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Meridian Prime

Headphone amplifier/digital-to-analog converter

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    Six-layer circuit board design for maximum signal isolation and enhanced performance

 

Our take on the Meridian Prime

by Dave Bar
Meridian

Why buy a headphone amp?

High-performance headphones need high-quality amplification to perform up to their full potential. If you connect them directly to the headphone jack on your computer, iPod®, or stereo receiver, you may be disappointed. A separate headphone amplifier sends a stronger, cleaner signal to your headphones.

Prime performance for your headphones

Headphones have become the gateway to high-end sound for many audiophiles. But along with high-performance, state-of-the-art headphones comes the need for reference-quality processing and amplification. In other words, if you love your headphones and want to hear them at their best, don't feed them junk. Instead, bring them roaring to life and savor all of their sonic goodness with the Meridian Prime. This powerful-but-compact combination headphone amplifier and digital-to-analog converter delivers accurate, focused sound, whether you're at work or doing some serious listening at home.

Top-quality performance from your USB and analog sources

The Prime handles both analog and digital music sources with the utmost care. Its low-jitter, asynchronous USB input feeds a high-quality digital-to-analog converter that decodes audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution for clear, precise sound. (Free USB driver download required for Windows® PCs.) This allows the Prime to play both standard and high-resolution music sources without any loss of detail.

This amplifier also treats your analog sources right. It features both RCA and minijack inputs for connecting full-size audio components and portable music players, such as smartphones and tablets. All of the Prime's digital circuitry is powered by the USB connection and isolated from the analog stages, so when you want to enjoy your analog music sources with the utmost purity, simply disconnect the USB cable to deactivate all of the amp's digital electronics. 

Meridian Prime headphone amp and DAC

Versatile operation

Three front-panel headphone output jacks give you a choice of connection options. The 3.5mm minijack output makes it easy to plug in a pair of in-ear or portable headphones. The two 1/4" full-size jacks can handle two pairs of headphones or a single pair of headphones wired with separate cables for the left and right channels. Switch on the Prime's "Analogue Spatial Processing" to enhance your headphone listening experience even further. This special feature blends and delays the right and left audio signals to help re-create a more spatial effect, much like listening to your music through a pair of speakers.  

In addition to its outstanding performance with headphones, the Prime can also double as a preamp to create a simple, high-quality sound system. Just hook up your PC and another audio component or two to its USB and line-level inputs, then connect the Meridian's preamp outputs to your amplifier. A front-panel switch lets you choose between sources, while the volume control adjusts signal output to your preferred listening levels — perfect for those times when you need a break from your 'phones.


" In terms of the criteria that I listen for in any amp, transparency, noise, dynamics and the ability to get me out of my head and into the music, Prime is well, prime. All in all, a seemingly impressive effort that covers all the bases."

— From Neil Gader's review in The Absolute Sound, February, 2014


Crafted with care for better sound

Renowned for their state-of-the-art audio and video components, Meridian builds each Prime headphone amp in Britain to the same exacting standards as their all of their other high-end products. Meridian designed every aspect of this amplifier to enhance both its looks and its performance. The amp's elegant metal chassis is double-walled to shield against external interference and noise that can degrade sound quality. Virtually all of its active electronics are placed on a six-layer printed circuit board at the rear of the chassis, close to the input and output jacks, to keep audio signal paths as short as possible. The Prime also uses an external power supply to keep AC noise well away from the audio circuitry, further minimizing performance-robbing interference. The end result of all this care? Unforgettably smooth, expressive, and detailed sound that will elevate your headphone listening to a new level.

See more info on this item

Highlights:

  • built-in digital-to-analog converter supports up to 24-bit resolution at 192kHz sampling rate for playback of high-res music files (free USB driver download available from Meridian Audio website)
  • asynchronous USB technology for reduced timing jitter and better sound with computer audio sources
  • separate crystal oscillators for 44.1kHz- and 48kHz-based sample rates offer minimal jitter and improved performance
  • Meridian Resolution Enhancement technologies including upsampling and apodizing filter
  • incoming LED sampling rate indicators helps verify source quality
  • relay muting on power-up and power-down for thump-free operation
  • premium ALPS potentiometer volume control for precise channel balance
  • two-level Analogue Spatial Processing for loudspeaker-like listening on headphones (defeatable)
  • sophisticated metal housing protects against signal interference
  • headphone-only mode powers down preamp output for the purist possible sound
  • externally powered USB input deactivates all digital electronics when disconnected for pure analog listening
  • USB (mini Type B) input for connecting a computer
  • 1 pair RCA line-level inputs
  • 1 3.5mm stereo minijack audio input
  • two full-sized (1/4") headphone outputs
  • 1 stereo 3.5mm minijack headphone output
  • 1 pair RCA preamp outputs for connection to an amp or powered speakers
  • plug-and-play USB operation with Apple® Macintosh® computers
  • Meridian USB audio driver required for Windows® computers (free download available from Meridian website)
  • external AC power supply included (also compatible with Meridian's optional matching power supply)
  • 6-5/16"W x 2-1/16"H x 7-1/8"D
  • weight: 2 lbs.
  • warranty: 2 years
  • Our 60-day money-back guarantee

Hands-on research from the Crutchfield Labs (what are the Labs?)

Product Research
What's in the box?

