RH on Meridian 808.2

JPH-22 -- Mon, 02/23/2009 - 16:41

He's had it in his system for several weeks now, so I was wondering what Robert Harley thinks about the Meridian 808.2 CD player. RH has auditioned some top-flight digital systems in the past year - the Esoteric reference, hi-rez files through the Berkely DAC, the Spectral CD player and now Meridian. Only those who have the 808.2 know how far Red Book has come. So, RH, how far is it ?!
.

Robert Harley -- Wed, 02/25/2009 - 12:38

I don't have the 808.2 yet. Sue Kraft is reviewing it along with Meridian's DSP7000 active digital loudspeakers. She's sending me her review sample so that I can comment in the same issue. I'm looking forward to hearing the Meridian, particularly after learning about its unique "apodising" digital filter.
 
I just returned the Spectral SDR-4000 Pro, but still have the Berkeley Alpha DAC on hand.

hollowman (not verified) -- Tue, 11/24/2009 - 00:34

RH:
The DAC chip (or chips or chipset) was (were) not identified in your review earlier this year. Anyone know what it/they is/are?
E.g. TI PCM1792, Wolfson wm8740, etc. ..or does Meridian roll their own in-house DAC, like MSB Tech or dCS Ring DAC?

ScottB (not verified) -- Wed, 02/25/2009 - 14:21

 The apodising filter is not actually unique to the Meridian 808.2 (although the particular filter slopes parameters almost certainly are). In fact, I think what we're seeing is that some kind of "apodising" or minimum phase filter implementation seems to be common to all of the recent "breakthrough" digital products that narrow the gap between Redbook and hi-res digital - Spectral, Berkeley Audio, Ayre, Meridian. Spectral and Berkeley don't specifically call their filters "apodising", but reading between the lines suggests that they are doing minimum phase filtering in programmable DSPs, just like Meridian and Ayre. Advanced anti-aliasing filter design, along with proper dithering and jitter reduction, may represent the final frontiers in realizing the full potential of digital audio.
 
Here is a very simple but accurate description of what "apodising", minimum phase filtering is designed to do:
 
http://www.ayre.com/PDF/Ayre_MP_White_Paper.pdf
 
It's interesting that Ayre seems to have made different choices in the implementation of their filters than Meridian has - listening to Bob Stuart in this lecture, about 50 minutes in:
 
http://www.aes.org/sections/uk/meetings/a0812.html
 
it would seem that Meridian has chosen to use a steeper filter slope, relative to Ayre. BTW, that portion of the lecture is well worth 20 minutes or so of time to here - there are some fascinating observations about digital audio and listening tests, among other things.
 

JPH-22 -- Thu, 02/26/2009 - 00:43

Thanks for the info....I am certainly excited to see this advance. Besides this, there are other "breakthroughs" in PCM playback - and the one that seems the most promising to me are the new DAC architectures coming out from GTE ("Trinity" DAC) and Audio Note. AN's new conversion system is still in the design stage but nearing completion, from what I understand.
 
Maybe Red Book was enough after all. I mean, we can never "make" CD sound like hi-rez - only reveal what's on the recording. And these advancements are finally letting us do that.....
.

Robert Harley -- Thu, 02/26/2009 - 09:58

Thanks for sending those links. I will certainly watch Bob Stuart's lecture; he's always a source of great insight.

AB73 (not verified) -- Thu, 02/26/2009 - 16:09

I have been a happy owner of 808.2 for 3 weeks now. I must say it is a world class. I certainly agree with observations of some users, who said that its top end is a bit forward... But that is only true if the player has not had enough burn-in or if it not warmed up enough. I have played it for day and night since I have got it and the glare started to diminish after approx 150 hours... Now it has a very open, highly revealing but never unpleasant sound with each CD i feed it. I also own a ARC CD7 and must admit that I enjoy Meridian much more. I does not sound like CD nor like LP, to me it really sounds like a good music. RH, you actually made me aware of Meridian in one of your comments in the forum. Thanks a lot. And I am also eager to see what will be TAS observation on the 808.2.

