Meridian 300 Series In-wall Loudspeaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers In-wall Loudspeakers
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Introduction
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.

Set-up
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.

Movies And Television
I kicked things off with a little two-channel demo starting with the Harry Connick Jr. album Star Turtle (Sony). Star Turtle is one of my all-time favorite Harry Connick Jr. albums, largely because of its lightheartedness and overall upbeat vibe, which compared to some of his previous love-song-only albums, comes as a breath of fresh air. On the track “Hear Me in the Harmony,” the 300s were quite impressive right off the bat. For starters, in stereo, without the aid of a subwoofer, the P350s are capable of generating a very big yet extremely nimble sound from top to bottom. The bass was surprisingly deep and very taut, with tremendous resolution. While the track would’ve benefited from a sub, what the P350s were able to shell out was quite impressive, especially given the speakers’ overall dimensions, placement and lack of a real bass driver. These are two-way speakers, remember. The midrange was pure and natural-sounding, especially throughout the vocals, with surprising extension front to back within the soundstage. Speaking of soundstage, the P350s not only had one, but it was as defined and spacious as that of any floor-standing speakers in the Meridian’s class. While this all sounds great, and it is, the P350’s greatest attribute is its ribbon tweeter. My long-standing reference when it comes to tweeters and high-frequency reproduction has always been the mighty Magnepan 3.6. I’ve held the 3.6 in such high regard for so long that it was a bit unnerving to realize that, while exceptionally good, the 3.6’s ribbon tweeter is bested handily by the ribbon tweeters inside the Meridian 300 Series speakers. While the 300s lacked that last ounce of extension and air you’ll get from the 3.6s, their sheer purity, speed, musicality and ease are by far the best I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t get them to act up or fizzle; they just sing with such effortless abandon, it sent shivers down my spine.

I decided to dispense with the pleasantries, shifted gears to something a bit more funky and threw in some Dynamite from Jamiroquai (Sony). On the track “Feels Just Like It Should,” I went ahead and set my Meridian G68 to Trifield, which is Meridian’s own multi-channel DSP for two channel-recorded music. I love Trifield and find that because of it, I do very little two-channel listening anymore. The track opens with a very synthesized bass line that gives way to a more traditional three-piece trap set. The wavy bass notes were very well-defined and had a good sense of rhythm and snap. The bass continued throughout the song and, one by one, other musical elements began to pile on. The 300 Series didn’t break their already stellar composure, keeping each individual element free from the next, literally overwhelming my room with sound. It was like an aural O.D. and I wanted more. The various laser sounds shot through the soundstage from left to right, right to left and front to back, as though the boundaries of my room itself were of little importance. Once again, the high frequencies were the 300s’ party piece, lending their magic to nearly every element of the music, giving it that last ounce of snap and sparkle. Even when pushed to the ragged edge, the 300s showed no signs of stress. I simply couldn’t fluster these speakers.

I switched over from music demos and popped in the recently released Matrix Trilogy on HD DVD (Warner Home Video). I spun up the final chapter of the trilogy, Matrix Revolutions, and skipped ahead to the scene just before the climatic battle where Neo (Keanu Reeves) journeys to the Machine City. The metal on metal sound of literally hundreds upon hundreds of robots that make up the “face” was chilling and even a bit startling through the Meridian 300s. Never before, and I’ve seen this film many times, have I been able to clearly and easily define the various robotic sounds, such as drills, clamps, springs, etc., amid the chaos. Dynamically, both in the micro and macro realm, the Meridian 300s have few rivals, even fewer when you shorten that list to in-walls only. When the “face” spoke, the various layers of its deep voice were clearly present and existed independent of one another, spreading boldly front to back within the soundstage. Neo’s own vocals, while in stark contrast to his surroundings, were not upstaged and sounded incredibly natural with terrific presence. The 300s really do paint a vivid aural canvas and draw you into whatever you’re listening to, be it music or movies, and do it more convincingly than the competition because of the fact that they are hidden from view. Once jacked into the Matrix, the final battle between Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and Neo was absolutely stunning. The sound of the rain alone was worth the price of admission. It sounded literally wet, falling fell from every corner of my room and seemingly beyond. The tweeter never failed to amaze as it easily distinguished not only between the various droplets of water, but also the surfaces they were hitting. The swooshing sounds of Neo and Agent Smith’s movements were as distinct as the characters themselves, likewise when fist and foot finally did meet flesh. The resolving prowess of the 300s was in full affect when the characters spoke, allowing them to remain remarkably intelligible, even in the face of driving rain and crashing thunder.

