Mackie MC-250 Professional Closed-Back Headphones
The Mackie Sound, now available in headphones
by Phil O'Keefe
If there's on thing every studio needs several sets of, it's good headphones. But not just any headphones will do. First, they have to offer good isolation, or you'll wind up with too much "bleed" from the headphones getting picked up by the nearby microphones. They also need to be comfortable so they don't become annoying to the musicians who are wearing them over the course of long tracking sessions, or for the engineers when using them for editing and checking mixes. They also need to be durable and serviceable, with replaceable cables - while some studios consider headphones to be "expendable" items, nobody wants to have to buy replacements any more often than necessary; just because someone rolled a heavy equipment rack over a cable and caused it to be cut or short out, you shouldn't have to toss the whole headset out. Finally, they need to sound good - nothing is more distracting to a musician than a bad headphone mix, and no matter how good the headphone mix is that you're feeding the folks in the tracking room, it's all for naught if the cans themselves don't provide an accurate representation of what you're sending them.
Mackie certainly knows a thing or two about the importance of good monitoring in the studio; they have a long history of making studio monitors that have proven to be very popular in studios large and small. Now they've turned their attention towards bringing the Mackie Sound to headphones; releasing a product line that is designed to be as useful in the tracking room as it is in the control room - their new MC Series headphones. The Series currently consists of the MC-150 ($69.99 "street" https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MC150--mackie-mc-150-professional-closed-back-headphones ) and the top of the line MC-250 stereo headphone models. I was sent a pair of the later to evaluate. Let's check out the details and see how they sound.
What You Need To Know
- Mackie's new MC-250 headphones are closed back, circumaural (sitting around the ear, as opposed to sitting on them) stereo headphones designed for studio monitoring purposes - they're equally at home in the tracking room when recording and in the control room when editing and mixing. They're also fine for everyday listening enjoyment purposes too.
- The Mackie MC-250 headphones come with a detachable 9.8' cable. A gold-plated 1/8" TRS plug on the cable plugs into a jack on the bottom of the left ear cup, and bayonet style lugs on the plug lock it into place with a quarter turn clockwise. A counter-clockwise turn unlocks it if you need to unplug the cable from the headphones.
- The other end of the cable also has a gold-plated 1/8" TRS plug, with twist-on threads to accept a 1/4" TRS adapter. The cable itself is straight, not coiled.
- The Mackie MC-250 headphones feature 50mm dynamic drivers.
- The MC-250's are made primarily from plastic (which helps keep their weight down to a nice and light 9.35 ounces / 265g), but they feel sturdy and reasonably durable - I wouldn't suggest making a habit out of dropping them though.
- There's quite a decent range of adjustability to the headband; it should easily accommodate most head sizes. The inside of the headband itself is well-padded too, which helps keep them comfortable. You don't get the feeling like someone is pressing down on the top of your head while wearing the MC-250's.
- The headband padding is covered in a comfortable black leatherette type material. The ear cups are covered in a similar material. The ear cups themselves are well-defined in shape; the size and configuration of the cups leaves plenty of room inside for your ears. I have fairly large outer ears (pinna) and I never felt like my ears were crammed into the ear cups.
- The seal of the ear cups around your ears and to your head isn't overly tight or compressed, which makes them quite comfortable. The MC-250's don't make you feel like you have your head locked into a vise.
- The downside of the lighter pressure is a slight loss in isolation. You are still getting the isolation benefits of sealed vs open-backed headphones, but they're not quite as isolating as the very best closed-backed models on the market. In other words, for general tracking / recording purposes, they're fine. The isolation is good, just not great.
- The frequency response of the Mackie MC-250 headphones is rated at 10Hz - 20kHz, and they definitely have a deep extension in the low bass, which I found very appealing in my listening tests. Don't misunderstand - the bass is not overly hyped; it's only slightly boosted, but mainly it just extends nice and low.
