Meridian 568.2MM & 598DP preamplifier-processor & DVD-Audio player

I Reviewed the Meridian 568 surround processor in the December 2000 SGHT, and since then I've used it almost continuously in one of my two systems. So I was expectantly curious when I discovered that Meridian was sending out their new 568.2 processor ($6995) to replace it, along with the new, companion 598 DVD-Audio player. (Actually, they sent me the 568.2MM, which includes the multichannel input module and lists for $7745.)

According to Meridian, the 568.2 offers major improvements over the 568 in internal topology, ergonomic flexibility, and sonic performance. Sounds like Meridian has come up with a worthy replacement—but let's see if the improvements are substantial enough to lure 568 owners to the 568.2.

Changes for the Better
Until recently, the DVD-Audio format was crippleware. Software suppliers insisted that high-definition digital sources be converted to analog before being allowed out of the player, in order to prevent the possibility of being digitally copied. This is colossally stupid. Restricting DVD-A to analog output requires the user to make one of several equally compromised choices. If the player has its own bass management, you can use that. But most current DVD-A players don't have bass management, and even if they did, using a DVD-A player's digital-to-analog converters rather than those in an A/V processor could mean lower sound quality. The converters in a top-quality processor are often noticeably better than what you find in many DVD-A players.

Some A/V processors let you convert the six discrete analog inputs from the player to digital at the processor's input, so that the A/V processor can then use its own, sophisticated bass-management system. But this adds a sonically risky and unnecessary cycle of digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital conversion.

Two last options would be to add a outboard bass-management box such as the Outlaw ICBM, or use full-range speakers all around. Both increase system cost and, in the case of the full-range (and generally larger) speakers, further crowd the home theater room. And none of these solutions gets rid of that tangle of cables coming out of the player, which do nothing but satisfy the content-protection fixation of the record labels.

Meridian has come up with an elegant solution for this technological logjam. The 568.2MM and 598DP have something called the Meridian High Resolution (MHR) Smart Link connection, which sends encrypted hi-rez digital signals from Meridian's DVD-A players to their A/V processors so they don't have to be converted to analog, then reconverted to digital to take advantage of the processor's bass-management and DSP functions. Finally, the true potential of high-bit-rate, multichannel digital music can be heard without needless, politically mandated sonic degradation. The customized bass-management settings established for other sources can be used with DVD-A material as well.

Along with MHR Smart Link, the 568.2MM has a new DSP engine with five redesigned, 48-bit hardware devices. Now Meridian's music modes can be used with any digital or analog source. To further maximize fidelity, the 568.2MM upsamples all 16-bit/44.1kHz and 48kHz digital sources to 24-bit/96kHz resolution before any digital processing. Like the 568, the 568.2MM offers balanced XLR and single-ended RCA outputs for the three front channels. For systems using Meridian digital speakers, the 568.2MM can support up to eight digital output channels at 24/96 resolution. Armed with the Meridian Communication system, the 568.2MM can talk with other Meridian components so that all can work together to do their owner's bidding quickly and transparently.