In my review-based pursuits, I’ve auditioned most portable PAs (PPAs) currently available in the marketplace: many great ones, some very portable ones, some not-so-portable ones and a lot that fall somewhere within those ideals. Currently shipping, the FreePlay Personal PA is the result of Mackie’s latest and greatest brainstorm: a super portable “Swiss Army knife” sound reinforcement problem-solver, quite useful in many applications both personal and professional.
Mackie FreePlay is a small portable PA for beyond typical tethered usage, such as at the beach. Visually, the black polymer-encased 9.5-inch x 17.8-inch x 9.1-inch FreePlay chassis best resembles a new-century “boom box.” It seems to be built well and is primarily designed for portable, on-the-fly use, weighing in at 11 lbs. (without batteries or optional battery pack). As a child of the ’80s, I was thrilled to use it as such, too: outdoors on the beach, while camping, and at any potential performance location for both playback and performance. The quick scoop? FreePlay is my favorite boom box, ever.
Most importantly, Mackie’s Free-Play is a perfectly capable small PA: one ideal for coffee shop-style singer/songwriter uses, quick/easy sound reinforcement tasks and so on. As such, it’s the type of pro audio box that musicians and audio wranglers would just keep in their cars.
FreePlay is likely more robust than you think, too; it boasts 150 W (RMS) and 300 W (Peak) of power. Its frequency response is an impressive and full-sounding 65 Hz - 20 kHz; it’s a stereo playback system—left and right high-frequency drivers with a shared, green-tinted, eight-inch LF woofer. A built-in four-channel digital mixer plus effects (featuring well-chosen minimalistic reverb settings, two delays, four stereo mix EQ settings and a Feedback Destroyer for open mics and DI’d inputs), two mic/line preamps, an eighth-inch input and quarter-inch monitor output comprise the FreePlay’s simple I/O scheme.
Additionally, consider Bluetooth playback and the FreePlay becomes a real problem solver. For example, it’s a perfect solution for a restaurant patio’s program-music playback and visiting singer/songwriter on Fridays; and, with battery-powered capabilities (standard Ds or via optional rechargeable Lithium-ion), it can move anywhere necessary. Further, Free-Play delivers deep, punchy bass and detailed highs tuned via Mackie’s free iOS-ready FreePlay Connect app (adjusting levels, EQ, effects and other key parameters), so it sounds great while being easy to use.
In addition to my own portable/personal PA use, I loaned the FreePlay review unit to a local pastor who often performs as a live singer/songwriter. He took it to several outside venues as his only PPA and monitor, ultimately raving about the experience and impressive coverage. On that note, I recognize its huge potential in the realm of singer/songwriters or what untethered artists may need for a truly portable PA. It really can go anywhere; it sounds great with a full charge; and it seems to fill a real void in the marketplace for “personal PA” products. Actually, Mackie’s Free-Play may be the only product of its kind; the next closest thing I’ve used is Sunburst Gear’s MM Series, which is also portable, wireless and Bluetooth-ready. That said, Sunburst’s MM Series isn’t something I’d want to drop into the sand at the beach (the Sunburst is closer to a studio/live monitor than a portable PA) but Mackie’s FreePlay certainly is.
Admittedly, I was disappointed that the FreePlay review unit didn’t ship with the FreePlay Lithium-ion rechargeable battery ($69 street), marketed as an option for buyers. Instead, I rather efficiently burned through one install of six D batteries over several afternoons of outside/remote usage; I was impressed by how long it took for my batteries to bite the dust. Speaking of accessories, FreePlay has an optional “kick stand”/pole mount ($24 street) and carbon fiber bag ($69 street) available for extra purchase, too.
In all, I’d recommend any audio pro to seek out a chance to hear and use Mackie’s FreePlay. If nothing else, it’s the boom box you always wanted—just add input.