|Meridian G68 Digital Surround Controller|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Sunday, 01 May 2005|
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There is no piece more important to your home theater than your AV preamp. It is the brains, the heart and the soul of your entire AV system. It’s your system’s interface, switching unit and arguably the piece of gear that is more responsible for the sound of your system than any other. If your surround controller is easy to use and sounds great, your system will sing – anything less than that and you could be riddled with frustration and/or stuck with sound that doesn’t meet the standards you should expect when making a significant investment in high-performance audio/video electronics. I have had most of today’s best surround preamps in my system and have determined that this is the area where you least want to short yourself.
At first glance, all comparably-priced surround controllers appear similar, yet when you are able to live with them for an extended period, you’ll find specific likes and dislikes in all areas of ownership. Important factors are ease of control and sonic performance for not just a couple but rather every format you own or aspire to own.
The Meridian G68 Digital Surround Controller is an amazingly sophisticated surround processor that packs a ton of processing power, provides room correction and has real-world features such as an AM/FM tuner, broadcast quality video switching and intelligent source decoding, just to name a few. It sells for between $6,995 and $8,995, depending on the configuration.
The look of the G-Series is completely revamped in a very positive way. Larger and nicer-feeling paddle-like toggles have replaced the thin bar-like buttons of the 568. The display is larger and provides more information. The chassis is now full width and has a much nicer finish to it. G-Series chasses come in either pearly silver or all black finish that is many times nicer than the older Meridian finishes. The chassis has the familiar Meridian 800 Series smoked glass top to accent its new look. As a former 568 user, my favorite change is the addition of a new rotary volume control on the right front face, giving you old style flexibility for volume and setting changes with a silky yet solid feel.
The G68 measures a standard rack width of 17.32 inches wide, 13.78 inches deep and a 3U rack height of five-and-one-quarter inches, with an overall weight is 22 pounds. There is also a new rack-mount kit for the G-series, complete with black-brushed aluminum faceplates, fans in the trays and front side connectivity for convenient connection to camcorders and other peripheral gear. The Meridian G Series rack-mount kit retails for $499.
The Meridian System remote is all new and has major improvements over its predecessor. The remote is silver aluminum-faced and provides full functionality. The Meridian remote has always been relatively large at eight inches by four-and-a-half inches, but this has never been an issue for me because it is functionally superior to other remotes at the price point. New for the G-Series is superb backlighting and larger square-shaped buttons. Similar to the system remote of past, the new remote has the best infrared reach of any remote I have seen. It will contact the G68 when pointed in any direction, regardless of reflective surfaces. It worked for me like an RF remote when in the same room as the controller.
For the past couple of years, I have referenced the Meridian 568/598 player/processor combo in my main AV system. For the purpose of this review, Meridian thoughtfully flew out their in-house pro, Marc Koval, to help me with the set-up. Basically, there are two ways to configure the G68. You can do so either from the front panel or from the remote control, using the front panel or OSD. But the better and more sophisticated way is to use Meridian’s PC/Windows-based software, connected to the G68 from your laptop through a serial cable. This software program is very intelligent and walks you through the set-up, showing you schematically what you are connecting. However, as intuitive as this program is, it’s not for amateurs who aren’t really proficient with computers and proprietary software. As always, I recommend that you make sure your local retailer helps you with the configuration of your G68. When you buy Meridian, you are paying for professional set-up, so you should take advantage of it.
The G68 is packed with features that you would expect from a preamp of the Meridian brand at such a price. Few deny the effect of poor room acoustics on an AV system. Because most AV systems go into living rooms rather than professionally-treated recording studios, the G68 provides pretty powerful room correction. Getting started is as simple as placing the provided microphone and beginning the set-up sequence. The G68 will then read the test signals in your room and compensate for bumps and dips in your sound spectrum. This serves to help blend the upper and lower frequencies for a more coherent and balanced response. Once pooh-poohed by snotty audiophile magazines, room correction today makes more sense to music and movie lovers with ears and the desire to get the most from their AV investment as it is installed in their rooms.
