It’s no secret that pocket-sized USB DACs have a lot going for them. I know from experience that Meridian’s Explorer is a superb little performer (Issue 234). But, miniaturization also has its limits. For example, what if your listening habits swing in two different directions—between the portability of playback-on-the-hoof and home-system integration? Seems the busy engineers at Meridian have been thinking the same thing. Meridian’s answer is the Direct. Like a crossing guard at the digital/ analog intersection the Direct brings to the table a larger resume of technology and connectivity—well beyond that of the plucky little headphone streamer.
The Direct is a USB DAC that bundles digital inputs and a set of analog outputs in a single compact package. It’s designed to benefit systems that lack the USB input required to accommodate computer-based audio. And it can also bring an aging CD player (with a SPDIF out) back to relevance, or grab an optical signal from an Apple TV, or even hook up with a headphone preamp.
Not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes, the Direct carries the extruded-aluminum ovular-capsule design of the Explorer into a larger form factor. At one end, a button selects either USB or SPDIF input, with a trio of LEDs indicating the sample rate. (The unit can decode digital audio streams up to 24-bit/192kHz.) At its other end are a USB2 B socket and a 3.5mm optical/ coax hybrid connector (adapters are included).
However unlike the mini-jack output of the Explorer, the Direct uses a pair of unbalanced RCA output jacks, allowing audiophiles to use high-end interconnects. The Direct includes a wall-wart power supply that also operates in connection with the USB input in instances when a computer’s USB interface is not being used. Proudly handmade in the U.K., the Direct is upper crust all the way, from packaging to craftsmanship.
Added size and cost have enabled Meridian’s engineers to unleash some of their core technologies, many of them gleaned from the Reference 800 Series. These include Meridian technology enhancements such as upsampling and an apodising digital filter. The Direct also uses music-grade power-supply capacitors, while its four-layer PC board minimizes noise.
Ease of use is paramount in this segment. While full-size mega-DACs can bewilder the audiophile with a plethora of set-up choices, getting the Direct up and running is virtually hassle-free. For me it was as simple as taking the provided USB cable out from my MacBook and into the Direct, and selecting the Meridian DAC from the SOUND submenu within my laptop’s SYSTEM PREFERENCES.