Meridian's G08 Upsampling CD Player
The Next Generation... Does Buying A Hyper-Dollar
CD Player Today Make Sense?
Review By Phil Gold
here to e-mail reviewer.
Audio reviews should be all
about the sound, right? If that’s the way you feel, you may want to skip
this review, because I look for a whole lot more in the equipment I
review. Design, ergonomics, size, feel, reliability, quality of parts and
construction all play important parts, especially when I’m shelling out
my hard earned cash. I’ve been seduced by sound alone before, and I’ve
paid the price.
The Meridian G08 is a winner on all counts, and that is a rare
achievement. It is a member of a complete new family of products –
complete that is unless you are looking to play SACDs. Visually stunning,
the new G series replaces the 500 series with a fresh clean line, wider
all-metal cabinets and a choice of pearly silver or black finish. My unit
came with the silver finish, inset with black glass panels and featuring
rounded edges. Its compact
dimensions are a godsend in my system, allowing plenty of room at the rear
of my custom audio cabinet for cabling. The fascia has 3 buttons, for
standby power, open / close and display. There are 7 vertical keys to the
right of the disc drawer. The left is marked Home, the right is
marked More, and the 5 in the middle (the soft keys) are completely
unmarked, until you power up the unit. Then large clear symbols appear in
the Vacuum Fluorescent Display above to indicate Play, Stop,
Pause, Previous and Next. If you press the More
key, these 5 soft keys show different options. If a disc is spinning,
successive presses offer Repeat, Store / Clear and Brightness
options. If the disc is not spinning, the Repeat option is skipped.
If there is no disc in the player, the unit shows the text "No disc"
and the Store / Clear options are also skipped. In all my years in
the business, I have never seen a better user interface for a CD player.
At back, there are well-spaced connectors for Balanced and Unbalanced
interconnects, S/PDIF, Coaxial and TOSLink digital outputs, two
communications ports and a standard IEC power connector, plus an on/off
Wait till you see the remote –
the 52-key Meridian System Remote Plus.
This infrared unit is designed to control not just the G08 but also other
units in the range, and has an extensive built in third-party database and
learning capability to control other manufacturers’ equipment. It offers
an automatic backlight and even provides interchangeable source keys to
match your Meridian products and extra keycaps for third party products.
The remote worked well from a lot of different positions and angles in the
room and has an excellent touch and feel. Keys are grouped logically and
are well sized and spaced. I am blown away by the excellent ergonomics
this remote provides. What a pity it would not control my Perreaux
Radiance R200i, which is not IR but RF based.
The G08 worked flawlessly in response to the controls, with just one
exception. The very first time I used the machine, the cosmetic flap over
the disc drawer mechanism did not close fully. I pushed it home with my
finger, and that never happened again. Some of the controls provided
unexpected results. Pressing Play while the disc is playing moves
you to the next track. The fast forward and fast back keys need just one
touch, which I like, but Meridian should lower the volume of the garbled
sound that emerges during the scan. Since the unit is software
upgradeable, this may yet happen. Unlike the lower priced G07 CD Player,
the G08 uses a CD-ROM drive, with its inherently higher levels of error
correction (10 times better say Meridian). The downside to this is a
slightly long wait (6 seconds) as it reads the Table of Contents. The disc
drawer opens and closes quickly and smoothly, and once the disc is
spinning, the motor is extremely quiet. I noticed a 2 second delay when
you press Next Track or Previous Track. This allows you to
press again to move further in the required direction. You can avoid the
delay by pressing Play.
The G08 player is able to play virtually any Compact Disc, from
conventional pressings to CD-R, CD-R/W and discs of MP3 files (64kbps to
256kbps). Once the digital data stream has been recovered from the disc, a
powerful onboard digital signal processing chip upsamples the digital
information from the 44.1kHz, 16-bit signal of conventional CD to 24 bits,
and to a sample rate of 176.4kHz for digital to analog conversion to drive
the analog outputs, and 88.2KHz for the digital outputs. This upsampling
allows filtering to take place far beyond the range of human hearing. The
G08 employs triple-buffering to minimize jitter. A new high stability
clock further reduces jitter by re-clocking the digital stream. Multiple
power supplies ensure the digital and analog circuits are kept apart. The
Delta-Sigma D/A converters are configured in dual differential mode.
Analog output is a touch high at 2.3V RMS unbalanced and twice that for
balanced operation. My amplifier was not comfortable with levels above 4V
RMS, but I have had it modified to 6V RMS to accommodate this and some
other high output players.
