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Meridian Explorer DAC/Amp Stream of Consciousness Review (WARNING: Not Good)

post #1 of 133
Thread Starter 

Looks like Meridian fixed the output Z issue: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/meridian-explorer-case-study-effects-output-impedance

 

Somehow, this little Meridian Explorer (ME) thing-a-ma-jig landed on my desk for an audition. I don't know why people send me crap (stuff), but I guess they want a second opinion. Also, I presume people know if I really think a something sucks, I will clearly state so. This is all my personal opinion of course. We all have difference preferences and references for what is good and what is not good. The Meridian Explorer plainly sucks. Listening to it pisses me off.

 

To understand why I think it sucks, let's rewind a little bit. I've had the pleasure of listening to that Audioquest Dragonfly doodad (DFDD) thing-a-ma-jig a few months ago. Given how heavily the Dragonfly appeared (at least from my cynical point-of-view) to be so heavily shilled here on HF, I had very poor expectations of it. Indeed, when I was finally afforded the chance to hear the DF, I was somewhat surprised at the DFDD's competence. Not bad at all! Surprisingly decent. And this was even directly driving the T50RP (Paradox mod) and HE500, both difficult to drive headphones. I never did examine the DFDD more in-depth, i.e. isolate the DAC section, since I figured the point of this device was size and portability without extraneous odd stuff dangling from it.

 

Now fast forward in time to a few days ago. My initial listen with the ME was with the HE500. Again, somewhat difficult to drive, something I was cognizant of, but I wanted to give it a go for a challenge. In any event, I am familiar with the HE500's characteristics when poorly driven, so I know when to let things slide when it's warranted. With highly compressed semi-poorly recorded tracks from Alanis' JLP album, I actually kind of liked the ME. Euphonic. Smooth. Warm. Definitely colored. Not too bad really. But that's only one of my test tracks. (As an FYI, I use several test tracks, some well recorded, and some not so well recorded. If I consider a piece of gear to significantly fail with any of one them, then I consider it a poor product overall. My view is that a decent product must survive all tests tracks. I don't like to collect gear and I don't use special equipment for special recordings on special occasions.)

 

So the next track I grabbed was one of my favorites which audio engineer Steve Albini worked on: the Pixies' Brick is Red. The particular recording I have is very dynamic with a lot of snaps to drums and bite to guitars. This is definitely not night time relaxing mood or Driving Miss Lazy music. Pressed play. OMFG? WTF is this. Something is very very wrong. Basically, the ME rendered a Steve Albini Pixies recording with the dynamic sensibilities of Muzak piped through limited bandwidth (rolled off treble) commercial ceiling speakers.

 

OK. OK. Not fair. HE500 is hard to drive. Let's try my UERMs. I use the UERMs 50% of the time straight out portable sources. I plug in the UERMs. So now I'm thinking fugg, I don't want to blow out my ears. The ME's got no volume control and is reliant on the application's or Windows volume control. This does not please me. One errant click, and I go deaf. Turn down JRiver volume to zero. Increase upward with precision mouse clicks. In JRiver, usable volume levels for the UERMs are 3%,4%,5%,6%, and 7%. Awesome - I get the granularity of a bad stepper.

 

So anyways, I'm sure the UERMs will do much better than the HE500. Same pixies track. Pressed play. Nope. Same as with HE500. Gawd this thing sucks. I guess it's probably good for classical*, but I'm not going to bother trying.

 

 

* This has become sort of a insider joke which is hard to explain. BTW I am well versed in classical, as long as its before or after the romantic era.

