A little way off the A14, on an industrial estate close to Huntingdon is a smart looking building that houses the brains behind a little known specialist company called Meridian Audio. Celebrating their 35th birthday this year, the British firm specialises in state of the art, high end hi-fi equipment for the home. They are also the brainchild behind the pure sounding audio systems first found in the Range Rover Evoque, and now becoming available in the Jaguar XF and XJ, Land Rover Freelander and also the all-new Range Rover. The Meridian Audio set-up replaces Bowers and Wilkins as the provider of premium sound systems in Jaguar Land Rover’s vehicles.
Founded by Bob Stuart and Allen Boothroyd, Meridian Audio is all about fine British design and UK manufacture and Jaguar Land Rover isn’t the only car maker that the Brit company is working with – they design and make the audio system for McLaren too. It was back in 2007 that Meridian Audio made its first foray into the world of automotive audio systems when the company was asked to design and build a set-up for the British supercar manufacturer. A year or so later, Jaguar Land Rover asked for quotes to provide high-end solutions for its cars, and Meridian Audio won the contact, just in time to start work on a system for the Range Rover Evoque, which at that time was still going by its concept car name, Land Rover LRX. By the time the sound experts got involved, the architecture of the Evoque was already in place, so it was all about getting the best results from what they had to work with. Graham Landick, Meridian Audio’s Automotive Programme Manager told us that the main priority in design was to voice the system so that “everyone feels like they’ve got the best seat in the house”.
Wherever you go within the firm, everyone is passionate about the attention to detail and quality. From a £250 million cinema project in a celebrity’s home to some of the more affordable component sets, there’s a real sense of ownership from the small team of 100 people, with every single individual empowered to ensure that each item is produced to a level that exceeds the customer’s expectation. But that’s all well and good when you’re dealing with customers where money is no object, but how do you go about installing that same sense of magic into a customer of a £30,000 car? According to Landick, they had a great relationship with the management team at Jaguar Land Rover, and both sides had similar goals. With the experience that had been built up designing the McLaren set-up, they had a head start. Whereas with McLaren they not only designed it, but are also a tier one supplier and manufacturer, with the considerably higher volumes involved, that isn’t possible with Jaguar Land Rover. Instead, they’re a technology consultant and branding partner, delivering the project complete so that the Midlands-based company can then source a supplier to make the kit, before installing it on the production line at the Halewood factory. Meridian Audio design and specify the equipment, add their own coding and specify the characteristics, so that anyone can tell a system designed and voiced by the company, even if they are blindfolded.
All Range Rover Evoques in the UK come equipped with one of the two systems that Meridian have designed. The base unit has 380 watts of power, with ten speakers, twelve channels and a separate dual-channel subwoofer, while £995 buys you the upgraded surround sound set-up with a massive 825 watts through 15 channels and 17 speakers, including a subwoofer. We tested the latter in an Evoque and the sound quality is quite simply awe-inspiring. Of course it all comes down to the quality of the original recording, with compact discs offering a purer sound that that of MP3s and AAC’s that are becoming more common, thanks to the advent of iPods and iPhones. Though, even with MP3s that have been compressed, with a sound system of this quality, you will hear aspects of the track that you may not have noticed before. At the very heart of the system is digital sound processing that ensures the clarity of the voice from the artist is as though they are sitting on a stool on the top of your dashboard giving you a one-off performance. The output is that pure, with bass reproduction that is both deep and dramatic. And thanks to what Meridian calls its Trifield technology, the sound is all brought together so that everyone hears the same stereo broadcast, no matter where they are in the vehicle.
So how far in advance are the two companies looking at right now? Graham told us that the architecture for some of the 2016/2017 model year vehicles are starting to be set in stone right now, and they’re even looking as far out as 2025. Obviously Landick remained tight lipped about those programmes but said that over 4,500 hours had gone into developing the world’s first 3D surround system in the new Range Rover, due in showrooms in January. In that car, Meridian Audio started with a clean sheet of paper, influencing the location of speakers, hardware and the cabin’s architecture. The optional system isn’t cheap at £4k, but boasts 1,700 watts of power and 29 speakers. We can’t wait to try it!