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Review: Mackie FreePlay Personal PA

By Strother Bullins. The quick scoop? FreePlay is my favorite boom box, ever.

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 ($399 street) 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.

Visually, the black polymer-encased 9.5” x 17.8” x 9.1” 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 (as pictured here), 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 FreePlay is a perfectly capable small PA: one ideal for coffee shop-style singer/songwriter uses, quick/easy sound reinforcement tasks, etc. As such, it’s the type of pro audio box that musicians, audio wranglers, and others would just keep in their cars.

FreePlay is likely more robust than you may think, too; it boasts 150W (RMS) and 300W (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.

In full band rehearsals, the FreePlay stands up to guitar amps, live drums and so on, serving users as super-efficient, easy sound reinforcement especially well-tuned for vocals and acoustic instruments. Here, especially in small rooms, the Feedback Destroyer was very helpful in getting maximum levels before feedback. Overall, the unit provides a very clear, forward performance thanks to its affordably pristine preamps and thoughtful design.

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 its visiting singer/songwriter on Fridays; and, with battery-powered capabilities (standard Ds or via optional rechargeable Lithium-ion), it can move anywhere necessary. Further, FreePlay 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 and rehearsal 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 FreePlay may be the only product of its kind; the next closest thing I’ve used is Sunburst Gear’s MM Series: 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, 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.