MQA: Questions and Answers Sidebar 5: Glossary

Thu, 08/11/2016

COMMENTS
adrianIII's picture

Would someone summarize these results in 25 words or less of regular-speak? Thanks!

eriks's picture

The meat for me is in the attempts at temporal correctness. I haven't yet digested it all, but Stuarts is making the argument that the filters necessary in digital recording and playback spread energy around in time (established truth of all filters, digital or analog), much further than most of us would have guessed (new to me). Instead of acting like a modern TV screen, where images are either on or off, digital audio has been like the old black and white TV's where rapidly changing images leave streaks.

Another analogy of course is the speaker. The ideal speaker has no stored energy. It's movement at any moment of time is 100% determined by the instantaneous voltage at the inputs with no "memory" of what has happened before or "precognition" of what may come after. As you probably know though, real speaker drivers store energy and re-radiate it after the fact. This is what waterfall plots of energy/time/frequency show.

For a very long time we have assumed this was not possible in digital encoding/decoding or that at least it was so small as to be inconsequential.

MQA attempts to perfectly resolve this issue in recording and playback.

I make no claims to it's correctness or audibility, that's just what I"m reading so far. When I'm better I'll revisit.

If you are more of an experimental learner, you might want to try something like XSim and simulate some speaker filters. Look at the impulse and step response carefully to see how pre-ringing and post-event smear occurs. This is of course a speaker, analog simulator, but the principles of filters spreading energy over time applies. It's free,

http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/multi-way/259865-xsim-free-crossover-desi...

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

Digital filters cause more distortion than we thought and it's more audible than we realized. MQA is a very ambitious attempt to correct this.

AJ's picture

It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality.
New math perhaps? ;-).
In my universe, SACD and DVD-A were abject failures in the marketplace. Perhaps elsewhere?

John Atkinson's picture
AJ wrote:
It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality. New math perhaps? ;-).

This article links to a recent study that shows to a high degree of statistical significance that listeners can indeed detect the difference between CD-quality audio and higher-resolution audio: http://www.audiostream.com/content/its-official-people-can-hear-high-res.

You can download the AES paper discussed from http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=18296.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

A. Hourst's picture

Sorry for the cheerleaders of the industry but you should also read what independant observers have to say about this study.
http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=5755

AJ's picture

Hi John,

If you look at the AES article, you can read my (AJ)comment in the AES Comments section. I was in correspondence with Dr Reiss the entire time, up through its release.
I'll quote for non-AES members here:

Quote:

Hi Joshua,

I do have one question. Here you say:

In summary, these results imply that, though the effect is perhaps small and difficult to detect, the perceived fidelity of an audio recording and playback chain is affected by operating beyond conventional consumer oriented levels. Furthermore, though the causes are still unknown, this perceived effect can be confirmed with a variety of statistical approaches and it can be greatly improved through training.

How would one train for an unknown cause? Shouldn't the cause be determined first (to avoid false positives, due to system artifacts for example), before any detection training occurs?

Please note Dr Reiss's verbage: "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".
Exactly how does Bob Stuart (or anyone)translate that to "improved" sound quality?? The statistical mining found no such thing. Only "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".

Where are the numbers for this "widely accepted" claim?? On what basis is this made?

jeffdyer's picture

If they were failures then it was because the mass market at that time was shifting from absolute recording quality of CD to the instant gratification of MP3 and download, not because of the sound quality inherent in the medium.

I have a small collection of SACDs, mostly for the multi channel mixes of classic albums and they sound smoother than CDs to me somehow. Maybe because there is less compression required.

AJ's picture
Quote:

If they were failures

They were. The market spoke clearly at the previous "Hi-Rez" pitches like SACD and DVDA. Currently, there is no "wide acceptance", other than in the insular and infinitesimal world of audiophiles.
Even there, as Bob Stuart states, get 3 in the same room...;-)

jeffdyer's picture

Actually, they are popular in Japan and there is a thriving trade on eBay, so for those who enjoy them, they are popular.

Just because not every man in the street drives a Ferrari, that does not mean Ferrari is a failure.

AJ's picture

Ah, then perhaps Mr Stuart can qualify his claim to:

Quote:

It is now widely accepted in by audiophiles in Japan and eBay, that "hi-rez" digital audio, with increased sampling rate or bit-depth, delivers "improved" sound quality.

