The Meadowlark Audio Swift Loudspeaker
The Meadowlark Swift is a sleek, 5.5", two-way, compact speaker which produces very pleasant sound for its price range ($995 US per pair). The Swifts are a mere 7" wide all the way to the top, and stand 3' high without the base. They look very nice as well as fairly inconspicuous, even in a small living room. I can even stand them beside another set of speakers in a 10' wide room, and that beside 15" deep record cabinets. And considering the cosmetic advantage, they deliver decent audio as well.
The positives: A large sound picture which well out sizes the distance between speakers (in my listening room, about 7 feet); a good sense of depth right across the breadth of the stereo image, with particularly striking depth of image well beyond and outside the speakers; consistently good response in the upper midrange and highs.
The negatives: a certain glare particularly apparent in the reproduction of brass and orchestral climaxes; a tendency to segregate the 2 speaker images; most seriously, a treble-dominated tonal range - despite the manufacturer's publicity claim that 'at the recent Stereophile Show in Manhattan we amazed throngs of experienced audiophiles with the Swift's spectacular bass performance.'
Known for their transmission line designs, Meadowlark have refined the design for the Swift. They state ' ...very simply, we have made a major leap forward in transmission line design, a simple and elegant design that is the next logical step in bass systems. We call it BASSIC for Impedance Coupled Bass. Making its debut in the Swift, BASSIC will astonish you with its depth, dynamics and firm, firm grip.' Workmanship for this price level is outstanding. Meadowlark continue '...By virtue of acoustically aligned drivers and a simple first order crossover the Swift is a time coherent speaker, it faithfully reproduces the signal it is given without the insidious timing errors common among other speaker designs. Our goal is that you will enjoy the music as it was originally played, without the effects of intervening circuitry that alters the timing and adds distortion. The Swift's crossover is isolated in its own compartment and consists of just three parts of the highest quality. One heatsinked Caddock resistor, one Auricap capacitor and one heavy gauge Sidewinder air core inductor.'
Perhaps my normal speaker placement (about 4' out from the back wall, 2-3' from the side) does not play fair with their small aural image; nevertheless, the Swifts sometimes seemed light in music where I most wanted them to be solid. A fairly typical '8Os digital such as the Saraste/Finnish Radio Mahler 5 [Virgin RCZ 72435] shows off the strengths and weaknesses in fairly equal proportion: the imaging is very nice, width more than depth, though; Mahler's typically histrionic scherzo, however, is not flattered by the rather splattered brass blat and blather; his strings have little body. Whereas the placement of sections in the orchestra is well rendered, with no distinct 'hole' in between speakers, the climaxes have little 'oomph', however much volume they attain. As to the reason, the absence of lower midrange is my hunch (the bass is there, but it too lacks power). Nevertheless in the adagietto the violins are nicely and quite sweetly caught. Then again, the conclusion with its prolonged descent in the low strings has much more gravity in some of my old and grainy LPs.
On to an analog showpiece: Previn's gorgeous performance of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony [LSO/ EMI CDC 7 47159 2]. Much more weight in the general orchestral sound, particularly the cellos, bass and brass; a pleasing representation of the upper midrange, happily without distortion; the violins are still a might thin (compare the LP's luscious violins, ASD 2889 - but in this test I'm only using CD player); a well-integrated spread across the room, winds well represented around the centre (beautifully cradled by the strings in the great adagio), yet managing to punch through even the climaxes. There is still, however, a certain lack of richness (Gramophone's critics might call it bloom), heft in the heart of the orchestra. The bass drum and timpani strokes of the allegro molto lack force.
In another musical galaxy, Frank Sinatra at his '50s peak: Swing Easy! coupled with Songs for Young Lovers, both in plum mono, both conducted by Nelson Riddle [Capitol C2 4870]. The Voice is in great shape, and the Swift does it justice. My Funny Valentine, They Can't Take That Away From Me, Just One of Those Things and 13 other standards. The orchestra sounds terrific, with a mild reservation occasioned by a certain dryness. The soundstage is not too small, but it is confined between the speakers, not unusual for mono (though, contrary to myth, that phenomenon is also not universal). I come away very pleased on the whole. There's plenty of body and no sacrifice of midrange. Everything sounds about right, a fair approximation of the sound of the original LPs. This is cleaner sound, little doubt, but perhaps also not quite so full as the LPs.
Lastly, we test the tolerance of the low end a bit. The most spectacular of the great recordings Kenneth Wilkinson did for Charles Gerhardt's Classic Film Scores series, Bernard Herrmann's Citizen Kane and other less well known works [RCA 0707-2-RG]. Recorded in Kingsway Hall, London in 1974, this one has it all: unbelievable dynamic range, Herrmann's trademark weird orchestration, sweet and sour effects galore, and great ambience, as does the whole series. The Swift gives us excellent detail and depth, precise placement and, generally, timbral accuracy. The dynamic demands, on the whole, are coped with well. My main concern, other than, once again, a slight lack of body compared with the original LP, is a dryness and slight asperity in the violins and brass, totally consistent with the results previously itemized here. The multitude of low frequency rumbles and jolts which made this record such a sensation are generally heard, if not felt in the same way as they were on the LP. The disc's most famous sonic challenges, the nine (!!!) harps of Beneath the Twelve-Mile Reef; the bottomless brass of the Octopus sequence from that film; the finale of Hangover Square, in which the mad composer pounds on at the piano as the orchestra flees the fire devouring the hall around them, clanging out the thunderous last bars of his concerto alone from the midst of the inferno; the wild percussion of White Witch Doctor, which mixes standard orchestral effects with authentic African instruments and the obsolete medieval horn known as the serpent - all these wonders of Kenneth Wilkinson's art are also tributes to the ingenious composer, and to the general fidelity of the Swifts, although the Witch Doctor bass drum finale did cause slight distortion.
Inevitably, there's an economic sawoff in a speaker at this price range. Can you do better for under a thousand? Perhaps, but I admit for the listening period I was quite content in the continual company of the Swifts. And what with their diminutive dimensions my wife didn't complain once.
Manufactured by Meadowlark Audio Inc
800 Starbuck Avenue Suite A-103 Watertown NY 13601
Phone: 315 779 8875 Fax: 315 779 8835
web: http://www.meadowlarkaudio.com e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Price: US$ 995.00/pair.
Available Finishes: Light Ash, Dark Ash, Black.
Source of review sample: Distributor loan
Dimensions:7""W x 91/2""D x 36""H (exlusive of base)
Bandwidth 35Hz - 22KHz.
Sensitivity: 89dB 2.83V 1M room.
Nominal Z: 8 ohms.
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