THERE’S obviously burgeoning business in the USB DAC market, a realm that draws both audiophiles seeking digital audio’s zeitgeist and music lovers married to their computers but keen on experimenting with audio esoterica.
Here’s a new toy that may interest them, and one that we’re informed is reasonably priced at around US$300 – UK digital proponent Meridian’s first USB-equipped compact DAC, the pocket-fitting Explorer that’s no bigger than a USB stick.
It’s an asynchronous design that works the way any USB DAC would – plug it into your computer’s USB port and it takes over the audio tasks from the sound card. Scratch the dongle image – Meridian provides a short USB cable for the hook up. In the company’s words, this way, “there’s no danger of damaging the computer motherboard if you accidentally walk off with your headphones on.”
What it has on board are Meridian’s high quality audio circuitry derived from the flagship 800 Reference Series and a headphone amplifier with analogue volume control. As expected, audiophile-grade parts are used inside the Explorer.
It will do 24-bit/192kHz, although the provided optical output goes only up to 96kHz. The combination 3.5mm analogue/digital mini-jack, though, will necessitate getting the right wires to hook up to your amp. The volume through this is fixed.
Made in the UK, the Explore is built into a rugged aluminum case, on which are located three white LEDs to indicate the incoming stream rate.
More details here.