Meridian 508.24 CD player Page 3

As with the Audio Research CD2 that I reviewed in April (Vol.21 No.4), I found little to fault in the 508.24, so after a lengthy solo audition I settled in to some level-matched comparisons with the Mark Levinson No.39 (December '97) and the CD2. The sound was remarkably good from all three sources—perhaps the convergence theory is correct. Certainly, the three units were all admirably close to one another in performance, their differences slight. That's not to say they were nonexistent, however. While I would never claim to be able to identify any one of them blind, when auditioned side by side they were certainly not identical. Compare them, by all means—but once you've made a choice among these three, I can't imagine you'll have any regrets.

First, I listened to Serenade (Stereophile STPH009-2), mostly because it was on top of the stack of CDs growing by the players. The CD2 and the Meridian sounded remarkably similar to one another, although I felt that Carol Wincenc's flute had a tad more sparkle through the 508. On the other hand, the 508's presentation bunched Yasushi Toyoshima, Michelle Kim, and Peter Wyrick closer and tighter around the flutist. The CD2 had them spaced farther apart from one another, but not as far apart as with the No.39, which also seemed to pinpoint all four more firmly in space. On the other hand, the Levinson seemed to separate direct sound from hall sound to a greater degree. It was better integrated through the ARC and the Meridian.

Last Christmas Robert Baird turned me on to Buddy Miller's Poison Love (Hightone HCD8084), and since then it's never been far from whichever CD player I'm nearest. Miller's a rockin' country boy, and he's joined on the record by Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, and Sam Bush—all participants in my fantasy all-star band. I auditioned "100 Million Little Bombs," Miller's stinging indictment of US involvement in the international market in land mines: "What can you do with what's left behind / What can you grow when the fields are mined? / ...From China to Angola and Cambodia where they lay / With chips from Motorola, made in the USA." Yeah, it's protest music, but with a heavy rock beat.

Here, I was stunned by the Meridian's slam and deep-bass extension. Darryl Johnson's loping bass line was best articulated by the 508—especially such telling details as his changes in attack and fingering throughout the song. The Levinson was very close, but the overall sound was slightly less robust, and the pace was not quite as full of "lope."

"Fool in the Rain," from Led Zeppelin's In through the Out Door (The Complete Studio Recordings, Atlantic 82526-2), again seemed to have more intense drive through the Meridian, and the slam factor was cranked to "11"—the very qualities that have always given this song its appeal. But the overall sound was hazier through the 508.24 than through the Levinson or the ARC. Perhaps this better represents the signal—despite the fact that the tapes were "digitally remastered by Jimmy Page," they don't sound all that great—but I should be used to that by now: Atlantic hasn't done right by Zep for at least 20 years. The biggest disappointment in the boxed set is how lackluster Bonham's drums sound. Even so, "Fool in the Rain" captured his relentless drive and power, especially the Samba school section, which is all-out, arms'n'legs a-churnin', syncopated brilliance.

All three players handled the pacing well, though I'd give a slight nod to the Meridian. But the No.39 and the CD2 seemed to create a bigger stage upon which the foursome played.

As I said, a very close call—with no loser. But perhaps, just perhaps, the Meridian catered more toward my particular prejudices. Overall, the Meridian and the Audio Research were quite similar in tonality and presentation, while the Mark Levinson had a closer perspective on the music and tended to highlight details ever so slightly more. But listened to separately, none of these players seemed very different in the ways they remained true to the music. The Audio Research and the Meridian are essentially the same price, while the Levinson is quite a bit more expensive—but it offers adjustable analog outputs, multiple digital input capability, and digital source switching, features neither of the others possesses.

We all boil at different degrees
I liked the Meridian 508.24 player very much, but that doesn't mean I don't also like the Levinson No.39 and the Audio Research CD2. If I haven't gotten that across, then I know how Pooh felt—after all, "when you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it."

The fact is, CD players are reaching a point in their evolution where the differences between the very best are verging on the minute—they exist, but only you can decide how much they matter. And make no mistake, the Meridian 508.24 CD player is unquestionably one of the very best. I enjoyed having it in my system, and eagerly look forward to my next listening session with it—and the one after that, and the one after that.

That's something that seems very Thingish inside me, and is not likely to change.

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