Meridian Launches Explorer 2 USB DAC And Headphone Amp With MQA

January 16, 2015
3 mins read

Meridian’s Explorer 2 is a portable, compact and rugged USB DAC and headphone amp developed from the highly successful and acclaimed Explorer model.

LIKE ITS PREDECESSOR, Explorer 2 includes premium audiophile-grade components and an elegant all-metal enclosure. Explorer 2 delivers an exceptional Meridian audio experience from virtually any computer – and a lot more besides.

Explorer 2 embodies Meridian DNA. The design features a sophisticated six-layer circuit board. Audiophile-grade components are utilised throughout, including resistors, sockets and music grade electrolytics; and polypropylene filter capacitors. The use of direct-coupled outputs further maximises audio quality.

WDF-Meridian-Explorer2Explorer 2 was designed and built in the UK in exactly the same way and with the same attention to detail and quality throughout, as any other Meridian product.

It includes significantly more DSP power than its predecessor, allowing the full suite of Meridian audio enhancement technologies to be included, which was not previously possible. Thus the Explorer 2 upsamples all input signal to 176.4/192kHz (4x standard sample rates) – 4x streams are played at full resolution with no downsampling. It 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.

The Explorer 2 also features Meridian’s approach to noise-shaping. This moves noise out of the audio band, increasing the audible signal to noise ratio.

Explorer 2 features full audio performance at sample rates up to 192kHz, 24-bit resolution. It doesn’t downsample 176.4/192 kHz signals to lower levels, delivering instead the full bandwidth of the original. Explorer 2 is completely asynchronous – it does not rely on the computer’s clock for timing. Instead, it uses precision on-board low-jitter crystal oscillators for the base sample rates. These were 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. This is particularly significant, for example, when playing videos on the computer, for which audio and video must remain in sync.

The DAC design also offers extremely low modulation noise and distortion for the ultimate in audio performance. The interface is USB Audio Class Compliant 2.0 HS, supporting data rates up to 480Mb/s.

WD-Meridian-Explorer2Two outputs are provided: one for headphones and the other a line output for connection to a hi-fi system. Explorer 2 automatically senses which is in use and deactivates the headphone amplifier when the line output is connected, reducing noise. The 3.5mm headphone socket delivers up to 130mW of high-quality audio – capable of driving plenty of level for even low-efficiency headphones.

The volume is controlled from the host computer. The volume control is an advanced design with an extended range of 0 to –100dB. This level of variability suits all kinds of headphones including the most sensitive.

The second 3.5mm socket provides a fixed-level analogue (2v RMS) output for connection to an external audio system. This is connected directly to the DAC for bit-precise performance. It delivers a fixed, full-level signal with no volume control. Driving at full level ensures both maximum signal to noise ratio and maximum use of digital resolution right through to the audio system’s own volume control, which controls the level for all sources in the system.

Explorer 2 is a USB Class 2 device that works with the newer (2009) USB2 specification. This supports a transmission speed of 480Mb/s – 40 times faster than Class 1 – allowing Explorer 2 to play 192kHz audio streams. Users can also plug it into any available USB port – including a hub. They’re not required to plug it direct into the computer.

Explorer 2 includes a powerful decoder and audio renderer for Meridian’s exclusive ‘Master Quality Authenticated’ system. This ensures that MQA-encoded lossless audio files and streams sound exactly like the source. The 1x LED glows green to indicate that the unit is decoding and playing an MQA stream or file, and that the sound is identical to that of the source material. It glows blue to indicate that the Explorer 2 is playing an MQA Studio file – one based on a new, exclusively sourced, artist/producer-approved studio master. In all cases users hear exactly the sound the production team intended.

Explorer 2 connects to the computer via USB mini B connector and a cable. Unlike many other products of its type, Explorer2 does not plug directly into the PC: it uses a standard USB cable (included). This minimises the risk of damaging the PC motherboard if the product is accidentally knocked or the headphone cord is pulled.

Explorer 2 connects to virtually any computer which has a USB port. Drivers are provided for Windows. Macintosh and Linux operating systems do not require drivers, allowing simple plug-in and play operation. On the Macintosh, the Audio MIDI Setup utility is used to set the output sample rate; on Windows, the Sound control panel is used. Explorer 2 requires Macintosh OS X 10.6.4 (Snow Leopard) or later, Linux kernel 2.6.37 or later, or Windows XP SP3, Windows 7 SP1, or Windows 8 or later.

Despite its output and performance capability, Explorer 2 is entirely USB bus-powered. It is supplied in elegant presentation packaging and includes a short USB cable and a soft carrying pouch that stores both Explorer 2 and cable.

Stock is now available in NZ – the RRP is $449

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