Innovations: The Manufacturer's View - Innovation-Driven Evolution: Mackie’s SRM Loudspeaker Family

The year 2014 marks Mackie’s 25th anniversary, so it’s an appropriate time to look back at some of the events that inspired the company to create such market-making products as the original SRM450.
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Mackie’s SRM450 and SRM350 head the completely reimagined SRM Series. The year 2014 marks Mackie’s 25th anniversary, so it’s an appropriate time to look back at some of the events that inspired the company to create such market-making products as the original SRM450. It’s also the year we’ve launched the completely reimagined SRM Series, including the all-new SRM450 and SRM350, as well as extending the line to include a range of professional- grade wood-box variants: the SRM550, SRM650 and the recently-launched SRM750 and SRM2850 (a dual 18-inch DSP-enhanced powered subwoofer).

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When I joined Mackie in 2001, our sole loudspeaker offering was the SRM450 (launched in 1997) and a single subwoofer, the SRS1500. The first of their kind—turnkey, self-powered speakers—available, the SRM450 and SRS1500 pioneered what we called “Mackie Active,” virtually creating the market for full, portable PA systems with integrated amps and electronics. During my first two years on the team, I was involved with the design and launch of the SRM450’s little brother, the SRM350. Immediately afterward, we launched the very first wood boxes, the SA Series. These were bigger, more powerful configurations that incorporated our cornerstone technology of built-in electronics and amplification.

We were literally the only company occupying that market sector, and we had a very compelling story: that the average musician or smaller sound company no longer needed to haul around a rack of power amps, crossovers and graphic equalizers. Through our application of accessible, yet previously untapped technology, we made our customers’ lives easier and more productive by changing the way they ran live sound. We removed the need for a professional sound guy—they could more easily wire the system and pull up a mix, and the speakers sounded great without anybody having to tweak crossovers, graphic EQs, limiters, etc. That’s the Mackie magic, and it’s what we gain inspiration from, even to this day.

The introduction of SRM was perfectly timed with—and perhaps helped to fuel—the change in live performance from full bands to smaller groups playing with MIDI backup, spanning a wide range of users from singer/songwriter to the then-emerging electronic musician. And somewhere around the early 2000s, the Mackie SRM crossed over into the booming new DJ era. All DJs wanted was a rugged box they could plug a DJ mixer into that sounded good when played loud. The SRM Series, in particular, perfectly fit that bill. And our larger configurations were well positioned to address the challenges of larger audiences, with the same easy-to-use technology at very Mackie price points.

As we began to lay the groundwork for this year’s rollout of the totally redesigned (yet still ultra-portable) SRM450 and SRM350, along with the expansion of the SRM brand into larger-format, pro-grade allwood models, we set our sights on innovating on three key levels: max output, pro sound quality and ease of use. First, we wanted to deliver more power to improved drivers for higher volumes. We also wanted to incorporate EAW-designed acoustic correction (originally introduced in the HD Series in 2008) to the entire SRM line, which significantly enhances the overall sound quality of the loudspeakers. Lastly, we wanted to continue to deliver on the Mackie promise of professional tools at accessible prices by providing easy-to-use digital features like built-in automatic feedback destroyers and one-press speaker voicings suited to our customers’ applications.

The original SRM450 delivered about 380 watts combined; this was by and large limited by the size of the amp module we could incorporate into the design. In those days, we didn’t have the technology to physically accommodate a larger amp, nor to dissipate the heat inherent in a higher-powered design. To compensate for the demand for higher SPL, we incorporated sliding high pass filters. As the volume was raised, the circuitry would start rolling of the low end, which resulted in a decidedly mid- and high-frequency heavy sound.

To deliver modern-day power expectations, the all-new SRM350 and SRM450 have a totally redesigned, 1000 W platform, and everything in the wood box range has a 1600 W platform. These highly efficient Class-D designs are coupled to a switch mode power supply that, together, are greater than 90 percent efficient and which effectively eliminate the issue of thermal failure. With higher power, you need drivers that can handle that power, or you’re just making feature bullet points that don’t deliver anything to the user. So, as Mackie has always done, we designed custom drivers to match our amps perfectly—a powered speaker can be fully optimized since it is a closed system. These new SRM models all feature new custom woofers and compression drivers.

In addition, every model in the SRM line now has a powerful DSP toolset. With the implementation of far more precise crossover filters than were available in the old analog domain, we are now able to effectively create an exceptionally smooth SRM signature sound across every SRM model. We’ve implemented FIR based acoustic correction algorithms to eliminate unwanted reflections as sound exits the horn and woofer, creating an incredibly smooth mid- and high-frequency response that never wears down the listener.

We’ve also taken some of that DSP and put it on the rear panel, making powerful features easy to use. With the push of a button, you can significantly change the character of the speaker voicing, dialing in a sound that’s appropriate to the application you are using it in—whether it is PA, Monitor, DJ or Soloist (each with its own specific DSP-driven voicing).

In the spirit of offering our customers technology they can use, we’ve also incorporated some surprising features. Each SRM speaker offers a built-in automatic feedback eliminator; we are the only company to build that into our speakers. And while plenty of manufacturers are building simple analog mixers into their powered PA speakers, we’ve taken it a step further, using our deep experience in making mixing consoles to solve some of the real-world problems our users face. Probably the coolest new feature is the inclusion of a Wide Z input, a first in the loudspeaker market. The idea is that somebody might want to plug in a DJ mixer, an iPad or smartphone, or even a microphone. They might want to plug a keyboard straight into it, or even an acoustic instrument. With Wide Z, whatever a user plugs in to any input, they don’t have to worry about any of the technology. Whether it’s a 50 ohm microphone, or 20 kohm mixer, wide Z is “Impedance agnostic.” Basically, the user plugs in whatever they want, and turns it up until it is loud enough.

Despite all this new technology and performance, the only thing we didn’t redesign in the SRM350 and SRM450 was the cabinet itself. After lots of market research and customer feedback, we realized the SRM Series cabinet design was as timeless as, say, the VW Beetle, and synonymous with flexibility and durability. So we left the cabinet design unchanged. Meanwhile, we designed the higher-end models to be heard and not seen, with black painted wood cabinets, all-black grills and tasteful branding. Again, it’s the right packaging for each target customer, not innovating in product design for the sake of doing so.

In the end, what guides Mackie innovation— today every bit as much as back in 1989—is our mission to apply technology in truly usable designs, based on a first-hand, in-the-trenches understanding of musicians DJs, installers and production rental companies. We innovate not just for the sake of technology, but rather to make our users’ lives easier and to help them sound better. And the rest is history!
Mackie
mackie.com

John Boudreau serves as SVP, Mackie Product Development.