Meridian Explorer
Inline Magic
by BEN BOWERS




The Meridian Audio Explorer is a portable USB DAC designed for the Jony Ive age that transforms traditional computer listening into a hi-fi experience with minimal fuss. It's small, incredibly easy to set up, and designed to blend seamlessly with other high-end electronics you already own. It also retails for a reasonable $299, despite being made in England using the same exacting standards Meridian applies to gear with price points that make car dealers blush. And if the mention of digital-to-analog conversion already has you bracing for waves of tech jargon you don't understand, you're exactly the type of customer the Explorer was designed to entice. So let us inform you about it -- gently.


To begin with, connecting the thing is a two-cord affair that takes less than a minute. A USB mini-B jack links the Explorer to a laptop or desktop, while a standard 3.5mm jack on the opposite end connects to headphones. An additional 3.5mm jack found on the same side pulls double duty as an analog and a digital optical output, allowing more advanced users to include a stereo amp, among other options. 


Like all external DACs, the Explorer is designed to relieve its woefully inadequate counterparts -- in this case, your computer's DAC -- from the struggle of transforming the 1s and 0s of digital music into analog sound waves for your speakers or headphones. This process is commonly known as digital-to-analog conversion. 





CONTINUES BELOW 


Reproducing electrical signals from abstract digital numbers requires a series of processes to be successful, and precise timing is chief among them. Timing errors created during this process are commonly known as "jitter". The Explorer's asynchronous USB design significantly reduces jitter -- it uses its superior timing circuitry to manage your computer's audio transfer. A series of three exterior LEDs on the brushed metal chassis alerts listeners to the music source's sampling rate: one light for 44.1 or 48kHz files, two for 88.2 or 96kHz, and three lights for 176.4 or 192kHz.


When combined with a powerful headphone amplifier with on-board analog volume control, the Meridian Explorer imparts all manner of audio with a noticeable sense of scale, detailed precision, weightier bass and enhanced responsiveness. It's the kind of ear-opening improvement any music fan will instantly appreciate -- and they may miss it just as quickly once it's gone. That's Meridian's hope: extending a brilliantly designed olive branch to an entirely new generation of consumers, listeners who were previously ignored by a hi-fi industry preoccupied with legacy and who are currently being fooled through marketing by other impostors. Analog media will always have its charm and benefits, but devices like the Meridian Explorer are paving the way towards the future of music listening for the everyman. The Explorer proves that audio quality can prosper long after turntables selling at Urban Outfitters lose their cool once again.


$299, meridian-audio.com


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STATEMENT

Excellence, innovation, craftsmanship, and an unwavering desire to challenge expectations -- these are the constants that have captivated our attention since Gear Patrol's inception in 2007. This year we're proud to announce the next step in our role as a champion of quality in product design and execution: welcome to the GP100. Our inaugural product awards are dedicated to honoring the 100 best consumer products released during the calendar year by companies of all sizes and scope. 


The GP100 is not a ranking or a contest. These selections represent the collective expertise of our entire editorial staff, who have scoured every corner of the vast product universe -- from automotive and electronics, to men's style essentials, home goods, spirits and outdoors -- to find the inspiring and the practical, the ground-breaking and the traditional, the priceless and the accessible. In short: products that define or defy their respective categories to better the life of the modern man.



METHODOLOGY


The GP100 is not a contest influenced by marketers or brands, nor is it a ranking by specifications as determined by uniform tests. Instead, it starts with a comprehensive list of nominees released in the calendar year, researched and compiled by our editorial team of obsessed experts across all of Gear Patrol's major areas of interest including Motoring, Technology, Style, Home, Spirits, Outdoor and Watches. Brands are not part of the selection process. Nominees are then debated in context of the past, present and future of their respective fields. Which selections stand as significant innovations, category busters or faithful monuments to the icons of history? Do they adhere to Gear Patrol's core tenets of excellence, design, utility and the spirit of adventure? Distilled to the following 100 items, the GP100 represents the best products on earth released in 2013 -- easily inspiring consumers and creators alike during their search for guideposts of excellence in a vast world of products.


THE CATEGORIES


Motoring   Watches   Style   Technology   Sports   Outdoors   Home   Spirits

WRITERS


Jeremy Berger

Ben Bowers
Alex Bracetti
Nick Caruso
Ed Estlow
Jon Gaffney
Jonathan Gallegos
K.B. Gould
Bradley Hasemeyer
Jason Heaton
Mike Henson
Amos Kwon
Matt Neundorf
Scott Packard
Austin Parker
Henry Phillips
Peter Saltsman
Chris Wright
Eric Yang


CREDITS

Produced by Ben Bowers, Chris Wright, Eric Yang
Designed by Eric Yang
Edited by Chris Wright
Photography by Henry Phillips, Eric Yang
Special Thanks to Braun, Scroll Kit, and Say Media

RESOURCES

Inquiries, Corrections  support@gearpatrol.com
2014 Submissions  100@gearpatrol.com