Meridian 新旗艦 AV Preamp 861V6
Meridian推出新旗艦 AV Preamp 861V6，呢部二十萬圓級嘅AV Preamp有幾把閉，睇下Home Theater Review 嘅報道啦
In the world of cutting edge digital, one name is known by all - Meridian. Meridian has been making some of the finest sounding digital playback systems for over 30 years and has just recently released their new flagship AV preamp, the 861V6 ($26,000) along with its accompanying HDMI switcher/audio processor the HD621 ($3,000). The HD621 is a separate video switcher and audio processor that allows owners of older Meridian AV preamps to take advantage of the new codecs offered by Blu-ray. These two units are designed to be at the center of the most elite home theaters on earth.
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Meridian has been one of the only companies on the planet to truly allow their owners a never-ending upgrade path to newer models, and owners of the 861V4 can upgrade to the newest version for a fee. This is a huge plus as many high-end companies have tried to do this, while only two actually have succeeded, Meridian being one of them. This allows owners to offset the cost of the unit over time while the rest of us poor saps are selling off our now outdated AV preamps, often at huge losses. The cost associated with upgrading may seem high at first but actually makes for a large savings over the long haul.
The 861V6 handles all the audio switching and processing while the separate HD621 switcher separates the audio and video signal, allowing the 861V6 to handle only audio feeds, thus maximizing performance, albeit at the complication of another box. The HD621 will pass through the new codecs found on today's Blu-ray discs but you'll need to ensure that your Blu-ray player can output LPCM directly, for the 861V6 cannot decode the lossless audio signals on its own. The two pieces are connected via Meridian's proprietary Comm's cable or BNC terminated interconnect that allows one to control the other.
Aesthetically, the new 861V6 looks almost exactly the same as the older models with the central badge on the faceplate appearing slightly different, though it could just be my memory. A basic panel of buttons run across the bottom right of the face plate, with a large LED display across the middle, and between the two is a flip down panel that houses more advanced setup buttons. The sides of the 861V6 slope nicely back and my review unit was finished in black, though Meridian offers the 861V6 in graphite and silver as well. Custom colors are available for an extra fee. The basic unit can be tailored to suit any system needs, allowing direct digital outputs for Meridian speakers, or single ended or balanced (mine came with balanced outputs) for conventional speaker users. The analog input board allows for up to six pairs of analog inputs or two 5.1 channel inputs or one 5.1 and three stereo analog inputs. Balanced analog inputs have been removed as an option from the 861V6. A host of digital inputs including six coaxial and two optical inputs as well as an RJ45 input for Meridian's 7.1 MHR from the HD621 switcher round out the standard inputs. Three of the coaxial inputs can also be assigned for use as another 5.1 MHR link. Of course a host of control options are here too, including RS-232 as well as Meridian Comms cables and 12 Volt triggers, all of which can be customized to your needs.
The two pieces come packed individually and came to me double boxed. The 861V6's box is entirely black with the Meridian name proudly displayed across the front and a large Meridian sticker holding it sealed along the four bottom edges. Freeing up the sticker and sliding off the top of the box reveals the unit, which comes wrapped in a cloth cover, and the manual, an actual hard bound book, as well as the large table top remote with batteries and a comms cable. All these were secured for shipping with solid Styrofoam, also black. The HD621 was packed similarly in white Styrofoam encased in a more common looking box.
I used the 861V4 as my reference AV preamp for many years so I'm more than familiar with its setup procedures. I quickly tore into the boxes and replaced my current AV preamp; Classe's SSP-800, with the two Meridian pieces and added in my Meridian G98DH for CD and DVD-Audio playback duties. I ran the 861V6 in my reference room, which includes a Sony PS3 and BDP-S350 Blu-ray player, Oppo BD-83SE and BDP-95, EMM Labs TSD1/DAC2 CA/SACD player, Scientific Atlanta 8300HD DVR, and a Nintendo Wii. I connected the Meridian 861V6 to my Krell Evolution 403 and Proceed amplifiers via Transparent Reference balanced interconnects. I used several speaker systems for this review, starting with the Wharfedale Opus 2-3s, then a Canton Vento system and finally with my reference Escalante Fremont's - all wired using Transparent Reference speaker cables.
