Meridian Digital Theatre surround-sound music system

I am biased: On very little evidence, I remain convinced that, in the near future, high-quality music reproduction will be multichannel. While most multichannel demos are still egregiously and aggressively ping-pong, I have attended a few successful demonstrations of discrete multichannel reproduction that have impressed me so deeply that I hunger to have all the music I love transported to me (and me to it) in this way.

One recent example was at a Sony preview of a prototype multichannel Super Audio CD player. Not only was I convinced of the rightness of the SACD's reproduction of sound and spatial cues, but the skeptical person sitting next to me was convinced as well. At first he complained that the concert hall sounded deep and narrow, like a shoebox. Having seen a documentary film of performances in the very hall in question, I told him that it was, indeed, extraordinarily deep and narrow. The recording had transported us to the hall in Finland.

A more pragmatic consideration is the changing market. While the lo-fi masses may not care about improvements in quality with the new SACD and DVD-A discs—about which the High End is all atwitter—they will definitely be grabbing multichannel discs to exercise their home-theater-based audio systems. Tell me that there are enough two-channel purists in the High End to fend off this market pressure, and I'll ask you why Sony and Universal Music aren't releasing everything on vinyl. Multichannel audio is coming. All our little minority can do is hope for and support responsible producers who will use the new tools with aesthetic rather than cynical considerations.

So, given my bias, and that I've never had a multichannel system before, I turned to Meridian, one of the very few manufacturers of source-to-speaker multichannel systems that has also earned great respect among the high-end coterie. What I wanted was a complete, no-holds-barred multichannel system that had been designed to be put in the service of music (footnote 1).

The Meridian Digital Theatre consists of two DSP6000 front L/R speakers, one DSP6000C center-channel speaker, two DSP5000 speakers used for surround, the Reference 800 DVD/CD player, and—the soul of the system—the Reference 861 System Controller. While the speakers and the disc player are perfectly compatible with conventional two-channel digital systems, it is the Reference 861 controller, with its multichannel decoding, synthesizing, and processing capabilities, that makes this system completely different from anything I have used before. In fact, a full description of the technical capabilities of the system would fill this entire issue of Stereophile. The reader is directed to for details.

Footnote 1: No videos were harmed in the making of this review, although I did patch in my laptop and a little 5" color monitor for to view Meridian's setup displays.