Meier Audio Concerto and Stagedac

meier_concerto_stagedac_01

The Meier Stagedac DAC and the Concerto amplifier are two of the latest stand alone desktop amplifier and DAC box from Meier Audio. Let’s take a look at how they perform.

The Stagedac

The Stagedac starts with some fairly common components: a WM8741 D/A converter, a WM8804 S/PDIF receiver, and a PCM2704 USB receiver. Meier does claim some fancy supporting components like Nichicon buffer caps, Vishay caps in the signal path, and an LM6171 opamps biased into class-A using LM334 current sources (I guess that’s the output stage?). Though S/PDIF input goes as high as 24/192, the USB section is only limited to 16/48 — certainly substandard in today’s age of 24/96 even on entry level DACs.

While the performance of the Stagedac is quite respectable — clear sound, plenty of details, good articulation, et cetera, and yet, as a whole product I am not sure that the Stagedac has what it takes to be competitive in today’s DAC market. Perhaps the first weak point is the USB receiver that remains to be limited in the 16/48 realm (due to the PCM2704 receiver chip used). These days, I can get a ~$100 USB Dac like the Audinst or the HRT Music Streamer II that does 24/96 over USB, and every newer DAC introduced in the market seems to bring even higher numbers to the table, including the 32-bit Fostex HP-A3 that I’m also writing a review on.

The other factor is products from the competition. Take the CEntrance DACmini, which happens to share a very similar, colorless sound presentation to the Stagedac. Comparing the two DACs side by side, I actually prefer the CEntrance DACmini’s equally transparent and colorless rendition of the sound. The Meier can come out to be slightly more detailed of the two, but on my ears it sounded as if the details were forced to be visible, and the result is a sound that is not as natural as the DACmini’s. Though instrument separation is clearer on the Meier, the decay seems abruptly cut off and again I very much prefer the DACmini’s version. So, we’re talking about two DACs with a very close performance and sound signature here. The Meier comes out to be the more mechanical sounding one, and the DACmini to be the more natural sounding and the one that I’d go for. But even overlooking the slight difference in sound, at roughly the same ~$700 price point, the DACmini happens to throw in a fairly potent headphone amplifier into the mix as well as offering 24/96 over USB. Obviously it’s quite clear that while the Stagedac is a good performing DAC, it would need to give a lot more for $700 in order to stand out in today’s DAC landscape.

This is the DAC control panel and it includes an input switch, a 33kHz to 48kHz lock indicator, pulse response and over sampling settings.

 

The Stagedac comes with two digital filters which are the Pulse Response and Over Sampling. I tried long and hard to differentiate the effects of those digital filters, but I really can’t get a good grasp of how they alter the sound. I can say that they alter the sound, but on the other hand I also think that I may just be hearing placebo, and I definitely can’t pass a double blind test on those switches. The more obvious switch is the crossfeed switch, where you can adjust the intensity and the delay of the crossfeed, as well as the tonal balance switch which gives you a more choice of linear sound to a more colored sound (more bass heavy sound). Nice features, but I don’t think they’re really that significant in the overall picture.

You also get a choice to customize the Crossfeed effect in addition to a “tonal balance” switch.

 

The Concerto

The Meier Concerto has a sound signature that mimics the sound signature of the Stagedac: relatively colorless, a hint of dryness, good detail though again I am getting a similar impression that details are intentionally pushed out to the listeners. I can understand if it’s trying to be a technical sounding amp, and while its performance are quite respectable, I don’t think it has enough technical points to justify the $700 price tag. For instance, the soundstage are quite mediocre and even sub-par for a $700 desktop amplifier. The articulation is good and the pace is among the fastest I’ve heard, but the sound is rather mechanical sounding as a whole and each notes seem to be forcefully separated to achieve the articulation, rather than a natural blending of tones. And while the pace is quite fast, the bass punch is relatively weak (compared to a Burson, for instance) hence overall PRaT is not too happening. Overall, the sound is quite dry and articulate, much like the AD797 op-amps that the Concerto is based on. And like the Stagedac, while the overall sound quality is quite respectable, I think ultimately you can find other amplifiers that offer “more” sound for the price.

What’s more, if I take the Concerto and the Stagedac, combined together — that would give me a sound that is more or less close to what I hear if I were listening to the DACmini’s headphone out — but with the added advantage of the DACmini being priced at half the price of Meier’s two box set up, and is also simpler to use since it’s a one box solution (and 24/96 over USB too!). As you can see the competition is very tough these days.

The Concerto gives you nice features such as crossfeed, LED for volume indicator, and gain level.

 

The Meier Concerto amp on top and the Stagedac on the bottom.

