MQA in Munich

An entire page of the High End magazin was devoted to an introduction to Meridian's MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) technology. Bob Stuart, who with Peter Craven, invented MQA, spent a generous amount of time with me discussing both the latest developments with the process, and some of the scientific research behind it.

Already, Arcam, Onkyo Music, 2L, Roon, and Tidal have signed on as MQA supporters, and over 100 potential business partners have been identified. Nonetheless, MQA's launch has been delayed 1–2 months because there's "something" Meridian is adding to increase its flexibility for streaming. Expect MQA 1.0 in June. More than 100 companies have signed up with Meridian to offer MQA decoding in their products, "from the tiniest companies to some of the biggest in the world," Bob said. The next major announcement is scheduled for the IFA show in Berlin in early September.

"We took the view that since MQA is so important to the music industry, we want everyone to participate so we can all cross the road together. So we had to gear up for the launch."

MQA Ltd. a new company that is separate from Meridian's core business, is dedicated to using MQA to make recorded music better to listen to. The company is based on the philosophy, "If you want to reproduce the sound of music in the studio, you have to control it from the beginning to the end, and take the whole chain into account."

One key aspect of the company's work is applying the principles of neuroscience to the realm of product engineering. Stuart contests that the latest research shows that we are far more sensitive to timing than to frequency. In addition, our hearing is totally adaptable to and tuned into the sounds of nature and the environment, with the ability to hear when sounds stop and decay crucial to survival. In the end, according to Stuart, timing accuracy is even more important than sampling rate when it comes to music reproduction.

Asked who was authenticating the master quality of MQA, Stuart responded, "We're putting the tools in the hands of the producer, artist, or recording engineer. When there is no one available, as may be the case with archival material, we put the power in the copyright owner's hands." The goal, with new recordings, is to authenticate them right after the mastering process. With the push of a button, sound and mastering engineers will be able to hear what the customer will hear on home systems, iPhones, over earbuds, etc...

"We want to recreate the analog sound of the actual performance," Stuart said. "Most studios are frustrated with the sound that comes about with the transfer of their material from A to D and then back from D to A. MQA's goal is to achieve high temporal precision throughout a chain that was not designed to provide it."

At the end of our talk, Stuart took me into the temporarily empty MQA demo room for a listen. Alas, the large room was so heavily damped in order to ameliorate room-related problems that I found myself uninvolved in what was playing. I'm not sure why, but I have yet to hear MQA demmed in a space and/or system whose open and extended top and bottom and liquid presentation approximate the sound I hear in wet (as opposed to dry) performance venues.

COMMENTS
volvic's picture

As someone who doesn't stream but has a computer audio (imported CD's into hd) set up, the addition of Meridian adds a genuine heavy hitter that makes this old crusty Luddite to take notice of HD downloads and high rez streaming.

smargo's picture

my head is spinning from all the mqa talk in every magazine - if the hype lives up to the reality - then it's a treat

there was so much hype with sacd - hdcd - dsd - they are ok - but not better than good vinyl

when it finally gets used - instead of the millions of words written about it - will see for sure then

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Is it even necessary to point out that the reason you're so jazzed to hear MQA is because of the millions of words that have been written about it? Then again, my beloved dogs also occasionally bite the hand that feeds ;-) I keep on loving them, and I will certainly keep on feeding you.

Venere 2's picture

"I keep on loving them"

Is it funny or sad that your quote makes me think about that particular song from the REO crew? No sarcasm is intended. I really want an answer! ;-)

smargo's picture

touche!!

BradleyP's picture

I've been thinking through the economics of MQA, and I see how it makes sense for new releases. Hi-res downloads and the versions that go to TIDAL get MQA treatment. Other versions don't get the special treatment. I'm a bit fuzzy about what incentive there is for major labels to pull old masters out of the vault and put them through the MQA process. Is it worth it to sell a few hundred copies of high res downloads for folks who want the MQA version or make a little more off of Tidal streaming, maybe? Or might we be looking at third--party licensees gaining access to release the souped up digital versions? It's the legacy recordings that interest me the most just because there are thousands I like. Once this rolls out on TIDAL, I'm on it IF there is adequate material.

