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Mackie HD1531 & HD1801

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Evan Kirkendall:
 Well, as some of you guys know, I picked up a "small" self powered PA to handle my local shows. My goals with this system were easy ins & outs, lightweight, loud and good sounding.

I explored many options. Everything Guitar Center carried, some recommendations here from the LAB and even some older powered stuff no longer in production. The Mackie HD series caught my eye early on, and I was skeptical at best. Mackie hasn't had the best track record, and their powered speakers seemed to have fallen behind the times.

I had a solid day of demoing gear at Guitar Center. We used my tracks to listen to with nothing in line other then a Mackie Onyx. I listened to the JBL and QSC offerings, as well as a few other powered boxes. The Mackie was the only powered speaker at Guitar Center that wasn't a toy. I also listened to the EV ZX5a, and RCF offerings. Neither impressed me.

So, I settled for a small Mackie rig of 2 HD1531 tops, and 2 HD1801 subs.

The form factor of the cabs are great. The HD1531 is way smaller then the QSC and JBL boxes, and looks a lot more "pro." The HD1801 sub is a cube, and easy enough to move. I can get the HD1531 & 1801 into my truck alone, but I need another person to get the tops on a pole. Build quality is top notch too. They're made from real wood, and have a tough finish on them. They've got a bunch of fly points as well.

So, let's get on to the testing. First, some SMAART traces I took today. It should be noted that all measurements were in the ground plane.


The Orange trace is with the EQ in the flat position. The blue track was with the hi-shelf on the box turned to +3.


Full system:

I didn't really care too much about the full range response, but rather how the boxes played together at the crossover point. The green trace is with both boxes running full range. There was a noticeable dip at 160hz, as well as the overall "fullness" of the LF. But, when the top was high passed via the 1801's output, things smoothed way out and sounded much better(purple).

Alright, so how's it sound? Unfortunately, due to poor weather today, I had to move indoors to do my listening tests. I took 2 subs, 1 top and fired up the system. First, I just wanted to hear how the boxes sounded. No EQ, straight from my console to the speakers. I played some familiar tracks and right away the 200hz bump SMAART showed me was noticeable. No problem, I took the mid sweepable EQ on the back of the box, and cut it 3dB. Problem gone! I also took the high shelf and turned it to +3dB for some extra sparkle. It should be noted that the EQ on these boxes is DSP based!

So basic listening after a little EQ, here's my notes on the tops:
-Very smooth sounding cabinets.
-Nice crisp top end, but not overbearing
-Detailed midrange, smooth, not honky at all.
-Solid low mids.

Overall, they're very nice sounding cabinets. I decided to push them up to limit to see how they reacted. First, I ran some pink noise until the limit light started to flash. As advertised, they will do 126dBC @ 1m. So, I grabbed some more test tracks, and cranked it up. I was expecting a red light after the yellow light, but I could not find one. Even so, they stayed very clean, and controlled all the way into solid limit. You can hear the limiters doing their job, but it's not bad sounding at all. Much much better then some other self powered boxes in the same price range.

Sub wise, Mackie finally learned how to build a sub. It packs a lot of punch for it's small size. Plenty of low extension, and a solid thump. They get loud, and stay clean all the way up to limit. If you try to push in the 35-40hz range you hit limit a lot faster and you can hear the drivers getting a little sloppy. But, other then that, they are very solid. Even into solid limit, they do not bottom out and they stay clean. I can hear some of the low lows go away as you push them harder, but it's not bad at all. For a single 18 self powered box under $1,000, you'll be hard pressed to find something better. You'll want 2 subs per 1 HD1531 though if you like a lot of LF like me.

I was originally planing to drive the system with a DSP and do my EQ & HPF/LPF's in it, but after playing with the system today, I decided that all I need is a graphic EQ at FOH for some minor tweaks during the show. Everything else is already done for me.  

Overall, you'll be hard pressed to find something better for the money. I bought 2 subs and 2 tops for well under $4,000, and everything was brand new in the box. These make all other self powered speakers in this price range look like toys. I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone. Mackie finally got their shit together and came out with a great box, thanks to EAW.

I'm going to be putting these guys through their paces over the coming weeks, and I will report back.


Michael J Brown:
Cool review!

Always awesome to hear people being more than pleasantly surprised by their purchases! If we could always be so lucky!

To be honest I have always liked the Mackie active line starting with the 450's.... The first rental/production company I worked for really embraced them when they first came to market (and the rest of the Mackie active line) and made an absolute KILLING with them because the cost is low, easy to setup and use, and the sound is at minimum DECENT if not above expectations.

I know its the cool thing to do sometimes to bash on Mackie, but they do make a nice product all things considered.

All their pieces have exceeded my expectations (sometimes with a little nudge by some processing) for the cost.

Loren Jones:
Hey Evan,

Thanks for the nice review.  I have had my eye on these tops for our church youth system.  I think from reading the forums that you have experience with with Yorkville U15's.  Any thoughts on how the sound of these Mackies compares to the U15(P)?

Enjoy your new rig.

Loren Jones

Pat Latimer:
Great review, Evan. I'm looking forward to you putting them through the, "Evan Torture Test".  I'm up in the air between this package and the new QSC KW series package. Let us know ASAP after your gigs. Thanks for the review.


Jeff Babcock:
The phase response of the HD1531 clearly shows Gunness Focusing in effect.  It doesn't get any better than that.  I was expecting the Mackie might be crippled in some way compared to EAW's offerings relating to the Focusing and limiting, but it doesn't look like many corners have been cut here.

I think I'm going to pick a pair up.  Nice to hear that the sub is improved too.  Their previous 18" sub was junk.  Nice transition at the crossover from sub to top too.


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