Two Value-Priced High-Performance Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Von Schweikert VR-2 Versus Meadowlark Osprey
Review by Wayne Donnelly
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Meadowlark Osprey and Von Schweikert VR-2
Enjoy the Music.com readers love comparisons. Since these two loudspeakers showed up on the "upcoming reviews" list several months ago we have received numerous inquiries about how they stack up head-to-head. When I decided on this comparison it seemed a natural. Here were new designs from two well-respected designers, both offering exceptional price/performance value, and similar in size, likely system compatibilities and price. Since then only one thing has materially changed: while the Von Schweikert VR-2 remains $2,595 per pair, the Meadowlark Osprey has gone from its introductory price of $2,995 per pair to the current $3,495. Still, I don't find the $800 difference so great as to invalidate the comparison.
Looking at today's high-end audio marketplace, the $2,500 to $4,000 price range seems to me a kind of watershed for value, with many models offering clearly better performance than most less costly loudspeakers, and knocking on the door to challenge many models at $5K and even more. Both of these loudspeakers for example, compete surprisingly well in a number of aspects -- especially, bass
performance -- with my much-modified Eggleston Andras. And the current Andra II, the closest stock equivalent to my pair, is $20,000.
There are many similarities here: both are basically 3-way designs, although the VR-2 adds a fourth driver with its rear-firing "ambience retrieval" tweeter. The transducer is used in the VR-2 are custom-designed by Albert Von Schweikert, whereas Meadowlark's Pat McGinty uses high-quality drivers sourced from ScanSpeak. In my view the respective driver technologies are a push from the listener's perspective. .
Both companies favor transmission-line bass systems, but both add new wrinkles to the classic concept. Meadowlark modifies the traditional labyrinth with its proprietary BASS-IC configuration. VSA offers a "stuffed three-chamber" implementation, unlike anything I have seen before. My view is that whatever works is fine, and bass performance is a strength for both of these loudspeakers. BTW, the VR-2's highish impedance curve should make it performed quite well even with low-powered (20 to 30 watts and up) tube amplifiers.
Meadowlark preaches - and adheres rigidly to -- physical time alignment of the drivers via a slanted baffle and first-order crossover
designs -- both aimed to produce a time-coherent waveform comprising the output of all three drivers. The VR-2 crossover is described as "cascading first-order" slopes, forming cumulatively a fourth-order crossover (i.e., much sharper cutoffs where the drivers overlap. The VR-2 baffle is vertical, not slanted; Albert Von Schweikert says that the crossover design achieves time coherence by compensating electronically for the different driver speeds, resulting in timing differences too short to be detectable by the human ear. In my listening sessions, both loudspeakers proved to be non-fatiguing and open sounding. But I would grant a slight edge here to the Osprey.
Build Quality And Cosmetics
Build quality as related to sonic performance seems comparable. Both companies use high-quality crossover parts, internal wiring, binding post hardware, etc. Both also have commendably well braced, solid cabinets that score quite well on the good old knuckle rap test-no untoward ringing or hollowness. Both provide good plinths to widen the footprints of these narrow and potentially "tippy " floorstanders.
Cosmetics are a different matter, and it is here that I find the most clear-cut differences. The "entry-level" VSA models, including the VR-2, are manufactured in China to Albert Von Schweikert's specifications. They come in a choice of four wood veneer finishes;
Maple, Dark Cherry, Black Ash, and an unusual (and to me very attractive)
African Hazelwood. The veneer work is excellent, and a final clear-coat protects the cabinets. The VR-2 is about eight inches shorter than the Osprey, but the two have nearly identically sized footprints. The simple rectangular shape of the VR-2 might be described as elegant or unobtrusive if you like it, plain or severe if you don't.
