Meridian Explorer

USB digital-to-analog converter/headphone amplifier

Item #: 795EXPLRER

10 Reviews | 0 questions

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Original Price: $299.99

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A pocket-sized DAC with a big sonic punch

Meridian Explorer DAC connected to a laptop computer

Meridian Explorer DAC connected to a laptop computer

No matter what music sources you listen to on your computer — iTunes®, Spotify®, YouTube®, or downloaded high-res audio files — the Meridian Explorer DAC can make them all sound their best. Simply plug it into an open USB port and the Explorer takes the place of the sound processor inside your PC, delivering your tunes with greater precsion and accuracy. You'll hear rich, involving sound with taut, tuneful bass and smooth, silky highs. Use the Explorer's built-in headphone amp to drive your headphones to satisfying levels without distortion, or connect the DAC's line-level outputs to your hi-fi system to enjoy music through your best speakers. 

Crafted with care for better sound

Renowned for their state-of-the-art audio and video components, Meridian builds each Explorer by hand in Britain to the same exacting standards as all of their high-end products. Its elegant, anodized aluminum case comes packed with the highest quality components, including audiophile-grade capacitors and resistors, to extract better sound from your computer music sources.

Hear the asynchronous USB difference

Standard USB outputs from most computers pose a serious limitation to sound quality. That's because while you're trying to listen to music, your PC is busy performing virus scans, data backup, and other background tasks that may take priority over your tunes, causing it to alter the data rate to suit its own needs. Unfortunately, this situation results in timing errors within the digital data stream — known as "jitter" — that adversely affect sound quality. Jitter can make your music sound harsh and edgy, and smear subtle details.

The Explorer solves this problem by reaching out to your computer through the USB interface, and instructing it to relinquish control of the data stream timing. In its place, this advanced DAC inserts its own separate, or asynchronous, clock to precisely control the timing of the data rate, reducing jitter to the vanishing point. You'll experience a major improvement in low-level ambient detail along with a wider, deeper soundstage.


"High-end sonics? Heck, yeah. Tonally the Explorer supplies smooth touches of analog-like warmth and fluidity. Just as impressive was the lack of soundstage constriction. ...the Explorer conveyed the wide expanse of the orchestra with a rewarding sense of depth and air between the instruments, and an impressive ambient bloom that opened up the ceiling of the venue rather than holding it down. The music was spacious, detailed, and transparent, inviting comparisons to the more expensive DAC's I've been listening to as of late. Highly recommended."

— From Neil Gader's review in The Absolute Sound, July/August, 2013



High-res audio

Enjoy high-resolution audio

Along with all the sonic benefits the Explorer provides for your compressed and CD-quality music files, it also has another trick up its sleeve — it decodes high-resolution data streams of up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution, so you can enjoy better-than-CD audio quality. (Free USB driver download required for Windows® PCs.) If you download high-res music files from HDtracks and other audiophile sources, this DAC ensures that you'll hear them in all their glory.

Meridian Explorer outputs

The Explorer offers line-level, mini optical digital, and headphone outputs.

Connections and controls

The Explorer's mini Type B USB input and included adapter cable are ready to take on your computer's USB music sources. A 3.5mm hybrid jack provides line-level output that can feed an analog audio signal to a pair of powered speakers or your home hi-fi system using an optional stereo mini-to-mini cable or mini-to-RCA adapter, as well as S/PDIF mini optical output for connecting another processor or digital recorder.

A second minijack output is connected to the Explorer's built-in headphone amp. Its variable output is controlled via your computer screen, allowing you to adjust the volume of your headphones. And even though you access it digitally, Meridian actually gave the Explorer a high-resolution analog volume control to avoid the reduction in resolution and sound quality that plagues many digital volume controls.

Product Highlights:

  • supports sample rates up to 24-bit/192kHz for listening to high-resolution digital music sources
  • USB (mini Type B) input for connection to a computer
  • asynchronous USB technology for reduced timing jitter and better sound with computer audio sources
  • powered by USB connection — no need for external power supply
  • extruded aluminum case with molded plastic endcaps and rubber foot
  • 3.5mm combination analog/digital jack provides fixed line-level analog audio output and S/PDIF mini-optical digital audio output (S/PDIF output downsamples 192/176.4kHz audio signals to 96/88.2kHz)
  • 3.5mm stereo minijack provides variable-level headphone output (130mW into 16 ohms)
  • 64-step analog volume control (digitally controlled using your computer)
  • supported incoming sample rates: 44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192kHz
  • input bit depth: 16-bits, 24-bits
  • top-mounted LED sampling rate indicators helps verify source sample rate
  • operating system requirements: Windows® XP (SP3), 7, 8, Mac® OS X 10.6.4 (Snow Leopard) or later, Linux kernel 2.6.37 or later, and ALSA version 1.0.23 or greater
  • Meridian USB audio driver required for Windows and Linux computers (free USB driver download available from Meridian Audio website)
  • plug-and-play operation with Mac OS X
  • soft carrying pouch and Type A to mini Type B USB cable included
  • 1-1/4"W x 3/4"H x 4--1/16"D
  • weight: 1.76 ounces
  • warranty: 2 years
  • Our 60-day money-back guarantee

