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Meridian 861 Version 4 AV Preamplifier Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 April 2004
Article Index
Meridian 861 Version 4 AV Preamplifier
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The Downside
The 861 does things other high end preamps wish they could, but the preamp is not perfect. For starters, there are no knobs on the front of the unit. In using the machine, the lack of buttons makes things difficult to operate sometimes. Knobs have found their way onto the new, more affordable G Series Meridian gear after 20 years of knobless gear from the digital AV leader. When programming the name on an input, you can only input five letters. Other high-end preamps allow you the ability to customize the name of your inputs more accurately.

While setting up the Meridian 861 with a PC is a powerful experience, I feel that the average high-end guy doesn’t have as much control over the unit as he would with other high-end preamps, unless he dedicates himself to making himself proficient with the Meridian software. It is certainly not impossible for those who are motivated, and Meridian America is really good about giving support over the phone. In the end, your dealer should be the one who runs the programming into your 861 just as Marc programmed mine.

Video transcoding is a really nice feature found on the Mark Levinson No. 40. The No. 40 is as much as $13,000 more in price and is currently not in production. I personally have a No. 40 and the video transcoding is a really nice feature. It allows you to convert video signals from anything to whatever format you might want. In my case, I output all of my video sources to component video right into my Faroudja NRS. This works a little better than with the Meridian 861, because you don’t have to switch inputs on your preamp as often as I have to with the 861. I have an AMX remote system on order, which will do all of this switching automatically, so this issue might become moot for me. However, for now it is one feature I would love to see make its way to the Meridian 861.

I give the Meridian the highest grade as an AV preamp. Its audio heritage is purebred and you can hear how it excels over all of its competitors, above and below its price. As a system, the Meridian Digital Theater is a force to be reckoned with. It is the most simple, most high-performance route to music and home theater soundtrack playback. As a front end, the Meridian 800-861 pairing is truly impressive. Its technological advantages over the competition are many. The digital audio connection is the kind of technology that gets audiophiles to join a 12-step program and get with the world of multi-channel music and home theater. DVI and HDMI video switching is going to make the 861 even more powerful.

Most important in endorsing the Meridian 861 as one of the single finest audio-video components in the entire world is the fact that Meridian has kept their promises to their early adopters who bought 861s when they first came out. This product remains relevant – scratch that – cutting-edge years after its introduction and continues to get better. For the music fan who wants to get more from his collection of stereo recordings, the 861 is a champion. For the home theater enthusiast who wants to hear every possible detail in a movie soundtrack, the 861 is up to the challenge. This is one hell of a preamp.

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