No actual statistics or polls needed of course ;-).

jeffdyer's picture

Well, judging by the lack of objective facts required by many readers on this site on subjects such as $1500 AC leads, I would have thought a simple reference to eBay would have been more than enough evidence to the most casual reader that SACDs are in fact quite widely used.

brenro's picture

Where's the music?

fetuso's picture

I'm all for anything that will help music sound better, but asking people to get excited about MQA is like asking us to get excited about flying cars. Let me know when they get here.

rompolompo's picture

Can you please stop saying that sound in the air is analog. It is not. Once the signal leaves the loudspeakers it becomes acoustical energy. When we talk we do not make analog sound. Again, it is energy. It is not analog nor digital, these terms relate to the way sound is captured, stored and reproduced.

eriks's picture

The math could all be correct, and logical, but the real proof is in listening. I have listened to a couple of tracks from 2L and been unable to tell a difference in my setup, but I have no idea about the provenance. Ideally, an MQA track is recorded in MQA to begin with, or converted knowing the original ADC system. Converting a pre-existing digital track to MQA is not ideal.

Are there some publicly available tracks to listen to MQA recordings in ideal situations, vs. non-MQA that will make me jump for joy?

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

I'm glad this is here, but it really needs curating. The material is better suited for a wiki than an article, but like I said, I'm happy the data is up there for us to examine au plain aire.

Best,

Erik

RDSChicago's picture

I've been waiting almost two years for MQA to come to Tidal. When??

Archimago's picture

Thank you Mr. Stuart et al. for the details around the rationale for MQA as well as some of the technical capabilities.

There is obviously much in the text to parse and understand. However whether the reader agrees that the effects and theory of temporal blurring being discussed is of significance, can practically be accurately "fixed" (especially in complex studio mixes), and the algorithm used by MQA will result in audible benefit is unclear to many at this time. Thank you as well for discussing the noise floor effects; it's clear from the cases demonstrated that MQA is able to encode down to the noise level needed for the music. I know that much of this can be argued back and forth ad nauseum in terms of whether music should be kept as pure PCM and the benefits of encoding as per MQA's psychoacoustic modeling. However I think it is fair to say that whatever digital bit-depth and samplerate is used (certainly beyond the usual 16/44), we are discussing digital representations already close to auditory thresholds (which is my interpretation of the 52.3% accuracy rate in the hi-res vs. standard resolution meta-analysis).

However, in the time domain which MQA primarily focused on as the mechanism by which higher fidelity can be achieved, I must voice my concern around this comment:

"It's useful to know the original sampling rate of the mastering process, because that tells us about the first part of the chain. The DAC is equally important; a chain is as strong as the weakest link. More important, unless the encoder (A/D or mastering) and decoder (plus D/A) processes are complementary, it isn't possible to reach the final result and certainly not at low data rates..."

Why should we focus on the ADC/DAC as significant "weak links" in the overall audio chain (much less the "weakest link")? At least for the consumer end, is it not true that as almost always, the weakest links are the transducers (speakers) and room effects? Compared to typical speaker time-domain variations (step-response variation for example) on the order of multiple milliseconds, it is hard to imagine the significance of comparatively small changes at the level of the DAC including the occasional pre-ringing from poorly low-passed signal through a linear phase filter.

Without a truly "end to end" solution which terminates not at the level of the consumer's DAC, but the actual sound energy that reaches the listener, MQA alone IMO cannot truly achieve the goal of time-domain accuracy for the system. Furthermore, the closed hardware implementation which at this point does not allow access to the decoded digital audio data prevents the more sophisticated audiophile from implementing his/her own optimizations such as DSP room correction to suite the listening environment in an optimally transparent fashion.

