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Thats a tough call. Both are, in my opinion, great speakers. In the end, they ended up being the two I was trying to choose between. I got the Thiels, so I guess the best I can do is try to explain why. The Meadowlarks really do love tubes. They sounded the best when I was auditioning them on Conrad Johnson, VAC and Cary equipment. However, when I actually got the chance to A/B them with the Thiels, it was on a full Levinson setup with Nordost wires (which likely clocked in at around $40-50k retail, the works). The B&W Nautilus 804 was also in the shootoff, but well leave them out for now because I preferred the Meadowlarks for some things, the Thiels for more things (as it turns out) and found the B&Ws to be solidly in the middle, doing everything well but, to my ears, being outperformed by either one or the other. The Meadowlarks, as a transmission line two-way, excel at voice (that much-vaunted driver they have in there really is all that). Female vocals literally gave me chills in a way that the Thiels just couldnt match. Forward, immediate and very intimate. If you listened to just folkey acoustic stuff with a primary focus on voice and minimal instrumentation, these speakers would be hard to beat. However, when it came to more complex and dynamic material (or anything with a full orchestra) the Meadowlarks seemed to be trying too hard. You began to realize that the fantastic bass/midbass driver, no matter how fantastic, really was all alone down there and that there was only so much that all of the fancy transmission line tubing could do to prop it up. Now, dont get me wrong, they sound great. It was really only by comparison that they seemed at all lacking, but, by comparison, the Thiels just seemed a whole lot fuller, flat and natural from top to bottom, and, for lack of a better word, just right. I wont pretend that it is anything more than a personal preference, but they just seemed to get it all right. The Meadowlarks rendition of voice was simply chilling, maybe unnaturally so but very appealingly, while most of the rest of things seemed just vaguely strained, very subtlety, naggingly just beyond my ability to even understand why or how. I guess it is the fact that there was not really anything remarkable about the Thiels that make them so remarkable. It just seemed smooth and full, they call it coherent, which seems as good a word as any. Also, I guess the Meadowlarks were just a tad to forward for me, while the Thiels were much more laid back. I got some. That aside, be aware that driving Thiels v. Meadowlarks is a very different proposition. Meadowlarks are easy to drive. Like all good equipment, they will vastly improve in correlation to the quality of the gear making them go, but they are not all that picky. Theyll sound great no matter what (within reason) but seem to excel even more with tube amplification, and even 10-13wpc would be plenty. Thiels, on the other hand, are quite finicky. For starters, they need a lot of power. If they dont have enough clean, high current amplification, they can sound pretty bad. People seem to have the best results with in the neighborhood of around 200wpc, provided that it come from an amp with enough current to double into 4 ohms (which the Thiels average), although 100pwc can be enough as long as its really good stuff. Below that, they had better be pretty damn special wats. This, for the obvious reasons, make tube amplification a whole lot less practical. Doable, to be sure, but not cheap. Finally, folks will tell you to watch out for Thiels tendency to shade towards the bright. Personally, I havent heard it, but I was certainly aware of the advise when I got a tubed preamp and CD player, maybe an effective pre-emptive strike, maybe not, but it worked either way. Well, this is certainly more than I bargained for, but since you were asking the same question I had asked myself, figured I might as well share. Do try to have a listen, my reactions were 100% subjective and I expect half the folks might come out the other way. Either way (or any other way, there are lots of speakers out there in that price range) do enjoy the ride. (Also, dont let the fact that I was non-plussed by the B&Ws turn you off to them, word has it that the 804 is really the black sheep of the line and that both the 803 and the 805 are, for some strange reason, much more remarkable).
I've done some follow-up on this and it looks like my amplification equipment (Marantz reference series) integrated amplifier is likely to be just barely at or below the minimum power range for the Thiel speakers, despite its being considered a "high current" amplifier. Rating of 100 watts into 4 ohm load. The Marantz can be "bridged" with by purchasing another Marantz amp for 200 watts mono thus adding still additional cost to go with the Thiel speakers. Thanks for the prior follow up! The question now to consider is the gain in the performance with the Thiel worth the additional cost of the speakers plus a second amplifier or replacing the amplifier entirely with another.
This possibility opens up even more choices.
I listened to both and felt Thiel 2.3's were clearly the clear winner. They were also built better, the Meadowlarks had sloppy workmanship on the grill cover-this was true on several models and 2 different dealers. Thiels were more detailed/accurate, but I would recommend a tube power supply as some people feel they are too detailed/accurate and non forgiving. Overall they appeared to me to give the best rendition of the source.
Audio_sm - I'd be very hesitant to try to drive the Thiels from a Marantz receiver, regardless of the ratings. I have no hands on experience with the Thiels, but they universally are said to need power / current. My experience with larger Dynaudios, which also like power and current, is that you don't even come close to the full potential until you feed them right. I was driving them with 100 w/ch Krell KAV-series and then went to the 250 w/ch two-channel amp. Even though I rarely listen above modest levels, the speakers REALLY opened up. I believe you'll find the same thing with the Thiels.
If you like the Thiels sound, there's no doubt in my mind that they're worth the extra money if you can do the amplification properly - it's a whole different level. Don't take my comments wrong, though - everyone has budget concerns, so the fact that the Thiels are more demanding upstream doesn't mean that you won't enjoy them even if you can't do it all at once. I'm just saying that, if you buy them, you need an ongoing plan to improve upstream, especially the amplification. -Kirk
The responses to my original question are greatly appreciated. They are very helpful in my decision process. There is full consistency of the issues and results. I have for many years been aware of the problems with one speaker or another being well matched both to room and an amplifier's ability. Many years ago, I was able to stay close to the developments in the industry. Currently, however, living in a small town (now a small city) which as a friend of mine once described as "being in the middle of nowhere", I really did not know where to begin in looking for speakers. I know the type of sound I am looking for (but probably not the best words to describe it). I mostly listen to classical music,(mostly symphonies), some rock from the 60's-70's, "light" jazz, folk music and a few female vocalists. In order to enjoy these diverse types of music I need a speaker that will need to be lively, responsive and without harshness/ edginess. An underpowered system also will not work. Following the input in prior posts, I think that if I add a second power amp and running both my current Marantz preamp/amp and a new Marantz reference amplifier in mono should give me 200 watt/channel into 8 ohms. I will need to check into whether this combination will be able to handle (with stability) the low ohm ratings of the Thiel 2.3's or not. Based on the responses, I'm sure that the Thiel's are the better speaker and plan to listen to these later this week. (The closest Meadowlark dealer is approximately 400 miles in the opposite direction) If I like the Thiel's I will no longer consider the Meadowlark line. I looked into the Audio Artistry Dvorak's, looks like this system will be a great alternative. I will likely consider these as well. Since this is an efficient bi-amped system it given me much greater flexibility in choosing a second power amplifier.
Thanks again for all the help.