22 Meridian DSP5200SE cIt’s surprising that Meridian still exists. I guess it proves that there are tiny corners of the world in which accountants can yield to engineers and still manage a black bottom line. In a good year Meridian sells just 2500 speakers, and yet it has its own factory, does its own R&D and 26 of the full staff complement of 87 people are in engineering. Just 20 work in the factory. According to CEO John Buchanan the folk at Meridian are multiskilled.

In every respect this is a highly unlikely operation, and yet it’s been going for more than 40 years and keeps coming up with electronics that far bigger companies (Dolby, for example) want to buy. But home audio remains its biggest earner and that’s all about speakers.

Obviously then, the prices of Meridian speakers take your breath away. But then the way they reproduce music is similarly breathtaking.

I’m sitting in a sound lounge that’s not right for them. It’s been set up for home theatre and the acoustic damping in here is extreme. And yet the $25,000-a-pair DSP5200SEs sound, well, awesome, in the true sense of that sadly overworked word. Like all Meridians they’re active, having amplification and active crossovers built in, so all that’s needed is a source unit. DSP stands for digital signal processing and this once capricious technology does some powerful good here.

For example: It takes a woofer slightly longer to deliver a big bass note than for a tweeter to deliver the corresponding high; the gap can be up to 28 milliseconds. Okay, that’s not very long but the DSP corrects for it so the low and high ends each reach your ears at exactly the same moment. I listen to a track by London Grammar called Hey You that’s underlined with a hugely powerful bassline. I’d normally expect this to muddy, if only slightly, the strident vocals of Hannah Reid, who’s soaring through the upper mids. But both are reproduced with perfect equality. It’s flawless, even turned up so loud I can barely hear the salesperson beside me.

22 Meridian DSP5200SE dOkay, something more serious; the final movement of the Shostakovich fifth. From commanding bass it goes to extreme delicacy with a lone violin supported by solos from various other instruments around the room, mostly cellos and basses. It gets so soft, so delicate that a lightly struck triangle is easily discernible. Then suddenly the bass, there’s no other word for it, explodes. But the top end is just as aggressive. There are room-shaking lows while the highs remain clear and pristine. The Meridians reproduce all this with an ease that borders on nonchalance.

I finish with the Benedictus from The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins, seven and a half minutes of pure bliss. A deeply emotional violin solo at the start, then the choir comes in, female and male in turn and then together, delicate and fragile. Maybe two thirds through comes what I’m waiting for, eyes tightly shut. There’s a blast of energy that in a single moment sends everything and everyone to full stretch.

22 Meridian DSP5200SE bThis is my wow moment. It blows me away because the soundstage in this highly damped room rips right through the walls and flings itself out into surrounding postcodes. I’m astounded, it’s beyond anything I’ve heard from this track before. The woman sitting beside has been demonstrating hi fi for years and she’s shaking her head in disbelief. “The airiness of these speakers in this room… remarkable,” she says.

Let me rewrite that first sentence: It’s wonderful that Meridian still exists.

First published by smh.com.au June 2019.


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