The connections are only part of the process of setting up a Meridian system. There are no real setup menus; instead you must use Meridian's own PC based software, downloadable from Meridian's website. I have had plenty of experience with this software over the years and while there is an initial learning curve, it's pretty straightforward and intuitive once you've learned the program. The software also allows you incredible flexibility in surround fields for each type of signal input from each source, so when your cable box sends in stereo, you could run Dolby Pro Logic II, Trifield, THX etc, and when it outputs 5.1 digital you can run discrete, Cinema etc. All of the DSP's can be changed during use from the remote and the defaults can be changed from the 861V6's panel should your tastes or preferences change.
My several year hiatus showed as my initial programming was off, but a quick call to Meridian had me up and running in no time. Once I had everything programmed correctly I went through and set up my speaker sizes, something Meridian does better than any AV preamp on the planet. Instead of setting size as large or small, Meridian gives you a continuum from 1 to 22 for main speakers and 1 to 30 for subwoofers. Just like setting levels on any AV preamp, a tone comes from each speaker and you adjust its level up or down. It's also an excellent tool to find resonant problems in your room and I usually treat them at the same time when doing this step. This is an extra step beyond setting distances (which can also be done in the set up software) and levels, but I find that the processor knowing exactly what is the maximum your speakers can output and not going beyond that does two great things. First it protects your speakers and second it makes sure you get every drop of performance out of them. I love this set up system so much I wish everyone would use it. If any of what I've just said sounds at all intimidating or confusing, know that your local Meridian dealer will more than likely setup your 861V6 for you.
I let the system burn in for a week or so before sitting down for any critical listening. I started off by cueing up the action spy movie "Salt" (Sony) on Blu-ray. From the first sounds of the film I was hooked. The movie starts out with Angelina Jolie as a prisoner being beaten in her cell and the echoes came in so perfectly you felt as if you were in the cell with her. Eventually she is let out of her cell and the world opens up, as does the 861V6's soundstage, giving me a huge sound field that was open and airy yet had power and depth to everything from voices to gunshots.
I went with something a bit more whimsical next, Tim Burton's remake of "Alice In Wonderland" (Walt Disney Home Entertainment). The film has tons of great demo material from the subtlest ticks of small pins and swords to the thud of the bloodhound's feet. Every aspect of the soundtrack was clearly and distinctly portrayed with an openness rarely heard in my home theater. The stretching sound of Alice growing in the initial antechamber after the fall was awesome and the sound of her coming through the rabbit hole was incredible. The strings of the score were open and spacious while voices were crystal clear and well placed. Even the subtle sound of the smoking caterpillar seemed real, almost as if he was smoking in front of me.
Television viewing was equally enjoyable with the Meridian 861V6 in my system. The preprogrammed surround fields enabled me to get the best surround sound from every feed from my cable box. It was easy to swap the surround processing from the remote if I wanted to try something different. I did notice that sometimes when the 861V6 switched processing or type of digital feed when switching from a commercial back to the regular program a short pop occurred. The processor quickly locked onto signals however, so nothing was ever missed.
I cued up the Grateful Dead Working Man's Blues (Rhino) on DVD-Audio via my Meridian G98DH transport. "Uncle John's Band" was amazing in the detail and space I was treated to. The guitar notes were plucky and the bass lines stayed tight while voices were clean and accurate. I skipped to "New Speedway Boogie" and was placed dead center in the band as if I was in the studio with them.
I moved onto an old classic DVD-Audio in Emerson Lake & Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery (Rhino) and from the opening track of "Jerusalem" and onto "Toccata" got all the space and openness one could ever want with tight bass lines and a huge soundstage. The clarity and separation from the Meridian were exceptional, and should be, as in this setup the G98DH is merely a multi-channel transport and the entire decoding comes from the 861V6. I found the DAC's to be exceptional and this setup gave me one of the best surround demo's I've ever done in my home. The balance was perfect and the air and space made my room seem larger while the bass management system Meridian employs allows the AV preamp to maximize each speaker's bass output and truly adds to the depth and fullness of the sound.
