Meridian 602 CD transport Page 3
Okay, given that I enjoyed the sound of the 602 in absolute terms, how did it compare with other respected transports?
My first comparison was with the data output of the Meridian 208. The family resemblance was strong. Both Meridian transports gave a musically satisfying sound, with a wealth of detail apparent. The sound of both was free from the treble clogging that I mentioned earlier. But the 602 scored higher marks for its more extended low frequencies, as well as for a slight edge regarding the palpability of individual instruments. On Amanda McBroom's "Dorothy" track on her West of Oz album (Sheffield Lab CD-15), the bass guitar is very prominent in the mix. Though its tonality was excellent via the 208, the presence-region edge that the engineers have added to its sound was better integrated with its upper-bass bloom when the CD was sitting in the 602. As good as I felt the 208 to be when used as a transport when I reviewed it last December, the 602 has stretched its performance envelope just that essential bit further.
My final comparison, and an obvious one, was with the Wadia WT-3200 that Robert Harley reviews elsewhere in this issue, again with both transports connected to the Stax with lengths of Mod Squad Wonderlink. (An RCA/BNC adaptor had to be used with the Wadia, of course.) Differences here were a little more incisive than between the 602 and 208, though the Wadia is undoubtedly a superb-sounding component. Whereas the Meridian could be said to produce a rather laid-back if highly detailed treble from the Stax, the Wadia moved the entire midrange region slightly forward. Details in the soundstage became more vividly exposed as a result, though recorded digital problems, such as occasional modulation noise on early digital recordings, also sometimes made the sound a little sizzly. The Wadia's bass definition was superb, though it lacked the ultimate authority of the Meridian.
The English transport also scored slightly higher in the more three-dimensional manner in which the soundstage was reproduced. (Three-dimensional not only in the sense of width, depth, and height, but in the way individual instruments and voices acquired a solidity of their own within the overall soundstage.) One of my favorite Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concertos on CD, for example, is that from Ashkenzay with the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Bernard Haitink (London 417 239-2). Played on the Wadia transport, the sound was typically Deccavivid in the highs, powerful in the lows. Via the Meridian, it softened a little in its treble impact but individual instruments became more, well, individual, as well as acquiring a more natural midrange tonality and a slightly deeper low bass. The stage was also a little wider and deeper. Toward the end of the first movement, the piano echoes the trumpet fanfare with a heavily pedaled attack/damp manner. Though the Wadia could hardly be faulted in its handling of this passage, the 602 enabled you to hear the "wall" of the hall that little bit more clearly in between the piano chords.
Of course, if you read RH's review of the Wadia, you'll realize that my use of its coaxial data output would not get this thoroughbred to give of its best. RH clearly feltand, having heard the difference in his system, I agree with himthat using the Wadia's glass-fiber optical output enabled it to attain the highest possible sound quality. But as the only D/A processors currently available that can accept the glass-fiberoptic datastream are from Wadia and Audio Research, I felt it fair to use just its coaxial output for these comparisons.
Regarding the more mundane aspects of performance, the 602 sailed uneventfully through all the torture tracks on the Pierre Verany Test CD 2 until Track 36, which has a 2.5mm data dropout every revolution, and Track 50, which has two 3mm dropouts in succession. Once it dropped out on Track 43, which combines a 2.4mm dropout with minimum track pitch, but I couldn't get it to repeat this aberration. This is superb, almost flawless, error-correction!
What I think about it
These days, the essential question is whether you should buy a CD transport with conventional outputs in view of the apparent improvement the glass fiber-optic connection can give. The only answer I can give is, "It depends." This is an individual decision based on the rest of your system and the direction in which you want it to evolve. Certainly during the time I used the beautifully made and beautiful-looking Meridian 602, I couldn't find fault with the sound it wrought from the Stax processor. Even though its $2750 price is more typically what you'd pay for a complete CD player, such as Meridian's own 208 or 206B, I heartily recommend it. It is obviously a Class A front-runner for use with processors that have conventional coaxial or Toslink optical-connected data inputs.