Sound+Image

Meridian 210

Meridian’s 210 Streamer is something rather different, yet proves able to deliver impressive­ly high quality output from a neat and potentiall­y hideaway solution.

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Meridian’s 200 Series is something different in the world of wireless multiroom audio. Many companies have had a go at the market defined first by Sonos, delivering their own ecosystems of wireless speakers, soundbars and streaming electronic­s, and most follow a similar formula. Meridian, a company which operates at the highest levels of hi-fi, has done things rather differentl­y. For starters it has gone small. While high-end Meridian components routinely tip the scales over 20kg, the 210 Streamer reviewed here weighs just 660 grams, a ‘half-width’ component which is only 4.2cm high. It joins the rest of Meridian’s 200 Series, a set of compact yet capable multiroom-equipped units that can deliver a whole house of audio, designed to do so while being hidden away, controlled via an app on your smart device so you don’t need them on show.

So while an initial comparison with Sonos helps explain what the 200 Series is aiming to achieve, that comparison only goes so far. Meridian has long been a pioneer in highresolu­tion audio, originatin­g codecs and the curious wonders of MQA. Just because it has gone small with the 200 Series, it hasn’t left the emphasis on quality behind. This is real hi-fi, made smart, made small. The Meridian 200 Series has shrunk your hi-fi.

We might have included the Meridian 218 Zone Controller here as a more direct equivalent to the Sonos Port and the other little squirter units that headed up this group of streamers. The 210 is different in delivering only a digital output — either from its coaxial outputs or using the Meridian SpeakerLin­k standard which employs RJ45 Ethernet-like sockets (and cables, making cables nice and affordable), and which can directly drive a pair of Meridian active speakers.

But the 210 also brings advantages over the 218 model. There’s direct streaming via Bluetooth, something notably absent from those Zone Controller­s, perhaps because of Bluetooth’s reputation for convenienc­e over quality. But the 210 supports the aptX HD codec, which is capable of up to 24-bit/48kHz delivered with mildly lossy compressio­n, so that Android smart devices which support that codec will be able to achieve that higher quality. There’s also the AAC Bluetooth codec to which Apple devices will default, in addition to SBC and MP3 codecs.

The 210 Streamer is also a Roon device, so that if you have a paid Roon software subscripti­on (see News p14) and have a Roon core on your system, you can enjoy using this excellent software music interface to play both your own music collection and, with an additional subscripti­on, music from Tidal or Qobuz internet music services. If using the Tidal HIFI subscripti­on you can make use of the 210’s ability to play MQA files which Tidal calls ‘Masters’. The 210 includes the MQA core technology which unfolds an MQA file once, up to 24-bit/96kHz high resolution.

The 210 connects to your network via dual-band Wi-Fi or 10/100 Ethernet, thereby supporting internet streaming services such as Spotify Connect, controlled from your smart device but streaming from the internet direct to the 210.

It can stream files across your home network via DLNA/ UPnP, acting as a Digital Media Renderer (DMR) playing content from a Digital Media Server (DMS) from a computer share or a NAS drive.

It has a USB slot into which you can directly plug a USB stick or drive to play music, in which mode the 210 Streamer also becomes a Digital Media Server (DMS), making the contents of the USB available to other networked DMRs.

In providing these streaming and networking solutions, the 210 Streamer could be used to complement the physical inputs on either of the two Zone Controller­s, and during our review we did just that, plugging the 210 into the 251 Powered Zone Controller via SpeakerLin­k, creating a neat and yet powerful complete zone of music. The 210 itself has no convention­al analogue or digital inputs other than that USB slot. Either Zone Controller adds one each of analogue, optical and coaxial digital inputs, while the 251 adds speaker outputs and internal amplifiers to drive them.

Perhaps surprising­ly from a company that pioneered high-resolution audio (and from which the MQA format originally sprang), SpeakerLin­k supports a maximum of 24-bit 96kHz. Files of higher resolution played via DLNA or USB will be downsample­d by the 210 to this level (or the appropriat­e multiple, e.g. 88.2kHz for 176.4kHz files). Meridian’s Matt Holland has previously explained this choice to us, noting there is more to digital quality than bits and sampling frequency.

“We measure resolution in terms of noise, jitter, time smear, not just bit-depth and high frequency extension,” he explained to us. “We also do not believe there is any technical argument to support operating at bit depths higher than 24-bit, as a correctly dithered 24-bit signal, when correctly converted to analogue, has no quantisati­on noise and more dynamic range than any recording microphone or studio preamp can capture.”

Having said that, he notes that their ambition in the future is to increase the maximum sampling rate of SpeakerLin­k.

You might think this would make the 210’s coaxial digital output a higher resolution and so preferred link to either the 218 or 251 Zone Controller, but this is also limited to 96kHz, which puts an effective cap on all your high-res playback. But it’s true that there’s more to high-res and high quality music than resolution — low noise, jitter and time smear, as noted above, may well deliver better music than rows of redundant bits and samples which represent a whole lotta nothing.

It certainly doesn’t sound as if the 210’s output was missing anything. Indeed we began with some Tidal’s Masters MQA files, the MQA format having been originally developed by Meridian. The 210 streamer unfolds MQA tracks to 24/96kHz, but Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing, was shown by Roon to be unfolded to 192kHz. Bonus! It emerged

that the second unfold had been performed by the 251 (make sure you use the MHR option on the 210 to achieve this). All sounded cleanly etched against a dark background by the combinatio­n of 210 and 251.

Spotify was, in a way, even more astounding. From these lower-resolution streams the 210 conjured crisp and hi-fi-like performanc­e through our reference system. The usual slightly sluggish Spotify softness, often exaggerate­d by a Bluetooth connection, was entirely absent here, and classic tracks like Paul Simon’s Me & Julio or Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle were jangly and clean in their upper frequencie­s, tight and taut in bass. We could discern just a slightly leaner bass delivery when the same tracks played at full-res from our own files, yet we had trouble picking between the two presentati­ons of Diana Krall’s breathy vocal on the first verse of Alone Again (Naturally), and this comparing a high-res file against Spotify! We’ve never heard Spotify sound so good.

The system set-up here is so different that we reckon most buyers will be working with a dealer’s custom install team, which will overcome issues such as USB playback and DLNA requiring a third-party app.

Its highlights are music quality, especially from sometimes lesser-regarded sources Spotify and Bluetooth, and in signal terms it delivers a superbly curated digital output for downstream equipment — good enough, we reckon, to feed a system of the highest level.

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 ??  ?? ◀ The 210 Streamer and 251 Powered Zone Controller make a good pair, and can be as effective hidden away out of sight under app control as they are out on display. The 251 won a 2019 Sound+Image Award, while the 210 Streamer won our 2020 Network Music Player of the Year under $5000.
◀ The 210 Streamer and 251 Powered Zone Controller make a good pair, and can be as effective hidden away out of sight under app control as they are out on display. The 251 won a 2019 Sound+Image Award, while the 210 Streamer won our 2020 Network Music Player of the Year under $5000.
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