Meridian launch their latest products designed to make our digital world sound better
As Bob Dylan once sang, the times they are a changin', and never has this been more true than in the world of high fidelity audio.
The way people listen to music has fundamentally changed, opening up entirely new markets and giving some products a new lease of life. Meridian have been pioneering digital audio since the 1980s and given music’s shift into the digital realm, it was only a matter of time before the British manufacturer started using their expertise to make products that addressed the changing priorities of consumers. If these products also happen to be a little easier on the wallet than some of Meridian’s more traditional equipment, all the better!
Meridian was founded by Bob Stuart and Allen Boothroyd, who met in Cambridge in the early 1970s and quickly discovered a shared passion for music. At the time, high-performance audio manufacturers tended to concentrate on producing the best separates possible, without necessarily considering how one product would sound when used in conjunction with another. The two friends felt that since the individual components weren’t being designed to be used together, this was resulting in a reduction in sound quality. Their solution was to focus on making systems that, whilst still using separates, would combine them in a way that formed a complete audio pathway. Since Bob had a background in acoustics and Allen had a background in design, it seemed logical for them to design and manufacture their own audio equipment. And so Meridian was born.
The first product made under the Meridian name was their M1 active loudspeaker, which was released in 1977. In that same year Meridian also released their 100 Series modular system, which brought to fruition their concept of ‘building block’ design. In 1983 Meridian joined the digital revolution with the release of their MCD, the world’s first high-performance CD player. The MCD showed the potential of digital audio and Meridian realised there was more to digital audio than just the compact disc. The following year Meridian launched their 200 Series, which built on the promise on digital audio, and in 1988 it received a Design Council Award. Meridian finally delivered on the full potential of digital audio in 1993 with the launch of their 500 Series, and specifically the 565, which was the world’s first digital surround processor. This remarkable product not only delivered an incredible audio performance but was also upgradable, allowing owners to keep up with constantly evolving audio codecs.
The 500 Series ultimately evolved into the G Series and in 1997 Meridian launched their definitive 800 Series whichm thanks to its upgradability', remains their flagship range. In 1998 the company developed Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP), which was designed to provide bit-accurate audio in a smaller storage space and with a lower data rate. MLP became the standard compression rate for DVD-Audio and is still used as part of the Blu-ray specification. The company continued to develop their active speaker range, using a digital signal until the very last stage in order to maintain audio quality. Their active loudspeaker design benefits from built-in power amplifiers, low-level electronic crossovers and a dedicated power supply.
Meridian's Control 15 embodies storage, control and playback in a single unit.
However, they also expanded their speaker range to reflect people’s changing habits, with the M80 Entertainment System which was released in 2010. This all-in-one 2.1-channel audio system incorporated all the company’s digital expertise with the latest features, such as an iPod dock, to create a single solution to today’s digital reality. Last year the company released their M6 loudspeaker, which was specifically designed to offer a more open sound, and can be placed anywhere in the room. This speaker recognises that these days music has become the soundtrack to our lives and people often just have it playing in the background, so the M8 is designed to offer quality and flexibility.
In December 2008 Meridian bought Sooloss LLC who had developed a number of sophisticated digital media systems. This acquisition brought Meridian full circle and finally delivered the full potential of digital audio, combining both quality, flexibility and convenience. At their press launch yesterday, Meridian had their latest Control 15 which embodies storage, control and playback in a single unit. The Control 15 has a 500GB built-in drive that can store albums in true lossless CD quality using FLAC (up to 24-bit/192kHz), while an integrated CD drive accommodates CD imports. Further storage can be added externally and the Control 15 automatically locates other streaming storage on the network and seamlessly integrates it into your music collection. There is a high-contrast 17-inch touch screen that provides direct access to your music, whilst the user interface has been designed to provide intuitive access to your entire music collection and add Internet radio via the integrated TuneIn directory.
