Mackie TH15A on left, Peavey KB2 on right.  One of these things is not like the other...
Mackie TH15A on left, Peavey KB2 on right. Click on the photo for a bigger and wider image.

I was given a Mackie Thump TH15A powered speaker this Christmas, and I’ve replaced my Peavey KB2 with it in my rig.

The Mackie is louder, deeper, and lighter-weight than the Peavey. The Mackie has 400 watts divided between the woofer, which is a 15″ compared to the Peavey’s 10″, and the tweeter, which in the Peavey is integrated into the woofer; the Peavey’s output is in the neighborhood of 50 watts. In other words, the Mackie has a bigger pile of watts pushing the speakers, and the bigger woofer and horn together move lots more air at both the low and high ends of the frequency spectrum. (Of course, that’s not critically important to most harmonica players, who are playing an instrument that mostly occupies the mid-to-high-frequency spectrum; in other words, the Peavey coupled with an amp modeler like the Digitech RP has plenty of power and range for a traditional player. But when you use multiple instruments in loops that occupy a much wider range of frequencies, as I do, you need every bit of frequency range you can get.) At 29 pounds the Mackie is about five pounds lighter than the Peavey (34 pounds); either is easily carried in one hand.

The Mackie only has one XLR input (plus an XLR thru), as opposed to the Peavey’s one XLR and two 1/4″ inputs. The lack of 1/4″ inputs on the Mackie was a momentary problem for me, particularly because I was giving the Peavey a mono 1/4″ feed from the Digitech JamMan Stereo looper, which is the last device in my FX chain, and which possesses no XLR outs. Then I remembered that I had a battery-powered active direct box on the shelf. The solution was to run a 1/4″ mono output from the JamMan Stereo, whose own mixer combines the outputs from my voice and instruments, to the direct box, and then run an XLR cable from the direct box to the Mackie.

The Mackie includes a nice EQ with high, low, and middle bands, and the center frequency for the midrange band is movable. The Mackie also includes a rotary volume control on the back panel, which is very useful, though not conveniently placed for access during performance. These are minimal controls, but important ones, and their presence is welcome. The Mackie seems to make more self-noise than the Peavey, which is audible mainly when using the speaker at lower volumes; at higher volumes it just sounds big and loud, with a lot of low-end information that the Peavey just can’t produce.

The Peavey has a signficant advantage in terms of I/O options, though; counting the FX return, the Peavey has 5 inputs (channels 1-3, the FX return, and the Monitor input), as well as an FX send, a monitor send, and a balanced line out. The Peavey even has a headphone output, which is very useful for apartment-dwellers who’d like to be able to practice their instruments without offending the neighbors. For all these reasons, if you’ve got lots of inputs, you may want to stick with a keyboard amp. On the other hand…

I mentioned above that the Mackie weighs significantly less than the Peavey, and to me this is a very strong argument for the powered speaker: the power-to-weight-ratios and power-to-price ratios are both much better. (One might argue that Mackie’s main intention with the lightweight plastic cabinet was to keep the price of the Thump down–i.e., lower price at the cost of quality. Plastic is of course less durable than wood, but it is certainly lighter, and this cabinet feels substantial, so if Mackie saved some manufacturing costs and passed the savings on to me, I’m satisfied with the deal.) The Mackie’s 400 watts just blows the Peavey’s 50 watts away, with much less distortion at high volumes and an extended frequency range. The Mackie retails at $350 new, while the Peavey retails for about $260 new; but that extra $100 buys a whole lot of power in a lightweight package. Anyway, mine was purchased used at about $250 including shipping and a one-year warranty, which is not a unique deal, and that puts the Mackie in direct price competition with the KB2.

As of now, I suggest that players who want lots of loud with their amp modeler and don’t need more than one input should seriously consider a powered speaker. A powered speaker has all sorts of uses, from amping a single instrument to functioning as all or half of a self-powered PA, and it’s got a very high loudness-to-dollar ratio. Keep in mind that if you want more than one input, you’re going to need a mixer, and if the output from the mixer to the speaker doesn’t have an XLR connector, you’re going to need a direct box to make the connection. I’m using a 4-input mono mixer from Nady that cost $25 new, and a direct box that cost around $35. I’m purposely avoiding a stereo setup at the moment, but if I wanted one I’d need to add a stereo mixer for starters, preferably one with XLR outs.

I’ll post some clips of this setup soon.