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The menu itself is controlled by seven of the ten buttons that run along the middle of the F80, just under the display. Apart from the home button, which flips between the main menu and your current display, all the buttons are context driven. So if you're in radio mode they adjust tuning and flip between (radio) bands. Playing a CD, they turn into play/pause, skip forward, skip backward, etc. It really is so intuitive, I simply can't fault it. The best bit, though, is that unlike so many devices, the menu doesn't timeout when you're adjusting settings. I can't tell you how many times I've been frustrated by menus disappearing when I'm testing different settings - I'm in the menu for a reason, don't try and second guess me!
Round the back there is a large selection of input and output options with digital audio in and out, s-video and composite outputs, and an iPod dock connection particularly standing out (this is compatible with the upcoming i80 dock). The video connections are for use when playing back DVDs and the quality from them is quite impressive. However, we would deem the inclusion of component video an absolute necessary minimum to get the best video signal from your DVDs. Beyond that we'd ideally have HDMI output and Blu-ray disc support to make this a truly one-stop home entertainment system. The latter are forgiveable though, considering the F80 actually launched at the start of last year - maybe it's time for an update?
The remote is also a little disappointing. It's a generic button-cell battery powered thing that that uses little popper style buttons. It's not inherently bad but it doesn't have the classy feel you would expect from such a pricey product.
There are two external aerial connections, with three different aerial extensions included in the box, as well as an internal aerial so there are plenty of options for getting an optimal radio setup. Unfortunately, radio reception, and particularly DAB, in our area is very poor so it's always difficult for us to comment on the tuning abilities of one device over another. For what it's worth though, the F80 was no worse than any other device we've tested and, when a signal was found, the F80 shone just as brightly as it does with any other sound source, which is of course what this device is really all about.
No matter what genre of music or video I threw at it, the F80 not only coped with it but excelled at the lot. Whether the violins of Mozart, brash attitude of the Sex Pistols, the soporific tones of Dido, or the pulse of Serenity's engines it didn't miss a beat, maintaining clarity, warmth and brute force all at the same time. It really is fantastic and certainly on a par with any conventional Hi-Fi costing £1,000.
So is the F80 worth its £1,500 asking price? Well, not quite. Not unless you really want a Ferrari branded Hi-Fi. On technical merits alone it just doesn't add up. On the one hand the F80 purports to be an all-in-one home-entertainment centre, with its DVD playback, but for this it lacks key features like HD movie playback and HDMI connectivity. If you consider the DVD playback as an added bonus and just view the F80 as a compact Hi-Fi it again struggles simply because £500 is a heavy premium to pay just for the compact design. That said if you don't have the room for a 'proper' Hi-Fi and value the convenience of such a compact device, there's little out there on the market that can offer the same audio fidelity.
With the F80, Meridian does its Ferrari tie-in proud by producing a stylish and beautifully crafted compact home-entertainment system. Sound quality is unparalleled for such a small device and the extras like DVD playback are very welcome. The only sticking point is the astronomical price but then there's little else on the market that can offer everything the F80 does in such a small package.
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