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Meridian Audio Director review

Kat Orphanides
6 Aug 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
450
inc VAT

A very expensive but fantastic sounding DAC that requires top-notch speakers to make the most of it

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The Meridian Audio Director is a USB and S/PDIF digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) that takes a digital audio source, from say your laptop, and outputs it to a standard pair of analogue phono outputs, which you can hook up to any amplifier.

Digital audio is a very convenient way of storing music, but audio quality can be compromised by poor quality digital-to-audio converters (DACs) on cheaper sound cards, such as those integrated into most laptops and PCs. It's because of this that we've seen an increasing number of USB DACs from computer hardware specialists such as Asus and audio equipment makers such as Arcam.

Meridian Audio Director

Meridian is a British company which, unusually, continues to both design and manufacture all its products in the UK. It's been around since 1977 and has played a significant role in the development of technologies such as digital signal processing for loudspeakers, and encoding technologies used in DVD and Blu-ray audio.

The Director is a compact aluminium box measuring just 33x80x140mm, so you should easily find space for it alongside your hi-fi separates or on your desk. As for connections, it has a combined optical and coaxial S/PDIF input and a USB port, which can either be used to connect it to a computer or as a power source if you're using it as an S/PDIF DAC without a PC. The Meridian Director comes with all the adaptors and cables required for either type of the connection. Also at the rear of the DAC is a pair of gold-plated RCA outputs to connect it to an amplifier or pair of active speakers.

Meridian Audio Director

Meridian supports both Mac OS X and Windows PCs, and provides its own low-latency driver for Windows users. It also suggests a number of different applications for the Director in addition to using it as a USB sound card for your PC. You could for example, use it as a digital to analogue stage for a media streamer such as those produced by Sonos. Conveniently, you can have devices connected to both the USB and S/PDIF inputs and then switch between them with an input switch on the front of the Director. This is handy if you have both a PC and a dedicated audio streamer or CD player in your audio setup.

Meridian Audio Director

AUDIO QUALITY

During our tests, we connected the DAC to the analogue input of our reference Kef X300A speakers. In comparative tests against Meridian's Explorer DAC and the Arcam rPAC, both of which are incredibly high-quality audio sources, the Director produced only the slightest perceptible improvement in subjective sound quality when listening to standard CD-quality (44.1KHz, 16-bit) lossy MP3 and lossless FLAC audio recordings. Even with high-resolution tracks, you're going to hit the quality limits of even high-end speakers, such as our reference Kef X300A speakers, before you can distinguish the Director from other high-quality DACs. Subjectively, it has a slightly warmer tone and broader soundstage, which become most noticeable in orchestral recordings such as Holst's Jupiter, recorded by Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker.

In general, the DAC has a beautifully balanced audio profile that makes the most of any decent-quality recording. All our standard reference tracks, from the rich synths of Pendulum to the crowded guitar-driven soundscapes of Coldworld's Tortured by Solitude, were rendered with perfect clarity and precision. We could pick out individual instruments with ease from the most complex tracks, while the resonant interplay of vocal harmonies in Coope, Boyes and Simpson's Jerusalem Revisited was reproduced with spine-tingling accuracy.

The Director's audio quality is unquestionably excellent, although you'll need a good set of speakers to appreciate it at its best. It's also far more expensive than most other compact USB DACs. It contains a lot of audio hardware used in Meridian’s hugely expensive 800 series, and also has an asynchronous USB connection, high-end capacitors, an XMOS L2 DSP chip and a Cirrus Logic Crystal Semiconductor CS4353 DAC chip. The CS4353 is by far the most capable Cirrus Logic DAC chip we've encountered, and frequently appears in high-quality amp units and CD players from premium manufacturers such as Marantz.

The CS4353 has a maximum sample resolution of 192KHz and a 24-bit bit depth, so it can play maximum quality PCM audio files, assuming or software that can play them, such as Jriver or Foobar 2000.

CONCLUSION

The Meridian Director is one of the most expensive DACs we've reviewed, even more so than the standard edition of Asus's feature packed Xonar Essence One, which has more outputs and a headphone amp. However, the Director's small size makes it easier to use as a computer sound card if you don't need the Xonar's extra outputs. Even so, you won't find much benefit in using this DAC over Meridian's own Explorer or the Best Buy winning Arcam rPAC, unless you own ultra-high-quality speakers. If you're already pushing the limits of a high-end DAC, however, the Meridian Director would be a great choice for your next upgrade.

Details

Price£450
Rating*****

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