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post #316 of 1038

There some kind of subconscious thing that I have that when I see a mini-jack line out vs two separate RCA connectors for audio, it seems inferior. The Meridian obviously has the mini-jack. Is this suitable for use as a DAC that would then go to a dedicated amp via mini jack?

post #317 of 1038
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerocraft67 View Post

 

I'm sure it would do fine. A Bifrost runs $450 for the USB version. So $150 is something. At the rate DAC price/performance is advancing, the Bifrost starts to look a little long in the tooth at that price. But the Bifrost is an upgradable match in form factor to your Asgard, which is also something, although the upgrade will probably set you back $100. And your Asgard has been upstaged by Asgard 2. Point is, I feel good about Explorer as dedicated DAC paired with your Asgard. With the caveat that I've not listened to an Asgard, although an A2 is on my upgrade short list. The Modi is a somewhat distant third in your scenario, I reckon, unless price is a big priority.

 

Thanks for the info...should have been more clear, actually I am waiting for an Asgard 2-which is on back-order and looking at DAC options.

 

I'm something of a newbie. I've been listening to a pair of Grado 225i's for a few weeks. Honestly, they sound pretty good plugged into a decent Onyko CD player I have, but I decided it made sense to get a decent amp so I purchased the Asg 2.

 

And these cans are tolerable straight into my computer HP jack which has generic hardware. Not great, but OK. I'm really wondering how different it will sound w/ a DAC? I'm willing to spend some money, but I would be, let's say-quite annoyed to spend over $200 with imperceptible differences in sound. So, I would say, I am willing to spend a moderate amount of money (few hundreds) for a good price point value that feels well spent.

 

I'm not an audiophile, but I like good, robust, full sound.

 

I'm sure it's very subjective, but how would you characterize the bump up in sound quality with a decent DAC? Is it similar, for example to the difference between listening to a cheap portable CD player/boombox and and a nice stereo?


Edited by markm1 - 2/23/13 at 7:20am
post #318 of 1038
Quote:
Originally Posted by zilch0md View Post

 

Follow-up:  I've been doing some more reading on this subject.  Here's another tip when using a USB DAC, but especially when using a USB-powered DAC...  

 

Set your screen saver to black out the display.  Graphics adapters can generate noise on the power bus -and- even when running a laptop on AC power instead of battery, the display requires a lot of current that could affect the power available at the USB port.

 

Just an aside, I've read in a few places that the left USB port on my MBA is much cleaner than the right, being on a more isolated portion of the USB bus (ie. separated from display).  I'm not sure if this follows for other machines, but it might be something worth looking into.

 

Personally, if there's any difference to my ears it's slight, certainly something I would fail at distinguishing in a blind test. 

post #319 of 1038

I've gone ahead and purchased a lightly used newer version of the TG!334/000 which should arrive early next week... anyone used one of these with the ME (or DF for that matter)? 

post #320 of 1038
Quote:
Originally Posted by netdog View Post

So that would then apply equally to a headless computer like my Mini then? Despite there being no display, the graphics coprocessor certainly must be painting the display images.

 

I would think so, yes.

post #321 of 1038
Quote:
Originally Posted by whereas View Post

There some kind of subconscious thing that I have that when I see a mini-jack line out vs two separate RCA connectors for audio, it seems inferior. The Meridian obviously has the mini-jack. Is this suitable for use as a DAC that would then go to a dedicated amp via mini jack?

 

Yeah, I kind of feel the same way. My heart looks at mini-jack and thinks, lo-fi mass market portable stuff. My head looks at it and says, supremely universal and convenient. I don't have the technical knowledge to opine on whether the connection is truly inferior to the full size headphone jack or dual RCA. Even if there is a performance sacrifice in the smaller jack, it seems reasonable to have one in such a small device (actually, two in the case of Explorer).

