2022.02.22 Kia

K8's Meridian: Opening The Era Of High-End Cars

Audio critic Jong-Hak Lee encountered the Kia K8. He called the K8 Meridian sound system ‘a cheater’. But why?

K8 was the first Kia model to house the Meridian sound system - as one of the options, of course. But how much more it would cost you? I asked a few audiophiles around me how much the K8 Meridian system would cost. And most of them answered 5 million KRW to 10 million KRW. It’s obvious; Meridian is a prestigious high-end audio company, and there is should be a price tag for such a high-end audio system with such performance.

In fact, the price of the Meridian Home Audio System (DSP8000SE) equipped with speakers, amplifiers, and DSP is 86 million KRW per pair. However, the cost of adding this system to the K8 is only 850,000 KRW - only 1/100. Most audiophiles who heard this were confused. I also think that one zero is missing from this price tag because the quality of this option exceeds 8.5 million KRW. How could this be possible?

About high-end cars

In the automobile industry, the word premium - or luxury - is used for ‘high-class’ vehicles. It means they should be special. K8, too, is a premium model. However, if the Meridian system is included, I think it is safe to add another term - high-end.

In the audio industry, mid-to-low priced products are generally referred to as ‘Hi-Fi’. It is a product that fully demonstrates the basics of audio. Of course, it is excellent value for money. On the other hand, products made with the best materials through repeated research and testing for the best sound quality and performance are called High-End or Hi-End. Of course, the price doesn’t matter; the sky is the limit. Meridian is a high-end audio company. Although the company is working in a variety of fields, its origins come from high-end audio technology. That’s why I called the K8 high-end; The K8’s audio system, worthy of Meridian’s reputation, showed unquestionable performance in sound.

So, what is Meridian?

Meridian is a little different from other high-end audio companies. In terms of size, it is a small business. But what they're doing is completely at the level of large corporations - no, multinational corporations. They consider themselves like Apple, Samsung, or Philips. Here, it is necessary to look at the brand name of ‘Meridian’. Meridian refers to an imaginary line that runs vertically from the North Pole to the South Pole. Meridians are often called longitudes and meet perpendicularly to the equator and all other lines of latitude. The meridian is important because it is the basis of the metric system. The length of the meridian is 40 million meters. In other words, a meter is a meridian divided by 40 million.

One of these is the Prime Meridian. This is the starting point for all meridians, which is 0 degrees when the entire Earth is divided by 360 longitudes. The prime meridian is currently based on the Greenwich Observatory in England. The United States and France have tried to relocate the prime meridian to their home countries, but the standard has not changed so far. The name of the British company Meridian has this background. They are quietly claiming that they are acting as prime meridians in the audio industry.

In fact, the world’s first digital surround processor, Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) technology, a DVD format exclusive for audio - these were all developed by Meridian. The latest MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) also has to do with Meridian. MQA is a format that puts proprietary codec technology in a high-resolution streaming service, and it is excellent for playing classical music. I think that the core of the Meridian system housed in K8 lies in this technology of Meridian. It is different from other high-end audio companies that are only famous.

Of course, the Kia K8 Meridian system is not perfected only by one manufacturer’s technology. It is the result of the collaboration of technical teams from various countries such as Korea, the UK, and Germany. Therefore, K8’s Meridian system was a completely different project from any current car audio in concept and scale. The core technology came from Meridian in the UK, but the Hyundai-Kia Namyang Research Institute researchers took charge of the specifications and implementation of the system, such as tuning with the vehicle, and finally, the driver and diaphragm were developed thanks to Dr.Kurt Muller GmbH&Co.KG in Germany. All of these things come together to create the infotainment system that Hyundai Motor Group pursues. The development period alone took two years, so you can imagine how great the project was.

K8’s Meridian system with various control options

It’s important to see how the Meridian system housed in the K8 works. First, I looked into 'Meridian' on the large infotainment display. There are several settings that stand out, and here you can find the unique know-how of the Meridian System. The first thing to mention is the Intelli-Q feature, which automatically corrects the sound pressure level and sound quality of the audio according to the speed of the vehicle. In fact, the nature of the size and frequency of engine or external noise is inevitably different depending on whether the car is running fast or slow. And appropriate measures have been taken to take care of it.

The second is the Horizon Effect. This is a technology that brings out the realism and three-dimensional sound as if you are in a concert hall by simultaneously controlling the image of the sound and how it surrounds you. It provides consistent sound quality from every seat and finely controls resonance to create deeper, tighter bass in a small cabin. There are three modes: Stage, Surround, and Custom, and you can experience vivid and diverse Meridian sounds through each mode. You may choose Stage mode for a natural sound, Surround mode for realistic and three-dimensional sound, and Custom mode if you want to recreate your cabin with a unique sound.

