Meridian 602 CD transport
For example: "Bits are bits, and it is therefore dishonest for Stereophile's writers to continue to insist that they can hear any differences between CD players or digital processors!" recently wrote an angry reader, canceling his subscription. (They always tell me they're going to cancel their subscription.) "Yeah, right!" thought I, having just sat through a comparative audition of, would you believe, digital data interconnects in Robert Harley's listening room. Some of the differences I heard were not trivial. They might even be audible in a blind listening test.
I wished I could have uprooted that complacent Monday-morning digiphile, sat him down in Bob's system's sweet spot, and declaimed something along the lines of, "You can't tell me you don't hear that!" At which he would have broken down, said "You're right!", admitted the hitherto uncorrected error of his ways, bought a complete set of Stereophile back issues, and gone on to lead a full, productive life instead of conspiring with the Postal Service to destroy the equanimity of my Monday mornings. Instead, I respond to such critics with pleasant letters, littered with references and well-supported arguments, all of which I know will have no effect on the recipients' opinions.
It was with joy at the synchronicity, therefore, that on the following Tuesday I read the "Letters" section of the April 1991 issue of the English magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review (footnote 1). In a lengthy letter, respected UK designer Stan Curtis angrily dismissed the claims of engineers (who should know better) that it is a fact that a digital one is a one and a digital zero is a zero and ever more shall be so. Stated Stan succinctly, "This 'fact' belongs in a different category from the 'fact' that if you punch a brick wall you invariably hurt your hand," and he warmed to his theme by pointing out that once the CD's information has been read and error-corrected to produce digital data, this bit stream is totally unprotected from further degradation or corruption.
And one of the obvious ways in which to corrupt the data is to fool around with its timing, a process called "jitter." As I showed with the computer simulations in my recent "Jitter, Bits, & Sound Quality" article (footnote 2), varying the word-to-word timing of the data fed to the DAC by as little as 1nsa nanosecond, or a billionth of a secondreduces the resolution of what would otherwise be 16-bit data to 15 bits! The greater the jitter, the lower the resolution of a CD playback systemand it will come as no surprise, I am sure, to learn that jitter of at least 1ns is not only possible, it is common.
"Bits are bits?" say you.
"Ha!" say I.
Having got that out of my system, let me tell you about Meridian's 602 CD transport. Now the very existence of the component category "CD transports" seems to irritate my Monday-morning moaners. But it has surprised me that despite the proliferation of standalone D/A processors, only a relatively few companies have squared the circle by introducing CD "turntables." In this and other recent issues of the magazine, our reviewers have auditioned transports from Arcam, Wadia, Esoteric, and Proceed, while a Krell MD-1 has just arrived as I string these words together on the computer monitor. But as Meridian had sent a 602 transport to accompany their D6000 active digital loudspeaker (which Robert Harley will be reviewing shortly), I decided to spend some time with it and report on how I got on.
What it is
The 602 is superficially identical to the Meridian 208 CD player/preamplifier that I reviewed last December in that it is an attractively proportioned, black-finished unit with a glass face. A single row of vertical gold pushbuttons rather than the 208's double row of acrylic buttons distinguishes the new unit, however, and instead of the 208's rather clunky 7-segment green LED display, the 602 has a green alphanumeric display which forms real words as opposed to altered numbers. (Perversely, these are rather harder to see from across the room than the 208's primitive runes.)
Footnote 1: As you read this, it is exactly five years since I gave up the editorship of that hallowed organ to take over the helm of the good ship Stereophile. Time sure flies when you're having fun!
Footnote 2: Stereophile Vol.13 No.12, December 1990, p.179.