 

Everything is pretty basic on the back panel. The Concerto DAC gives two sets of analog outs, one that bypasses the potentiometer, and another that goes through it.

 

I do feel quite bad for writing a relatively negative article like this since the Concerto was kindly loaned to me by Jaben Indonesia and the Stagedac by my good friend Rudi. It’s a pressure you get as a reviewer. It would’ve been nice if I can write glowing, enthusiastic reviews of these products, but if I did that then I am not being truthful to the readers. So here it is, the review presented in a “what I really heard” format.

Big thanks to Alvon at Jaben Indonesia and Rudi for the product loaners.

Gears used for review
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, Hifiman HE-500
  • Amplifiers: Eddie Current Zana Deux, Burson HA-160D, Meier Audio Concerto, Graham Slee Solo, Schiit Asgard
  • Source: CEC TL51XZ, Bryston BDA-1 DAC, Meier Stagedac, Centrance DACmini, HRT Music Streamer II+
Availability
  • Please support Jaben Indonesia who has supplied the gears for this review by ordering through them.
  • International customers can also order direct from Meier Audio.
  • I believe the Concerto has now been discontinued though you can check with the retailers.
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  • Anonymous

    Any idea how long the Concerto has been in the market for? Was surprised to see it discontinued. 

    • BassMonster

      I think it was discontiuned March this year, roughly one year after it was introduced..

      • Didier Linares

        very weird review. I own this combo and had the chance to compare it to quite few similarly priced and more expensive set ups and I never felt the need to upgrade. I guess we all have different taste.

        • Mintycans

          when i first bought this combo i really tot i made a mistake…
          took me awhile to learn the features and find my sweetspot.i switched a few cables too, and finally settled down to a very satisfying setup..the stagedac often decks out a “stage” infront of me…
          its very good to MY ears…3D…almost.
          hehe.

          • Anonymous

            Nice.

  • P. J.

    Mike thank you for a very honest review. Honesty its very much appreciated. After all you are an audio reviewer and not a human ad. I only read the Concerto part because I’m not particularly interested in DACs atm and the Concerto sound similar to Auditor from what I understand. And I’m looking the other way- I wan’t to get a highly musical amp that is not aggressive and doesn’t become fatiguing after long listening sessions. I also agree that these two devices carry a price tag that is slightly too high as you can actually get more for less nowadays with so many offers on the market.
    Concerto has been on the market for about a year and a half now. Time passes very quickly.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, P.J. 
      Yes sometimes we know what is right to do but it’s still hard to do it. 
      I think the Schiit Asgard is a good amp with good musicality and should be easy on the ears for longer listening time. 

      I’m surprised to hear that they pulled out the Concerto from the market after only 1.5 years. I’ve always thought that the Concerto is a fairly recent amp (perhaps ~1 year old) but since it’s already discontinued I thought it may have been in the market for a little longer.

      • http://twitter.com/JotaIGz JotaIGz

        Nice review Mike.

        I had the chance of trying the concerto and stagedac at a meet and was not impressed by it.

        Meier is coming up with a couple of new amp soon though, the Jazz and the Classic.

        • Anonymous

          Yes,
          I saw the Meier Classic on the website page. I wonder if he will retain the same sound signature as the Concerto. 

  • P. J.

    Mike thank you for a very honest review. Honesty its very much appreciated. After all you are an audio reviewer and not a human ad. I only read the Concerto part because I’m not particularly interested in DACs atm and the Concerto sound similar to Auditor from what I understand. And I’m looking the other way- I wan’t to get a highly musical amp that is not aggressive and doesn’t become fatiguing after long listening sessions. I also agree that these two devices carry a price tag that is slightly too high as you can actually get more for less nowadays with so many offers on the market.
    Concerto has been on the market for about a year and a half now. Time passes very quickly.

  • http://profiles.google.com/yoav.tzfati yoav tzfati

    Thanks for the review Mike.
    I am a little confused. Most of the “bad” things you said about the meiers are exatly what audio professionals look for in monitoring equipment.
    Also, how is the stagedac’s crossfeed? from what I read crossfeeds with three variables are pretty good (ex. the phonitor amp or isone pro).
    Thanks.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Yoav,
      Well there are two facets to the review.

      One is the sound signature of the Meier gear which can be considered as colorless. This is good for the pro crowd, but in general the audiophile crowd likes warmer sounding gear. I can say that perhaps 8 or 9 out of all audiophile amplifiers are warm sounding — solid state or tube. Whilst there is always a niche for people who wants neutral sounding gear for their music, the reality is that most would want a slight touch of warm (though mellow is something different).

