Meridian 203 D/A processor

Gotta get this one written up right away—you never know with digital products. Always something new.

Many of us balk at the idea of spending 4k, 3k, or even 2k for an outboard digital processor, when something better will likely come along soon, and maybe for less money.

Too bad about the Musical Fidelity Digilog—a very musical (if not especially detailed) unit selling for $995, which is no longer imported into the US.

I've found something else for you.

The Meridian 203 Digital Converter.

I have to confess this is one of those products I was prepared to like. Meridian has always had a special way with CD—the Meridian MCD Pro was and is one of the most musical players around. If you're lucky enough to own one, keep it. It may become a classic.

Enter the Meridian 203.

This is an outboard unit, retailing for $990, which you can use with any CD player having a digital out. The 203 takes either coaxial or optical cable. The technology is right up to date: Philips Bitstream.

What I like about the 203 is its musicality. This is one of the smoothest, sweetest, least irritating digital converters I have heard to date—no hardness here. Detail is good, although not in the league of the latest Krell or Theta units. Ditto for dynamics and soundstaging ability—very good, but not quite up there with some of the more expensive, non-Bitstream units. And that's the short and sweet of it: an excellent-sounding processor for a price that makes sense. If something better comes along—and it will—you won't lose sleep over having spent $990.

I heard another processor for under $1k—I won't mention its name because my auditioning was brief and the manufacturer has made changes so it may be a lot better now—but it didn't match the Meridian. It was more dynamic, the soundstage was deeper and wider—but there was something artificial...processed...about its sound. The Meridian sounds like music. Incidentally, I got the best results using an optical cable from my Philips player's digital out. Don't cheap out with inferior cable on the processor's analog out—spend the money on something decent. I am most impressed with this unit, which has lived up to my high expectations. A companion Meridian transport for under $2k is expected soon.—Sam Tellig

Sam Tellig returned to the Meridian in October 1990 (Vol.13 No.10):

After several more weeks—almost a month—it now appears I have underestimated the Meridian 203 processor. It's even better than I thought. You should buy one.

Like other processors, the 203 takes a while to burn in and sound its best. In the past few weeks, the sound has improved considerably—most notably in smoothness and the retrieval of detail, including low-level ambient information.

I helped things along with a few tweaks. First, I substituted a better-quality optical cable (from Onkyo) for the very thin optical cable supplied with my Philips CD60. The thin optical cable was strangling the sound! I also substituted a Music & Sound power cord for the one which came standard with the unit—a further improvement. And I changed my interconnects from Cardas Quadlink to Purist Audio Designs—a very substantial improvement, particularly in detail and overall resolution.

As a result of these tweaks, and the further passage of time, I now believe that the Meridian 203 can hold its own with any processor I've heard. Some processors may surpass the 203 in apparent detail, but not by much. But I have not heard any processor which surpasses the 203 in terms of musicality. I hasten to add that I haven't heard all available processors, including the Wadia models and the new processor from Stax.

There is a fundamental rightness to the 203, and perhaps to the whole Bitstream approach. To put it another way, the last thing the 203 sounds like is a processor. The musical presentation is natural, free of strain, free of any sense of specious spaciousness or hyperdetail—or too much processing going on.

Look, you can argue whether or not this is the best processor going. The point is, it's musical and at $990 it's a steal.

Like all outstanding pieces of audio equipment, the Meridian 203 requires some tender love and care. Don't judge it cold. Don't even judge it after the first two or three weeks. Leave it on all the time. Use the best-quality optical or coax connecting cable you can find, and the best interconnects, too. Experiment with several power cords, if you can. Use a good transport—I'm particularly keen on the moderately priced machines from Philips, like the CD60.

I realize now one of the reasons I wanted so badly to put a hold on my audio reviewing. There is too much hype in high-end audio. Products like the Meridian 203, the B&K M200 balanced monoblocks (which I'm sorry I won't get the chance to review), the new Coda 01 preamplifier, the Krell KSP-7B preamp, the Krell KSA-150 amp, the Spendor S100 speakers, the SME 309 tonearm, and, of course, my beloved AR ES-1 turntable—all these products prove that you don't have to spend an outlandish amount of money to get great sound. Then you can forget about the sound and concentrate on the music.—Sam Tellig

US Distributor: Meridian America