Meridian Audio Director

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter
Input: 1x mini Toslink S/PDIF/Coax S/PDIF, 1x Asynchronous USB 2.0
Output: 1 pair RCA
Dimensions (W x D x H): 80mm (3.15in) x 139mm (5.47in) x 34mm (1.34in)
Weight: 0.25kg (9oz)
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $699.00
Website: www.meridian-audio.com

The Director
The Director is Meridian's step up in terms of size and sound quality from their smaller and headphone output-endowed Explorer (see review). Meridian views the aptly named Explorer as a portable player whereas the Director is meant to sit and remain connected to your hi-fi. I've now had a chance to listen to the Director for a few weeks and compare it to its smaller sibling side-by-side. If you've already read my Director preview, feel free to skip ahead to the listening section.

The sleek anodized black aluminium thin oval that is the Director's body looks like the Explorer's bigger brother and is obviously capable of packing more technology into its small but bigger frame. The Director can handle up to 24/192 data just like its smaller sibling and it introduces itself with an authoritative and well developed musical voice.

The Director employs a 3.5mm hybrid input that can accept either coax S/PDIF (via an included 3.5mm mono jack) or optical S/PDIF (via an included Mini-TOSLINK connector). The coax input can handle up to 24/192 playback while the Toslink maxes out at 24/96 and the Director automatically selects optical or coax based on the input. There's also an asynchronous USB type B input courtesy of XMOS that can also handle up to 24/192 data meaning Windows users will need to download and install the Meridian-provided drivers while Mac users are plug and play ready. The Director gets its power from that USB input when connected to your computer or via an included power supply which connects to the same USB input when using the S/PDIF input. Also on this end are a pair of 2v RMS fixed analog RCA outputs to connect to your hi-fi.

Opposite the business end of the Director there are six while LEDs and a single push button input selector switch. Two of the LEDs indicate which input is active while the others illuminate based on the incoming sample rate of the music being played. The far left LED marked "1X" for 44.1/48, "2x" for 88.2/96, and "3x" for 172.4/196. The Director employs a pair of crystal oscillators for 44.1- and 48kHz-based sample rates (as well as their multiples).

The Director uses the multi-bit Delta-Sigma Crystal Semiconductors CS4353 DAC and also includes "Meridian resolution-enhancing technologies such as Upsampling and Apodising". All 16–24 bit 44.1/48kHz data is upsampled to 24-bit, 88.2/96kHz respectively. I connected the Director to my MacBook Pro with an AudioQuest Diamond USB cable and the other side went to my Leben CS-300XS as well as my Pass INT-30A and finally out through my DeVore Fidelity The Nines.

Is Bigger Better?
In this case, yes it is. The Director sounds bigger than the Explorer which is kinda funny since it is also, bigger. By bigger I mean to say that the Director presents a larger and more solid sound image. Musicians sound more firmly rooted and they stand in starker contrast to one another. Another way of communicating this is to simply say the Director sounds better than the Explorer. To my way of hearing, the Director also sounds more compelling as compared to the Explorer even though I found the Explorer very easy to listen to and like.

Perhaps of greater importance than comparative differences, I found the Director musically engaging over the longer haul. After weeks of fairly solid listening, there was nothing about the Director's performance that interrupted musical enjoyment. It is a nicely balanced DAC that does not scream out resolution! as much as the Resonessence Labs Concero HD that's here for review. It's also not as big and fat sounding as the Halide DAC HD (see review) which recently returned to AudioStream central for an extended stay. While the Halide is limited to 24/96 playback, I'm happy to report that I enjoy it as much now as I did when I first reviewed it. The Director delivers up to 24/192 playback and a more concise and spatially distinct presentation but I'd give the Halide DAC HD the upper hand in terms of a weightier and more tonally rich presentation.

The Director's way with space is something that stood out immediately but it has taken some time to get a firm grip on exactly what its strengths and weaknesses are in this regard. I would say that while I've heard deeper sound images and more expansive presentations, the Director shines with a dimensional quality. Sounds seem to emanate from a dimensional place as opposed to a flat surface which is something that a lot of relatively inexpensive DACs seem to suffer from where music sounds like its coming from cardboard cutouts. The Director fills out this sound picture and gives you a better sense of the physicality of the thing responsible for the sounds you are hearing. This translates into a more natural presentation.

