MQA's Sound Convinces Hardened Showgoers

Digging MQA (from L–R): Peter McGrath, Jason Victor Serinus, and Michael Fremer, with Bob Stuart anxiously looking on and Winai Pawitwatana behind. (Photo: John Atkinson)

CES 2016 marked the first time that three writers for Stereophile—Editor-in-Chief, John Atkinson; AnalogPlanet analog guru, Michael Fremer; and this Contributing Editor—could sit down in the same room with Bob Stuart of MQA/Meridian and spend a concentrated amount of time comparing before- and after-MQA encoded (Master Quality Authenticated) tracks. Joining us were recording engineer Peter McGrath, also of Wilson Audio, who contributed several tracks; Winai Pawitwatana, a consummate music lover whose company, Deco is the distributor for Wilson, Meridian, and other high-end brands in Thailand; and several members of the MQA team.

The timing was propitious. On January 4, at CES Unveiled, MQA announced the names of major companies that are now offering MQA-capable hardware and music content. Three days later, both 7digital, a leading B2B digital music and radio services company, and Onkyomusic announced their first indie label content available for download and streaming in MQA. With CD quality and hi-rez streaming service Tidal expected to announce MQA encoding once things settle down from the company's acquisition of a new CEO, it was high time that we all took another listen to the technology that we've been raving about since the end of 2014.

The system before us contained before and after MQA files loaded onto a Meridian Sooloos front end that included a QNAP core and HP Touch computer. Also heard were a Meridian 818 digital controller, which included the streaming endpoint, USB and MQA decoder. The rest of the system comprised a Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems power amplifier. Wilson Audio Sasha II loudspeakers, and Transparent cabling. I wish we could have auditioned the Mytek MQA-enabled Brooklyn DAC that was first announced at October's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, but it remained in its late development phase, and was not operation-ready.

First up was a before/after comparison of McGrath's recording of the Escher String Quartet and pianist Ben Grosvenor performing a Dvorak Piano Quintet. "So much more emotionally compelling, and so much more nuance," I wrote in my notes. "The pacing and accents are more palpable." John Atkinson, commenting from a recording engineer's perspective, praised "the increased clarity of the spatial relationships between the players and the surrounding hall ambience."

McGrath, in turn, said, "Listening to my recording with MQA literally brought tears to my eyes, because it was the first time I could hear what I heard in the hall. MQA could possibly make the recording process less complex if engineers can better hear what they're recording. It would enable less to be more, because engineers would not have to add or recreate if they knew what they wanted listeners to hear was on the recording to begin with."

The final comment, equally telling, came from either Stuart or someone in the back of the room. (Apologies for not turning my head fast enough to catch who was speaking.) "Perhaps you would have mixed the recording differently had it captured the spatial relationships from the get-go," they said.

Next up was McGrath's 24/88.2k recording of Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony performing the start of Mahler's Symphony 5. Because MQA encoding is most effective when the recording and mastering equipment are known, McGrath had previously informed Stuart and the MQA team that he had used a Meitner ADC and Grado mikes.

It was immediately apparent how much deeper I could listen into the soundstage with MQA. Due to MQA correction of minute timing errors, special relationships were clarified to a significant extent.

I knew that McGrath was happy, because he unconsciously began to sing along with the symphony. When it was his turn to speak, he said, "I heard the winds in the back of the orchestra as I've never heard them before."

"I especially like the tuba," said John Atkinson. "The taps on the timpani and bass drum sound more natural, rather than like generic thwacks, and the sonic signature and dimensions of the hall are clearer," he noted.

In a comparison that had Michael Fremer's ears perking up, we next listened to some music from Keith Jarrett's famed live 1975 Concert in Köln (recorded in the Opera House in Cologne, Germany). Lucky for us, Stuart had been able to get his hands on a 96kHz transfer of ECM's analog master tape.

From L–): John Atkinson, Peter McGrath, Bob Stuart, Jason Victor Serinus, and Michael Fremer.

In a follow-up call, days after CES ended, Michael Fremer had this to say about what he heard:

The CD of the recording has an unfocused, diffuse image of a piano hanging in space, with the room reverb mixed in and confusing the picture. There was no image, there was no there there. My mind couldn't get engaged with it, which was disturbing, because it didn't make sense. That's why many people don't sit down and listen to a CD with the lights out and stay engaged, as you do with a record. When the MQA version was played, there was a coherent attack, sustain, and decay. Finally, I could visualize Jarrett playing a piano in three-dimensional space, and the space behind it. It was like what a record sounds like. I think that since Jarrett is also an audiophile and likes vinyl that he, too, would hear it the same way.

Herr Fremer was far from alone. When McGrath heard the MQA version, he literally chuckled with delight at the difference. "It sounds far closer to what the piano can do," he said.

