Mackie CR3 Review – The Best Budget Monitors?

I’ve always loved my music loud but after the birth of my son, I reduced the size of my studio space. I no longer needed (and couldn’t) have the volume as loud as I had before. This led me on the path of finding good quality studio monitors that were on the smaller side. There are a lot of options out there. In this review, I’ll cover one of the most popular small studio monitors available today.

Does Size Matter?

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make when buying studio monitors is what size to buy. When it comes to speakers size does matter. Generally the bigger the woofer the louder the speaker. But bigger isn’t always better.

The first thing to consider is the size of your studio space. A small room doesn’t need a huge speaker to fill it with sound. In some cases having a speaker that is too large for the room is a drawback. You’ll find that you won’t be using the speaker to its full capacity to fill your studio space with a decent level of volume. In that case, you have spent more than what you needed to spend. Likewise, you may find that the large size of the speakers cramps your available space for other components of your studio. A cluttered and cramped environment is not inviting. It’s also not good for productivity.

If you have a large studio space you’ll be better off investing in a larger set of studio monitors. Sound can quickly be lost in a large space with small monitors. If you want to be able to fill the room with decent volume opt for a larger monitor. You don’t want to be pushing small monitors at maximum volume for extended periods of time. This will lead to blowing your speakers or at least damaging the sound quality.

There is a lot to consider when setting up your sound system. It is worth noting that most studio monitors are designed for near-field listening. Usually within about a meter (3 feet). This doesn’t mean a studio monitor can’t pump out some serious volume to fill a room. Considering how you will be using your studio monitors and what their primary role will be can help refine your choices. A small studio monitor is still a valid choice in a large space if you only ever plan on monitoring in front of your workspace.

Should I Get A Subwoofer?

There is another thing to consider when purchasing studio monitors. Most studio monitors do benefit from the addition of a studio subwoofer. This becomes more prevalent in the smaller woofer sizes. Many of the smaller studio monitors can handle mids and highs well but can struggle with the lower frequencies. Adding a subwoofer is a good way to ease the pressure on your small monitors and deliver you a better sound profile.

Close-up photo of a subwoofer element.

You’ll need to invest in a subwoofer if you want punchy bass. Especially if you purchase small studio monitors.

Luckily you do not need to commit to buying a subwoofer from the outset. Once you find studio monitors you are happy with you can always upgrade your sound setup with a subwoofer down the track. But keep this in mind when comparing the costs of a smaller studio monitor compared to a larger monitor that may not need a subwoofer. You can learn more about adding a subwoofer to your home studio in our detailed guide.

Mackie CR3 Review

The Mackie CR3 promises to give you high-quality flat sound at an affordable price. A compact 3-inch sized woofer makes it a good choice for a small studio or those without the need for epic volume. With a few extra features built-in for extra flexibility it aims to please both the beginner and professional. Does it succeed? Let’s check out some of the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Affordable Entry-Level Option
  • Good Sound Quality
  • Loud For The Size
  • Attractive Design
  • Front Input Options

Cons

  • Not The Best Build Quality
  • Lacking In Bass
>> CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON <<

Features

Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of what the Mackie CR3 studio monitors offer and see if they are a good option for your studio.

Sound

For a 3 inch sized speaker, these are pretty good. The mids and highs are solid. The bass is unfortunately lacking. Given the size of the monitor its not surprising. If you do enjoy the low-end frequencies you’ll need to invest in a subwoofer to complement these.

Offering a nice flat sound is critical to good studio monitors. While these are not amazing they are an upgrade over generic computer speakers. They are also surprisingly loud considering the size.

Clarity is good at all volume levels. For those with a more refined ear, they may not be as satisfying. Any audiophile will notice the difference compared to more expensive speakers.

Build Quality

The Mackie CR3 studio monitors are built well but do not compare to some more expensive options. While rugged and offering a decent amount of heft they are not overbearing in weight. As always I recommend you treat your speakers with care. The materials used are decent but not high-end. That is to be expected at this price point.

There have been reports that the left/right switch on the back can cause issues leading these monitors to eventually fail. Luckily it seems after sales support appears to be fairly solid.

Either way when picking these be mindful that you’ll likely need a new set of studio monitors in a couple of years. If you are on a budget these will do the job. For the longer term, you may need to invest in a new pair. Or at that point, you may be in a position to buy a longer lasting pair of studio monitors.

