Meridian D600 digital active loudspeaker Page 2
The sidewalls have bookcases at the midpoint between the speakers and the listening seat, which I believe disperse any strong early reflections (apart from that from the floor), and the overall room is reasonably live (though I have attempted to kill a strong 63Hz resonance with ASC Tube Traps). Compared with, say, Larry Archibald's or J. Gordon Holt's rooms, the direct sound from a pair of speakers predominates in my room. Though the '600s are supplied with plastic feet, these can be pulled off to reveal height-adjustable spike feet. Once I had determined the optimum positions, I did all serious auditioning with the speakers coupled through the carpet to the concrete-beneath-saltillo-tile floor.
At the beginning of my listening I was disturbed to hear a serous rattle emanating from both cabinets, particularly on piano recordings. The culprits turned out to be the blanking plugs for the optical inputs, which sang their hearts out at one or two midband frequencies.
I removed them.
Before proceeding with the auditioning, I must first get a confession off my chest. Although I tried hard to like earlier Meridian active loudspeakers, having a considerable degree of respect for the design talents of Bob Stuart and being covetous of a speaker visually styled by Allen Boothroyd, I was never ultimately satisfied. The M2, for example, always worried me with a peculiar midrange balance that I only ever found really acceptable on chamber music, and the larger models, such as the M10, had what I could only describe as an "odd" bass character. From the outset, however, I will say that I enjoyed my time with the D600 immensely.
Unlike other speakers I have auditioned recently—the Thiel CS1.2 and Spica TC-50, which use first-order crossover filters and beam severely in the vertical plane—the D600 seems relatively uncritical regarding listening axis. My chair places my eyes and ears level with the LED displays; that seemed an appropriate listening axis, therefore. The cabinet certainly seemed dead enough despite its almost 36" sidewalls; placing my ears close failed to reveal any midrange "singing." It was a different story with the metal rear panel, however, this adding a (low-level) hooty quality to the sound emitted behind the speaker. Probing with a sinewave revealed this panel to go off strongly at 330Hz, though as this is the rear of the speaker, its effect on the sound is probably minimal.
With all the tone controls flat, the D600 has rather a "sweet" character, upper registers sounding slightly depressed and lending violin slightly too warm a tone. Tilting up the highs with the tilt control gave the sound a more generous portion of treble, but also accentuated a slight HF "scratch," noticeable most on recorded tape hiss, which became very slightly more "fizzy" or "white." I found that cutting the treble sucked the sense of "air" from the recorded sound. The "flat" position of the treble control actually seemed to be the best choice in musical terms, in my quite-live room at least, not the least because the speaker's superb presentation of recorded detail to a large extent compensated for any feelings of insufficient treble. The Harmonia Mundi Water Music, for example, was revealed as having an impressive dome of ambience gently excited by the period instruments. And the quiet key clatter on the continuo bassoon added to the sense of realism.
This degree of detail reproduction almost took on a fetishist nature. I kept reaching for such consummately perfect production jobs as Jennifer Warnes and Leonard Cohen singing the latter's "Joan of Arc" on the famous Famous Blue Raincoat album (Cypress 661 111-2) just to hear the tambourine breathed on in the second verse—" 'and who are you?' she sternly spoke...'why, I'm fire,' " he replied—and the gentle slap echo producing filigree reverberations of producer Roscoe Beck's guitars.
The soundstage on the Water Music recording was revealed as having a rather ill-defined center, something to do with Peter McGrath's miking I guess. To check whether this was not being accentuated by the speakers' imaging ability, I put on Kavi Alexander's Blumlein-technique recording of violinist Arturo Delmoni (Water Lily Acoustics WLA-WS-07-CD). At first I thought that the sound was splashing to the right a little as the violin played above the treble stave.
Then it splashed to the left.
I could only assume that rather than a speaker aberration, the D600s were allowing me to hear the violinist's slight body motions as he played. Putting on dual-mono pink noise revealed the D600s to produce, if not quite a positional singularity at the center of the line joining the speakers, at least an extremely narrow image, stable with frequency. The '600s should and do throw a laterally precise soundstage.
Despite the superb retrieval of ambient detail, however—you could "hear the walls" on my own piano recordings to an extent I hadn't realized existed before—the soundstage lacked depth compared, for example, with that produced by the Spica TC-50. This could be due to a tonal aberration in either speaker, but it also might be tied in with the fact that the Spica is time-coherent (on its optimum but critical listening axis), whereas the D600 is a typical UK design in that the tweeter leads the midrange in time but the sound is more smooth in the crossover region and the listening axis is considerably less critical.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the D600's bass in the flat position was generous for what is fundamentally a small loudspeaker. Visitors to my listening room expressed astonishment that such extended low frequencies could emanate from such visually small enclosures. While the D600s didn't shake Santa Fe with the bass pedals of the excellent new Dorian organ recording from Paris's Saint Eustache church (DOR-90134) in the manner the Waveforms reviewed by Larry Archibald in this issue had, with their 15" JBL woofers, there was still bass to burn, within the dynamic-range limitations of four 6" drive-units. That this impressive low-frequency performance is the result of artifice rather than intrinsic air-moving ability was revealed by the fact that the bass noticeably thickened up at climaxes while the rest of the speaker still seemed dynamically unrestricted.
Take the recent Bernstein Mahler 5 (DG 423 608-2), for example. When the music is quiet, as in the deservedly famous Adagietto, the double-basses have full power and weight. But in the tremendous opening orchestral chords after the solo trumpet fanfare (which cruises 25–30dB lower in level), there was a distinct threshold around volume-control setting 45, equivalent to a 100dB spl (unweighted) in-room, where the bass and lower midrange became significantly congested.
There was also a dynamic-range problem in the upper midrange. A slight nasality at low levels remained benign again until the spl reached much above 100dB, when the sound rapidly hardened. Boy soprano at high levels, for example, became suddenly quite unpleasant. I am talking about high replay levels here, but I thought it worth exploring because Meridian does quote a maximum spl of 110dB for the D600. And even Martin Colloms felt that a pair of D600s could reach 108dBA, which is very loud, while remaining clean-sounding (footnote 2).
Footnote 2: See Hi-Fi News & Record Review, June 1989, pp.47–49.