How To
The Process of Choosing an A/V System
See how one homeowner found the perfect A/V system.
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Talk about custom-fit sound: Meridian even matched the finishes on its DSP5000 cabinet speakers (on floor) to the woodwork in the Coles’ family room. The sound system can also be tuned to the room’s acoustics. Photo by Tony Scarpetta.
September 01, 2005 by Steven Castle

For Tony Coles, upgrading his home’s audio and video system was overdue. Five years and three children after he and his wife Blakney moved into their suburban Boston home, they were still using the same stereo system they had in their previous apartment. It was time for an audio/video revival. Only Tony wasn’t sure what that entertainment renaissance would entail.

He did know an audio/video professional. Dave Shore of Natural Sound in Framingham, MA., had sold him his previous system and had become a friend. But Tony’s not the type to just walk into an electronics showroom and start picking out new stuff. “I like to be a fairly-educated consumer,” Tony says. “So once I made the decision to change everything, I went online and looked at some forums and other sites to educate myself, and Dave has always told me about new things.”

The Sale
By the time Tony entered Natural Sound’s showroom, he still didn’t have an exact idea of what he wanted. Shore showed him a Meridian system, a line of higher-end surround-sound gear that keeps the audio signals in a clean digital form all the way to the speakers. Some Meridian systems also include digital signal processing (DSP) technology that tailors the sound to the acoustic properties of the room. “Meridian is the first thing I show a customer, whether they can afford it or not,” Shore says. “It’s important for people to understand that if everything is going digital, then why have any analog in your system? Yeah, you’re going to have some more expensive stuff [with Meridian’s system], but you’re going to have it for 10 years or more.” Meridian’s audio/video processor can also be upgraded via software downloads.

Shore showed off Meridian’s newer G Series, which he loves. “It’s pretty cool looking. It’s got video switching and more input and output capabilities. It has a tuner built into it, or you can get it without. You can customize it,” he says. “The G98 DVD player has a Faroudja circuit for video processing. And sound-wise it has more detail for CD listening. Meridian brought a lot of the features from [its signature] 800 Series line into the G Series.”

Then he played it for Tony. “The sound room probably wasn’t ideal, but it sounded phenomenal,” Tony says. “And the [Meridian] speakers he had it hooked up to it were great.” Still, Tony wasn’t completely sold, so he came back with his family. “I wouldn’t make a decision to buy something like this without my wife being involved,” he says. With Master and Commander playing in the background, Tony and Blakney made the decision. They ordered Meridian’s G68 surround controller with room processing, a G98 DVD player, a Rotel amp and Meridian DSP loudspeakers, along with other components for their new and improved A/V.

“I thought Meridian’s software update was a neat feature, so the system wouldn’t become obsolete,” Tony says. “Dave’s a good salesman, but I go with what I want.” For example, to accompany the Meridian system, Tony chose a less-expensive 50-inch Panasonic plasma-based TV over a more expensive one from Pioneer simply because he liked the picture on the Panasonic set better. He couldn’t see spending the extra money.

Tony and Blakney also bought an Optoma DLP (digital light processing) rear-projection TV and a Yamaha receiver for their basement home theater, which Tony says sounds amazing for the more modest price.

The Installation
The family didn’t have to endure a lengthy gestation period to enjoy their new sights and sounds. Part of that was due to their home not being a new construction. A deposit was put down on the system in October 2004 and it arrived the next month. “It only took one day to install the bulk of it,” Tony says. “And they had to come back a few times to tweak stuff when something didn’t work right.” Tony says it took a couple of weeks to work the bugs out, some of which was caused by a software glitch that Meridian had encountered a couple of times before. There were also some issues caused by a high-definition cable box installation.

“Service and support from Meridian is beyond what a normal company would do,” Shore says. “If you have problem with something at 10 at night, you can call and someone is always there.”

Shore also likes to sit down with the homeowners and program the Meridian system to suit their needs and tastes. “I go into the ins and outs of what the system can do, which can be pretty involved with the Meridian,” he says. “I explain what the various parameters are. After all, they’re buying it for the flexibility.

“Most people like the back [speakers in a surround-sound system] turned up a little more, so I usually turn those channels up a few decibels. Then I set the input modes so they can use other sources and create modes [for certain sound preferences].” As Shore explains, “Most people have CD, DVD, satellite or cable and maybe an iPod. But you can also set modes to specific DVDs, for example, so you can automatically listen to jazz in two-channel or rock in three channels if you want.”

After the initial programming is done, the homeowner can do his or her own programming via a computer connected to the Meridian processor. Or they can toggle through sound field modes with the Meridian remote, so every parameter can be adjusted and stored on the fly.

But Tony and his family didn’t need customized modes, and he hasn’t done much programming of the system himself. “I’ve done some things to fit the sound to the room—that sort of thing, but nothing too technical,” he says. “With a little time, it became pretty easy.”

The End Result
Tony says he listens to just about everything from the Rolling Stones to classical music, and often plugs in his iPod to hear his favorite tunes over the Meridian system. That may make purists cringe, but perhaps the biggest testament to the system came when the Tony, Blakney and Shore were in the kitchen during one of Shore’s visits. It was a quiet moment. Some music on the Meridian system was playing through the whole-house B&W speakers, and they all looked at one another and said, “Wow, that really sounds good.”

It looks pretty nice as well. Tony is impressed with how Meridian matched their furnishings with the cherry finishes on the speaker cabinets.

Aside from budgetary considerations, Tony advises other homeowners in the market for audio to take a system audition very seriously. “It’s in the listening. A system can really be set apart when you listen to the stuff. And the dealer is as important as the product. Dave is as much of a friend of ours, and he goes way beyond the call.”

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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