Robert Harley -- Fri, 02/27/2009 - 15:52

Thanks for your note and for sharing your experience with the 808.2. Meridian has considerable expertise in CD playback (they made the first "audiophile" CD player in 1984), and this is their most ambitious effort to date.

Bobby Z. (not verified) -- Mon, 06/15/2009 - 04:13

Just wondering if RH got his review sample and if this player really does sound like hi-rez. It looks that way !!

Robert Harley -- Wed, 06/17/2009 - 10:19

I did get the 808.2. The review is in the next issue, which mails late next week. I also interview Bob Stuart in the same issue.
 
To give you a preview, I say in the review that the 808.2 is ". . .  the most significant product in the history of the Compact Disc."

ScottB (not verified) -- Wed, 06/17/2009 - 20:38

 So I take it you were not impressed :)

Robert Harley -- Thu, 06/18/2009 - 16:08

You might say that:)

fatcabral (not verified) -- Wed, 07/08/2009 - 15:22

 it seems that you are acknowledging Scott B's sarcasm implying, perhaps, some hyperbolic tendencies in recent reports.
that aside, i wonder if you would expand on any possible connection between your "From the EDITOR" comments re digital jitter and external (atomic) clock references vs. the Meridian 808.2 review in the current issue of TAS. 
what you describe as less than SOTA in the Meridian, bottom bass & dynamics, would seem to invite further technical analysis of the unit. you state in the review that "much attention was paid to minimizing jitter"  via internal timing references. was it sufficient?  is there an an input on the 808.2 suitable for an external clock? why would you not tie-in the potential improvements of the editorial page to the limitations of the review page?
i was also very interested in your excellent interview with Bob Stuart of Meridian. his comments about a/b testing, and the complexities of subjective testing in general left me with the notion that technical spec comparisons may be just as valid as the subjective approach in that neither is complete or comprehensive by itself. your technical discussions of components have always been of great interest to me in ways that most subjective evaluations are not. Stuart's ideas about the subjective realm having variable lead-times before one could be confident of the validity of impressions seemed very significant. should TAS incorporate more explicitly technical elements to the review process?

Jose Freire (not verified) -- Fri, 06/26/2009 - 17:16

Hello
I owned Meridian CD players for more then 20 years and just love them. First it was a 200/203 transport/DAC. Than the G08 was quiet an inprovment. But the up grade bug com in... and that's when the trouble started because I wnted to stay with Meridian. I tried the 808 and 808.2. They were better, but not that much! I tried EMM, ESOTERIC, Mcintosh and a few others. None was definitly better than my "humble" G08. Until I found Chord Blu and QBD75 DAC. This last combination had everything I wanted. Detailed, transparent, dinamic, powerfull, "phisical", but smooth, natural, warm and silky. IMHO it beats all other CD palyers I tried (never listened a DCS). It even beats SACD. In fact I can't decide if SACD his such an improvment over redbook.
Best regards
Jose Freire

HE74 (not verified) -- Sun, 06/28/2009 - 13:26

The Chord QBD76 and the DAC 64 before it have received rave reviews. Chord use a an approach similar to DCS in not using any off the shelf DAC chips and instead implement their own DAC design on FPGA chips. The QBD 76 is a big number cruncher. There are five prodcuts that seem to be very promising to me. I hope TAS would review some of these products and compare them to their current references.  There are many improvements in the area of digital playback happening these days. Selection is not easy. For example, had it not been for TAS review of BADA, many people might not have heard of it or have had interest in it being a professional product.
- The Chord QBD 76 or Chord Indigo (same DAC architecture in both)
- Playback Designs MPD -5 or MDS-5. Playback also uses the methodology of building their DAC from scratch and not using off-the shelf DAC chips. The MPD-5 list price is higher than the Chord though.
- Any of the new MP (Min Phase) digital front ends from Ayre. These use a proprietary filter that sits somewhere between a normal minimum phase filter and an apodising filter. Like an apodising filter, that MP filter eliminates pre-ringing but also reduces post ringing to a much lower level than an apodising filter.
- The PS Audio PerfectWave DAC which is mainly a showcase of the abilities of the promising newest Wolfson DAC chip (which comes with 6 differe filter varieties including two variations of the apodising filter) combined with PS Audio take-no-prisoners approach to reducing jitter and other design improvements. 
- The NAD M2. While not a line level DAC it is effectively a high power DAC. I have read the whitepaper and the related patents. Some interesting stuff is involved. Can this be the purest way for playing back digital signals, eliminating both the preamp and amp from the signal path?

