|Meridian 568.2 Digital Surround Processor|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Monday, 01 September 2003|
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The Movies and Music
My reference system has historically segregated audio playback from video, due to my unwillingness to compromise my stereo music reproduction for sake of video or multi-channel entertainment. I own the Mark Levinson No. 32 Reference Preamplifier, an outrageously expensive stereo preamp that has defined two-channel performance. The way my system worked was, I would process stereo music through the No. 32 and movies through a second A/V preamp, most recently the Anthem AVM20. This was a great way of staying true to my stereo reproduction, but it made my system complicated and impossible for my spouse to start and operate without considerable and ongoing instruction. The Meridian 568.2 offered me the chance to look at a more simple way to enjoy the best, highest-end playback of audio and video in one chassis. The question is…. is less more in a dedicated high-end system that has developed into a significant home theater and multi-channel music playback system? Only the music and movies will tell.
In March of 1971, the Allman Brothers Band provided one of the most inspired performances the rock world has ever seen. The imported release titled The Fillmore Concerts (Polygram) will stand as one of the greater rock performances of the time. This country blues ensemble defined an entire musical genre, becoming the springboard for such bands as Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet and more. This performance is a painful reminder of what was lost in Duane Allman’s eventual death – a shock to the entire music world. In the song “No Way Out,” from Disc One of this two-disc set, Dickey Betts’ guitar tone and Duane’s infectious slide-tone was revealed superbly. Greg Allman, in my eyes the greatest blues voice of my generation, sounded extremely detailed yet not negatively analytical. His voice had huge depth and was laid back very well without appearing unnecessarily distant or vague. When compared to the Mark Levinson No. 32, which had a slightly greater palpability, the 568.2 sounded more live and, due to the upsampled information, brought you closer to the “live” event. The No. 32 has a little additional depth but less information in the greatest details. The 568.2 was surprisingly pure and endearing. Dickey Betts lead in this song is one of the more classic rock leads ever and was portrayed deliciously. Duane’s slide playing in this song is absolutely mind-boggling in content and was reproduced with exceptional texture and pace. With both the No. 32 and 568.2, the slide tone was sweet and had accurate timbre balance. There were aspects of both that I loved. Again, I found the 568.2 to have slightly more information and life, with the No. 32 taking the clear edge in purity. I must note that the 568.2’s evaluated performance was achieved in combination with the Meridian 598 player, a collaboration that worked with great synergy and coherence.
In the song “Stormy Monday Blues,” written by the master bluesman T. Bone Walker, Greg’s voice again extended itself in complete separation from the speakers. There was detail that was not just present, but seamlessly integrated into the sound field. I played with the different DSP modes throughout the period of evaluation and found that at times I preferred modes other than the simple “stereo” DSP. With this recording, I liked the “music” DSP for its added spaciousness. DSP modes have come a long way, but I have never heard better and more pure DSP selections. The 568.2’s DSP options were more than a manipulated sound – they were an adventure into alternate venues. I found myself toggling between DSP modes to fit my taste for the given listening session, something I would have never dreamed of doing years ago. The 568.2’s DSP options are by far the best that I have ever heard. Never before have I looked upon digital audio “manipulation” as a positive. Meridian pulls off the feat tastefully, even for a discerning ear.
When compared to the best stereo reproduction that my system had yet seen from the likes of the Mark Levinson No. 32 (about $12,000) and Linn Sondek CD12 ($20,000) combo, the Meridian 568.2/598 combo (about $15,000) was right at their coattails. This is a huge endorsement, as the Meridian set-up is so much more versatile and powerful in terms of features and expandability.
Sticking to the blues theme, Eric Clapton and B.B. King’s collaboration Riding With The King (Reprise) is a fantastic 5.1 DVD-Audio release. I went to the irresistible cut “Key To The Highway.” The 568.2 lacked any noticeable negative artifacts when compared to sessions where I played the disc on a more affordable Kenwood DV-5700 player in my Anthem-Mark Levinson rig. The Meridian pairing had a fantastic midrange and great detail in the top end. Its sound could be described as laid-back, but not overly gentle. Its treble was rich and full but also very revealing, without the slightest of edge or etched sound. In this cut, you could literally experience the pure soul exuding from King’s fingertips. I have always been a fan of Clapton but, as I’m sure he would concur, he may never approach the heart and soul of the legendary King. King’s guitar was portrayed in gigantic detail and had the punch and attack of an actual performance. I think I found the most notable improvement over other A/V preamps to be in the quiet sections and its ability to decay naturally. The combination of the 568.2 and 598 was stunning on this recording. I have never before felt closer to reproduced instruments. In the song “Marry Me,” the 568.2 showed hugely percussive impact and dynamic range. Combined with my reference Mark Levinson No. 436 amplifiers, the bass and drums had butt-kicking slam. The drums were very focused and sounded downright mean. The Meridian set-up made multi-channel listening a dramatic adventure – a buzz that far surpasses any audiophile tweak ever invented. It drained more than just information from DVD-Audio recordings, and additionally could portray the feeling you expect to hear exclusively at a live music event.
In the past five years, movies and HDTV have become an increasingly important element of my life, thus I have invested in additional speakers, amps, projectors, screens, etc. In my hours watching films, I have found the movie “Pearl Harbor” (Touchstone) offered the perfect opportunity to evaluate an A/V preamp. In Chapter 22, as the Zeroes made their way towards the harbor, the sounds of the engines were crystal clear and very real. Perhaps more impressive was the finesse and ease with which information was received. The 568.2 could handle an abundance of information while avoiding congestion or any confusion. This needs to be heard to be truly understood and appreciated. I was hearing this soundtrack from a completely new perspective. My concern was no longer how good a particular aspect sounded or how detailed the highs were, but rather how completely cohesive my system sounded as a whole. There was complete separation between the screaming soldiers being terrorized by death all around and the planes overhead. As they swam through the water and bullets ripped all around, the subtle detail made me feel as if I were in the water. This was a very impressive segment that completely moved me, clearly the best cinema sound that I have experienced. It scares me to think that the Meridian 861 could even be that much better, but I am going to get a chance to hear it in my system very soon.