 

SUMMARY

 

  • Overly warm
  • Excessively polite and forgiving
  • Rolled off in the upper mids
  • No air
  • Severely lacking dynamics and impact
  • Lacks power for harder to drive headphones
  • Extremely poor resolving capability
  • No low bass
  • Slightly slow transient response
  • Slightly veiled
  • Did I mention excessively polite and forgiving?
  • Best paired with headphones with nasty sounding treble characteristics
  • Get a AudioQuest Dragonfly or CEntrance DACport instead if you want honesty
  • Laptop out is better (at least with the HE-500 and UERM from my VAIO)
  • I haven't heard anything so terrifyingly bad in a long time
  • I suspect many will be seduced by its charms, but probably get sick of it over time
  • Advocates of the Meridian sound will love it, and if you love it, you'll know what to buy next when you decide to move up, sideways, or down

 

UPDATES:

 

  1. FR measurement with UERM: http://www.head-fi.org/t/652910/meridian-explorer-dac-amp-stream-of-consciousness-review-warning-not-good#post_9202935
  2. Meridian Explorer output impedance measuring comparing with OBJ2 and Leckerton UHA-6: http://www.head-fi.org/t/652910/meridian-explorer-dac-amp-stream-of-consciousness-review-warning-not-good/30#post_9205254

Edited by purrin - 3/19/13 at 8:30am
post #2 of 133

Thank you. Feels like I let out a gigantic crap that's been hibernating inside my colon for a month. Nice, refreshing review. 

Quote:
Originally Posted by purrin View Post

 The Meridian Explorer plainly sucks. Listening to it pisses me off.

 


Edited by Girls Generation - 2/25/13 at 11:43am
post #3 of 133

But can it run Crysis 3?

post #4 of 133
Quote:
Originally Posted by Girls Generation View Post

Thank you. Feels like I let out a gigantic crap that's been hibernating inside my colon for a month. Nice, refreshing review. 


Best comment I have read on HF in a long, long time.

post #5 of 133

Well... it does look a little bit like a finished toilet paper roll...

post #6 of 133

The Meridian Explorer is amazing.  Truly astonishing, a work of art as well as a ground-breaking innovation.  There is a reason it is on ComputerAudiophile's Cash List, Audiostream's Greatest Bits, and even Head-Fi's founder has proclaimed "I haven't heard one yet."  Meridian is an audiophile brand used in world class pairings, such as TTVJ's show rigs (though the Pinnacle usually takes center stage there.)  The Explorer is also built in the UK, something it shares with heavy-hitters like Naim and Paul McCartney.  All caps are 'Audio Grade' and the unit is derived from the much more expensive 800 series, which must be tremendous in it's own right.  The Meridian is a classy unit, like its heritage.  It is for those of us with more refined tastes, such as Classical music from the Romantic Era and Patricia Barber.  The Pixies were the beginning of the end, just some guys and a girl starting soft and getting really loud and then going soft again.

 

I think its pretty clear you guys just want to spoil the fun the rest of us are having by trying to kill any product that has a bit of hype.  If this player is warm, its warm like sitting in front of a fire with hot cocoa and a good book.  If it is veiled, it is veiled in the enticing way of the bellydancer.  Excessively forgiving and polite?  Sounds like a Brit to me.  This product hasn't just broken the mold - it has obliterated it to the point where no one realizes there was mold in the first place.  I'm sorry you guys are too busy being bitter and pretending to be pirates to realize the revelation you have witnessed. Don't Always Like Everything? The Hate Or Rage Never helps.

post #7 of 133

Purrin just be hatin'!

post #8 of 133

Even though I have an Explorer on its way to me, gotta admit, I appreciated the OP.  His impressions are no less valid to me than all those reviews basically fellating Meridian.  Still can't wait to get mine & see what all the hub-bub is about.

post #9 of 133
Quote:
Originally Posted by feverfive View Post

Even though I have an Explorer on its way to me, gotta admit, I appreciated the OP.  His impressions are no less valid to me than all those reviews basically fellating Meridian.  Still can't wait to get mine & see what all the hub-bub is about.

 

LOL.