      Secondly, and I think this is where the review really hits, is value per dollar. I compared the Stagedac + Concerto combo to the Centrance Dacmini and found that not only is the sound very similar, but the Dacmini had a more natural rendition, and supports 24/96 over USB all of these for half the price of the Meier package. I suppose if a pro wants to get a neutral sounding gear they would be just as happy with the Dacmini, and perhaps even happier since they can be listening to their 24/96 mixes as well.

      Anyway Headfonia is cleary a site targeted for music listeners, not the pro crowd.

      Cheers.

      • http://profiles.google.com/yoav.tzfati yoav tzfati

        Thanks for the clarification.
        Also did you try out the crossfeed of the stagedac?

        • Anonymous

          Yes I did try the crossfeed on both Stagedac and Concerto. The Stagedac on the maximum crossfreed intensity will give you more crossfeed effect while on the Concerto the setting is fixed.

          Briefly, on full stereo mode (crossfeed off), you get a sound with the highest level of fidelity (obviously, since there are no signal processing involved). With crossfeed on the improvement is that the left and right soundstage spaces blends together more closely, filling up any void in the center area — which is always the hardest soundstage space to recreate, that area right in front of your forehead. This is the case with all the different crossfeed I’ve tried, including also computer plug-in crossfeed.

          With higher intensity crossfeed, you get more blend of the left and right soundstage, but less clean sound due to the processing involved.

          The delay setting somewhat affect the perceived depth of the soundstage, but the effect can be quite difficult to pick up.

           The SPL Phonitor amp is still the superior amp for simulating crossfeed. There are many different settings that you can play around with. The signal fidelity is also preserved better in the SPL Phonitor. I don’t remember all the different settings but you can check the review where I wrote about the crossfeed quite in-depth.

          http://www.headfonia.com/spls-phonitor-and-auditor/

  • Jlle

    A fresh wind, thanks for that.

    Is it correct that these amps also have the active balanced ground? I am wondering what impact this has on the overal sound.

    • Anonymous

      I can’t comment on the active balanced ground on the Concerto (since you can’t toggle the active ground on/off) but on Earfonia’s PBA amp I was able to test out the effect of having two channels vs 3 channels (active ground) vs 4 channels (balanced), and this is what I found:

      The amplifier started as an inquiry to see how much improvement you
      get from an active ground and balanced topology, when compared to a
      regular single ended amplifier. For that, the three different outputs on
      the PBA will allow you to see if indeed there is any difference between
      those topologies. So, not only does the PBA gives you the most
      affordable balanced amplifier in the market, as a bonus you also get to
      test out the differences between a 2 channel, 3 channel, and 4 channels
      amp. I went ahead and did the comparison, and this is what I found:
      2 channels: basic sound. decent enough3 channels: improved dynamic range, frequency extension, and soundstage4 channels: further improved dynamic range, frequency extension, and soundstage
      Between the different topologies, the tonality of the sound remains the same.

      http://www.headfonia.com/earfonias-pseudo-balanced-amplifier-pba/
       

  • CSC

    Maybe if Meier sponsored you the amp s sound better….

    • Anonymous

      To everyone else but CSC:

      It is in our best interest as a review site to maintain objectivity because that’s the only thing that we got to defend the Headfonia name by. Once that reputation of objectivity is gone, so will our reputation as a review site. Hence it only makes sense that we do our best to write an objective review.

      Of course that fact can also be used to attack us by people who hold negative sentiments toward us. And that is very easy to do, as the comment posted by CSC proved.

      Guys, I am not talking on the basis of honesty, because that word by itself has lost its meaning these days. But as a reviewer, I now exactly that writing biased reviews would be a straight suicide to the website, so I really wouldn’t try to do that at the slightest bit.

      • Donunus

        May I say 101% agreed!!!

    • P. J.

      What a stupid comment. Not once I got the feeling Mike’s reviews are biased in any way. Affordable recommended amps, dacs, headphones in the recommendation section prove it. I’m happy for Mike that he has sponsors, that’s at least he can have for his hard work doing all the reviews and photographs. I can only imagine how much time consuming it can be.
      If you think his reviews are biased then move along, don’t spoil the good atmosphere  here.

  • eugenius

    How is this combo with the HD650 and LCD2? Because it’s designed for the HD650.

    Compare it with the beta22/bryston for kicks … :)

    • Anonymous

      It’s a good performing combo.. but as I’ve said in the review, take it next to the Centrance Dacmini and you’ll feel that the value per dollar of the Meier two-box set up is lacking.

  • Guest

    I know from reading from various forums the Lyr is a very popular amp for LCD-2s; so my questions is compared with the  Lyr and Concerto could you give us some quick A/B or advantages/disadvantages in comparisons  regarding with how both amps fair in regards to : transperancy, bass rendering(texturing of bass, bass extension, tightness), soundstage, mids and treble.