So far, so good, but if it doesn’t sound wonderful who’s going to
pony up the $3,995 price of admission? Relax, it does sound wonderful. Not
perfect, but wonderful. This is not an immediately impressive performer;
it doesn’t knock your socks off with its dynamics or shake the house
with its bass energy. But neither is it polite or bass light. It’s
musical, that’s the key. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, but sets
out to reveal the music encoded on the discs in a truthful manner, and
with an abundance of detail. In common with the very best players, like
the Gamut CD 1 or the Esoteric DV-50, the music simply flows, and the
familiar digital edge is simply missing in action. The Gamut is a little
more alive in sound, and the Esoteric has killer bass and attack, but the
Meridian has the edge in refinement and retrieval of low-level detail. I
could listen for hours without fatigue. If you want just one track to
convince you this is the machine for you, try “Son Montuno” from
Chucho Valdés’ Bele Bele en La Havana (Blue Note CDP 7243 8
23082 2 5). I won’t tell you that this is a realistic sound – no one
can play that fast. This track has everything and the Meridian held its
composure all the way through the storm, never harsh and always dynamic
and spacious. Turn up the volume, play this to your friends and they’ll
tell you, whatever you paid for it, it’s worth it.
I compared the Meridian directly with another top class performer, the
Denon DVD-5900 with Level 2 Mods from Parts Connexion. This will be the
subject of a future review, but you can take it from me that this is a
giant step up from the stock DVD-5900, itself no slouch. I found the
Meridian to have the deeper soundscape, with pinpoint location of
instruments. The Denon could not match that depth, but offered greater
image width in compensation. The biggest difference was in the deep bass,
where the big Denon showed considerably more energy and drive, and in the
top octaves, where the Meridian was more open and balanced. The Denon also
offered a more forward presentation, as if you were sitting a few rows
closer to the musicians.
I found a slightly improved sound using the balanced interconnects in
my system, and both the Cardas Golden Cross and the Soundstring cables
worked very well with the Meridian G08, with a slight edge to the
Soundstrings, which offered the more open top and a more relaxed sound.
"Queen Bee" from Kulanjan by Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate (HNCD
1444) was light and open with a ton of detail on the Meridian. The voice
was really well focused and the plucked instruments sounded completely
natural. By contrast the Denon was earthier with a touch of vocal
sibilance and a lot of harmonics, giving an atmospheric you-are-there
Jazz doesn’t get much better than Cannonball Adderley’s "Who
Cares" in a beautiful XRCD release Know What I Mean (VICJ-60243).
The Meridian presented this track cleanly in a relaxed mood with exquisite
sound from the cymbals and brushes (so difficult to achieve), and a strong
sense of swing. The Denon had an even stronger swing with a punchier bass
line, but did not approach the delicious percussion of its rival.
Throwing something rather more complex into the mix, "All You Need Is
Love" by The Beatles from the Yellow Submarine Songtrack (Capitol
21481) showed the Meridian’s fine ways with vocals. You could make out
and locate each voice in the chorus, and the bass line came through strong
and well pitched, almost equaling the superb lower registers of the Denon,
which was a touch less open on top. Both players showed exceptional detail
and coherence in the cacophony of sounds that mark the last bars of this
song, and neither choked in the least bit at the most raucous points along
the way. I enjoyed both players immensely here.
Much to my wife’s chagrin ("Not that again!"), I pulled out Joan
Baez’s "Diamonds & Rust" from Rare, Live & Classic (Vanguard
VCD3-125/27), which I often use to separate the sheep from the goats. The
Meridian produced the more natural vocal and instrumental color, with tons
of detail and strong bass support. It had the edge in resolution of
acoustic instruments and percussion. The Denon provided more detail in the
bass and more body to the voice but the acoustic instruments were not
rendered so effortlessly and while by no means closed in, there was less
air at the top. Sometimes the acoustic instruments sounded electric;
impressive, but not realistic.
I listened to a lot of material on these two superb players. The
differences between them were consistent from disc to disc and from track
to track. The Denon (judged only by its performance on Redbook CD)
provided the stronger drive and the Meridian the more balanced and open
window on the music. I was surprised when I compared the Denon’s SACD
sound to the Meridian’s CD performance of the same music. The Denon’s
sound moved closer to the Meridian’s! The Denon improved in airiness and
became rather less aggressive. In this unfair comparison, I would have to
give a slight edge to the Denon, but that’s a story for another day.
I have owned a number of Meridian components over the years, including
the classic M2 Active Speakers, among my all-time favorite audio products.