The Director does not deliver the last word in bass response but the bass that's there is tight and tuneful. Again, the Resonessence Labs Concero HD is a monster at unraveling complexity and it offers up gobs of detail and resolution. By comparison the Director is more laid back sounding which will appeal to certain listeners while the Concero HD will also tickle some listener's fancy. Hi-fi is not a zero-sum game. In fact it's not a game at all in the sense that there's nothing competitive about listening to music on a hi-fi unless of course you are misguided. The point being, I can see some people preferring the Director's more laid back sound while others may prefer the Concero's finer grained picture.

Easy Listening
The Director strikes me as a very easy DAC to listen to and like much like its smaller sibling the Meridian Explorer. What the larger Director delivers is a greater sense of body with a more natural sounding dimensionality to the musical presentation. There's a nice spectrum of tone colors, a nice level of resolution without ever sounding overly etched, and a smooth sweet top end like the cherry on top of a musical sundae. I'd say that makes the Merdian Director one sweet DAC.



Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the Meridian Director review: Meridian Explorer, Resonessence Labs Concero HD, Halide DAC HD

COMMENTS
Rich Davis's picture

I bought a Meridian Director and it's connected to a Late 2012 iMac via USB.  I have been playing around with the Audio MIDI settings between 44 and 192, but i noticed it's fixed to 24 Bit Integer, but most of my content is 16/44.

I've played around with some HD Tracks 24/96 and 24/192 and quite frankly, I have ripped versions of the same tracks in 16/44 and I prefer the 16/44 through the Meridian, one thing noticeable is it's louder.

I also have been experimenting with which file types to use since most of my content is from a RedBook CD, some is purchased through iTunes at 128kbps or 256kbps.  I have also played around with various 3rd party software, including Audirvana Plus, Fidelia, Amarra, Pure Music, iTunes (obviously), and BitPerfect.  If you have suggestions as to which files types to rip our RedBook CDs for optimal performance, etc., that would be helpful.

I'm concerned about the 44kHz setting in the Audio MIDI settings since my content is 16 bit and the Merdiian is supposed to do it's own up-sampling and apodising filter.

I actually am liking Audirvana, but the only way to control the volume is by adjusting it at my preamp level and not having any other control.  I'm contacting the company to see if there is a setting change I can do to allow for volume adjustment from the computer instead of reaching behind my powered speakers for volume adjustment.

Anyway, I would love to see some future shootouts with a variety of software with the Meridian Director, if you can and any other thoughts.

Also, I just got a MIT StyleLInk Plus USB cable which I'm auditioning.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

If you go to Audirvana Plus > Preferences and click on the Audio Volume tab, you will see three check boxes - "DAC Only", "DAC if available, else software", and "Software Only".

Here's an article that includes my recommendations on ripping: Getting Started With Computer Audio Part 2: Software

kenniGT's picture

Hi Michael, very good review, it reflects my feelings. I bought Director at beginning of August as replacement for IMO terrible Audiolab M-DAC. I am very happy with it. It feeds Roksan Caspian M2 and Monitor Audio RX6 with flac files from my laptop. My first more serious audio setup. And now my ears can not cope with my computer speakers :). So... after couple visits to nice shops in London with studio equipment I got Adam A5X (and I am waiting for Sub7 delivery). Now... the only sensible option was to drive it with Director form my hifi setup. What leaves me with one DAC on shopping list :D And I am not sure which way to go. To buy more expensive hifi DAC, or cheaper PC DAC. What I do not want to do, is to loose ADAM speakers quality. I have listen them for couple hours now and I see they will be brilliant after a bit of running. Am I correct that you also use Adam speaker for testing? What would you recommend for them? (just found your website, well done, will have something to read at work tomorrow :)) Kind Regards Tom

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I find the ADAM A3X mate well with most of the DACs I've used them with from the AudioQuest Dragonfly, to the Halide HD, Explorer, Teac UD-501, and the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC. So it mainly comes down to a question of budget.

I'd recommend any of the DACs I just mentioned or any that are on the Greatest Bits list.

kenniGT's picture

Cool! Good to know that Mike. I the morning I have second thought and I think I willl leave Director with A5X. I just really enjoyed music yesteday :) So I will start to look around for something to match to my hifi system, budget up to 1000pounds, bearing in mind I will replace RX6 in the future. Your reviews are really helpfull, great job. Thanks again.

Rich Davis's picture

to post measurement test results?  I'm interested in knowing the dynamic range, jitter, etc. etc. for each bit rate. Just so I can compare what other DACs?

16 bit sounds great, but I have dl'd some 24/96 and 24/192 of the same recordings (only they were mastered at later dates and most likely with different equipment) and the 24 bit recordings sound incredible.  I HIGHLY suggest going to places like HD Master and obtaining later remastered versions of any recordings you already have.

Some of the recordings are just wonderful sounding on this DAC at 24 bit.

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