Seems I've been listening to Meadowlarks next to Thiels for a couple of years, on and off. Seriously A/B'd some Thiel 2.3s and some ML Hotrod Shearwaters for quite a while -- bought the Thiels (and wrote a bit about what and why on a thread called "Thiel 2.3 VS Meadowlark Shearwater HR" if you feel like searching and reading about it).
On second thought, Ill just impose part of it on you, as, over the years, it has pretty much come to reflect how I feel about Thiel v. Meadowlark across the boards:
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
(Beginning of this year, I spent a while listening to a pair of HR Kestrels next to the (then) new Thiel 1.6. Unfortunately, the Thiels were about 2 days out of the box and were simply not ready for real listening yet, but recognizing the handicap, the Kestrels were much nicer sounding for $1k less. The Kestrel HR, Id have to say, is quite a lot of speaker for the price.)
Finally, (you thought Id forgotten) I had a listen to the Swifts precisely two days ago. They immediately reminded me of the Shearwaters with the immediate and palpable midrange. However, while the Shearwaters took careful listening and direct comparison for me to discern (or imagine) any fault with the rest of their dynamic range, the Swifts seemed to announce themselves as a one trick pooch right out of the gate. A very acceptable soundstage, a nice midrange, but the rest of the range seemed awfully stripped down and lean, without any real warmth or tonal richness or fullness or presence to speak of. They were impressive in the way that a little yippy dog can make a whole hell of a ruckus, chase off or discourage much larger beasts, and leave you impressed with their vigor and tenacity but, at the end of the day, five pounds worth of pooch is still only five pounds worth of pooch. Sure, the Swifts strut it well, make the most of what theyve got, and may even run with the big(er) dogs for some applications but, to my ears, they sounded like a very insistent little dog trying very hard but in a little over its head. Could they hang there, probably. Would I prefer a little more meat and weight and flesh on a speaker, absolutely. All in all, struck me as a dinky little two-way monitor perched up on some transmission line stilts with a dash of attitude and delusions of grandeur. Theres certainly a place for such a beast, but me, Im sticking with the Thiels for the time being.