The unit comes boxed well in fact I ordered mine direct from Meridian and it arrived the next day so excellent delivery service, and it comes boxed within 2 boxes an external for shipping then one which has the Meridian Explorer 2 pictured on and it is packaged nicely with the unit coming with a nice small pouch for carrying and a single short USB lead and that is it basically, well that is all you need and oh you need to download the latest drivers from the Meridian website whether you run a Mac OS or PC OS it takes a minute or 2 to install and then you set, well it depends on what software as well that you use to playback your music, and I have found that the best one for the PC is JRiver Media Center which uses the ASIO drivers so as to set which playback state your music is playing at, say 24bit 96Khz or 24bit 44Khz, it will automatically select and change the lights on the Explorer to show you what Resolution you are playing at, which confirms that the music is mastered correctly, well for what you purchased anyway, it is just a good indicator.
FeaturesThe unit is so compact but underneath the beautiful extruded Aluminum shellcasing it holds some serious electronics which are taken from Meridians Reference products and has been crammed into this tiny USB DAC, well you get the trickle down affect of its older siblings technology and inside is a 6 layer PCB board with all the chips and DAC's built on to it, the main 2 features that are touted are MQA which is supposed to be a game changer as this is an advanced new sampling technology which Meridian are introducing and it basically captures high frequency timing and detail in an audio signal, which then encapsulates that data into a form for delivery for any lossless file format or streaming. Then once used with an MQA decoder you get exactly what was mastered in the recording studio played back via your Merdian MQA enabled device.Another great feature which I have had previous experience with in other Meridian products is there Merdian Apodising Filter, these filters offer a better and cleaner sound from recordings old and new by reducing pre-ringing or harshness that may be found in some recordings and it works well.In regards to inputs and outputs you get a micro USB Output which is used to connect the short lead to your PC or Mac, and then you have one Headphone output and also one pre-out which can be used to plug into an external amplifier, and that it is it, nice and compact, but it does have a real polished finish to it as every Meridian product does, and you know that you are getting or you have a quality product with the Meridian Explorer 2 logo embossed on the front of the unit.
PerformanceOn to how this USB DAC performs and I have been listening to a variety of music some of it being Hi Resolution and some just plain FLAC 16bit 44Khz recordings with upsampling and the Meridian stands out as an easy performer taking everything in its stride with nothing phasing it, and it seems to give a very balanced and fluid performance.For my listening sessions I am using the brilliant Sennheiser Momentum Headphones which can give a wonderful sound with the right electronics and plugging into the Meridian it is like the two were made for each other as the sound is just so lush sounding, with a great midrange and good lows and highs being very well behaved and kept in play by the Explorer 2 DAC.Listening to Jose Feliciano the Best Of in 24bit 88Khz the sound has great dynamic range and the vocals are just so focused that the music flows around him in a way that you would think that you are listening to a DAC costing many times the cost of the Meridian it is just so fluid in its presentation, that you feel so relaxed by the soothing music that is being played, the noise floor is none existent too that in quiet passages you pick up every detail in all the tracks that are being played.I have listened to this album on other DAC's but this just seems to sound so much better that it is hard to describe in detail how 200 can buy you such a quality piece of kit like this but plug it in and you quickly find out that it does, your music being streamed from your PC becomes like a High End HiFi system, Ok it gives you a good taste of the high end luxury that Meridian offers in its products and this one certainly does not disappoint, even if it is a very small slice of the high end.Spinning up Level 42's Best of Album which I ripped on to my NAS server is also a delight to listen to, albeit there is slightly more noise floor which can be heard, but again you are entertained with great dynamics and excellent vocals that just melt away with the music that is all around you, it is not as finely detailed as the high resolution recording but it still sounds great and very enjoyable that it is so easy to listen to and never sounding harsh or brash, the Meridian has a slightly smoother sound than some other DAC's that I have heard, some may like this some may not but to my ears that is what it sounds like, but when I say smoother sound that could be the Apodising filters taking away some of the harshness away from some of the recordings that would otherwise maybe ruin the listening experience, fortunately this does not come with any down sides as far as I can tell, as it still has all the dynamics and range that make the music an enjoyable listen.Lastly I play an album that I am very familiar with in High Resolution that is Antonio Forcione & Sabina Sciubba " Meet Me In London " 24bit 192Khz recording from Naim Audio Label, and with all the lights lit on the Explorer 2 telling me that playback is at 192Khz the sound presentation noise floor drops and Antonio's guitar playing is so melodic and beautiful that it has such a fluid sound through the Meridian DAC that is so enjoyable and Sabina Sciubba voice is as soothing as ever, just a brilliant album and one that I have loved listening to on many good HiFi systems and it is just as good listening in private via this Headphone and DAC combo.
