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Product Review - Meridian 565 DTS Upgrade - July, 1997

By Stacey L. Spears

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Meridian 565 7.1 Surround Processor; 1 Digital Optical, 1 Digitial Coax, 1 Pair Analog, 1 Composite Video inputs; 8 Analog (L/C/R/SL/SR/Side-Sub R/Side-Sub L/Mono-CenterSub), 4 Coax Pair Digitial, 1 Digital Bypass, 1 Composite Video Outputs; Weight 15 pounds; 3.5"(H) x 12.7"(W) x 13.1"(D); $495 for upgrade from 3.x to 4.x, $995 for upgrade from 2.x to 4.x, and $4,995 (entire processor); Meridian Audio Ltd, Stonehill, Stukeley Meadows, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE18 6ED, England; Tel: [44] 1480 52144, Fax: [44] 1480 459934; Meridian America Inc., Suite 122, Building 2400, 3800 Camp Creek Parkway, Atlanta, 30331 GA, USA; Tel: (404) 344-7111, Fax: (404) 346-7111.

This is the first follow-up to the Meridian 565 originally reviewed in Volume 3, #2 [Click here to read the original review] Meridian has further refined the software in the 565 as well as adding new features to the package.

Introduction

It is always disconcerting to buy an audio/video component only to find out that there is a new version coming soon. First, there was Dolby Surround, and then Dolby Pro Logic, soon followed by THX enhancements. Now we have Dolby Digital (AC-3) and DTS. I don't know about you, but I am getting tired (and broke) of purchasing a new surround processor every six months just to have the latest and greatest. Could you imagine if this were the case in the computer industry, where every time you wanted to install the latest version of your favorite software, you had to buy a whole new PC? The computer industry learned along time ago that growth happens incredibly fast, and upgradeability is a necessity. At last, the audio industry has caught on, or at least some of it has. I have just gone through my second major update to the Meridian 565. Because of the design, its life expectancy still has a few more years left in it.

DTS

DTS has arrived, and for all the 565 owners out there, you can now upgrade your processor to 7.1, the name of their new upgrade. As of this writing, the current software version is 4.0. MPEG, which is part of the 7.1 package, is not included in the first version; they will be releasing a maintenance version as soon as it's ready. At the time of the maintenance version they will also have a new manual ready, and they have included a 2-sided page covering the complexities of DTS for now.

This upgrade actually requires a processor to be replaced. They are calling this new processor the Z3 (any relation to the little BMW roadster?) At the time of the AC-3 development, DTS was only supposed to require a small amount of horsepower to run, but it requires more than originally anticipated. On the bright side, you now have more horsepower to provide future growth and improvements for Dolby Digital (perhaps the high bit rate kind) or most any other technology that may arise. You do have to ship your processor back to Meridian to have this done, but the turn around was very quick. Along with the 565, they have a couple of software revisions for their 562V (audio/video switcher) and 518 (resolution enhancer) which include new labels for DVD as well as some DTS-managing features.

DTS is 5.1 format that is a competitor to Dolby Digital (DD). Like DD, DTS uses a lossy compression scheme. While DD has approximately a 12:1 compression ratio, DTS is much less severe, at around 3:1. In theory, DTS should sound superior, and in reality, I believe that it does sound superior. I have refrained from writing this until I had enough software on hand and some time listening to them. At the time of writing this review, I had 7 DTS music CDs and 13 DTS laserdiscs. There are new titles being released almost weekly. While DD had the head start and better marketing, DTS is now on the prowl, especially with the recent announcements from Disney of eminent releases like "Toy Story", "A Nightmare Before Christmas", and "Evita".

Standards

Why can't we have standards? DTS CDs seem to have been implemented differently from the LD versions. Laserdiscs recorded in DTS are like DD in that they expect your processor to give the LFE (Low Frequency Effects channel) a 10dB boost. The DTS CDs are not like this. They have the 10dB boost already in the recording. And of course this can change. They could be mixed, some with and some without. I do not know how the other DTS processors are handling this, but Meridian has supplied three separate DTS programs, "DTS CD", "DTS", and "DTS THX." The "DTS CD" has the LFE reduced to -10dB; the "DTS" and "DTS THX" have the boost in. Another area of concern is that DTS does not use any flags to tell your DAC that it is data, not music, like DD does. If you try and play a DTS stream through your DAC without first running through a DTS decoder, you better have the volume turned down because you are not going to like the noise that comes through. DTS also does not have flags that support late evening listening (compression) or dialog normalization, while DD does.