 

But if you look at professional studio monitors, you don't see mini jacks, but you do see the single jacks of the non-RCA variety (many don't have RCA at all). And mini-to-RCA cables are available, and available from "audiophile-grade" suppliers, with no inferiority implied in the implementation. I suppose we should poke around with some research to confirm one way or the other, but I suspect we're just harboring a false bias against the mini jack, and that it's not inferior to other connections. 

post #322 of 1038
Quote:
Originally Posted by markm1 View Post

I'm something of a newbie. I've been listening to a pair of Grado 225i's for a few weeks. Honestly, they sound pretty good plugged into a decent Onyko CD player I have, but I decided it made sense to get a decent amp so I purchased the Asg 2.

 

And these cans are tolerable straight into my computer HP jack which has generic hardware. Not great, but OK. I'm really wondering how different it will sound w/ a DAC? I'm willing to spend some money, but I would be, let's say-quite annoyed to spend over $200 with imperceptible differences in sound. So, I would say, I am willing to spend a moderate amount of money (few hundreds) for a good price point value that feels well spent.

 

I'm sure it's very subjective, but how would you characterize the bump up in sound quality with a decent DAC? Is it similar, for example to the difference between listening to a cheap portable CD player/boombox and and a nice stereo?

 

If you're investing $250 in an A2, I don't think it's overkill to invest in an outboard DAC, and entry-level yet worthwhile DACs like Explorer go for $250-$300. That gets you a DAC that sufficiently outperforms your stock computer DAC. I'm pretty comfortable characterizing the performance upgrade as worthwhile and worth the money, but it's your $300.

 

Then again, you may already be getting a decent DAC for your needs in your CD player, but that's just for your CDs. I'd argue that computer audio (playing digital files rather than discs) is eclipsing CD playing, and you'll want to maintain your system accordingly. I just re-ripped much of my collection, hopefully for the last time, and it's been great to rediscover music I had just sitting arouund in albums without the patience to get them out and play them individually. 

 

Overall, personally, I like to ensure my hi-fi spending favors the headphones and speakers over sources and amps, and I think this is pretty conventional wisdom. Almost impossible to put a number on it, but at some point it doesn't make sense to spend four figures on DACs and amps when you're listening to cheap headphones. My latest thinking is that no one component should cost more than the headphones or speakers. So, if you're buying a $250 amp and $300 DAC, that suggests you might want to ensure your speakers or headphones cost at least $300, or that you have your eye on ones that do as a future upgrade. 

post #323 of 1038
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerocraft67 View Post

 

If you're investing $250 in an A2, I don't think it's overkill to invest in an outboard DAC, and entry-level yet worthwhile DACs like Explorer go for $250-$300. That gets you a DAC that sufficiently outperforms your stock computer DAC. I'm pretty comfortable characterizing the performance upgrade as worthwhile and worth the money, but it's your $300.

 

Then again, you may already be getting a decent DAC for your needs in your CD player, but that's just for your CDs. I'd argue that computer audio (playing digital files rather than discs) is eclipsing CD playing, and you'll want to maintain your system accordingly. I just re-ripped much of my collection, hopefully for the last time, and it's been great to rediscover music I had just sitting arouund in albums without the patience to get them out and play them individually. 

 

Overall, personally, I like to ensure my hi-fi spending favors the headphones and speakers over sources and amps, and I think this is pretty conventional wisdom. Almost impossible to put a number on it, but at some point it doesn't make sense to spend four figures on DACs and amps when you're listening to cheap headphones. My latest thinking is that no one component should cost more than the headphones or speakers. So, if you're buying a $250 amp and $300 DAC, that suggests you might want to ensure your speakers or headphones cost at least $300, or that you have your eye on ones that do as a future upgrade. 

Thank you-that makes a lot of sense. I appreciate the thought and time you took to answer my question-very helpful.

post #324 of 1038

I’ve had the Meridian Explorer USB DAC for almost a week now and have also been using it with the iFi iUSB Power for the last few days days, so I thought I’d post a few impressions now I’ve had a little time to enjoy both products and compare them to a couple of other options I have available.

 

The context to this is that I thought I’d try a USB DAC because I had problems with serious mains noise when using my AC-powered DAC (the $900 Audio GD Reference 5.2) with my Icon Audio tube head amp in my desk-top rig. Using the 5.2’s XLR out to my Violectric v200 I had no hum issues and the Audio GD is now working well in balanced mode as part of my main speaker rig, but that didn’t solve my tube headphone amp issue.