Ultimately, in my opinion, if MQA is to suggest that the digital processing algorithm being implemented is an overall improvement, it should be allowing more A/B comparisons in public venues and taking up the offers such as that by Mark Waldrep to aid in "Real-World Comparisons" with actual hi-resolution content. Likely even more beneficial would be releasing high resolution files demonstrating a typical properly dithered 16/44 audio file upsampled to 24/192 (with say a standard linear filter) and the decoded output from an MQA file to 24/192 with the same mastering. This will provide an opportunity for the public to audition the effect for themselves in their own home with existing high-resolution DACs to at least provide an idea of what difference the algorithm can make. (Perhaps more appropriate would be 24/44 vs. MQA as they would have similar bitrates.)

eriks's picture

I agree there's a lot of self-serving hyperbole in the writing. I would have to go and do some simulations to fully appreciate whether digital filtering or a typical loudspeaker has more signal spread, but this can also be mostly compensated for using DiracLive or Rephase.

It would be really interesting to have a demo with DiracLive + MQA vs. not.

Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.

Best,

Erik

JimAustin's picture

>>Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.<<

I know very little about Meridian loudspeakers, but maybe these already exist?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KN0ToXOvQpo

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

I don't even know where to start. Besides sidestepping the whole DRM issue these articles are a new low not only for Bob Stuart but for audio journalism in itself.

Just one example how dishonestly Stuart answers questions: it "is understood that a digital distribution system (including MQA) can be lossless in distribution and therefore requires lossless delivery."

Well the question was if MQA is a lossless FORMAT. But Mr. Stuart sidesteps this question by speaking not about formats but about "lossless delivery."

He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy.

There are plenty more gems like this in the marketing material spread out here. I certainly hope that Stereophile gets some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims. That is what good journalism is about and what the audiophile community deserves.

Until this happens I'd venture to call Bob Stuart the Donald Trump of the Audio world.

michaelavorgna's picture

You appear to not have understood the explanations offered, i.e. this gem "He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy". Let me help (from the same paragraph you quoted):

"More important is to capture and protect (in a lossless manner) all the information in the file that relates to the music content."

On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

It's also worth noting that Stuart is a recognized expert and engineer who has authored numerous peer-reviewed papers, not to mention the fact that he actually makes things that people can hear for themselves, like MQA.

I gather from your call for "some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims" that you are neither an expert or engineer so the basis of your criticism is admittedly ill-informed.

Hmm. This behavior reminds me of someone running for public office. Who could that be....;-)

Michael Lavorgna
Editor, AudioStream

mcgilroy's picture

sir,

no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications. even after your post I don't question yours. I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-laywers about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues. I am pretty familiar with these things and look forward to the challenge.

until then let me explain why I wrote "dishonest".

the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.

if the answer is yes, say so & provide proof and means to reproduce. case settled.

if the answer is no, say so & explain why MQA as a lossy format might still might yield a better performance than a lossless format. provide proof and means to reproduce it. A/B testing would be a start, maybe third-party measurements.

instead mr. stuart prefers to move goalposts by offering a new "definition" of lossless. one that the esteemed mr stuart would not get through any peer-review in any serious publication but certainly works well enough for marketing.

the whole thing gets even more hilarious if you take into account the table given on the page "MQA Hierarchy". here suddenly "lossless" is one of the parameters to compare the different MQA-codecs. check it out - suddenly mr stuart himself says it's not (!) a lossless format...

On the DRM-issue let me just quote the first two sentences of the wikipedia entry:

"Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works.[1]DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies"

please mr stuart or mr lavorgna explain to me how MQA does not fall under this definition.

Guys - my point is: marketing like this in the age of the internet is an uphill battle. people will scrutinize your statements and fact-check the hell out of them. smoke and mirrors are all fine and dandy and necessary evil in marketing. but continually taking your customers for a ride does not pay out in the long run. it would be much simpler to come out clean and tell everybody the facts.

in the case in question I so far fail to see any evidence that MQA is not a lossy-DRM-trojan.

I'd be happy to learn else or plainly and simply told by mr stuart:

"yes the music industry wants to resilver their catalogs but does neither want to experience the MP3-wild-west all over again nor can accept Apple/Amazon/MS/Google control the distribution of their content.

MQA offers the necessary IP and DRM safeguards for content producers and on top that also comes along with a clever low bandwith High-Rez container-format. for the latter we have a nice demographics willing to spend money on music. record companies please sign up here"

if stuart or any MQA guys come out like this I'd be impressed. but I guess he further will work on truly becoming the donald trump of the audio world. a smart man with a great legacy deserves better.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications...

