|Meridian 568.2 Digital Surround Processor|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Monday, 01 September 2003|
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There’s no more important nor complicated component in your A/V system than that of the surround-sound preamp. It is the controls, processor and distribution center of your entire music and movie playback system. A high-performance A/V preamp can make your system sound like an audiophile’s most racy dream while controlling the increasingly complex sources of your system with ease. A poor sounding AV preamp, and they are out there on the market, can make music sound like cats scratching on an aluminum door. A poorly thought-out AV preamp will leave you wishing you had the inputs needed to allow you to keep up with the latest in AV technology like DVD-Audio, SACD, HDTV, component video switching and beyond.
Meridian Audio is renowned for manufacturing audio/video components that perform at the very highest levels, competing directly with the likes of Mark Levinson, Krell, Lexicon, Theta and others that aspire to make the finest AV gear on the planet. The Meridian 568.2 Digital Surround Processor is a cutting-edge, feature-packed A/V preamp that retails for $6,995, or $7,745 outfitted with the Meridian MHR Smart Link option for use with either the Meridian 598 or Reference 800 players. This preamp is entry level for Meridian but finds itself in a marketplace that starts with preamps from Anthem and Sunfire at about half the cost and directly compared to Proceed’s AVPII (which is soon to be branded as a Mark Levinson component) and Krell’s HTS.
I connected the Meridian 598 DVD player (reviewed May 2003) via Meridian’s proprietary Smart Link digital connection. Smart Link allows you to connect a digital component like a DVD player digitally to an AV preamp. Movie studios and record labels fight this kind of technology over copy protection fears, but because the Meridian system is proprietary, they can offer it to the consumer. For audio enthusiasts, avoiding conversion of the digital audio on a DVD-Audio, DVD-Video or CD title before it gets to your AV preamp can be as significant as lifting a blanket from your speakers.
In terms of video switching in my system, my Faroudja NR Series scaler performed all needed switching. I completed the original calibration of the 568.2 on my PC laptop using Meridian’s sexy setup software. Later, my set-up was optimized by our staff expert, world-renowned acoustician Bob Hodas, who made the most of the calculations suggested by his Meyer Sound SIM measurement system.
Meridian provides their homemade software for system set-up. This software needs to be run from a PC (sorry, MAC users), due to the factory-provided, one-meter cable install is most definitely completed from a laptop. The software is impressively powerful and relatively easy to employ for an end user like myself. The Meridian setup software allows for intricate setup options that other preamps only dream about. For instance, when connected via the digital Smart Link connection from the Meridian 598, you can simply program the 568.2 to handle any software in any different manner. You might like DTS-encoded discs to be played in multi-channel with a little more sub and less surround outputs. When programmed, every time it sees a DTS-enabled disc, you will get exactly what you want. This goes for as many source inputs as you desire, allowing you infinite control of everything from your television-based ProLogic signals to your 16/44 music discs. If you like two-channel PCM played in Tri-field (matrixed surround sound for three speakers across the front of your soundstage), consider it done. Once you’ve completed the set-up, it’s as easy as placing a disc in the drawer and letting the 568.2 play. If you are computer savvy enough to use e-mail, you will have no problem with this programming method. However, when making an investment in components at this level, it is 100 percent acceptable to demand that your dealer performs the installation and initial calibration of your gear. This type of service should be considered part of the purchase price of such luxurious A/V componentry.
The Meridian 568.2 combines a completely digital surround sound processor with an ultra-high-performance digital preamplifier in a single chassis. This product type is just the ticket for those who love their music as much as their movies (if not more) and want a no-compromise solution in a minimalist package. And minimalist it is, measuring a mere 12.7 inches in width and 13.1 inches in depth, sitting 3.5 inches tall with a weight of a scant 10 pounds.
The 568.2 will accept both digital and analog sources, and handles all current two-channel and multi-channel formats, including PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS and MPEG. The 568.2 will also accept direct digital feeds from other capable Meridian players.
Inputs are sparse for an A/V controller in comparison to the competition, yet there are enough connections to manage a basic yet high-end A/V system. Available inputs include four 75-ohm RCA digital inputs, compatible with up to 24-bit data, two RCA analog inputs, one stereo 24-bit Delta-Sigma DAC input, and an optional Smart Link connection that accepts encrypted digital information from Meridian players.
As for outputs, there are four 75-ohm digital SPDIF outputs for connection to Meridian digital speakers, four analog stereo 24-bit Delta-Sigma DAC outputs, eight single-ended outputs for peripheral speakers such as surrounds, rears, center speaker and subs, and three balanced outputs for amplification to your main and center loudspeakers. For video, the 568.2 provides a composite video loop with OSD, and a S-Video input which also has OSD. It provides two Meridian communication ports for system control from a single Meridian remote. If your system complexity requires additional connectivity, Meridian offers their 562V.3 Digital Controller and Video Switching unit, which retails for $2,700.
For processing power, the 568.2 incorporates two Motorola 56002 processors running at 66 MHz, two Motorola 56367 processors running at 150 MHz, and a single Motorola 56007 running at 82 MHz. Additionally, there are a host of available accessories from Meridian to optimize your system, ranging from rack parts and beyond. I suggest you consult your retailer for a complete list of accessories, as well as the benefits that accompany them.
What makes a Meridian A/V preamp special is that, unlike most other manufacturers, the company purchases their DSP engines blank and writes the software code in-house. Why is this important? Most A/V companies simply purchase their DSP engines from the likes of Analog Devices, which designs very good processors, but the best engines they have are 32-bit devices. Equally, they are somewhat generic and designed for the masses. Meridian codes theirs with 48-bit precision, creating a considerably more resolute and transparent sound. There is no questioning the considerable benefit of this method, yet the investment is simply one that most companies either can’t afford to make or don’t have the expertise to implement. This method of programming also allows Meridian to update their DSP code to provide the end user with the ability to upload revisions. Later in my evaluation, I will discuss how I put this to the test.
Meridian’s MHR Smart Link connection has given us a revolutionary look at the future of the digital world of consumer audio by allowing a direct digital connection between two digital devices: a DVD player and an A/V preamp. While the music industry has placed restrictions on digital connection at 44 or 48 kHz to best protect itself from piracy, Meridian worked with the governing forum to gain the approval to output multi-channel 24-bit/96 kHz information directly from both their 800 and 598 players, into either the 568.2 or Reference 861 processors.
The 568.2 provides the option of upsampling PCM audio streams to the processors maximum native resolution of 24-bit 96 kHz. There are many players and processors that can accomplish this, yet most will not give you the option. As with the Mark Levinson No. 390S, you do not have the choice. In that case, Madrigal questioned whether any purchasers would ever want to hear music in a lesser resolution. The answer to that is perhaps there are few, but plenty argue that upsampling is not the best for all, if any, PCM music. For this application, Meridian gives the listener the choice.