A couple of months ago I reviewed Meridian’s DSP5200 SE digital loudspeakers, which were the most costly (and beautiful, with a gorgeous custom hand-finished piano lacquer finish in Pearl Gentian Blue) speakers to ever grace my home. Not surprisingly they also sounded terrific; the svelte towers delivering tight, focused bass and incredibly detailed and articulated highs courtesy of beryllium tweeters.
To accompany the speakers, Meridian also sent the MS200. While the MS officially stands for “Media Source,” you would be forgiven if you thought it stood for “Meridian Sooloos.” Meridian acquired Sooloos in late 2008 and has been updating and incorporating this industry-leading music streaming technology into various Meridian-branded products ever since.
While the MS200 has existed for a few years, it was my first encounter with it, and I was so impressed with its performance and price point that I felt compelled to give it is own review.
I first encountered Sooloos in a basement room at CEDIA EXPO in 2006. When I finally got the opportunity to review it two years later, the system was comprised of three fairly large components and retailed for nearly $12,000. Compare that with the MS200, which comes in a sleek aluminum tube-shaped housing roughly the size of a sunglasses case and sells for a grand. The MS200 comes in a nice presentation box that gives it a sense of luxury, even before giving it a listen.
The MS200, which comes in a sleek aluminum tube-shaped housing roughly the size of a sunglasses case.
Installation for Meridian owners couldn’t be simpler. The MS200 receives power from the SpeakerLink connection, and the system sends Meridian Comms and balanced digital audio over this connection. This means virtually zero wire clutter while still having access to an unlimited amount of music.
For the rest of us, simply plug an ethernet cable into the MS200 for access to your network, connect the power supply cable, and then use the 3.5-mm mini-jack to connect either an unbalanced analog cable or an optical digital Toslink cable using the included adapter.
The MS200 has no storage of its own; instead, Meridian opted to specify QNAP NAS drives. Meridian dealers can purchase the drives directly from MAI (Meridian America Inc.), and they come fully loaded with the recommended RAM and OS installed, making for a plug-and-play installation. Music can be imported into the QNAP using the import wizard and handles FLAC, WAV, Apple Lossless, and AIFF lossless files. The system can also automatically encode a second lossy file type in either MP3 or AAC to more easily handle portable devices. Up to 30 zones can be supported simultaneously, and Meridian offers a rack shelf that neatly holds four MS200s for a whole-home solution.
Logging into the MS200’s IP address brings up some settings options such as naming the zone, assigning a static IP address, and turn-on volume. Here you can also set whether the system performs 1x, 2x, or direct audio output. These refer to 44.1/48kHz, 88.2/96kHz, and native bit rate of the incoming file. (While the MS200 can stream 192/24 files, they are downsampled to 96/24.) Meridian’s renowned Apodising filter is also used to improve sound by minimizing pre-ringing and removing digital artifacts.
Simply plug an Ethernet cable into the MS200 for access to your network, connect the power supply cable, and then use the 3.5-mm mini-jack to connect either an unbalanced analog cable or an optical digital Toslink cable using the included adapter.
While the MS200 can be controlled via IR, I can’t imagine anyone would actually control it this way. Sure, you can play, pause, stop, and track skip, but that’s like one percent of what the MS200 is capable of. Far better is using the iPhone, iPad, or PC apps. The iPhone app is serviceable but only offers a stripped-down version of the glorious desktop touchscreen controller that drove the original Sooloos system. The iPad will likely be the primary control option and Meridian did a terrific job of mimicking the original control interface; nevertheless, my favorite control option is the TouchPC app. Designed to run on a Windows touchscreen, this provides the richest browsing experience, elevating the MS200 to its full potential. (Meridian also has Crestron and Control 4 modules; however, the Control 4 module is currently in the certification process and I was unable to test it. Meridian also has an API available for other IP devices.)
So, now we get to the heart of it: Why would anyone want an MS200 for music listening, say, compared to a Sonos, BlueSound, Autonomic, or other? Besides terrific sound quality, which the MS200 delivers in spades, the Sooloos OS handles music collections of any size with unrivaled aplomb.
What good is it to have 1,000, 10,000, even 50,000 albums if you are unable to find what you want to listen to? As you get to collections of this size, commands like “play jazz” or “play rock” just aren’t manageable, as they will likely return lots of music you aren’t interested in hearing. “Focus” is where the Sooloos OS really shows its power to curate the ideal music you are interested in hearing.
With Focus, the MS200 lets you really dial in and explore your collection quickly and simply. Instead of just rock, maybe you want to narrow in on punk/new wave, and dive deeper into just British punk music. When you combine different focuses, the MS200 really flexes its muscle. For example, add Focus parameters such as just high-resolution music, of music released in the ’80s, of music you haven’t listened to in a year, or of music from specific labels.
Sooloos extensive metadata mining also lets you go deeper into the credits on each recording, say, letting you find a specific cellist or engineer to explore his or her works. You also get full album reviews, which help you to connect to music. Maybe you don’t know what you want to listen to, but just know what kind of mood you’re in. Cerebral, relaxing, upbeat, romantic… With Moods you can just pick how you feel—or want to feel—and let the MS200 serve up the appropriate soundtrack.
Finally, when you get tired of listening to your own music, the MS200 supports Rhapsody, Tidal, and TuneIn streaming. The great thing about Tidal and Rhapsody is that those tracks can be interspersed with your own music to create playlists of things you own and don’t.
The MS200 is really designed for music lovers, helping them browse, explore, and enjoy their music collections in a manner unlike any other. That it includes Meridian’s sonic quality is just icing on the cake.
Unparalleled music browsing interface; terrific audio quality
Downconverts 192 files to 96 kHz
► Compact single-zone audio source
► U p to 30 Media Source devices can be connected for wholehouse audio
► Requires QNAP NAS drive for music storage (available pre-configured from Meridian)
► Supports Rhapsody, Tidal and TuneIn streaming services
► Controllable via free iPhone, iPad, ControlPC and TouchPC apps
► Connections: Meridian SpeakerLink connector (RJ45), combination 3.5mm jack supports analog stereo or Toslink digital S/PDIF, Ethernet network connection, power supply
► Dimensions: 3.15 x 5.47 x 1.34-inches (WxDxH); Weight 7.9-ounces