Kevin Hunt: Review: A $7,000 Meridian Sound System In $147,000 Range Rover


The Meridian sound system in the Range Rover

The Meridian sound system in the Range Rover (July 11, 2014)

Of course this is a crazy daydream. I cannot possibly be romping through the Rubicon Trail in the world's most luxurious SUV while listening to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 through the world's most exotic, standard-equipment car-audio system.

Of course it is. I am actually sitting in a flat-top East Coast parking lot under graying skies, mildly awe-struck, in the front passenger seat of a $146,895 Range Rover Autobiography LWB listening to Meridian Audio's 29-speaker, 24-channel, 1,700-watt Signature Reference 3D sound system.

And the reality I hear is Joni Mitchell, not Rachmaninoff, though the music still puts me, dreamily, front-row center in this roving digital concert hall.

The bass, in park, already rumbles loud enough for the highway. So let's get started with a burst to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds behind the 510-horsepower, supercharged V-8 engine. With a refrigerator compartment in the center console, back-seat entertainment with individual screens (headphones for private listening) and hand-held remote controls, this could be a long haul.

The Signature Reference is available in the United States only in this top-of-the-line Range Rover. Land Rover, the British car-maker, also stocks its lesser models with scaled-down Meridian audio systems. The Reference, though, is pure muscle-flex from this maker, also British, of high-end audio products like the hulking $80,000 DSP800 loudspeaker and the jump-drive-look-alike Explorer, a $299 digital-to-analog converter.

Meridian calls the Signature Reference the first 3D in-car audio system. The 29 speakers certainly add dimensionality, but it's the in-ceiling "height" speakers and digital-signal-processing trickery that turn a two-channel CD, or music file, into something grander.

The effect, no matter where you sit in the vehicle, is wraparound sound.

The Meridian system, if available unbundled, would cost about $7,000. Don't even think about buying it, though, because it comes with a mandatory accessory — the top-of-the-line Range Rover.

So what was Meridian thinking when it designed this system? An edited transcripts of an exchange with Richard Hollinshead, Meridian's director of engineering, follows.

Q: What about budget restrictions?

A: The way Land Rover and Meridian look at in-car audio never starts with budget in mind. Once the desired outcome is set, we then look at how to make it economically viable.

Q: Let's say DSP (Digital Signal Processing) did not exist. How would that change how you designed this system?

Q: What does it take to get optimum bass in a vehicle?

A: Superb bass in a car is a matter of having excellent components — speakers and amplifier — and also mounting them well to avoid resonances and coloration.

Q: You have a captive audience sitting in specific spots. To what extend does that make designing car audio easier?

A: Cars do provide critical advantages. We know where people sit, what materials are used in the car, the exact placement of the speakers and, most important, we know that all these factors are fixed so we can use our DSP technologies — taking into account all these components — when building the audio system.

Q: What does Trifield do that Dolby or DTS can't?

Q: What about the height channels?

Q: How can people who can't afford either a Range Rover or a Meridian system get great sound in their car?

A: My best advice is to always listen before you buy. Additionally, with aftermarket systems you are dependent on the skill of your installer.

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