|Meridian 300 Series In-wall Loudspeaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers In-wall Loudspeakers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2007|
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When it came time to finally design and implement my new reference home theater, there were two things I knew I had to have. First was the ability to easily integrate and audition various components of all types without costly professional installation fees or outside programming. Second was for my reference system to feature only in-wall speakers. I have been a fan of in-walls (and on-walls, for that matter) for a long time now and, as technology has progressed, so has the quality of their sound. While nearly every speaker manufacturer has some sort of in-wall or on-wall line of products, finding ones that are truly reference grade can be a bit more daunting. I looked high and low during my search and compiled a list of potential candidates that would, I hoped, fit my needs. I met with and/or demoed the top offerings from RBH, Paradigm, Definitive, PSB and Meridian. While RBH, Paradigm, PSB and Definitive all make superb in-wall speakers, all of which I’d be more than happy to call my own, for one reason or another, they simply were not going to work in my room. Ultimately, after very careful listening and consideration, I decided on Meridian’s new 300 Series in-wall loudspeakers. What follows is not only my review of Meridian’s top in-wall offerings, but also a breakdown of the construction needed to welcome them into my home. Was it worth it? Let’s find out.
I was first introduced to the 300 Series in-walls at the CEDIA trade show in Denver in the fall of 2006. What I saw and heard, despite the horrible conditions usually found at most trade shows, put Meridian on my short list of must-have in-walls to own. Shortly after CEDIA, I bought a new home and decided that, during my somewhat massive renovation, I was going to transform the main living room into my reference theater. The catch was that I didn’t want guests to know they were sitting in a home theater until the lights went down and the show began. As I quickly learned the hard way, that level of stealth isn’t easy to achieve, nor is it cheap. I ended up gutting my new living room down to the studs, as well as building a whole new wall to house the rear speakers and the equipment rack. While construction raged on, I placed a call to Meridian and arranged for a full 5.1 in-wall system to be delivered to the house. What arrived was more than I expected.
Meridian sent me their rough in kits first, which consisted of large metal brackets for two 350 Series speakers and three 330 Series speakers. Meridian also sent me a bracket for their in-wall subwoofer, the 320; however, due to engineering refinements at the factory, the in-wall sub has yet to arrive. The entire 300 Series line of speakers is meant for new constructions, or at least homes undergoing major renovations, as you will have to tear your wall or room down to the studs in order to install them. The mounting brackets for the 350s are roughly 49 inches tall by 11 inches wide and just a hair under four inches deep. The brackets for the remaining 330s share the same width and depth as the 350s, but are 34 inches tall. I didn’t have a scale on hand to weigh them; needless to say, they were heavier than some floor-standing speakers I’ve come across. Also, the mounting brackets are sold separately and cost $400 each for the 350s and $350 each for the 330s. With my living room stripped down to bare wood, I mounted the brackets between the studs via their attached metal wings and a box of wood screws. Once the brackets were in place and speaker wire was run through the center of each bracket, I told the contractors to go ahead and close up the walls. This was something I shouldn’t have done without test-mounting the actual speakers first, but more on that later.
As construction continued, I took a moment to inspect the various speakers in the Meridian 300 Series line-up. The 300 Series can take one of two forms, the first being powered with Meridian’s own built-in amplifiers (which is what Meridian recommends) and the second being passive. The 5.1 surround sound set-up I requested was passive, since I would need to be able to power the speakers with a variety of amplifiers for review purposes. I’ve only heard the powered versions at shows and I can say, even in the face of most shows’ lackluster acoustic qualities, that the powered versions are killer and well worth the slight bump in price. Physically, there is little to no difference between the powered and passive 300 Series speakers.
