Mar 202010
 
For quite some time Meridian have been keen to grab as large a slice of the market that B&O has pretty much had to its self, for many years. To that end, in the last few years  a clever assault on that B&O focused“lifestyle”market has seen Meridian pursue the trendy press, promote Meridian components via product placement in movies, such as Jumper, and develop the sort of products (still having that high quality Meridian sound) that appeal to the wealthy gadget freaks out there.
This desire has been manifested in the form of products like the F80, an all in one micro system; which will also suit the interior decor crowd as well as it is available in various colours. Gone are the days of plain black boxes, though Meridian product cases have not been  plain black boxes for quite some time if ever.
For many years Meridian have also been offering set ups based around active speakers (as far as I can recall always digital), but they have also had more traditional two channel components available as well, and it is items from this current line (the Meridian G08 CD player in this review is no longer a current model, having been replaced by the G08.2. The pre-amplifier and power-amplifier are still current) up of products that is the subject of this particular review.
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These Meridian products will appeal to audiophiles, but the G series will also appeal to the no fuss and bother non- audiophile as well. There are those who love music, but have no time for the kind of self obsessing, naval gazing many audiophiles do regularly. They (and we audiophiles have to be honest with ourselves here on this point) make up the vast majority of the music buying public. They have no interest in the multiple ways we go about reproducing high-fidelity sound, but should that exclude them from having a system that will unlock their music choices, give them quality sound and appearance ? I say no and Meridian do too. This particular music listening demographic, will favour good looks and simplicity of function over the more weird and wacky set ups that traditional hi-fi geeks will be happy to live with. In short, stylish lifestyle products that make music and do it well. The Meridian G series components are stylish, simple to use and fit the bill of what the “Lifestyle” market wants. What I was curious to discover was; can you have the “Lifestyle” and the sound quality levels that audiophiles demand too ? Lets see if we can answer the question.
Meridian G02 Fully Balanced Pre-Amplifier.
Rear view of G02 Pre-amplifier.
Meridian G56 Power-Amplifier
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The system in question was made up of three components, the G08 Cd player, G02 balanced pre-amplifier and the G56 two channel power amplifier.  I wanted to give them the best chance I could of sounding their best, but I did not want to be so anal as to give them individual shelves to sit on or isolation platforms (something I felt was unlikely to happen in many G system setups in the real/lifestyle world), so I stacked them on top of each other; and placed them on the top shelf of my Clearlight Aspect rack. However to keep some reference to my own system I used the Atlas Marvos XLR interconnects and Atlas Mavros speaker cable, and Audience AU24 mains leads to each component. I realise this cabling choice is way over the top compared to what these products would be used with in the normal situation they would find themselves in, but I was trying to keep as close as I could to what I currently use in order to keep the potential variables down, and using my current reference cables seemed a sensible way to do this. Little did I know when I made that choice how big an effect that would have on procedings, but more on that later.
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The Meridian G08 Cd player is the top of the G series with the next step being the 800 series mega bucks Cd players. The G08 is a 24 bit oversampling player, with a CD rom drive (ATAPI) thankfully quite, that can read the disc many times faster than a conventional CD drive, and this leads to 10 times the error correction of most other Cd players. The players on board DSP decoders (150  MIPS Motorola DSP56367 chip) up sample to 176.4khz (88.2khz at the digital outputs). The data is triple buffered to remove/reduce jitter and the circuit topology is balanced in the G08 (single ended in the G06).
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The Meridian G02 balanced pre-amplifier is wonderfully well equipped with XLR inputs (3) and (1) XLR output for amplifier hook up. While this is a balanced pre there are also RCA inputs (4) and (2) sets of outputs for tape decks etc and (1) set of outputs for hook up to a power amplifier. If I have one question it is this why have 1 of the XLR inputs market tape ? Very few domestic tape/cassette decks ever had XLR inputs or outputs and I suspect many users of this pre will not have a Revox PR99 or similar kicking around.
The Meridian G56 is a solid state 100 watt a channel amplifier that can be used in bridged mode if necessary. It is a low feedback design, DC coupled with no capacitors in the signal path.
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The CD player and Pre both come with the desk top Meridian remote the MSR (back lit learning remote), which is a joy to use, but does emit a slight high pitched whistle when used, for the few seconds its working (this did annoy me a bit, my hearing is very sensitive to such things). Other than this the only other thing which bothered me during use, was the fact the open close button on the Cd player is the same size as the display off, power on off/standby buttons. All three buttons sit in a line on the left hand side of the players fascia. You get used to it, but for the first few days I kept switching the display off and once the power. I think this button should be bigger or sited elsewhere on the fascia, but its hardly a deal breaker. One other important point you should take note of,  like many solid state items these units needed a full week of warm up to sound their best, this is particularly the case with the G08 Cd player and the G02 pre-amplifier but less so the G56 power amplifier.
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After a week of casual listening, and after I could hear no further improvements in sound quality, I gave them a more serious listen, but was disappointed by a slight thinness and forwardness to the sound. I was listening to Nitin Sawhney’s album Broken Skin, and Afterlife-Afterlife Lounge, both of these CDs are well known for having good bass,but in the context of this system disappointed me…..something was a miss !
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There were certainly no issues with the amplifier driving the Anthony Gallo ref3.1’s so I thought it might be an interconnect mismatch. Controversial but once again I heard a very marked change in sound switching from the Atlas Mavros cables to a set of Audience AU24 XLR cables. The thinness and the forwardness vanished. Overall the sound was more coherent with better bass…go figure. It should again be pointed out that it is unlikely that these components will be used with £800 interconnects but I know these cables well and wanted to stick with what I know. However in saying that. only a fool would ever say he or she could predict exactly how their reference cables will interact between any set of components…system synergy applies just as much to cabling as it does to the actual components of a given system.
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Once I had cured the sound issues I got back to a serious listen. My early impressions had been of a musically engaging set up, but it lacked the focus and resolution of my main system (substantially more expensive). The soundstage was smaller, instrument separation and imaging was less good, but overall it was enjoying to listen to. I plugged my Andromeda CD player in to the Meridian pre-power just to see if this would give me a handle on what was perhaps holding things back (this was before discovering that the cables were an issue). Low and behold the areas that were lacking improved hugely (sorry guys but you do get big improvements in sound quality between cheaper and dearer CD players). However despite the improvements the tonal issues noted earlier were now worse and frankly I could not listen to this combination for long.
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Going back to the Meridian G08 CD player and then replacing the Atlas cables for Audience AU24, improved the sound of this system a lot. The sound now reminded me a bit of a previous set up I used regularly the Marantz CD7, Pathos Classic One mk2 used with the Gallo Speakers. However unlike that set up this one while tonally similar, lacked the purity, clarity and delicacy of the former set up. I suspect the lack of tubes is responsible for that. There is an effortless, natural and organic quality to my reference system, something that the Meridian combination lacked. However the price balance difference is huge and the differences in technology used must also be a factor. One system being solid state, the other valve.
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Music Used….

