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February 2004
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Meadowlark Audio Osprey Loudspeaker
Review By Wayne Donnelly

 

Meadowlark Audio Osprey Loudspeaker   Well, here we go again. The Osprey is the fourth Meadowlark loudspeaker I have reviewed in that same number of years. The first three, in sequence, were the $1,795/pair Kestrel Hot Rods, $8,000 Blue Herons (both discontinued and replaced by new models), and the Swifts ($995 when reviewed, now $1,195 per pair). The Swift introduced the company's new look, featuring a front baffle slanted back from bottom to top and made from a single piece of solid hardwood rather than veneered MDF. All of those loudspeakers proved to be gratifyingly musical, and all were excellent values in their price ranges. Since I greatly appreciate such qualities, and because Meadowlark founder and designer Pat McGinty has a track record of musically significant innovations, I'm always curious about what he has done with new design. 

In the Meadowlark product line, the Osprey is the new-generation replacement for the Shearwater, which the company long touted as "the two-way lover's two-way." The Shearwater was in fact a kick-ass loudspeaker; it imaged like a champ and was excitingly dynamic. When the Osprey was announced, I recall hearing some fearful mutterings over the loss of the Shearwater. No worries mate as you will learn, the Osprey is even better, and at almost the same price as its predecessor. Moreover, the Shearwater is still available by special order.

 

Best Dressed
With black-painted plinth attached and spikes deployed, the Osprey stands a tad under 4 ft. tall. The footprint is 16.5 inches deep, and the baffle is 8.25 inches wide, so the physical presence is not overwhelming in my listening room. The review pair is in lovely warm-toned Pennsylvania cherry, with a stylish contrasting rock maple "stringer" running full-length down the center of the baffle. A very nice look, especially with the black stretch grille cloth removed. Call me weird, but I would rather look at beautifully made transducers than black cloth. The Osprey, like every other Meadowlark loudspeaker I have reviewed, sounds best with no cloth covering the drivers. 

Meadowlark has for years offered an unusual breadth of choice in wood finishes, including stunning tropical hardwood veneers. But since moving into their roomy factory in Watertown, New York, McGinty and company have plunged headlong into woodworking craft, offering a dizzying variety of hardwoods and veneers. So versatile are the company’s manufacturing capabilities that the customer can order one variety of veneer for the MDF side and rear walls, choose from several different solid hardwood baffle options, and then specify a variety of decorative stringers in yet another wood—getting a truly custom-designed pair of loudspeakers at what strike me as quite reasonable upcharges.

 

The Meadowlark Mantra
Three design principles underlie every Meadowlark loudspeaker: time coherence, first-order crossovers and transmission line bass. Time coherence is exemplified in the carefully calculated slant of the baffle, which compensates naturally for the speed differences among the woofer, midrange and tweeter so that the direct waveform from all three drivers reaches the ear at the same time. The use of first-order (6dB per octave) crossovers, in tandem with the physical time alignment of the drivers, avoids the phase shift anomalies that typically occur with steeper crossovers (e.g., fourth-order, 24dB per octave).

McGinty argues articulately on his web site that time coherence is essential to long-term musical satisfaction and avoidance of listener fatigue. Being no engineer, I have no ideological position on the technical merits of different crossover slopes, but since "less is more" is pretty much my default attitude in matters of engineering, and since I have experienced remarkably relaxed extended listening sessions with every Meadowlark loudspeaker I have reviewed, the "time-coherent, first-order" argument makes intuitive sense to me. 

I have long favored the third leg of the Meadowlark engineering platform, transmission-line bass. The first "great" loudspeaker I owned, 30 years ago, was the big-as-a-small-refrigerator IMF Reference Standard Professional Monitor Mk. IV. Those British behemoths employed a classic transmission-line labyrinth to get more deep bass out of the storied KEF B139 oval-shaped woofer than was ever otherwise achieved: - 3dB @ 16Hz. They didn't need no steenking subwoofers! (Younger readers please excuse this detour down memory lane.)

McGinty has dubbed Meadowlark's present transmission-line implementation "BASS-IC" (an acronym for Impedance-Coupled Bass). This new wrinkle on the classic theme first emerged with the little Swift, which gets startlingly big bass out of a five-inch woofer. The Meadowlark web site discusses the concept at some length, so I will content myself by saying that the Osprey's impressive bass performance is achieved by coupling the BASS-IC transmission-line labyrinth to a single, very fast, seven-inch woofer. Woof!

The Ospreys enjoyed a lengthy break-in in my secondary system, driven mostly by the 40-watt Jolida 202A integrated tube amplifier. That combination sounded agreeably smooth and reasonably robust. Later, in the reference rig, the Ospreys were matched up with the tubed Thor TA-1000/3000 and Atma-Sphere MP-3 preamplifiers, the solid-state Spectron preamplifier, and the Atma-Sphere M-60.2 OTL monoblocks, delivering engaging sound in every case. The bulk of the listening was with the Ospreys on the downstream end of the VTL TL 7.5 line pre-amplifier and VTL MB-750 Reference monoblocks — a formidably neutral-sounding and revealing combination that has yet to meet the loudspeaker it doesn't like — and control effortlessly. 

