|Meridian 598 DVD-A/V Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Thursday, 01 May 2003|
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Changing tracks on the 598 was unusually slow. It would typically take a couple of seconds between when you pressed the track-skip button and when the track advanced. I suppose that this isn’t the biggest issue – what’s the hurry? – but I often waited a bit, thinking that the infrared sensor didn’t read, and therefore pushed the button again, later advancing a couple tracks at once. This won’t be an issue for those who employ a little patience, but it might be for serious coffee drinkers.
I had a love/hate relationship with the 598’s remote. This remote is fantastic in many ways, with a plethora of available functions and the best reading sensor system I have seen, but the unit is extraordinarily large. It is far too big to hold in a single hand and not something that found a comfortable resting spot on my lap for extended periods. Its buttons were well-placed and had a great feel, yet due to the size of the remote and the sheer number of options, it could be difficult to navigate in the dark, a problem that is exacerbated by its lack of illumination. It is not uncommon to have remotes that lack backlighting, something that defies logic. Here we have a device that is clearly designed to be operated in either minimal lighting or complete darkness, yet without backlighting, you are forced to navigate by brail.
The Meridian 598 plays virtually every format today from DVD-Audio, to DVD-R and MP3 discs, yet it does not play SACD, a formidable high-resolution audio option. SACD is a competing format and Meridian has as much at stake in the war as any, yet in today’s world, flexibility is the name of the game. The solution, if you have a Meridian 500 series preamp and DVD player digitally connected, is to order your preamp with a 5.1 analog input and use that for SACD from a dedicated SACD player. This is possible because you will connect your DVD player via the proprietary digital connection. Problem solved, with the advantage of being able to use the preamp for bass management. Ah, the best of both worlds.
The Meridian 598 is a player that performs at the highest level in every category. It is hard to argue that DVD-Audio is anything other than the most exciting new format to hit your ear in many years, and right now nobody does DVD-Audio better than Meridian. The 598 plays multi-channel music in ways that have never heard before. If you either haven’t heard DVD-Audio, or haven’t heard it done well, should give this player a listen -- it will reset your expectations and make you rethink your audio upgrade path.
When it comes to movies, this player performs leagues beyond any player that I have had in my system. Its sounds spectacular and its video is deliciously alluring. Colors and images have incredible depth that are lost when I switch back to other high-end players. This is the best video player that I have ever seen. I don’t want to know what the Meridian 800 looks like because I fear I cannot justify the expense; it is hard to believe it gets better than the 598.
When it comes to stereo music, the 598 performs very well. In fact, I prefer it to the much-respected and comparably-priced Mark Levinson 390S CD-only player. It is not the very best-sounding player I have ever heard, a title claimed by the $20,000 Linn Sondek CD12, but it is no slouch in comparison. The Meridian 598 is solidly designed and very reliable. Because of its performance and its wonderful interaction with the Meridian 568.2, I found myself using my A/V system more than ever before. I think that the ease of going from movies to music, in a variety of different formats, all with a single player, was something that drew me to my system more often. If you follow the development of my system over the years via the associated equipment links at the end of reviews, I have long been known for complicated A/V systems with multiple players, something the Meridian combo has changed.
If you are looking for a single player to handle both your movies and music at very close to the highest conceivable level, look no further. You might ask me to lead you towards a combo DVD-Audio/SACD player in its price class that compares solidly, but I can’t. I am afraid the Meridian 598, for what it does, is in a class of its own.