Stylish with a fluid but powerful and dynamic sound. Larger than life with a wandering bass.
 

Size (W x D x H cm) 33,9,34
181

Manufacturer: Meridian
Telephone: 01480 434334
Price: £1995
Reviewed in issue: 140

 Take Meridian's acclaimed 500/566 transport/DAC combination and squeeze the crucial technology into one case and, broadly speaking, you've got yourself what Meridian describes as its '20-bit 508'. The allusion to 20-bit performance actually stems from its use, along with Audiolab, of the new Crystal CS4329 bitstream converter. Crystal itself refers to the CS4329 as offering '20-bit resolution' as a consequence of its 128-times oversampling, fourth-order noise shaping and delta-sigma (bitstream) DAC technology. 

So Meridian is clearly off to a good start. Otherwise, the 508 uses a Philips CDM12.4 mechanism mounted inside what it describes as its familiar 'brick loader' CD tray. The discrete little display and fine, vertical function keys are right out of Meridian folklore. The 508 is also suitably eccentric. For example, just because you've loaded a CD this does not mean the 508 has read its TOC (table of contents). In practice, the disc is only 'loaded' once you've closed the drawer and pressed 'play'.

Other Meridian tricks of the trade include its continued use of Philips' old SAA7310 decoder, which actually offers a better standard of error correction than the more recent generations of chips. Meridian also employs what it describes as an 'analogue de-jittering' circuit to stabilise the RF eye-pattern (the signal coming from the laser pick-up). The same analogue stage as the 566 DAC is used, complete with four-layer board, a Class A output driver and high-quality passive components including Nichicon electrolytics and polypropylene supply decoupling capacitors. All tried and tested stuff from one of the masters of the digital art.

Sound quality

Meridian's flagship player is characteristically delicate and refined in tone. Strings sound almost ethereal though a bass guitar, and particularly that from Rebecca Pidgeon's Friday Night Crowd, can sound a little thick or plummy by comparison. The player's delicate quality allowed us to hear through and into the mix of layered recordings like Ali Khan's Face of Love, revealing the varied texture of the harmonium and fret noises from the guitar and sitar to marvellous effect, even though this was very slightly encumbered by the leaden quality of the player's bass.

Cannonball Adderley's Autumn Leaves prompted two slightly contrasting points of view. On one hand the sound of trumpet and percussion proved to be very clear and vibrant while soundstaging, as a whole, was described as "dry and non-invasive". Turning this interpretation on its head, another listener suggested this same sound was "distinctly hi-fi with a Technicolor spotlighting of the individual performers".

Evidently, your point of view will depend very much on whether you take a fancy to the 508, bearing in mind that small systems are likely to work in its favour. A middle line is more likely, for the player flows with a clean, open and clear sound, is slightly dry and raw in its delivery, and includes a bass that, on occasions, refuses to stay put.

Conclusion

Meridian is a long-standing exponent of the digital art, but its creative faculties are being applied to so many varied products (it's there with the best of them in the race to launch DVD), the digital bullseye cannot be struck true on each and every occasion. So the 508 combines a delicate-sounding mid and treble with a rich and opulent-sounding bass. If the idea appeals, and you want to avoid some excess of bass, partner the 508 with a system of modest bandwidth.

PMi