Meadowlark HotRod Shearwater loudspeaker Page 2

Swooning in a Sepia Glow
For the Shearwaters' initial break-in period, Meadowlark suggests at least 300 hours! Over time, I observed how the tweeter's performance grew sweeter and more open, while the bass driver's focus grew firmer and more dynamic. Thereafter, week by week, they had a greater sense of ease, balance, and focus, which translated into improved midrange lucidity with a commensurate increase in depth and detail.

To optimize the sweet spot, I needed to be fastidious about setup. This has a lot to do with the integration of the drivers in a time-coherent, first-order design—as I discovered during close encounters with the Vandersteen 2Ce Signature when I reviewed it for the October 2000 Stereophile. As I stood up, sat down, or moved from side to side, I noticed subtle shifts in perspective with the Shearwaters, as if looking at a hologram from different angles. Not that the Shearwaters weren't pleasing off-axis, but the optimum sweet spot was narrower than what I'd experienced with the steep-filtered Joseph RM33si Signatures that preceded them.

The Shearwaters ended up farther apart than the RM33si's had been, and closer to the back wall of my 12' by 20' room. With the Shearwaters speakers in the same positions as the Josephs, I was getting a thickening of some midrange frequencies. So I moved them about a foot back, which put them 57" from the back wall (as measured from the center of the woofer on the front baffle). This opened up and clarified the sound. Then I moved them farther apart—24.5" from the left wall (a fully laden CD cabinet) and 17.5" from the right (a chest of drawers piled high with books and gear), which helped break up first reflections. Now a full 7' apart (measured from the domes of the centrally placed tweeters), and with my listening chair 7-9' away, the Shearwaters' sweet spot blossomed and bloomed. Soundstaging snapped into focus with commensurate senses of depth, lateral coherence, and inner illumination that were realistic, involving, and utterly magical.

Still, the Shearwaters did not recommend themselves as nearfield monitors. When I sat too close, they tended to sound a bit harsh; when I sat too far back and too low, the dimensional aspects and microdynamic cues that lent such vibrancy and realism to the soundstaging were reduced in scale.

But right away, I was captivated by the quality and quantity of the Shearwater's bass: extraordinarily taut and snappy, yet richly detailed and warmly focused. I ran the Hot Rods through a gauntlet of percussion and bass to confirm my initial impressions of their transient speed and dynamics, low-end weight and accuracy, midrange transparency and articulation, and top-end smoothness and extension. On a 1977 LP reissue of the 1950 Edgard Varèse sessions produced by Jack Skurnick and originally released on EMS 401 (Finnadar SR 9018), there is a satisfying oomph and earthy undertone to the big calfskin-headed bass drum on this legendary performance of Ionisation that I could feel right in the small of my back. The Shearwater reproduced both the initial attack and its complex reverberations as gong-like overtones resonated, skin against skin.

And yet the Shearwater portrayed the upper overtones of the flute at its steam-pipe extremities in the closing moments of Density 21.5 with comparable dynamic veracity: wide open and uncompressed, even as the microphone's transducer distorts (an effect repeated in an even more calculated, challenging manner with the brass and woodwinds at the conclusion of Octandre).

As a drummer, I was pleased to discover that nowhere on my more modern percussion recordings, such as Jon Iverson's performance of "Metalanguage" (from his CD Alternesia, M•A Recordings M3), did I detect the kind of fudged resolution of metallic instruments one normally experiences as enharmonic, unnatural artifacts in the attack and a smearing of complex overtones. The Shearwaters offered a vivid depiction of the lovely lateral imaging and upper-frequency details of Iverson's analog recording of tuned gamelan percussion, even as it sorted out and tracked parallel streams of buzzing ratchet sounds, hand drums, and sustained low-frequency drones.

Likewise, on a splendid vacuum-tube recording of Valery Gergiev's spirited rendition of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring with the Kirov Orchestra (Philips 289 468 035-2), the Shearwaters handled the colossal bass-drum transients on "Augurs of Spring: Dances of the Young Girls" with graceful aplomb. Through lesser speakers, that initial attack can cause the bass driver to hit its end-stops, but the Meadowlarks simply shrugged, capturing all the layered harmonic mystery of the big drum's complex decay even as massed horns spoke without a hint of glare. Rhythm and pacing were exceptional; beats seemed to stop and start on a dime, with superb lateral imaging and a holographic soundstage. Better yet, there was an inviting ease and naturalness to the presentation, a believable sense of the recording's acoustic venue, with a warmly ingratiating midrange.

800 Starbuck Avenue, Suite 103
Watertown, NY 13601
(315) 779-8875