 

I’d planned to audition the Resonessence Labs Concero but that isn’t readily available in the UK. By chance the Meridian Explorer just happened to be launched at the same time I was checking out the options. I’m an admirer of Meridian and have used their gear extensively, the initial reviews were good and, although a desk DAC was my primary requirement, the additional flexibility might also be useful so I took the plunge. Actually, price was a factor too. The Explorer isn’t particularly expensive so I figured there wasn’t too much to loose.

 

But could a cheap USB DAC really cut the mustard with my revealing HD800?

 

The Meridian Explorer functions as a DAC, USB converter and a headphone amplifier but my comments only apply to its performance in the former function. I’ll get straight to the point by issuing a health warning. Anyone who dislikes hyperbole and gushing enthusiasm should read no further. In my rig, the combination of Meridian Explorer and iFi iUSB Power is simply outstanding and so far above my expectations that I keep having to pinch myself. Its like I literally can’t believe my ears!

 

The quality of the sound is so good that it has frequently made comparisons difficult. I start a track and quickly forget that I’m listening to what the DAC/power supply is doing; I just get completely absorbed with the music itself. Whole albums pass by – I was even late for work one day!

 

The rig I’m using is:

 

MacBook Pro running Fidelia

iFi standard blue USB cable

iFi iUSB power supply

Wireworld Starlight USB cable

Meridian Explorer

Toxic cables silver widow 3.5mini jack to twin RCA cable

Icon Audio HP8 Mk2 tube amp/Violectric v200

Sennheiser HD800

 

 

 

For comparison I’ve used my Audio GD in balanced mode to the Violectric using the same front end. I’ve also used my iBasso DX100 as an alternative source/DAC, using its analogue out jack.

 

Before sticking the knife in, please be aware that what follows are impressions – I haven’t attempted a formal comparison review and it’s still early days. But having listened to a variety of head gear lately, and having put a lot of effort into refining my desk rig, I feel confident of the opinions I’m expressing.

 

Listening impressions

 

On it’s own I’d say that the Meridian Explorer is a fine budget DAC and excellent value for money. It has it’s own sonic character that I’d describe as being essentially neutral, very slightly lean compared to my slightly dark Audio GD, strong on PRAT and overall pretty musical, though very slightly ‘digital’ in the way I find most budget DACs I’ve heard tend to be. The soundstage is well resolved (slightly soft-edged?) and the overall musical presentation is bold and convincing.

 

Up against the DX100 and connected to the same amp I found the two quite similar with little to choose between them. Detail retrieval was about the same and it was all basically too close to call. They both sound good.

 

The more expensive Audio GD slightly had the edge when in balanced mode with the Violectric v200, extracting a little more detail and musical subtlety from the recordings. The way the music was rendered was just a little more convincing overall – exactly as you’d expect given the price differential. That said the Meridian was far from disgraced.

 

I don’t have other budget USB DACs to compare, but nothing I’ve heard using the Explorer would make me doubt that, on it’s own, it’s a very strong option amongst its immediate competitors.

 

Enter the iFi iUSB power supply…

 

As most readers will know, the weakness of DACs that rely on the power of the USB bus is that this power supply tends to noisy. With my tube amp turned up high and no music playing, I can hear the hum/buzz produced by my laptop clearly. Disconnect the laptop’s power supply and it immediately gets quieter but it’s still there. You can’t help feeling that, at normal listening levels it must be a negative factor in the sound. After listening to the Meridian for a day I decided to try iFi’s iUSB Power to get around the problem and hopefully extract the very best that the little Explorer was capable of. Connection is straightforward and I started listening.

 

Cue jaw drop and big smile.

 

The impact of the power supply conditioner is immediately noticeable and simply can’t be underestimated. Less grain, blacker background and bigger soundstage, deeper soundstage, more precise spatial positioning, more detail, more realism, slightly more extended bass, less treble ‘glare’, better dynamics, better transients, better decay and timing... it’s quite remarkable.

 

With the iUSB Power in the system the musical presentation has become more relaxed and engaging in a way that quickly silences criticism. As I mentioned at the beginning, I stopped listening to the equipment and just enjoyed the music because it sounds more like real music.

