My Impressions of the Meridian Audio Director (Direct DAC)
Jan 24, 2016 at 2:28 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 8

bpandbass

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I recently decided to send back the Meridian Audio Director due to some extra expenses that necessitated the money (new tires), but I thought I would do a writeup of what I thought of the Director in the three weeks I spent with it. 
 
Form Factor
 
Build quality wise the Director is a very well made component. It is has from an ovular anodized black aluminum casing with two piano black plastic endcaps, which I would have liked to see in metal instead due to piano black's tendency to pick up scratches from the other end of the city. I have a feeling that without care, these parts will look ugly after accruing a few scratches. The Director is made in England just like other Meridian gear, and has two integrated rubber feet, which is nice. It uses a single pair of rear-mounted gold-plated RCA jacks, no balanced outputs available. The USB port and integrated 3.5mm coaxial/SPDIF port are here too. All I/O ports are on the back to give the Director a tidier appearance, and on the front is a single button to switch between optical and USB input mode. And there are two white LED lights to indicate the Director being powered, and which sampling mode it is in. The LEDs aren't too bright thankfully. 
 
Accessories
 
The Director comes nicely packaged in a couple outer cardboard boxes, and ships with a coaxial 3.5mm adaptor piece, an SPDIF 3.5mm adaptor, a USB wallwart to plug the Director into while using the optical input (the Director is USB bus powered), and several plugs including the North American/Japan two-pronged plug, the Australia plug, the UK G-Type plug, and the Euro C-Tyle plug. I was disappointed to see that the Director ships with neither an optical cable nor a USB A-B cable, a rather crucial omission since the Director needs one to function. So be sure to source your own USB, SPDIF or coaxial cable should you buy a Director. 
 
Powering the Director
 
The Director is USB bus powered, so thankfully it can run off any sort of computer without a wall socket needed, should you choose to run it off of USB in a portable setting (though it requires plugging into a separate amp, so it's not really a travel-oriented device, but rather transportable). But unfortunately this also means the Director is relying USB bus power, which depending on the computer used, can be extremely unreliable with the power flow and can have a tendency to sound dirty or jittery. The Director is asynchronous, so you won't have as many problems with it picking up jitter and interference as say the Audioengine D1, but it may still struggle if your computer has poor USB power management, or the OS doesn't manage bus power efficiently.
 
If your computer has a clean USB signal then you won't have an issue, but if you have OS or logic board power handling issues, then I would recommend purchasing a power isolator like the one I have, the $99 Schiit Audio Wyrd. The Wyrd takes the USB signal from your computer, removes the bus power current from the computer, and adds its own from a wall power source. No drivers required. The Wyrd will act as the Director's external power source, and also adds an on/off switch to turn off the Director without going through the hassle of removing the USB cable. I use the Director with my 2011 Macbook Pro 13" and Schiit Audio Wyrd. The Macbook and OS X El Capitan aren't the best for USB power management, but the Director doesn't have too many issues picking up interference or jitter as other USB-powered lower end DACs. Meridian did a fine job engineering the Director to minimize USB noise. Still, having the Wyrd doesn't hurt due to having the added benefit of an on/off switch, and the piece of mind knowing the Director has a cleaner power source. In my case, it does not make the Director sound any fuller or transform its sound, nor is it necessary for me, butit won't color the Director's sound and can improve the sound should I buy another computer that has USB bus power handling issues. But if you have an optical SPDIF or coaxial source, try the Meridian Director. It has the added benefit of being able to use USB wall power when in optical input mode, so it will be a stable input option.
 
 
Sound
 
The most important part for most people. The Director is a 24-bit 192 kHz-maximum DAC, and when you connect to your computer, the Director defaults to this setting, upsampling your music. You can choose to lower the sampling rate to 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, or 176.4. I chose to keep the Director in the default 192 setting, as I couldn't really discern a measurable difference between the sampling modes with my music files, which are usually just 16-bit. But it is nice to have a DAC that can play 192 kHz tracks, especially if you enjoy higher resolution audio. The Director, unlike its smaller sibling, the Explorer, has Meridian's Apodising Filter, similar to its more expensive siblings like the Prime, which helps clean up poor filtering issues with older recordings. I personally do not listen to a ton of older recordings, preferring more modern genres, but listening to Eric Clapton recordings definitely added a layer of smoothness that I had not noticed before, and I noticed less ringing. So I'd say the Apodising Filter is a plus.
 
The Director has a digital sound without being harsh or crunchy, but doesn't suffer from a sound that may seem too soft like many tube-sounding gear. It is very neutral while still retaining a level of smoothness that you would expect from a higher end DAC. The treble sounding just a little elevated in the mid to upper octaves, while never being sibilant or harsh. There is a noticeable level of cleanness to the Director's treble that many would say is signature Meridian. The mids have an excellent timbre to them: neutral, revealing and detailed while never sounding dull or sterile. The bass is another high point. It has excellent tightness and impact, once again remaining neutral but being impactful when the song requires it. Using my Sennheiser HD650s, I noticed immediately the improvements the Meridian made to its sound over less expensive DACs. The treble on the HD650 became cleaner and better articulate, the soundstage became better defined, the mid bass and sub bass came alive and tightened up in both extension in the lower octaves and physical punch. With the Director, the HD650 scaled up in its bass extension and power, treble detail, and imaging. The Director won't add extra layers of detail to electronic/synthesized music or improve soundstage, but what it will do is improve the bass tightness and impact, and smoothen out some harshness in digital clipping and filtering. Where the Director really improves your listening experience in is recorded music like rock and jazz, with actual instruments being played. As I was mentioning before, I listened to Eric Clapton's Let it Rain, one of my favorite songs of all time. Before, the bass guitar playing in the instrumental section of the song tended to get smeared into the other instruments. Not with the Director. It took on an extra layer of detail and definition that I never noticed before. There was just more there to hear, and I noticed that being the case with some of the few other recorded genres I listened to, even older ones. The one slight downside I would give to the Director is that maybe the centerstage of the imaging is not as articulate or as defined as it could be, but that was a downside only when compared to other DACs with a drier sound. 
 
