Meadowlark Audio Shearwater (Hot Rod Version)

      Date posted: February 24, 1999

Meadoloark Shearwater Hot Rod

Size: 40″H x 9″W x 1″D
Sugg. Retail: $4495 pr (CAN)
Distributor: Tri-Cell Enterprises,
4 Newlove Court,
Rexdale, Ont.
M9W 5X5
(416) 738-8300 FAX 748-6937

(Reprinted from the Winter 1999 Audio Ideas Guide)

      Some speaker reviews are relatively short because there’s not much to say about yet another conventional or budget speaker; but others are so because the designer has done just about everything right, and has added to this synergy genuine creative intelligence. The latter is definitely the case here.

     The Meadowlark Audio Shearwater is unusually expensive for a 2-way design, using an 8″ ScanSpeak carbon-fibre impregnated paper woofer and a 1 1/2″ ScanSpeak silk dome tweeter that’s smooth to beyond 25 kHz. The dome is surrounded by a foam anti-diffraction device similar to one of our Imagers, and the baffle edges are curved to minimize diffraction as well. The drivers are “decoupled from the baffle by a layer of Keldamp proprietary elastic damping material, and the 2″ thick baffle is, in turn, decoupled from the main cabinet with a second layer of Keldap.”

      The crossover is 1st order, while the driver arrays’ backward slant time aligns them acoustically. Internal wiring is all point-to-point, and the all-metal bi-wire binding posts are high quality gold-plated types. The woofer is coupled to a transmission line that is tuned very low to achieve a -3 dB point of 35 Hz. The cabinet is a very attractive rosewood veneer that appears to be sealed with a glossy lacquer (Ash and Ebony are also available). The version tested is “hot-rodded” with better parts and wiring, and each system is tested and specified to tighter performance tolerances. Shearwater Frequency Response

     In general, this speaker reeks of superbly painstaking design effort, and the measurements show it. Though there is a midrange shelf that is up about 2 dB from bass and treble between 200 and 1000 Hz, the Shearwater is otherwise superbly linear. The Pink Noise Sweep at top (the squigglier one) is overlaid very closely by the Summed Axial Response, always a sign of good design: if what we hear in the room (PNS) correlates with the sum of the axial curves, the “parts” as it were, then the speaker must have good, even dispersion. In fact, the only reason these curves differ above 1 kHz is the 60o off axis curve seen at bottom, which pulls down the SAR a bit above 1 kHz and below 10 kHz. And this is a good thing, too, because it controls the energy bounced off side walls to improve imaging, another function of the baffle’s foam circle. The quasi-anechoic curve between axials and PNS/SNR is also very linear, though shelved down above 1 kHz. And not to forget the bottom end, look at that bass that extends smoothly to below 25 Hz. Rolloff? Forget it! After looking at the curves on the screen, I immediately checked to make sure my twin Sunfire subs were off. They were. Shearwater Impedence Curve

     Over the years we’ve seen many 1st order designs that were all over the place in response, woofer and tweeter lobing like crazy, especially off axis. This the best I’ve seen since Roy Johnson’s Green Mountain Audio Continuum 1 (Spr 97). And the impedance/phase curves show this, too. The impedance is well controlled, with about a 13 ohm value in the midrange, and a peak of 25 ohms in the bass, though it goes off scale below 20 Hz because of the transmission line; unlike a low-tuned reflex system, this one should be tight and controlled all the way down. The lowest impedance value is 7 ohms in the mid bass. The 1st order crossover’s main virtue is its very low phase shift, here seen between 1 and 2 kHz (impedance is above it); it looks like better than +/-15o. Combined with good acoustic phase, this should result in superb imaging and overall coherence.

     Well, that was just one of the things heard in auditioning the Shearwater. That bit of midrange emphasis could be heard, and is, I suppose, the price of having a 2-way design with an 8″ woofer. But this just gave even greater warmth and definition to choral music, with a quite holographic presentation of individual voices as well. It had a little less sparkle than the Veritas, but equal definition with a hair more coloration.

     Female voice was immediate, a little forward, with just a bit of extra sibilance, but all this could be forgotten in the wonderful soundstage, which had corners way back there. Piano had a presence that I’ve heard from few loudspeakers, with an utter authority at the bottom. Speaking of bottom…the Shearwater is an organ lover’s delight, going effortlessly right down into subwoofer territory with exceptional pitch specificity, a trademark of well tuned transmission lines.

     The tweeter was fast and agile, without being at all shrill: detail was just there, without aggression or splashiness. I didn’t hear that hint of sibilance that was suggested on some voices (if you look at the quasi-anechoic curve there’s that mild bit of emphasis at 7 and 10 kHz on axis).

     In sum, the Meadowlark Audio Shearwater plumbs the depths and preserves the nuances like few speakers in our experience, while imaging like crazy, and is the best 2-way design we’ve yet reviewed. It goes to show you what careful, intelligent, and balanced speaker design can yield.

Andrew Marshall

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