I don't understand your point about qualifications. You are the one who talks about "EEs," so surely Bob Stuart's own qualifications and credentials are relevant.

mcgilroy wrote:
I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication.

I really don't like "arguing by credential," but as you seem fixated on qualifications, perhaps you should note that on Stereophile's writing team, we have 4 PhDs, and while my own qualifications aren't at that elevated level, my bachelor's degree is in physics and chemistry; my post-graduate qualification is in the teaching of science at the high-school level; I am a full member of the Audio Engineering Society; an associate member of the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers; and in 2011 I was the Distinguished Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecturer at the 131st Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York. (See www.stereophile.com/content/2011-richard-c-heyser-memorial-lecture-where-did-negative-frequencies-go.)

So before you continue dismissing what we have to write, please bear in mind that this is not our first rodeo.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

Mr. Atkinson,

thank you for taking your time and chiming in.

I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors. Neither did I question Bob Stuarts credentials. I am well aware of his pedigree, fully respect his achievements and am certain he has a very solid understanding of the field. My allegation is actually worse, namely that despite better knowledge Mr. Stuart choose to mislead the public about certain aspects of the MQA format.

This includes but is not limited to the question of lossnessness, bit-rate, compression-ratios, settings for establishing reproducibility of findings like proper A/B-Testing of MQA vs incumbents and last not least the DRM & IP makeup of the MQA format.

Note that I have not included the concept of "temporal blur" in this list. Here I too remain skeptical but need more time to research this aspect.

Besides Archimago, Cernca and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public. At least that is what academica is expected to do and what the press should strive for.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors.

The text of yours to which I was referring was this:

mcgilroy wrote:
I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-[lawyers] about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues.

It seems plain that you were indeed questioning our credentials. If my own qualifications as one of the "EE people" were good enough to be accepted by the AES and IEEE, why would you dismiss them?

And now again you are referring to people who you feel are "well-respected" ie, again attempting to appeal to authority:

mcgilroy wrote:
Besides Archimago, [Crenca] and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

It is fair to point out that Archimago and Crenca hide behind anonymity.

And that to the best of knowledge, none of the "well respected industry veterans" you list have actually auditioned or analyzed MQA-encoded files and compared them with the PCM originals. We have. We feel that the improvement in sound quality is real, as you can read in our September issue.

mcgilroy wrote:
I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public.

Again you present appeals to authority, dismissing our own credentials despite your denial that you do so. If you really don't consider our qualifications appropriate to judge something like digital technology, then I have to ask why you subscribe to Stereophile at all?

And on the subject of DRM, while no, I am not a "credentialed individual from IP-Law," I remind you of the words of the respected English critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw, that you don't need to be a carpenter to judge the quality of a table.

Does MQA prevent people from copying, emailing, selling, and sharing the files? No.

Does MQA prevent people other than the owner from playing the file? No.

Does MQA prevent people from playing the file with the original hi-rez resolution? No, if they have an MQA-enabled playback system; yes, if they don't.

What is to prevent an end-user from buying an MQA-enabled playback system? Nothing, other than the sense of entitlement evidenced, for example, by you, Crenca, and Archimago in this thread.

Does MQA require a license fee to be paid by the manufacturer of such playback systems? Yes, but in that respect, it is no different from Dolby, DTS, MLP, MP3, AAC, etc, etc.

If you look at the license fees that are required to be paid by manufacturers of DVD and Blu-ray players and media, you will be astonished at how many there are. (Even the developer of the ancient Macrovision videocassette technology gets an upfront payment of $30,000 followed by $15,000 each year from a manufacturer of video disc players.) And yes, those fees result in the players being more expensive than if there were no fees to be paid, a point made by Schiit's Jason Stoddard. (One estimate is that licensing fees increase the price of a DVD player by 10%.) It is only in the case of the IP I listed above that the fact that those fees are amortized over a very large number of products/apps that keeps them transparent to the end-user.