Robert Harley -- Sat, 07/04/2009 - 09:51

I have just taken delivery of the NAD M2. It takes in a digital bitstream (from a transport or music server) at any sampling rate up to 192kHz/24-bit, performs PCM to PWM (Pulse-Width Modulation) conversion. The PWM signal drives the switching output stage.
 
This approach was used in the TacT Millenium about 10 years ago (which I also reviewed). In that amplifier, volume control was realized by varying the voltage on the output transistor supply rails. In the NAD, volume is adjusted by DSP on the PCM signal.
 
It's a very intersting sounding amplifier. I'll have a full report soon.

HE74 (not verified) -- Sat, 07/04/2009 - 14:16

That's great news. Looking forward to read your evaluation RH. NAD seems to have high hopes on this product and are making very bold claims. After Mark Levinson chose to make their latest reference grade amplifier a switching amplifier, I am wondering if switching amplifiers will start gaining momentum in high end amplification. It would be interesting to know how this latest endeavor from NAD compares to the fine digital and amplification products you have reviewed recently. Judging by the emphasis in NAD's marketing material and the other material I have read, it looks like that the main thing that sets this amplifier apart from other switching amplifiers is the feedback architecture. NAD`s material did not say much about the kind of digital filtering they use though advances in filtering have been a critical factor in the recent improvements in digital playback.

Robert Harley -- Tue, 07/07/2009 - 13:54

It does seem that switching amplifiers are being taken seriously at the higher levels of performance. NAD is indeed banking on this new technology, and expects it to filter down to future products. You are correct that the NAD switching technology is different from what's been done before; it employs a very fast feedback loop around the output stage. NAD worked for five years with the developer of the output stage to realize the M2.

PAE (not verified) -- Mon, 07/06/2009 - 17:43

I found your review of the 808 very informative.  I also enjoyed the fact that is concise and to the point. I had the opportunity to listen to the Playback Designs player in an unplanned AB demonstration in Denver and I think you should try to review it. Both retail at approximately the same price. MPD-5 was clearly superior to the top of the line Marantz that resided in the same room.

Robert Harley -- Tue, 07/07/2009 - 13:55

Thanks for your note about the 808.2 review. I have heard great things about the Playback Designs machine and intend to get one to audition.

Cemil Gandur -- Mon, 08/03/2009 - 22:34

I've just got a Playback Designs MPS-5 player, and although it is newly out of the box, it sounds superb, incredibly natural. I have settled on this after auditioning at length, in my own system, the Purcell (without clock), the Esoteric 03 (with clock) and the ARC 7 and 8.
I look forward to reading your take on this player.
 

mhp129 -- Wed, 07/08/2009 - 20:55

I enjoyed both Meridian reviews (CD player & active speakers) but was left with a few questions.
(1) Does the 808.2 play DVD-A discs, like previous Meridian players? 
(2) The speakers have built-in DACs. Do they have the same "apodising" feature as the player? 
(3) If one were to buy both the player and the speakers, would a lot of money be spent on duplicated D/A features?
(4) Is it really true that other manufacturers have developed similar filters?
Thanks again the for fascinating coverage.
Mike

