I’ve had a pair of Meadowlark Audio Kestrels Hot Rods for 20 years. They sound great. The company has changed quite a bit and no longer offers their original type of speakers. I asked the owner about new speaker advice, and he wrote the following:
“ FWIW - audio is about to turn the corner. The new format both outperforms conventional audio and costs less, when you consider the cost of the entire system. Plus the speakers can be much smaller. Plus room correction comes along for the ride. So the whole value proposition improves greatly; which is something that should happen when technology advances. Because conventional audio has little appeal to younger buyers - they can see it’s last century’s tech - the demand equation is changing. Add those two pressures together and you see the coming sea change.
So, anyway, my best advice is to be cautious about spending on new conventional gear.“
His website says more.
Is this true? Is all we know about audio gear about to radically change?
There are in fact more and more speakers coming to market using the same philosophy that Pat now favors. But his new products are in a different price category than his earlier company. I owned Kestrel and Shearwater HR’s back in the early 2000’s and a really good speaker they both where with a similar philosophy to the original Vandersteen offerings.
Well, the CD, while capable of producing more dynamic range, doesn’t really beat out vinyl in dynamic range. In fact, if you look at the dynamic range database, vinyl releases is are usually a bit better than their CD counterparts. That is down to mastering choices but it is reality.
I think his whole premise is wrong and is what he writes is a marketing ploy to sell more of what he is going to come out with soon.
Well, I’m a big fan of DSP based Speaker Systems. My Sealed Box 901 rig’s sound was improved tenfold over the old Analog Active EQ’s which were good but DSP takes these Speakers a huge step forward. Removing the old 60’s/70’s style grille cloth was also a big help.
If I ever did another DIY build. I’d take an already successful cabinet design (either 2.5 or 3 way) and go the miniDSP route for sure. The fact that I can tweak the Active Crossovers from my listening position is a bonus.
Supposedly Martin Logan and others are going in this direction.
I still have yet to listen to anything Class D that does not give me headaches after an hour or so. I can listen to Class A and Class A/B tube amps all day long…
So wireless streaming, DSP and Class D powered speakers? Nothing here is truly new, and you would definitely be limited in sound quality of each stage, the DSP, the DACs, the amplifiers, and the speakers themselves. I’ve avoided this path for a few reasons: I don’t typically like the flavor of these Class D amps, I don’t like most chip-based PCM-based DACs, DSP can degrade sound and I don’t like to mess with it too much, and lastly because any analog source I put into it will be converted to digital and processed, ruining the sonic benefits.
If they could do this with high end DSD DACs, high quality class A MOSFET amps, it would sound great, but these are not compact technologies you can fit in a floorstanding speaker.
Also, high pass filtering bass can increase headroom, but it can also destroy your bass! I have a number of recordings that have notes below 40hz. This would remove a lot of that. I’m not an expert, but isn’t a similar solution just to have a crossover so bass frequencies aren’t eating up your dynamic range higher up?
I don’t know that much about this new wave, other than his stuff starts at $6K and goes up. I can say he’s a really good speaker maker and knows excellent sound, thus I’m hesitant to discount him until we see the finished product.
Here’s where we need to be careful with our thoughts and theories. I’m running a DirectStream DAC Sr. into a 48/24 MiniDSP and then out to 2x M700’s and then to my Bose Series 2 Continentals. I am using the DSD Sr. as my Preamp. Any changes in sound quality are easily detectable even after the miniDSP’s add “colour” (EQ). The same would hold true of Tubed Preamp or even a FET based Preamp.
Sure you will be able to notice changes in the signal path with the DSP going on, absolutely. Personally, I would rather have DSP happening before the fancy DAC as a lot of the sound quality advantage will be lost with the extra AD/DA stages. Whatever works for you, but I really hate conventional PCM converters and would feel that they spoil the DSD sound.
In theory, yes, the DSP should be placed before the DAC. MiniDSP does have provisions for I2S output but I chose to use the DSD Sr.'s two I2S inputs for True DSD Playback via my Sony Universal Disc Player/Streamer and PCM playback on the other I2S input. The Coax is reserved for L & R playback for 5.1 PCM playback.
As to spoiling the DSD sound, I don’t feel that way. Theory would agree with your comment though.