As for my impression, the harmonics of the piano were far more in evidence. I felt as if a window had been scrubbed clean, and I could see deeper into the music than before. When Jarrett hit multiple keys simultaneously with full force, the blend between the notes, and the way they reverberated in space, was far easier to discern. I know from experience that, had we been able to listen to the entire track, the emotional impact of the music would have been far greater.

At the end of our session, Stuart played a before/after track from 2L recording engineer Morten Lindberg's first recording, of piano music by Carl Nielsen. "It was a shock to go back to the DAT original and discover how flat and lacking in harmonics it sounded," he said. "While we only had the CD transfer of the original DAT—the machine itself was unusable—we could also access the original converter that Lindberg used." Our reactions, as you can imagine, were in line with our observations about the Jarrett track.

While Michael Lavorgna of Stereophile and AudioStream conducted his listening separately, he sent me the following comment for our CES show wrap:

The biggest word in computer and digital audio replay at CES 2016 was "-Ready." Roon-Ready and MQA-Ready products captured the most attention mainly because Roon makes file-based playback much better in terms of interfacing with stored and streamed music libraries and MQA makes digital music sound much, much better.

There has been a fair amount of pushback about MQA on forums and in our comments section from long-time audiophiles who are either totally dismissive of the process, absolute certain that we are pawns of the MQA organization, or bracing themselves for proclamations that they must now run out and not only replace their third or fourth versions of classic recordings with MQA-encoded versions (when they become available), but also replace their DACs. These, of course, are legitimate concerns.

According to Stuart, MQA technology will make any MQA-encoded recording sound better, even without an MQA decoder. Of course, it will sound even better if you can decode it. But it is not necessary to do so to derive some sonic benefit. That, I might add, is a listening experiment I have yet to witness.

Because MQA was developed with the intent of shrinking the size of large, hi-res files and making transfer/storage more practical, it will certainly affect our ability to stream and download hi-rez content. In other words, MQA will make it possible to hear and store music at 352.8kHz or 384k without overloading computers, music servers, or the Internet. (The last example Stuart played us was of 24/352.8 music streamed from Tidal, and it sounded excellent,) And since MQA, like hybrid SACDs, is backward-compatible, you will be able to play MQA-encoded files on your existing equipment without additional investment. In short, MQA is a win-win for all music lovers.

COMMENTS
jimtavegia's picture

I own the LP and love it, but the LP is thin sounding to me on my middle of the road systems, but the playing is excellent. I went to HD tracks and downloaded the short performance for $2.49 and the 2496 version is excellent and way better then my LP. The $45 price for the entire download is too steep for me, but for the well-healed it is worth it. If MQA makes it even better that is something.

dalethorn's picture

I hope $45 is for a double album.

JUNO-106's picture

I love KJ's Koln concert. Have listened to it MANY times over the years but I would never pay $45 for it on any format!
The original ECM CD is good enough for me.

The other problem here is that when you buy an expensive recording on a physical format and you find that you don't care for it much, you can usually sell it and get most, if not all, of your money back...not so with downloads.

But I would guess that anyone who is willing to spend $45 on a download file has money to burn anyway.

low2midhifi's picture

"The other problem here is that when you buy an expensive recording on a physical format and you find that you don't care for it much, you can usually sell it and get most, if not all, of your money back...not so with downloads."

This is one of the biggest advantages of the CD. If you don't like it, you can put it up for sale on Amazon. If it's reasonably popular recording--except for the purchaser/seller in question--you can expect to sell the disc, recover part of your expenditure, and move on.

I suppose you could turn over your download hard disc to someone, if the purchaser wanted every track that you have. Otherwise--and maybe I don't know enough here--I am not aware of a secondary market, nor a convenient method, for a person to get rid of downloads that a person has decided that he/she does not want. You download, you own it.

If you live in a community with a Half Price Books--or some other used record/cd store--you can often get a smaller payback for your unwanted CDs. But here, you can unload many CDs at once and be done with it. A final option, particularly if you want to help out your local community, is to donate the CDs to a local thrift store or local library.

I do not think there's much a person can do but live with--or delete--a download that did not work out as intended.

Maybe this is why streaming--according to the expert commentary I've heard--is picking up in popularity.

Anton's picture

I am patiently waiting with my Meridian MQA DAC hooked up to Tidal, fellas!

Can I get some yet?