At the press launch the Control 15 was connected to Meridian’s 818V2 Audio Core, that’s a pre-amplifier to you and me, and a pair of their DSP8000 digital active loudspeakers. There was no denying that this combination sounded fantastic but for those whose budgets won’t stretch to such a wallet-busting system, you can always use the Control 15 with slightly cheaper equipment. Aside from the touch screen and Meridian’s MSR+ remote control, there’s also a well designed iPad app that essentially mimics the user interface found on the Control 15. Whilst the Control 15 itself certainly isn’t cheap, costing a hefty £4750, Meridian now offer an entire range of streaming products that are designed to address how we listen to high fidelity music in the 21st century. Who could have imagined back in 1983 that the computer would be the primary source of a high-end audio system?
The almost ubiquitous nature of the computer as an audio source, these days, means that an entire range of new products has developed.As a result manufacturers like Meridian are trying to find ways of improving the potential of your digital music. In February, Meridian launched their Explorer portable high resolution USB digital-to-analogue converter (DAC), which at only £249 represents something of a bargain from the company. This small, light but attractively designed piece of kit is intended to enhance the audio performance of your computer for both headphone and hi-fi listening. It combines an asynchronous USB audio class 2 DAC with Meridian’s propriety digital signal processing to replace the soundcard on your computer and thus improve the sound quality. It works with Mac, Windows or Linux, supports up to 24-bit/192kHz and includes a headphone amplifier with on-board analogue volume control.
We had a chance to compare the Explorer with the on-board soundcard of a MacBook Pro and there was a definite improvement in the clarity of the audio. The Explorer is also very small and light in the hand, making it extremely portable, but we were glad to see that Meridian has retained the excellent build quality for which they’re renowned. The Explorer is also flexible, with Meridian using a 3.5mm combination analogue/digital jack with mini Toslink digital optical output and 2-channel analogue line out and a 3.5mm headphone jack. As a result you can use the Explorer as a headphone amplifier, as a DAC or pass the digital signal through and just take advantage of Meridian’s digital processing.
Whilst the Explorer has the emphasis clearly on mobility, Meridian’s latest product has been designed to enhance the audio quality throughout your home. The Director is a high-quality DAC designed to deliver superior audio quality from any digital source, specifically when listening on an analogue hi-fi system. The Director is intended to be the ideal add-on for network players and music servers with digital outputs, bringing Meridian’s digital processing expertise to an entirely new class of audio products and systems. These sound enhancing technologies are derived from the award-winning line of Reference 800 Series components, and significantly out-perform the DACs found in computers and most network players. The Director can be connected to your PC or Mac via USB and any digital source via optical or coaxial S/PDIF and to your hi-fi via stereo analogue outputs.
The Director supports sample rates up to 24-bit, 192kHz and incorporates Meridian Resolution Enhancement technologies, including Meridian Upsampling and the Apodising filter, thus improving audio quality. Meridian's proprietary Apodising filter is designed to result in a purer sound, and can also clean up some recording faults, particularly in earlier digital recordings. Standard sample rate signals (16–24 bit, 44.1/48kHz) are automatically upsampled to 24-bit 88.2/96kHz, whilst separate precision reference oscillators are included for sample rates based on 44.1 kHz and on 48 kHz, minimising jitter.The sound enhancing technologies in the Director are derived from the award-winning line of Reference 800 Series of components.The DAC, itself, offers extremely low modulation noise and distortion and incorporates the highest quality components throughout, including audiophile grade capacitors, resistors and gold-plated phono sockets. Some features of the design are based directly on circuitry and components used in Meridian’s Reference 800 Series. The Director itself, whilst bigger than the Explorer, is still reasonably small but still retains the solid build quality we expect from Meridian and at a cost of £449, represents something of a bargain - relatively speaking.
No doubt whilst tipping his fedora to Dylan, David Bowie once sang "the times they are a changing and the changing isn't free" and whilst that might be true, at least in the case of the Explorer and the Director those changes are considerably cheaper than the rest of Meridian's line-up!
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