Meridian 508.24 CD player Page 2

Stuart is emphatic that not everything newer is better. Take the player's CD decoder, for instance. He's not happy with the newer parts he's tried—which seem to be built to cost less, not perform better—so he continues to use a model he's tried and found true. "Ours is very low-jitter and very low-noise...they don't make it any more, but we bought years and years' worth of stock."

The same...but different!
The Meridian 508.24 player is superb. Like the Mark Levinson No.39 and the Audio Research CD2, it is extremely hard to fault. It worked flawlessly throughout my audition—perhaps even better than flawlessly, as it tracked several discs that gave the other two some trouble. (I don't know how I scratched my copy of Johnny Hodges' Used to be Duke, Verve 849 394-2; I just know the Meridian didn't force me to skip "Warm Valley" like the others did.)

The 508 does take longer to read a CD's Table of Contents than do many other players, which I assume has to do with the adaptive servo system, and it's a trifle slow tracking up and down through the selections—but I can't see why anyone would refuse to buy a player that sounds this good simply because it takes a few fractions of a second longer to change tracks. That's the level of nit-picking I'm reduced to with this unit.

In terms of sound, what's not to like? The player had incredibly natural, balanced sound. Given a good recording, it sounded unbelievably open and free from artifice. I relaxed into its sonic presentation the way a fat man with sore feet kicks off his shoes at the end of a hike—totally, without reservation.

Of course, CD players are supposed to feed you back what was on the disc in the first place, and to properly hear how good the Meridian is, you must feed it natural, ungimmicked recordings—most particularly, simply recorded acoustic instruments in real spaces. These, of course, always do seem to sound good, but through the Meridian they didn't just sound good, they sounded right.

This shouldn't have surprised me, I suppose. Last September, after attending the UK's Ramada hi-fi show, I visited Stuart in Cambridge and listened with him in the Meridian listening room for the better part of a day. Most of what we heard on that occasion was unamplified music—much of it recorded in or around Cambridge. But don't think that made it simple. Several discs were recorded in Kings College Chapel, which has an acoustic so rich that Sir David Willcocks said of it, "It can make a fart sound like a sevenfold amen."

Bits may be bits, but Stuart told me that he listens actively as part of his tuning process. "There's a lot you can do to change the sound—the tightness of the power supplies in the analog components around the DAC in the output stage can change its sound."

Tight like that!
Interestingly, tightness was one of the first things I noticed about the Meridian's sound. Although it indicates a tendency toward lazy thinking that I'm not particularly proud of, I have to confess that I just knew the Meridian would sound polite and, perhaps, a tad distant.

Wrong again. The first notes that came out of the player—from Steve Earle's El Corazón, Warner Bros. 46789-2—were so tightly focused and alive with tonal color that I was a goner for the next 45 minutes. I was forced to listen closely by the "thereness" of it all. But the 508 didn't take this too far—it never sounded in-your-face or aggressive, it just didn't recede politely into the background. But then, neither does Steve Earle.

Another thing: Earle tends to mumble a bit, y'know? The Meridian didn't cure that—as it shouldn't have—but the honesty of its presentation didn't obscure any of the information that was there. I found myself straining far less to hear what Earle was singing. Which, given the quality of his lyrics, is a very good thing.

3800 Camp Creek Parkway
Building 2400, Suite 112
Atlanta, GA 30331
(404) 344-7111