Meridian Digital Theatre surround-sound music system Page 3

I also used the second digital input and the volume control of the DSP6000s to audition a few 24-bit/96kHz audio DVDs from Chesky and Classic, played directly into the speakers by my trusty California Audio Labs CL20 CD/DVD player. With the digital circuitry of the Meridians, I was going full 24/96 all the way to their power amps, and boy, it was nice. The step up from 16-bit/44.1kHz to 24/96 didn't so much change the dimensions of the window through which I listened as seem to bring the performance closer.

Compared to the EOS and the Duetta, the tonal balance of the DSP6000 was a bit cool. The main cause seemed to be a slight dullness in the 150-180Hz range that I could not correct with the Bass or Tilt controls. Fortunately, this fault was quite minor. I suspect it may have to do with my listening room's historic inhospitality toward speakers with side-mounted woofers.

Finally, despite the quite effective Axis adjustment, the visual effect of the tall cabinets probably contributed to my continued perception of an elevated sonic image: All sounds seemed to originate above eye level. The effect was not usually bothersome, and then only when I sat down and focused my attention.

But all of these points are directly related to my specific listening environment. Contrasted with the DSP6000's otherwise pellucid reproduction, they're relatively unimportant. Your mileage may vary? Definitely.

DSP5000 loudspeaker
The Meridian DSP5000 loudspeaker is a two-way active design, that takes a digital input (up to a 96kHz sample rate is accommodated). Price is $6950/pair. I used them primarily as rear channels in my review of the Meridian Digital Theater, where they blended well with the DSP6000s but were hardly stressed. When I moved them up front and connected them directly to the 508-24, they sounded, not surprisingly, like the DSP6000s: their overall balance was quite similar, and there was no problem with high output levels in my room.

Although the '5000's extreme bottom end was not nearly as profound and impressive as the DSP6000's, there was absolutely no evidence of any upper-bass deficiency. I believe this was due to the fact that in my room, unlike the DSP6000s, the DSP5000s' front-firing woofers faced no nearby walls. Because the DSP5000 is likely to be placed with its back to a wall, particularly when used as a side or rear speaker, its Bass control offers a compensation for near-wall placement.

The DSP5000 also seemed a bit less "airy" and open than the DSP6000 when placed in exactly the same position. The cause of this minor aberration may be the larger frontal dimensions around the tweeter in the DSP5000's rectangular cabinet, as compared to the DSP6000's smaller, tapered housing. (See John Atkinson's measurements sidebar.)

Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my brief audition of the DSP5000, and can imagine that a Meridian system based on five DSP5000s would be easier to accommodate in most rooms, and would cede little to the bigger system except at the very bottom end. And Meridian offers a nice subwoofer to dispose of that problem.

Reference 800 DVD/CD player
This is quite the biggest player I know of, but its size is required to contain all of its capabilities. The actual transport is a computer DVD-ROM drive that, with its own tray and cover, lies behind Meridian's larger front panel. Opening the drive reminded me of the jaws-within-jaws monster in Alien. The drive's output is treated to three memory buffers and three layers of error correction to minimize jitter and maximize data integrity. Although the drive is supposed to be compatible with CD, CD-R, Video CD, CDI, and DVD-Video media, it had trouble with some tracks of Oregon Music, which was playable on the 508-24 and totally unplayable on the CL20.

Meridian says that the DVD-ROM drive was chosen for its high-speed reliability, and because the 800's standard bay can accommodate future drive requirements. There also is room for another drive, and for multiple plug-in cards for audio and video. This makes the Reference 800 more than a transport: there is the potential for analog inputs (A/D conversion) and outputs (D/A conversion), gain/system control, and upsampling, as well as for future developments in multichannel audio and DSP-based room correction---and that's without mentioning anything about video! For the most part, I used the Reference 800 as a digital source for the Reference 861 Digital Surround Controller, but I did try the former as a direct-digital source for two and three DSP6000s---the supplied digital output card optionally encrypt 96kHz-sampled data---and, via its D/A converters, as the source in a more conventional system.

Via the analog output from the D/A plug-in, the Reference 800 was as good as digital gets today. Its clarity and impact were beyond reproach, and it surpassed the CAL CL20 in bass definition and treble purity. I noted its superiority with 24/96 discs as well as with 16/44.1 CDs, but in the latter case, the fact that the 800 can upsample to 88.2kHz placed the otherwise admirable CAL CL20 at a further disadvantage. For the same reason, I also preferred the Reference 800 over Meridian's own 508-24, although on upsampled 16/44.1 CDs there was little to choose between them. Sure, one could defeat the upsampling---but if you've got it, why not use it? (It would be only logical, by the way, for the coming generation of high-bit-rate players, regardless of format, to make use of their DSP engines to upsample regular CDs.)