With the cold December wind howling against the panes of our review office windows, I’m sitting down to a nice hot toddy made from RedBull and cough syrup. Following up on my review of the Mackie CR-Buds+, today’s review centers on the less expensive Mackie CR-Buds. At $19.99, this earphone won’t strain even the tightest purse strings. But just how much sound can you expect for twenty smackaroos?
Mackie CR-Buds Review
The Mackie CR-Buds earphone comes in a plastic-and-cardboard retail package. In addition to the earphone, you also get four pairs of eartips and a small user manual.
Fairly light, this earphone features a flat, no-tangle flat cable measuring 4 ft (1.2 m) in length. A mic and remote on the cable allows a user to answer or end phone calls on the go, and this functionality will work with any phone.
Inside the earpieces, a single dynamic driver has been tuned to reproduce crisp bass and clear highs.
Despite this simplistic design and sparse array of accessories, the Mackie CR-Buds still imparts a lot of confidence. Holding them in my hand, they feel resilient enough to take a beating or two. And at $20, replacing them won’t be a huge financial burden, either.
Frequency Range: 20-20,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 16 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 95 dB
The specifications reveal a fairly standard frequency range and low nominal impedance, allowing these earphones to work perfectly well with low-output devices like phones and personal music players. Sound pressure measures a fair 95 dB, which isn’t as loud as some other earphones, but this should still be enough for most listening situations.
Light on bass and heavy on detail, the CR-Buds earphone offers an interesting low end that I love. Tracks such as the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage and Black Sabbath’s Sweet Leaf seem to practically drip with fidelity. And, while there’s a certain flavor to that bass, it’s not overblown or sloppy. With not so much a punch to it as a grip, this bass seems more analytical or reserved than what I’ve come to expect from cheap earphones.
When it comes to mids, the CR-Buds offers a surprisingly revealing, accurate sound. Vocals on tracks like Androgynous by the Replacements and Ripe by Ben Lee seem to jump out with a slight edge, a crystal-clear sharpness that seems completely out of place for an earphone so cheap. Are these mids perfect? No. There’s a whisper of compression here, and it can be heard on certain tracks. But for $20, this is one well-executed midrange.
The sound only gets better in the highs, where vocals and instrumentation remain accurate and nuanced, but reserved enough to never become too piercing or uncomfortable. Playing a track like Who’s to Say by Vanessa Carlton highlights this smoothness, with vocals splashed across a sonic canvas of piano, drums, and guitar. However, Last Days by Max Richter showcases a high end that remains equally well-suited to instrumentation in the high end. Violins build and build, contrasting perfectly with the deep, brassy dread of french horns. Yet those violins, in all of their detail, never seem overextended or thin.
Most earphones don’t have fantastic soundstage, and the CR-Buds is no exception to this general trend. However, even if it isn’t fantastic, some soundstage presents itself – and it actually sounds pretty decent. Playing Ulrich Schnauss’ … Passing By showcases this depth and sense of spaciousness, as does M83’s Wait. While instrument placement seems a little cramped, there’s a real sense of airiness and openness to this sound that has a dizzying, euphoric effect.
The only person I wouldn’t recommend this earphone to would be a diehard basshead. Even then, I wouldn’t have a specific recommendation, as any other earphone at this price won’t offer you so much detail or fidelity. Truth be told, the Mackie CR-Buds earphone constitutes a triumph in sound – and it costs an affordable $20. Factoring in the wealth of detail and accuracy, as well as that snappy, controlled bass, this earphone packs a sound more in line with some $60 earphones.
I’ve already made up my mind to buy a handful of these things and distribute them to my friends and family. Despite the cheap price, this is a damn fine sound that works with any genre of music.
At $19.99, the Mackie CR-Buds in-ear headphone seems criminally cheap to me. With a robust, articulate sound, this earphone marries an uncharacteristic richness with fun, tactile bass and a liberal sense of depth.
Everyone should own one of these.
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