Hands On Review: Meridian 258 Eight-Channel Amplifier and 218 Zone Controller
Meridian establishes a leadership position in the whole-house, multiroom audio market with its new 258 Eight-Channel Amplifier and 218 Zone Controller. CE Pro gets a hands-on look at both.
Robert Archer · October 9, 2017
There may be no category within consumer electronics with more self-promotion than audio. Companies constantly boast about their “unuptanium” drivers, pixie-dust cables and snake-oil power conditioning products. Then there are those companies that spend decades humbly developing products that go on to excel in both consumer and professional audio circles, like Meridian Audio.
In lieu of announcing its next wooden cable risers or air “ionizers,” Meridian has entered the whole-house AV market with a line of products that balance the performance and cost considerations modern homeowners seek.
The 258 Eight-Channel Amplifier carries an MSRP of $2,000. The 218 Zone Controller carries an MSRP of $1,000.
Features & Setup
The U.K.-based manufacturer says the rack-mountable 258 Eight-Channel Amplifier utilizes a Class D architecture to produce 100 watts into 4 ohms. The amp incorporates eight RCA inputs, eight Phoenix connector outputs for speaker connections, an IEC power cable connector and an on/off switch. Meridian backs the competitively priced 1U-high amp with a five-year warranty.
- Meridian 258 is eight-channel amp that uses Class D technologies
- The 258 amplifier is rated to produce 100 watts into 4 ohms
- The 1U-high amp is backed by a five-year warranty
- Meridian 218 Zone Controller works with company’s DSP loudspeakers and traditional audio components
- The 218’s inputs include digital coax, optical and an analog set of RCAs
- The 218 accepts digital signals up to 192kHz; it converts analog signals to 96kHz, it processes with Meridian apodising filter, and it is MQA compatible
The 218 Zone Controller is a single-zone product that combines analog and digital inputs and outputs. The Sooloos and MQA compatible 218 can also be utilized in multiroom audio systems where 218s are added as needed to build high-resolution audio friendly zones of audio to form a complete whole-house audio system.
The 1U-high 218 can be rack, shelf, VESA or wall mounted and it provides control support for IR and IP.
Even though Meridian brings state-of-the-art technologies to market, its whole-house products provide a no-nonsense approach to the installation process. After unboxing the 218 and 258, I placed the amp in a cabinet above my refrigerator and, using the supplied Phoenix connectors, I connected my four zones of audio to the amp. From there I pulled out the 218 Zone Controller and connected it to the amp.
Adding sources to the system, I fulfilled my technophobe wife’s request to install a CD player into the system so I connected an Integra Blu-ray disc player via the 218’s coax digital input. I ran an analog 3.5mm-to-RCA cable from an Amazon Echo Dot to the analog input of the 218 to stream Pandora, Amazon Music and TuneIn.
Starting the software side of the install, I scanned my network via the network scanning tools in Araknis’ OvrC remote management software to discover the 218. Once I had the unit’s IP address I was able to type that address into my Chrome browser and configure the 218. Configuration included naming my zone, setting some basic EQ (bass and treble) adjustments, setting the volume level, and I was done.
Setup for my single zone kitchen, including interface configurations, took a surprisingly short amount of time.
The only other thing to do was to download the 218 Music Controller’s companion app from the iOS App Store. (Keep reading below.)
Performance & Conclusions
Starting my listening to get an initial opinion, I asked my Amazon Echo to play some Guns n' Roses. I opened my companion Meridian app and found the 218 was upsampling the streaming Amazon Prime music to 96kHz, which added a bit more weight to Slash, Duff, Axl and company singing about Mr. Brownstone, etc.
After a few GnR songs, I wanted to hear the CD player and I popped in Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell."
I was amazed at how good the Meat Loaf CD sounded through the Meridian system, which also includes a pair of Boston Acoustics on-wall speakers. I found the CD to sound full and detailed, with a nice level of smoothness. The app indicated the CD content was playing at a standard 44kHz sampling rate, but it sounded much better than I remember that CD sounding via the Meridian gear.
Throughout my listening session, I was consistently impressed with the Meridian components. Through the upsampling and apodising technologies, as well as the sheer quality of the amplifier’s design, the 218 and 258 delivered a smooth, dynamic experience that really exposed the overall quality of my listening environment. That includes the placement of my speakers (in the corners of my kitchen) and the room environment which is filled with appliances, granite countertops and tile flooring.
Note: my kitchen, like most kitchens, is the antithesis of a well-designed audio room, and yet I was still happy with the system’s sound.
I also thought the Meridian components played loudly enough for any music listening application, like breakfast and dinnertime family craziness. I found navigating the app easy enough, with the only hint of annoyance at the fact that the app requires users to choose the 218 upon opening the software.
It should be pointed out that I view the companion app as a "placeholder" and that it certainly can be used for control, but realistically dealers will integrate the components into their preferred third-party control systems so the little annoyance with the app shouldn't be an issue.
From a dealer perspective, what I really like about the Meridian products is that they provide additional revenue opportunities that won’t sacrifice performance.
By combining the 218 Zone Controller and 258 Eight-Channel Amplifier with products from Sonos, Autonomic, Apple, Roku, Amazon, HEOS and others, dealers can assemble high-performance whole-house audio systems that incorporate the familiarity of those more famous mass-market brands with Meridian’s state-of-the-art audio technologies.
I’ll also add that the build quality of the Meridian products is top-notch. The feel and the construction live up to the Meridian name, and the build quality aligns with the step-up proposition that Meridian offers when compared to mass-market products.
Realistically the Meridian components may not be for every consumer, especially ardent mass-market users that make buying decisions purely on price points. However, consumers who want a competitively priced whole-house audio system that delivers true high performance, Meridian’s latest products are a great place to start.
CE Pro Verdict
- High levels of audio fidelity.
- State-of-the-art technologies that include compatibility with MQA high-resolution audio.
- The 258 and 218 complement streaming and other mass-market products nicely to offer dealers enhanced revenue opportunities, while enabling dealers to simultaneously provide improved audio performance.
- Unlike mass-market technologies it’s important for dealers to familiarize themselves with the products’ technologies and Meridian’s position as a leader in digital audio otherwise these products may be difficult to communicate to customers.
- The companion app is easy to use, but a bit on the crude side in terms of looks. App requires users to choose 218 when opening the app.
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Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org
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