Robert Harley -- Thu, 07/09/2009 - 14:38

1) The 808.2 is not compatible with DVD-Audio
2) I believe that the 808.2 outputs a signal that has been upsampled by its own digital filter
3) It's true that driving the DSP7200 with an 808.2 bypasses the 808.2's DACs and analog output stage
4) Other manufacturers have developed "minimum phase" filters that don't introduce ringing of their own, but according to Meridian, their "apodising" filter is unique in that it removes ringing added by digital filters earlier in the chain (most notably in the A/D converter used to make the recording).

mhp129 -- Thu, 07/09/2009 - 18:13

Thanks, Robert!  Extremely helpful.
Do you think one can assume that when driving the DSP7200 with the 808.2, the digital processing in the speakers won't reduce the performance of the system (below that obtained from the 808.2's own outputs)?
As a music lover who's had a hard time loving CD sound, the 808.2i sounds like it could be my next player.
Mike

hla (not verified) -- Sun, 07/12/2009 - 14:31

Robert:
Thanks for your very interesting review. A few questions:
Can the 808.2i's built-in DAC serve as a DAC for music from an external computer/server?  Would such an external digital source get the benefit of the "apodizing" and the filters in the Meridian?  Or must you own the DSP7200s for the best effect. I gather that the DSP7200 has its own DACs.
I have Spectral 360s and the Magico V3s and an earlier Spectral preamp.  Do you think the 808.2 or 808.2i would be a good match? Did you try the 808.2 on anything other than the DSP7200?
Any comment on whether Spectral's rumored DAC plans for the next year or two might have similar filters for eliminating "ringing" at both the original recording/mastering as well as at the CD playback stages?
Thanks
HL

Art Ross (not verified) -- Thu, 07/09/2009 - 16:26

I enjoyed the comprehensive reviews of the Meridian DSP 7200 and 808.2 in your August issue, in addition to the phone interview of Bob Stuart.  Frankly, I believe the merits of the psychoacoustic design approach will bring greater universal satisfaction than the engineering perfection of hardware in an optimized acoustic space.
In mhp129 post of 07/08/09, it is asked if the DSP 7200 has the "apodising" filtering featured in the 808.2. I gather from Bob Harley's response that unles you drive the DSP 7200s with the 808.2, the benefit of the "pre-ringing" filtration will NOT be available.  I have the Burmester 001 CD player which in conjunction with thses speakers may not achieve the acoustic heights described by Sue Kraft.
Art

Jim D (not verified) -- Thu, 07/09/2009 - 17:17

Robert, your review was fascinating and really makes me want to audition this player. Did you use it with a preamp or not? If this were your only source component, would you use a high quality preamp? Or would any preamp only adversely affect the sound?

mhp129 -- Thu, 07/09/2009 - 18:16

Can the 808.2 be upgraded to "i"?

mhp129 -- Thu, 07/09/2009 - 18:23

I found the DSP7200 spec sheet on line.
"The DSP7200 also benefits from original research at Meridian into digital filtering, featuring a special new upsampling filter with especially impressive characteristics and no pre-echo. The filter is so effective that it can correct problems further up the chain including fixing faults in the original recording. The result: conventional 44.1/48 kHz sampled CDs and DVDs sound astonishingly like high resolution recordings!"
Since the speakers have an AES/EBU digital input, one might get the benefits of the Meridian filters from any transport.

JR-1 (not verified) -- Sun, 07/12/2009 - 16:15

It's no surprise that CDs sound like high resolution recordings - because THEY ARE HIGH RESOLUTION RECORDINGS........

Robert Harley -- Mon, 07/13/2009 - 09:43

Thanks to everyone who has commented on the review.
I'll try to answer several questions from different posters in this reply.
I'm not sure if the 808 can be upgraded to the 808i, but suspect that it can. All the Meridian 800-series components feature card-cage construction for custom configurations and upgradability. But check with Meridian.
I used the 808.2 with and without a preamp (a Pass Labs XP20). Although a very good preamp, the XP20 shaved off a bit of resolution and slightly decreased the sense of transparency. (I found this to be true when I compared the Berkeley Alpha DAC driving a power amplifier directly or going through the Spectral DMC-30SS preamp; all preamps degrade the sound). If you can drive an amplifier directly with the 808.2, I would do so.
The 808.2 would be a great choice with Spectral amplification and Magico V3s.
 
