Meridian Component amplifier (MCA)

Introduction
 
Review
Sale Results at Auction
 
Links

Introduction

The Meridian Component amplifier was the second series by Meridian after the 100 range. The range consisted of a pre-amplifier, a 200 Watt power amplifier and an integrated 30 Watt amplifier with switch mode power supply. The integrated amplifier uses a switch mode power supply and balanced principles throughout and has dual mono power modules. In 1982 it got the British Design Council Award: Meridian Modular Amplifier System Gramophone. July 1982. p. 90.

The integrated amplifier could take more module than the pre-amplifier version with it's external power supply.

It is said that the development almost crippled Meridian and that each module cost £80 to make in 1983 but sold for less.

Modules are bolted between the volume control and mono and power on sections. The Power supply, on/off and mono section appear as 4 double units but are in fact one section. The system shown here had the CD, aux and Moving coil modules added to the original moving magnet, FM tuner and tape modules.

In strict listening the MCA MC out performs the 101B but the difference is minor. On other sources there is no difference.

Each module has a selection (what you hear) and source switch (which the tape module picks up). There is a mains switch on the back as well as under the flap on the left. With the flap closed a small amount of movement enable the module to be selected, pressing top left on the labelled flap to select.

The system will not switch on automatically when power is supplied, so can not be used with a timer. The flexing between modules may be the cause for the faults in the unit over the years and when switched off takes a long time for charge to dissipate which might explain faults if customers dismantle it immediately after switching off and removing the mains.  When new modules were added the amplifier would fail to switch on. Meridian have repaired this amplifier three times. Then again the power amplifier of the M1 speakers have both been in for service. Fortunately Meridian had continued to repair and service all their products until recent years; now restricting service to more recent models. 

The finish is Nextel, a soft to touch grey. The auxiliary module is darker than that of the other modules and the CD one lighter. This is most likely to be due to the different environment they have been used in for 25 years.

The volume control has a balanced DIN output that can connect directly to active speakers such as the M1, M2, M10.  The tape module is connected with a 5 pin DIN cable. Confusingly some modules swap around which RCA socket is for left channel as with the CD module shown here.

FM Tuner

The FM Tuner appears like a pair of double width modules but these can not be separated.  Although it has a digital display of the selected station it has the same method of tuning with a small screw driver and pots along the bottom as the 104 FM tuner.

The power supply is a "brick" and feels very cheap with the inside of it rattling when picked up. Like the 104 there is no off switch but selecting 0 turns off the display. There are only 6 pre-selected stations and no tuning knob. In practise I have never found this an issue on FM. In terms of performance it is very similar to the earlier 104 Tuner, perhaps more sensitive to capture weaker signals. The digital display of frequency is a nice improvement. 'Tune' and mute are buttons hidden behind the drop down flap.

Modules

Although the specifications for the outputs of a tuner are similar to an auxiliary, CD or tape input on an amplifier Meridian matched the tuner module to be optimal to match this tuner.

The CD modules is still an analogue RCA phono input. It is not a digital input.

 

Review

In 1985 I purchased this ex-demo MCA unit from Meridian and added the matching tuner from University Audio in Cambridge. The modest 30W amplifier is adequate for a range of speakers.

The system replaced a Uher Miniline system with a 60 Watt into 4 ohms amplifier that was purchased to drive the JR149 speakers and super woofer. The Uher Miniline is an excellent amplifier and first rate tuner, but the power amplifier kept blowing out expensive and rare capacitors. 

To be fair the 30 Watts was never really expected to be enough for the JR149. But helped with the LPA they can be whisper quiet and excessively loud. But for the listening levels my parents where happy with there wouldn't have been a difference. The JR149 Mark II with the MCA can be run at low volumes. The earlier JR149 with the 40 Watt Cambridge Audio P80 required the volume to be a little higher before both speakers came on; a fault or just difference.

My final test with Meridian amplifiers and JR speakers was to run the same source through to the MCA with LPA super woofer and Mk II and the Meridian G55 running three other JR149. The MCA+LPA held its own in volume and clarity but with the advantage of an extended bass. 

Although the audio experience is good my father found it progressively harder to use than the neat flip switches and buttons on the Uher Miniline. If you are not careful it is easy to switch it off immediately after you switched it on. The slight delay as it warmed up meant you hang around thinking have I pressed it hard enough. The same applied to the selection and it was usually better to flip the flip down and make sure you really pressed the button. If left long enough without power the battery would go flat and refuse to switch on until it was powered long enough to charge it up again. None of these quirks bothered me.