When reading Pat’s advice, the first thing I needed to do is unwind marketing from wisdom. Sure he wants all of us not to spend money on ‘conventional gear’ and instead spend it on his products.
With that out of the way, there is little new about the combination of Class-D electronics and DSP for loudspeaker applications. It’s of interest some of my favorite music both artistically and technically is on older (even much older) formats that are without question technically inferior on paper. Yet completely satisfying when reproduced with my obsolete A/B electronics, tubes, vinyl and conventional loudspeakers. I remember with the rollout of compact disc some of the most wretched recordings I’ve ever had the misfortune of being assaulted by with 96 dB dynamic range. My observation is fascination with what the technology can do in principle is fine but of little consequence when recording engineers just pump out junk now reproduced with an extra 20 dB or more of dynamic range. So, long story short satisfaction with the emotional response my gear creates for me drives my purchase decisions more than marketing bullets on the technology in the speaker box (or electronics box).
I’m a little bummed that the link to his website doesn’t actually offer any technical response in terms of how these new products he is pushing actually accomplish the goals he frames.
Or perhaps why old tech fails to accomplish or can never accomplish the same goals?
It’s obvious the value proposition is changing I’m terms of the products he is referring to(simply removing extra cabling and casing from the equation accomplishes a lot in terms of efficiencies). It’s not obvious that the ceiling of what he calls older tech I limited though. I’m also not clear how pure speaker design fits into this equation?
Edit: I read more of the website that does a better job of describing technically what he is talking about. So…yea I’d wager my medical license he is right about the change coming. The caveat being that this isn’t some overnight timeline. It’s going to be a while(I think). Certainly in the range of multiple years. Probably at least a decade before it’s truly legit.
I just think driver innovation has exploded over the last decade and I wonder if, for many of us, the days of inexpensive speakers paired with expensive electronics will become extremely common.
Before I went to active speakers, I was using a pair of $1,700 Focal stand mount speakers with $8,000 worth of preamp, amp, DAC.
There’s a time and place where it makes sense.
In the 1960’s those new transistor thingies were going to kill the vacuum tube. But if I take a peek at the BHK Tube Rolling thread, there’s close to 1000 posts, and new tube gear coming out all the time. In the 80’s, the CD was going to kill vinyl, and now we have eye-candy turntables that cost as much as a house. In the 00’s, mp3 was going to kill hi-resolution, and now it seems hi-res (or 44/16, at least) is advancing on mp3. And so on.
Confusing… so the whole point of the link is we need to take advantage of 24 bits of dynamic range (144dB). OSHA kindly reminds you not to exceed 114dB for 15 minutes per day. 144 is louder than a jet engine. I mean, I get what they are trying to say but if your goal is to truly get 144dB of range some Crown amps and JBL line arrays will do you just fine. You won’t be able to hear any detail after a few months anyway.
I think DSP+active speakers can be a very wonderful thing. All of the popular bluetooth headphones do this and have been for a very long time. Beats by Dre? Yeah, same concept. Bose, same thing in a different DSP curve. Am I going to abandon my hobby of matching separates, cables, speakers, room acoustics and hunting that nice warm musical holographic sound? No. I like my hobby. When I give it up then maybe I’ll go active. I’ve already got my short list.
I owned a Naim Mu-So for a while. Amazing little box. And I think that’s where DSP and integrated amps are really going to shine. Give me the same sound quality in a smaller, and sleaker looking, box and I’m much more interested.
EDIT: More details in how they use DSP which is all good stuff. Doesn’t fix my room though http://www.meadowlarksings.com/dsp%20and%20dynamic%20range.htm
Kii Audio does all but the wireless part of this already. I haven’t heard the Kii Threes, but people say they sound really good. They seem to do a particular thing that appeals to “performance” more than lushness, and I would expect this company’s products would fall along the same lines. And those that like a richer electronic signal path with the tradeoff of maybe less good driver and crossover performance, will probably continue to do what they are doing.
Conventional audio has little appeal to young buyers?? Then why is it that the turntable/vinyl Renaissance is being led by young people?
I think if you look at what DSP can do then yeah I agree. I love what Bill at Legacy Audio is doing with his stuff…