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I know we're all sophisticated men of the world here, exquisitely sensitive to the quality of the gear we buy and only peripherally concerned with that mundane matter of price. Having said that...guys, we're talking here about $3,000 for a tabletop audio system. Yes, it has a slick design, a CD/DVD player, AM and FM radios, dual alarms to nudge you out of the sack and a cute, magnetized remote control that sticks to metal surfaces for convenient access. But three grand? How can Boothroyd Stuart justify the price for its Meridian F80?

The answer comes when you hit the power button, insert your favorite CD and suddenly find yourself thinking with your ears. I've listened critically to dozens of table radios, ranging from run-of-the-mill department-store clock radios to audiophile-friendly designer table radios, and the Meridian F80 outshines them all by a substantial margin. The cabinet may be only 16 inches wide, but the spacious stereo output sounds as if you've placed speakers on either side of the room. The sound is substantial yet nimble, capturing the delicacy of Feist's vocals and delivering Springsteen's rock anthems with real heft, thanks in part to a rear-firing subwoofer that fills out the sonic spectrum powerfully, but precisely.

The radio receiver is a standout performer, pulling in a clear signal even for distant FM stations. My guess is few owners will actually use the DVD playback capability, but it does work well via an S-video connection. And with multiple auxiliary input jacks, the F80 makes a perfect companion for iPods, laptops, portable game systems and other decibel-starved gear.

Calling the F80 "the Ferrari of tabletop audio" isn't a far-fetched comparison. Meridian collaborated with Ferrari in choosing materials and creating the striking visual design, a sleek semicircular statement available in five glossy colors, from conservative black, silver and off-white to striking re-creations of Ferrari's own Rossa Corsa red and Modena Giallo yellow. As far as I'm concerned, it's got to be that deep, sexy red. If I'm dropping three grand on a piece of audio gear, I want to hear that envious "wow" from my friends even before I turn the power on.

Visit www.thef80.com.

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