Mackie’s new Freeplay series will turn a lot of heads, for its looks, size and sound. Completely redesigned from its previous version, the Freeplay family is divided into three separate units (Go, Home and LIVE), each serving a slightly different purpose. The Freeplay LIve, our review unit, is a great sounding, very portable 150W Personal PA for musicians that is powered either from the wall or via the built-in lithium-ion battery. Its convenient small size and big, full sound will surprise you, as it did me. If you’re a songwriter, small venue performer and especially a busker and have wished for great acoustic sound from a small sound system, Mackie has the system for you.
I used the Freeplay LIVE for a house concert in two separate locations: outside up against the house and inside in a large open room with a tall ceiling. This meant I need a quick setup and teardown and the Freeplay’s portability was ideal. For guitar and vocals, it provided just enough to play to a small audience and the fidelity was impressive. Both highs and low end from the guitar and vocals held up nicely. Recorded music streamed via Bluetooth on my breaks sounded great, too. Reverb was not needed inside, but was pleasant and certainly helped in the outdoor location.
A precision-tuned, ported enclosure supports the enhanced bass and headroom that the unit delivers from just one 6-inch speaker and two tweeters. Construction is solid with a durable molded enclosure, coated metal grille, and convenient built-in handle at the top. With a size of only 7.75″ x 14″ x 7″ this is by far the smallest sound system that I’ve ever used and at just 8.8 lbs (that includes that internal battery!) is certainly the lightest.
Setup was easy using the combination connectors for XLR microphone cables and guitar/instrument level sources available for each of the two channels. An included adapter allows you to mount the unit directly to a mic stand. For many intimate playing situations, just sitting it on a table next to you could work well. I also used this at a full band open mic in a sometimes noisy venue, running one guitar and one vocal through the Freeplay LIVE, without mic’ing the drums, bass and guitars at all. The Freeplay knocked it out of the park, with vocal and acoustic guitar sitting nicely in the mix.
Overall volume and basic EQ (Music or Live modes) can be easily controlled from the buttons on the top of the unit, but a free phone app available from App Store or Google Play adds more flexibility. Wireless control provides lots of ability to tweak your sound along with professional mixing abilities for effects levels, muting, and a three-band EQ for each input. Having Bluetooth connectivity also allows you to use the Freeplay more simply as a player or stream music on breaks. It’s great for rehearsal, too. An ⅛” aux connection provides another useful input option. There is also an option to link to a second FreePlay-series speaker using the ¼” monitor output for better coverage and a bigger sound. Or you can daisy-chain speakers to run as monitors for the band. I did this with a pair of small Galaxy Audio powered speakers at the open mic and it helped everyone play at a comfortable level and really hear the Freeplay work the room. The monitor out volume is tied to the main output volume control so you’ll need to find the sweet spot on balancing Freeplay’s volume control with the monitor volume level in order to avoid monitor feedback. I found it at a much lower level using the Freeplay Live compared to my other mixers.
Manufacturers’ claims often stretch the truth, but Mackie’s claims of a full frequency response of 60Hz-20kHz are proven out with the deep lows and crisp highs from the Freeplay LIVE. Acoustic guitars sound particularly good and vocals hold up well. An internal, rechargeable 19V power supply gives you the same great sound and a lot of freedom to set up wherever you need to. The actual limits of the time you can perform with the Freeplay unplugged from a power source will depend on how much you are asking of the box, but Mackie claims it can operate as long as 15 hours. I was able to do two sets of vocal and guitar without a problem for the outside part of my house concert with no impact to the sound quality.
If you are an acoustic performer that needs to be heard and really wants an easy hassle-free setup, you’d be hard pressed to find a more convenient solution for small sound system. Freeplay LIVE? More like Freeplay LOVE.
Street price: $399.99