Meridian 207 Pro CD player

In a way, you could say that Meridian started the now epidemic practice of modifying stock CD players (usually of the Philips-Magnavox species). The original Meridian player, the MCD, was a reworking of the first-generation Philips and was praised by J. Gordon Holt in these pages in his 1985 review (Vol.8 No.2). The Meridian Pro (Vol.8 No.6) won similar plaudits, and is still to be seen lurking in JA's system. And the original 207 was well-received by MC in Vol.10 No.3.

666mer207.jpgThe latter was designed around the Philips 14-bit, 4x oversampling technique (as the earlier Meridian players had been), and managed to hit the market just as the new 16-bit, 4x oversampling chip set started a boomlet in new players. Meridian retained the 14-bit design briefly, but had to rework the 207 for the new 16-bit devices when Philips discontinued the 14-bit chips. The new 207 Pro—the model under evaluation here—is built around the latest 16-bit Philips digital technology. The original 207 incorporated a line-level preamp—including one additional high-level input plus tape facilities (one tape loop)—and an electronic, stepped volume control; fixed outputs were also provided. The updated 207 retains these features, and adds an optional, plug-in phono stage with internally selectable moving-coil/moving-magnet input.

What we have in the 207 is not just a CD player, but a CD player combined with a full-function preamp, including phono preamplification should the buyer opt for the phono stage. It's not entirely unexpected that Meridian should produce such a design; combine the 207 with one of several available Meridian active loudspeakers, and you have a relatively compact, fully remote-controlled, CD-based system.

Functions
Externally, the latest 207 is identical to the original—a well-finished, two-box player. The separate transport section is connected to the control section by a parallel interface cord (footnote 1); the linkage is quite short and only permits enough separation between the two chassis for direct side-by-side or stacked mounting. The front-loading transport and its control board are Meridian designs (the original 207 used Philips mechanicals), though the drawer physically resembles that of the Revox player. The control panel is divided into two sections: the glass-faced upper portion is used for all numerical indications, the lower section houses a double row of control switches. All of the inputs and outputs are mounted on the rear of the control unit, including a headphone jack, multi-pin sockets for interfacing with other Meridian components (footnote 2), and a digital output. All standard CD programming facilities are provided. In addition, a number of the control keys have alternate functions, triggered by an "alternate" switch which operates like a typewriter shift key or computer Control key—except that you don't need to hold this "shift" key down.

The most unusual of these alternate functions is an absolute-phase inverting switch which operates in the digital domain and is operative only on CD. I found one quirk with this feature: when the unit is first powered up, it starts in normal phase, but as soon as you open the CD drawer, the absolute phase automatically reverses and must be reset with the function switches. Once reset, it stays that way until manually changed. But if you turn off the power, you must repeat the cycle. This should be only a minor problem, as the 207 is designed to be left on at all times (the main power switch is on the rear panel). But if your local power is prone to interruptions (I get one or two a week), you'll have to monitor the absolute-phase indicator more closely.

The ergonomics of the 207 are a bit different from those of the Philips-based CD players I have used of late. I found the differences maddening until I got used to them. To move to the next selection you push "play," not "next." You can push "next"—more than once if you wish to move ahead several bands—but then you must subsequently push "play" to actually play the selected band. Most players I have evaluated simply move forward one band for each press of the "next" control. To move back a band or more, the 207 requires you to press "previous" until you reach the desired band, then push "play." On other Philips-based machines, you need only press "play" to repeat the present selection. I eventually got used to the 207's unusual functional design, but I still consider Philips's ergonomics more intuitive.

When used in the variable-output mode, or as a full-function preamp, the 207's level is controlled by a 64-step, FET-switched resistor array and is indicated on a numerical display. The gradations between steps were small enough—varying between 1 and 2dB—to provide adequate control; settings between the steps were, of course, not possible. No balance control is provided in the preamp section. In some situations the lack of this control may be a problem; users will have to judge the need for it for themselves. Of course, if you're using the fixed outputs into another preamp you won't have to make the sacrifice. I usually prefer having the facility to make fine balance adjustments, but managed to get along without it when testing the 207 with its own line stage and variable output sans exterior preamp.

Internally, the 207 has its own share of high-tech wrinkles: Sorbothane-sprung isolation of the transport as well as an acoustically sealed environment for the spinning disc, shielded digital circuits, several individual power supplies driven by separate power transformer windings, passive analog de-emphasis and filtering, and fewer active stages than the original 207. The optional phono stage is based on a new ultra–low-noise IC op-amp dedicated to audio reproduction (the Linear Technology LT1028). Those who have sworn off ICs for the duration may take their recess during the discussion of the phono-stage sonics. Phono equalization incorporates a non-defeatable IEC-standard low-frequency filter—3dB down at 20Hz.



Footnote 1: Computerese for a "D" connector with parallel rows of small pins.

Footnote 2: This includes a tuner and optional facilities for control of a multiple-room installation.

COMPANY INFO
Meridian Audio Ltd.
US distributor: Meridian America Inc.
8055 Troon Circle, Suite C
Austell, GA 30168-7849
(404) 344-7111
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