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Product Review - Meridian 565 and 519 Processor - May, 1996

By Stacey L. Spears

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Meridian 565
Meridian 519

UK: USA:
Meridian Audio Ltd. Meridian America Inc.
Stonehill 3800 Camp Creek Parkway
Stukeley Meadows Building 2400
Cambs Suite 112
PE18 6ED Atlanta
England GA 30331
Phone: (01480) 52114 Phone: (404) 344-7111
Fax: (01480) 459934 Fax: (404) 346-7111
WWW: http://www.meridian-audio.com

 

Meridian 519 Demodulator; Inputs: 1 Digital Optical, 1 Digital Coax, and 1 AC3 RF.
Output: 1 Digital Optical and 1 Digital Coax.
Price: $695.00.
Weight: 3.3 lb.
Dimensions: 2.3"(H) x 9.7"(W) x 6.7"(D)

First, let me say that I think the 519 will probably be used by not only Meridian aficionados, but also by owners of other brands who opt to wait for DVD's digital output, and not to support the RF input. On the 519, you connect the Digital output and the AC-3 output of your LD player into the respective inputs of the 519. Then you connect the Digital output of the 519 to the input of your digital processor, in my case the 562V controller. The 519 detects the presence of an AC-3 signal, and if so, it sends the AC-3 bit-stream; otherwise it sends the PCM track of your LD (in digital form). The other function of this little box is to reduce jitter, which most LD players are extremely prone to. It also helps to cut down on the popping that the 565 has been reported to have. The popping problem is due to the coax out on the LD being turned off instead of being muted when no signal is present. At $695.00, the 519 is a bit expensive, but when you look at what you pay just for some jitter reduction units, it is a super bargain.

If you want to do a side by side comparison of the AC-3 and PCM track, you need to bypass the coax input of the 519, and use a different input on the 562V or surround processor. When the 519 detects the AC-3 bit-stream, it only sends that signal. There are jumpers located inside the unit, but I have not used them. Once you are through showing all your friends the difference between AC-3 and Pro Logic, plug the coax back into the 519. The improvement through jitter reduction is nothing short of amazing! The soundstage becomes more refined, and even more subtle nuances are revealed.

Meridian 565-AC3; Inputs: 1 Digital Optical, 1 Digital Coax, 1 Pair Analog, 1 Composite Video.
Outputs: 8 Analog (L/C/R/Side-Sub R/Side-Sub L/Mono-Center Sub) 4 Coax Pair Digital, 1 Digital Bypass, 1 Composite Video.
Price: $4,295.00.
Weight: 10 lb.
Dimensions: 3.5"(H) x 12.7"(W) x 13.1"(D)

Features:

Almost any configuration thinkable is possible with this processor. You can have all analog, all digital, mixed analog, sub for film only, or for music too. All speakers can and should be time aligned through the use of delay. It also has "Lipsync" (sync the sound - dialog - with the video), bass management (since AC-3 is 5 channels full range, and 1 dedicated subwoofer, bass management allows the user to control the amount of low frequencies sent to each speaker and where the others should be routed), and on-screen menus. The 565 uses DSP to monitor all the outputs; this prevents any of the channels from overloading.

Surround Modes include:

Video: Pro Logic, THX Cinema, TV Logic, AC-3, AC-3 THX, Mono, Academy.
Music: MuLogic, Music, Trifield, Ambisonic, Super Stereo, Stereo, Direct.

All Surround Modes contain customizable parameters, which after being tweaked can be saved as user presets, e.g., I have Stacey 1 (Trifield), and Anna 1 (MuLogic) for personal favorites.

Setup (My favorite part):

Setup is a tweaker's dream come true; here is where attention to detail comes into play. First you need to decide what Type ("Type" is a menu selection) you need: whether your speakers are analog or digital, subwoofer for film only or music and film, and if you are using 500 or 200 comms control (for linking with other Meridian products.)

Next you choose your "Layout": whether you are using THX speakers, 5 small with 1 Mono sub, or full range L/R with small center and center sub, etc., how many surround speakers, 1, 2, or 4 (both side and/or rear), and whether your surround speakers are small (restricted low frequency) or large (full range). When using AC-3, is your sub LFE only or Center/Mono and LFE mixed?

