Meridian D600 digital active loudspeaker Page 3
To sum up, therefore, the D600 in its "flat" position offers a neutral tonal balance with just a touch of nasality occasionally apparent, with musical but rather depressed extreme highs offset by a slight degree of, if not quite "fizz," a narrow-band emphasis somewhere in the top octave, an occasional degree of hardness in the upper mids, and an impressive degree of low-bass extension, provided the speaker is not asked to deliver spls higher than 100dB or so. Stereo imaging is superbly precise laterally, but despite its quite stunning retrieval of recorded detail and ambience, the illusion of reproduced image depth doesn't quite match the level of attainment reached elsewhere by this design. Overall, this is a sound worthy of recommendation in Class B of Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing.
To assess the intrinsic performance of the D600's integral DACs, I carried out a series of comparisons with other familiar D/A decoders. The first, and most obvious, was to compare the sound of the D600s when fed a digital datastream by the 207 CD player with that produced by the 207 when using its integral DACs to provide the D600s with an analog signal (via 1m lengths of Monster M-1000). Levels were matched at 1kHz (as they were for all direct comparisons), and A/B switching (footnote 3) could be implemented by toggling the remote control between "CD" and "Radio." (The only practical drawback to this is that when the speakers are set to their analog inputs, the remote cannot be used to control the CD functions.)
I must say that differences were small. Hardly surprising, considering that the same digital filter/DAC combination is used in both products and that the analog design is from the pen of the same engineer. However, the D600 handling a digital input gave a more delicate sound overall, with less treble grain, than the 207's analog outputs. I felt the 207 slightly emphasized vocal sibilants; it also had a warmer balance overall, which muddied up the sounds of tenor instruments such as the cello. The soundstage appeared to be more spacious via the D600 DACs.
The second comparison was to set up the Musical Fidelity Digilog and feed it the digital output from the 207 via coaxial cable. The Digilog was connected to the Analog A1+ inputs of the D600s with 1m lengths of Monster Cable M1000, so my description of the sound quality will also include a contribution from the interconnect as well as the effect of the RF coaxial cable carrying the digital signal. A/B comparisons were now a little more cumbersome, due to the fact that the digital cable had to be changed each time, as well as changing the source with the D600 handset.
Now there was considerably more difference to be heard, the Digilog having a distinctly different tonal signature. Again it had a warmer balance, but the main distinguishing characteristic of the D600 referred to the Digilog was a lighter, more delicate treble. The Digilog appeared to have less good midrange definition and less extended highs, though, as might be expected, the treble response measured identical to the D600's. Conversely, on some recordings, the D600 sounded rather brittle in the treble. Though the D600 excelled at presenting the ambient information on recordings—the individual echoes on the Tony Faulkner–engineered Hyperion recording of music by Sir Hubert Parry for choir and organ (CDA66273) could be clearly differentiated—the Digilog presented the music with an overall more distant perspective, almost as if it had less upper-midrange energy. This helped such midrange-aggressive recordings as Showdown from blues axemen Albert Collins, Robert Cray, and Johnny Copeland (Alligator ALCD4743). Copeland's guitar in particular is head-splittingly bright via the D600s—it sounds like piece of garbage—and the slight softening/distancing offered by the Digilog could only be an improvement here.
The Digilog also had a fatter midbass that rendered such modern classics as Thomas Dolby's Aliens Ate My Buick (footnote 4) (EMI-Manhattan CDP) more viscerally satisfying than via the D600s alone. But the D600 DAC, while being less forgiving of clumsily engineered recordings, is more subtle and spacious.
Finally, to put things into context, I substituted for the Digilog the $4000 Sony DAS-R1 decoder that had acted for a while as my reference digital sound source earlier this year. Again it drove the D600s via 1m lengths of Monster M-1000.
No contest, I'm afraid. The big Sony both equaled the D600's sense of space—the choir sounded less homogeneous and more like a collection of individual voices on the Hyperion Parry recording—and rendered such sonic trash as the Alligator blues recording musically acceptable. Copeland's guitar still sounded plebian, but at least its sound could now be easily distinguished from the more aristocratic Fender Stratocaster played by Mr. Cray. The Sony also bested the Digilog in the weight and definition of its bass registers. This is the processor of choice for listening to Mr. Dolby's Aliens... waxing, er, polycarbonating.
But, hey, I could quite happily live with any of the sounds of these processors, the '600 most definitely being a classy loudspeaker, and incredibly convenient to use.
Technically sophisticated, Meridian's D600 was one the most aesthetically desirable loudspeakers to have spent time in my listening room. It proved capable of delivering high-quality, musically balanced sound with a wide, deep soundstage and an astonishing degree of clarity. It also offers a generous low-frequency performance, considering that the actual driver radiating area is limited, and it will give quite high sound levels, before increasing bass distortion and upper-midrange hardness conspire to have you reach for the volume control.
And what a volume control! I am getting to love remote system control—even though a confirmed couch potato such as myself still has to get up from his comfy chair to turn over the LP or post another CD into the 207's gaping maw.
