommend that you compliment your setup with a solid audio interface and a decent subwoofer.