;-D

music or sound's picture

My experience with high res is that it only delivers very incremental improvements on the sound quality of red book (much more important is the recording and mastering itself than the various file formats). What I am reading here and many times before last year about MQA makes me hope that it will be a more consistent way to deliver the real musical experience (from recording & mastering to playback i.e. end to end). So I am curious!
2L.no has some MQA test files on their site for free download and I tried one. I played it on my Macbook and found it sound quite inferior to the 24/96 version (without proper decoding). In your article you stated: "According to Stuart, MQA technology will make any MQA-encoded recording sound better, even without an MQA decoder." That is definitely not my experience, almost worse than MP3! No win-win for me (yet?).
I have not seen any clear statement what is required to get the full (or most) benefits of the MQA technology: a full compatible DAC or just some licensed software/firmware update to a server.

TJ's picture

... have now learned that it doesn't decode MQA files, and when you ask Meridian technical support for help, they don't answer. Come on, Meridian, what's up?

DH's picture

There are already analyses on the net of files encoded for MQA compared to the same file not encoded for MQA. They seem to show that if you don't own MQA equipment, your equipment will unpack a file with LESS information than the equivalent non-MQA encoded file when it is fed an MQA encoded file.

If this is correct, those of us who haven't bought MQA certified equipment are going to be listening to inferior versions of music we buy or stream, once it is MQA encoded.

low2midhifi's picture

I look forward to hearing this format. I am sure it will sound as good as our season audience found it while listening at CES.

Here are the three challenges for yet another hi-rez format:

1. Will this become the Standard?

No doubt this is good technology. Will it be around after hi fi fans, 3-4 years down the road, have made hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of expenditure on devices, software, recordings? Or will this format be another Cibola of "City of Gold" searched for by the audiophile "Coronado?" The advancement of recordings is impressive. We now need a semblance of stability for the masses (or what passes for that) of hi fi enthusiasts to come.

2. Will the Prices Come Down?

For a desert isle recording, like the Keith Jarrett Koln Concert mentioned by another commenter, $45 might be the right price. For a riskier, or more impulse-type of purchase, people are going to hesitate. I recently built, on a fortunate trip to Half Price Books, a 1/3 complete collection of Syro Gyra recordings for $38.00. Is it MQA? No. But it is a significant output of a group whose music I enjoy. CDs, if you go to Half Price Books (perhaps not an audiophile crowd), are anything but "going away."

3. Repertoire and Breadth is Everything in the End:

I can do a phone-book drop of the Penguin Guide to Classical CDs (2001 edition). I can look for the 3rd recording of the first work reviewed (assuming the work has 3 reviews). I can go to Amazon, find the exact recording, make the purchase (with shipping often more than the CD itself). 3-5 days later, the USPS delivers the recording to my home. This is the biggest challenge I see with the whole download movement. Technology excites the senses. Over time, excitement only survives on variety.

I enjoy high quality sound. Who does not? However, music collectors, regardless of favorite genre, want breadth over time. Hi Rez catalogues, for all of their technological prowess, still have an offering catalog with the look and feel of the offerings of a much less technological age: the Columbia Record club. There are some classic recordings, new releases, a couple of levels of depth, but not much after that. The listener then has to meld his/her interests to what's on offer.

Let's wish this hi-rez movement well. They bring high quality sound, higher quality each day. Now they need to work on the other aspects of what the music-purchasing public wants from a recorded sound medium over time.

Anton's picture

The Explorer, which explicitly promised MQA decoding doesn't do MQA?

es347's picture

..and another next-greatest-format in a few years...and so it goes as a way to perpetuate the hobby/industry. It shouldn't come as a surprise that journalists who depend on the hobby/industry would be downright giddy over a technology that might assure their incomes. Replace my hardware and pay exorbitant prices for a very limited software selection? No thanks!

John Atkinson's picture
es347 wrote:
It shouldn't come as a surprise that journalists who depend on the hobby/industry would be downright giddy over a technology that might assure their incomes.

Of course you can doubt our descriptions of what we heard, but this statement of yours is both unfounded and insulting.

es347 wrote:
Replace my hardware and pay exorbitant prices for a very limited software selection? No thanks!

The hardware is obviously necessary, but exorbitant prices? As I wrote in our very first report on MQA in 2014, in a streaming world you are not being asked to pay for MQA quality other than your monthly subscription fee to a lossless service like Tidal.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

John,

I confess that don't like most of the "reporting" in the audiophile press. As I have explained in these comments before, overall I think you guys are somehow (I don't have an explanation for it) a little too close to the products and industry you report on. In that sense the "audiophile press" too often comes across (at least to my ears) as little more than public relations. MQA is a good example of this I think.

MQA is a multifacted beast technically but also commercially. It is not an audio product like any other product (like say yet another speaker, or cable, etc.), it is a format. As a format it is sort of like the ground you walk on when you are looking at other things (like speakers, cables, etc.). It is (potentially) the glue that holds all these things together.