 

Yeah, most of what's out there has been fairly positive:

 

http://hometheaterreview.com/meridian-explorer-usb-dac-reviewed/

http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/dacs/dacs-reviews/meridian-explorer-usb-dac.html

http://www.tonepublications.com/macro/meridian-audios-explorer/

http://www.whathifi.com/review/meridian-explorer-dac

http://www.hifiplus.com/articles/world-exclusive-meridian-audio-explorer-usb-dacheadphone-amplifier-hi-fi/

post #10 of 133

Man if reviewing stuff gets you there, you need to get out and see the world! Or just stick to reviewing fridges and micro waves..

post #11 of 133

I'm trying hard to see merit in this review, but it isn't easy, and not only because I'm biased in favor of the device. Prose is not too shabby but the snark is completely overwhelming. Stretching my generosity, I might say there are some plausible observations about the sound of the Explorer in there. But almost impossible not to take away from this review a juvenile hit job on a popular product.

 

Sure, there are a few Explorer fanboys galavanting around and some initial impressions that are a little reckless with the hyperbole, but I'm just not seeing a level of hype so outrageous as to elicit widespread disgust and vitriol in response. Is it so implausible that the newest portable DAC/amp is the best, especially from a venerable manufacturer of audio equipment, given how brisk DAC technology is clipping along? Is Explorer even universally heralded as absolute best in class? I haven't read every review, but those I've read (I like to think the most credible ones) place it ahead of Dragonfly and a class leader but not the only sensible choice, and certainly not the DAC to end all DACs.

 

I evaluated Dragonfly and Explorer together, returning Dragonfly, satisfied that I traded off very little in the decision. Although I chose Explorer, I could certainly see someone else going the other way. But claiming that Explorer sounds so bad that it gives you a rash is incredible, and no less annoying than the hype it purports to counter. Do you really have to love or hate this thing? I just don't get the polarization over it, or even some of the more haughty skepticism. Maybe it's just a Head-fi thing?

post #12 of 133
Quote:

Originally Posted by purrin View Post

 

OK. OK. Not fair. HE500 is hard to drive. Let's try my UERMs. I use the UERMs 50% of the time straight out portable sources. I plug in the UERMs. So now I'm thinking fugg, I don't want to blow out my ears. The ME's got no volume control and is reliant on the application's or Windows volume control. This does not please me. One errant click, and I go deaf. Turn down JRiver volume to zero. Increase upward with precision mouse clicks. In JRiver, usable volume levels for the UERMs are 3%,4%,5%,6%, and 7%. Awesome - I get the granularity of a bad stepper.

 

Just curious... based on that description, it sounds like you're using JRiver in "Internal Volume" mode. With a device like this, you're going to get serious distortion if you use "Internal Volume" ode with sensitive IEMs. (5% internal volume in JRiver is -77.5 dB attenuation, which means the harmonic distortion floor will be at -13 dB down with the PCM5102) That would definitely explain the coloration you're hearing. With this device, you really have to use JRiver in "System Volume" mode.

post #13 of 133
Thread Starter 

FYI. Uncompensated raw measurements 1/3 octave smoothed of UERM.

 

  1. Blue = from Leckerton UHA-6 (consistent with FR from O2, Magni, other amps with decently low output Z, etc. This is the baseline, reference, or normal output.)
  2. Pink = from Meridian

 

 

Note the UERM output from Meridian is rolled off. I freaked out when I first saw this because I thought I had fried my UERMs. FR differences are likely attributable to high impedance output of the ME, which probably also explains its gooey sound. IEMs, because of their crossover networks, are very sensitive to output impedance.

 

No doubt the Meridian's extremely colored FR performance with the UERM was a large contributor to why I felt it stunk like a pile of


Edited by purrin - 2/25/13 at 6:06pm
post #14 of 133
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MoonUnit View Post

 

Just curious... based on that description, it sounds like you're using JRiver in "Internal Volume" mode. With a device like this, you're going to get serious distortion if you use "Internal Volume" ode with sensitive IEMs. (5% internal volume in JRiver is -77.5 dB attenuation, which means the harmonic distortion floor will be at -13 dB down with the PCM5102) That would definitely explain the coloration you're hearing. With this device, you really have to use JRiver in "System Volume" mode.

 

I'm on System Volume mode. Just confirmed. 

post #15 of 133
Quote:
Originally Posted by purrin View Post

 

I'm on System Volume mode. Just confirmed. 

 

Thanks for checking, and thanks for taking the measurements. You're right, it's obviously high output impedance.

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