MERIDIAN: Explorer USB DAC Review – test review by The Computer Audiophile

At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show Meridian very quietly and behind closed doors introduced a new pocket-sized USB DAC / headphone amplifier named the Meridian Explorer. I was very excited by the external and internal look of the Explorer. The extruded brushed aluminum enclosure and the six layer circuit board containing giant Nichicon caps, an XMOS L1 processor, and audiophile grade components throughout were extremely impressive. The specs were also superb. Notably the asynchronous USB input, support for all popular PCM sample rates up through 192 kHz, fixed and variable analog output, optical output, and digitally controlled analog volume attenuation. I declined the offer to listen through the Explorer in the Meridian suite because the conditions were less than good.

The ambient noise, unfamiliar headphones, unfamiliar music, and limited time wouldn’t have helped me develop an accurate first impression. Thus I flew back to Minneapolis and awaited the Explorer’s arrival. My first impression of this $299 DAC’s sound quality in my system was excellent. Throughout the review period I compared the Explorer to a $249 competitor by listening through my Ultimate Ears 11 Pro, Etymotic ER4-P, and Sennheiser HD600 headphones. As each listening session passed I liked the sound of the Explorer even more. The Meridian Explorer has entered this market segment on top and is definitely the portable USB DAC to beat.