The MusicWeb Listening Studio
Most reviewers review from their own equipment but we
do have high-end equipment for
analytical listening where this seems appropriate.
major upgrade was recently made to our equipment with significant improvements
to the quality of sound now enjoyed…which is just as well considering
the cost involved!
most significant change has been the replacement of the trusty Chord Electronics
and DSC1100, along with the Proceed CD transport. These three items have
now been replaced by a Meridian 808i, a CD player incorporating a digital
result stated simply, is that the system, which is strictly two channel
and used primarily for CD / CDR / DVD, now sounds superior in virtually
every respect, and achieves better sound than we had dared to hope from
our domestic environment. An additional bonus has been the result achieved
from analogue cassettes replayed by a venerable Nakamichi BX300, the output
of which benefits significantly from the processing effected by the Meridian.
reduction from three boxes to one, admittedly large, box has also tidied
up and simplified the racking required which could improve domestic harmony
in some households.
therefore now comprises:
808 Series 5 CD player with integral digital pre-amplifier. [~£11,000]
PDR-609 CD recorder [~£400]
Rowland Continuum S2 integrated amplifier. (Power output: 400
watts/channel into 8 ohms) [~£8000]
BX300 audio cassette recorder / player
2900 DVD / universal player [~£1000]
player: Marantz UD 7007 [~£6000]
include Chord Chorus balanced leads from the Meridian to the 1200B,
Nautilus 802 speakers (bi-wired) [~£17,000]
NOTE: None of this equipment is located
at Len Mullenger's address
a major return from a fairly hefty cash layout, albeit eased by the good
people at Music Matters in Solihull whose co-operation regarding
part-exchange made the venture possible.
the exercise was not without its problems, and for those interested in
hearing about the trials and tribulations of someone else’s upgrading,
the full story follows.
began with me thoughtlessly asking David Clifford of Music Matters
what he considered to be the weak link in my CD replay system; a system
with which I had hitherto been quite contented. I have no idea what made
me pose the question, it certainly wasn’t a desperate desire to be parted
from cash, but it just goes to show that ill-considered remarks can often
have expensive consequences.
David’s first recommendation was not what I expected at all. He suggested
I tried some Base support platforms under my key components, which proved
to be very effective, and for a relatively modest outlay made a worthwhile
improvement. Enthused with the results of this experiment I was thus lured
into pursuing matters further.
His next suggestion was that I should hear a Metronome transport, a product
designed and manufactured in France and a name previously unfamiliar to
me. As usual I was offered the facility of an extended home trial, and
being a very satisfied user of Chord Electronics products I asked to hear
their Blue transport as well.
the Blue was dismissed almost right away on the basis of its ergonomics
as, being a top-loader with the controls and display also on the top,
it was totally impractical for mounting in a conventional rack. The Metronome
on the other hand, is a very impressive piece of gear, beautifully yet
sensibly designed and made, and includes the option of up-sampling which
sounded very good to my ears. Extended listening provided much pleasure,
and I found it delightfully revealing on vocal recordings and those of
relatively small ensembles. However, larger scale orchestral works and
operas which represent a large element of my listening made the distinction
between the Metronome and my existing Proceed more difficult to perceive,
and a price tag exceeding £5K made it easier to reject.
was only at this point that David drew my attention to the Meridian 808i,
as he knew that some years previously I had suffered serious disappointment
with a Meridian 800 . It had been the sympathetic response from Music
Matters to that problem which helped make me such a devoted customer
my reservations I grudgingly agreed to try the 808i.
first session was almost the last.
first two discs I tried produced a mechanical clattering noise, quite
audible before the disc even started to play, and one never experienced
before with numerous players, all of them considerably cheaper than the
Meridian’s £8250 price tag!
