Meridian G68ADV Surround Processor & G98DH DVD Player Page 2

Most surround processors play multichannel SACD or DVD-Audio recordings via 6 analog jacks, one for each channel; the digital signal on the disc is converted to analog within the player and remain analog as it passes through the processor. The Meridian provides such a multichannel analog input set. But unlike the competition, those analog signals are converted to the digital domain so that crossover and room-correction algorithms can be applied, the same as with the 2-channel analog inputs. While leaving the signal in the analog domain is the safest way to avoid introducing digital artifacts, it leaves you stuck with the rudimentary bass management built into your multichannel player—if it even has any at all. In either case, the G68ADV has much more to offer.

The best way to get digital multichannel music to your processor is to leave it in the digital domain. More for legal than technical reasons, direct digital connections have been slow in coming. Most manufacturers that do it now use an IEEE-1394 (aka FireWire or iLink) connection. Meridian has pursued the same goal through a proprietary arrangement of three separate coaxial connections (two channels per connection) between their G98 disc player and G68 processor. This approach naturally "limits" you to an all-Meridian front end, but you get some benefits in return. For example, pressing DVD on the remote starts the player and the processor automatically. Also, the computer-based configuration software is electronically aware of other Meridian devices connected to the processor, thus saving definition and configuration time.

Another important feature is MRC (Meridian Room Correction), which calculates and applies digital equalization to correct for any acoustic problems in the room. This process requires a PC running the Meridian configuration software and an SPL meter with an analog output (the standard RadioShack model works well), which is connected to the designated analog input on the G68.

MRC can identify up to 64 different frequencies between 20Hz and 250Hz and create "filters" for them. My room apparently needed only a few corrective measures—chalk one up for dumb luck.

G98DH DVD-Video/Audio Player
The G98 player and video processor is an almostuniversal player, lacking only SACD playback. Meridian's Robert Stuart is the codeveloper of Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP), the lossless data-compression standard used on all DVD-Audio discs, so he is understandably supportive of his own creation. But for $6000, I was still hoping that the G98 would also be capable of playing the SACD layer of Sony's hi-res audio format. On the other hand, the excellent and similarly priced Ayre DX-7 DVD player offers neither SACD nor DVD-A playback, but still gets a nod of approval for its video quality. At least the G68 processor offers multichannel analog inputs to accommodate a second, SACD-capable player. For me, it's all about the music; until there's a clear winner of this format war—and even after—I'll need the ability to play both.

Like the G68 processor, the G98 player is available in different versions. The G98AH offers both 6-channel analog outputs and optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, while the model I reviewed, the G98DH, offers only one audio output method: the 3-coaxial digital connection designed for the G68 processor, as previously discussed. Otherwise, both players are identical. The G98 won't perform digital upsampling of standard PCM audio signals, a popular option with some high-end players. It will, however, downconvert 96kHz material to 48kHz if that's all your processor can handle (the G68 processor accepts a full 96kHz sampling rate).

The G98 is equipped with component (BNC connection), HDMI (configurable to 480p, 576p, 720p, and 1080i), S-video, and composite outputs. Uniquely, the G98 may also function as a video processor, with three S-video inputs, two composite inputs, and a component input. All four outputs are simultaneously available, and the G98 automatically provides conversion between video formats—the single exception being a noninterlaced (i.e., progressive or hi-def) component input signal, which intentionally bypasses all processing at the component output.

Under the hood, Faroudja DCDi scaling and deinterlacing are employed. I used the HDMI output set to 1080i rather than 720p with my Fujitsu plasma display because I thought it looked a bit smoother with the latter's native resolution of 768p. With my Dwin CRT projector, however, I used the component output of the Meridian at 480i , which was scaled up to 600p by the Dwin TranScanner before hitting the Dwin. Scaling to 720p or 1080i is only available from the HDMI output, as with other HDMI- or DVI-equipped DVD players

Besides the convenience of running only one set of hi-def cables (component or HDMI/DVI) to your display device, the HDMI output allows you to take advantage of the Meridian's internal scaler, which may very well be superior to the scaler built into your display. Of course, this works only if your display device has native 1080i or 720p resolution. If you have a Pioneer plasma screen (720p), you're all set; but if you have one of the many 768p plasmas, the display will rescale the input anyway. DLP projectors using the HD-series chips also have 720p resolution, as do JVC's new rear-projection HD-ILA rear-projectors; these combinations, too, could be driven by the G98's scaler alone.

The G98DH offers black levels of 0 and 7.5 IRE. I chose the latter to accommodate my Dwin TranScanner, which doesn't pass black at 0. Gamma controls of 0.8, 0.9, 1.0, and 1.1 are available. I used 0.9 for my viewing, which let me get a bit more detail in the dark areas—especially important with a plasma display.

My relationship with the MSR+ remote was one of love and hate. This heavy, beautiful-looking remote is designed to sit on a flat surface convenient to the operator, such as an end table. It's not meant to perch precariously on the arm of a chair, or to serve as a natural extension of the human arm—efforts to make it do so will eventually result in a crashing sound. The unit's beefy build ensures that it will survive repeated falls, however cosmetically worse for wear. The characters imprinted on each key are backlit in a pleasing baby blue. The keys are a tad too hard to press, to the point that repeated pressings, such as when switching among the 14 different DSP modes, are uncomfortable. I mistakenly pressed the wrong buttons on the remote occasionally, and menu navigation is slow when the buttons are arranged in the middle of a large remote, as they are here.

Overall, the MSR+ worked well for the G68 but awkwardly for the G98. This classy remote will likely last for decades, but I wish Meridian would develop something more conventional, with which we could more easily come to, er, grips.

The Prime Meridian
My vinyl system was not operational at the beginning of the review period, but eventually I hooked it up to see what digitizing an analog signal would do to the sound. I've run into D/A conversions in the past; in every case, when it's optional, I prefer to preserve the analog signal. In some cases, however, it isn't an option, and until now, I can't say I've ever been totally pleased with the results. But considering how I've generally been very satisfied with old classics from my record collection that I've repurchased as CDs, I'll admit that converting analog to digital isn't, in and of itself, an evil, necessary or otherwise.

The G68 distinguished itself by performing the best A/D conversion I've heard. For one thing, not everything came out sounding good—and that was good. The Who's Magic Bus (LP, Decca DL75064) was every bit as harsh as I've ever heard it, with a tipped-up treble and rolled-off bass. But ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone's One Year (LP, Epic E30974) was spacious and inviting, without a hint of hardness in the upper midrange and lower treble, the most common sins committed during a hacked A/D conversion. I had zero qualms about the Meridian G68's processing of analog sources in this regard. I almost wish they'd thrown in a phono stage instead of a radio.

The Meridian combo played CDs excellently. With the front left and right speakers defined as Full Range, the MartinLogan Prodigy speakers were completely responsible for the bass in the Stereo and Direct modes. Meridian's Trifield mode mixed in the subwoofer, but the upper bass and lower midrange were never too heavy when tamed by the room-correction algorithms.