Meridian G68ADV Surround Processor & G98DH DVD Player Page 3

Dido's "Stoned," from Life for Rent (CD, Arista 50137-2), has subterranean synthesized bass that subtly massages the song's rhythmic foundation. In Stereo it was good, in Trifield superb. At first, I was skeptical of the Trifield mode, with its synthesis of a center channel from 2-channel sources, but it provided a better sense of front-stage fullness than stereo or any surround logic mode. Naturally, if you're to pull this off, you'll need a good center-channel speaker that blends well with the main left and right speakers. The MartinLogan Theater center, while using conventional tweeters to improve horizontal dispersion, worked wonderfully despite its largely dissimilar construction to the other speakers in my ML system. If you have identical front speakers, you should get even better results.

That's not to say that straight stereo was without merit. The opening cut on Life for Rent has a series of left-to-right pans. In Trifield, the sound definitely seemed to pause momentarily at the center channel, as if allowing the center speaker to ever so briefly reveal its location before continuing the trip. Using only two channels, the sound traveled with a smoothness befitting the best classic "stereo" sound.

Most of the review period was spent with the room-correction active. Removing the room correction can be done only via the configuration program running on a PC, not the front panel or the remote control. I tried removing it from only the Direct mode, to see if I could hear any differences between it and the Stereo mode, where room correction was still in force. However, prior to that, I had always heard a subtle difference between the two modes, preferring Stereo to Direct. It was impossible to isolate any differences I heard now to the effects of room correction. To compare apples with apples (same mode, with and without room correction) required too much time between listening events and too long a break in concentration, so all bets were off. Suffice it to say that all rooms can stand a little leveling in the bass; having the ability to reach that goal with such ease is a blessing. Given the operating frequency range of the room correction, I highly recommend its use at all times anyway.

DVD-Audio may not have the jump start SACD received, but it now offers many of the titles I want. Besides Fragile by Yes, Tommy from the Who, and some other remixed, redigitized blasts from the past, the very contemporary Two Against Nature (Giant 24719-9) by Steely Dan was spun frequently on the G98. Unlike some other processors I've used, I didn't have to push buttons to get multichannel audio from the G68 processor, which has the smarts to examine any incoming signal, identify the source (DVD-A, DVD-V, CD, or MP3), and switch to the appropriate DSP mode. If there are options to be had, repeatedly pressing the DSP control presents them. On the Steely Dan DVD-A, the Discrete mode is the obvious choice, but you can also access Cinema, THX, and Ambisonics modes, though I heard no advantages. The resolution through the MartinLogan system was always fantastic; the G98 and G68 brought the sound of multichannel audio up to a level never previously experienced in my home system.

Initially, I didn't have the G98's component output hooked up to my Dwin projector. With the excellent Pioneer Elite DV-45A universal player sending Dolby Digital to the G68 processor via Straight Wire Silverlink II coaxial cable, everything sounded great, as I'd expected. Bringing the G98 into play, however, brought subtle but appreciable improvements in resolution and image depth. Two zombie DVDs, 28 Days (Fox 24543 08817) and Dawn of the Dead (Universal 4170-1814-3), were effectively rendered in Dolby Digital, with 28 Dayssignificantly more mood-inducing as its sadly played electric guitar and cello accompanied our hero through London's deserted streets. When a car alarm went off in the soundtrack, that elusive "jump factor" I keep harping on was suddenly in full play.

Throughout 28 Days, the G68's dynamic capabilities were not to be questioned. As the drone of instruments reached a crescendo, signifying that our hero fully understands the true nature of the horror that transpired as he lay in a coma, the G68 never ran out of steam, delivering wallop after wallop in what is actually only a preview of the frantic nature of this film's soundtrack. The soft piano music that begins in chapter 28 serves as a fitting finale as screaming zombies, panicked humans, and bellowing thunder all mix in this sendoff.

Both the macro- and microdynamic capabilities of my system were exercised here—each breath and each bludgeon drew equal respect. Compared to the Pioneer Elite DV-45A, the strummed guitars in chapter 29 contained more rhythmic information and resolution of string modulation, as well as an increased sense of depth from all instruments. The timbre of the strings also seemed more realistic and palpable. To be sure, the differences were tiny—I had to go back and forth several times to convince myself—but the Meridian definitely came out on top.