Turn 1s and 0s into sweet sounding music

Why buy a separate DAC? These devices are all about getting true high-fidelity sound from digital sources like computers, streaming music players, smartphones, and more. While these kinds of sources usually have their own digital-to-analog converters built in, you can expect a separate DAC to give you much better accuracy and finer detail.

Hands-on research

What's in the box?

Download owner's manual

  • Portable USB DAC
  • 7" USB cable (w/ a USB type-B connector on one end and a USB type-A connector on other end)
  • Cloth pouch
  • User Guide

Product Research

Features

Portable USB DAC & Headphone Amp: The Meridian Explorer is a portable, compact, and rugged USB DAC designed to deliver high-quality audio performance. The Explorer replaces your computer's sound card with a USB-powered DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) featuring Meridian's high quality audio circuitry and design derived from Meridian's award-winning Reference Series components, along with a powerful headphone amplifier with on-board analogue volume control. Featuring premium audiophile-grade components throughout, a 6-layer circuit board, an elegant all-metal enclosure, the Explorer delivers a superb audio experience from virtually any computer or laptop. Whether playing back an MP3 or a high-resolution lossless file, the Explorer will make any content sound its best, delivering a level of audio quality essentially limited only by the source material.

Premium Audiophile-Grade Components: The Explorer features a sophisticated 6-layer circuit board and direct-coupled outputs to further maximize audio quality. Audiophile-grade components are utilized throughout; including resistors, sockets, and music grade electrolytics, plus polypropylene filter capacitors.

Asynchronous + 24-Bit/192kHz: The Meridian Explorer offers high-quality audio performance at sample rates up to 192kHz/24-bit resolution. Rather than rely on the notoriously unstable clocking of the host PC, the Explorer is completely asynchronous, using precision on-board low-jitter crystal oscillators for the base sample rates, developed from those used in Meridian's premium home entertainment systems. These oscillators provide the master clocking for the entire playback system, and eliminate all USB interface jitter. 'Isochronous' transfer ensures maximum bandwidth and low latency; the latter being significant when playing videos on the computer, for which audio and video must be in sync. The DAC's design also offers extremely low modulation noise and distortion for the ultimate in audio performance.

USB Port (MAC/Windows Compatible): The Meridian Explorer connects to your desktop computer or laptop's USB (type-A) port via the DAC's mini-USB (type-B) connector and included mini-to-standard USB cable. The Explorer connects to virtually any computer with a USB port. Drivers for Windows; Macintosh and Linux operating systems allow simple plug & play operation. The interface is USB Audio Class Compliant 2.0 HS, supporting data rates up to 480Mb/s.

Note: The Explorer supports Macintosh OS X 10.6.4 (Snow Leopard) or later; no additional drivers are needed. The Explorer is also compatible with Windows XP SP3, Windows 7 SP1, or Windows 8; additional drivers are required and can be downloaded from the Meridian Support Site. In addition, the Explorer supports Linux kernel 2.6.37 or later.

Headphone Amplifier w/ Analog Volume Control: The Meridian Explorer USB DAC features a powerful headphone amplifier with on-board analog volume control. The 3.5mm headphone socket delivers up to 130mW of high-quality audio; capable of driving even low-efficiency headphones. Most DACs simply alter the digital signal going into them, so the quieter you listen, the lower the quality. The Explorer uses an analog volume control, driven from the operating system, so you always enjoy the full digital resolution. The volume will be controlled your computer/laptop.

Analog/Digital Output: The Meridian Explorer USB DAC is fitted with an analog/digital combo 3.5mm output and provides fixed-level analog (2v RMS) and digital (2ch PCM) output to your external audio system. The digital output is set to a maximum sample rate of 96kHz to ensure compatibility with the majority of audio systems. Higher sample-rate source material is down-sampled at very high quality before being passed through the digital output. The analog output is connected directly to the DAC for bit-precise performance. The entire source resolution (up to 192kHz sampling, 24-bit) is employed to drive the analog output. The fixed-level output allows you to use your connected entertainment system's volume control.

