Hands On: Meridian Explorer USB DAC
Affordable digital-to-analog converter gives computer-based music a big boost
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March 06, 2013 by Arlen Schweiger

For something a bit subtler, I played Natalie Merchant’s “Kind and Generous,” which begins with a gorgeous operatic swoon before she does some “nah-nah-ing” and singing. While I’m not a huge fan of female vocalists, I love testing tracks from 10,000 Maniacs and solo Merchant because I think her voice combines grace and grit, and despite being an MP3 her vocals on this track really blossomed with that added “weight” and fullness of the Explorer.

As a Phish fanatic, I have a bunch of their “Live Phish” releases in 256 kbps MP3, FLAC and 24-bit formats, and I played several tracks through Media Monkey in my home system on Paradigm Studio 20 speakers, and straight into my ears from my Windows laptop using some generic earbuds. Here again, the clarity even of the 256 MP3s was gorgeous through the earbuds, and Mike Gordon’s bass came through with more prominence than I’m used to hearing. Tracks such as their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman” and “NICU” were really forceful with the driving funk bass lines, while I heard the same thicker, impactful hi-hat of Jon Fishman’s drumming during my listening to tracks such as “Lizards” and “You Enjoy Myself” that made them truly enjoyable. On my home system, moving to those lossless FLAC and high-res 24-bit versions of some of their live releases, again the soundstage impressed as my theater became a virtual 2-channel concert venue.

Evoking similar impact, some tracks I used for evaluating Bryston’s BDP-1 I listened to again with the Explorer—like high-res versions of Rolling Stones tracks such as “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Monkey Man”—and found that while they weren’t quite as dramatic as played through the Bryston setup, they definitely sounded more substantive than they were in my previous PC playback chain. All of the grunting and muttering in the background of the “Sympathy” intro came through loud and clear amid the drumbeats.

Back in the heyday of CD players, spending $299 for a new one probably seemed like a reasonable expense to those who were looking for that promise of digital clarity and detail as they moved from analog formats. As our music collections have migrated from CD to computers, that quest continues today and music lovers will be happy to know they can still get a big improvement from their listening experience by investing a relatively small sum into an innovative product like the Explorer.

At a Glance

Specs
Dimensions 4.0 x 1.25 x 0.7 inches
Weight 1.76 ounces
OS requirements: Macintosh OS X 10.6.4 (Snow Leopard) or later; Windows XP SP3, Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8
Firmware upgradeable via USB
LED status indicators for 44.1, 88.2/96 and 176.4/192 kHz
Asynchronous USB audio class component 2.0
$299
http://www.meridian-audio.com

Pros
Enhances all file types, low-res to high-res
Generous improvement to bass definition
Compact form factor and pleasing aesthetics

Cons
Setup in Windows is borderline arduous
Black enclosure option would be nice for Windows users


 

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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com and Electronic House magazine.


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