In 1977 Bob Stuart and Allen Boothroyd founded Meridian, which became the
first company to introduce an audiophile CD player. Today’s G08 is about
the 25th CD player they have produced. This long experience
shows in the sophisticated interface and the refinement of the mechanism
and the sound. A particular mark of this company is the industrial design
that has always distinguished their products from that of their
competitors. The G Series derives a lot of its technical specifications
from the much more expensive and well-established 800 series. All you need
to make beautiful music is this CD Player and a pair of their active
digital speakers, such as the DSP 7000s. Other interesting products in the
range, which all share the same footprint, include:
Integrated AM/FM Stereo Receiver ($3,595)
Balanced Dual Mono Control Unit ($2,995) available with optional MM or
MC phono stage
DVD Audio Player Controller Tuner ($6,995)
Surround Controller (from $6,995)
Would I Buy The G08?
If I were in the market for a CD player I would,
and without hesitation. It is well built, the user interface through the
remote control or the front panel is exceptional, it looks superb, it fits
my cabinet, it offers all the connectivity I could wish for, and it sounds
both musical and accurate. I could wish for a longer warranty than the two
years provided, and I might miss the exceptional low-end drive of the
Denon and the Esoteric, but these are minor caveats.
The tougher question is whether I would buy a CD player, or choose a
SACD player, a DVD player (like the Meridian G98AH) or a Universal Player
(like the Denon 5900 or the Esoteric DV-50). It is still too early to know
for sure whether SACD or DVD-Audio will be successful. At the moment my
money is on limited success for SACD and little prospect for DVD-Audio,
due to the failure to date to come up with a successful hybrid format to
use in the car and in my portable CD player. As to multi-channel audio, I
am not yet convinced but I’m open to persuasion. Meridian of course is a
strong backer, perhaps the strongest, of DVD-Audio and does not at present
offer a Universal or SACD player.
The Universal players that I have heard that approach the sound quality
of the G08 are also considerably more expensive. I have heard better sound
from SACD discs, and particularly from DVD-Audio discs, particularly from
the Esoteric DV-50. As it happens I am in the market for a new digital
source, and I’m really struggling with these tradeoffs. No easy answers,
I’m afraid. Watch this space!
any other pure CD Player, the Meridian G08 is not future-proof. If SACD
wins big time, like CD did over vinyl, you may regret the purchase of a
G08. Otherwise I don’t see any downside. A magnificent achievement any
way you look at it. I can’t wait to try the other fourteen components in
the new range from the great minds at Meridian.
& A With Bob Stuart
Bob Stuart of Meridian
Phil: How did Boothroyd Stuart Meridian get started, Bob?
Bob: Meridian started in 1977 and grew out of a design consultancy run by Allen and myself. We set out to build great sounding, great looking, ergonomic audio systems. Extreme realism in sound has always been our goal.
Phil: How many people does Meridian now employ?
Bob: Meridian has grown over the years and now employs 120 people.
Phil: How long was the development cycle for the Meridian G Series, and how many people were involved in the design?
Bob: The G Series took us a lifetime. The development team was around 15 people
Phil: Is the whole G Series now available?
Bob: Yes it is.
Phil: Do you still get involved in the details of the audio circuitry?
Bob: Yes, I'm deeply involved in the hardware design and in the voicing of the products.
Phil: Once a customer buys the product, is it upgradeable?
Bob: Yes, the G Series offer free software upgrades.
Phil: Will we see an SACD or Universal Player from Meridian?
Bob: It really is not our policy to comment on future possibilities. We are prepared to say that currently Universal player components are much too compromised to meet our very high standards for CD, DVD-Video and DVD-Audio -- both sound and picture.
Phil: Thanks for talking to us today, Bob.
Type: Compact disc player with advanced digital sampling
THD: Less than 0.0025%
Noise: Better than -100db A weighted
Mechanism: ATAPI ROM Drive
DSP: Upsampling using 150MIPS Motorola DSP5637
Converters: 192kHz capable, 24-bit dual differential Delta Sigma
Formats: CD Audio, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3
Digital Outputs: S/PDIF, coax and optical (TOSLink) 88.2kHz or 44.1kHz
Analog Outputs: 2.3V RMS unbalanced, 4.6V RMS balanced
Power: Universal supply, 100-240V, 50/60Hz, 25VA
Dimensions: 17.3 x 3.5 x 13.8 (WxHxD in inches)
Weight: 20 lbs.
Display: Multi character Vacuum Florescent Display
Finishes: User choice of black or silver
Meridian Audio Ltd,
StoneHill, Stukeley Meadows,
Voice: +44 1480 445678
Meridian America Inc,
8055 Troon Cir, Suite C
Austell, GA 30168
Voice: (404) 344-7111
Fax: (404) 346-7111