Then comes what I feel is most crucial, the "Speaker Setup". Here is where you time align all the speakers to you as the listener. First you must measure the distance from your listening position to the tweeter on each speaker, then calculate the delay settings. You must "tell" the 565 how big the woofer drivers are on each speaker, using the on-screen menu. It presents a table, with the number of woofers and their size.

Finally, you "Calibrate" the system. Here you set the phase and loudness of each speaker (an SPL meter is highly recommended). You now setup your sources, i.e., each input, LD, CD, etc., and you set the input word length, usually 16 bit unless you are using the 518 which I have set to 22 bit. (all consumer digital audio sources are 16 bit today, but the resolution capability depends on the particular component quality, which in the case of the 518, is 22 bit.)

How it Sounded:

In a word, WOW! This is the Quake (Id Software) of Surround Sound Processors!!
Since a review of the Ver 1.4 software was published in Home Theater Technology and Stereophile, I will not repeat what they covered except to say that the new Ver 3.3 seems to be improved in about every way. Even the old Surround Modes have been refined. With both THX Cinema and Pro Logic, you now have the choice of using Mono/De-correlated Surround or using Steered surround. This represents MUCH improvement; it has the same, if not more prowess as the stereo surrounds in the Fosgate 3a's 70MM Wide mode. In "Babe", the farm scenes were open and filled with detail, and images of animals were placed precisely around the room corresponding with the onscreen imagery. Breathtaking! Watching "Casper", I felt like I was there in the shadows with Casper and his uncles. During the "WOW" demo, while using steered surrounds, NEVER have I experienced it like this before. I have listened to the WOW demo MANY times, first on my Yamaha DSP-1000, then next on the Technics SH-TX200, then even on my Fosgate 3a, using THX and even 70MM Wide. The subtle detail that the 565 processor extracts is incredible. As I moved up the processor tree, so to speak, each one has provided a little more detail.

AC-3.

Since Dolby Digital first arrived in theaters , I have been eagerly awaiting its arrival to the home. While I personally am against the lossy compression schemes utilized here, one must applaud what has been accomplished. I first really got to hear AC-3 at the 95 WCES upstairs in the Mirage at the Runco demo, then last April at the Stereophile show here in L.A., then next at the 96 WCES. I attended all the demo's I could, and from what I have heard, this (565) knocks 'em dead! And what makes this one so special? Well, Meridian says that all the internal AC-3 processing is done at 24 bit precision. Being software based, the unit does not have to rely on someone else's chip, and all programming code is written in-house. (Of course, the programming is ultimately placed on an EPROM chip.) When improvements come along, Meridian needs only to send me the new chip, and in a matter of minutes, I'm updated. During one of the battle sequences from "Braveheart", in which horses are riding towards the right in the background and heading left in the foreground, the sound matched to on-screen action precisely. For a moment, I felt as if I could step between the horses and feel them ride by. I had the same feeling during side 3 (Chp. 31) of "True Lies" when Tom Arnold's character came to rescue Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Florida Keys. There were patches of fire all around, then Arnold in the middle, again I could feel and believe the depth recreated by the 565-AC3. On all AC-3 material I threw at it, the 565 gave a soundstage that spread way beyond the speakers, filling up the entire front of my living room. During the opening of "Outbreak", if one switches back and forth between Pro Logic and AC-3, it feels like the Pro Logic tracks contain no surround information, compared to AC-3 (but you know they do).

Other Features:

There are some excellent new goodies not available on Dolby Pro Logic surround, one of them being Dynamic Compression. This allows you to adjust for night viewing (so that the neighbors don't call the Police), or just listening at low volumes. Different settings are available, and I used the Max setting for a night time viewing of "Braveheart", which really worked. It lowered all loud passages, and raised all quiet passages, which allowed me to hear the dialog over the loud passages. However, there is one compression mode I do not really understand, and that is "Mix". It states in the instruction manual that this setting removes "dialog normalization", and plays the dialog at the level it was mixed at. Only the included white paper mentions dialog normalization, or if you change the display, one of the options shows how much dialog normalization is being used, but no explanation is given.