3 LED Indicators: Three LED indicators show the status of the Explorer. The LED nearest the headphone socket illuminates to indicate that the unit is operating (44.1/48kHz). The middle LED indicates 88.2/96kHz operation and the third LED 176.4/192kHz operation .

Power Requirements: The Meridian Explorer is entirely USB powered (5V/500mA) by your connected computer or laptop, and does not require AC outlet. Simply plug the Explorer into a free USB (type-A) port on your computer or laptop.

Firmware Updates: Firmware updates can be downloaded from the Meridian Support Site to your computer and the connected Explorer USB DAC.

Carrying Pouch: A soft carrying pouch is included which will hold the Explorer portable DAC and included USB cable.

Our Product Research Team

At Crutchfield, you'll get detailed, accurate information that's hard to find elsewhere. That's because we have our own in-house Product Research team — they open the box, verify contents, check the owner's manual, and record dimensions, features and specs. We stay on top of new products and technologies to help people make informed choices.

Meridian Explorer Reviews

Average Customer Review:

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EXPLORER DAC

Written By bob b, Albuquerque,NM on Friday, July 18, 2014

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

can't believe what this little dac can do! The integration of sound quality with my paradigm shift a2's is crazy good! What a fine product!

Pros: sound quality has to be heard to believe!

Cons: don't know of any

Meridian Explorer

Written By texex44, Nashville, TN on Sunday, May 11, 2014

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

This is an outstanding addition to any USB output audio system. It improves the richness and full range of sound. The added depth and previously unappreciated nuances of classical music is outstanding. It reveals the full artistry of all performers. I was just listening to the FLACK version of the reissued Jacqueline du Pre 1968 version of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor Opus 85 with my Explorer and Shure SE 846 earphones. Ms du Pre's artistry and fantastic technique is unbelievable and so much clearer and more isolable with the Explorer. I wish there were a version of the Explorer that could be used with my Samsung Smart phone or iPod.

Pros: Outstanding and reasonably priced addition to any USB output sound system. You hear what you have been missing previously.

Cons: Cannot use with a Smart phone or iPod.

Meridian Explorer DAC

Written By John V., Sandwich MA on Saturday, April 12, 2014

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

A great choice for a compact DAC. High quality sound. Works exceptionally with a laptop computer. You'll be turning the sound down to it's lowest level because the Explorer works and the sound expands beautifully. Great with speakers and headphones.

Pros: See above.

Cons: A bit expensive but worth the money.

Amazing difference in sound quality

Written By jjb3, Hartford, CT on Sunday, February 23, 2014

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

I was not sure whether a DAC would make a difference with my library, which is all 320kpbs or below, and MOG (internet radio). Rarely do I ever notice an immediate difference when I buy new equipment because I am used to hearing good sound already, so differences are marginal. However, I was sincerely blown away when I plugged this device in and played 256kpbs iTunes through it to my Shure SE535s. Since then, this device has consistently amazed me. I notice increased airiness, space between notes, tautness of bass, and sparkling of the highs. It also makes the track a lot more transparent, which is nice with the SE535s. I highly recommend this, or any DAC, for your music if you use IEMs.

Pros: Increases clarity, transparency Increases definition primarily of lows and highs

Cons: Meridian's website is not the most user-friendly when it comes to finding the required driver

Explorer

Written By CM, Texas on Saturday, January 04, 2014

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

Greatly impressed with this tiny DAC. Very portable and easily installed. Mac OS does not require any driver installs; PC/Linux do. This DAC is able to properly drive a wide variety of headphones. Instructions included are easy to follow.

The sound is very musical and exciting. My unit is still pretty new so I imagine there is still some break-in to be had. Overall, I would recommend this to anybody who listens to a lot of music on headphones at their computer (during work or just web-browsing) and wants decent sound. I am constantly on the move with work and very much appreciate the size of the Explorer.

Pros: - Excellent sound (i.e., musical and exciting. Great weight and punch) - Connects to computer via USB cord and not the Explorer chassis (DragonFly) so the risk of damage to the Explorer is reduced. - Very attractive appearance - Very portable

Cons: - Not cheap - Need to manually switch sample rate within sound options (small gripe)

Astonishing Sound!

