By ROBERT HARLEY,
THE ABSOLUTE SOUND
Meridian Audio has leveraged its 23-year history of developing active DSP loudspeakers to create state-of-the-art car audio for Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles. I recently listened to the Meridian system in Jaguar’s XJ luxury sedan and can report that it’s by far the best-sounding I’ve heard. I spent a few hours in an XJ with my collection of reference CDs, auditioning the system when driving under normal conditions, as well as when stopped with the windows rolled up for careful critical listening.
The XJ’s system had the resolution and transparency that many high-end home system aspire to. The tonal balance was spot-on (after I adjusted the demo car’s bass and treble controls back to flat), the midrange was clear and open, and the treble smooth and clean. But what really surprised me was the bottom-end performance. The bass was extremely deep and extended but, more importantly, exceptionally free from thickness, bloat, and that midbass tubbiness you often hear in car stereos. Instead, I heard a taut and highly defined bottom end with precise pitch definition and superb rendering of textural detail such as bows across strings of doublebasses. The Meridian system’s stunning dynamic impact and transient fidelity are rarely heard even in high-end home systems. Low-frequency transients were sudden in their attacks, and just as sudden in their decays.
Kickdrum in rock and blues was tight and solid, giving the music powerful rhythmic drive. Orchestral tuttis were simply sensational in their authority. The system even resolved micro-dynamic information in the bass to a fine degree. The lack of smearing greatly contributed to overall transparency—the reduction in midbass coloration allowed the lower midrange and midrange to have greater clarity.
This midrange clarity paid dividends on human voice, which seemed to exist in space unencumbered by the vehicle cabin. I had no sense of being able to localize the loudspeakers; just as in a good home system, they disappeared, replaced by a spacious soundstage. The midrange was notable for its lack of coloration as well as for the smooth integration of the treble. So often in car audio the treble stands out as a separate component riding “on top” of the music rather than being an integral part of the musical fabric. 6 The Meridian’s treble was smooth and unfatiguing, with just the right balance between resolution on the one hand and lack of aggression on the other. The XJ’s audio system can be thought of as a Meridian active DSP loudspeaker adapted for a vehicle cabin. The engineers know the precise placement of each of the drivers as well as that of the listener; consequently, they can pro- gram the DSP to correct for frequency- response aberrations at the listening position, as well as phase response. Meridian calls this technology “Meridian Cabin Correction.” Extremely steep crossover slopes, unimaginable in the analog domain, can be realized in DSP.
The system’s remarkable bottom-end textural clarity and dynamic fidelity couldn’t be achieved without DSP. Keep in mind that Meridian was the first to develop and market an active DSP loudspeaker (the D6000 in 1991, which I reviewed that year) and has been working with the technology in the 23 years since.
The XJ’s system features other proprietary Meridian technologies, including “Digital Dither Shaping” and Trifield processing. The latter extracts a center-channel signal from a stereo source and presents it to the centrally located loudspeaker, stabilizing the soundstage and making central images more tangible.
As I stated earlier, the system in the XJ was the best car-audio system I’ve heard. But here’s the kicker; I was listening to the mid-level Meridian Surround System, not to the top-of-the-line Meridian Reference System.
The Meridian Surround System is based on 20 loudspeakers and 825W of amplifier power. The Reference features 26 loud- speakers and 1300W of amplifier power, along with upgraded drivers. The woofers and midrange drivers in the Reference sys- tem feature woven glass-fiber cones and upgraded voice coils and magnets which reportedly reduce thermal compression. In addition, the aluminum tweeter in the Surround is replaced by a titanium dome in the Reference. The Reference’s subwoofer is made from a laminate of paper pulp and aluminum in a mix that provides optimum stiffness and damping. The Reference System’s six additional speakers are located in the rear seat-backs, grouped in modules that combine two 80mm midrange units and a tweeter (one module directly in front of each passenger). These seat-back speakers are driven by a center-channel signal derived via Trifield processing. (The Reference system is avail- able only in the Long Wheel Base version of the XJ.)
Finally, I should mention that the Jaguar XJ is a spectacular vehicle, particularly in the high-performance “R” version that I drove. This epitome of luxury and refinement sports a five-liter, supercharged V8 engine with 550 horsepower that can rocket the car to 60mph in 4.4 seconds. The XJR merges magnificent opulence with the thrill of a high-performance automobile— and offers what is in my experience the state of the art in car audio.