MACKIE TETRAD S408
What began as a simple idea of testing the new Tetrad S408 in one of Sydney’s most famous venues has since turned into a fully-blown installation of an entirely new system. AT ‘goes with the flow’ to test a Mackie system in the ‘very real world’.
Text: Henry Brister
When AT asked me to review Mackie’s newly-released, high-powered Tetrad passive speakers a month or so ago I jumped at the chance. I thought I could use it as an opportunity to put some tired boxes that had been servicing The Hopetoun Hotel (for well over half a decade) out to pasture for a while.
The S408 is part of the new Mackie ‘Tetrad’ line, which itself has been tuned by EAW (another Loud Technologies company). It’s a tough piece of kit that’s designed to mount solo or in an array. It can also be laid on the floor as a monitor, thanks to its wedge-shaped design.
To digress for a moment, before we dive headlong into this review, I thought I’d briefly explain what’s happened with the Tetrads since my editor first got the ball rolling on this review. After various discussions about where these boxes should be tested, Andy Stewart and I eventually decided that a ‘real world, warts and all’ test in a busy commercial pub would be the best option. I immediately figured The Hopetoun in Sydney’s salubrious Surry Hills would be the perfect space, since their current setup was, how can I put this… well, not great!
The Hopetoun Hotel is a ‘hallmark’ venue in Sydney, renowned worldwide for showcasing original live and independent music seven days a week. Many acts – both local and international – regard a good Hopetoun show as a career highlight, and I reckoned everyone could benefit from the venue testing a new and improved PA. So I approached the publican, Paul McCarthy, and suggested that we give these new speakers a fully ‘live’ review, and he was more than agreeable, given that the current installation has laboured non-stop since before the heady days of the Sydney Olympics…
TETRADS OR TETRIS?
AT rarely speaks about equipment distributors, but in this case its unavoidable, and you’ll read why in a minute… Enter Brad Grimes, from Australian Audio Supplies, the Mackie importer… Andy spoke to Brad. I spoke to Andy. Brad spoke to Paul.
After a meeting at the venue to discuss the logistics of the situation, we decided, upon consideration, that we really needed new amps to drive the Tetrads, and then, err, of course, subwoofers to match the top boxes…Before we knew it, the installation of the Tetrads had turned into a game of Tetris; The Hopetoun’s PA was almost entirely replaced! Not to stop short of a complete package, Mackie SRM450 boxes were brought in as wedges; S410 to provide subs, a 1521Z employed as a drum fill – and the TT24, Mackie’s new live digital console, at front of house. (The hotel’s PA currently has a Yamaha O1V in its installation, consequently the hotel has a roster of engineers who have demonstrated their required ‘digital proficiency’, which meant installing the digital Mackie console was a realistic addition to a system that sees so many different personnel.)
So there we were, basically ripping everything out. After we finished, all we had left from the original installation was the multicore, leads, mics, stands, a couple of graphic EQs and a crossover! Although, one thing I noticed: Brad had totally neglected to bring any corporate paraphernalia – Mackie banners, bomber jackets and suchlike – relying on the gear to speak for itself… what was he thinking?!
Anyway, it dawned on me that the Tetrad review was morphing into something far more complex than your average gear appraisal, but I was given the go-ahead to let the process unfold and let the chips fall where they may. So, next issue, I’ll endeavour to offer a wider perspective on the system and the experience as a whole, especially the engineer’s perception of how a familiar, busy room responds to the new equipment. But first to the review…
FROM TETRIS TO TETRAD
The S408 loudspeaker enclosures are a natural – and not entirely new – solution for short- to medium-throw loudspeaker applications: more speakers in an enclosure gives you highly desirable coupling effects, and what’s more, lighter drivers give crisper transients.
My first visual impression of the Tetrad’s speaker arrangement was that it seemed reminiscent of the old Bose 802s but with a massive throat in the middle. The Tetrad’s layout entails four eight-inch speakers around a one-inch high frequency driver with a wide dispersion horn. This ‘Tetrad’ arrangement may be reminiscent of an old PA stalwart, but be warned, this is no ‘toy’, no ‘piece of plastic’.
These things are not small either; they’re very tough looking and ruggedly assembled from birch plywood with chunky corners and rubber feet.
If you look at the photos you’ll notice the Tetrad’s tight wedge shape. This geometry means that two cabs in an array have a coverage of 150° – and, as mentioned, also enables the cabinet to be used as a wedge. The solid construction of the boxes and their hardware is impressive, especially when trying to get them out of their cardboard packaging!
To top it off, there are mounting options galore: four holes for pole stacking any way you like it and 12 threaded inserts for flying them upside down, back to front and whatever tickles your fancy – arrange them in a circle if you want!
TETRAD PACKS PUNCH
And the sound? First up, the dispersion impressed me. But not just the evenness but also the consistent development at close quarters and intelligibility in the venue (even at the furthest distances) really impressed. Not only that, but they actually sound ‘louder’ at lower metered SPL than the boxes that laboured so valiantly before! What was also immediately apparent was that there was a much greater perception of the stereo field, even from the mix position of The Hopetoun, which is up against a wall on the lefthand side of the room. Subtle panning and level changes had become quite noticeable – do-able even!
However, the really big difference is in the vocal clarity – you can’t get away from the singer now… not even in the toilet – making it a much easier proposition to mix three bands you’ve never seen in your life, while allowing girlfriends, friends, managers, partners and parents to be able to hear their favourite bits. The Tetrads are more than capable of blowing you away with their ample power, while doing ‘nice’ just as successfully.
By delivering evenly across their coverage arc, the tuning now seems a lot flatter across The Hopetoun’s main room now, with much less individual mic EQ’ing required for feedback control in FOH, leaving the console EQ-free to match and flatter the vocal style rather than merely making the room resistant to feedback! Luxury!
Being essentially a ‘quad box’ of eight-inch drivers – with a 99dB sensitivity – the Mackie Tetrads will run off just about anything. But give them the juice and they’ll stand up and deliver: they like to be driven by high-powered amplifiers that would normally blow a single 12- or 15-inch driver. In fact, Mackie is currently in the final throes of building new ‘M-Series’ amplifiers that will reportedly be a good match for the Tetrads – the smallest of which is rated at 2000W. But even with the Tapco amps we’ve installed in The Hopetoun, there’s still plenty of room in the system, unless you do something stupid (but more on that next issue).
As I say, we’ll revisit the entire system installation next issue, with its setup trials and tribulations and the reaction of the regular engineers to the speakers and importantly the Mackie TT24 console. Meanwhile, the Tetrad S408 speakers on their own are an impressive product, which Mackie claims to be ‘built tough to rock hard’, which they’ve certainly done so far. They’re not for the average person to manhandle on their own, mind you – and they’re a bit front heavy – but they’d be a great addition to any small operator’s arsenal. Over the next couple of months we’ll see how turning the hardest working venue in New South Wales into an all-Mackie affair turns out.