Ok, here are the results of my tests:
Meridien F80 with i80 dock
Comparing lossless WAV with lossy WAV (320kb/s MP3 converted back to WAV): Very small difference but noticeable with the lossless WAV smoother. Treble cleaner and more airy. Voice and music coherency good. With lossy WAV, voice a touch forward with less coherency to treble. Less toe tapping.
Comparing lossless WAV with 320kb/s MP3: MP3 softer, less contrast between sounds, less dynamic in fine details. Again the difference is noticeable but small. Not night and day kind of difference
Tera Player with WAV ripped from CD played at max volume, side socket
ALO silver mini-mini
Meridien F80, Aux 1 input
Comparing Set 2 with Set 1 lossless WAV: Couldn't stop listening to the Tera Player! Normally I have to switch back and forwards between the devices after 10 seconds or so as aural memory is pretty short but with I started playing with the TP I had to listen to the entire track. With the TP, the bass notes are slightly deeper and the presentation of the music is smoother, there's no harshness at all. Treble is the biggest difference. It's less metallic, sweeter. The only downside is that the presentation is laid back, less dynamic.
Most important and the perhaps the reason why my original cursory conclusion about the TP sounding very ordinary compared with the i80 dock was that there is a volume discrepancy. Turns out that with the lower volume and smooth treble, the TP came across as muted and lifeless compared with the i80 dock. When increasing the volume, the details all pick up and the music "woke up" to be more exciting. However the presentation of treble still remains different. From the i80 dock, treble was more forward making the music more exciting and attention grabbing. With the TP, the treble is less aggressive without loosing detail. Laid back more. Solid state vs tube sound in a way.
So that's it then. My conclusion is that the TP can work as a source for desktops but needs to have sufficient volume to show it's best and is better matched with more exciting solid state systems or systems that is more forward.
As a side note, the F80 with i80 dock is a very good desktop system. the i80 does not have digital out so it doesn't use the super Meridien DAC but contain filters that optimize for the iphone sound and shows it off in the best possible way. It's one of the best sounding integrated desktop systems available today.
Would I use the TP with the Meridien? Nope, I would stick with the i80 dock and iphone. Would I use the Meridien to playback through headsets - tried it with mixed results. Overall, I would still stick with the Meridien combo. But since I can't carry that in my pocket, there isn't any option really.
Edited by flkin - 10/18/12 at 8:34am