Meridian's Smart Link

Many audiophiles are incensed that the digital outputs on high-resolution disc players are limited to the 16bit/44.1kHz standard of the "Red Book" CD when playing DVD-Audio discs. To read some postings on audiophile newsgroups, you'd think it's a massive conspiracy to prevent people from adding their own processors to the playback chain. Putting as many boxes as possible in an audio system is a constitutionally guaranteed right, isn't it?

The lack of such digital outputs is because electronics manufacturers have caved into demands by the music industry to block the availability of unencrypted high-rez datastreams from DVD-A discs. It's the latest twist on the industry's sustained copy-protection paranoia. For music-biz execs and lawyers, no output = no problem.

We therefore aren't likely to see a universally accepted unencrypted interface any time in the near future. What we will see are proprietary interfaces that bypass the music industry's problems. Case in point: Meridian's new Smart Link, a digital multichannel connection that directly couples the company's model 800 disc player to the model 861 Reference Surround Controller—and to Meridian's DSP active loudspeakers. The Smart Link's datastream is fully encrypted, and has won approval by the DVD Forum for use with high-resolution DVD-Audio recordings. "For the first time, the full resolution of multichannel audio from DVD-A recordings can be losslessly transferred in the digital domain from player to surround controller to loudspeaker," states a recent announcement from Meridian.

The company claims that the design of the Smart Link addresses the music industry's copy-protection concerns, while allowing the transmission of full bandwidth/high resolution digital signals to every device in the audio system, including rear/side surround speakers. (The 861 controller, working at 48-bit internal precision, also offers a full array of what Meridian calls "studio-grade analogue outputs" to feed non-digital gear.) The Smart Link datastream also carries code about the disc and its contents that enables the 861 to automatically select optimum DSP modes and settings for movies and music—either stereo or multichannel.

The work done at Meridian in creating the Smart Link has also boosted the apparent resolution level of ordinary CDs played on the 800/861 system, according to chairman and chief engineer Bob Stuart. "CD will remain a crucial source of music for many years and it has been a joy to rediscover our CD collections," he stated. The biggest benefit is for the dawning DVD-A format, however. "By using an approved encrypted link between the 800 and 861, we can bring the full digital processing power of both components to bear on a recording today," Stuart added. "The results are astonishing."