MQA, by patenting the ground and putting a toll on it (and possibly in the future, with a trivial software tweak in version 1.1, putting a DRM lock and key on it) is something that quite apart from the SQ probably deserves the "revolutionary" language being thrown at it.

A speaker, an amp, even streaming services - those are like cars.

MQA, it's the road upon which (potentially) *every* car drives on.

My question is: Why are you guys in the audiophile press not talking about this? Why the narrow focus on it as a *mere* sound quality tweak? why all the "upside" and basically zero "downside" reporting?

es347's picture

[Inappropriate text deleted by John Atkinson]

jimtavegia's picture

Until it was offered at affordable prices in Cassette decks and then through labels and their commercial cassettes, it might have never happened. It may be that the improvement is more subtle than removing 10db of tape hiss ( or near it ), but affordable it must be. And yes, we could have listened to Dolby B tapes without decoding, but that is not what we had to do.Many had to at the start in their cars.

Would there be a way for many of us home recordists to add MQA to our projects in an affordable way? Most of my clients ( a small list for sure) are very happy with the 2496 wav files I give them on DVD-As or as DVD-Vs for now, but they still must have redbook equivalents for their customers and for their end use.

I will be interested and will follow Stereophile for updates on this. Anything that improves sound quality and keeps file sizes down is a remarkable thing. When MQA+Redbook beats 2496 that is something. Most of us who do record and do not own high end recording gear are still trying to make the best recordings we can. My wife would not consider what I do "cheap", but in the realm of the real recording world I know what I own cannot compare to what they use and create. I still own many new headphones and a pair of Focal Spirit Pros, but now those are eclipsed by many and thousands of dollars more. My wife thought those were crazy at only $350.

crenca's picture

"...There has been a fair amount of pushback about MQA on forums and in our comments section from long-time audiophiles...are legitimate concerns.

According to Stuart, MQA technology will make any MQA-encoded recording sound better, even without an MQA decoder. Of course, it will sound even better if you can decode it. But it is not necessary to do so to derive some sonic benefit. That, I might add, is a listening experiment I have yet to witness.

...MQA is a win-win for all music lovers..."

What you are calling "pushback" is really just objectivity. Objectivity that is missing in your reporting and the "audiophile press" in general, at least when it comes to MQA. On the forums, people are asking the hard questions. For example, with the granted very limited selection of MQA encoded files out now, many are coming to the conclusion that Bob Stuarts assurances of "some sonic benifit" of MQA through what he calls "legacy systems" (you know, the kind we all have) is simply not true.

Let's put SQ aside and assume everything Bob says is true (that he really is a benign researcher and not trying to sell us something) what about the giant gorilla in the room: The fact that MQA is a LEGAL ENTITY in a way that other "audio products" are not? Yes, you could describe concerns over this as "pushback", but that is what happens when you try to control/manage the very road (and not just try to sell us another car to drive upon it).

Personally, I don't think Meridian as a company has what it takes to turn our audio future into what our video world is like (not matter how much support they get from an uncritical and naive "audiophile" press). However, if they sell the IP to Apple or Sony or another player with the chops to turn it into something watch out!

GuillaumeLN's picture

MQA is fine, not great with acoustical music, i.e. music played with actual instruments. With electronic music, it does the best job at destroying any kind of depth and sophisticated transients.

corrective_unconscious's picture

What MQA gear and what MQA encoded acoustic recordings and then MQA encoded electronic music recordings were you auditioning? Do you own this gear?

GuillaumeLN's picture

Heard the set up at Montreal's SSI. Every piece of equipment and every song was MQA.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I'm afraid you're incorrect. I'm not sure what you're thinking of, but it's not MQA.

GuillaumeLN's picture

MQA is from Meridian, the whole set up was optimized for MQA.

corrective_unconscious's picture

What's a little snippet of side conversation you heard in the Meridian room during the Montreal show? Something incidental enough so it wouldn't be found online the various reports in the Montreal show.

I don't even understand your first post. You seem to start out by saying that MQA is fine except for "acoustical" music, but then your post goes on to seemingly say that MQA destroys other kinds of music, too (electronic.)

