A phrase I found popping into my head on a regular basis while listening to the Audio Core 200 was “suave.” No matter how rude or abrasive the source the sound was always smooth and clean. At times I might have wished for a bit more slam. But given the size of the speakers, without a subwoofer there’s only so much punch, you can reasonably expect, especially in the upper bass.
Just before posting time for this review, Playback learned that Meridian has released an optional subwoofer designed to complement the Audio Core 200 and DSP 3200-series speakers. The subwoofer, known as the DSW DSP Subwoofer ($5000), features a 12-inch long-throw woofer and a 600-watt, DSP-controlled amplifier, and is styled similarly to the DSP 3200 speakers. Along with the new subwoofer, Meridian now offers updated firmware for the Audio Core 200 that provides setup menus to configure the DSP 3200 speakers for use with the optional subwoofer. We haven't heard the system with Meridian's DSP subwoofer in play, but in theory it should comfortably address the needs of listeners who seek powerful and deeply extended bass.
If you don’t want to use a Meridian subwoofer to enhance the Audio Core’s dynamics and slam, you can use any manufacturer’s conventional sub, but you will have to surrender the headphone output to do it. Merely by running the headphone output to a subwoofer’s line-level input you can use a subwoofer. Set the sub’s input sensitivity level and you’re all set. I tried several manufacturers’ subs with the Audio Core 200 system and they all mated easily.
With a subwoofer the Audio Core 200 system could play with far more impact at any volume level. Also with a subwoofer I found that I didn’t need to turn up the volume as much to achieve boogiable SPLs. Getting a good blend between the DSP 3200 speakers and a subwoofer proved to be relatively easy—for most of my listening I let the DSP 3200 speakers roll off naturally and used a 70 Hz crossover point for the subwoofer.
The DSP 3200 speakers are fast and articulate and just a trifle on the warm side of neutral. With a sweet and extended top end, the Audio Core 200 system never sounded rude or raw, even when playing MP3s or Internet radio streams.
With their built-in amps, the DS 3200 never made any clipping noises or showed signs of electronic strain; instead they merely stopped getting any louder and compressed additional potentially damaging SPLs. If you have a volume accident, such as connecting the system to a source with volume turned all the way up, chances of the speakers and amps going thermonuclear are minimal.
Once set up, the Audio Core 200 is a remarkably un-tweaky system. Optimize the physical set-up and you’ll hardly need to mess with it, except for adjusting the treble or bass on especially horrific recordings. It’s an ideal system for a vacation home or pied-a-terre, where the “technical expert” may not be available for queries 24/7.
As is so often the case with Meridian equipment, the user interface displays a level of thoughtfulness that most sound components lack. The user experience, whether you’re a first-time user or the guy who installed the system, is intuitive and it all just works.
The supplied credit card remote is well laid out, and its only fault is its size—so small that it can disappear in a nanosecond. While the Audio Core 200 doesn’t have its own remote control App, if you are connected to any of the Sooloos music players, they have their own remote control App that delivers wireless interoperability.
You can also operate the Audio Core 200 from its front panel, which nowadays is not always the case. All the essential controls including volume, mute, tone controls, and source selection are available via buttons. A simple one-line display verifies your selection was successfully accomplished.
To hear how well the Audio Core 200 system can perform I listened to a multitude of 96/24 high rez tracks played back through a Sooloos Control 15 and NuForce/Oppo BPD-93. Most of the high-rez sources I used were recordings I’ve made of either the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra or from Rockygrass Academy. All feature acoustic instruments with no post-processing other than sample rate changes. Whether it was fed Classical or Americana material, the Meridian Audio Core 200 system brought out the relaxed musicality of the recordings.
On my recording of The Deadly Gentlemen, made in a one-room schoolhouse built in 1874, the Meridian system revealed the dynamic subtleties of their instrumental parts while retaining most of the dynamic cacophony of their vocals. While not quite as dynamically open as my reference system, the Audio Core still retained a good portion of the music’s jump factor.