TAS 194: Meridian Audio DSP7200 Digital Active Loudspeaker

Equipment report
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Meridian Audio DSP7200
TAS 194: Meridian Audio DSP7200 Digital Active Loudspeaker

(Photography: Joel Salcido)

The precision, speed, and balance of Meridian’s DSP7200 active loudspeakers are the most compelling argument I’ve heard to dispel the notion that separates are invariably superior to integrated components. While this prejudice is not unfounded and can, in fact, be true in many cases, when you invest in a “one-box system” from the world leader in digital technology, preconceived notions can easily sprout wings and fly out the window.

Sharing many of the same features as Meridian’s state-of-the-art flagship DSP8000 active loudspeaker, the DSP7200 is more compact in design and intended for real-world living environments where space constraints can interfere with optimum setup and performance. My listening room turned out to be a nice fit for these British beauties, making installation a relatively simple task. At 121 pounds each, they may still require an extra hand or two for the grunt work, but after that, as long as you have a pair of inexpensive digital cables (CAT-5 or phono coaxial) along with a source CD player, you’re good to go.

I was fortunate enough to have the ultimate in source components on hand, the newly updated Meridian 808.2i CD player/preamp. Both the 808.2i and DSP7200 offer a new SpeakerLink interfacing feature, providing balanced digital, Meridian Comms, and power via RJ45 connectors. You may experience a bit of cable withdrawal without the typical snake pit of wires plunked conspicuously in the middle of your listening room, but your significant other, therapist, and wallet will thank you as cable angst becomes a thing of the past—without any sacrifice in sound or performance. Hook-up was painless: Remove a small access panel on the rear of each speaker, run a CAT-5 cable from the output of the 808.2i to the input of the speaker marked “Master” and then a second cable from the output of the master speaker to the input of the speaker marked “Left,” and that’s it. My friend (who had assisted with the unpacking) and I both agreed: We could easily live without the busted nails and scraped knuckles you get trying to alligator-wrestle twenty-pound cables into a two-pound space.

In the event your room is environmentally challenged, Meridian offers boundary adjustments via the included remote control. There are corrections for corners, speaker placement (too close or too far away from the wall), or subwoofers. And for the tweaker in all of us, there are further fine-tuning controls for bass, treble tilt, listening axis, balance, and absolute phase. For first-time users, the instructions are straightforward and easy to follow. Also, the adjustments are more subtle in nature, not the typical “tone controls” of times past. While you might need an afternoon or two of experimentation to dial in the DSP7200 to your personal tastes, I wouldn’t worry. Most of you will be awe-struck by the DSP7200 straight out of the box, and the fine-tuning will simply be icing on the cake. (My biggest problem was just getting used to the feel of the remote. I’m a bit of a klutz when it comes to the two-handed variety.)

Room correction (boundary controls) make for an extremely versatile loudspeaker should you be relegated to a basement or spare bedroom—or forced to relocate. When I was in the market for a new home some years ago, one of my top priorities was to finally have a decent sized listening room to accommodate a larger variety of systems and loudspeakers. Had I the luxury of DSP loudspeakers at the time, my priorities might have been quite different. As it turned out, I found the perfect room complete with fireplace and arched doorways, but now have to squeeze my car into a garage the size of a tool shed. Fellow car enthusiasts know what a difficult trade-off that one can be.

Placing the speakers several feet from the back wall (as recommended) and 7–8' apart yielded a seamless integration seldom (if ever) heard with separate components. While the DSP7200 needed a few days of warm up to fully gel, I was impressed straight away, especially with the extraordinary depth and dimensionality, and the uncanny ability of this speaker to precisely place images in the soundstage. As gorgeous as the DSP7200 may appear on the outside (I’ve not seen better), the elegantly curved cabinets and high-gloss lacquer finish do not begin to tell the story of the technology within.