While comparing Dolby Pro Logic to AC-3, at first it seemed that Pro Logic was louder, meaning more bass info. WRONG! During the opening of "Top Gun" while the jets were taking off, AC-3's LFE channel pounded away. Windows rattled, things shook. Pro Logic didn't even come close. What led me to believe that Pro Logic was louder? While playing the AC-3 track, the THX intro on the LDs were really low compared to the Pro Logic channels. However, I was able to recreate the same loudness during the THX intro on the AC-3 if I used the "Mix" option on "Compression". I much prefer the Compression set to Off, not Mix while viewing films.

"LipSync" . . . what another neat feature! While I had to re-adjust for each disc, this setting proved to be worth the effort. You can adjust from 0 to 30ms, and I found that it was best to start at 30, then while watching someone speak, slowly adjust down. When it is set correctly, everything snaps into proper focus.

Conclusion:

I found the 565 to be the BEST investment in my system to date. Whether for music or film, this piece ROCKS! Setup, while time consuming, is both necessary and a breeze. The on-screen menus are not a GUI, but are VERY EASY to use. If you want the absolute best performance in home theater electronics, look no further. If someone else were to say their processor is "Second to None," then the 565 would be "None!" I now look forward to the addition of their digital loudspeakers in my system.

For this review, the following products were used:

LDs used for Review:

Matrix: THX WOW, Babe, Casper, Desperado, A Video Standard, Batman-Mask of the Phantasm.
AC-3: Seven, Forrest Gump, The Santa Clause, Lion King, Top Gun, Braveheart, Clear and Present Danger, Interview with a Vampire, Die Hard with a Vengeance , Amadeus, Outbreak, True Lies, Stargate, My Family, Rob Roy.

Stacey Spears

Manufacturer responds (I asked Bob Stuart of Meridian Audio, Cambridge, England about the ability of AC-3 decoders/processors to provide a "Phantom" mode, based on questions posed by our readers. ---- Editor):

With regard to the question about a "Phantom" mode in AC-3, the downmix abilities of each AC-3 solution is different.

The Zoran chip is -- as fas as I know -- pretty much as you described (<90 Hz can be re-routed). Of course a box designer could split and route the Centre signal to Left and Right in the analogue domain, so it is achievable. That means it will also be achievable using the Motorola 56009 chip in the same way.

The Meridian 565, as you may know, has our own software decoder for updateability and to provide sound quality, power and features beyond the standard chips. We use a general-purpose Processor.

Right now, our software has features beyond that. The AC-3 decode module allows you to specify phantom centre, phantom surround, phantom L/R -- so you can decode and/or downmix inside the AC-3 module to 3/2.1, 2/2.1, 3/0.1, 2/0.1 or 1/0.1 (mono). (If you downmix to 2/0 you get Dolby Surround encoded to feed a Pro Logic decoder).

In each case, the dynamic range is adjusted to avoid overload. Obviously a downmix to mono requires a dynamic-range reduction -- it cannot carry 6x full scale!

So as far as the bass management is concerned, what you described may be what some have offered. In the Meridian 565, the bass can be directed to any of the seven main speaker outputs, to one of two sub outputs, or to any combination.

The bass management, configuration and protection fills out the low-end and LFE channel to wherever it can go. The protection ensures speaker drivers are not over-driven.

Our strategy for AC-3 bass is roughly this:

  1. If the speakers are small, all the bass goes through the sub(s)
  2. If some of the speakers are big (e.g., front L and R), the sub carries LFE and the bass for the other channels
  3. If all the speakers are big, the sub(s) carry LFE only
  4. If there is no sub, the LFE is limited and up-mixed to wherever it can be handled (even the surrounds).
  5. There is the option for front and rear subs (unless you are using sides in which case only one feed): many subs can be attached to the feeds.

In other modes (Pro Logic, THX, Music, Trifield, Ambisonic), the bass management is obviously different.

I hope that answers your question.

Regards,

Bob


Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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