When I ran through some test signals from the Digital Video Essentials DVD, the G98 exhibited excellent resolution from its HDMI output, with no significant loss up through the 6.75MHz limit of the test signals. The video montage segment (title 17, chapter 2) looked equally excellent and free of artifacts, from either the HDMI output fed to the plasma display or via the interlaced component output into my Dwin projector.

The player offered exceptional color purity and, to my eyes, had much better reds than the Pioneer reference player, as evinced by the red stripes of the human flag and the red shirt worn by the man holding balloons in the montage segment. Yellows also had less of a green tinge, in the wool cap and, especially, the grasshopper. Most important, the blades of a rising helicopter early in the segment were far more distinct with the Meridian than with the Pioneer. I could live with either player—but in my experience, the Meridian G98 is in a class of its own.

High Noon
At first I was overwhelmed by the design of the Meridian G-Series and underwhelmed by my ability to absorb its subtleties. But that's the advantage of a long review period. The Meridian G68ADV and G98DH were the opposite of death by a thousand paper cuts—they were a slowly evolving revelation. The longer I lived with them, the more I responded to their strengths. As for the weaknesses—the remote by Chunky, the G98's inability to play SACDs, and the multiple system manuals, which are simultaneously detailed and disjointed—well, these don't really affect the sound or the picture.

And sound and picture are what we're really after here. The G68ADV processor is, without a doubt, the finest-sounding I've used, and the G98DH player has the best picture I've seen in my house. I'm just blown away.

While the Meridians were very nearly glitch-free, the review period wasn't entirely smooth-sailing. Fred's first sample of the G98 performed flawlessly at first, but at one point the drawer refused to open. A second sample exhibited some odd speed variations in the video (not the audio) on some discs after the above review was written, events that were not repeatable on the same segment of the disc. My photo sample of the G98 (different from either of the others) would not play one disc of the many I tried successfully(Anacondas: The Curse of the Blood Orchid); it would freeze up a couple of seconds into the studio logo. The disc played on other players I had in house (though it would not on my laptop DVD drive). Fred's G68 processor also exhibited some dropouts in the center channel on a couple of discs (Farscapeand Wonderfalls).

Meridian's Bob Stuart reports on his analysis of our samples and the discs involved in his Manufacturer's Comment. Given Meridian's reputation for standing behind their products and addressing customer's problems, I am not overly concerned that these problems are representative of the G-series in general. If problems arise with any product, it seems to be a unwritten rule that those problems will occur in reviewer's samples!–TJN

Highs and Lows

• Great sound and picture quality
• Meridian Room Correction minimizes room problems below 250Hz
• Meridian's exclusive Trifield mode is one of the best processing schemes available for simulating multichannel sound from 2-channel sources
• Direct digital connection from player to processor for DVD-Audio

• The large, two-handed remote, while beautiful to behold, is ergonomically challenged in day-to-day operation
• The G98 player is limited to DVD-Audio for high-resolution audio; no SACD
• Our three samples of the G98 had minor but annoying (and different) operating glitches

Update From FM, April 25, 2005
In Meridian's reply to our review of their G98 player, Bob Stuart suggested that the extremely rare and non-repeatable jerkiness witnessed could have been the result of a DVD video switcher that was placed midstream. All HDMI and most DVI devices incorporate HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) communication hand-shaking protocols to safely pass video content in the digital domain. The Gefen 4x1 HDTV DVI switcher I used during the Meridian review didn't cause problems between either the DVI-equipped Bravo D2 DVD player or the Samsung TS360 HiDef satellite receiver and my Fujitsu plasma, so I had no reason to suspect it could have potentially been the cause of the Meridian's video problem.

The clincher came after the G98 was returned and the review was posted. When I fed a DVI signal through the Gefen from the Integra Research RDV 1.1 universal player, the image on the screen would visibly hiccup every five seconds or so. This effect was repeatable and hardly occasional. Bypassing the Gefen, the Integra's problem was eliminated. As for jerkiness first seen with the Meridian player, I couldn't bear watching the Integra through the Gefen long enough to see if other symptoms emerged. In the world of HDCP compliant (or not so compliant) devices, not all equipment is created equal.–FM