The rarified world of high-end audio is characterised by arcane equipment such as valve amplifiers, turntables and electrostatic speakers. It’s a place were analog rules, but one name to occupy this lofty sphere has taken a totally different approach to creating superlative sound.
Established in 1977, English company Meridian’s design philosophy is strictly digital. “Valve amps and electrostatics have a certain sound which many will like, but it’s not necessarily an accurate, or musically truthful, sound,” says David Small from Audioworks, the local importer of Meridian. To the Meridian mind, keeping all processing in the digital domain is the best way of reproducing sound that is faithful to the original studio recording.
The physical embodiment of this ideal is the DSP8000, a 1.35 metre tall speaker with six drivers and a cabinet full of electronics and technical smarts. Two years in development, it costs a dollar shy of $80,000, and you get two for the price.
Accounting for the cost is a strong, curved cabinet made from a sandwich of materials – compressed fibreboard, timber, plywood, steel and aluminium – that is hand-finished in piano gloss lacquer by a London piano maker. There is a choice of black, red, yellow, and silver, but it’s what’s on the inside that really counts.
Five amplifiers power the eight drivers. Each of the three pairs of woofers is driven by a 100 watt amp, the midrange gets a 100 watts all to itself and a 75 watter drives the tweeter. That’s a total output of 475 watts for each speaker but, says Small, “the 100 watt amp in the DSP8000 would actually be the equivalent of a normal 300 watt amplifier”. This is because, unlike conventional outboard amplifiers whose power output is reduced by having to travel down a cable and then power all the drivers in a given speaker, the DSP8000’s amplifiers deliver power directly to the individual drivers.
“They go plenty loud,” he says. “What’s more, they can do it for long periods of time and without any strain. A lot of protection is built-in, so if you want to run them at high volume for many hours, they won’t cook. And with the inbuilt intelligent DSP (Digital Signal Processing) circuitry we can also manipulate the sound to suit the placement of the speakers, so that you can actually make the speakers sound better in a wide range of rooms.”
The speaker of choice for many of Australia?s rich (well-known musicians, filmmakers, media and shopping centre owners) Meridian’s DSP8000 can also be found in the homes of Rick McCallam, the producer of Star Wars, and Arnon Milchan, the producer of LA Confidential and Mr and Mrs Smith. Indeed, the DSP8000 sells very well in the US, and is popular among the wealthier parts of Russia, certain parts of South America and the Middle East, Japan and Korea.
In the three years they have been available in Australia 22 pairs have been sold, with a trio of DSP8000s taking on front stage duties in two dedicated cinema rooms, one in Sydney and the other in Adelaide. While these systems used smaller models in the DSP series for surround duties, Small is ever hopeful of installing a 5.1 or 7.1 system of 8000s.