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Meridian Explorer2

Portable USB DAC/headphone amplifier, MQA-ready

12 Reviews

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Item #: 795EXPLRER

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Was: $299.99

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Overview

Our take on the Meridian Explorer2

Meridian's original Explorer helped put the portable USB DAC category on the map. With their Explorer2, Meridian is taking it to new and exciting places. This compact, travel-ready device is packed with state-of-the-art audio technology that helps you extract every ounce of detail and musicality from all your computer audio sources. Grab your laptop and your favorite pair of headphones, and enjoy audiophile sound anywhere.

Turn your computer into a high-fidelity stereo source

Meridian's original Explorer helped put the portable USB DAC category on the map. With their Explorer2, Meridian is taking it to new and exciting places. This compact, travel-ready device is packed with state-of-the-art audio technology that helps you extract every ounce of detail and musicality from all your computer audio sources. Grab your laptop and your favorite pair of headphones, and enjoy audiophile sound anywhere.

Meridian Explorer2 DAC

Plug the Meridian Explorer2 into your laptop, grab your favorite headphones, and you've got high-end sound quality wherever you go.

When you plug the Explorer2 into your computer's USB port, it completely takes over the job of audio playback, right down to the timing of the data stream. Using its own separate, or "asynchronous," data clock, it eliminates timing errors — a.k.a. "jitter" — that can smear sonic detail and make your music sound harsh.

Raising the bar with MQA

With this advanced DAC, reclocking the data stream is just the beginning. The Explorer2 has a lot more processing power under the hood than its predecessor, so it can go further. There's built-in processing and audio rendering for Meridian's up-and-coming MQA (Master Quality Authentication) process. It's a new technology that ensures that MQA-encoded lossless digital files sound exactly like the original musical source.

Upsampling and more

This high-res DAC can handle audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz, and it upsamples everything you play. An advanced filter removes digital artifacts for smooth, transparent sound. The built-in headphone amplifier includes an analog volume control (which you operate digitally, through your computer). Fine volume adjustments let you dial in comfortable levels with sensitive headphones. 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.

Lots of sound from this little DAC/headphone amp. Have had it for 2 years and use it nearly every day. Great for office, home and travel. Loved it so much I bought the Meridian Direct DAC for my home system.

fbpearce, AL

What's in the Box:

  • 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 Highlights:

  • supports sample rates up to 24-bit/192kHz for listening to high-resolution digital music sources
  • built-in decoder and renderer for MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) audio files
  • USB (mini Type B) input for connection to a computer
  • asynchronous USB technology for reduced timing jitter and better sound with computer audio sources
  • upsamples incoming signals to 176.4/192kHz
  • apodizing upsampling filter delivers clearer, more transparent sound
  • powered by USB connection — no need for external power supply
  • extruded aluminum case with molded plastic endcaps and rubber foot
  • 3.5mm fixed line-level analog audio output, 2V RMS
  • 3.5mm variable-level headphone output
    • analog headphone volume control is operated digitally via your computer
    • extended volume range of 0 to -100dB is ideal for sensitive headphones
  • supported incoming sample rates: 44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192kHz
  • input bit depth: 16-bit, 24-bit
  • top-mounted LED sampling rate indicators helps verify source sample rate
  • operating system requirements:
    • Windows®: XP (SP3), 7 (SP1), 8 or later
    • 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 provided for Windows computers; no drivers needed for Linux or Mac
  • carrying case and Type A to mini Type B USB cable included
  • 1-1/4"W x 3/4"H x 4"D
  • weight: 1.76 ounces
  • warranty: 2 years
  • Our 60-day money-back guarantee
Reviews

Meridian Explorer2 Reviews

Average Customer Review(s):

(12 Reviews)

Meridian Explorer2

Ed from Whitehouse Station, NJ on 1/19/2017

Just buy it! It produces excellent sound with all the different headphones I use, from CIEMs to big Sennheiser open backs. Every bit as lovely to listen to as the $500 DACs in my studio. Not bright or dark, just clean and "present" - that sense of the music being in with you. That sense of presence is best of all on open backs, which have a larger, outside the head imaging style, and on speakers. It's small and light. It doesn't do DSD but it does do MQA. I was a huge skeptic of MQA, but the price was so nice, thought I'd try it, return it if it turned out MQA was the snake oil I thought it might be. No snake oil here. Listening to Tidal MQA tracks with it, hardware decoding, is beyond any doubt superior to just plain Tidal of the same tracks. Compared to software MQA decoding that Tidal offers, it's better to a noticeable extent on some music, not as apparent on highly loudness-war adjusted stuff like Alabama Shakes. MQA Tidal isn't better than local HD, but it's not worse, either. This DAC is no slouch on locally stored HD - good enough that I could tell a 14/44 from a 24/96 track. I have another portable USB DAC for desktop listening that's bigger heavier and that I think sounds a touch better for locally stored files (and plays DSD), but it's not MQA. Size, weight, and MQA mean the Meridian Explorer 2 now travels with me, and is my go-to for Tidal streaming.