Why can't MQA be free, like FLAC? There is no free lunch. Engineers have to feed their families just like you. Again we get back to the sense of entitlement. Engineers are free to choose an open-source model or a licensing model for their IP. There is no moral difference between the two.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

Well, it is in a round about way - it is about "value". What is the real value of a DRM product like MQA to the end user? When you point out the sound quality value, I believe you. However, as I point out here:

http://www.stereophile.com/comment/560353#comment-560353

DRM has a cost that is far larger than the initial (or ongoing) licensing fees. It has an impact on the entire (in this case musical) digital ecosystem that is separate from the dollars and cents and is almost always much more significant than the (usually relatively small) licensing fees. This is why we point out that MQA is DRM, self serving definitions do not withstand.

Just so you know, because of my past work in IT and law enforcement (I am in a different business altogether now) I maintain a bit of "anonymity" in my relationship to the internet (though if you have any skill you understand such anonymity is not all that deep). If you have seen the things I have seen, you would to. You will never (ever ever ever) find pictures of my children on Facebook for example. I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

John Atkinson's picture
crenca wrote:
I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

Our rule is that if you are affiliated with the audio industry, you must include that affiliation in your postings. That is to prevent people working for an audio company posting praise of their own products or dissing a competitor's products. If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous. However, I feel then that your comments should not be weighted as heavily as if they were signed.

All Stereophile writers and editors post under their real names, whether to our site or to third-party sites. That way we can be held responsible for what we say.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

I am not affiliated with the industry in any way except as a consumer. I agree with you that anonymity goes against the norm of social convention/trust and devalues my comments to a certain extent. It is a cost I am am OK with obviously...

JimAustin's picture

I respect and appreciate the desire of casual Internet users to maintain a certain amount of information security. The problem, IMO, comes when self-proclaimed experts refuse to man up and let people know who they are. So-called journalists who hide behind a pseudonym cannot, in my view, be trusted. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take responsibility--personal responsibility--for what you have to say. And while it's true that valid arguments can stand on their own merits, it's a bit like yelling insults out a car window as it zooms past at 50 mph. Shake my hand, introduce yourself, look me in the eye, and let's chat. Until then, I have no interest in them or what you (they) have to say.

Jim Austin (PhD Physics)
Contributing Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

Re: Crenca, Archimago "hide behind anonymity", while I do understand and appreciate the point you are making about concerns about anonymous affiliated posters promoting their own or "dissing" others' products, it did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

Instead of addressing my arguments directly, the poster was bringing up the fact that people he regards as authorities, as more highly credentialed than I am, disagree with me. It is a semantically empty debating tactic and I was calling him on it.

NeilS wrote:
It did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

It's not ad hominem. As I said in an earlier posting today, if someone doesn't want to attach his or her name to his or her opinion, I give that opinion less weight than would otherwise be the case. You obviously disagree but I am not in any way obliged to substitute your position on this for my own.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Thanks for your response. I don't think I was asking you to substitute my position, as I said, I understand and appreciate yours. I was just pointing out that whether or not the poster is anonymous doesn't logically invalidate their position, just as using one's real name doesn't logically validate it, either. Let's agree to disagree on whether that constitutes an ad hominem logical fallacy.

A. Hourst's picture

This thing about anonymity is completely beside the point. Either you have things to say or you don't, end of the argument. Some of the things that I've read and found the most interesting on the web were written by people with pseudonyms like "boulga" or "simonon". Woody Allen's real name isn't Woody, and Caravaggio was an aliase...
Some people that write under their true identity can be an embarrassment to the concept of truth as much, or even more, than anonymous posters. Like I said, beside the point...

NeilS's picture

The Federalist Papers, Mark Twain...

A. Hourst's picture

Yes, this "tell me your real name" war is nonsense.

crenca's picture

in IP law, software patents, etc. and how these things work in the digital world on both a technical and business level. This is not surprising, given their background. That said the business they are in is changing (and has been for quite a while) and some minimal understanding of DRM, formats, and their place in a digital ecosystem (in this case one centered around music) would seem to be a reasonable expectation.

Allowing Bob's self serving double speak around this aspect of MQA a free pass is a bit over the top IMO and does not reflect well on them (though the do other things very well). You are correct in that MQA (if it ever gained significant market penetration) would be a "DRM trojan"...

(edit, this post is meant as a reply to mcgilroy )

JimAustin's picture

>>the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.<<

Why would he want to mindlessly answer a misleading question? Putting it this way is an attempt at a rhetorical trap.