 

Sam -- Tue, 07/14/2009 - 01:07

Robert,
you mention three products here as State of the art. Spectral SDR-4000 Pro CD player followed by Berkely alpha DAC as a close second.  Where does the Meridian 808.2 signature stand in terms of state of art.  You heard all three in your (same)reference system. Is the 808.2 far superior from spectral or berkeley? or do all three provide differences merely based on individual tastes and yet come fairly close to each other as reference grade products. Im curious to know if the Meridian outshines the spectral by a huge margin that is noticible.  If it does, state of the art is changing at a mighty fast rate.

Robert Harley -- Tue, 07/14/2009 - 09:12

Sam:
 
In my review, I describe some of the differences between the Spectral, Berkeley, and Meridian. The 808.2 has an unparalleled sense of dimensionality, depth, space (not so much ultimate depth, the air between instruments), and tangibility to the soundstage. The Berkeley has a more solid bottom end, with more weight, authority, and dynamics.

Sam -- Wed, 07/15/2009 - 00:13

Robert,
can you clear up in laymans terms about "custom digital filter that incorporates HDCD decoding running on analog devices SHARC DSP", you mentioned this is used by Spectral and berkeley.  Is something like this also used in the 808.2?  The "ringing" correction that you discuss in the review of 808.2, is that something never done before and is only done in the 808.2 but not in the Spectral or Berkeley.  Are the ringing correction of amplitude and SHARC that makes a leap forward in the digital technology or one of them or both?  little clarification on the cutting edge TECHNOLOGY of these 3 players would be helpful.

Robert Harley -- Wed, 07/15/2009 - 10:40

The Spectral SDR-4000 Pro and Berkeley Alpha DAC don't use off-the-shelf filter chips. Instead, they use a general-purpose digital-signal processing (DSP) chip that runs custom filtering software that the companies wrote themselves. In this case, the DSP platform is an Analog Devices SHARC chip. This approach allows the designer to create a better filter than what's commercially available.
The Meridian 808.2 also runs a custom digital filter on a DSP chip.
These new custom filters are so-called "minimum phase" design (as opposed to the traditional "linear phase"). They are optimized for time-domain performance, meaning that they don't exhibit the ringing of linear-phase filters. According to Meridian, the ability to remove pre-ringing imposed by  filters earlier in the chain (primarily by the A/D converter) is unique to their "apodising" filter.

Syd -- Wed, 07/22/2009 - 14:53

Here's the $66,000 question - How would the 808.2/Spectral Amplification/Magico V3 system compare with substituting a Spectral SDR4000 Pro + DMC30SS preamp front end with the 808.2? Would the synergy of the all Spectral system (electronics) "best" that of the 808.2 driving the Spectral amp directly? Inquiring minds want to know...

hla (not verified) -- Wed, 07/22/2009 - 22:07

 Robert:
I was told by a Spectral dealer that Spectral may not approve of putting a digital player - either Meridian 808.2 or the Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC - straight into the DMA-360s.  The suggestion was made that the amp would actually be damaged - sooner or later.  I wonder if you have any comment on that?
Once again, many thanks for the article and the helpful advice.
HL

Sam -- Wed, 07/22/2009 - 22:40

This Spectral thing sounds like a lot of pain for the great sound quality.  For the most part cannot use anything other than what they want, i.e the whole spectral system.  Everyother thing puts risk on the amps.  You must use one brand and worth at least $11K of cables to keep it safe.  Any other combos may risk loosing the warranty..... it seems like the best bet is to bite the bullet and get the whole spectral system, and not think about upgrading or trying other components in the system any time soon.  In terms of sheer flexibility, may be pass labs or other competitors would be more flexible. 

