Inside Meridian Audio’s Home Theatre

This week saw CE Pro Europe take a trip up to Huntingdon in the UK to check out Meridian Audio’s revamped home cinema room, which has benefitted from a recent upgrade, most of which was due to the manufacturer’s Design Specification Service.

New to the theatre is the large screen screen, projector, the soundproofing and the seats, which share a unique connection with Meridian, being the sole audio brand partner to Jaguar Land Rover (all the audio systems for the cars are submitted to EQ testing within the building, while some are even colour-matched to the car upon request). Upon closer inspection, the 12 seats within the theatre are unmistakably those that one would find in a Land Rover.

“Because of our relationship, these seats are actually from Jaguar Land Rover,” says Rayner Sheridan, director of marketing at Meridian Audio as he welcomes CE Pro inside the theatre. “Which is pretty cool. We wanted to create something that was slightly different and thought that this was quite a cool opportunity to do something like that. Plus, they work really well as cinema seats!”

Acoustics

One of the issues Meridian was keen to iron out in the room was the sound. “It wasn’t ‘dead’ enough,” Rayner stresses. “We still suffered from reverberation from the speakers within the theatre, but also environmental noise from other parts of the building. So we spent a long time initially planning and then moved on to soundproofing the walls and the platform that the seats are on.”

The walls have been given the full Cinema-ATS acoustic treatment (the most recent addition to Meridian’s ultimate home cinema experience offering), while a huge amount of Rockwool Sound Insulation can be found in the cavities on the seating platform. ‘We just had solid breezeblock wall here before – it didn’t really work for us,” he admits. “Then we had a bit of a game with the air con – we had to move that around slightly.”

Audio

Naturally, the theatre is packed full of Meridian speakers, with three DSP8000 digital active loudspeakers (two orange, one black) installed behind the screen serving as left, centre and right channels, with further soundproofing behind them within the wall. Designed as a complete system, the DSP8000’s five independent amplifiers are tuned precisely for the bandwidth and drive units they are attached to, allowing the impressive-looking speakers to play at concert levels without stress.

To demonstrate this, Rayner produces £2 coin and balances it on top of one of them, then cranks up the volume – high. The coin didn’t budge, remaining as steadfast as if it had been super-glued to the speaker, which retail at £43,000 each, by the way. However Rayner insists that they are in the mid-market range. “We do get asked if we make more expensive ones,” he grins.

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Two shiny, black MQA-ready DSP5200 Special Edition digital active loudspeakers serve as side-fills. The smallest of Meridian’s Special Edition range of enhanced DSP Loudspeakers, the DSP5200SEs sit at under a metre high.

“These continue to be our most popular product. We now have a matt finish for these speakers,” Rayner points out. “In a true theatre set up we wouldn’t necessarily have a shiny lacquer due to its reflective quality, but obviously these are our speakers and we want to show them off!”

Bringing up the rear are two DSP640 in-wall speakers, which take on the same visual width and sonic character of the DSP520, featuring dual-long throw woofers for extended bass and dynamic range. These have deliberately been installed into the theatre with the grilles off to enable perspective customers to see what they look like.

Four DSW subs take care of the low-end; featuring a downward firing woofer with the design tapers at the top, therefore reducing the visual impact on its surroundings. All of the connecting cables, SpeakerLink and Power, attach discretely at the bottom of the cabinet, allowing for discrete installations.

“Again, in a proper theatre application, these wouldn’t necessarily be on show, they would be hidden,” says Rayner.

Although not a Dolby Atmos system, the theatre – which Meridian calls a 7.4 cinema system with additional in-ceiling speakers – uses four DSP320 in-ceiling loudspeakers to handle immersive audio.

Using the same DSP Digital Active technology found in the manufacturer’s free-standing models, these speakers are compact, measuring just 300mm square and only 100mm deep, with an 85mm wide-range driver and an oval bass driver. The drivers are mounted into the front of the enclosure itself, while a separate upper case holds the electronics, consisting of DSP, digital audio converters and an individual 80W Class D amplifier per driver.

