Meridian's Spectacular Speaker Unveiling
This was my first opportunity to begin to assess to what the Meridian total system approach can achieve. That approach, which has moved closer to audiophile perfection in the completely new architecture of DSP8000SE and its siblings, the DSP7200SE ($46,000/pair) and DSP5200SE ($20,000/pair), involves a new tweeter; five new push-pull amplifiers, one for each driver complement; five new companion DACs; and new DSP technologies. In the words of Audio High proprietor Michael Silver, who has built his two stores in Northern and Southern California into the largest Meridian dealership in the US, "the new Special Edition series delivers a level of resolution you cannot get from any other loudspeaker."
Although Stuart (above left) and Silver (above right) spent a lot of time discussing the major new design elements of the Special Edition DSP Digital Active Loudspeaker, let's cut to the chase. When we finally sat down to listenwhile its sister speakers were also available for audition, we focused on the DSP8000SEour first track, sourced from Meridian's Media Source 600 and Control 15 (formerly known as the Sooloos), was a 176.4/24 Wilson Audiophile Recordings file of Beethoven and Enescu Violin Sonatas, played by violinist David Abel and pianist Julie Steinberg.
The sound was so extraordinary that, immediately upon leaving the store, I phoned the Steinberg-Abels in Oakland to urge them to drive down to Mountain View so they could hear for themselves. Although that was not possibletheir beloved 13-year old cat was ailing, and required all their attentionI was astounded to learn that the couple has not heard their analog recording (Stereophile's "Recording of the Month" for February, 1984) since its issue on LP in that very Orwellian year.
What Julie and David would have heard was the closest I have ever gotten to their playing short of hearing them perform live. Even in Audio High's noticeably dry listening room, the overtones of the piano were the most realistic I've ever heard from a loudspeaker. Equally breathtaking were the sweetness of David's Guarneri instrument, and the sheer amount of musical detail preserved in the recording.
When I mentioned to Stuart that, from my very low, sloped back listening seat, the images seemed smaller than they would have sounded up close and personal, he remotely adjusted image height to produce a far more stunning sense of realism. It was truly one of the most arresting recorded listening experiences I've ever been privileged to share. Although the sound was certainly different than hearing one of recording engineer Dave Wilson's achievements played back on his own loudspeakers, it joined the Wilsons in residing on a plane of exalted musicality.
Next up were two early Bob Dylan tracks. The second, played from Stuart's laptop, was a high-resolution transfer of "Don't Think Twice," sourced by Sony from the Master Tape. As fascinating as it was to be able to hear everything from a poor splice to the very different ways the size of Dylan's guitar was conveyed on the two tracks, the voice's sense of "you are there" realism trumped all other considerations.
The sense of intimacy increased with Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," again sourced from the master tape. Yes, you could hear lots of tape hiss, as well as everything the recording engineer(s) did wrong on this and all the recordings that followed. But what they, Ms. Flack, and the other divine artists we heard did right sounded so convincingly realistic that it trumped all other considerations.
Stuart next chose the middle movement of a JVC 192/24 reissue of pianist Kyoto Tabe's recording of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto with the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz (originally on Denon). As much as I wished to hear a few short passages and individual notes played differently, the ability of the DSP8000SE to transmit the soloist's every gesture and intention was remarkable. So were the body, depth and layering of bass instruments, and the presence of hall resonance on the first movement of a recording I carry room-to-room at shows, Iván Fischer's Budapest Festival Orchestra performance of Mahler's Symphony 2 (Channel Classics).
Most exciting was when, at Stuart's prompting, I moved my seat forward several feet, and immersed myself in the sound as if I were sitting up close in the hall. Truly, I had never heard Jared Sacks' recording sound so extraordinary. (I would like to have heard more vibrancy on its highs, but, hey, a loudspeaker can only transmit so much when a store's ceiling is covered with absorptive panels.)
While not replacing their antecedents, which remain in production, the DSP8000SE and its companions benefit from significant advances in loudspeaker technology and design. "Every improvement is about resolution," Stuart said, as he and Silver listed six of the Special Edition loudspeakers' major improvements.
A new clamping system for drivers results in an even better behaved cabinet. Meridian claims that the only resonance you can detect is at 5Hz. This is below the threshold of human hearing, and also well below the level of those pesky port resonances that excite many a room's bass nodes.
A new beryllium-dome tweeter. "In order to achieve all aspects of higher resolution, we had to design a speaker that works as well as a microphone," says Stuart. "Beryllium doesn't ring. We're lucky to have it. It's very low on the Atomic Table, and works much better than either soft-dome or diamond tweeters.
A second DSP chip that enables the speaker to do more digital signal processing than ever before.
Improved DACs result in extended bandwidth.
Additional changes to the power supply and other analog electronics.
Full implementation of Meridian's patented proprietary Extended Bass Alignment (EBA) technology. Now available as a software update to some of Meridian's other loudspeakers, EBA comes standard on all three Special Edition models.
"We model the cabinet after the shape of the human body, and then put the drivers in the right place to deliver a human sound," Stuart said in summation. "We also use DSP to adjust the time arrival from each driver. In large loudspeakers, the lowest notes sometimes emerge with a delay of up to 40 milliseconds. That's the equivalent of the bass arriving from 30 feet farther away. You can't fix this is either active or passive loudspeakers without DSP correction.
"It's all about the resolution of time. We need to get the sound to come out at exactly the right moment."