Meridian G95 DVD Surround Receiver

What if you had all the money in the world but only room for one more item on your shelf? What if you cared deeply about DVDs and CDs but not a fig for DVD-Audio, SACD, Blu-ray Disc, or HD DVD? What if someone actually lived in those spotless chrome-and-glass penthouses we see in the architectural mags and wanted an A/V system to match?

And what if Britain's Meridian - who has been doing digital for almost as long as there's been digital to be done - offered a unit that combines the company's key notions into a single, strikingly simple, compact DVD player and A/V receiver? Well, Meridian has done exactly that, and it's called the G95. Among its key enabling technologies: a quintet of 100-watt Class D power-amplifier channels. Call them "digital amps" if you like (I don't, since there's no quantization involved). These tiny, efficient, cool-running circuits are a new generation, said to fly in the face of the audiophile wisdom that Class D "doesn't sound good above the bass octaves."

There's also plenty of audio and video processing onboard. Meridian and Faroudja circuits are used to upscale to 1080p, cross-convert analog video to the HDMI output, and deliver picture controls. On the audio side, not only does the G95 do surround decoding and processing, but it also performs high-resolution upsampling of all signals before amplification, extensive de-jittering of optical-disc data (long a Meridian hallmark), and even performance-enhancing digital-domain filtering and processing of FM radio signals. And the G95 employs a DVD-ROM slot-load drive, said to deliver superior opto-mechanical performance.

Setup The G95 is easier to set up than many receivers: Wire the speakers, plug in the TV via HDMI, insert a disc. I patched my digital cable box into the G95's sole external input via component video; although the Meridian has an HDMI output, it has no HDMI input nor any multichannel audio input, which means no joy for aficionados of Blu-ray or HD DVD (or even SACD or DVD-A, neither of which its disc player decodes). Beyond this, I simply connected my mid-sensitivity 5.1-channel speaker array plus powered subwoofer. Setup and balance took only a few minutes. There's no auto-calibration routine, but the Meridian's onscreen displays are clear and straightforward.

Music & Movie Performance Despite its svelteness, Meridian's one-piece played nearly as loudly - and as cleanly and transparently - as my everyday setup of preamp/processor and power amp, a stack about five times as tall and eight times as heavy. This is one great-sounding compact; I quickly dismissed any notions of its Class D amps impacting its sound.

The Meridian is deliberately simplified, however. Listening-mode options for 2-channel music number but two: Stereo, of course, and the firm's proprietary Trifield mode. There's no access to Dolby's Pro Logic IIx/Music (my usual go-to mode), only PLII/Movie, which "steers" too hard for serious music listening.

Ordinarily, I might lament this denial of service - but Meridian's Trifield is in some ways a better option altogether for the serious listener. It's largely an ambience-recovery program, with a "soft" center channel and very judicious steering and spatial enhancements. Trifield sounded almost infallibly rich and transparent on virtually any stereo recording I threw at it, without making voices sound the slightest bit canned or isolated. However, listeners desiring heavy-surround effects from studio-recorded stereo may well be frustrated by the mode's subtlety.

Another potential drawback of this limited surround palette is that if you play a disc or a broadcast with a 5.1-channel bitstream soundtrack, it will play only in the straight Cinema mode. This isn't usually a problem except when you want to enhance a substandard 5.1-channel mix, such as those that often accompany network concerts. (For Dolby Digital 2.0 streams, you can select PLII/Movie, Trifield, or Stereo.)