Meridian 207 Pro CD player Page 3
Listened to on its own, the Meridian was difficult to fault. Two other players were pressed into service to get an idea of the 207's merits when compared with quality competition: the CAL Aria (roughly competitive in price), and the Audio Concepts/MSB Silver, a considerably less costly player which has not been embarrassed by comparisons with expensive units.
The Meridian proved strong competition for the Aria. The latter had a bit more life in the upper midrange/lower trebleits open, lively sound was initially more impressive. But the 207 scored points for its subtle neutrality. On Star of Wonder the Aria had an excellent soundstage, with vocal choirs easily differentiated in width and depth. Counterpoint between the various portions of the choir was clear and effective. Sibilants were slightly prominent, but not spitty or distracting. The 207 was slightly less analytical, with less (but still effective) detailing within the choir, cleaner sibilants, marginally more effective depth and overall soundstage, and noticeably better rendition of subtle ambience cues. The Aria had slightly better control of high-level digital glare, although the difference here was small. The two players were closely matched in overall quality without sounding the same; the Aria excelled on those recordings which depended for their effectiveness on sparkle and detail, the 207 pulled ahead where the ambience and overall integrity of the soundstage were of primary importance. Neither player decisively bettered the other. Since the Aria has been (and continues to be) a player I strongly recommend, the 207's showing was a convincing one.
The Audio Concepts/MSB Silver excels in low-end tightness and definition, clean (though slightly cool and clinical) HF response, and fine depth and soundstaginga remarkable under-$1000 performer. It was not driven to cover by its comparision with the 207. The latter definitely excelled in the expansiveness and spread of its soundstage, better depth layering, and retrieval of ambience. It was, altogether, the more subtle, more natural performer. But the MSB had the tigther low end, leaner and more natural midbass, and more sparkling and slightly finer-grained extreme high end. It was, in fact, the comparison with the MSB that revealed the 207's occasional program-dependent high-frequency grain.
What about the performance of the 207 as a line-level preamp? Removing the Klyne from the system and driving the amplifier directly from the Meridian's variable output resulted in only a slight reduction of the 207's CD performance. Solo voices, instruments, and chorus on Christmas in Leipzig were still effective in timbre, lateral and fore and aft placement, and sense of space. The main difference was in degree: the depth and sense of ambience, previously almost stunning in their naturalness, were now merely very good. High-frequency response was now just slightly brighter, less sweet than before. But the low end, surprisingly, was now definitely deeper, tighter, and notably more striking in its impact. The "beast" on Dafos (Reference Recordings RR-12CD) was incredible in its near-subterranean, wall-shaking powereasily the best I have heard it through the B&Ws. It was no surprise that the 207's high-level stages were no match for the Klyne's in high-frequency subtlety and overall naturalness; it is notable that the fall-off in performance was smalland the performance in the low end actually bettered that of the Klyne.
To test the 207's optional phono stages, a VPI HW 19 Mk.II with Well-Tempered Arm was brought into play. A van den Hul MC One moving-coil and a Grado MCX were shuttled alternately into the Well-Tempered. The 207/phono was compared not only with the Klyne, but also with the PS Audio 4.6 with M-500 power supplythe latter a more logical price competitor.
Moving-coil performance of the 207 was good, though short of the best. Moving from the Klyne to the 207 resulted in a loss of subtletyI had the vague sensation that the VTA had somehow been slightly detuned, somewhat hardening the high end, most noticeable on recordings with strong high-frequency contents. Returning to the Klyne put the high end back into focus. The effect was not severe, especially considering the price spread, but I did miss the Klyne's refinement; the MC One did not fully reveal its abilities through the 207. And while the low end of the 207/phono stage was respectably clean and detailed, that IEC low-frequency filtration did result in a reduction of bass impact and solidity through the B&Ws. I would not expect the loss to be significant through most loudspeakers and with most program material.
Matching the 207's moving-coil phono stage against that of the PS Audio 4.6/M-500 proved to be a more reasonable comparison. The PS is a clean, detailed, slightly crisp-sounding unit, a bit etched in sound but never bright or hard. Its bass is detailed, its midbass a bit lean but very clean. The 207 was a bit warmer sounding, with less crispness to the extreme high endalthough that slight hardness noted in comparison with the Klyne remained. The midrange of the PS was more laid-back, the 207's slightly more forward. The PS had more high-frequency air and openness, with better inner detailing, but tended to more emphasis on sibilants. Both preamps were effective in the reproduction of depth, with the PS marginally superior. Overall, I felt the PS outperformed the 207 with a moving-coil, but some listeners are likely to find the slightly less clinical, warmer sound of the 207 more at home in their systems.
The moving-magnet input of the PS had been its particular strength when I reviewed it (Vol.11 No.9), and it came through again in this comparison. The general balance between these two preamps remained as in the moving-coil comparison, the PS being slightly more open and transparent, the 207 a bit warmer. The slight hardness noted in the 207's moving-coil section was not evident in its moving-magnet stage. Until I switched over to the PS, my listening notes on the 207 were full of favorable, though not dramatic, adjectives. Depth, not just in the center but across the soundstage, was effective. High frequencies were clean and delicate, with high-hat on well-recorded jazz particularly notable, though lacking the ultimate in speed. The percussion on Uakti (Verve 831 705-1), a sonically excellent and musically, ah, interesting recording (a small, experimental Brazilian instrumental group is as close as I can come to a succinct description), was clean but slightly lacking in drive and punch.
The PS had a superior sense of transient speed and impact. Voices, however, were sweeter through the 207; the superb new Miriam Makeba LP, Sangoma (Warner Bros. 9 25673-1), had a natural warmth and presence compared with the same recording's slight brashness through the PS. On balance, though, I consider the PS to be the superior preamp. The 207, as a phono preamplifier, is in my judgment a solid, mid-Class C performer (certainly a strong showing for a $250 option); the PS belongs near the top of the same class. (Given a sweeter, more refined high end, the 4.6/M-500 might well make the jump to Class B.)
The 207 is a superior yet complex product, and simple conclusions are not possible. I wish it were available without the line-level features; they are redundant for many, and probably add $200-$300 to the cost of the basic player. But that must be balanced against the fact that the Meridian Pro, as a basic CD player, is competitive with the best I have auditionedeasily Class B. Even if you don't require or plan to use the added line circuitry, the 207 merits serious consideration. And the phono-stage option, while less impressive, is nonetheless an excellent value for those who need italthough I suspect that anyone investing $2000 in this will have, or soon want, a top-rank preamp. The 207 deserves the best associated equipment; it's one of the best CD players around.
Footnote 4: If you've ever wondered just what a "swagman," "jumbuck," and "billabong" are, not to mention a "Waltzing Matilda" (hint: it isn't the hero's girl back home), this CD's booklet will tell you. Sorry, I won't give it away here.