- Sound quality is subjective, but think the Mackie MC-250's sound very good, especially considering these are closed-back headphones - a type that can sometimes sound bloated or tubby in the low-midrange and bass. The MC-250's don't exhibit the characteristic "closed-back headphone" sound. If anything, they sound ever so slightly "polite and reserved" in the midrange.
- The Mackie MC-250 headphones handle low bass notes and kick drum hits effortlessly, with suitable punch when appropriate and excellent detail and note definition that is more commonly heard in open-backed headphones than in closed back models.
- The highs are relatively present as well, without being overly harsh. Ear fatigue from overly-bright or strident highs is not an issue with the MC-250s. While the highs seem to have a bit of a lift to them, it's nothing overly drastic, but enough to give the MC-250's an excellent sense of detail.
- The impedance of the Mackie MC-250 headphones is 38 Ohms.
- The MC-250 headphones are relatively efficient; they're rated at 100 dB / mW, with a maximum input rating of 20mW. I was able to listen using just the 1/8" output and onboard amp on my iPad mini 2, and was able to drive the headphones to comfortable listening levels, but they do even better when paired with a decent headphone amp.
- The Mackie MC-250 headphones can be folded to make them smaller and more compact for travel.
- Included accessories are limited to just the headphones, the detachable cable, a leatherette drawstring carrying bag (complete with the Mackie "running man" logo), and a gold plated screw-on 1/8" to 1/4" stereo adapter.
- The left / right indicators on the headphones to show proper orientation when putting them on are a bit hard to find / see - they're located on the side end of the folding pivot hinges. Or you can just remember - cable on the left ear - and you'll be all set.
- The 9.8' straight cable is currently the only option available from Mackie; they don't offer a optional coiled cable for use with the MC Series headphones at this time. There is also no inline microphone on the cable, so these aren't really a good set of headphones for use with your smartphone. Sure, they'll work fine for general listening purposes, and I was able to drive them just fine with both my iPhone and iPad, but you won't be able to take any incoming calls while using them.
- Acoustical isolation is good, not great. They should be fine for most everyday tracking purposes, although those who require very high monitoring levels may encounter some bleed issues - especially if those hot monitoring levels are combined with low levels from the instrument you're recording and high mic preamp gain settings, such as when micing up a very softly picked acoustic guitar.
These are excellent cans in their price category. I was impressed with their comfort - you can wear them for quite a while without feeling like your head is clamped into a vise or that your ears are being crushed. Their sound quality is also impressive; while not razor flat, the frequency response isn't too overtly hyped in any particular region, and the level of accuracy is high enough so you won't have to make excuses to your recording clients, or feel like you have to question what you are hearing if you decide to use them for critical listening in the control room. The removable cable is always good to have from a longevity and servicing standpoint (although it would be nice to have the option of a coiled cable, as well as one with a mic for smartphone use), and since they have a closed-back, circumaural design, they also isolate reasonably well and won't give you excessive bleed issues when you use them to track with, although you may want to opt for a less comfortable, tighter-fitting and better-isolating model for situations where someone demands extremely loud headphone monitoring levels, making bleed more problematic. With their folding design and the included storage bag the Mackie MC-250 headphones are also relatively easy to take with you - much more so than non-folding full-sized circumaural headphones. While only time will tell as to how well the plastic construction will hold up over the long haul to the inevitable bumps and knocks that they'll take in the studio (or when used out and about), they seem to be well-made and reasonably sturdy. Overall, I'm impressed. I honestly expected them to retail for $50-$100 more than their actual "street" price, so they're a good value too. I think the Mackie MC-250 headphones are definitely worth considering if you're in the market for good sounding yet affordable set of headphones, whether you want to use them for tracking, editing and mixing, or just personal listening. -HC-
Want to discuss the Mackie MC-250 stereo headphones or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Mackie MC-250 Headphones ($119.99 MSRP, $99.99 "street")
Mackie's product web page
You can purchase the Mackie MC-250 Headphones from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.