Meridian F80 CD Receiver System John Marks, October 2008
Wes Phillips reviewed this $3000 Ferrari-branded complete home entertainment system in April 2008. I don't disagree with any of his specific observationsI requested a review sample only on the off chance that it might turn out to be a silver-bullet solution to the problem of a music lover seeking the best way to spend no more than $2500$3500 for music playback in the home.
The positive aspects first: absolutely world-class packaging, presentation, design, build quality, and owner's manual. Open the box and take out the cloth-bagged F80, and there's little question that lots of talent and money went into making the whole thing work. My guess is that Meridian was not aiming at the gestalt typically projected by high-end audio components, but rather at products from Apple. You could slap an Apple logo on this thing and no one would bat an eyelashthe look and feel are that good.
Setup was a breeze, and the ergonomics are better than I'd hoped for. Hearty thanks to whoever decided to make the volume control a rotary knob at the bottom of the right sideit's intuitive and quick to operate. All controls operated crisply but smoothly, and disc-access times, even for DVDs, were not excessive. The remote control is tiny but usable.
I cued up John Atkinson's excellent recording of Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2). The bass was amazingreal impactand the overall dynamics at the end of "Mansour's Gift" were excellent. A variety of other discs from disparate genres rewarded close listening. Vocal harmonies on Jesse Colin Young's Light Shine (CD, Edsel EDCD 452) were clearly rendered. There's no question that the F80 could deliver an emotionally engaging, even engrossing, musical experienceas Wes P. reported in April.
The F80 had amazing bass and excellent treble, but its midrange was a trifle lackluster in comparison. There were some recordings for which the F80's bass was a bit muchand I spent a fair amount of time futzing not only with the basic tone control, but also with the setup menu that tailors the output, depending on whether the F80 is freestanding or on a shelf, etc. I also found myself micromanaging the treble a lot, something I don't think you'd do if you were just listening to Grover Washington, Jr. on the deck at cocktail time. The F80 created a surprising sense of soundfield depth but not much soundstage widthregardless of how I set the Width control.
The Great Divide, both in audio equipment and in recording or format quality, is the use to which the music is to be put: Is it to be the focus, and enjoyed in and of itself? Or is it to accompany other activities, whether brunch, cocktails, reading, or knitting? I think the F80 is a valid solution to a problem different from the one I am trying to solve. It would be just dandy as a music system for a kitchen or family room, or out on a deck, but I think there are better ways to spend $3000 on one's sole serious stereo. Bottom line: I can't recommend the F80 to a music lover with $3000 to spend on his or her sole serious stereo.John Marks