Two-channel material through the 861V6, in direct two-channel mode or in Tri-Field, gives the music a huge and deep soundstage, deeper than the direct mode. Whether I was listening to Jimi Hendrix's Blues Album and the acoustic 12 string version of "Hear My Train a Comin'" to his Live at the Filmore East and the song "Machine Gun," the guitars stayed hard and powerful as you'd expect. Engaging the 861V6's Tri-Field DSP made it so the sonic image totally enveloped me. The details and ease of music from the 861V6 was so inviting it made even older recordings musical and spacious, providing for a whole new level of enjoyment.
Competition and Comparisons
At the $26,000 price point the Meridian 861V6 doesn't have a whole lot of competition because few manufacturers offer $26,000 AV preamps. One such company that does offer a comparable AV preamp, at least in terms of price, is Krell and their 707 AV preamplifier. At $30,000 the 707 is more than the 861V6; however it can decode all the latest surround sound formats via HDMI as well as handle 3D - something the 861V6 cannot.
Looking past the 861V6's price tag, another AV preamp to consider is Classe's SSP-800, which like the Krell can decode all the latest lossless audio codecs but unlike the 707 cannot handle 3D. so it's in the same boat as the 861V6, however at $8,000 retail the SSP-800's lack of features is an easier pill to swallow - though I firmly believe the Meridian 861V6 sounds better when it comes to both music and movies.
Other AV preamps worth mentioning include Lexicon's MC-12 HD AV preamp, McIntosh's MX-120 AV preamp and the Anthem Statement D2V.
For more information on AV preamps including the latest news and product reviews please check out Home Theater Review's AV Preamplifier and Surround Sound Processor Reviews page.
The Meridian 861 is a highly flexible device and as such can be complicated to set up, so unless you are a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, have your dealer install this piece and save yourself the headache.
I understand the idea of having the video separate from the audio, and it does make for the best sound, but the two-box system adds another level of complexity. This also precludes the 861V6 from having any onscreen information. On the flip side, thanks to the MHR output of the HD621 switcher, anyone who ever bought a Meridian AV preamp, even the now vintage '5' series can experience the benefits of the uncompressed codecs offered by Blu-ray as long as their player decodes to LPCM.
I actually really like the tabletop remote Meridian offers: it is well backlit and the keys are laid out logically. You can even customize the labels to suit your system, but I would have really preferred it to use RF over IR. I don't really see this as a major downside as most anyone spending this kind of money on an AV preamp is likely using another remote control from the likes of Crestron, AMX or Control4.
The only real pitfall of the new 861V6 and HD621 HDMI switcher/Audio processor are a total lack of support for legacy video formats. I was able to use my Wii via component through the component input on my G98DH DVD player, but for those who do not plan to buy a Meridian DVD player, you can only use HDMI for video sources. Secondly, the switcher will pass the uncompressed codecs of Blu-ray but the 861V6 can't decode them so in order to use them you need to add a Blu-ray player that can convert the output to LPCM. Thirdly, the switcher is not HDMI 1.4 compliant and as such will not pass 3D video. Since the video is completely separate, no onscreen information is displayed, not even volume.
Meridian has been at the top of the world of digital audio for a long time and for good reason. Their gear offers an open and spacious sound that is unmatched, and their support of their customers with continued upgrades to current models is also something literally unheard of even at these price points. Consumers can know that Meridian has your back when it comes to making a significant investment in an AV preamp, where other companies will let you down.
While the 861V6 is a complex piece, one that really needs an experienced person to install and setup, once you get it up and running it will reward you with sound that is simply marvelous. While $26,000 retail is anything but cheap, after spending some time with Meridian's new 861V6, I know why I relied on a Meridian AV preamp as my reference all those years, for they've always made and still make one of the finest AV preamps in the world. If you wanted to make the argument that the Meridian 861V6 was the best sounding AV preamp money can buy - I wouldn't argue with you. It's just that good.
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