Mackie FreePlay Personal PA review

A busker's dream?

  • £329

MusicRadar Verdict

As a standalone unit, FreePlay is a stunning small-gig aid, either as a mini-PA or acoustic amp, not to mention a handy mp3 player amp.

Pros

  • +

    Great sound. Fantastic app integration.

Cons

  • -

    No mid-sweep or compression.

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FreePlay? It's a small ghetto-blaster-sized moulded-plastic unit boasting 300 watts of class D (max peak) power, dual combi XLR/jacks for mic or line level inputs, a mini-jack - or Bluetooth - aux input, along with mains adapted (adaptor included) or battery power: a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery pack (£82) is available, or it runs on eight D-size batteries.

As supplied, the lightweight (5kg/11lb) unit can sit easily on a chair or table, but there's a kickstand/pole bracket accessory available at £29 and a carry bag for £66. Anyway...

All of FreePlay's controls are mounted at the rear, which initially doesn't seem that convenient. However, along with those inputs and a large rotary level control (for setting input levels, FX send levels and overall output level), we have a monitor out if you wanted to plug into a larger system.

Along with an illuminated LED input/ output segment meter, FreePlay offers four digital effects - Verb 1, Verb 2, Dly 1 and Dly 2 - which can be independently selected and the level set for each of the twin channels. The master EQ has a similar push-button selection; it's pre-set for Flat, DJ, Solo or Voice. There's a 'feedback destroyer' push switch, plus master-output push switch and BT/Aux switch that allows you to pair with a Bluetooth device.

So far, so good, but the FreePlay concept is expanded by a free Android or iOS app that takes over the control. Connection via Bluetooth is easy and now we can set input/output levels via the mixer page on the app, along with numerous additional features like three-band EQ for each channel and a choice of 16 effect programs. Very neat.

Sounds

Firstly, there's a big, detailed sound that emanates from this pretty small unit thanks to its onboard eight-inch woofer, but setting the master preset EQ is essential to make the most of FreePlay.

So, if you're running your mp3 player, you'll need the bass/treble boost of the DJ mode, or you can set Voice or Solo both with low-end attenuation - the former with an upper-mid lift, the latter adds a tight mid-scoop, ideal for steel strings.

The app also adds three-band (high, mid and low) channel EQ. There's no mid-sweep, which would've been handy, nor any compression. Overall, we easily dialled in pretty much our standard gigging sounds. You can also plug in from your own pedals/ outboard preamp and FX setup.

Whether the FreePlay 's loud enough for gigging really depends on the venue, whether you have a captive audience or, more likely, general ambient noise (espresso machines et al) to battle with. Via that app and plugged into a powered monitor, it could easily replace the need for a small mixer - again, ideal for bigger solo or duo gigs.

With the optional battery power, you can go mains-free, which makes it ideal for busking in the park or on the beach. Back home, while you relax, it's a use-anywhere full range system for your music, YouTube videos or films. FreePlay, indeed!

Dave Burrluck is one of the world’s most experienced guitar journalists, who started writing back in the '80s for International Musician and Recording World, co-founded The Guitar Magazine and has been the Gear Reviews Editor of Guitarist magazine for the past two decades. Along the way, Dave has been the sole author of The PRS Guitar Book and The Player's Guide to Guitar Maintenance as well as contributing to numerous other books on the electric guitar. Dave is an active gigging and recording musician and still finds time to make, repair and mod guitars, not least for Guitarist’s The Mod Squad.