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Genius!2: Mackie and the CR-1604 #19

The console's effect on the music business would be equated by some to the impact the desktop computer had on publishing

Mackie Designs’ roots date back to 1969, when Greg Mackie founded Technical Audio Products (TAPCO) with partner Martin Schneider. A musician in a Seattle band, Mackie was frustrated by the poor quality of most audio mixers. TAPCO’s first success occurred with the release of its Model 6000, the first mixer designed specifically for rock-band loudness. Musicians quickly embraced TAPCO’s inexpensive, effective and durable equipment, and within a few years the company was hugely profitable.

Mackie parted ways with TAPCO in 1977 (he disagreed with their cost-cutting agenda) and launched his second business venture, AudioControl, a maker of stereo equalisers and analysers, that same year.

Mackie left that business in 1985 to pursue a new idea. With the rise in keyboards and high-tech music-making, the mixer market was effectively split between high-end devices for professionals and cheap, mass-produced mixers for consumers. Mackie Designs, formed in 1988, would fill this need for high-quality, reasonably priced compact mixers. Greg initially ran his business from his three-bedroom apartment, stripping down mixing boards to determine which components were essential for excellent sound, and which could be eliminated.

“Back then the TV sets had controls where you could adjust vertical and horizontal angles, etc,” says Mackie. “I wanted to make a high-quality compact mixer which was also affordable. I looked at 9mm controls which were popular in the TV industry and at that time some manufacturers came out with potentiometers that were sealed. [Mackie Designs] were the first to have the guts to use those sealed controls. The broadcast mixers at that time had those parts, but MI mixers at the time had low-quality parts. And it just so happened that right when I started Mackie, they were available at a very low cost. This was a big breakthrough.”

The company’s first product, the LM-1602, was an instant hit. Few in the industry realised how popular a mid-level mixing board would prove to be. Amateur musicians, wanting to better themselves, drove early sales, but churches, schools and corporate AV teams were important customers as well.

In 1991, the company released the CR-1604 audio mixer, which would revolutionise the industry.

“When the CR1604 was born, that console got us on the map,” says Mackie.

Still a privately owned enterprise, Mackie Designs’ annual growth rate was spectacular throughout the early 1990s, averaging well over 100 per cent each year, it is reported, because it stayed focused on mixers. Over 48 per cent of sales in the mid-1990s were derived from one product – the CR-1604. The CR-1604’s effect on the music business would be equated by some to the impact the desktop computer had on publishing.

“The other thing is that we spent a great deal of time making the user interface very easy to understand. We were careful with verbiage, font sizes, and we were careful to consider everything in designing them to look good and be easy to use and understand.”

Mackie sold its 100,000th mixer in 1995. Who knows how many Mackie mixers have been sold since then?

Pictures: Top: Greg Mackie in 2015. Photo courtesy of NAMM Oral History. Second: Greg Mackie’s first TAPCO mixer from 1973. Third: The CR-1604. Last: Press cutting from the 1990s.

Published earlier this year and sponsored by QSC Audio, Genius!2 is the second edition of Genius!, celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. The 30-page supplement is also available to read in a handy digital-edition form