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January / February 2005
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Meridian G51 Stereo Receiver
Can One Box Do It All?
Review By Phil Gold

 

Meridian G51 Stereo Receiver  It was my pleasure recently to audition the Meridian G08 CD Player, which I reviewed for Superior Audio. I liked it so much, even against SACD and DVD Audio competition, I bought one for myself. This month, I couldn’t resist the chance to see if Meridian could pull another rabbit out of the hat with this slim elegant 100-watt stereo receiver. I was particularly looking forward to testing the two Meridian components together, to see if they would develop an audio synergy to match their visual appeal.

The G51 Receiver shares its dimensions and drop-dead-gorgeous looks with the G08 CD Player. The test unit has a pearly silver finish, but you can also select black if you prefer. The G08 and G51 look so much alike that more than once I found myself trying to load a CD into the G51. The receiver adds a large volume control on the right and drops one button on the left of the front panel, and if you look closely, you may notice some extra ventilation holes on the top panel. The case is made from metal and glass to a very high standard. The two components share the same software defined fluorescent display while an elegant programmable remote control drives the whole system. Mind you, you get one remote with each unit in the extensive G Series, so if you stock up on several such components, you could have a remote for each member of the family. Then you can fight it out between you.

The G Series includes CD players, DVD-Audio/Video players, analogue preamp/controllers, surround controllers, this receiver and a selection of power amps. The G51 Receiver combines a 100 watt per channel integrated amplifier with an AM/FM tuner and an optional phono stage, all in a box just 3.5" tall. I think this sends mixed messages. Is this a range of high quality single purpose components, like the G08 CD player, or is it a lifestyle range of swiss-army-knife multi-purpose units?

Meridian G51 Remote ControlThanks to Meridian’s proprietary Comms system, multiple G Series components can be controlled and linked together with minimum effort. From standby, pressing CD then Play powers up both the amplifier and CD player. The remote control is a work of art, and can be programmed to control many other components, not just Meridian’s own offerings. But ergonomics on the unit itself are not quite to the standard of the G08, since with the same number of buttons there are so many more functions to control. For example the remote allows one button selection of any source, but the front panel offers just a subset and you have to press More to see the remaining options. Tuning the radio also requires you to move between menu levels to switch between station scan and stepped frequency moves. Stick to the remote and it will be easier. It has 52 clearly marked buttons instead of 7 soft keys and a volume control.

A configuration wizard allows you to select which inputs will be active, the label used for each input, trigger output levels, Comms type and address for communicating with other Meridian products, tuner region, IR controller functions, and the sensitivity level for each input. Documentation is exemplary. The G51 comes with no less than three manuals; an installation and setup guide, a user manual and a guide to the system remote control, all beautifully laid out and easy to follow.

If the firmware behind this ambitious product needs updating, you can download the file from the Meridian website and install it yourself, using a Windows PC and an RS232 connection. You can also use the mconfig.exe program to configure the G51 from the comfort of your computer screen and keyboard instead of through the front panel controls.

There is a headphone jack on the G51, but unusually, you’ll find this on the rear panel. Plugging in headphones does not automatically mute the speakers. Instead you need to find the Speakers menu and turn them off from there. I found this surprising and not particularly user friendly, although it does add flexibility.

The FM/AM RDS/RDBS Radio allows you not only to choose your own presets, but to label them, but if you do, the volume indicator that normally graces the display will show that label instead. A pity we can’t see both at once. Once you start adjusting the volume, the numeric volume indicator (0 to 99) immediately returns. You may be wondering what RDS means. RDS stands for Radio Data System, and while prevalent in Europe, it is still in its infancy in America. Broadcasters using RDS can transmit extra information that the tuner can display including station name, an outline of the program currently broadcast and the current time. RDBS, or Radio Data Broadcasting System is a slight enhancement on the RDS standard, developed on this side of the Atlantic. Meridian implements the automatic display of station name on the G51, while the G91 model adds support for the other types of data display.

You can customize the sensitivity of each input, but I would have preferred a either a greater range of adjustments, or a higher sensitivity altogether, since even using the Meridian CD Player and dialing in the maximum gain, my listening range was between 50 and 75 for the Wilson Benesch Act 1 speakers which are fairly efficient (89dB), and higher still for the Sennheiser HD580 headphones. I had similar results with Radio and Phono inputs.

The power amplifier circuits are derived from the DSP8000 Digital Speakers, featuring Active Bias Control throughout, and thermal sensing to monitor and manage temperature and current flow at different volume levels. Fully DC-coupled, the amplifier contains no capacitors in the signal path, while the capacitors in the power supply are of audiophile grade. In standby, the amplifier maintains a standing voltage on the power rails, which means you get optimum performance without delay. Van den Hal silver strand cable is used to connect the power amps to the binding posts.

