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Don’t want boxy bookshelf speakers cluttering your desk? Loudspeaker manufacturer Mackie has a solution: the CR StealthBar, a Bluetooth soundbar that can replace traditional PC speakers with a compact, all-in-one form factor.
The StealthBar lacks the bells and whistles of previous PC soundbars we’ve tested, such as Panasonic’s Dolby Atmos-enabled SoundSlayer. But the $120 CR StealthBar is much more affordable, and it delivers crisp, clean sound, although its passive radiators tend to buckle at higher volumes.
Measuring 4 x 18.7 x 3 inches (HxWxD), the 4.3-pound Mackie CR StealthBar feels hefty and sturdy, with a matte plastic finish and a metallic grille flanked by Mackie’s signature green accents. Inside the “tuned” cabinet are a pair of 2.5-inch full-range drivers, which are both powered by a single Class D amplifier. Low frequencies are reproduced by a pair of passive radiators.
The Mackie “running man” logo on the left side of the grille serves both as a Bluetooth pairing button and a status LED; just to its right is a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right side of the speaker is a knob that does triple duty as a power switch, volume control, and mute button.
Two more controls sit on the right end of the speaker. One button lets you cycle through a trio of EQ modes (Music, Voice, and Game), while the second is the input selector.
Speaking of inputs, the StealthBar has two physical options located in a rear cavity: a USB-C computer port and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack.
When connecting via the USB-C port, the StealthBar shows up on a PC or Mac as an available system speaker, capable of supporting high-definition (24-bit/192kHz) audio files.
Alongside the USB-C and 3.5mm inputs is a second 3.5mm plug that services line-out jack, while a barrel-shaped port connects to a five-foot power cable that terminates in a chunky AC supply (the USB-C port doesn’t support power delivery).
The speaker can also connect to audio devices wirelessly via Bluetooth 5.0, with the SBC and AAC codecs supported. The StealthBar doesn’t support high-resolution Bluetooth codecs such as Qualcomm’s aptX or Sony’s LDAC, but that’s not a huge shock in this price range.
Beneath the StealthBar’s chassis are a pair of rubberized feet that orient the speaker at a roughly 25-degree angle. A second, swappable set of slightly taller feet is included.
During my testing, the Mackie StealthBar had the misfortune of being flanked by a pair of powered Mackie CR3 bookshelf speakers. Switching back and forth between the speakers setups, the StealthBar–quite naturally–couldn’t compete with the CR3s (which have since been supplanted by Mackie’s CR-X series), with the narrow soundbar lacking the depth, richness, and soundstage of the similarly priced bookshelf speakers.
Of course, that’s to be expected; the StealthBar is a soundbar, after all, and that means a smaller, narrower cabinet along with (in this case) smaller and fewer drivers, all in the name of a more compact and convenient form factor. So here’s the real question: How does the StealthBar perform given its inherent limitations?
I started my listening with Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” and I liked how the StealthBar delivered the timbre of The Boss’s spare vocals and guitar strums, while the percussion and synthesizers sounded warm and reasonably deep. The StealthBar’s stereo separation was tough to discern on this track, particularly when I got up from my desk and stood a few feet away. Overall, however, I was impressed by the StealthBar’s clean, warm approach.
Next up was Billie Eilish’s “Oxytocin,” which presents more of a challenge due to its deep, thumping bassline. Indeed, one of the StealthBar’s main weaknesses–its low-frequency response–became apparent here, with the passive radiators struggling to keep up with “Oxytoxin’s” big beats, particularly as I cranked the volume; luckily, the speaker’s line-out jack means you can add a subwoofer, such as Mackie’s CR-X-series sub. On the plus side, the track’s more exaggerated stereo effects were easier to detect on the StealthBar, while Eilish’s vocals sounded smokey and alive.
Switching to classical, I teed up Florence Price’s Symphony No. 4 on the Naxos label, and the StealthBar did a nice job handling the dynamics of the sweeping first movement, with quieter woodwind and brass sections winding up for big, punchy crescendos. I also jumped to Vlado Perlemuter’s rendition of Maurice Ravel’s solo piano works for Nimbus Records, and I enjoyed the subtleties of the keystrokes and the atmospherics of the venue, even considering the StealthBar’s narrow soundstage.
Besides music, Mackie is also pitching the StealthBar as a gaming speaker, so I took a stab at Monster Hunter Rise on the Nintendo Switch (I don’t own the Steam version yet) with the console connected to the StealthBar via Bluetooth. Switching the StealthBar into Game mode, I hunted a massive Diablos in Sandy Plains with my bow, and I got a kick out of the swelling soundtrack as well as the fearsome bellows of the creature. That said, don’t expect any surround effects, a minus when it comes to detecting attacks from the rear.
Personally, I’m still a fan of bookshelf-style PC speakers, and even if you don’t have room for them, I’d recommend making some. Still, if you’d rather go the soundbar way, the Mackie CR StealthBar makes for a solid and affordable choice. It boasts clean, crisp sound, an attractive and sturdy design, and plenty of connectivity options, including Bluetooth 5.0 and USB-C. Yes, its bass response can get iffy at higher volumes, but you could always add a subwoofer later.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.