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July / August 2004
Superior Audio Equipment Review
  



Meridian's G08 Upsampling CD Player

The Next Generation...
Does Buying A Hyper-Dollar CD Player Today Make Sense?

Review By Phil Gold

 

 

 

Meridian G08 Upsampling CD Player Unit

 

  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 switch.

 

Meridian G08 Remote Control

 

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.

 

In Use
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.

 

Aural Bliss
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 feel.

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:

 » G51 Integrated AM/FM Stereo Receiver ($3,595)  

 » G02 Balanced Dual Mono Control Unit ($2,995) available with optional MM or MC phono stage  

 » G91DH DVD Audio Player Controller Tuner ($6,995)  

 » G68 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!

Like 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.

 

Q & 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.

 

Specifications
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)
Weight: 20 lbs.
Display: Multi character Vacuum Florescent Display
Finishes: User choice of black or silver 
Price: $3995

 

Company Information
Meridian Audio Ltd,
Latham Road
Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire
PE29 6YE
England

Voice: +44-1480-445678
Fax: +44-1480-445686
Website: www.Meridian-Audio.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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