Meridian Audio’s F80: The million-dollar baby … almost

Don’t let the simple appearance of Meridian Audio Ltd.’s new F80 table radio fool you.

It looks like something you might run into at Target or WalMart, but turn it on and it leaves no doubt that it was designed for audiophiles, not bargain hunters.

Close your eyes and the rich, distortion-free bass and crisp high notes might impress you, but open your eyes and gaze at the price tag and then you’ll really feel the air leave your lungs: $2,995.

Almost three grand for a table radio? Yes indeed.

“Yes it’s expensive, but it’s incredibly high quality,” said company co-founder Bob Stuart at a recent Meridian Audio press conference in New York. Such stratospheric pricing is par for the course for Meridian Audio, which specializes in sophisticated, precisely engineered high-end audio products.

The F80 incorporates much of the company’s home-grown digital-signal-processing technologies and makes an impressive statement in terms of internal and external engineering. The unit was designed in collaboration with automaker Ferrari SpA, another company known for top-notch performance at any price.

In addition to an AM/FM tuner and an alarm clock, the F80 has a trayless CD/DVD player and offers video outputs as well as audio and antenna connectors.

“It’s very well-endowed in terms of connectivity,” said Stuart.

Lift the F80 and you realize how much technology is packed inside. Thanks to a rather hefty shell, the 16-by-8-by-7-inch (H-W-D) radio comes in at more than 14 pounds. Stuart noted that the F80’s mineral-injected composite casing was intentionally designed to be heavy and dense to eliminate rattle and to enhance the output from the speakers.

“The speakers have to have something against which to operate,” he explained. “We couldn’t make this out of wood. The shape wouldn’t allow it.

“We’ve always been innovators, but innovators at the extreme end,” he said.

He noted that while a conventional table radio offers about five watts of power, the F80 provides 80 watts of 2.1-channel, audiophile-quality output, a claim the unit backed up during a short demonstration. A single F80 filled the hotel conference room with clear, robust sound without the snapping one might expect from cheaper speakers.

Stuart said the “transportable home entertainment system” will not be sold directly by Meridian but through high-end audio dealers.

“We would encourage you to buy more than one … but it’s not necessary,” he said to a burst of laughter.

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