I liked the modular approach but not the fact that I couldn't use it to switch on the radio for me in the morning with a timer and the modules end up taking up a lot of shelf space as the amplifier grew wider. There was even an option to fold the modules on to the top of existing ones in a wrap around stacking way. An option to bolt the tuner to the amplifier, taking power from the switch mode supply might have been nice. I don't think anyone would buy the tuner for use in a non-Meridian system; not that it lacks performance but just that it wouldn't match.

The Nextel surface does not age well, although the Meridian MCA is harder wearing than most. Products from Minox wear off the Nextel but the hardest wearing has been that of the Visonik David 5001 speakers, which by the way sound great with this amplifier. Due to aging differently depending on environment and even in production most modules will look different giving the system the nickname of "Zebra" (see below). Some are very much darker than others, although if originally purchased together are likely to be very close in shade. It is possible to remove all the casing and spray paint the surface to get back a uniform colour.

The CD module was purchased to connect a DVD player via a long cable to the DVD player sitting under the TV. Auxiliary for the Super VHS video recorder and a Moving Coil MC module so test out with the Linn LP12D.

It would seem that the most sought after modules are the FM Tuner and CD modules. The external FM Tuner with it's own power supply  is rarely seen on offer. Aux, Tuner and Tape modules can all connect to most RCA equipment including computers. Only the Tape module allows output to record from vinyl and save digitally to a computer.

The component system allows for several tape modules, each recording from a separate source. There is also a module volume control allowing for output to separate power amplifiers or active speakers in the same or another room, presumably of the same selected source.

I have not seen a headphone output for the system. You can make up a cable to take the output from the volume control, normally used to connect an external power amplifier or active speakers. Meridian made up such a lead for me. But the speakers can't be switched off or muted. Using a QED speaker/headphone module is the easiest way around this, picking up the speaker output and muting the speakers .

Modules sold separately are likely to work, but untested at the time of sale they may not. The rubber feet found on each module come off and seem to get lost. They can be replaced by cutting down sheets of tick felt from Maplins etc. The amplifier does not like to be moved perhaps because there is flexing in the links that lock the modules in place. The internal battery needs continuous charging and as it is NiCad needs replacing every few years. Left on a shelf un-used will likely need servicing. If in daily use there are few problems and fortunately there are a few engineers who can fix it; but at a price and it can take some hours to fault find - but this is true of any vintage box of electronics.

The quality of the amplifier, particularly the moving magnet and moving coil inputs make it well worth while to keep going. Repairs have ranged from £40 to £300 so getting a non-working one might turn out expensive.

Some reports suggests that this was the best MC input Meridian ever made with their attention moving to all digital with the later series. Press reports at the time of the launch of the M100 suggest that the system controlled by the 101B was very much improved when being tested with the MCA pre-amplifier (the output from the back of the volume control).

From the groups at Google (Lecson-Audio) 2007/10/25 (saved here as many comments posted disappear)

Stan (Stan Curtis) writes:

"I recalled working with Allen Boothroyd on a project shortly after Lecson Audio folded.  Bob & Allen had formed a design consultancy and I was a director of Cambridge Audio; then probably the largest UK manufacturer of quality hi-fi electronics.  The Cambridge products were ultra-slim and probably the first "designer" hi-fi products, in that design effort had been put into their appearance as well as their performance.

We were looking to make a new line of products so I commissioned Allen to come up with an appearance design.  Some weeks later he appeared with a cardboard mock-up of a modular system where you could mix 'n match modules to make your own configuration rather like with a recording studio mixing desk.  I still have the drawings somewhere. However I didn't think the public would go for such an idea; certainly not in the quantities we were used to selling (2000 plus amplifier systems a month).  The modules were to have been finished in a beautiful anodised aluminium just like the existing Cambridge products and would have had the same height of 2 inches (50mm).

Some years later the idea re-appeared as the Meridian modules (we all called it the Zebra series).  The modules were bigger and not as pretty but the concept was much the same."

Shortly after my purchase of the M101B and M1 MkII speakers I wrote to Meridian complaining that it has two few inputs. Already I looking to add video and television sound outputs into the system and three cassette decks I also missed the inputs and flexibility on the Cambridge Audio P80. The letter I got back suggested QED expander boxes - which I used until I only have two inputs in use computer and FM radio. So the Component system seemed such a brilliant idea, but the logic included in each module to select source and recording made them larger and soon the amplifier expanded to something very large and ungainly.

Howard Popeck added:
"It might possibly have been me that started the 'Zebra' tag. This was borne out of the fact that as the series progressed, it was notoriously difficult to achieve colour consistency between batches of modules. For a laugh (well, it made me laugh) I put together a set with the lightest and darkest shades I could find out of my entire stock of modules. And then bolted them together. And then showed it Mr B and Mr S.

