Birds of a Feather...
Anthony Kershaw auditions the Kestrel loudspeaker from Meadowlark Audio
According to a recent poll, teenagers use the phrase "it's not fair" eighty-six times a day! As audiophiles, we know the feeling. Listening to, and reading about, outrageously expensive audio equipment is one of the foibles we require of ourselves. We chant our litany silently: must keep up...must be current...must be...must be...Thankfully, there are some designers in audioland who have audiophiles of more modest means at heart. California's Meadowlark Audio is among them.
I came across the name Meadowlark Audio at the 1996 Montreal Audio Show. On display, was their entry-level speaker, the Kestrel. Even after a short listen under infamous show conditions, the Kestrels sounded good enough to warrant an in-depth audition. The speaker also looked intriguing, with its sloped baffle and splendid craftsmanship.
One of the deciding factors for a fledgling audio company, is the entry level product price point. The competition at the US$1000.00 price level is fierce, therefore, a newcomer must have something special to offer if their product is going to make a dent in the market. Also cause for concern are manufacturing costs, marketing, investment, etc. The risk factor is high, and, as such, can be a scary proposition. Happily, companies like Meadowlark Audio take such risks on our behalf. I can hear the cynics moan from here! Okay, there can be a substantial payoff if the product is a success, but, for most new manufacturers, the odds are against them. Supreme confidence in one's product must be a pre-requisite. Meadowlark's risk has philosophically paid off. Their Kestrel loudspeaker is a wonderful product.
The Kestrel is a two-way, floorstanding loudspeaker. The bass-loading is of the transmission line variety, with a 1" Peerless fabric dome tweeter and 6½" Vifa woofer - both placed in tandem on a sloped baffle. The baffle is positioned on the top 16½" of the speaker. The Kestrel is handmade using ¾" MDF, with the baffleboard 1½" thick. Measuring 8" x 9" x 36" (WxDxH), the cabinets are very well constructed. The manufacturer mentions the extensive use of internal bracing, much of it to form the transmission line. This construction helps to eliminate panel resonance and standing waves. Meadowlark suggests that combined with a first order (6dB/octave) crossover, the Kestrel will deliver the musical waveform accurately.
The back of the speaker reveals single-wire, gold plated, five-way binding posts and a three inch port. In keeping with the high standard of parts, internal wiring is provided by Kimber. Measurements published for frequency response, impedance and sensitivity are 38Hz-20kHz (+/- 2dB)/8 Ohms/89dB, respectively. A five year warranty is included. Grilles are provided and snap easily into a channel around the baffle. Although the grilles are designed to be sonically transparent, all listening was done without them in place.
My months with the Kestrel proved to be a very pleasant experience. Musically, it has a pleasing and balanced tone. The refined tone quality was supplied by a good mid/bass driver and a very smooth tweeter. The rock-solid transmission line bass was also very appealing. All types of music were involving, with large scale orchestral music and jazz especially satisfying.
Acoustically, the speakers are very easy to place. After several days of fiddling, three feet from the back wall and two from the side walls seemed about right. With this setup, my preferred listening position was not compromised musically in any way. Slight toe-in enhanced the image, but the soundstage was enhanced considerably with the drivers firing straight ahead. Such placement of the speakers did little to nullify their already excellent imaging. Happily, the speakers are easy to move (without spikes, please), so trial-and-error placement sessions can be buddy-free. The supplied spikes do the requisite job of holding things in place. The review was completed with the spikes attached.
Listening sessions with all types of music were a constant pleasure. Presently, I am reviewing the new John Marks Recording of Arturo Delmoni playing Brahms' 1st Violin Sonata (JMR 2). I found the violin tone had a depth and sheen that was beguiling, with the steely sound that plague many digital violin recordings absent. Delmoni's beautiful timbre was represented truthfully by the Kestrels.
Bass response was tested in dramatic fashion, courtesy of Reference Recordings benchmark disc of Stravinsky's ballets and symphonic poems (RR 70-CD). The Minnesota Orchestra, under their gifted conductor, Eiji Oue, perform spectacularly well. The bass drum reproduction at the end of The Firebird became a test of will between my amplifier's power rating and the lateral movement of the Kestrel's woofer. Result: Meadowlark over the Arcam by a TKO! The amp clipped well before I felt any strain from the woofer. The bass drum, when replicated at realistic levels, was thrilling in its extension and power.
The Kestrels also proved to be excellent reproducers of more gentle music. Flutist Rachel Brown's superb performances of Schubert and Boehm (Chandos 0565) are very pleasant examples. Ms. Brown uses several Baroque and Romantic instruments which are decidedly different in construction from the metal flutes produced today. The recording engendered a faithful display, in which the sweet and woody sound of the different flutes was rendered most accurately. Throughout the rather lengthy disc, the Kestrels addressed the differences in flute tone, and left the listener in no doubt as to the origin of the different sound sources.
Coherence is a priority with any speaker, and in this regard the Kestrels did not disappoint. Strangely, a slight midrange coloration was detected on certain CDs. My primary concern was one of midrange prominence, and this manifested itself in a gentle blurring of detail. Detail was not missing from the presentation, rather, it was the sophistication with which the detail was presented. As aural quality is in the "ear" of the beholder, your experience with the speaker may well be different.
When listening to two of my more demanding CDs, the Kestrel's few weaknesses became apparent. First up was the ubiquitous Holly Cole. On the album Temptation (Alert Z2-81026), she sings songs composed by Tom Waits. If truth be told, I am not a great admirer of la Cole, especially her comical attempts to sing standards! But, her performances of the quixotic Tom Waits songs are very moving. The second track, Train Song, contains some very deep notes on bass and tuned percussion. The bass was no problem for the Kestrel to decipher. The vocals, however, were a little congested in the midrange - the wistful and quirky nature of the song was somewhat diminished. When listening to the same cut on ProAc Studio 150s and Tablette 50s, Martin-Logan Sequel IIs, or the wondrous Waveform Mach 17s, Cole's tessitura remained clear and her aspirates focused.
The same slight coloration appeared when listening to piano music. Reference Recordings' CD of Eugene Istomin playing Beethoven Piano Sonatas (RR-69CD) is recorded with realistic dynamics and a very pleasing ambiance. During Beethoven's cruelly difficult allegros, Istomin's playing is both dramatic and fleet, with the opening movement of the Waldstein Sonata a particularly difficult test for player and speaker. Although the music sounded glorious, the transient snap of the piano sound was blurred slightly by the less than quick response of the speaker. In no way was the presentation sluggish, inelegant, or lethargic, but some listeners used to a super-fast presentation of initial attack and decay might be less impressed.
Although tempered by a few gripes, my initial reaction stands - the Kestrel is a formidable speaker. And, for the price of US$995.00, it is a downright steal. The design is elegant and the cabinets are finished with a high level of workmanship. Choice of veneers include Rosewood, Ebony or Ash. Some speakers which cost twice as much, deliver half as little! As audiophiles, we should be indebted to companies like Meadowlark Audio. Through ingenuity and risk, they have brought a product to the marketplace that is both affordable and does not take a back seat to speakers which cost significantly more. As real bargains are getting harder to find, give yourself a treat and have a listen.
Meadowlark Kestrel Loudspeaker
Manufactured by Meadowlark Audio
137-1611 A South Melrose Drive
Vista, CA 92083-5497
phone: (760) 598-3763, fax: (760) 727-6473
email: MeadowlarkAudio@compuserve.com, web: http://www.meadowlarkaudio.com
Source of review sample: Extended dealer loan
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