Written By Stonesoul1, Newport Beach, CA on Saturday, December 28, 2013

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

Meridian sound for under $300! I love this little DAC with BIG sound. I'm a bit of an audiophile and have owned many high-end systems in the past including Meridian speakers that cost $15,000 a pair! I now have a Macbook Pro Retina 13 paired with a Meridian Explorer and B&W P7 headphones and B&W A7 Speaker. The B&W A7 has an amazing built-in DAC that is pretty close the the Meridian Explorer, but the Explorer adds just a touch of refinement. Hard to describe because it's subtle. However, comparing the Meridian Explorer to the DAC in the Mac is like lifting a blanket off your speakers/headphones! The Explorer will take your listening experience to a whole new level!

Amazing audiophile sound! The Explorer reveals amazing details in the recordings (Apple Lossless with iTunes). The instruments are clearly placed, the bass is tight and clean, the vocals are detailed yet smooth and natural sounding. The Explorer helps clean up bad recordings a little bit, but really shines with well engineered recordings.

Pros: Amazing Detail Huge Soundstage Tight Bass Smooth Vocals Instrument Separation Lightweight Easy to use

Cons: None

Meidian Explorer DAC

Written By fbp, Birmingham, AL on Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

Very simple to use and portable. Worked instantly with Macbook. Portability and built-in headphone amp makes it ideal for use when traveling especially on flights. Now high-end audio sound is portable and can easily go with the laptop between home and office. The sound of this little DAC is excellent. Crutchfield had it at my door in 2 days with free shipping. Sounds great when hooked into home preamp although a mini-RCA adapter cable is required.

Pros: sound, portability, value

Cons: none

Nice Dac

Written By M.D., new York City, NY on Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

This Dac is really nice. Just too limited with the outputs. If it had outputs like the NAD D 1050, it would be more of a winner like that NAD. Still sounds very nice though.

Pros: Sound and size

Cons: Wish it had more outputs

Tiny but Terrific!

Written By pdl345, New Milford, CT on Thursday, October 03, 2013

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

Meridian's Explorer brings a marked improvement to my desktop system. I have several hundred CDs ripped to my iMac in Apple lossless format and listen to these -- as well as Internet radio, Pandora and MOG -- while at my computer. All of these play via the iMac's analogue output through my AEGO2 speaker system. I've had this setup for a few years and have been happy with the sound.

But inserting the Explorer DAC in the chain has made a dramatic difference! I won't try fancy adjectives: simply put, the sound has changed from "pleasing" to very accurate full-range sound reproduction. It is the best nearfield sound I have ever heard. Hirez files I've downloaded to experiment sound amazing. I've not played much with the headphone output, since I do little listening that way, but the little I've done also sounds significantly improved to me.

Any cons? Sure -- it's hard to listen to music as "background". I have to stop whatever I'm doing and listen!

Meridian Explorer

Written By thiefoflight, New York, NY on Thursday, September 12, 2013

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

I purchased the Meridian Explorer after doing extensive research on DACs under $300. Based on price and value, it was one of two I tested out - the other DAC was an Audioengine D1. Receiving the Audioengine D1 first, I immediately noticed an improved soundstage and reduction in jitter that allowed lossless files to sound less jittery and a bit more robust. I was a bit skeptical that the performance of the Meridian Explorer would be worth the extra $130.

Through the comparison tests, I was ultimately happier with the Meridian Explorer - the soundstage was even better defined, and the jitter/tinnyness was even further subdued, especially when listening to female vocals, higher pitched jazz horns, or deep bass. Bass hit a bit more solidly with the Meridian in comparison to the Audioengine.

I also enjoyed the portability of the Meridian Explorer. It comes with a snug travel pouch and fits in my pocket, unlike the bulkiness of the Audioengine D1. Plus, the Meridian Explorer allows playback of up to 24-bit/192KHz, whereas the Audioengine is limited to 96KHz.

If you're an aspiring audiophile that pays very close attention to music quality and benefits from the portability, spending the extra $130 should be a no-brainer. However, if you don't mind the extra clunkiness and just want to improve your sound exponentially (about 80% as good as the Meridian), then consider trying out the D1.

Pros: Great sonic quality Improved soundstage Portable Nice design 24-bit/192KHz

Cons: None!

Get everything you’ll need to enjoy your new Meridian Explorer

Use a high-quality mini-to-mini or mini-to-RCA cable to connect your Explorer DAC to an audio system.
Use a high-quality USB Type A to mini Type B cable to connect your Explorer DAC to your computer.
If you are using an auxiliary input adapter, these cables will let you connect your favorite portable device directly to your receiver for better sound.
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