I was fortunate enough to borrow a Big Ego for a few weeks from a pal and thought I would compare it to my Meridian Explorer (original version not Explorer2).
No headphone listening was done.
The plastic housed Meridian feels cheap and not at all durable where the Big Ego is much heavier with its metal housing; same goes for the ports. None of this is a surprise since Emotiva seems to focus on the perceived value of rugged feeling exteriors.
Internal images vary quite a lot.
Without a doubt, I think the Big Ego produces more detail than the Explorer. The extra information is noticeable across all registers offering more of that "air" people consider important and certainly creates a sense of space. The difference in textural detail between the products is obvious to my ears. I would also say the Emotiva DAC also throws a wider soundstage.
Where the Meridian lacks in delivering the last bits of detail many listeners prefer, the Explorer has a VERY non-digital sound. Numerous recordings that I previously considered brittle or wrought with glare were transformed into highly listenable music that could now be played at higher volumes. It is such a smooth sounding DAC and almost seems "faster." Orchestral strings and jazz muted trumpet in particular were better portrayed by the Explorer. It's not dull in any way but seems to control the problem sounds more than the Ego. Tradeoffs for sure but I noticed my toe was tapping more when listening to the Meridian than to the Big Ego.
I think the Big Ego sounds really detailed and neutral but reaches a very happy medium that more listeners prefer. If your room is overly bright like mine is or if you listen to a lot of poorly mastered material that invites fatigue, the Meridian might be superior.
Interesting! I found something similar with the SChiit Gungnir multibit versus the DC-1. The DC-1 had a smidge more detail for portrayal of room ambience/room dimensions in the recording. The Gungnir Multibit felt more analog. You could crank the volume more and it was very enjoyable. Both did great - just in subtly different ways.
Transport: Sony UBP-X700 UHD-Blu ray player spdif PC using Musiland Digital Times WASAPI via BNC connection - DAC: DC-1->XLR XPA-1 , RCA->Basx A-100 CD: Denon DCD 600 PCM 61 DAC. RCA Amp: XPA-1 gen 2 using XLR connections. Speakers: Axiom Audio m80 V3, Sennheisser HD700 headphones. two pairs 12 guage each bi-wire speaker cables per monoblock Headphone amp: Basx A-100 (INCREDIBLE VALUE!!)