However...Stereophile's value judgments must be based on ultimate sound quality, not on such trivialities as aesthetic appeal and ease of use. How then does the D600 stand regarding value for money? The easiest way to judge is to carry out a thought experiment—couch potatoes love thought experiments almost as much as they do remote controls—and put together a system from Class B or C separates that does everything a pair of D600s do with a similar overall sound quality.
Remote control is mandatory (footnote 5), so we have to choose between the Hafler Iris preamp ($800) and the Linn LK1 ($1160 with remote). (Yes, I would love to choose the fabulous remote-control Counterpoint SA-11 all-tube line section, but its $5495 price has already burst my budget!) Linn's LK280 power amplifier ($1495) works best with the LK1, while the Hafler could be paired with the Adcom GFA-555 ($700) or Counterpoint SA-12 ($1195, but soon to be discontinued), the latter being my preference.
As the D600s accept a digital input, our separates system also needs a good DAC unit to accept the serial digital datastream from a CD transport. I would say the Musical Fidelity Digilog ($995) or Arcam Black Box 2 ($899) would be acceptable, considering they use the same Philips digital filter/16-bit DAC chip set as the Meridian speakers. And $35 would need to be put aside for a phono-XLR adaptor lead so the DAC unit could drive the Linn preamplifier. The Linn amplification comes complete with interconnects to join pre- and power amplifier, but the Hafler/Adcom or Hafler/Counterpoint pairings will need good-quality interconnects, $300 worth of Monster M-1000, for example. Finally, we need to choose a pair of loudspeakers broadly similar in attainment to the D600. My choice would be a pair of Vandersteen 2Ci's, which will add $1195 to the budget, not counting $260 for the matching Sound Anchor stands. The Vandersteens go as low in the bass as the Meridians and are unfailingly musical, in this reviewer's opinion.
Good speaker cables, of course, will be needed. Fifteen-foot runs of Kimber Kable 8TC will probably be suitable, which, at $7.80/ft., adds up to another $234, or $468 if the speakers are to be bi-wired. Alternatively, you could go for AudioQuest Clear Hyperlitz, at $50/ft., but at $3000 for a bi-wired set, that would probably be overkill in this system. Four pairs of Monster X-Terminators add another $100 to the cost of the Kimber Kable. I've allowed $100 for Linn stranded/spaced-pair speaker cable, which comes with good soldered banana plugs (footnote 6).
This gives system totals of $5315 (Musical Fidelity/Hafler/Counterpoint/Vandersteen/Sound Anchors/Monster/Kimber) or $5150 (Arcam/Linn/Vandersteen/Sound Anchors). Of course, you could replace the DAC unit with a complete CD player, such as the $600 Adcom GCD-575, which will lower the overall system cost by obviating the need for a separate digital source, but even taking this into consideration, a pair of Meridian D600s appears to be reasonably good value at $5490, particularly as the owner is relieved of all system-matching and compatibility problems, doesn't have to worry about which expensive loudspeaker cables to buy, and gets a set of sensible tone controls to boot.
The D600 is actually a cost-effective and painless way for a CD enthusiast to obtain what is fundamentally a sound appropriate for a Class B ranking in Stereophile's "Recommended Components." Add a Meridian 207-Pro CD player/preamplifier at $1990 ($2240 with phono board) and a Meridian 204 FM tuner/timer ($1090), both of which can be controlled by the D600's remote unit, and remember that this system can be the basis of a complete multi-room installation using Meridian's modular units, and you will understand why I think the D600 will turn out to be one of the best-selling loudspeaker systems in the early '90s—even if it isn't "digital!"
Footnote 3: As the switchover takes about 2–3s, this is not quite instantaneous. More disturbingly, when selecting an analog source after CD, the music can still be heard playing at reduced level during switchover. Worried that this was crosstalk into the analog input from the DAC output, or vice versa, I decoded the data representing a 0dB 1kHz tone with the D600 DACs while listening to the analog input at full system gain, then played the 0dB 1kHz tone in the analog input while listening to a silent CD track via the speaker's CD input. In both cases the result was nothing—a false alarm!
Footnote 4: Lewis and Lynne-Jane Lipnick took me to task at the recent Stereophile reviewers' conference over my advocacy of this recording. "It's horrible!" I think was their succinct summing up of its musical and sonic merits. I remain unashamed. For me it defines where rock music stands at the end of the 1980s in the intelligence of its lyrics, the skill of the musicians, the complexity of its mix, the spaciousness of its soundstage, the awesome and monstrous power of its bass, and the rip-your-head-open quality of its highs. My thanks are due to Krell's Dangerous Dan D'Agostino for turning me on to it at the 1988 Summer CES.
Footnote 5: "Sic semper potatum reclinus," appropriately states the front of the T-shirt I wear while reviewing.
Footnote 6: Please don't write to ask what dealer would recommend or sell either of these systems. I did say this was a thought experiment!