Venere 2's picture

"One key aspect of the company's work is applying the principles of neuroscience to the realm of product engineering. Stuart contests that the latest research shows that we are far more sensitive to timing than to frequency. In addition, our hearing is totally adaptable to and tuned into the sounds of nature and the environment, with the ability to hear when sounds stop and decay crucial to survival. In the end, according to Stuart, timing accuracy is even more important than sampling rate when it comes to music reproduction."

Timing is everything it seems. I am sure I have read that before, almost word for word (and not from MQA).

I believe the "make it about timing, and they will buy" mantra, or words to that effect were spoken by someone from Naim in recent years. Rega also seems (to my ears) to play in this sandlot.

It is fun to read that there seems to be an empirical basis for this.

music or sound's picture

I am quite interested to learn more about that research about hearing but my web searches did not find anything recent: a lot about coding etc. but not about psychoacoustic research. I hope it is not only marketing talk!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hi there, mos,

I don't have Bob's address, but I'm writing him via publicist Sue Toscano. Once I receive a reply, I'll post sources for Bob's research.

jason

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

This either has a long or very long answer :-)

We presented an AES paper last October -- [1] in the list below -- that pulls together some of the threads behind MQA. Non-members can purchase a copy from the AES. In it there are 92 references on relevant topics in neuroscience, coding, sampling theory etc. Even that is just the tip of the iceberg because there are hundreds if not thousands of relevant research reports, papers, etc

I extracted a very small list below for those unable to access the AES paper:

[1] Stuart, J.R., Craven, P.G. ‘A Hierarchical Approach to Archive and Distribution’, preprint 9178 AES 137th Los Angeles, (Oct. 2014) http://bit.ly/JRS_AES

[2] Lewicki, M.S. ‘Efficient Coding of natural sounds’, Nature Neurosci. 5, 356-363 (2002) http://bit.ly/Lewicki02

[3] Oppenheim, J.N., Magnasco, M.O., ‘Human Time-Frequency Acuity Beats the Fourier Uncertainty Principle’, arXiv:1208.4611 [q-bio.NC] (Jan. 2013)

[4] Krumbholz, K., Patterson, R.D., ‘Microsecond temporal resolution in monaural hearing without spectral cues?’ J. Acoust. Soc Am., 113, No. 5, 2790–2800, (2003)

[5] Rieke, F., et al, Spikes: Exploring the Neural Code, ISBN 978-0-262-18174-7, MIT Press (1997)

[6] Rees, A., Palmer, A.R., (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Auditory Science: The Auditory Brain, 2 OUP (2010)

[7] Plack, C.J. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Auditory Science: Hearing, 3 OUP (2010)

I hope this helps

Bob

music or sound's picture

Thanks, a lot to read! Maybe Bob Stuart should put a PDF off his recent AES paper on his site(s) for free download.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I doubt Bob can put a pdf of his paper up on his site.

smargo's picture

thats why i am making a biased comment - talk ,talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk - me personally - you can talk to me for a thousand hours about mqa - i have invested many thousands of dollars in upgrading my digital setup over the last 21 years

from green pens - to magic mats - to spinning contraptions - to bands around a cd - to memory players - to burwen bobcat - to hdcd - to 384 upsampling - to 24 bit - to streaming dsd - etc

im all for mqa if it sounds great and i react omg - but if its just another increment in hype and it sounds good - only if its tuesday and i have such and such cable - and im using a tubed streamer - and my speakers can convey the information - my head is starting to spin

i need to go take some advil - if audiophiledom was based on talk i'd have died and gone to listening heaven.

call me a skeptic - i just want to hear it - with no "but you need to hear it with this"

spacehound's picture

Stuart is always producing 'papers'.

But I take them with a pinch of salt as Meridian equipment never sounds anything other than 'ordinary' at best. And has near zero impact even in its home country.

smargo's picture

talk, and talk, and talk - white papers, green papers, red papers, secret white papers, "if i told you i have to ______ secret papers"

everything is a special secret - how does it sound - thats all ill ever be interested in!