Download owner's manual

  • Headphone amplifier
  • AC adapter with attached 57" DC output cord (DC output: 12V 2A)
  • US power plug
  • European power plug
  • UK power plug
  • User Guide
  • HD Tracks promo card

Our Product Research Team

At Crutchfield, you'll get detailed, accurate information that's hard to find elsewhere. That's because we have our own in-house Product Research team — they open the box, verify contents, check the owner's manual, and record dimensions, features and specs. We stay on top of new products and technologies to help people make informed choices.

Features

Overview: The Meridian Prime headphone amplifier is designed for audio enthusiasts who want to get the best possible experience out of their music sources. The Prime has three inputs, a built-in DAC (digital-to-analog converter) for computer audio, and three headphone outputs. Selectable Analog Spatial Processing helps provide a more expansive soundstage.

Analog Spatial Processing (ASP): Most stereo recordings are mixed so that they are best experienced when played through two speakers in a room. When listening to speakers, each ear receives signals from both channels, some of it bounced off of walls and ceiling. If you listen to that same recording through headphones, you lose the effect of the reflected signals, and the recording sounds very separated. Meridian's Analog Spatial Processing (ASP) blends the left and right signals so they sound more like you are listening to speakers. There are two levels of ASP to choose from, each with different amounts of delay to represent different speaker angles. The "O" setting bypasses the ASP circuitry to give you direct left and right channel signals without crosstalk.

D/A Converter: The Prime's built-in digital-to-analog converter supports signals at up to 192kHz/24-bit sampling through the Mini-B USB 2.0 port. The conversion system is externally powered, so when there is nothing plugged in to the USB port, the digital circuits are turned off. Meridian's Upsampling and Apodising technologies make your older computer music sources sound their best. The unique Apodising Filter cleans up the effects of early digital filters which caused recordings to sound harsh.

Inputs: The Prime has three rear-mounted inputs, which can be selected from the front panel:

  • Input 1: Stereo line input with two gold-plated RCA jacks. This can accept the output of an analog preamplifier or a fixed source, such as a CD player.
  • Input 2: Stereo line input with a 3.5mm mini-jack. This can accept the output of a portable device, such as a phone or tablet, a computer, or an analog preamplifier.
  • USB: Mini-B USB 2.0 port for connecting a computer or hard drive with a USB-A to Mini-B USB cable. This port can also be used to connect the USB pass-through output of the optional Prime Power Supply. A set-up procedure must be followed for installing the proper drivers for Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and Mac OS X.

Outputs: The Prime has three front-mounted headphone outputs and a rear-mounted preamp output:

  • 1/4" Phone Jacks: Two 1/4" phone jacks are provided, each with TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) configuration. Can be used with one or two headphones, including headphones with separate left and right plugs.
  • 3.5mm Phone Jack: One 3.5mm (1/8") phone jack for use with headphones equipped with 3.5mm plugs.
  • Preamp Output: Separate left and right RCA jacks are provided to connect an amplifier or powered speakers. The Headphone-only Mode shuts down the Preamp Output for lower noise.

Power Input: The Prime headphone amp can be powered with the supplied AC adapter or the optional, high-quality Prime Power Supply. The Prime Power Supply keeps AC noise away from the pure analog stages of the headphone amplifier. The USB connection from your computer passes through the optional Power Supply, if used.

Specifications:

  • Inputs:
    • Stereo RCA: gain 3dB; 1.4V RMS in for 2V RMS out
    • Stereo 3.5mm: gain 12dB; 500mV RMS in for 2 RMS out
    • Analog Inputs Overload Capability: >40dB
    • USB: asynchronous, 44.1kHz to 192kHz at up to 24 bit, jitter < 90ps p-p
  • Outputs:
    • RCA Preouts: Maximum output 3.1V RMS @ 1kHz, THD less than 0.001% @ 1kHz up to 3V RMS
    • Two 1/4 Phone Jacks: Maximum output 3V RMS off load, THD below 0.002%, Output Impedance < 100mΩ, Power Output 250mW up to 42Ω, short circuit protected
    • One 3.5mm Phone Jack: Maximum output 3V RMS off load, THD below 0.002%, Output Impedance 2.2Ω, short circuit protected
  • Audio Performance:
    • Output Noise (Input A): <-100dBV CCIR or A weighted
    • Frequency Response: +0/-1dB DC to 70kHz; +0/-3dB DC to 200kHz
  • Headphone Compatibility: Suitable for impedances in the range 16Ω to 1kΩ or more. Recommended sensitivity higher than 80dB SPL/mW or 96dB SPL/V
 
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Meridian Prime Reviews

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5 out of 5

Meridian Prime Headphone Amplifier

Written By MarkM, Redwood City, CA on Monday, July 07, 2014
Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)
 
I purchased this Meridian DAC/headphone amp to drive Sennheiser HD650 headphones, and also to serve as the DAC/PreAmp for a pair of ADAM A5X near field monitors. It is connected via USB to a Mac, and my source is Apple Lossless format ripped from original CDs into iTunes (no compressed downloads). This set up assures a direct bit perfect transfer to the DAC (bypassing all computer DAC/audio controls). I am very impressed with the sound quality - it is a very clear and smooth "tube amp" like sound. Both the Sennheiser headphones and the ADAM speakers can seem bright, but this DAC produces a very enjoyable sound that you can listen to for extended periods. The amp has sufficient power to drive the headphones without distortion to levels beyond my listening needs. The front panel controls allow switching easily between speakers and headphones, and the special "spacial" processing gives a more speaker like sound to headphones. Overall, I am very pleased with this DAC/amp.
Pros:
Very smooth and clean clean sound. Power to drive open ear headphones. Very nice design and finish.
Cons:
Only one - it is very expensive.
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