The only clues (other than listening) are the massive heatsink fins on the back panels of each speaker. Each of the four drivers (two 8" woofers, one 6" mid, and one 1" aluminum dome tweeter) has its own dedicated 100W Class A amplifier without the degradation often associated with long runs of speaker cable. The DSP7200 also houses the latest in digital converters with four 24-bit, 128x-oversampling DACs in addition to a preamplifier. (For the purposes of this review, I used the built-in passive preamp of the 808.2i.) My only real criticism about the DSP7200 is that I couldn’t find a latch to pop open the hood and take a look inside. My eyes and ears have been at odds for months trying to reconcile breathtaking performance with simplicity of operation and design.

I’m still finding it difficult to describe any one aspect of this speaker, as my attention was invariably drawn back to the music. So although my notes are sketchy at best, the experience won’t soon (if ever) be forgotten. (Who doesn’t have a system or two permanently tucked away in her acoustic memory? This would be one of those for me.) The DSP7200 easily redefines the term “boundary-less soundstage.” Most speakers have a soundstage with a definite beginning and end, almost like a box around your system with audible walls. It could be a very large, spacious box, but still a box. The soundstage of the DSP7200 has no walls, similar to what I’ve only experienced with high-resolution formats. The most noticeable missing wall is in the front. The musicians simply appear in the room, as if sculpted out of thin air, with no regard to speaker location. Only at the live event would you hear something similar. If you’re given the opportunity, this one attribute alone would be worth a trip to hear the DSP7200. It is quite spectacular.

The wholeness and precision of images are as good as or better than the best I have heard previously. Unless you are incredibly lucky, it may take years of fine-tuning and component swaps to equal this level of seamless integration. The idea that your dream system could be miles down an ofttimes bumpy road is off-putting to some who might otherwise be interested in high-performance audio. While audiophiles seem to thrive on this rollercoaster ride, there are music lovers who just want to enjoy their favorite artists in the privacy of their own home without all the angst. Not to mention having a conglomeration of mismatched components straight from Lirpa Labs in the middle of their listening/living rooms. (I have been asked several times over the years if I made my own equipment. Though I didn’t reply, I assumed that wasn’t intended as a compliment.)

From the thundering dynamics of the Titanic soundtrack [Sony] to the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Eva Cassidy’s Songbird [Blix Street] to the tonal purity of Keith Jarrett on piano in The Carnegie Hall Concert, the DSP7200 handled every kind of music with expertise. Where I expected a solid-state flavor I heard only neutrality and musicality. The treble was smooth but not smoothed over, and extended as far as I could hear. Every last bit of nuance and whisper-soft detail is extracted, at least all that the recording will now allow us. No doubt within a few years I may be eating my words, as digital has been a work in progress for over 25 years and I wonder sometimes if we’ve even scratched the surface of its potential.

With a separate, ported enclosure for the two bass drivers, the reach into the bottom octaves of the DSP7200 is impressively deep. But more than the depth, it’s the striking quality of the bass that will stay with listeners. The solidity, speed, clarity, and tight control in the bottom end are part and parcel of a near-perfect top-to-bottom seamlessness, which results in accurate and precise images throughout the entire frequency range. It is rare to hear this kind of definition, solidity, and space between images extend so far into the nether regions. You won’t need your imagination to fill in the blanks with the DSP7200. All the musical bits are there, recreated in an absolutely stunning fashion.

SPECS & PRICING

Meridian Audio DSP7200 loudspeaker

Type: Three-and-a-half-way digital active loudspeaker
Driver complement: Two 8" bass, one 6" mid, one 1" aluminum dome tweeter
DACs: Four 24-bit 128x oversampling
Power: Four 100W @ 4 ohms power amplifiers (one per driver)
Frequency response: Within 3dB from 30Hz to over 20 kHz
Inputs: One phono digital (S/PDIF), one balanced digital (AES/EBU) on RJ45 connector
Outputs: One RJ45 with balanced digital and S/PDIF
Dimensions: 42.25" x 13.75" x 16.75"
Weight: 121 lbs. each
Price: $34,995 per pair

Meridian America Inc.
8055 Troon Circle
Suite C
Austell, GA 30168
(404) 344-7111
www.meridian-audio.com

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT

Meridian 808.2i CD player; Chang Lightspeed Encounter & CLS 705 powerline filter; Echo Busters & ACS room treatment 

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