Fortunately further experimentation showed that most discs load and play
second problem, immediately evident, was the machine’s display. Not only
is the range of information provided inferior to that of the Proceed (I
prefer to see the time remaining on each track), but
the display itself is much smaller, and almost illegible unless viewed
from a relatively narrow arc in front of the machine. At more oblique
angles the background loses contrast, and you are left trying to distinguish
yellow characters on a light green background. As I sit facing the speakers
at the end of my room with the equipment located along a side wall, the
display is therefore extremely difficult to read. The otherwise admirable
remote control is also similarly ineffective at even moderately oblique
failing is that the balance control, whose prime function in my opinion
is to compensate for room anomalies, defaults to 0 each time the machine
is switched to ‘Standby’.
each time a fresh CD is loaded there is the sound of electrical interference
similar to that caused by a faulty light switch, played through the speakers.
demonstrating this expensive new purchase with one of the ‘problem’ discs
and the output not muted generates either ridicule or pity…’you paid how
view of the statement in Meridian’s own literature that: "Thus
the 808 is offered as an exquisite music-only player, embodying the very
best of our art and technology", stretches credulity beyond reason.
One wonders whether the author has ever used this machine outside a laboratory,
or even if at all.
You may also wonder in view of such a host of fundamental deficiencies,
which would probably not be encountered on £99 budget electronics from
the Far East, why did I persist in listening to the damned box, particularly
as I was so exasperated by the sheer ineptitude of some aspects of its
you may imagine, the unfortunate David Clifford who had installed the
demonstration machine, suffered the first salvo of ranting and duly promised
to report our findings back to Meridian. Meanwhile, he suggested, why
not just leave it in place and try listening to it, which is what I did
for several weeks.
I had hoped that Meridian would come up with some positive response, but
the first excuse to filter back was that ‘all key personnel were away
at a conference/exhibition/seminar’. This unfortunately revived memories
of similar tales trotted out during my disenchanted phase with the 800
five years previously. The problem then became that ‘suitable transport
mechanisms were difficult to source’, or ‘that alterations to the software
would be too complex etc etc’. Eventually it became obvious that they
were either unwilling or unable to address any of these issues. And all
the while their box was working its insidious magic, producing sounds
the like of which I’d never heard from outside a concert hall, and sometime
better than those I’d heard within.
the end of the day it all came down to deciding whether the good outweighed
the bad, and on balance I decided it did, as the adverse features although
irritating did not detract from its primary function
must say though, having worked for many years in Technical Sales Management,
it still appals me that despite being a prospective customer for a Special
Limited Edition ‘flagship’ product, no direct contact was made by Meridian,
not even a ‘phone call. Dumping responsibility onto the unfortunate dealer
seems hardly fair.
some of the problems are now less irksome.
For example, the mechanical noise is only present on some older CDs, and
is only really intrusive while the disc is loading and for perhaps the
first ten minutes of play. It then ceases.
In all fairness, Meridian have since come up with a seemingly plausible
explanation, although I know of no other manufacturer who suffers similarly.
And the remote control can be made to function more easily by bouncing
the signal off a nearby wall!
display has been excused on the grounds that ‘it sounds better’ although
I can hear no difference even if it’s turned off, but perhaps that’s my
ears, (although I don’t really think so).
anomaly I encountered is that when playing external digital sources through
the built-in pre-amp, the display informs me that the DVD/ DVD-A/ or SACD
I’m inputting is in fact a CD! Prompted by curiosity, when I loaded some
of these discs into the machine, the display then identified their
format perfectly, although of course it won’t play them!!
response when this was reported to them apparently, was to suggest seemingly
without being ironic, that if the display irritated me I should turn it
off; which demonstrates a breathtaking ability to miss the point, and
is hardly confidence-inspiring.
conclusion, I must emphasise again how delighted I am with the sound quality
of the 800i.
But sadly, I continue to be frustrated by the knowledge that a company,
so talented and whose products are capable of such sublime music reproduction,
should seem from my experience so indifferent or even arrogant, when it
comes to the relatively simple provision of Customer Service.
the Warranty period on this item is five years. I wonder whether I’ll
thanks to all the staff at Music Matters who have patiently endured the
trauma of this particular sale.