Review: Meadowlark Audio Kestrel hotrod Speaker
When searching for a floor stander in the sub 2K price range, it is easy to become quickly overwhelmed with all the available choices. I started my search and quickly came to the conclusion that there are two major categories that most speakers fit into: hi performance bargains or over-priced junk. Depending on taste, most of us who seek high price to performance ratio come up with a handful of top choices and then one design wins by a narrow margin. This, however was not the case when I got my hands on a pair of Meadowlark Kestrel Hotrods.
Meadowlark is a NY based company that specializes in transmission line speakers. All of their stereo speakers are time coherent designs, making for the most accurate type of configuration in terms of phase interaction with the driver elements. Not only are these puppies innovative, they are also beautiful to look at. In their various furniture grade wood veneers, Meadowlark speakers have perhaps the highest W.A.F. (wife acceptance factor) of any speaker on the market.
The Kestrel is a $1400 two way with a 1" Vifa tweeter and a 6.5" Scan Speak woofer. These drivers are mounted on a sloped (time aligned) front baffle which is made of 3/4" MDF. The cabinet is entirely deadened by a proprietary compound called Keldamp. Knocking on these speakers sounds like knocking on three inches of solid wood. For around $400 more, the hot rod version offers even more dampening with additional Keldamp, bi-wire cofiguration, and upgraded internal wire, cap, and crossover elements.
When I put these speakers through the gamut, I had the luxury of working at a high end store where I was able to connect them to a variety of gear. Having this advantage meant that I was able to put them through their paces at my leisure and do a lot of toe to toe comparisons with most of the other usual suspects in their price/performance class. Enough about the surrounding details, let's get down to the nitty gritty shall we.
I listen to darn near everything short of country, Kenny G, and bad opera, and as such I threw most of my CD and vinyl collection at the Kestrels. I like to use a reference for each genre that I primarily listen to so here's a quick list of some of what I threw at these: Diana Krall, Nora Jones, various Deuitch Gramophone Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, Mike Patton, Secret Chiefs, Morchiba, Faithless, Dido, At the Drive In, Primus, Eagles, Hybrid, Apex Twin, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Vangelis, etc. ( you get the picture).
I can't say enough about how good these speakers sound with such a wide range of material thrown at them. The bass response is tight and tuneful and the highs are smooth and buttery without sacrificing subtle detail. But I cannot forget what truly steals the show on these gems: the midrange. Hooked up to warm sounding English electronics or decent tube gear, the Kestrel's mids are just heaven. If vocals are your gig, I can't say enough about how much these will please you. Pace and rhythm are very present and the level of involvement is complete when listening to these speakers. In the area of mids and highs these speakers honestly compete with speakers running 2-3 times as much.
The one weakness on the Kestrels is the bass response. For very high level listening or super low bass material, you can do better for the money. Not to say that the six and a halves aren't great for what they are, but a sub may be a good idea if you like hard rock or electronic music.
Are these the best speakers on the planet? No. Are they the best damm speakers I've heard at the price? Hell yes.
If money were no object I would not own these speakers, I would own the $20,000 Nightingales, also made by Meadowlark.
Very enthusiastically recommended.
I use these with a Creek 5350SE & Creek CD 53. It is the best sub 6K system I have heard. It has upset more than one audiophile mega-buck system owner when auditioned.
Amplifier Sources: Creek 5350 SE, Antique Sound Labs 30w Tube integrated, Monarchy Audio 100 SE Deluxe Mono Blocks, Rougue Audio 66/88 Magnum Combo
Digital Sources: Cabridge Audio D500se, Music Hall CDP, Denon DCD-1650AR, Creek CD 53
Analog Sources: Music Hall MMF-7, Thorens 521 w/ SME tonearm and Koetsu cartridge
Cable: Interconnects:Tara Labs Prism 22, RSC Axiom, RSC Reference Gen 2, Air 2. Cardas Golden Cross, Audioquest Anaconda. Speaker Cable: Tara Labs RSC 1000, Kimber KT-8, Cardas Golden Cross, Analysis Plus Oval 9
Vandersteen 1C, Epos M15, Theil CS.5, etc.