Meridian Explorer Headphone DAC/Amplifier
Terms like all-metal enclosure, analog and hand-made may conjure up thoughts of exorbitant price tags (most often you’d be right) but Meridian proves that occasionally pigs do fly. The British audio stalwart, known for ridiculously priced speakers and components, has unveiled the Meridian Explorer ($299), a pocket-sized USB DAC and headphone amplifier. We’ve tested one out for the past few weeks and are happy to report that they’ve changed the way we listen to audio at work — in a big way.
With the right set of headphones (a.k.a not the bargain basement variety), the Explorer is an ear-opening experience. Roughly the dimensions of an over-sized USB drive, the diminutive Explorer works seamlessly with your laptop or computer. Just plug it into a USB port (bonus: it doesn’t have to be direct), plug in your headphones and hit play on your player du jour — iTunes, Spotify, BitPerfect, YouTube, or others. Anything with audio benefits tremendously from the Explorer’s audio processing, which is derived from Meridian’s Reference Series components.
Inside, the Meridian Explorer is chockablock with features for audio nuts and “set it and forget it” users alike. For audiophiles and spec-nerds, there’s 24-bit/192kHz native conversion, class 2 DAC on a six-layer PC board, asynchronous data transfer, full-resolution optical output and digitally controlled analog volume control — which means no degradation of digital audio at lower volumes. For us simpler folk: it looks great, sounds incredible and sets up in 2.5 seconds. Desktop audio doesn’t get any better than this.