I ended my evaluation with Mission: Impossible 3 (Paramount Home Entertainment) on Blu-ray disc. The opening scene where Tom Cruise is being interrogated/tortured by Phillip Seymour Hoffman was bone-chilling. The sizzling sounds that accompanied the darkness were jarring, raw and loaded with painful detail. The ribbon tweeters injected a greater sense of sizzle to the sound that made it all the more difficult to sit through, which is a good thing and something you’re bound to miss with lesser, more traditional dome tweeters. The dialogue was very crisp and stood out in stark contrast to the ambient noise of the room, which only added to the tension. Speaking of ambient room tones, all too often, lesser speakers present these subtle cues more or less as noise, whereas through the 300 Series in-walls, I could clearly hear not only the characters’ voices reverberating off the metallic walls, but also the sounds of scattered machinery, some of which had to have been located in other rooms. The surround sound presentation throughout the film was as balanced and seamless as I’ve heard at any price. When the action kicked into high gear, especially during the bridge sequence, the 300s opened up the taps and let loose the fury. The screaming sounds of the drone aircraft were so vividly real, a few of my guests actually flinched as it moved from the back of my room to the front. The explosions and gunfire didn’t tax the mighty in-walls even when played back at true cinema-like levels.

Overall, be it music or movies, or even badly recorded MP3s, for that matter, the Meridian 300 Series in-wall speakers are just awe-inspiring. They are extremely musical, detailed yet easy on both the ears and on source material. They are among the most natural-sounding speakers I’ve heard, regardless of make or price, and present everything dealt to them with equal fervor.

The Downside
The Meridian 300 Series in-wall speakers are not going to be for everyone, especially when it comes to the larger P350s. You’re going to need a fair amount of space for the P350s to be able to work their magic, due to their line array configuration. However, the P330s are easier to integrate and don’t quite require the room size the P350s do. They still sound amazing, they just won’t play as deep.

The 300s are physically deep, or at least deeper, in terms of space needed inside your walls, so careful measurements need to be taken prior to purchase to ensure you’ll be able to actually install them. Measure twice, cut once, as my grandfather always said.

You are going to want your Meridian dealer or custom installer to install the 300 Series in-walls in your home. Having done the project myself, I will urge you not attempt to take on this project on your own, unless you are really into it. The slight bump in cost you’ll encounter by hiring a custom installer is nothing compared to the costs you may incur should you take the project on yourself and forget something, or worse, mess something up.

Lastly, I would’ve liked to see mounting brackets included or at least included in the total price of the speakers themselves. Since the 300 Series in-wall speakers are intended for new construction or retrofit projects, simply including the brackets would potentially eliminate any confusion both financially and during construction. If you’re not willing to tear down walls, Meridian does offer the 300 Series in an on-wall configuration as well.

Conclusion
With a complete package price hovering around $19,000 minus installation and construction costs, the Meridian 300 Series in-wall speakers are not cheap by any means. However, they offer truly reference grade audio performance that rivals even the most established and elite floor-standing speakers out there and do so without taking up an inch of living space. The ribbon tweeter is an absolute revelation and the overall tonality and purity of the 300 Series sound is staggering, considering their in-wall pedigree. They image like champs, are dynamic as hell, and are remarkably easy to drive, which could be a very good thing on your budget when the time comes. Careful planning and professional installation is mandatory, but if you take the necessary steps and do your homework, the Meridian 300 Series speakers will reward you in spades. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in-wall speakers are the future for many of us as we develop our systems. As I spend my nights basking in the glory of the Meridian 300 Series in-walls, I’m confident that I’ve not only seen the promised land, but have arrived there. My hat is off to Meridian and their 300 Series in-walls; they are truly amazing and I’m proud to not only have them in my home but to call them my reference loudspeakers.
Manufacturer Meridian
Model 300 Series In-wall Loudspeaker System
Reviewer Andrew Robinson





Like this article? Bookmark and share with any of the sites below.
Digg!Reddit!Del.icio.us!Google!StumbleUpon!Yahoo!Free social bookmarking plugins and extensions for Joomla! websites!
 
Joomla SEF URLs by Artio