Specifications

The 3-inch woofer is well suited for a smaller studio or for near field listening. The frequency response of 60Hz to 20 kHz makes these able to represent a good range of frequencies for clear sound. At 97 dB these are reasonably loud especially when you consider their size.

Mackie CR3 Specifications.

The small footprint makes the Mackie CR3 an excellent choice as a bookshelf speaker.

It’s also worth noting that these come with all the cables you need. Also included is a pair of isolation pads. These pads prevent vibrations and help to give you better sound quality. Considering the price point this is a nice touch.

Made primarily from MDF these weigh in at 9 pounds (just over 4kg). A nice combination of solidness without adding a heap of weight to your shelves.

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Tuning Options

No tuning options are available on the Mackie CR3 studio monitors. Any changes you may want to make to the sound profile will need to be handled via your audio interface/software. Considering the price point on these I’m not surprised there are no tuning options. These types of features are usually reserved for more expensive monitors.

Design

The Mackie CR3’s go for a punchy design. The box is covered with a matte vinyl coating which looks smart and appealing. The green accents around the tweeter and woofer add a nice splash of lively color.

The volume knob also illuminates when on with the same green hue. Luckily it isn’t overly bright so if you work in a dark environment you won’t feel like the aliens are knocking at your door! These compact bookshelf style speakers will blend naturally with the rest of your studio. But, the added splash of color still allows them to make a visual impact.

Inputs

This is where these studio monitors offer a few options often not found at this price point. Some of these features are not something you would normally associate with studio monitors. It goes to show a desire to appeal to both the casual crowd as well as more seasoned professionals.

The front offers both a headphone input and also an AUX input. Having an option to connect your smartphone straight into the front of the speaker allows for a little bit of extra flexibility.

Mackie CR3 connection options.

Beyond the extra front-facing connections, the Mackie CR3 offers good choices in the back.

The back offers both balanced and unbalanced connection options. This is also where you can find the left and right selection switch. This clever inclusion allows you to set whether the main speaker is the left or right. This gives you the maximum flexibility in placement. Prefer to have your volume control to your left? It’s as easy as a flick of the switch.

Value

There is no denying these are good value. With decent sound and some clever features. You will be hard pressed to find another studio monitor at this price point that offers as much as the Mackie CR3’s give.

>> CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON <<

What Others Have To Say

So what do other people think of the Mackie CR3’s? Most seem to be happy with the sound offered by these small bookshelf speakers. Some have highlighted the issues around durability but there is no denying these are a popular set of studio monitors.

Text Reviews of the Mackie CR3s

Other Options

With so much choice out there it’s worth mentioning a few other options. You can also check out our guide to the best studio monitors for DJs where we cover them in a bit more detail.

JBL 305P MkII Review

If you love your bass and have a bit more to spend the JBL 305P MkII are an excellent choice. The bigger 5-inch woofer gives you greater depth on the lower end.

  • Excellent sound stage with a large sweet spot.
  • Great sound quality at all frequencies with added tuning options.
  • Not as budget friendly.
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>> FULL JBL 305P MKII REVIEW <<

Edifier R1280DB Review

Moving to a 4-inch option the Edifier R1280DB offers some different multimedia focused features. A remote is included making these a good option for connecting to other devices like a TV.

  • Good overall balanced and flat sound.
  • Convenient bass, treble and volume control placement on the side of the speaker.
  • Does start to distort at higher volumes.
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>> FULL EDIFIER R1280DB REVIEW <<

Yamaha HS8 review

Overbearing for a small space but dazzling quality make these an attractive option for larger studio spaces. Be prepared to pay for it though as these begin to move into the mid-tier realm of studio monitors.

  • Excellent sound quality.
  • The accurate flat sound makes these great for analytical listening.
  • Bass is very flat. This is great for mixing but not so great for general listening.
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>> FULL YAMAHA HS8 REVIEW <<

Should You Buy?

Considering the price point Mackie has done a great job. The Mackie CR3 studio monitors are perfectly suited as entry-level studio monitors for those starting out on a budget. I would take these over generic computer speakers any day of the week.

There certainly are better studio monitors available. You will, of course, need to pay a lot more. This is where I think some people lose sight of what these are. I wouldn’t recommend these to a sound engineer. Yet, for the person setting up their small home studio on a budget, these are a great start.

>> CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON <<
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Patryk Biernacki

Patryk Biernacki

For over 20 years I've been involved in the world of DJing. Now I want to share my experience so that DJing is more accessible for anyone with a passion for music.

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