 

You might argue that in certain details, it could still be improved (At times I detected a very slight softness in the bass for example). However, I don’t have truly top-end, $1K+ DACs to compare it with and it may just be that I'm hearing the limit of the original recordings themselves.

 

Against my existing equipment you could say that, on one level, the differences are not that big. The Sabre chip-based iBasso is a very good DAP; my more expensive and highly rated Audio GD is an excellent DAC. The same could be said compared to using the ME on it’s own.  They all reproduce music well.

 

It’s also true that the Meridian’s basic sound signature isn’t changed by the better power supply. What’s good already remains good. But the cumulative impact of the many small improvements catapult the sound into a totally different league. It’s the sort of sound that I know I could be satisfied with for a long time. What I have difficulty understanding is how it could have been produced by two relatively cheap items of equipment!

 

The difference is most noticeable with high-resolution files. I’ve been listening to the sublime Linn recordings of the late Mozart symphonies by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Charles Mackerras. Using the Explorer/iFi IUSB combination, the way the illusion of the orchestra and hall is realised is quite remarkable and the added ability to ‘see into the mix’ enables you to enjoy these wonderful scores in all their glory. It’s easy to hear what individual players are doing and to follow the different musical lines while still being conscious of the whole – it’s truly addictive.

 

But ALAC rips from red book CDs get the same treatment. The emotional impact of Diana Krall’s performance of ‘A case of you’ from ‘Live in Paris’ was much greater than I’ve experienced before. I could hear all sorts of subtle intonation in her singing that I’d never previously noticed. And I wasn’t straining to hear things, it was readily apparent.

 

I could go on and on and it’s also clear that less refined pop/rock recordings get similar treatment. There seems to be more presence and better instrument separation irrespective of what I’m listening to although, ultimately, bad recording still sound bad. I keep thinking that next time I listen the novelty will rub off and I’ll come to my senses but, so far, that hasn’t happened. I’m also not going to say that it does a particularly fine job with, say, human voices, or some other particular. What I’m hearing is an improvement with everything. The quality of the overall presentation is very balanced and even handed.

 

Of course, I mustn’t generalise outside of my own listening experience. These are my impressions on my rig – your mileage may vary.

 

Conclusions so far…

 

So is this the magic bullet, Champagne sound for beer money prices? The answer for me, so far, is yes.  The sound is detailed, poised, lush, un-fatiguing and effortless – very un-digital. It’s a bit like the difference I’ve sometimes heard comparing good CD-based systems with vinyl. Both sound great but only one sounds ‘real’.

 

I have heard better sound from headphone rigs, but only through much more high end systems. For me, the Meridian Explorer, used together with the iFi iUSB power supply is a giant killer of a set up.

 

Highly recommended.


Edited by Painterspal - 2/24/13 at 7:14am
post #325 of 1038

Nice work, Painterspal, thanks. In a sense, the Exporer+iUSB amounts to a $500 DAC, which buys a lot of performance in 2013, even in the sky's-the-limit hi-fi market. This helps put your very positive results in a plausible context. 

post #326 of 1038
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerocraft67 View Post

Nice work, Painterspal, thanks. In a sense, the Exporer+iUSB amounts to a $500 DAC, which buys a lot of performance in 2013, even in the sky's-the-limit hi-fi market. This helps put your very positive results in a plausible context. 


You're right. There's probably a critical point where the law of diminishing returns starts to cut in big time. I've no idea where that is with USB DACs - I'm simply not qualified to judge. However, I obviously feel that what I'm hearing is very good value at that price. In fact I'd have happily paid a lot more for it.

post #327 of 1038

Damn... I really wish I were in a position to use an iUSB.  I remember how much an improvement an AQVOX ps made on my old AP2.  I'm sure this is in another league.  Alas, I need my setup to be ultra portable and have no desk/desktop system to integrate into.

 

Cheers, thanks for the Painterspal.  

 

I'm curious about the Starlight... now that's something I can do.  I'm still somewhat dubious about the improvements USB cables can make though (in my old system I had an Ultraviolet and had trouble discerning the difference, but then again that was with the AQVOX filtering).  

post #328 of 1038

Painterspal, thanks for the detailed review. I really appreciated your comments.

