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

Discussion in 'Portable Headphone Amps' started by purrin, Feb 25, 2013.
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  1. wahhabb
    I was feeling very hopeful about this device based on Meridian's reputation and the very positive review in Absolute Sound. I feel puzzled but cautious after reading some of the items on this thread. I have a Fiio E17 and was expecting this or a Dragonfly to be a step up. Am I better off staying where I am?
  2. Stoney Contributor
    The Meridian Explorer is an excellent portable DAC, a huge step up from the E17 DAC I have here.  
    (Regarding the headphone out, it is less extended and a bit vague compared to the DAC line output... disappointing, but fine for non-audiophile usage.) 
    I suspect it took a long time to break in and many didn't give it the chance. I regretted it for a couple of months, now finding it delightful.  Reputation is beyond the Dragonfly, but I've not heard, and it is pricier.  Performance is plug-and-play and flawless... no interface needed.  
    I am using it with a MacBook Pro, Pure Audio s/w which uses my iTunes library, a Copper Moon interconnect, a few different amps (Headstage Arrow, and SR-71B by Ray Samuels), and HD650 (modded lightly) with Cardas balanced and unbalanced Clear cables.  It sounds wonderful!  Not rolled off.  \
  3. purrin
    It's only an issue with if you have version 1 of the ME with output impedance of 45 and certain kinds of low impedance headphones or IEMs. I believe the newer MEs are being produced with output impedance of 5 ohms, which should allow it to play better with a wider selection of headphones or IEMs without screwing up the frequency response or adding distortion.
    The ME has the same Meridian house as with its DACs. Lusher, slower paced, more forgiving. The Dragonfly sounds more honest. Ultimately, it will depend on your sonic preferences and what headphone or IEM you will be using.
  4. wahhabb
    Thanks so much for your responses.
  5. Stoney Contributor
    I find much of the review matches my experience with it as a DAC.  It has been some time since I used it as a headphone amp, but I had reservations about that output as metnioned earlier.  
    Excerpt about the DragonFly comparison (italics mine): 
    Comparing the $250 AudioQuest DragonFly to the $299 Meridian Explorer reveals real differences readers can use to make purchasing decision. Nearly twice as long and twice as wide the Explorer is much larger than the DragonFly. Both products are still pocket-sized but if size is most important (large or small) the decision should be easy. The Explorer features optical digital output, reprogrammable feature sets, and support for 176.4 and 192 kHz. The DragonFly offers none of the aforementioned features. The Explorer has a detachable USB cable while the DragonFly has a captive USB type A connector. The Explorer requires drivers on Windows because it supports 4x sample rates. The DragonFly is plug and play. The sonic differences between the two devices are not factual like the specifications. In my listening sessions the Explorer has a larger sound stage, more control, and an overall better sound. The DragonFly is the 2012 Computer Audiophile Product of the Year. If the Explorer would have been released in 2012 I would have very likely given the award to Meridian

    Is there a way to identify if a unit is the revision 1 (high z) or the later one/ revision 2 ?
  7. purrin
  8. Lookin4Treble
    I am testing a closed headphones setup for my lovely new open-space work cubicle. :frowning2:  For phones I have my trusty Ety 4Ps,  but will primarily use newly purchased Focal Spirit Pro, which provides much of the clarity and separation of the 4Ps but with more bass and a speaker-like presentation.
    Testing these phones with Meridian Explorer this morning...I actually agree with several of the OP's conclusions (excessive ranting aside).  While there is no doubt that Explorer is a quality audio product, it does have a "warm and silky" sound profile.  Is that good?  Well, on the one hand, it kind of works well with the 4Ps by somewhat taming their overly-analytical quality.  But with the Spirit Pros, I didn't like how it soothed away subtle harmonics in the upper midrange. So to me, it DID color the sound at the expense of smoothness.
    I expected it to be levels above the iBassoCobra D10 I already have. It does bring out more fullness and instrument seperation than the D10, but not $300 worth.  I'll go through the threads later, but if anybody has a suggestion for a worthy portable DAC upgrade they think lines up with my stated sound preferences, I would love to hear about it!  
    Thanks,  -Max
  9. purrin
    Geek DAC. Despite, cheesy marketing behind it. Has balls (low end) not typically found at this form factor. Great resolution, and non-Sabre like sound for a Sabre based implementation.
  10. frankrondaniel
    Have you heard a Geek proto-type or something?  I went in on it in Kick-Starter.  Can't wait to hear it.
  11. netdog
    We an AB test as follows using Neil Young's "Tell Me Why"
    A) ALAC CD RIP (percect copy) > Mac Mini / iTunes > USB Meridian > 3D LAB Amp > A2T Bookshelf Speakers
    B) CD > 3D Lab CD Player (10 years old) > 3D LAB Amp > A2T Bookshelf Speakers
    I was shocked, but it wasn't even close.  The CD sounded so much more open and exhibited a much better soundstage.  I mean the differences were really quite obvious.
    I was not expecting these results.
  12. bcwang
    Since you're using a computer path with the explorer, did you make certain you are outputting bit perfect to the explorer?  Also with the large caps in the explorer, you may want to make sure it's well burned in before doing a comparison.
    I'm not familiar with the 3D labs CD player but I don't expect the explorer to do miracles, it's a $300 product.  It's easily outclassed by my PWD MKII, it's not even close.  Of course we all wish the cigar sized DAC is as good as our best full size electronics but we aren't there yet.
  13. yfei
    I agree with purrin as well.      Thank purrin for the directness and honesty.       Many reviews on magazines or some websites are just convoluted, using language like politicians.  In the end I got no meaningful information.
    I had both Meridian Explorer and DragonFly.   DragonFly is close to 'truth', and with good resolution and a tad sweetness,  and share the common high frequency signature as other SABRE dacs.
    Meridian Explorer on the other end, tries to make sound beautiful by added fake high freq details, and bloated bass.     Yes, if the user is upgrading from a built-in sound card and normal headphones, he will definitely Wow'ed by Explorer,   everything sounded so different, so amazing.  But for a user who used to higher quality DACs (>$1000), he will quickly find Explorer colors things too much,  lacks of mid-bass details,  faked high freq details...  
    But it is a definitely fun product and meaningful upgrade for people just started hifi.
    This is also how Meridian describes Explorer:  "Explorer is the perfect introduction to the Meridian experience."        - just an introduction,  later you need to upgrade to 'real' meridian products.
  14. Allucid
    To be honest... Little USB stick DACs are all crap. Not being bias or subjective, but you're better off with something like a VAMP VERZA, Headstage Arrow 4 or JDS labs for example. The 'USB sticks' are easy to make, cheap, easy money.
  15. netdog

    Yes, bit-perfect output from Mac.
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