Meadowlark HotRod Shearwater loudspeaker

Though each link in the audio chain is significant in its own way, we seem to spend more time agonizing over the choice and setup of loudspeakers than any other component. Floorstanding or stand-mounted? Full-range frequency extension or minimonitor coherence? Multiple-driver complexity or two-way simplicity? Pleasurable and forgiving or resolved and revealing? And even when money is no object, how much speaker do you really want...or need? It might sound splendid in the shop, but how will it couple with your room? How will it integrate with your other gear? Is it easy to set up and drive or will it involve specialized gear and a massive overhaul of your current rig?

First Order of Business
Speaker designer Pat McGinty of Meadowlark Audio makes such decisions comparatively easy. When he introduced the original Meadowlark Kestrel in the mid-1990s, McGinty had already cultivated a reputation among audiophiles in the San Diego area for designing a series of one-off speakers employing every variety of driver, loading, and crossover configuration. The Kestrel filled a niche in the marketplace: for a two-way floorstanding design, with good bass extension and dynamics, that was affordable, forgiving, and easy to drive.

"The original Shearwater was an extrapolation of the Kestrel in a slightly larger cabinet," McGinty recalls, "based on two premium drivers, which met the demand for more revealing performance with tighter, deeper bass, better midrange resolution, more natural-sounding treble, and enhanced dynamics across the board—all based on our philosophy of extreme simplicity and time-coherence."

Said philosophy was arrived at through trial and error, but the day Pat purchased an affordable MLSSA analyzer afforded him insight into the speaker-design process. This led in turn to his unshakeable conviction that using the best drivers in a robustly braced, transmission-line-loaded cabinet with a simple first-order crossover could yield accurate, detailed, nonfatiguing performance with a natural depiction of dynamics, good imaging, and articulate, well-damped bass extension.

"A loudspeaker's job is to re-create sound as accurately as possible," McGinty explains. "The output signal should look like the input signal—and only in time-coherent speakers is that the case. In non-coherent speakers the output signal doesn't look like the input signal, and that descends from using steep filters." The Shearwater therefore uses a slanted baffle and a time-coherent, first-order crossover, a single inductor rolling off the ScanSpeak woofer at 6dB/octave above 2.7kHz.

The control of cabinet resonances is every bit as important to McGinty as is time coherence. The Shearwater's cabinet is constructed from 1"-thick, high-grade MDF and a happy byproduct of McGinty's love of transmission-line woofer loading baffles is that the cabinet ends up massively braced. It also features what Meadowlark calls "double decoupling," a 1"-thick inner sub-baffle braces the main baffle from behind. Made of 2"-thick MDF, the main baffle sits on a 1/16" layer of Keldamp, a proprietary damping material used liberally throughout the Shearwater, and to particular effect in the separate sealed subenclosure at the bottom of the cabinet, which houses the crossover. "People are busy putting Tiptoes under their CD players," McGinty laughs. "Meanwhile, the crossover through which the signal is passing to the speaker is getting jack-hammered."

The Shearwater uses a hybrid bass-loading system. "We terminate a shortened transmission line in a low-Q vented alignment that makes for a slightly more benign impedance," explained McGinty. "It also dissipates the woofer's backwave by forcing the acoustic energy through a long, convoluted set of internal baffles, plus some resistive stuffing so that the air will work against an even larger surface area of absorptive material."

Finally, in response to dealer demands for custom versions of the Meadowlark speakers, McGinty experimented with several different combinations of parts before formalizing what Meadowlark calls their Hot Rod configuration: Cardas Solis copper binding posts, point-to-point internal wiring with TARA Labs Rectangular Solid Core, silver solder throughout, Auric capacitors, heatsunk Caddock resistors, and a 14-gauge Perfect Lay inductor for the bass circuit. The basic Shearwater is priced at $2695/pair, the Hot Rod version sent for review costs $3195/pair.

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