Meridian 808 Disc Player

Twenty years ago, the introduction of the compact disc put the music world on a new path. Not long after its debut, Meridian Audio Ltd. launched the world's first audiophile CD player, the MCD. That player and others that followed drew audiophiles into the digital age.

The Huntingdon, UK–based technology company has pursued a program of constant improvement ever since. On August 20, Meridian marked the 20th anniversary of the MCD with the release of the 808, the newest CD player in its flagship 800 Reference Series, and "the best-sounding player we have ever made," in the words of Meridian chairman and chief designer Bob Stuart.

The limited edition 808 —its full title is the "808 Signature Reference Compact Disc Player," as hand-signed by Stuart and Meridian designer and co-founder Allen Boothroyd —is said to offer the highest quality CD replay of any of the two dozen CD players produced by the company over the last two decades. At its heart is a multi-speed DVD-ROM drive capable of reading at standard and high speeds, an extremely useful feature for re-reading operations to overcome scratches and disc defects. The 808 is what Meridian calls "a CD-optimized machine, able to play virtually any CD, from conventional pressings to CD-R, CD-R/W, and discs of MP3 files (64–256kbps)." It also plays the CD layer of an SACD, a format otherwise not supported by Meridian.

Three powerful on-board digital signal processing (DSP) chips, each capable of 150 MIPS (million instructions per second), handle the task of turning a datastream into music. One upsamples the 44.1 kHz/16-bit CD signal to 176.4kHz/24-bits. This signal is then fed to DVD-Audio–quality delta-sigma digital-to-analog converters (DACs) to drive the analog outputs, while a digital signal at 88.2 kHz sampling rate is supplied to the digital outputs. Meridian claims that this unusual technique enables "filtering to take place far beyond the range of human hearing, as well as offering other, audible benefits, right across the audio band, for ultimate transparency from a CD source." Sound quality is further improved by the 808's triple buffering system, said to reduce jitter to below 90 picoseconds, a specification made possible by a new high-stability clocking system that re-clocks all digital data. The 808's analog and digital sections are fed from separate power supplies; multi-layer circuit boards are said to minimize system noise. The player uses audiophile-grade components throughout.

Meridian calls the 808 a versatile piece of gear that will work equally well in both analog and digital audio systems. Outputs include both balanced and unbalanced analog, S/PDIF digital coaxial, and Meridian comms sockets on DIN connectors for direct feeds to Meridian DSP loudspeakers. The 808 can also be configured as a player/preamp (the "808i") with the ability to handle six stereo analog inputs, three digital coaxial S/PDIF inputs, and two Toslink optical digital inputs. In either configuration, the 808 can drive analog power amplifiers through its variable outputs. The 808 comes fully configured from the factory, but some users may want to customize it using the RS232 interface and Meridian's Windows-based graphic configuration application. Additional features include three programmable trigger outputs for control of external devices, such as automated turn-on of power amplifiers. The 808 is supplied with the MSR+ learning/programmable remote control.

Shipping in early September, the Meridian 808 Signature Reference CD Player has a US suggested list price of $12,995 ($14,850 for the 808i version) and carries an extended five-year warranty.