The third is digital precision; this is to minimize the sound loss that may occur while converting digital sound sources coming through USB or Bluetooth to analog for exporting, which shows the merits of Meridian. Meridian inside K8 not only has DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) function; it also minimizes loss of information while demonstrating its philosophy of sound that Meridian represents, such as MQA. This part is related to its expertise, which can only be achieved by a professional high-end audio brand.

The fourth is RE-Q. This technology takes into account the characteristics of the interior space of the vehicle and corrects the sound accordingly; In terms of home audio, it is similar to ‘room tuning’. The acoustic characteristics of the cabin are affected by changes in the internal environment, such as some ranges falling sharply and others rapidly rising; RE-Q is a technology that actively responds to this part.

The K8’s Meridian system has a fancy audio channel configuration. In fact, most car audio is basically dual-channel considering a stereo sound source. However, the car audio of the premium model is a bit more complicated. Some models are capable of multi-channel; K8 houses 14 drivers (speakers). There are tweeters and woofers, as well as midrange and subwoofers and a center speaker. It even has drivers for the surround channels. These allow users to connect their tablet or smartphone to watch movies or live performances.

In fact, Meridian became a pioneer in a new market by repeatedly challenging multi-channel, digital sound sources, and surround sound fields while most audio manufacturers remained in dual-channel hi-fi. Meridian’s ultimate goal is a home theater that houses high-end audio quality, and its philosophy was naturally implied to the K8.

Symphony coming from a car audio system

Whether it’s home audio or car audio, I basically review based on music. Once all functions were set to the factory default settings, I listened to music in stage mode. If you are satisfied with this part, there is no need to check the other side. The first track is Dvorak’s <Symphony No. 9 1st Movement> conducted by Rafael Kubelik. It is a very useful track when evaluating audio because there is a lot of change in the flow of the song and the sounds of various instruments. First of all, the sound is not light or thin. It has the right volume and strikes precisely when needed.

Detail is great at the low level, and there’s no breakage or distortion even when the sound gets louder and rougher - definitely a different level of audio. Also, the energy explodes more powerfully than expected. It is now possible to listen to a symphony even with car audio.

The next song was Grieg’s conducted by Karajan. The charming violin and the soft harp sound in the middle remind me of Norse mythology and its mystical landscapes. The stage of the K8 Meridian system is wide and deep; Besides, it blends with the scenery outside - hence doubled appreciation. It feels like the sound field has naturally expanded around the car through the narrow interior space. This also makes the scenery outside the window look different; It is a strange experience.

I switched genres and played Diana Krall’s Temptation. The bass hitting the floor feels amazing. The rhythm of finger plucking is clearly transmitted, and the same goes for vocals. It seems like she is standing beyond the windshield, and I can almost listen to her breaths. The rich tone of the electric guitar and the brilliant keys of the piano make this moment even more interesting. Both the instruments and vocals are clear, and the sound is cool enough. This is the feeling of a high-end audio system. They do not hesitate to spend tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of won to enjoy this kind of sound.

Finally, I listened to Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’. I turned the volume up a bit and it felt like I was right in a concert hall. I listen to music not only with my ears, but with my heart and also with my body. As if standing in front of huge PA speakers, a strong sense of pressure gives you great pleasure. Going to the theater is no longer necessary.

The beginning of high-end cars

When you listen to music in the cabin, you don’t have to worry about your neighbors anymore. It is a great pleasure to enjoy rock music so loudly that you would not have imagined it if you were at home. This is the reason for choosing a high-end car audio system.

Actually, I don't know how important a car audio system is in a car. However, these days, when most cars boast high-performance engines or transmissions, I think that a perfect audio system can have a sufficient influence on the vehicle’s competitiveness. Kia’s bold collaboration with Meridian with such a belief to create such sound is definitely praiseworthy. Also, from that point of view, it is safe to say that the K8 opened the era of a high-end car. Though K8’s Meridian system is a cheater, I would like to give it a bouquet of flowers instead of a yellow card - because it deserves it.

by Jong-Hak Lee

After working as an editor for the monthly magazine <Screen>, he is now a jazz columnist, audio critic, and screenwriter. He also published a number of jazz books - <Into Jazz>, <I Like Jazz>, and <Jazz Cafe on the Corner>. From 2003 to 2008, he started publishing his hi-fi journal <Jonghak Lee: Game On> and wrote reviews on audio web magazines such as <Hi-Fi Club>, <Monthly Audio>, <Hi-Fi Choice>, and <Full Range>. Since 2015, he is working as an advisor of a Chinese audio importer <Zesen>, and as an advisor of the Macau audio show in 2017.

Photography by Jin-Ho Choi

HMG Journal Operation Team


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