Meridian is a legendary British company; I think of it as the Mercedes-Benz of audio, and the gear is priced accordingly. Meridian's engineering was always ahead of the pack, and it was the very first to market a high-end CD player in 1985. The company developed the original high-resolution lossless compression technology, MLP, that debuted in DVD-Audio players, and is now used in Dolby TrueHD-encoded Blu-ray discs.
When Meridian released the $299 Explorer USB digital converter earlier this year I thought that's it, Meridian put out an enticing, affordable morsel, but now they're going back up in the stratosphere, making only super expensive gear. Well, no, now we have the Director, which looks like a bigger Explorer. It has a similar, but larger elliptical aluminum tube chassis. The Director is hand-made in the U.K., and sells for $699 in the U.S..
The Explorer was designed with portability in mind, it's purely a USB-powered digital converter you can run off a laptop. The Director can also be USB-powered, but it sounds best used with its wall-wart power supply at home. The Director's larger chassis allowed the engineers to strut their stuff with a circuit board that's four times the size of the Explorer's, and they exercised greater freedom in parts choice. Some of the Director's digital processing is based on the technology used in Meridian's flagship 800 Series components.
The Director has stereo RCA analog output jacks instead of the Explorer's 3.5mm mini jack, so it's easier to hook up the Director to home audio systems. Other connectivity options are limited to a full-size USB B port and optical/coaxial digital inputs. The Director may be bigger than the Explorer, but it's just 5.5 inches long. The front panel's LED indicators display the incoming digital sample rate, from 44.1- to 192-kHz., but the Director upsamples CD-quality 44.1 files to 96kHz.
The Director's sound did not disappoint; the transparency and the sheer purity of the sound on my desktop were astonishing. Familiar recordings sounded fresher, bass was more vivid and noticeably deeper. The best high-resolution recordings were surprisingly analoglike, and more natural-sounding than the CD versions I've played a billion times.
When I compared the Director with my reference desktop converter, the Schiit Audio Bifrost, the Director's deeper, more impactful bass took me by surprise. Low-end bass definition jumped a couple of notches when I listened over my Adam Audio F5 desktop monitor speakers, and the overall clarity also improved. It's not a totally fair contest; the Bifrost is a good deal cheaper -- it's $449 -- and my Bifrost is a very early version. Schitt will be sending updated circuit boards I'll install soon, so the boards may close the gap. I didn't have an Explorer on hand, so I can't say how the Director would compare.
I also compared the Director with my Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player's internal digital converters (this $1,000 player has been replaced with the $1,199 BDP-105). The '95 is a serious audiophile player, and sounds nearly the same as the '105, but the Director sounds even better, with superior dynamic punch and life; stereo imaging was more spacious and three-dimensional. I was playing high-resolution 96kHz/24-bit and 192kHz/24-bit files, but I heard similar differences with CDs. The Oppo was a bit of a letdown after spending time with the Director.
The Meridian Director is the best-sounding desktop converter I've heard to date; it would also work wonders in a two-channel high-end system.