Meridian G68ADV Surround Processor & G98DH DVD Player
The Naughty Bits
Meridian offers surround processors and DVD players in both their entry-level 500 and break-the-bank 800 series. The new G series was intended to fit a niche between the two price groupings, which were sometimes separated not by mere percentages but by an entire order of magnitude. As midline products, the Gs face lots of competition from other respected high-end manufacturers, such as Krell, Lexicon, and Theta, but Meridian's extensive knowledge base gave the G series' developers access to such well-established Meridian technologies as the 800 series' digital signal processing (DSP) and Meridian Room Correction (MRC).
The G-series models use "soft keys," the functions of which are displayed in the display above them, allowing the seven buttons to serve multiple purposes. It's an elegant and easy-to-understand solution for making the complex simple. The display area is large, dimmable in steps, and easily readable from 10 feet away. A large knob controls the volume and radio tuning.
G68ADV Surround Processor
The G68 processor comes in four configurations. I chose the G68ADV, which seemed the most practical and cost-effective for a home theater. It offers video switching and both analog and coaxial single-ended digital outputs for up to 10 channels (three subs, three front channels, four surrounds). Another model, the G68D, outputs 10 channels in digital mode only; devoid of any analog outputs or video switching, the G68D is designed to work primarily with Meridian's extensive line of digital-input–ready speakers.
If you don't plan on using Meridian speakers and prefer balanced analog outputs and video switching, the G68AXV might mostly fit your needs. It provides balanced analog outputs, but only for the three front channels (plus primary sub), leaving the four surround and two secondary subwoofer channels dependent on single-ended connections.
If thatleaves you longing for more, the last model, the G68XXV, provides eight channels of balanced analog audio output for home theater and multichannel music, albeit with no single-ended analog outputs (except for secondary zones and recording use). None of the models offers single-ended andbalanced analog outputs, though realistically, there won't be much demand for both. All G68 processors offer five pairs of stereo analog inputs, a 6-channel single-ended analog multichannel input, six digital coaxial inputs, two special sets of multichannel digital inputs (three coaxials per set, for a total of six digital channels), and four (in the G68D) or five optical digital inputs.
The G68 models equipped with video switching (ADV, AXV, XXV) provide three component inputs and one component output—enough for a DVD player, a high-definition satellite receiver, and something else. Said to have a 300MHz bandwidth, those hi-def signals should go through without a hitch. There are plenty of inputs and outputs for composite and S-video sources as well (four inputs and two outputs of each type). The G series doesn't offer HDMI or DVI video switching; neither does most of the competition. A separate switcher, such as the Gefen HDTV 4x1, must be added if you need this feature.
Besides the primary zone, the G68 can control two additional zones, for supplying audio and video to other rooms or recording. Each zone is allotted an S-video and a composite-video output as well as a stereo analog (single-ended RCA) and digital coaxial output.
The five stereo analog input pairs are all digitized (24-bit/96kHz) by the G68 before you ever hear them, as are any radio signals from the processor's on-board AM/FM tuner. If you're a vinyl aficionado, as I am, you'll likely bemoan the fact that G68 doesn't provide a direct analog pass-through for your cherished analog audio. On the other hand, the G68 performs minor miracles with those digitized data, including bass management and digital room correction (see sidebar, "Fetch, Freddie! Fetch!"), and it provides some of the most interesting and usable DSP you're likely to hear. Besides the usual suspects (Dolby Digital, DTS, THX), more recent prodigies (Dolby Pro Logic IIx), and even some old-timers you thought might never be called on in this digital age (Ambisonics), the G68 has a host of new and/or Meridian-exclusive modes that will surely delight.
For example, Trifield "extracts the mono and surround components of the original recording, then calculates the signals for the front left, center, and right speakers, using the phase and amplitude differences between the three front channels to redistribute the sounds on a frequency-dependent basis." Huh?
Whatever, it works well with most 2-channel music, especially older, non–matrix-encoded stereo material that often sounds more amateurish and disjointed with surround decorrelation algorithms such as Dolby Pro Logic II. It would also be a good choice in systems where the screen forces the front left and right speakers too far apart. Here, Trifield's use of the center channel will provide a more solid center image. The MusicLogic mode, a variation of the Dolby Pro Logic II preset, does a nice job with some 2-channel recordings and should at least be tried.
In support of these multichannel high jinks is a quintet of powerful DSP chips (Motorola 56367) running at 750 million instructions per second (MIPS) with 48-bit precision. Native digital signals are internally reclocked to reduce jitter. The digital crossover facilities, available through the configuration software, are extensive. Three separate bass-management schemes are available: Music is for 2-channel and discrete multichannel music, Logic is employed when replaying 2-channel sources through a multichannel array, and 5.1 Movie is designed for all Dolby Digital and DTS modes. These three choices should satisfy any owner who wants to run purist audio recordings with as little bass embellishment as possible while simultaneously letting the subwoofer loose for movies.
You can set the crossover frequency to the subwoofers from 30Hz to 150Hz (I used the customary and THX-recommended 80Hz setting). You can't vary this crossover by speaker grouping—which could be important, given the many different surround speakers the G68 is likely to encounter (e.g., bass-deficient dipoles on the sides, and more bass-capable but still not full-range floorstanders in the rear). I discovered that turning off the center channel automatically forces full-range front left and right speakers into accepting a crossover, but since most home theaters use a center channel, this oddity is of little concern.