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DACs item created by jacksonchansf, Apr 2, 2013
Pros - Musical. Adds depth and spaciality to the music. Inexpenisve for the results.
Cons - Requires too much power for OTG. Would have preferred a longer cable.
Absolutely killer product at the price
I originally got into the audiophile game about 5 months ago when I bought a pair of Thinksound On1 headphones at an extremely good price. I was floored by these woodies and the sound that I was able to get from them, even through my phone, but I felt that my PC audio was an absolute let down as it always felt like it was much flatter and less alive than my phone.
I started reading around Head-Fi, trying to find something to take the place of my poor onboard sound. I needed something that was able to be plug in and play as I work from a laptop and my home PC. Honestly, thank God I found the Meridian Explorer. I had to have my girlfriend's uncle bring it down from the US on his business trip to South Africa, but it was well worth the effort.
First Listen and life with the Meridian Explorer
I unboxed them as soon as I got home and listened to the mastered Red Hot Chili Peppers album with my girlfriend. Although this is a well known badly mastered album (which I would find out afterwards) I still watched with excitement as I gave it to her and her eyes darted around, following the music.
This little guy puts everything in its place and lets you know where you are sitting in the mix. Sometimes I suppose I get a little too comfortable with my sound and think that maybe it isn't all that, then I give a listen to my laptop's onboard and I remember why I got this. It really is incredible how you know the size of the room and how much clearer the bass and treble is. Voices might sit a bit more forward and the drums are in the back with the guitar on either side ... AND YOU CAN HEAR IT !
I'm super happy with the purchase and am currently looking to improve my headphones (Philips X2, not available here in SA but looking into importing) and buy an IEM (most likely the Klipsch X11i ... we only have Klipsch, Shure and AKG in SA) and I'm truly looking forward to discovering my music all over again.
Pros - Reasonable price, Immersive sound-stage , Liquid sound
Cons - Non really....
Lets start with a story of a young man on a desperate mission to rediscover the beauty of music. Long long ago there was a man a man named Dan he had a plan to try a DAC but many seemed to lack true emotion and heart.
OK skip a few chapters the introduction would be far too long and I'm not that eloquent fortunately, this wonderful piece of equipment is. I was out in Birmingham on a day trip when I stumbled onto the uncovering of a Super fi, the sales staff were very helpful leading me to the back room showing me various DACs, headphones and earphones. Feeling rather disappointed by the turn out the gentleman next to me turns and asks for my opinion on the headphones he is looking to purchase. Of course being an audio addict I jump to idea of throwing in my two cents. As I place the headphones onto my rather accommodating ears I notice this silver, shiny, glowing rod being the Meridian. Anyway after a few listens with various iems and headphones my decision is final I need me one of these and oh yes the gentleman did manage to make a decision in the end.
So my apologies for the lengthy start but now we have been introduced I feel I can share the journey of exploration this fabulous machine has had me on.
The DAC is fairly easy to set up even on a windows computer. It's fairly self explanatory just download the drivers from Meridian and follow the step by step.
The first thing I noticed when plugging my earphones or headphones into the Explorer is depth and musicality. Just stuns me upon every listen. Don't get me wrong its not entirely accurate but it gives such an immerse feel to the music like being center stage as the music surrounds and notes cascade and dance around you.
There is a beautiful lush, liquid sense to the mid range which helps vocals just melt into you ear and slip into your heart..... Humm true love. I am a self confessed ex bass head now I really struggle writing anything bad about my love but to write honestly has to be imperative. The bass is beautiful, plump and bouncy however, this is an area I really feel could do with tightening a touch not loads so as to lose the true nature of what she is but just enough to add refinement.
Timber and treble detail are quite fantastic subtle and slightly shadowed but fairly extended if not a touch rolled off. This is though a soft footed princess who loves shimmers and sparkles but never at the expensive of losing her delicate character. I won't be comparing the Explorer with my CLAS solo-db but I will say they are two different takes on musicality, one being a hot chocolate by the fire another being a walk on a stunningly clean beach just before the morning sun comes to warm the refreshing grains of sand between your feet.
There is so many good things about this DAC to summarize its one of the few pieces of equipment I can truly say I don't have buyers remorse after purchasing !
Can it get any better ? Well I have a few amps to my disposal plugged into the line out of the Explorer the sound can be tweaked to your preference. I personally love the Vorzuge Pure amp ii when partnered with any iem as I feel both sounds just complement each other so well. I highly encourage you to try any of your favorite amps, I was more than satisfied with the sound of the Explorer directly. Nevertheless in this hobby we are always looking to squeeze that extra 2% out if we can, so experiments began and well I am satisfied for now. In the mean time I wait expectantly for the new arrival of the Explorer2 which I hope improves on an already impressive DAC.
Bottom line if you can afford one and can get it cheap do so, worth every penny.
Pros - Clear, neutral and engaging sound. Surprisingly capable headphone amp.
Cons - For the price? Not much!
Bought this to use on the go and couldn't be happier. I've compared it to both the Dragonfly and Hegel Super and I can say that it comfortably trumps both those. The Dragonfly is good but music from the Explorer seems a bit more easy going and natural in comparison. And the Hegel Super is sadly disqualified for having a very high noise floor, on high impedance headphones you can't hear it but on everything else a very audible hiss is present.