It's a little hard to take you seriously.

mcullinan's picture

Can I get a woot woot for DSD? lol
DSD is so real I can taste it.

ewaldrup's picture

It is presumptuous to analyze something not experienced as far as i am concerned. I am optimistic about MQA based on what I have read. I eagerly await Tidal's steaming of MQA and hope the software/hardware price of admission is reasonable. I just purchased an Ayre Codex and love it as well as the Pono. The most surprising change came when I purchased a $24 Cardas cable to go between my Pono and my Total Bithead headphone amp. I was not prepared for the clarity that resulted. Now I have replaced all analog and digital cables with the same pleasant surprise of clarity. If you can hear the difference and you can afford it, why not purchase it.

jmsent's picture

Call me a cynic, but I don't hold out much hope for the success of MQA. After all, isn't this the exact same goal that Neil Young was pushing with Pono? How did that work out? I understand that the technical approaches are completely different, but the selling points are virtually the same. "Hear it the way the artist intended", "sounds like the master tape", etc. Neil's approach was to sell "Pono certified" recordings and Bob's approach is to sell (or rent) MQA "cleansed and rewrapped" recordings. Is it any wonder that Young walked away from MQA? It wouldn't surprise me if he thought they were stealing his idea.

michaelavorgna's picture

...was working with Meridian/MQA during the early Pono development stages. That's the reason why the Pono message and the MQA message sound similar.

corrective_unconscious's picture

And those companies want to sell "hi rez" that can be economically streamed - they think they can charge more for what they can call hi rez.

There seems to be a market for MQA even if it does not offer the sonic improvements the various reviewers are claiming it offers. It might even wind up being another codec for non hi rez streams. (Because if there were mass demand for hi rez then iTunes would have offered it years ago.)

So I'm going to go way out on a limb and say it has some sort of future, unlike, say, quadraphonic.

crenca's picture

There will always be room for another niche in the niche of audiophiledom. I also think MQA wider success hinges on them slipping it in "the back door" through streaming. In this, they will have artists and labels on board because of the DRM potential of a closed format like MQA. It will of course be sold (especially in the beginning) as a SQ improvement, which clearly it is with past recordings (it is an open question whether it is going forward). In this sense, audiophiledom will be willing accomplices for it is full of guys who can not see past a SQ tweak.

It is not hard to imagine that when non-audiophile customer X walks in to the Verizon store to checkout that new phone, included among the features is "MQA". He asks the salesman "whats that?", who (clueless beyond what he has been trained to say) will answer "you need it for music". Within a few years you have MQA into embedded into the majority of smart phones in the wild and as EVERYONE knows, these are the music delivery device of choice for the 99%. ;)

spacehound's picture

I'm in the UK. Meridian is a 'fringe of a fringe'. I do not know of any HiFi dealerships (we do have some left) anywhere near me who sells their stuff.
Quite frankly, few UK HiFi enthusiasts take them seriously - they produce high-priced 'lifestyle' gear only. Furthermore, they are owned by Richemont, a Swiss conglomerate which mainly concentrates on very high priced watches, which are also 'lifestyle' products of course. I strongly suspect that Meridian would not have survived had they not been purchased by Richemont.

Any Meridian stuff, while certainly not sounding 'bad', is simply- NOT in the 'top notch' of HiFi sound quality and never has been.

As for Stuart, he is constantly producing so called "White Papers" (as if he thinks calling them that gives them some 'scientific' value) while producing products that do not stand out in any way.

So I don't give MQA much credibility.

I HAVE downloaded the MQA encoded Marianne Thorsen 'Mozart' track from 2L and on my non-MQA equipment it sounds inferior to the regular track.

crenca's picture

By the way, on "the forums" (which so far have been doing the heavy lifting on actual facts around MQA, sound of MQA encoded files through what Stuart calls our "legacy systems", Meridian's history with DRM and audio, etc.) there is a rather strong consensus (seems to be at the dental '4 out of 5') that at least with these 2L MQA encoded recordings that MQA degrades the SQ a bit compared to standard high res PCM encoding.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I do not understand the purpose of dead-upon-arrival comments such as this. What especially leaves me puzzled is your previous post that said, "It will of course be sold (especially in the beginning) as a SQ improvement, which clearly it is with past recordings (it is an open question whether it is going forward). In this sense, audiophiledom will be willing accomplices for it is full of guys who can not see past a SQ tweak."

SQ tweak? If sound quality is improved, sound quality is improved. There's nothing to see past; there's only music to listen to and enjoy. That's exactly what happened when John, Michael Fremer, myself, and, in another listening session, Michael Lavorgna evaluated before and after MQA-encoded tracks with a DAC equipped to decode them. Our listening experience was more fulfilling on every level.

