Join Date: Jan 2008
Re: The F80 from Meridian
Regarding the Meridian F80 -- I own one. My wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas; when I told her -- here's the nice part -- she didn't even flinch. Great lady; she knows how much I do for her and our kids, and she really likes reciprocating.
Laugh, if you must, at the concept of spending $3K for a "boom box". I have a full Meridian Digital Theater system, which I've pieced together by buying dealer demos, trade-ins, and used gear. I've met Bob Stuart -- a very nice guy who just happens to be a genius -- and have always thought Meridian somewhat unique in the way they are very technology driven, but only when the technology serves the music.
I first bought Meridian gear because it was the only high-end gear I could find that could play both film soundtracks AND music, without compromising either. Of the two, music reproduction is the most important to me. Listening to most any music in Trifield mode through Meridian gear is a revelation. I also admire their systems approach to music, along with the concept of keeping the signal in the digital domain until the last possible moment (at the speaker).
That's just all a qualifier; I've clearly "consumed the Meridian Kool-Aid" but -- though I really like the company, it's people, and their approach -- I honestly expected to be disappointed by the F80. I ordered it with some trepidation.
When you actually see and hold it, the F80 is one of those pieces that just feels right. The first time you take it out of the box you are stunned by just how small it really is. I'd seen all the "Bob Stuart Introduces the F80" videos on YouTube, yet I still wasn't ready for this. It borders on tiny; there are many people who own larger toasters.
It comes quite well-boxed, is wrapped in a very nice Meridian-logo'ed soft bag, and is remarkably heavy for its' size. Every square inch of its' surface is carefully detailed and designed; there is an incredible amount of engineering and design behind this little guy.
The third thing you notice -- after the size and weight -- is the quality of design and materials. Seen in elevation, the curved design of the F80 is quite beautiful. I ordered my unit in Silver, as the other colors were just a little loud for my tastes. Each surface is rendered in slightly different materials, and the combination of textured composite base, smoothly-finished (and nicely painted) arched top, finely textured speaker grille, and smooth black display and control panel -- along with the very nice inclusion of a beautiful, round, analog-feeling knob to control volume -- all these details go together in a very wonderful way.
Seen from above, the F80 presents a footprint that is ovoid in shape. The resulting design is very pleasing; there are very few straight lines on the front panel -- just one, to be exact, created by a horizontal row of control buttons spaced along the front panel, just below the display. Meridian have continued the design language used from the 500-series components; this row of buttons has a look that any Meridian owner will instantly recognize.
This is design of a higher sort; it’s not all milled aluminum machismo, nor is it high-tech in the way Apple products are. I love Jonathan Ives’ sense of style, but -- partly because of the nature of computer products -- an old Mac seems dated (though many are still lovely years down the road). The F80, on the other hand, has a design that feels less trendy. I would compare it to the recent products from Aston-Martin, which have both a sense of heritage AND a forward-leaning perspective. The new Astons look right because they honor the past but don’t apologize for it by rigorously adhering to it as dogma; they have incorporated new technology that makes it feel as though you CAN have the best of both worlds. This seems analogous to the design ethos behind Meridian’s crafting of the F80.
The user interface is quite simple given the amount of features it allows you to access. This is one product that may never require most owners to crack the manual; everything is designed and laid out in a coherent and logical fashion.
The display is simply a work of art, in my opinion. It presents everything you need to know in a very clear fashion, and uses typefaces that -- for critical information -- are large and very readable. You can control two different brightness settings, one for when the unit is at rest (if switched off or if you’ve not pressed a button for 30 seconds) and another when the unit is active. When turned off the unit can display the date and time. This is, quite simply, the greatest clock radio in the history of mankind...
Enough about the look and feel; what’s it sound like? As I stated before, I was fully prepared to be disappointed. With the law of diminishing returns, paying this much for something so small seemed -- potentially, at least -- to be a mistake. Now, just to be clear there are number of small systems you could buy for the same money that would offer higher performance in some regards. The person who buys this is buying it because it offers the highest possible performance in the minimum space required to achieve it. If you have room for more equipment you might not be happy with the F80.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a jewel of a unit that will make you smile every time you see it, use it, and hear it -- and you can afford the price -- the F80 will not disappoint. It reminds me of the Minox sub-miniature cameras my Dad owned when I was a child. They, too, were rounded, and I loved turning them over and over in my hands. Despite their diminutive size there was a heft, weight, and solidity to them that belied their size. Precision instruments all have this feel, I think, and the F80 is one very precise instrument.
The first thing one expects in a box of this size is either no bass or grotesquely exaggerated bass. This is, perhaps, Meridian’s greatest achievement; the F80 produces genuinely solid, tight, and tuneful bass that seems -- to my ears -- to be pretty flat down to just above 40 hZ. Think about that for a moment; given the amount of the enclosure that has to be reserved for the electronics, disc drive, etc., there is a small space reserved for the speaker system. To get this bass quality from an enclosure of this size is really quite remarkable…
The frequency balance seems even to me; the high end is nicely extended without exaggeration, but is -- to my ears, a tiny bit hot or edgy. This may go away with break-in, and seems also to be somewhat related to how the “width” function is set. The range on the “width” is 0 to 6; I currently have mine set to position 4, which seems to fit my placement and the room fairly well. The treble seems less strident (an exaggeration in terms) with the “width” set to 2 or below, but -- with my placement -- I like the imaging better with the “width” set to position 4.
As regards the stereo imaging; it is not phenomenal in absolute audiophile terms, but it is fairly remarkable given -- once more -- the size of the box involved. The F80 really offers a very credible stereo image; not world class but very respectable considering the compromises involved.
When it comes to placement, Meridian have incorporated a menu setting to allow for just about any situation where it might be placed. There are settings for tabletop, corner, floor, or free-standing installs (if you can call plugging it in and setting it on a table an “install”).
One word about the tuner; I was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the reception on both AM and FM bands. We live at the bottom of a valley, in an area already known for wicked multipath and with a steel roof to boot. We are about 35 miles from the transmitters in San Francisco, with a nearly 3,000 foot peak directly in the way.
Despite these less than optimal conditions, the F80 tuner excelled in both selectivity and sensitivity. On FM I was very happy with the number of stations it received, the clarity with which it “pulls” weaker stations out of the ether, and it’s ability to cleanly resolve individual stations situated closely together in the band. The same applies for AM, and it must be noted that most “all-in-one” products treat the AM band as an afterthought -- which it most definitely is NOT on the F80. Thanks, Meridian!
I’m not sure what else to say; as this is not a magazine review I don’t feel it necessary to get into specs, the jack configuration, or other minutia that can easily be found online. I hope this gives the reader a better sense of what the Meridian F80 is all about, and what it is like to own one.