Overall I would say there is a hint of warmth to the Director, but this is more or less a flavor someone like me prefers with their system. It will never ruin the way your system and headphones perform with different genres, due to excess coloration. The Director can handle any genre from hip-hop and drum and bass to classic rock and jazz in spades. At 350 dollars on Amazon, the Director is a great DAC, and a real entry in the signature Meridian Audio sound. For the original 700-dollar MSRP I'd be a bit hesitant, because there are other DACs like the Schiit Audio Mjolnir, which offers upgrades in sound cards, has its own dedicated power supply, and has more outputs including balanced out. In the 350 dollar range, the Director primarily competes against the HRT Music Streamer HD, the Schiit Audio Bifrost, and the Fostex HP-A4. In that range the Director will stand out as the DAC with Meridian's bespoke technology like the Apodising Filter and its smooth-but-detailed sound quality. I'd definitely recommend it, especially if you enjoy older rock and jazz recordings, or have a source-picky headphone like a Sennheiser HD800 or Beyerdynamic T1. 
 
Jan 27, 2016 at 2:12 AM Post #2 of 8

Greyowl

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Thanks for your appraisal of the MA Direct DAC. Nicely summarized.
When evaluating the Direct DAC with the HD650s, were you comparing the audio quality to that coming directly from your MacBook or another external DAC? Also, I was somewhat surprised that an external USB power supply produced no audible benefit since others have noticed marked improvements in sound quality.
 
Mar 22, 2016 at 9:25 PM Post #3 of 8

bpandbass

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I was comparing the audio of my Direct DAC to both my Mac and the Schiit Audio Modi USB DAC. The audio improvement people say the Wyrd has is due more to power management in the DAC itself, and the USB power output onboard the computer. The MacBook can get noisy with its USB power, but isn't terrible. The Apodising filter and the asynchronous power management in the Director were pretty top notch with being able to handle a somewhat crummy USB signal. It wasn't a problem. Lower-end DACs from other companies tend to suffer from USB power issues causing jitter and noise, especially if the DAC is not asynchronous, such as the Audioengine D1 (which sounded horrendous on even a slightly dirty power source) and the HRT Music Streamer II+. So your mileage may vary with the Wyrd. Get it if you have a DAC that has problems getting a clean USB signal. It's not a total necessity. 
 
Now comparing the Direct DAC to my MacBook Pro, I found the MacBook was a little colored in the bass, and had a more smeared sound in general. It also wasn't nearly as detailed nor as clean sounding. You can definitely tell you aren't getting enough in detail and music content. The Modi wasn't as good sounding as the Direct DAC but wasn't too far off. The Modi wasn't as 3-dimensional sounding. The treble wasn't as articulate, was darker than the Direct DAC, and was less smooth. The  bass punch and tightness was not nearly as good as the Direct DAC, and the soundstage and imaging wasn't as good either. The Mids were similar in tone, but sounded a little dull in comparison. The Direct DAC was just more lively sounding overall. And more pinpoint and precise. A somewhat sweeter sound. 
 
Mar 23, 2016 at 12:31 PM Post #4 of 8

Greyowl

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Thanks for your reply. It seems that the Director became a bit of an orphan DAC for Meridian despite its favourable feedback from users. Meridian indicated that it will not support the Director with a software update for its MQA format as it did for the Explorer - which makes me think that the Director was a one and done product. Too bad.
 
Apr 2, 2016 at 2:42 PM Post #6 of 8

Greyowl

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My guess is that the Direct DAC was in direct competition with the DAC Meridian uses with their SooLoos media streaming software. At least here, retail reps for Meridian do not carry the Director even though the Explorer is available. Where the Direct DAC uses USB, I believe the DAC for the SooLoos system uses an Ethernet connection. The analogue out however might be equivalent, which makes it harder to sell the software half of SooLoos. 
 
May 6, 2016 at 5:19 PM Post #8 of 8

tdogzthmn

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I picked up a Director recently from amazon and have to say it works flawlessly for my needs!  I use the the USB input direct from my NAS and the Optical input is connected to my TV for the apple TV.  The sound is fantastic with my high resolution files and the upsampling filter makes the musics streaming from Apple Music sound very clean and defined.  Its definitely a DAC that hseems to fly under the radar, but for $349 I dont think you'll get much better performance.  MQA support would be lovely but I can survive without considering I don't have any MQA files.  The Director feels like DAC I can live with and not worry I'm missing out on my music.
 
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