It's very early in the game. When a baby is first learning to walk, do people criticize it if its first steps are awkward, or if it falls on its face rather than moving forward? Or do they look at the sorry state of the world, and think that it would be better off dead? Some people do, of course. I, however, prefer to see the path that those few tentative steps can lead to, and envision a life filled with promise. Having heard the potential of MQA to contribute to a more satisfying musical experience, I urge others to allow it to develop rather than condemning it from the get-go or greeting it with fear.

crenca's picture

Such as when you say:

"SQ tweak? If sound quality is improved, sound quality is improved. There's nothing to see past"

I am sort of flabbergasted, as there is SO MUCH to see past the (no doubt real) SQ improvements MQA brings. You do realize that audio has been a space where open formats (vinyl, tape, PCM encoding of all sorts, etc.) prevail in the market and where closed formats (DVD-A, SACD) are manifest failures on most levels? You do know that MQA is a LEGAL ENITY in a way that these other formats and any other "audio product" (e.g. a speaker, amp, cable, etc.) are not? You do realize that for "the industry" SQ is NOT the holy grail but rather "fixing" the "pirate" problem by finding some way to "authenticate" your music (i.e DRM)? These are HUGE ISSUES apart from any discussion about SQ!! If you don't know much about how IP and closed formats have impacted other markets (such as video) I suggest you look into it - or simply insert one of your DVD/Bluerays into your computer and try to "rip it" (legally) and see what happens.

However, taking it back to SQ, I believe you when you describe what you heard and it is important, however we have a case where one of the central promises has turned out to not be true - namely, when you play an MQA file through a non-MQA DAC you don't get "slightly better" or even "the same" - you in fact get "slightly worse" (though I admit this will not effect the 99% because they do not have playback chains that can resolve the difference between 128mp3 and 16/44 - just ask NPR). So even on the SQ level MQA already has problems as it promised to be "back wards compatible" and it appears (at this early stage) that it is only if you are willing to take a small SQ hit.

Look, I get it, we audiophiles are an introverted bunch who have trouble looking up from a SQ tweak to see the bus that is about to run us over, but in this case it might be smart to lift up our head and look around a bit...

John Atkinson's picture
crenca wrote:
By the way, on "the forums" (which so far have been doing the heavy lifting on actual facts around MQA...

"Heavy lifting"? Not from my reading of them. Just a lot of chest-beating from armchair critics offering opinions on something they have never heard and on technology they either do not understand or have not bothered to read anything about.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

AussieSteve's picture

MQA lives near Naim Audio UK. They tried to sell this format to Naim and they said no thanks. I'm an Acoustical Physicist and whilst I think attempts to improve sound quality is indeed noble, it is important to evaluate the process and potential benefits within the bigger picture. I have read the papers, and heard authenticated MQA through compliant hardware. It has merits, but is NOT the final solution in sound quality in my opinion.

crenca's picture

You have folks discussing the issues around closed format, how MQA works and how they might be doing it based on what little information Meridian/Stuart does not intentionaly obfuscate in the "white papers" (it is a matter of protecting their IP after all), how an open solution might get similar results, etc. Sure, there are always the "armchair critics" but that is always the case. I actually have found that many on the forums "understand" the issues to a much greater degree (many of them being actual physicists, etc.) than your average "audiophile press" reporter.

Also, it is the folks on the forums that are actually doing real listening tests with the (albeit small amount) MQA encoded files that are in the wild now through what Stuart calls (the language is instructive here) our "legacy systems" (i.e. non-MQA DACs we all have now) and coming to the conclusion that the SQ is degraded just a bit. I am personally withholding judgement on this particular aspect of the story until listening tests can be done on a much wider and diverse range of recordings, but the preliminary results are not promising.

In any case, I would suggest that "hearing it" is actually besides the point with some of the issues around MQA. I believe you (I really do) when you talk about the improvements you are hearing. Is it worth the cost? I don't mean the cost in simple terms, I am referring to what happens when you disrupt a market and ecosystem with closed/proprietary formats? These are the issues actual end users who in the future will be deciding whether to invest their $ into MQA encoded music/hardware are discussing in an honest way that simply is not happening elsewhere.

Gilad Tiefenbrun of Linn gets it, he refers to the "damage" (his word) such formats cause in an interview at the recent CES. He of course keeps it within the context of his company/products (and not disparaging any other business by name) but it is clear what he is talking about...

spacehound's picture

1) MQA basically comes back to "It's all in the mastering" (which is true) and LITTLE MORE than that. The recordings use less space. So what? Bandwidth and disc space is cheap and the cost is ever reducing, and this is true of 'mobile' data too, not that mobile users in general are interested in SQ anyway.

2) The last thing the industry or the customers need is another format. LEAST OF ALL anoher PROPRIETARY format needing LICENCED equipment at our end. For which of course Meridian gets a fee, on which its VERY SURVIVAL probably depends..

3) Meridian is a vanishly small company, almost a joke in its native country (UK) and has never produced anything notably outstanding in sound quality, despite all Stuart's "White Papers". It's a "Bang and Olufsen" type outfit, though not as physically well designed and not as good in SQ as B&O.

Thus a certain amount of cynicism abouit their latest 'wonder' is to be expected.

Stererophile and other magazines? They get their income from "keeping the pot boiling" and advertisments. The first keeps us interested in developments, only SOME of which are worth having. Advertisements are merely noise (but I accept we all, magazine writers included, have to make a living).