I think you can gather that I really do like this pocket DAC and I do but it does not come without some negatives which ATM are currently lack of NO recordings available with MQA enabled, also it does have limited connectivity and is only really meant for PC or Mac Connections and that is all that you really would need it for TBH but for 200 it really is quite a bit of a bargain as it does give such a wonderful sound that hits far higher than its price tag suggests, it really does and I cannot wait to get to hear what a recording in MQA sounds like.If you want a taste of the High End but cannot quite stretch to the dizzying heights of the prices that some other DAC's are going for then this Meridian is going to give you so much value for your money and a very good taste of what the high end has to offer
!!! PART II of the Meridian Explorer 2 USB/DAC Review
MQA On the 4th February 2016 Meridian Audio released the long awaited firmware updates for its products to update them to allow access and enable the feature which is MQA (Master Quality Authentication) and for me it has been long overdue as the hype surrounding MQA has been building up over time and reaching a tipping point at the recent CES2016 where the buzz word seemed to be MQA. Finally we get to hear what all this fuss is about but is it hype or is it really as good as all the people who have heard it say it is. This is where Morten Linberg's Company 2L comes in with a multitude of software titles and even free downloads to try out. His company is the renowned and Grammy award winning Nordic 2L, famed for such titles as Magnificat who has worked closely with Bob Stuart and the MQA team in bringing us these amazing titles to listen to.What is MQA -Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) is a revolutionary end-to-end technology that delivers master quality audio in a file thats small enough to stream or download. Whats more, its backwards compatible, so will play on any device. And because its fully authenticated, you can be sure youre hearing exactly what the artist approved in the studio. That is what is what is stated on the MQA site but with Meridian products you get the full end to end process and the MQA light to tell you are hearing exactly that. When I first saw that blue light, light up on my Explorer 2 it was a revelation as I always knew it was their even though I have had this DAC for over a good year or so now but it has never been activated until now.I have two full albums in MQA and approx 16 test files to listen to but I also have different versions of album's that I own, with one of them in DSD128 which is a good test to see how well MQA compares to the DSD version. Quiet Winter Night Hoff Ensemble is the one album that I absolutely love and cannot get enough of as it is an excellent album which is so well recorded and the DSD128 version is stunning with the clarity and detail on offer. Now the difference in the album sizes is that the DSD128 is approx four Gigabytes in size and the MQA version is just over 500Mb so a massive difference of nearly 3.5Gig between the two different file types and obviously this makes it a lot easier to stream the content as it is more easy to handle on a server. But the biggest revelation to me was in the difference in quality that I was hearing and that the MQA album sounds much better to me, it has a much wider and open sound stage and the clarity is astonishing it really is, it is a real game changer in the way that files can be downloaded and listened to, I mean I was not expecting this sort of quality enhancement but it is a BIG difference and very noticeable. Sounds are moving around in space inside the image that music is presenting it is incredible. Every file I try is like listening to music through a new piece of electronics of some kind that it some how making it sound better but it is the MQA as the Explorer 2 has not changed just the files that I am streaming to it.If this is what Tidal are going to be using then I will more than likely be signing up as it will be worth it to get the MQA quality of music heard through titles that I know and love, this is something big and Bob Stuart is a real genius of a man when it comes to technology and being at the forefront of it and the digital age.
Finally here is a video fromSpencer Chrislu who summarises MQA and what it will mean to listeners and the industry