Mr S laughed, as was his style before he became Mr serious while Mr B was I guess a bit pissed off. Certainly a bit hurt. Not my intention at all. But hey, I was younger then. Youthful immaturity is my excuse. That was as far as I can recall the last time the relationship had an undercurrent of humour rather than an undercurrent of tension.

As to a photo of the Zebra with contrasting shades of grey, I doubt if such a photo exists anywhere, other than in the mind of their then increasingly demoralised head of product, Mr Colin Howard. I guess he'll take that enduring if not indelible image, and the pain of it, to his grave."


"... the ultra ULTRA rare component FM tuner. What a nightmare that tuner turned out to be. Good intentions leading to more stress. "

Stan: "there some problems with the signal chips blowing due to static when customers touched the connector pins"

Howard Popeck :

"However, there were mechanical problems with owners being none too clever with the exposed pin connectors.

There were problems when modules were pulled apart soon after shutting down the power. I sold many of these systems and the most advanced one had 3 individual volume controls driving 3 individual QUAD 306 power amps at, of course, differing volume levels to give appropriate sound levels in areas of a very large room. Obviously stereo was not a consideration there. At that time, I doubt if there was any other solution, let alone a more elegant one.

I had another one as a turntable comparator at Subjective Audio with 7phono modules, 4x MM and 3 x MC.

One particular brilliant aspect, albeit a bit hard to figure out, was the tape recording and cross-dubbing facilities.

That entire component concept was way ahead of its time. I still believe it was a brilliant concept, poorly executed. "

As a side note I discussed the article ( http://www.stancurtis.com/D%20spk.htm ) which I only partly read with Bob Stuart - he was not particularly amused.

Sale Results at auction

eBay

MCA with 30Watt amplifier
86/07/14 249.96GBP+VAT 15% MM Serial 11205MM,
06/08/01 123GBP (MM)
07/11/09 125GBP (MM, CD, Tape, Tape, non-functional)
09/03/09 105GBP (MM, CD, Aux, Tape)
09/03/14 25GBP (MC, CD, non-functional)
09/04/19 62GBP (MM, CD, Aux, Tape)
09/06/11 272GBP (MM, CD, Aux, Tape)
10/03/11 63GBP (MM, non-fuctional)
11/12/20 80GBP (MM, non-functional)
12/02/12 84.01GBP (MM, non-functional)
12/10/03 157GBP (MC, Tape, Aux, non-functional)
13/04/21 90.19GBP (MM, CD, Tape, non-functional)
13/10/27 249GBP (CD, MM,MC)
14/01/15 16.36GBP (MM but no volume control, non- functional)
14/01/16 88GBP (MC, CD, Tape, non-functional)
14/01/20 103.49GBP (MC, CD, Tape, non-functional)
MCA Pre-amp with external Power supply
10/05/30 284.99GBP (2 volume controls, MM, CD, Tape, Aux, allowing output to two separate pairs of active speakers or power amplifies)
FM Tuner with external Power supply
86/08/05 280GBP (University Audio Cambridge)
09/02/28 109GBP (working)
09/09/10 103GBP (working and mint *)
200Watt Power amplifier
07/01/28 160GBP (resold as faulty on 08/09/08)
08/09/08 127.99GBP (failed right channel)
09/03/14 54GBP (non-functional)
13/06/22 208.51GBP (working, but poor cosmetic condition)
13/10/20 190GBP (working)
Module Set
07/04/15 31.20GBP (MM, CD, Aux, Tape, Volume control)
MC Module
06/02/20 30GBP (*)
07/12/09 23GBP
12/11/22 50GBP (new, old stock, but not tested)
14/01/04 25GBP
MM Module
13/08/25 40GBP
CD Module
06/02/20 30GBP (*)
06/08/01 21GBP
07/12/09 26GBP
09/09/10 23GBP (*)
13/08/25 33GBP
Aux Module
06/08/01 27GBP (*)
11/12/15 34GBP (*)
13/08/25 39GBP
Tape Module
86/07/14 43.48GBP+VAT15% (S/n 11449)
06/08/01 15GBP
13/05/30 10.50GBP
13/08/25 10.50GBP
14/01/14 25GBP
Tuner Module
86/07/14 43.48GBP+VAT15% (S/n 10089)
09/09/10 55.01GBP (*)
Volume Control
13/05/30 17GBP

LINKS

http://www.meridian.co.uk/

http://www.meridian-audio.info/showman.php?manid=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meridian_Audio,_Ltd.


Last updated 15th June 2014