The P350s are the largest of the 300 Series speakers; I chose these as my left and right mains. They measure 49 inches tall by 11 inches wide and a little over four inches deep. The P330s, which I used for my center and rear speakers, have the same dimensions as the P350s, with the exception of their height, which is 34 inches tall instead of 49. Again, I didn’t have a scale on hand, but the speakers themselves are substantial in weight, due largely to their enclosed design. The entire 300 Series features an all-metal enclosure, insuring that the sound doesn’t radiate or escape behind your walls, as well as providing additional fire safety in the event of a tragedy. The P350s retail for $4,250 each in their passive form, while the P330s are $2,695 each. However, if you prefer powered speakers, expect to pay a bit more. Also, the 300 Series come in either an in-wall or flush mount configuration. The in-wall 300s have a removable and paintable grille, while the flush-mount speakers ship without a grille because they are specifically designed to be mounted behind custom fabric walls or perforated screens. The in-wall speakers do cost a bit extra, but you won’t have the costly fabric wall to contend with. My 300 Series system was going to be mounted behind a fabric wall, so I went with the flush-mount option, bringing my entire system total, including the mounting brackets, to just under $19,000. While 19 grand is a lot of money, you have to consider the 300 Series’ competition, including floor-standing speakers, which can retail for as much as $25,000 or more for a single pair. Getting a 5.1 speaker system from a manufacturer as reputable as Meridian for under the $20,000 mark is actually quite impressive in terms of absolute reference loudspeakers.
As for the speakers themselves, the P350s are a two-way in-wall speaker with dual six-and-a-half-inch metal-coned bass/midrange drivers mounted above and below the wide-dispersion ribbon tweeter. The three drivers are complimented by two eight-inch Auxiliary Bass Radiator (or ABR) drivers, mounted at the top and bottom of the speaker. These make the P350 look more like a three-way design than a two-way one. The P350 has an impedance of four ohms and is suitable for a wide range of amplifiers, up to 300 watts. At the time of this review, no other data, including frequency response, was made available for any of the 300 Series speakers. The P330s, like the P350s, are a two-way design with a single six-and-a-half-inch metal coned bass/midrange driver mounted below the same ribbon tweeter and above the eight-inch ABR’s driver. The P330 has a nominal impedance of eight ohms and is suitable for a variety of amplifiers up to 200 watts. I should also point out that all of the passive models in the 300 Series are bi-wireable only via their robust, gold-plated binding posts.
Since my reference system was being designed and built on a strict budget, I didn’t have the luxury of utilizing the good folks over at Simply Home Entertainment’s expertise when it came time to install the 300 Series in-walls. If you’re one of the lucky few who has the ways and means to welcome Meridian’s 300 Series speakers into your home, you’re going to want them professionally installed. While they can be done DIY style, having done it myself, I do not recommend it. Once the mounting brackets were installed and the new drywall set over the top, it was time to wire and install the speakers. First off, I had to create bridging straps, since I would not be bi-wiring the 300s. Once that was complete, I wired each speaker with the already installed XLO Reference in-wall speaker cable, with the help of my contractor and my girlfriend. According to the instructions, the speakers should slide into their brackets with ease and, four hex screws later, you’re done. That is, of course, if your wall cavity is deep enough. You see, the brackets fit inside my walls just fine and left about a half inch or so between them and the outer stucco of my exterior wall. The speakers themselves are deeper than the brackets and an installer would be more aware of this. After I gutted my entire main level, I realized that the speakers were not going to fit in my house. It took about 24 hours for me to calm down and resume breathing. The installation had already cost me nearly $10,000; there were other factors besides just the installation of the speakers that added to the costs, but still, $10,000 and no sound. My contractor saved the day by noticing that my exterior stucco was exceptionally thick. After a quick check with local building codes and such, he was able to notch out a quarter inch, which was just enough to squeeze the speakers into their brackets without actually rubbing them against the wall. Once in their brackets, securing the screws was easy enough and the rest of the install went on without incident. While my fabric wall was being installed, I wired the Meridian in-walls to my reference rig, which consisted of my Mark Levinson No. 433 powering the front left, right and center speakers, my Outlaw 7200 amp for the rears, a Meridian G68 surround sound controller, a Meridian G98 transport and, last but not least, my Sony Blu-ray and Toshiba HD DVD players. I ran a few quick tests and EQ’d the entire system using the G68’s internal room correction software, and away I went.
From the first rough sketch of my new reference room to completion, including all wiring, lighting and speakers took 15 days. If there is one thing I’ve learned from this particular review, it’s the sheer value of a custom installer. I honestly don’t care about the added costs; it is absolutely worth it, for I will never do this type of design and installation myself again.