The Smart Processor

With all of these formats, it can get real confusing to select which one you are listening to. Meridian has simplified things for the user by having the 565 determine what is coming down the pipe and choosing the proper program to play it back. Even though DTS does not use flags like DD, the 565 is able to detect the DTS bit stream and choose the proper program. There is a difference in the way the 565 detects DTS in "DTS CD" and the other DTS modes. In "DTS CD", the 565 actually delay’s the sound so that the noise does not creep through before it switches to the correct program. The other two DTS modes do not use the delay because it is possible to throw off the sounds from the actual video. During actual use, I never experienced any noise creeping through before switching to the DTS program in any of the DTS modes.

DVD

If you are running Version 3.7 or below and have not or do not plan to move to the 7.1 (Version 4.x) you will need to get the maintenance release (Version 3.9) in order to listen to the Dolby Digital soundtracks from DVD.

DD comes in a variety of flavors on DVD; there can be 1 (mono) and 2 (stereo) channel recordings along with the 5.1 channels. The 565 has a display option that allows you to see how many channels are actually being used. With most of the DVD’s that I have tried, which actually only use two channel, "Blade Runner" for instance, the DVD player performs the DD processing in the player and outputs an LtRt signal. (Dolby Surround)

Sound Quality

DTS is INCREDIBLE with the 565. Although the setup process is complex, the operation is not. The 565 does all the work for you. The only things that you must do are select the source and adjust the volume.

The current selections of DTS music CD’s are not of the traditional audiophile type. What I mean is the mixers (production staff) have 5 channels and they are using all 5. (Just because you have surrounds does not mean you have to go crazy with them!) Two of the recording that I have, "Junior Wells" and "DMP Big Band" are the closest to being traditional. The surrounds convey the ambiance of the environment. They are also keeping the performers in front. Some of the others like "Steve Miller" and "Marvin Gay" are using the surrounds a little more radically (you have vocals and instruments floating around all of the channels!) to place you with the performers (like you were one of the musicians). The best way to describe them is that they are "FUN." I really enjoyed listening to them. After all isn’t the whole idea of listening to music is to have fun and enjoy it? I played all of them in the "DTS CD" mode. I tried the standard DTS mode, but they all seemed to have super bass that was exaggerated.

When it came to DTS LD’s, the 565 created a very enjoyable sound field. With "Jurassic Park" I was in the jungle, it was that real. With all of the bugs buzzing around, I often felt like reaching for a can of Raid . The bass was AWESOME!! If you do not have a good subwoofer, you had better remedy the situation, because ALL of the DTS LDs have bass that will blow you away. Of course if you have little or no subs, the bass management system in the 565 is very sophisticated and will meet any configuration you have. Speaking of bass, I have always liked the way the 565 convey’s the low frequencies. Some D/A’s sound boomy while others sounds flat. The 565 always sounds natural.

Flanked

The 7.1 channel capability of the Meridian is the way to go, andif you have not experienced side channels, you do not know what you are missing. There is a difference in the way MPEG 7.1 uses 7 channels and the way other systems use them. In a MPEG world, they actually use 5 channels up front and two in the rear. Since I do not have the MPEG update yet or any MPEG software, I cannot report on how 5 channels sound up front. What I can tell you is how the 565 does standard 5.1 info with 7 channels. Meridian and other manufactures have placed the two additional channels on the sides of the listener. What this does is anchor the phantom side wall images. When you have a room that is long from front to back, the sound can often jump from front to back instead of panning smoothly. With side channels, you get that smooth pan. The only downside of using two side channels with the 565 is that you lose two subwoofer outputs, and you are left with one. Of course if you are using full range speakers you will get a better overall experience, and it is much easier to properly integrate the sound than using multiple subwoofers. The 565 also use’s the side channels for the music and matrix film modes very well.

Conclusion

When I first reported on the 565, it was the first DD product I had spent a lot of time with, and I took for granted some of the features in it. I have now listened to several other DD decoders that are newer than the 565, and they still do not have all the features the 565 had a year ago, such as the compression modes. The 565 has basically 5 modes: a standard mode which uses dialog normalization, 3 modes that help with nighttime listening, and 1 more mode that turns off dialog normalization. Some of the other processors I have heard range from no nighttime modes to 1 or 2. Some also have dialog normalization that cannot be defeated!

The 565 is continuing forward and keeping pace with all of the new technology that comes out. Meridian was one of the first companies to release Dolby Digital, and they are also one of the first to do DTS. With a company that is always on the forefront pushing the envelope of technology, you are sure to be along for a first rate trip.

Stacey Spears


Copyright 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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