The brain of the system is the 861v8 reference digital surround sound controller – Meridian’s most advanced DSP control and processing system for the very highest-quality audio and video performance.

“With our processor, we are able to give the sensation of overhead channels with the DSP320s; although it’s not Atmos it does provide an immersive experience on any content,” Rayner clarifies, although he later teases that the manufacturer has some exciting news up its sleeve for ISE 2017…

The Screen

Another result of Meridian’s recent distributor status is its brand new 4.4m Display Technology Screens screen.

“I’ll tell you what, the DT Screens guys put this up in about two and a half hours,” Rayner enthuses. “We gathered round to watch them do it. Some people might think, ‘yeah right; like you can get a screen up that quickly,’ but it was so easy to do.

“Basically it’s made up of two parts: the white material on the front and the black backing. It’s got an aluminium frame and a mask and they just slot it in. It took less time to put this screen up than it did to take the old screen down and out. Plus it’s great to have it here as we can show dealers the technology and let them get a feeling in terms of what they are able to specify within our design and spec service.

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The Projector

Now that Meridian is specifying Barco Residential’s projectors within its Design and Specification Service, it made sense for the team to install one of the brand’s projectors within its home cinema room.

Neil Davidson from Barco Residential distributor, Genesis installed a Barco Apollo 20 projector into the room. The Apollo is designed for those that seek the authentic big screen experience at home, offering 12,000 lumens, 3-chip DLP image quality and a 1920 x 1200 resolution.

It turns out that replacing the projector was a bittersweet moment for Meridian. “That was a bit of an emotional wrench,” Rayner nods. “It actually used to be a Meridian 810 projector, which was sort of our Concorde really. We’d had a number of projection systems out in the marketplace and that was the highest spec. It’s still a great product, but we’re not going to make any more projectors. That’s why Barco wanted to speak to us; we obviously have the audio solution, but there is a lot of knowledge here about projectors too.”

How Does It Sound?

Selecting Adele Live at the Royal Albert Hall from the Kaleidescape interface, Rayner puts the upgraded cinema through its paces; the three speakers behind the screen effectively reproducing the singer’s powerhouse vocals with precision and clarity as she blasts out Turning Tables. Next was Rayner’s choice – a live Muse track, Madness – the perfect bass-heavy track to showcase the system’s low-end, without a hint of distortion.

But what about movies? An action-packed shootout scene from 2016 film Deadpool showed that the room was more than capable of handling all of the complex elements that make up the soundtrack, while 2011 snowboarding epic, The Art Of Flight was a fitting showcase for the cinema’s ability to handle audio that jumps from everything between voice over, an orchestral score and Dubstep.

Last was the opening sequence from 2015’s Spectre, where the overhead speakers were given a chance to flex their muscles – impressively replicating the sounds of an out of control helicopter whirring overhead; the punchy speakers behind the screen throwing the film score and diegetic crowd sounds into the mix with ease.

“We use the building for dealers events a lot more now,” says Rayner after the demo. “With this theatre, we want to give our dealers that sense of what is achievable. We used to be more of a closed company; now we are far more accessible and are very happy for our dealers to use this facility. Working with our dealers we can also now visit clients and take our products to them, so inviting dealers to see our new cinema is all part of that approach.”

So what does the future hold for the Design and Specification Service? As it happens, Meridian is looking to incorporate other brands.

“From a performance and an application point of view we are confident in our offering and if we can find and identify a product that complements our existing range and our philosophy behind it, then we don’t see that as being an issue,” he explains.

“There may be an application that our dealers want a solution to – it might be something that doesn’t necessarily meet our criteria for us to dedicate manufacturing time and development costs, but it’s something that we might support.

“What we may do in the near future is look at the lighting in here as well. But saying that, we’ve been talking about lighting, so maybe there is an opportunity to do something with that too with our Design and Specification Service,” he muses.

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