Why are we here? Much of what is written is interesting. But we don't have to say "Awesome!" to everything. And we wont, not even when John (see "keeping the pot boiling" above) tells us we should, even though I think it is fair to say that he is a long-term and generally respected reviewer.

corrective_unconscious's picture

"So what? Bandwidth and disc space is cheap and the cost is ever reducing"

MQA represents significant, hi rez cost savings for streaming businesses like Tidal and for companies and end users regarding mobile devices. This is fact whether the claims of sonic superiority, or improvement to generic stuff, are true or not.

In his "What Hi Fi" CES interview, Stuart claims there is no licensing fee at all - I think he was referring to hardware manufacturers only, but can't remember. I wouldn't know what any mastering or software licensing fees amount to.

crenca's picture

I would add that "the forums" (well, the good ones - yes you have to do your "vetting") is where folks without any interest (boiling pots, advertising, a lifetime in the industry that leads to a perspective that is a little too close to certain aspects of it) ask the hard questions these days. I am a bit disappointed that many in the audiophile press seem so defensive over MQA - it's as if they are saying "are you guys not LISTENING to us! We say it's a revolution and thus it is!!!" and perhaps it is, which is why these other aspects of it need to be dealt with head on and not simply dismissed as noise "from the forums"...

spacehound's picture

99% of mobile 'streaming' music users don't give a rat's ass about Hi Res. Or even STATIONARY Hi Res in the home.

Whether 'we' like it or not, MP3 at a maximum of 320K is now the accepted standard and thought entirely satisfactory by a very large majority of the listening population. And it IS satisfactory for many purposes - personally I just decided, despite having a $50,000 approx. home system, that spending out $500-$1000 for an Astell & Kern Junior or a 128GB iPod, a Chord Mojo DAC, and the Onkyo HF Player iOS software for my car simply wasn't worth it.

(BTW: Should you be interested I tried my 16GB iPad and the Onkyo software on a few 192/24 pieces into my home system via the iPad Lightning output into the USB input on my dCS/Naim/big Tannoy setup and it is indistinguishable (being bit perfect) from my Windows/J River home source and is far more flexible and 'future proof' than the A & K. But still pointless in a car.)

And despite all the hype from the HiFi press and HiFi web sites outfits like Spotify, Tidal, etc. are all struggling. Why? because nobody except a few cranks such as ourselves EVER reads such stuff. And even low-res 'streaming' hasn't made any real impact in the VERY important 'young people' market. Partly because they mainly like to talk and text, or listen to downloaded stuff from iTunes. Mobile DATA charges are STILL far too high for the average teenager and listening to just ONE 'CD equivalent' 44.1 file (approx. 700 Mb maximum) will use up most of the typical monthly data allocation.

Anyone who thinks different needs to get out more.

As for Stuart, he makes new claims every week. First it was to improve low bit rate streaming services, then 'CD quality' streaming services such as Tidal, now it is claimed to 'improve' everything.

And all this from an outfit which, thoughout its 40 year plus life, longer if you include the disastrous Lecson brand, has NEVER achieved more than near-zero market penetration, even in the already small HiFi industry.

As I said - "A certain amount of cynicism is to be expected".

corrective_unconscious's picture

I understood you to be saying that bandwidth is cheap and that there are across the board, significant licensing fees with MQA. Those two points appear to be wholly or partly incorrect, respectively. Also, Meridian has a bit of a winner with Sooloos, contrary to your blanket claim. Meridian's other stuff is high end and you don't expect big sales volumes for $30k + speakers, etc. I can name lots of high end companies with "near zero market penetration."

You have switched from the "bandwidth is cheap" argument to "mobile users are satisfied with MP3 files." That may well be true for the masses. MQA can apparently use MP3 as a container, so it could play a role there if indeed it can add something. I'm not informed enough to have an opinion on this MP3 point, however.

Hi res streaming might not ever be a mass market, but it should be a market. Someone's still buying LPs and enjoying CDs, and even some hi res on physical media and via non MQA streaming. They could wind up a market for MQA.

Tidal is big, but the main question has to be iTunes and when and how it will offer hi or semi hi res content, not the streamers / publishers Linn, Naxos, 7digital, Onkyomusic, Atlantic Records, etc.

spacehound's picture

But:
There WILL be licencing fees somewhere - Meridian is not a charity. This, if it succeeds will put up the overall prices of things. So the 'masses' (of which we are of course a part when we are doing anything other than listening to our expensive systems) will be put off the 'hi res' rabbit hole even more than they are now.

