Ever since its inception back in 1977, Meridian has been a great innovating company. Before its launch, founders Bob Stuart and Allen Boothroyd had already been involved in some of the most interesting hi-fi products to come out of the nineteen seventies – from the Lecson AC1/AP1 to the Orpheus. When they started Meridian, the M1 active loudspeaker was their audacious debut, and not long after the beautiful 100 series electronics followed…
By the early nineteen eighties, Meridian had a preamplifier, several power amplifiers and active loudspeakers to call its own, and was working on a futuristic component amplifier too – which became the MCA. However, what it really needed was an audio source, and the new-fangled Compact Disc fitted the bill perfectly. The technology was launched in Japan in autumn 1982, and reached the UK in spring 1983, and by this time Meridian was actively developing its first CD player. The MCD was the very first British silver disc spinner, and conferred audiophile respectability on a format that most people knew relatively little about at the time. “We thought we better get into this,” remembers Allen Boothroyd, “and we couldn’t afford to make our own laser arrangements so Bob Stuart took a Philips CD100 machine apart and decided which were the good bits and which weren’t.”
“Actually, we worked closely with Philips”, says Bob. “At that time we were lucky they were looking for a company with some credibility to give to CD, because when it first came out, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth, particularly among turntable manufacturers, as you can imagine.” What Bob liked about CD was that it was consistent. “Vinyl was disaster because the needle kept getting broken and the discs were scratchy, it never sounded right, especially when you got to the end of the groove. Vinyl never sounded natural and it was never grounded. When I examined Compact Disc I knew what it was capable of. We’d done quite a lot of work on digital before CD, so we spent a lot time making it sound right, and very quickly got into a zone where okay, there were clear differences between different digital sources.”
The MCD launched in 1984, and didn’t just put Meridian on the global hi-fi map, it put Compact Disc on it too. Philips was delighted with the positive reviews that its format was now getting. “We weren’t doing them any harm, indeed I think we did them quite a lot of good. We got specialist reviews that said CD was better than vinyl, and to them that was important. Later, the fact that we were able to make the MCDP Pro sound so good was incredible for us cause it actually changed the whole perception of the brand.”
The new player was heavily based on Philips’ first generation platform – sharing the same CDM1 Pro laser transport, diecast metal chassis and 14-bit, four times oversampling Philips TDA1540 chipset. However, the Meridian was comprehensively reworked and the result was a fabulous sounding machine, the best digital disc player on sale at that time.
“There were clear and important architectural differences between the different platforms”, says Bob Stuart. “There was a sort of Sony/Japanese way of building a player and there was Philips/European, and the latter had oversampling. We discovered jitter effects and power supple issues, we went into new territories. The Philips platform sounded so radically better than the Sony system, which was was deeply flawed, i mean they sounded like a bag of nails, there was no way you could fixed that, there was an engineering correctness in Philips.”
The MCD Pro followed in 1985, adding a number of features and taking the sound quality to an even higher level. £675 bought you the original MCD with beefier power supply arrangements, a low jitter master clock, absolute phase switching, error indication and a revised disc clamping system damped by a rubber mat. It was the absolute high watermark of the first generation Philips machines, and underlined the inherent rightness of the Philips platform. It would take a very long time for high end Japanese CD players to match in; it wasn’t until the early nineteen nineties that they were doing anything comparable.
Even by today’s standards, the MCD Pro is a feisty performer. It has a wonderfully solid, strong bass – no doubt courtesy of that superb transport – and a warm, fulsome and expansive sound. Music flows well, and has a more natural ebb and flow than many modern machines. Images are confidently located and the player’s soundstaging has real architectural solidity. Low level detail is poor however, as there’s no escaping the fact that the MCD Pro has is a 14-bit machine and that means it sounds opaque compared to a budget modern machine. It’s a little veiled in the final analysis, but that’s not to say it’s boring to listen to. Treble is also rather curtailed – what there is, is silky and sweet but it’s a tad coarse and perfunctory. For example, cymbals sound a little to close to a nineteen eighties drum machine cymbal sound. It’s a flawed gem then, but still very enjoyable all the same.
Sadly, those early CDM1 Pro transports aren’t immortal, and new replacements aren’t available. This means that – unless you’ve got a good stock of spare first generation machines and are willing to cannibalise them – the Meridian MCD Pro won’t last forever. Many are old enough to have already given up the ghost, others have little life left. On today’s used market, they’re worth what people are prepared to pay for them – from £100 to £300 depending on how lucky the prospective purchaser is feeling! Once the best CD player in the world, now it’s a wonderful curio – a reminder of hi-fi’s glorious past.