Today Meade sells various high-end lines of Schmidt-Cassegrains (which hardly anyone seems to buy), its ETX telescopes, various low-end/poorly constructed manual and computerized scopes, a few nice manual scopes and Dobsonians, and the Coronado solar telescopes – which have, sadly, also taken a decline in quality control in recent years.
Meade’s occasionally false or misleading advertising, poor customer service, and their constantly-changing product lines that they may stock absolutely zero spare parts for makes it hard for us to recommend them as a brand. They still makes some nice telescopes, but we would not particularly recommend buying anything from them with a computer involved and if you do, be warned – it may have issues and they will not be of much help with solving anything. We have had problems with some relatively recent Meade products and needed spare parts and customer service literally told us to go to eBay and find them ourselves because they didn’t have any.
Meade was founded in 1972 by John Diebel. Originally, Meade was an importer, primarily sourcing from Japan and operating out of John’s apartment but their offerings soon expanded. Diebel began providing his Japanese manufacturers with design input and by 1977 Meade was operating out of a full-sized warehouse in Costa Mesa, California. Around this time, Meade began producing high-quality equatorially-mounted Newtonians with their own optics, sourced from former Cave and Coulter Optical employees.
In 1980, Meade made a permanent name for itself with their 2080, an 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain.
Excluding the failed Criterion Dynamax line, Meade was the first manufacturer to attempt to directly compete with Celestron’s C8, which had been on the market for ten years and was beginning to show its age. The 2080 offered superior rigidity with its extendable telescoping-leg tripod, as well as a DC-powered worm gear drive compared to the C8’s AC-powered spur gears.
A 2040 4” SCT and a 2120 10” SCT Meade telescope soon followed. Eventually, these scopes led to the demise of Meade’s Newtonian line. Meade continued innovating and often outpacing Celestron throughout the 1980s, but the high demand for telescopes thanks to Halley meant that both companies’ quality control suffered. Meade felt this the most – we have looked through many Meades from the 1980s with mushy, fuzzy views at high power. There are some Celestron scopes that had these issues, but we have seen more mushy Meades than Celestrons from this period.
In the 1990s Meade introduced their LX200 line, which is still available in an upgraded version today. The LX200 was the first GoTo telescope that was readily available and affordable to amateurs – Celestron’s earlier efforts at similar systems were largely failures. They also introduced the ETX, a 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain with optics (albeit not mechanics) comparable to the famed Questar, and eventually rolled out the AutoStar computerized handset for both the LX200 and ETX. At one point they succeeded in driving Celestron to near-extinction, but Celestron came roaring back in the mid-2000s, thankfully preventing a monopoly by Meade.
However, all was not well. By the mid-90s Meade seemed to have largely become concerned solely about profit. Their customer service was and remains poor, and more and more of their sales became “department-store” telescopes sold at big box stores with bad mounts and accessories designed solely to prey on unsuspecting consumers. Meade Instruments went public in 1997 and attempted to buy the dying Celestron in 2002, being stopped only by the FTC.
In 2006 Meade Instruments moved most of their telescope production to Mexico, citing profitability concerns. They also introduced the “RCX” line, a series of modified Schmidt-Cassegrains they claimed were Ritchey-Chretien telescopes – false advertising. Not only did manufacturers of actual RCs sue, but the RCX scopes were plagued by technical problems of all sorts and Meade’s customer service quality didn’t help. Various other technical issues happened with other telescopes and the financial crisis of 2008 further damaged their sales. All of this resulted in them nearing bankruptcy by the early 2010s.
Meade was bought by Ningbo Sunny Electronic Co. in 2013 and is now a small fraction of the size it was at its peak. It’s not exactly clear on whether Celestron’s parent company Synta owns Sunny, but there is definitely a link between the two.
Meade Infinity & Polaris Telescopes
Infinity 70Mm Az
Polaris 130 EQ
Meade ETX Line Of Telescopes
ETX 80 Observer
ETX 90 Observer