    Kind Regards.

    • Anonymous

      I haven’t gotten the details written and I no longer have either amps here, but from what I remembered the Lyr was the better pairing.

  • eugenius

    You should have rolled some Burson Opamps in the Concerto instead of the AD797, they are socketed. :)

    • Anonymous

      They use a lot of AD797s (like seven of them I believe) and the Burson opamps are not cheap. ;)

      • eugenius

        Just the  main ones then, I know they are not cheap but neither is the Concerto. :)

        • Anonymous

          Lol, alright.. ;)

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  • Mojo

    Hello,

    How would you compare the meier concerto with the Violectric V200 used with the Senn HD-650?

    I own the Meier stagedac – concerto combo. Would the Violectric V200 be a worthwile upgrade?

  • Guest

    hey

  • MHOE

    I would like to explain what all the features on StageDAC influence:

    Pulse response + Oversampling:
    This gives you an option to choose from 9 different combinations (9 different D-A conversion filters). Technical details are explained in the manual but in practice, this influence if and how are the highest frequencies shelved down in order to achieve certain improvements – namely in imaging and soundstage’s width or depth. With classic DAC approach, you get a flat-line frequency response with the most transparent picture and widest soundstage. That said, if you want to achieve the best imaging, you need to use different setting. If you want the deepest soundstage, you should also use a certain combination that works best, etc. It can, as suggested before, also function as a simple hardware-based treble response equalizer.
    (The differences/variations described above are VERY subtle but if you spend enough time with the DAC, they will start to appear.)

    Delay:
    Improves perception of band playing in a room metres away from you… Works very good but also very very very little influence imaging (quite logically but you should be aware that the absolute best in-your-face imaging is possible only with having this completely off).

    Intensity:
    Just an intensity of crossfeed… 3 levels of this effect are brilliant, everyone can choose the personal best.

    Mode (of crossfeed):
    Headphones – off – speakers

    Tonal balance:
    Influence frequencies up to 2khz (bass + mids) in order to to balance out the crossfeed effect (if needed) or can function as a simple yet effective hardware based EQ.

    =======

    Long story short, this DAC is an unique thing… You never get bored with it since you can always listen to your music a bit differently or customise the sound for different headphones/speakers. Also, hardware crossfeed is a really rare thing with DACs (gives you an option to choose whatever amp you want) This is, IMHO, the main purpose of this DAC… Anyone wanting an ordinary D-A-converter should look elsewhere.

    And btw, there is no software-based crossfeed that could compete with this one… I am not aware of any, really.

    • MHOE

      Just add an example:

      With my full-size headphones, I want to have the absolute best imaging available… That said, my earbuds need to decrease the level of imaging and improve soundstage depth. Therefore, different settings works the best and that’s where this DAC shines.

  • AJ Zepp

    No offense to the reviewer, but this is exactly why I place much more stock in the aggregate of consumer reviews than I do “professional” ones.

    As someone else in the comments below pointed out, a DAC/amp that is “colorless”, “transparent”, “detailed”, “articulated”, and with “good instrument separation” is what we WANT lol. Yet even though you indicate the Meier gear has the edge in these areas compared to the Centrance product (which I have auditioned and respect), you say you doubt that it can compete and that you can find amps that offer “more sound for the price”? I’m sorry, but that makes no sense. I also have no idea what “overall PRaT is not too happening” means (?)

    The fact that you fail to appreciate the crossfeed circuit is also perplexing, but I won’t get into all that…I have been in audio for over 20 years and while I agree that the Centrance and Burson products are excellent, the Meier stack offers exceptional value and high end performance. I have spent many hours with Mr. Meier’s products over the last couple of years and I could not disagree more with your comments.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Not everyone wants that but that’s another story.

      You should read up on different sites before buying, we never said this is the only correct site. Unfortunately mike never liked the Meier units as you have read, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad amp, lots of people like Meier audio.

    • Eugen

      You don’t get it, Headfonia is not a site that does professional reviews. If you want that go read the audio critic or some other site that specializes in that kind of review.

      Personally I find some of Meier’s ergonomic choices puzzling – the lack of an all-in-one product, no preamp on the headphone amp, putting the good volume control just in the headphone amp and some other minor stuff.

      And there’s the undeniable fact that headphones (with some exceptions) are inherently non-linear and a colorless, super-transparent headphone amp while technically better does not ultimately get you to a better sound. If you happen to love some aspects of a headphone you have to mix and match around it to get to a better sound.

      I completely agree on the crossfeed though. That’s the killer feature these Meier components have and it didn’t get enough exposure.