Like many AV processors today, the G68 provides video switching for your video sources. The G68 does it better than perhaps any AV preamp I have ever seen, reviewed or tested. The G68 provides broadcast quality pass-through so good that is damn near impossible for me to tell the difference between the source direct into my Vidikron Vision Two eight-inch CRT projector and running through the G68.
The G68 has what is perhaps one of the more overlooked features of the last few decades, an AM/FM tuner. You may be questioning the relevance of an AM/FM tuner in these days of satellite radio, such as XM and Sirius, yet it’s a real format that provides content. I use it to listen to a few local radio shows, some Giants games and even some non-right-leaning morning talk occasionally. I lived without a tuner for many years, so its return was welcome. Understanding how much better terrestrial radio is in Europe than in the States also points you as to why there is a tuner installed. FM is still a meaningful way to learn about and listen to music across the pond.
When the G68 is fed from either the Meridian G98, 800 or 598 player via SmartLink, Meridian’s proprietary encrypted digital connection, it has what Meridian calls their Smart Source feature. This feature monitors the digital input signal and automatically defaults to the proper decoding software and personal settings. What this means is that when you go through the set-up, you can program the G68 to handle each format differently. If you listen to DVD-Audio, find that you are annoyed with abundant rear channel information and want to lower its output, you can program the G68 so that when it sees DVD-Audio information, it automatically defaults to, say, minus three dB. Or if you find that you like more rear or center information during movies, you can set the G68 so that when it detects a Dolby Digital signal, it automatically loads your settings. I set up the G68 so that it has sub for DVD-Audio and movies and no sub for CD playback. Many set the G68 to add sub to CDs and default to Meridian’s Trifield mode, creating sort of a three-channel stereo mix. Beyond the flexibility of the programming and the ease of use, the most important feature of Smart Link is its sound. Many AV preamps today require an additional level of analog to digital conversion from your DVD player to your preamp. DVD is a digital format and, on a Meridian system, you keep your digital audio in a digital format until the AV preamp. Less has always been more in high-end audio reproduction – that is, until some record exec gets paranoid about you stealing a song. Meridian’s system gets you around the problem and keeps you close to the music that is mixed and mastered on the disc. This is one of the best reasons why the Meridian G Series sounds so good for both music and video playback, explaining its use in mastering labs and recording studios all over the world.
Another key to the G68’s sonic success is its vast processing power. The preamp uses five Motorola 56367DSP chips, which operate at 150 MHz, delivering over 750 million instructions per second. They process at 48-bit precision throughout. This assures that DSP processing is done outside your audible range and provides the best possible sonic performance. The Meridian G68 is a digital processor, so it automatically converts analog signals to digital, using a 24-Bit Delta Sigma converter. The digital signal is automatically re-clocked to reduce digital timing errors known as jitter. The difference between the best and the worst-sounding digital signals is often associated with jitter and the G68 does a great job in circumventing this issue. The benefits of this conversion are that you can therefore turn two-channel CD music into surround or three-channel Trifield and so on.
The G68 provides all of the current DSP modes. In the past, just the mention of DSP for anything other than movies made my skin crawl. The thought of the ancient “Stadium” and “Hall” modes brings back bad memories. Let me go on record by saying that Meridian’s DSP modes are the real deal and are in a league of their own. Among these DSP modes are Direct, Trifield, Music Logic, THX, Dolby Digital, Digital THX, DTS, DTS THX and many more. As you experiment with the different DSP modes, you are treated to a new perspective on the highest sonic quality, allowing you to enjoy your sub and expensive center and rear speakers, even if mainstream record labels are slow to mix your favorite music for discrete 5.1 surround sound.
Inputs and Outputs
Meridian has four different versions of the G68, depending on your system requirements. All configurations come with a huge array of connectivity. Gone are the woes of the 568’s lack of available real estate to provide all the necessary connections. The back of the G68 is loaded with a plethora of available connections, depending on your model. The four G68 models are only differentiated by the connections provided. The right option depends on your connection needs, such as balanced I/O, digital and analog connectivity and more.