 

Listening
I gave the G51 a long time to settle in before my listening tests. I’m a great believer in the benefits of break-in, and if I had to judge this receiver by the sounds before break-in, I would not be over enthusiastic. On this occasion, I am sorry to report that even after break-in, the G51 disappoints sonically. Where is the palpable sound I crave, where is the presence, the imaging. At this price, I don’t expect the moon, but I want a lot more than this. On recording after recording, and from every source, the image is flat and uninvolving and lacking in dynamics. On outstanding recordings, such as Mahler’s First Symphony, played by the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein [DG 427 303-2], the perspective is fairly wide but shallow, the instruments clear and the resolution is good. But this CD should thrill and sweep you away with its extraordinary range of color and spacious soundscape. Shelly Manne’s “Poinciana” on the Fi Sampler [Analogue Productions] should bring its own special brand of excitement, but instead sounds well below demonstration class. The detail is there, it is even-handed over a wide frequency range, and there is no discernable distortion. But this unit simply doesn’t image, and it doesn’t have the timing I have come to expect of units both more and less expensive. Switching to more normal recordings, such as Haydn’s String Quartets Opus 54 from the Lindsay String Quartet [ASV CD DCA 582] the soundstage contracts further and the music never comes to life.

I pressed visitors into service to give me a second opinion. Perhaps I was having an off day, maybe my ears were on the fritz. No, it’s not me, it’s the G51. Maybe it doesn’t like my speakers. So I try my AKG K1000’s headphones, wired directly to the speaker binding posts. Results are more or less the same. I also try Sennheiser HD580 headphones using the headphone outlet. Now the sound is improved, but not dramatically.

Switching to phono brings some relief. Both MM and MC phono stages are available, and since I have the high output Dynavector DV20 XH cartridge around, I opted for the MM version. The Dynavector DV 20H introducing some extra life especially in the high frequencies, but the differences are minor and the basic shortcomings remain. Again the spectacular recordings, such as Thelma Houston’s “I’ve Got the Music in Me” sound quite good, with improved dynamics and imaging, but more run-of-the mill recordings like Beethoven’s Third Symphony, played by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Otto Klemperer [Angel AEW 34469] emerge thin and flat and do not inspire extended listening.

The FM tuner sounds about on a par with the CD input. The sensitivity of the tuner is good, and I can pick up over twenty stations with the supplied antenna. The background is quiet but it sounds somehow processed or homogenized. AM radio is simply unlistenable, but who cares.

 

So What’s Going On Here?
Just recently I was raving about the G08 and now I find this G51, its physical twin, a major disappointment. Sometimes a stereo component will sound fine in one system and not in another. Perhaps this is one of those times, but I am more inclined to believe that the G51 simply doesn’t have the magic of some of its stable mate, and that this jack-of-all-trades component is master of none.

To dig a little deeper into this mystery, I tried some experiments. The Meridian uses solid jumpers to connect the preamplifier output to the power amplifier input, so it is easy to isolate the amplification stages. Feeding the preamp signal from the Meridian into the Perreaux R200i, first using the fixed output then the variable output, the vibrancy and imaging of the sound is much improved either way. It doesn’t have quite the definition or image precision of the Perreaux preamp stage, but at this price point it is quite competitive. So my tentative conclusion is that the preamp section must be let down by the power amplification stage. I confirmed this by feeding the preamp output from the Perreaux to the Meridian power amp input and I experienced the same diminution of image size and presence that I experienced before.

Perhaps this receiver will do a better job with loudspeakers that are easier to drive than my Act 1s, but other amplifiers I have used over the years have done considerably better with these loudspeakers. If you are planning to mate the G51 with Meridian’s active speakers, there may not be a problem, but why not look at the G01 Control Unit with Tuner ($2,595) instead. Or you can look elsewhere in the G series line, where you will also find the Balanced Control Unit G02 ($2,995), and two power amplifiers, the 100wpc G56 ($2,695) and the 200wpc G57 ($3,595). You can even buy a rack mounting kit from Meridian for the G series components to build an elegant mini tower.

Life would be so easy if you could put a phono stage, preamp, tuner, headphone amp and power amp into one small box without trade-offs, but it doesn’t work this time. To be fair, Meridian recommends pairing the entry-level G07 CD Player with the G51 and the premium G08 CD Player with the G02 Preamp and G57 Power Amp. That indicates they recognize two different performance levels within the G Series. I urge Meridian to consider breaking the range in two – a lifestyle range and a high performance range. Perhaps one should be the silver finish, the other the black finish – color-coded performance levels. This unit, at its present state of development, belongs squarely in the lifestyle category.

 

Specifications
Type: stereo receiver with 100 watts per channel

Distortion: Less than .01% input to output

Signal to noise: Better than -90dB for high level inputs

MC option: 38 - 210µV rms, load 220O+10nF, S/N < -60dB

MM option: .5 - 3mv rms, 47kO + 100 pF, S/N < -70dB

FM Tuner: 87.5 - 108 MHz Sensitivity 2µV

AM Tuner: 525 -1605 kHz

Pre-out: 2: 0-3V rms maximum, 47 Ohm impedance

Tape out: 2: 1.5V rms, 47 Ohm impedance

Outputs: 2 pairs of binding posts, unswitched

Output Power: 100 watt per channel into 8 Ohm

Headphones: 2V rms maximum output

Inputs: 7 unbalanced (.5 - 2.5V rms), Impedance 20kOhm

Dimensions: 17.3 x 3.5 x 13.8 (WxHxD in inches)

Weight: 29.7 lbs.

Display: Multi character Vacuum Florescent Display
Finishes: User choice of black or silver 

Price: $3,595 without phono stage 

 

 

Company Information
Meridian Audio Ltd,
StoneHill, Stukeley Meadows,
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
PE29 6EX
England

Voice:  +44 1480 445678

 

Meridian America Inc,
8055 Troon Cir, Suite C
Austell, GA 30168

Voice: (404) 344-7111
Fax: (404) 346-7111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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