MQA-Encoded CDs? Yes!
The partnership between Bob Stuart of MQA, Sawaguchi, and Seiji Murai of Synthax Japan and UNAMAS began after they met last fall at Stuart's MQA presentation for the Japan Audio Society. As soon as Sawaguchi and Murai realized that MQA was compatible with CD encoding at 16/44.1k, they determined to move forward.
"The UNAMAS Label deals with only hi-rez downloads, but Seiji-san runs both hi-rez as RME Premium Recordings and OTTAVA Records as CDs," Sawaguchi explained in an email I've edited slightly. "When I asked Bob how to make an MQA-CD, he kindly gave me useful and practical suggestions. One day, I brought a test MQA-CD and a normal CD of the same music to SONA Studio where a CD player and Meridian amplifier and loudspeaker systems were installed. I was really excited to listen to the music played back. 'Is it music from CD?' I asked myself.
"Listening to MQA-CD gave me a great moment in my life. Finally, I was confident that MQA-CD will usher in a new era of CD."
Sawaguchi (left in photo above, with Bob Stuart, right) offers the following about the advantages of MQA-CD:
"MQA coding enables us to preserve the original master sound quality with thorough timing de-blurring and very small data size. Advantages of MQA-CD are:
No additional cost for users
Can be played back by conventional CD-players with higher quality sound.
With an MQA decoder, listeners can get a master quality hi-rez from CD. No special knowledge of PC, network, or software operation skill is necessary. MQA is a remarkable innovation of CD media."
Such an announcement raises a host of audiophiles-want-to-know questions. Below is Stuart's response to a list I quickly submitted by email:
Is this CD available only in Japan? Or available other places, through Amazon etc????
We are finding out, but the first introduction of the Ottava CDs is in Japan.
Is the same title available for download? From where?
Can you stream the music in MQA from Tidal and other sources?
Unamas/Ottova do not yet release for streaming.
Is the master file 16/44.1 with MQA or higher resolution?
This Ottava MQA CD starts from a 176/24 master. The Origami process is used to fold the audio into a 44.1kHz file which can be post-processed to provide a 16-bit MQA file.
FYI, an MQA CD can be made starting from masters at 44.1, 88.2, 176.4 or 352.8kHz.
How many titles are expected?
Ottava has several titles planned and some already in process.
When did the idea for MQA-encoded CD originate?
The MQA distribution file was originally architected to be flexible in delivery for streaming and download, but also enjoyable in a number of playback scenarios. Thus, the ability to step down to 16-bit is in the design hierarchy. MQA can push the maximum quality to endpoints, and supports several applications such as Airplay, Automotive and, of course, CD.
How long have the CDs been in the planning stage?
I first showed an MQA CD privately at CES to John Atkinson a couple of years ago.
What do you need to play them?
An MQA CD is a Red Book CD and is 100% compatible with any existing CD player. The audio on the disc is MQA-encoded PCM, and will play back happily without a decoder. In this case, the sound quality is slightly better than a typical CD, because the audio is already de-blurred in the studio. However. if the bitstream is passed to an MQA decoder, it is unfolded to 176kHz (in this case) and rendered to the DAC at 24-bit.
Besides the Meridian player equipped with MQA, can anyone connect a CD transport to an MQA-enabled DAC, perhaps from another company, and decode the MQA.
Definitely. The digital output of a CD player or Blu-disc player can be fed into an MQA-capable DAC such as Mytek, Brinkman, Meridian 818 or UltraDAC, or any MQA decoder with bit-accurate S/PDIF, optical, or HDMI input. At a forthcoming press conference, we will demonstrate a normal CD player connected to Mytek's Brooklyn and Meridian's Ultra DAC, as well as to a Meridian 808v6 CD player.
Any transport can mate fine with the Ultra DAC as long as there is no upsampling in the player. Also, this week Technics has announced the SU-G30, a network/CD player/amplifier with MQA decoding.
Are any other companies planning MQA-enabled CDs?
Yes. Several other labels, both in and outside Japan, are expressing interest in issuing MQA high-resolution CDs. A key reason is the 100% backward compatibility to all Red Book players, and the fact that the sound is much improved. There are at least two labels in planning, but we can't yet say who.
Are MQA-enabled Blu-ray discs being contemplated or worked on?
Not yet, but it is certainly possible.