Robert Harley -- Thu, 07/23/2009 - 15:59

I drove Spectral DMA-360s with a variety of sources over an extended period with no problems. I know of several manufacturers who use Spectral amplifiers for evaluating their own designs, again with no ill-effects.
 
As for Syd's question, I didn't have the Meridian at the same time as the Spectral so can't comment on the "synergy" factor. However, I see no reason why the Meridian at the front end of that chain should be a problem.

Syd -- Thu, 07/23/2009 - 21:23

For some reason the reply that I posted last night does not show up when I look at this thread so I am posting it again in the hope that it shows up this time. I apologize in advance to anyone who seen this post before.
Robert - Do you think the synergy of an all Spectral system (Spectral SDR4000 Pro/DMC30SS premp/Spectal amp) + Magico V3 would outperform the Meridian 808.2/Spectral amp/Magico V3 system?

tonypdb (not verified) -- Sun, 07/19/2009 - 14:21

Hi all,
Mr. Harley would it be correct to conclude that if one can do with out a preamp in there system you would be better off in terms of overall sound quality?
Thank you.
Tonypdb

MarinJIm (not verified) -- Sun, 07/19/2009 - 20:37

I too am very interested in the sound of the 808.2 with and pre and the 808.2i, especially if a tube preamp.

Robert Harley -- Thu, 07/23/2009 - 16:01

If you can avoid using a preamp, do so. I've never heard any preamp that's completely transparent when performing a bypass test (driving a power amplifier directly from a variable-output source, and then inserting the preamp in the signal path set to unity gain).

Sam -- Sat, 07/25/2009 - 19:06

Robert,
Does the Spectral DMA360 mono amps require the use of MIT speaker cables as well? or is it only the interconnects that must be MIT?

Robert Harley -- Tue, 07/28/2009 - 10:17

Spectral specifies their own speaker cable or MIT speaker cable for all their power amplifiers.

hla (not verified) -- Tue, 08/18/2009 - 21:40

Robert:
Thanks a lot for all the very helpful advice in this blog on Meridian with Spectral amplification, Magico speakers, etc.  A question I do still have is the following: Does the Meridian 808.2i's D/A converter process digital signals from an external digital source through its "apodizing" filter and upsampler etc?  I see quite clearly that it serves as a preamp providing for digital and analog inputs. Also, if I understand this correctly, the 808.2i's built-in DAC is bypassed if you use the Meridian speakers which have their own DACs.  If, however, one of the inputs was say from an external digital source (e.g., a computer/server), would the Meridian 808.2i upsample and filter the input?  
Thanks once again.

hla (not verified) -- Tue, 12/22/2009 - 22:06

Mr. Harley:

I now understand that the Meridian 808.2i does upsample digital inputs fed to it via its digital inputs. I am not quite clear on whether it is able to process true high-resolution inputs, e.g., HRX and other such inputs. If it is able to do so, have you or anyone at TAS/AVGUIDE becnhmarked its performance to the Berkeley Audio DAC in this respect?

Thank you once again.

ScottB (not verified) -- Wed, 12/23/2009 - 19:39

hla,

I'm a long-time Meridian owner, prior to my current AlphaDAC. Unless there has been a very recent update, the 808.2i, like all Meridian gear, is limited to PCM digital input of 24/96 and below. This would mean that 176.4 and 192 Khz would have to be sample-rate converted prior to input into the 808.2i. You should check with your local Meridian dealer on this, as Meridian periodically updates hardware and firmware.

For what it's worth, I find the difference between 24/88.2 and 24/176.4 to be pretty small (if even detectable) on my system. The difference between 16/44.1 and 24/88.2 is much more significant.

Sam -- Wed, 12/23/2009 - 20:48

ScottB, any modern (rock or pop..etc.) music that you can recommend on High resolution? Other than the classical stuff and HR-x stuff?

Robert Harley -- Thu, 12/24/2009 - 16:43

The Meridian 808.2 will not accept and decode 176.4kHz and 192kHz.

hla (not verified) -- Sun, 12/27/2009 - 09:39

Thanks ScottB and Mr. Harley

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