Meridian Prime Headphone Amplifier review

The Prime is a top-class headphone amplifier and a surprisingly talented stereo preamp. Treat the DAC section as a nice bonus too Tested at £1200

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The Prime is a top-class headphone amplifier and a surprisingly talented stereo preamp. Treat the DAC section as a nice bonus too


  • +

    A detailed, precise and composed performer

  • +

    Fine build and finish

  • +

    Great as a preamp

  • +

    Can drive a wide range of headphones

  • +

    ASP function is useful


  • -

    Needs a good display

  • -

    More digital inputs would be handy

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

The name of the Prime Headphone Amplifier makes its intended purpose clear.

It has built-in digital-to-analogue circuitry, but we get the feeling most of the effort has gone into the analogue amplification stages.


Meridian Prime

Meridian Prime

It has no fewer than three headphone outputs: two 6.3mm and one 3.5mm option. It’s happy to drive multiple headphones, but we find the sound is a little better defined when just one pair is driven.

Meridian is a master at signal processing, so it’s no surprise to find ‘Analogue Spatial Processing’ on board the Prime.

It’s a function designed to counteract the fact that stereo recordings are designed to be played over speakers, not headphones.

ASP blends the left and right channels to varying degrees – there are three options – to try to create a more natural presentation.

These features can often compromise clarity and focus to improve sound staging, but ASP sounds pretty convincing.

This is a small, beautifully built unit. We’re not totally taken with the display, though. The three indicators represent a range of source sampling rates, from 44.1kHz up to 24-bit/192kHz.

We’d like a more informative display showing both bit depth and sampling rate.


Meridian Prime

Meridian Prime

We start by connecting the Prime to our Mac laptop. We use a variety of headphones, and the results put us in mind of Meridian’s £450 Director DAC in terms of character, though at a higher level when it comes to sound quality.

The tonal balance is nicely judged and the Prime never sounds flustered or rushed. It’s totally in control – perhaps a bit too much, as some of the excitement is tempered. Dynamic punch and rhythmic drive are reined in a touch, too.

It’s when we try the line-level inputs that we’re surprised. Through the analogue inputs the Prime sounds more entertaining.

Rhythmically it’s more forceful, and there’s plenty of punch with music as diverse as Adele’s 19 and Metallica’s Enter Sandman. All the insight and composure we noticed through the USB input is still present, but there’s more spice to the sound.

The Prime also works well as a dedicated stereo preamp. It’s certainly right up there with some of the best preamps we’ve heard at around the £1000 mark.


We were worried Meridian had been too ambitious in its pricing – if this were only a DAC we’d mark it down because of that high price.

But this is a supremely capable headphone amplifier and also a fine, if slightly feature-limited, stereo preamp. And that is enough for the full five stars – treat the DAC as a nice bonus.

See our best headphone amplifiers

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What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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