 

One question: most of your comments vis-a-vis the Audio-Gd Ref 5.2 are before you added the iUSB. After you added the iUSB, how would you say the two units compared? Was the Meridian still a bit digital sounding relative to the Ref 5.2, or were they roughly on par at that point?
 

post #329 of 1038
Quote:
Originally Posted by MoonUnit View Post

Painterspal, thanks for the detailed review. I really appreciated your comments.

 

One question: most of your comments vis-a-vis the Audio-Gd Ref 5.2 are before you added the iUSB. After you added the iUSB, how would you say the two units compared? Was the Meridian still a bit digital sounding relative to the Ref 5.2, or were they roughly on par at that point?
 

 

Good point. I didn't directly compare the Audio GD to the Meridian once I'd added the iUSB. However, I easily could and will do so soon. But I'm pretty sure I know the answer already, the Meridian/iUSB combo seems clearly the best USB DAC I've used in my desktop rig. I think the Audio GD may be nearer using optical, which is how I use it in my speaker rig downstairs, and that would be an interesting test which I'll also do.

 

But no, the Meridian/iUSB combination isn't digital sounding at all, quite the opposite.

post #330 of 1038

Thanks Painterspal,

 

That was so well written - and credible! 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Painterspal View Post

 

Enter the iFi iUSB power supply…

 

[snip]

 

After listening to the Meridian for a day I decided to try iFi’s iUSB Power to get around the problem and hopefully extract the very best that the little Explorer was capable of. Connection is straightforward and I started listening.

 

Cue jaw drop and big smile.

 

The impact of the power supply conditioner is immediately noticeable and simply can’t be underestimated. Less grain, blacker background and bigger soundstage, deeper soundstage, more precise spatial positioning, more detail, more realism, slightly more extended bass, less treble ‘glare’, better dynamics, better transients, better decay and timing... it’s quite remarkable.

 

With the iUSB Power in the system the musical presentation has become more relaxed and engaging in a way that quickly silences criticism. As I mentioned at the beginning, I stopped listening to the equipment and just enjoyed the music because it sounds more like real music.

 

[snip]

 

It’s also true that the Meridian’s basic sound signature isn’t changed by the better power supply. What’s good already remains good. But the cumulative impact of the many small improvements catapult the sound into a totally different league. It’s the sort of sound that I know I could be satisfied with for a long time. What I have difficulty understanding is how it could have been produced by two relatively cheap items of equipment!

 

The difference is most noticeable with high-resolution files. I’ve been listening to the sublime Linn recordings of the late Mozart symphonies by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Charles Mackerras. Using the Explorer/iFi IUSB combination, the way the illusion of the orchestra and hall is realised is quite remarkable and the added ability to ‘see into the mix’ enables you to enjoy these wonderful scores in all their glory. It’s easy to hear what individual players are doing and to follow the different musical lines while still being conscious of the whole – it’s truly addictive.

 

[snip]

 

I have heard better sound from headphone rigs, but only through much more high end systems. For me, the Meridian Explorer, used together with the iFi iUSB power supply is a giant killer of a set up.

 

Highly recommended.

 

 

I think what we've learned here is that the Meridian Explorer is a very capable DAC, made all the better with clean power.  Clean power alone cannot make music.   smile.gif

 

I'm all set for desktop DACs in this price range, but your enthusiasm tempts me to order a Meridian + iFi iUSBPower - just to see if I'm missing out on anything.

 

In fact, it makes me wonder what could be achieved with the iFi iUSBPower and the $50 Stoner Acoustics UD100 USB DAC  (an ESS9023 DAC, like the Audioquest Dragonfly, the JDS LabsObjective DAC, and the HiFimeDIY USB DAC, but having a USB receiver chip that's not capable of 96/24).  

 

When I had a UD100, I found it to be quite sensitive to noise from my laptop's AC adapter, but there wasn't a problem (at least not a problem of which I was aware) when running the laptop on battery power.  Truth be known, as with your Explorer, it could have been all the better with the iFi iUSBpower.

 

Thanks again!

 

Mike

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