Playing my usual evaluation discs, such as the Dali Demo CD, Thomas Dolby-Aliens Ate my Buick and the aforementioned Nitin Sawhney and AfterLife discs I was able to sit back and enjoy the sound of the Meridian system. Okay it wasn’t as able to resolve all the details and nuances of my normal system, but it was musically honest, good at communicating emotion and did not seem to favour any genre of music over another. I think it more than fair to say its sin were those of omission rather than commission and I very much enjoyed it.
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So is it possible to have the lifestyle products and the sound quality audiophiles crave. Well yes and No. You see it will all depend on what your past systems have been and thus what your references are. If you have never had a valve system, be it PP or SE or other such esoteric(to the common man) devices or you are upgrading to this from a Technics system or even a two to three grand set up, then the Meridian G series will be a huge revelation to you. However if you have a quirky audiophile centric system, then I suspect the answer will be probably be No, or perhaps a maybe if you have to downsize as many are.  I for one could certainly live with this set up as a second system and based on the level of my experience and systems I have had in the past I think that is high praise indeed.
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I enjoyed the fuss free way this system worked, from the being able to switch it all on at the push of a button and the way it played my music to a high standard, though not as high as I am normally used to. I now wonder how much more I can squeeze out of it if I treat its individual components to their own shelves, isolation etc….Ummmm I wonder ?
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Additional thoughts….
I have sat on this review for sometime, while continuing to listen both casually, and more seriously (such as today) to the Meridian system; after the formal review was written. Today I decided to revisit some of the albums I had listened to during the main review, just to see how things sounded now. Well I think it fair to say that my main conclusions still stand, but I was concerned that perhaps I had damned this system with faint praise. I have re-read the review and decided not to change any of it, but I think that a few further lines are now in order.
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The first thing that I discovered today, was that the sound had grown a little bit fuller and richer than before. I can only put this down to them needing further run in. There have maybe only been 50 hours or so on these components, perhaps a little bit more, before I started reviewing them. The additional period of casual use has been valuable, as it has allowed the individual items further run in time, and what I heard showed a marked improvement to the sound.  However despite this improvement, overall my thoughts remain unchanged. This set up does many things well, and as I stated earlier its sins “are those of omission and not commission”. It is still hard to remove yourself completely from the aural memory of how certain tracks sound, played on ones reference components, and thus your listening is haunted/influenced by that memory. A useful thing, but also dare I suggest a hinderance too. It would be, perhaps more useful to compare the Meridian G series to say similarly priced items from Electrocompanient, Lema, Exposure or Arcam, but if I had done that I would have missed the fact that these items achieve so much for their price. The fact that I can listen to, and enjoy them instead of my reference system is a major achievement.
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So not wishing to damn with faint praise, let me now say that Meridian has achieved something major here in my opinion.  A musically satisfying system with all the right compromises, that gives the audiophile and non-audiophile a fantastic way to enjoy music, that while expensive is still a bargain at its price point. Can you do better ? Yes, but only if you are prepared to spend a lot more, and step out of the relative comfort zone of solid state, into the world of valves and analogue.
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Neil


Thanks go to Kevin, for the review product loan.
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NB. Copyright ownership of some images used in this review do not belong with me. Should there be a problem please contact me.
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© Copyright 2010 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio.
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