Sooloos was an over-priced set of equipment with mediocre performance for its price and has NOT been successful, though it may have sold to 'superyacht' owners wanting 'expensive' but caring little about comparative sound quality. If it was successful Meridian would not have sacked the relevant employees (who of course have produced much the same thing but entirely in software and called it 'Roon'.)

And I think you are confusing 'High End' with 'High Priced'.

Have you ever looked inside the Sooloos control screen/ripper/etc? It's just a tarted up touch screen PC in a fancy case at five to ten times the price of a regular PC. And a little software so that obsessives can look up who used the same 32nd assistant under-drummer on a recording they won't likely buy. Plus Meridian's crazy prices for what is basically a $150-$250 NAS.

As for Linn, Naim, etc, though FAR more successful than Meridian in hardware, their music stores are merely a form of 'vanity publishing'. Their catalogues are tiny and consist mainly of musicians you have never heard of.

And we all know full well that ALL paper magazines are now purely advertising vehicles, so have to produce sufficient content to keep us interested enough to buy them. So they can show good circulation figures to their advertisers. Though they DO have their uses. If I am in the market for some new piece of equipment the magazines, both paper and electronic, can help eliminate the garbage. Often this is done by not reviewing it at all of course, which is almost as useful as a poor review..

Thus I have to repeat that Meridian can expect a certain amount of cynicicism.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Nice that you dropped your non argument that bandwidth is cheap. Probably a good move.

Your claim was that Meridian has always had near zero market penetration. That is not an argument about audiophile quality, it is an argument about sales. I correctly pointed out the Sooloos counter example. It doesn't matter with respect to that claim of yours whether you or audiophiles like Sooloos...since your claim was about market penetration.

Also, mobile phones using music have about 85% market penetration in the US, yet what they're doing in audio quality terms is usually nothing, currently. I don't see you applying your "Sooloos doesn't count because it's not good enough" argument to mobile devices.

There are some parties who do not have to pay licensing fees for MQA. Neither you nor I know exactly who that is, or what the fees amount to for those who are subject to licensing fees for MQA.

I see you have now changed your complaint about MQA to print magazines' desire for readers....

michaelavorgna's picture

At present, the plan for rolling out MQA/Tidal is to do so at the existing price of Tidal HiFi ($20/mo.). As far as 'the masses' go, they are clearly more interested in streaming than downloads and those interested in MQA will be able to purchase an MQA-ready DAC for the same cost as existing DACs.

Your characterization of Roon misses the value of Roon.

Michael Lavorgna
Editor, AudioStream.com

spacehound's picture

The site gives a report on something and kindly provides a space for us to post what we think.

I have.

You seem to be attempting to turn my opinions, which I expanded on "just for you" into a 'one on one' argument between two readers purely for the sake of it.

I went along with it for a while but no more. I have posted what I genuinely believe. I really don't care what you think. You seem desperate to take an opposite view, even saying "It's not scepticism" (and later editing it out). Not that I ever used the word anyway.

This isn't a forum after all, the editor has already told us what he thinks of forums. It's a feedback system - the editor and the other staff can see our opinions is all.

You are of course free to buy into MQA if you wish, obviously.

corrective_unconscious's picture

I didn't say you may not post. (Nor has the site's editor.) I also expressed an opinion, specifically, that your arguments keep changing and are fallacious.

I reiterate that bandwidth is not cheap, that Meridian does have a product with good market penetration, that the licensing is free for some MQA partners, for example. That's what.

I genuinely believe this, by the way.

JoeDHill's picture

All the histrionics are interesting, but pretty silly. Personally, I'm going to compare some MQA files to the same Redbook versions when MQA is available. If MQA sounds better, I'm in. If not, I'm not.

What in the world is the issue at this point? If Stuart and Co made a better mousetrap, they will be appropriately compensated by the market. And I'm ok with that. It's why we have progress. If they haven't, that will also be readily apparent.

Not really worth arguing about.

corrective_unconscious's picture

You did not post that if MQA is better then you will use it, i.e., what you are posting now.

You posted that, your words, it makes files smaller and claims certain audible improvements whose significance you skeptically characterized by, "So what?"

Here is another comment from you. Your comment is not you having an open mind prior to hearing MQA. You were categorically rejecting MQA. Your words:

"The last thing the industry or the customers need is another format. LEAST OF ALL anoher PROPRIETARY format needing LICENCED equipment at our end."

It's not "histrionics" to examine what you are posting. It's more along the lines of taking you as though you were serious.

At least you now have learned that bandwidth is not cheap and that Meridian does have considerable market penetration for at least some of its products.

JoeDHill's picture

Check the names.

Thanks.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Sorry.

But my error makes me wish that this site would indicate the number of posts from a given moniker with each comment. For example in the Baird "Eagles" thread it would be nice to know how many of the most aggrieved parties have long histories here, or histories at all.