In comparison, the Osprey is a bird of fine plumage. All Meadowlark loudspeakers are hand-made at the company's Watertown, N.Y. factory. Very few loudspeaker manufacturers can equal Meadowlark's plethora of cosmetic choices, with numerous exotic side/back wall veneers, solid hardwood baffles and customizable accent "stringers." With its greater height, more sculpted shape and frequently dazzling wood grains, the Osprey has a considerably more dramatic and noticeable presence-which may be good or bad, depending on your preference. I feel safe in conjecturing that much of the Osprey's $800 price premium,
hundreds more with certain woods and veneers, is related to these cosmetic factors.
The Audiophile Checklist
In the full reviews of these loudspeakers, I assigned the following scores:
Obviously, the scores are very close in almost every category. Please, dear reader, do not write in to quiz me about what makes the difference between 91 and 92 or 85 and 87. God's honest truth is, I can't do it. I try to be consistent and honest with the numerical ratings, and in this case I think they are pretty much OK. But there's no ironclad repeatable formula. Hard as any reviewer may try, assigning numerical values to the sound of music is bound to be somewhat subjective.
The meaning of the above ratings, as I see it, is that the Osprey has a slight edge in refinement across the full frequency spectrum, most pronounced in the high frequencies. It scores higher in fit and finish primarily because of the cosmetic differences described above. Please note that both loudspeakers score a remarkable 96 on value.
So, how else can we distinguish between the two? How about some very subjective thoughts? Essentially, for this listener, the VR-2 has a "reach out and grab you," somewhat more forward sonic "personality." The Osprey is comparatively a bit laid-back in its presentation,
almost as if it's waiting for you to discover the lovely musical treasures it's producing.
I hesitate to label any good loudspeaker a great "rock" or "pop" speaker, because it suggests that the loudspeaker is somehow deficient in more subtle genres such as classical vocals,
chamber music or jazz, and the VR-2 performs admirably in such music. But I do suspect that a reader whose tastes run primarily to popular music may especially enjoy the VR-2's energetic, upfront
(not aggressive!) presentation. As previously stated, I think the Osprey offers a degree more tonal refinement and low-level detail retrieval than its competitor. But the Osprey can also boogie. These two excellent loudspeakers are outrageously good for the money, and that's all I'm sayin!
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
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.
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.
Dimensions: 8.25 x 45 x 16.5 (WxHxD in inches)
Weight: 80 lbs.
Warranty: Five years
Von Schweikert VR-2
System Type: 3-way, 4-driver system, with Transmission-line
Woofer System: Twin 165mm (6.5") composite cone drivers
Treble System: 1" (25mm) fabric dome tweeter with soft
resin damping layers, low distortion motor, Ferrofluid liquid cooling/damping,
and long-throw voice coil and motor assembly
Damping System: Resonance Trap cavity provided for insertion of
Crossover: Global Axis Integration Network, 4th order slopes
using cascaded 1st order filters at 200Hz and 2.2kHz. Polypropylene
caps and air-core inductors are utilized. All drivers are connected in phase.
Ambience Driver: 1" (25mm) soft dome tweeter with wave
guide mounted at rear of the cabinet and Dimension Control for effects level
Frequency Response: 25Hz to 25kHz, -3dB (+/- 1dB in the
Sensitivity: 87.5dB/W/m anechoic, 90dB in room.
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal, 7 ohms low to 20 ohms high.
Power Handling: 20 watts minimum, 200 watts maximum r.m.s., 500
Wire Connection: Five-way binding posts, fitted for 6mm spade
lugs, with CE approved sheathing. Twin pairs are fitted, for bi-wiring or
bi-amplifying. Jumper straps are supplied.
Warranty: Ten years conditional, excluding abuse and/or burnt
voice coils due to clipping. Warranty is transferable to the second owner.
Dimensions: 40 x 8 x 16 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 66 lbs raw, 85 lbs with sand, 95 lbs with lead shot
Price: $2,595 per pair
Meadowlark Audio Inc.
800 Starbuck Avenue Suite A-103
Watertown, NY 13601
Voice: (315) 779-8875
Fax: (315) 779-8835
Von Schweikert Audio
1040 - A Northgate St.
Riverside, CA 92507
Voice: (951) 682-0706
Fax: (951) 682-6701