The great value of auditioning numerous components (and cables) with a loudspeaker is to get a handle on its differentiation capabilities. Yes, every configuration sounded good, but in subtly different ways that consistently confirmed what I had previously written about those components in my review listening notes, as they were auditioned with my custom-modified Eggleston Andra IIs. The ability to resolve clearly such subtleties among fine electronics speaks very well of the $3,500 Ospreys.

 

Hearing the Osprey's Sing
Excerpted listening notes, early evening session, 7-11 p.m. Alison Krauss + Union Station, Live: "Alison's voice crystal clear, no hardening on high harmonies; rhythmically agile, foot tapping, in-chair boogie--outstanding color on acoustic bass — really captures 'twang' and decay on dobro and guitar, Allson's bowing resiny." Steve Earle, Jerusalem: "Easy to follow lead vocal in dense mix; edgy midrange/top end—recording not quite up to last few previous." Richard Thompson, Mock Tudor: "soaring electric guitar. Eat your heart out Jimmy Page; who else sings with such devastating irony; kick-ass up-tempo drive. " 

Excerpted listening notes, late evening session, 11 p.m.- 2 a.m. Mikhail Pletnev, Carnegie Hall Recital: "Real sense of piano in large hall; on big chords in Appasionata — clean hard leading transients, damn good harmonic richness; Rosenkavalier final trio, [Fleming, Bonney, Graham: "delicate, refined — voices floating in air. Will I ever listen to this without crying? Hope not. Separates the three voices as clearly as the Andras." 

Excerpted listening notes, Saturday afternoon session. Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers [MoFi LP]: "Amazing separation of the two guitars in ‘Bitch'; Charlie's hi-hat on ‘Dead Flowers' as clean and quick as I've heard. Respighi, Pines of Rome [Reference Recordings CD]: "They handle full dynamic range, no sweat; these things play loud with no signs of stress. The most bass I've heard from these speakers—stays tight, good pitch definition even very loud. " Mahler Resurrection Symphony [Klemperer, EMI LP]: "string tone glorious, easy to sort out violas; scaling from solo voice to full chorus is breathtaking. No stress or breakup at huge climax. Damned impressive. "

I could go on, but you get the idea. The Ospreys handle everything I throw at them with aplomb. No matter what the music, they maintain control of dynamics and scale, and they generously deliver vocal and instrumental harmonics. All that and they look good too.

 

Bottom Line
Meadowlark makes much of their loudspeakers being hand-made in America, and of their use of real wood. You know, "ever heard a composite violin"? And why not? To be able to sell such a a handsome loudspeaker that sounds this good — not perfect, but clearly a high-quality, genuinely musical loudspeaker — for $3495 per pair strikes me as admirable…and surprising. Meadowlark's winning streak is still going.

 

ABOUT THE NUMERICAL RATINGS: The reader should bear in mind that the following numerical ratings are intended to reflect ABSOLUTE values, not relative "for the money" performance. Too often there is a tendency toward "grade inflation," leading to the assumption, for example that a $1,000/pair loudspeaker scoring, say, 60 on bass response has poor bass performance. Actually that would be an excellent score. Can we really expect $1,000 loudspeakers to approach the performance of designs costing 5, 10, 20…100 times more? The scoring range is 0-100, not 90-100!

 

Tonality

92

Sub-bass (10 Hz - 60 Hz)

85

Mid-bass (80 Hz - 200 Hz)

87

Midrange (200 Hz - 3,000 Hz)

91

High-frequencies (3,000 Hz on up)

91

Attack

91

Decay

91

Inner Resolution

90

Soundscape width front

89

Soundscape width rear

87

Soundscape depth behind loudspeakers

86

Soundscape extension into the room

84

Imaging

89

Fit and Finish

96

Self Noise

NA

Value for the Money

96

 

Specifications

Type: Three way, front ported

Tweeter: Scan Speak 9500 series fabric dome tweeter

Midrange: 5-inch driver

Woofer: Scan Speak carbon graphite 7-inch woofer married to a BASSIC bass alignment. 

Frequency Response: 30Hz to 24kHz

Sensitivity: 88dB/W/m

Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms

Connector: Five way gold plated loudspeaker binding posts

Internal: All connections are point to point silver soldered by hand and internal wire is Tara RSC. The Osprey is set up for bi-wiring and ships with jumpers for single wiring.

A tripod base with threaded hardened steel spikes assures stability. If you plan to use Osprey on hardwood floors please tell your dealer as they will ship with nylon glides.

Dimensions: 8.25 x 45 x 16.5 (WxHxD in inches)

Weight: 80 lbs.

Warranty: Five years

Price: $3,495 in standard finishes: Light Ash, Dark Ash, Ebony. A contrasting Heritage Walnut stringer may be added to Light Ash for $100.

Upgrade Finishes: Pennsylvania Cherry and Traditional Mahogany add $400, Rock Maple and Heritage Walnut add $500. Contrasting stringers may be added to these woods too for $100.

 

 

Company Information
Meadowlark Audio Inc.
800 Starbuck Avenue Suite A-103
Watertown, NY 13601

Voice: (315) 779-8875
Fax: (315) 779-8835
Website: www.meadowlarkaudio.com
E-mail: meadowlarkaudio@meadowlarkaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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