I've also compared the Explorer to my Anedio D1 stationary DAC, and for a $300 portable device it does exceedingly well. As one could expect there is a performance gap here, and in comparison the Explorer comes across as more "mid-fi" rather than "high-fi" in flavor, but that's not always a bad thing depending on what you're after. It wasn't that long ago that this level of performance cost three times as much and only came with a power cord, for a USB powered portable device it is seriously impressive.
I also tried to power my HD650's from the Explorer and was very pleasantly surprised, I've heard several wall powed headphone amps that have done far worse! For such a puny device it has a very impressive drive and bass definition. If I was shopping for a entry level headphone setup a Meridian Explorer and HD650 would definitely be on my short list! It is hard to understand how well this little device actually drives these headphone until you've heard it. I suspect they must have used the HD650 as one of the development headphones, the synergy is that good.
Meridian has a long standing reputation in the Hi-Fi industry and the Meridian Explorer has been recieving a lot of praise in the press lately, but I'm happy to report that in my opinion all of it is well deserved! The combination of price, performance and form factor is very attractive and as an audio upgrade for a travel laptop it's almost a no-brainer. In short, this little device rocks and I have no problems recommending it.
Pros - gets the timbre right, gets very close to dedicated component DAC quality, scales well with external USB power quality
Cons - not really suitable as headphone amp
I am mainly using the Meridian Explorer on the road, from laptop.
Setup is painless on Mac and Linux.
Note that on Linux, it is worth checking the gain settings in alsamixer (only once is enough):
- run 'alsamixer' from a terminal command line,
- list audio sources with F6,
- select Meridian Explorer, and
- set the clock selectors, depending on your system.
On my Lenovo X230 and X1 Carbon I use -3 dB on both clock selectors (skipping the red range).
It makes a considerable improvement over the headphone outputs when I am on the road (which is its main use case).
When used as a DAC, and compared to my CD player (with built-in R2R NOS DAC) and my Nuforce home cinema processor DAC, the Explorer comes very, very close, and the difference is probably in the analog output stage: a little less macro- and micro dynamic range, somewhat less very deep bass, and less deep sound stage with speakers. With headphones (007 Mk1) the sound stage is very close to the component DAC's.
I compared the Explorer with a bunch of portable DAC's (Fiio, HRT, Herus, etc), and I appreciated its more realistic timbre. There are DAC's that make somewhat better first impression, but the Explorer is more neutral and just sounds more right on the long run with acoustic instruments.
It scales very well with a better USB power supply. I tried a 10 Ah battery (EasyAcc) with a USB Y-cable on which I have cut the +5V line of the signal connector. Sounds cleaner and more dynamic (using with the 2A output). I considered the iFi iUSB or the AQVOX USB power supply, but at the moment I don't feel the need. The external battery is much more practical and already provides much of the improvements. My source material is 16/44.1 FLAC or Spotify hi-res streaming, i.e. already a compromise.
I assumed that with the external power supply I can use it with an iPad via camera connection kit, but after correctly recognizing the Explorer, it complains the DAC draws too much power, which is obviously a fake message, as there is no physical connection on the +5V line. So no luck running the Explorer from iPad. Edit: looks like it works from a powered USB hub.
I tried multiple headphones with it: the flight-king Bose QC15 (with its own amplification), Sennheiser HD598, Grado SR80, Fostex TH600 and TH900. It could drive all of these without too big compromises, but it is not designed to drive full size headphones. The best use is as a DAC, driving an external amp from the fixed output.
For the price this is a very well voiced and balanced product.
Pros - Value,Versatility,Portability
Cons - Higher Power requirements for some applications
I use mine with a OTG cable from my Android Tablet Via Bose QC3's or over my Vehicle AUX input "App: USB Audio Recorder Pro". Also in the house I run it from my Raspberry Pi "Raspyfi" through my Receivers AUX to my ML Vista's and Depth i. Best Bang for the Buck IMO. I auditioned the Dragonfly at the same time and I purchased the Meridian Explorer much warmer sound and doesn't degrade the sound quality as much at high volumes.
I am sure you can use other DAC in the similar fashion but for the 300.00 price point and the excellent sound. I am very satisfied with my purchase.
About the Cons,
Not all Android devices will self power the DAC over the USB OTG "on the go" cable. In some cases you may need a Powered USB hub.
If you are using your Meridian in a similar way and do not require a Powered USB hub I would be interested to hear what Device you are using.
My Samsung Tab 2 and Asus MEMO do not require a Powered Hub.
Pros - Small, inexpensive for quality
Cons - USB Power issue with a KVM extender
I have to say that this is the best quality audio I've heard from my MacBook Pro. I'm listening to iTunes through BitPerfect. Most of my listening is through Sennhelser IE80's and it's magical. The vocals sound more 'real' than through any other DAC. I was comparing tonight to the AK120, which I love for a portable player, and it was clear through the Meridian that the acoustic guitar had a pick-up in it, whereas through the AK120 it could have been mic'd. If you want to hear what the musicians are doing, and how they were recorded, this is the USB DAC for you.
What's even better is that you just stop listening for the sonic footprint and enjoy the music. All of the nuance and fun of your music just comes pouring out. I put on a few of the Beatles 24bit tracks from the Apple USB drive and I just couldn't tear myself away.
I did try the DAC at work on my mac pro the mac is on a KVM extender. For some reason the system complained about USB power, when plugged into the ports on the extender. So I either have to get a very long headphone extension or a very long USB cable - or a new KVM extender. I'll report back if I find a solution.
Meridian has been one of the leading audiophile companies for digital to analog conversion. This relatively inexpensive devices opens the doors great Meridian sound for your computer. I'm ecstatic.