Meadowlark HotRod Shearwater loudspeaker Page 3

Warmly ingratiating? Yes, there was indeed a certain touch of bloom in the lower-midrange-to-midrange transition between middle C and A-440 on the piano. Were the Hot Rod Shearwaters "precise" enough for members of the crowd who eschew personality in speakers? Perhaps not, but I experienced the Shearwaters' sonic signature as neither colorations nor tweaky emphases, but as a welcome touch of character—and believe you me, their midrange was the glory of my analog front-end. On a three-LP set of Pablo Casals' famous 1936-39 recordings of J.S. Bach's Six Suites for Cello Solo (Angel CB-3786), these august performances were conveyed with such amber immediacy that I found myself swooning in their sepia glow—but never at the expense of depth, detail, or transparency. And soundstaging? Roll over, PCM digital, tell Sam Tellig the news!

However, when listening to Jimmy Iovine's exemplary production of Patti Smith's Easter (a first-pressing Arista LP, AR4171), I discovered what amounted to a minor kink in the Shearwater's armor. While it delivered plenty of snap and crackle on Smith's rousing anthem "Till Victory," in my estimation it lacked some of the requisite pop needed to satisfy hard-core rockers. Such are the tradeoffs for coherence, linearity, and harmonic accuracy. Still, on Star Kitty's Revenge (Universal 440 016 701-2), R&B diva Joi's long-awaited follow-up to her visionary "Record To Die For" The Pendulum Vibe (EMI 8 27762 2), the Shearwater delivered ample low-end slam on "Lick"—where bass is practically spoken as an expletive—while floating this petite powerhouse's bluesy lead vocal well above the madding mix. I concluded that the Shearwater's low-end performance was neither lean nor lacking, but a tad laid-back. Thus, while the speakers were able to induce internal bleeding, my dentures remained intact.

Yet ultimately, for me, a speaker's fidelity to recorded vocals is a more tangible inducement than the prospect of receiving a lap dance from the bass player. Throughout the superb new double-gold disc special edition of the Amadeus soundtrack (Neville Marriner/Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Fantasy 2WAMCD-44352), female vocals soared unimpeded and unconstrained, as if suspended in their own amniotic fluid—from the piping, woodwind-like upper-register leaps that punctuate the Queen of the Night's aria (from The Magic Flute) to the feathery, gossamer counterpoint in Confutatis (from Mozart's Requiem), with which the soprano section suggests a receding vision of heaven.

And, in the English sea shanty "What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor" and the Venezuelan joropo "Mata del Anima Sola," from Let Your Voice Be Heard (Cantus CTS-1201) by the male vocal ensemble Cantus, the Shearwaters easily sorted out the complex layering and intermingling of the basses, baritones, and tenors while maintaining ensemble integrity, delineating individual details, and reproducing the sublime recorded acoustic that Stereophile's own John Atkinson has so meticulously captured—all in a perfect symmetry of rhythmic, textural, and ambient cues.

In a last, conclusive test, I listened to two inspiring solo-piano recordings: Sviatoslav Richter's Richter Rediscovered: Carnegie Hall Recital, December 26, 1960 (RCA 63844-2), and Arcadi Volodos' disc of solo piano works by Schubert (Sony Classical SK 89647). The Shearwaters brought me closer to the subtle percussive clack of the hammers as they struck the strings, and I apprehended no strain or ringing as they reproduced the transient snap of Richter's dazzling percussive articulations and expressive palette of tonal colors in the Allegro of Haydn's Sonata in C.

The Schubert disc was recorded direct to DSD last summer in the acoustic grandeur of Vienna's Sofiensaal, a ballroom where Johann Straus II's orchestra kept 'em dancing (sadly, it burned to the ground barely a month later). This amazing recording showcases the depth of Volodos' touch on Schubert's Sonata in G. The young virtuoso patiently builds momentum throughout the long opening movement in waves of chorale-like lyricism and layers of nuanced textures as he rises from ppp to fff. Throughout, the Shearwaters maintained a perfect stereo image without grain or compression, while conveying the organic interplay of the piano and the resonant venue.

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