Pros: small, light, great sound, MQA is real!, great for Tidal Master, handles wide range of headphones

Cons:

little DAC, great sound

fbpearce from AL on 9/27/2015

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

Lots of sound from this little DAC/headphone amp. Have had it for 2 years and use it nearly every day. Great for office, home and travel. Loved it so much I bought the Meridian Direct DAC for my home system.

Pros: sound, easy setup on Mac?apple

Cons: none

EXPLORER DAC

bob b from Albuquerque,NM on 7/18/2014

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

texex44 from Nashville, TN on 5/11/2014

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

John V. from Sandwich MA on 4/12/2014

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

jjb3 from Hartford, CT on 2/23/2014

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

CM from Texas on 1/4/2014

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!

Stonesoul1 from Newport Beach, CA on 12/28/2013

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

fbp from Birmingham, AL on 11/17/2013

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

M.D. from new York City, NY on 11/5/2013

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!

pdl345 from New Milford, CT on 10/3/2013

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!

Pros:

Cons:

Meridian Explorer2

thiefoflight from New York, NY on 9/12/2013

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!

Details

Hands-on research

Product Research

Features

Portable USB DAC & Headphone Amp: The Meridian Explorer² is a portable, compact, and rugged USB DAC designed to deliver high-quality audio performance. The Explorer² 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 analog volume control. Featuring premium audiophile-grade components throughout, a 6-layer circuit board, an elegant all-metal enclosure, the Explorer² delivers a superb audio experience from virtually any computer or laptop. Whether playing back an MP3 or a high-resolution lossless file, the Explorer² 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 Explorer² 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.

Meridian Apodising Filter: The Explorer² includes Meridian's proprietary Apodising upsampling filter, which minimises pre-ringing for a clearer, more transparent sound, while at the same time removing digital filter artefacts from earlier digital recordings, audibly improving overall smoothness of sound and stereo imaging

Asynchronous USB: TRather than rely on the notoriously unstable clocking of the host PC, the Explorer² 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.

24-Bit/192kHz + Upsampling: The Meridian Explorer² offers high-quality audio performance at sample rates up to 192kHz/24-bit resolution. The Explorer²2 upsamples all input signals to 176.4/192kHz (4x standard sample rates).

Windows & Mac Compatible: The Meridian Explorer² 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 Explorer² 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.

  • The Explorer² supports Macintosh OS X 10.6.4 (Snow Leopard) or later; no additional drivers are needed.
  • The Explorer² is also compatible with Windows XP SP3, Windows 7 SP1, and Windows 8 or later; additional drivers are required and can be downloaded from the Meridian website.
  • In addition, the Explorer² supports Linux kernel 2.6.37 or later.

MQA (Master Quality Authenticated): Sourced from the original studio master recording as approved by the creative team, MQA combines an advanced new digital sampling technology that captures extremely high frequency timing and detail in an audio signal with an equally novel system to "encapsulate" that data into a form for delivery using any lossless file format or streaming. The listener's decoder reconstructs the entire original signal, bringing up an indicator confirming that what they are hearing is exactly the same as the original master. Without the decoder, the listener enjoys CD quality reproduction. Its most advanced form, "MQA Studio", uses the technology in the studio to generate an even higher quality master recording as the source.

Headphone Amplifier w/ Analog Volume Control: The Meridian Explorer² 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 Explorer² 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 Output: The Meridian Explorer² USB DAC is fitted with an analog 3.5mm output and provides fixed-level analog (2v RMS) output to your external audio system. 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 Explorer². 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 Explorer² is entirely USB powered (5V/500mA) by your connected computer or laptop, and does not require AC outlet. Simply plug the Explorer² into a free USB (type-A) port on your computer or laptop.

Firmware Updates: Firmware updates can be downloaded from the Meridian website to your computer and the connected Explorer² USB DAC.

Carrying Pouch: A soft carrying pouch is included which will hold the Explorer² 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 verify what’s in the box, 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.

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Q & A

Customer Q&A

Crutchfield asked  
Why did you buy this?

I need this for MQA decoding to play music from Tidal Masters in high resolution. [ BERNARDO  Jan 07, 2017 ]
It has several features, which make it a useful purchase. It also is an affordable way to check out MQA technology. Meridian makes great products, with in house technology! [ Thomas  Dec 21, 2016 ]
Customer reviews. [ M  Nov 29, 2016 ]
Build quality and sale price. [ CHRISTINA  Nov 26, 2016 ]
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