I'm not Stuart, though, and I'll bite. I'm speaking only for myself here. JA and (of course) Stuart are far more knowledgeable than I am, so hopefully they'll step in if I get something wrong.

Is MQA lossless in the usual IT sense? No. But why should you care? If you're capable of following Stuart's reasoning and digesting the information he provided--which, btw, is unprecedented in its shear quantity in my experience for a proprietary product--you should agree that what's "lost" isn't musically relevant because 1. it's in a region where there's no musical information, and 2. the format takes pains nevertheless to maintain any information that might be necessary to preserve temporal integrity, even in the frequency range where there's little if any musical information (more than double the upper limit of human hearing). High-res is nice but it's hideously inefficient. MQA has gone a long way toward solving this problem while making other technical improvements that seem likely to be musically relevant--and my ears tell me that they are indeed.

I think it's useful to think about this in the context of MP3. Just about everything in a CD-resolution file is potentially audible; MP3 (and similar schemes) aim to reduce file size by getting rid of the least musically relevant information. The problem is that what's musically relevant is subjective, and listening/hearing abilities vary widely; one person's irrelevant info is another person's critical timing cue. If I understand it, MQA keeps everything--losslessly--way beyond the frequencies our ears can hear. It has to because they've determined that the ear's ability to resolve in the time domain far exceeds what its (the ear's) frequency-domain performance would predict. Still, there's a lot of information above the range of human hearing--and above the range where music has any information--that isn't necessary to preserve time-domain integrity. So, compress it.

If you have no information about which part of, say, a 192/24 file is important to the musical experience, you keep all of it just to be safe. But the more you know, the more you understand, the more intelligent the decisions you can make. In my view, MQA is the result of a careful (and apparently rigorous) rethinking of digital audio delivery. If you want to understand it, you need to be willing to question, e.g., to what extent the IT-derived concept of losslessness is relevant in the high-resolution audio world.

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

crenca's picture

Only in the world of 1984 is the following true:

"On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

DRM is about (and always has been) the *legal* mechanisms used to achieve it goals, and only secondarily about any technical implementation used (e.g. some internal mechanism that makes it difficult for typical end users to "copy", etc.)

Can an end user *legally* reverse engineer an MQA encoded file if he does not have a licensed decoder (so far only hardware based) and *legally* listen to the "high res" content? No. If he does he is of course in violation of IP laws and the penalties for doing so vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

DRM is what DRM does, and MQA is DRM because it "manages" what the end user hears based on whether he has $licensed$ a decoder. MQA is DRM all day long, and no amount of Orwellian double speak from Bob or simple (willful?) ignorance from editors of audiophile blogs can change this fact.

As an editor of a blog that purports expertise in things "digital", it would behoove you to study up a bit on IP and software patents and how they are used in the market place...

(this post does not appear under Michael Lavorgna post as I intended - he is the editor to whom it is directed).

michaelavorgna's picture

Any and every MQA encoded file can be played back on any and every DAC. If you want to get something for nothing, then you've got a point. Otherwise, this years-long rant of yours is not only tired but needs to be retired.

crenca's picture

And a continuation of the double-speak. Any DAC (what Bob euphemistically calls "legacy DACs"- the kind everyone actually owns) can NOT play the "High Res" content of the MQA encoded file without an *illegal* reverse enginered hack (on the software or hardware level) THAT is DRM, all day everyday.

Your imputation of motive is also wrong. I don't want "something for nothing". If I wanted MQA I would pay for it, but I would not lie to myself or others that it is not a DRM/IP/software patent protected product. I happen to not want MQA - others do and that's fine. Either way it Is DRM today, was yesterday, and will be tomorrow...

michaelavorgna's picture

If you want to reap the full benefits of MQA end-to-end, you'll have to get an MQA-capable DAC. You want to reap the benefits of MQA without getting an MQA-enabled DAC. That = something for nothing.

Of course you can skip this entire Orwellian fantasy by simply buying hi-res downloads and playing them on your hi-res-ready DAC.

But that wouldn't be soooo dramatic, would it.

crenca's picture

You were wrong about what DRM is technically and and as a business matter. As an "audiophile" you were enthusiastic about MQA and downplayed (out of ignorance mostly) the reality of MQA and it being a product that relies on DRM for it's very place and survival in the market.

Let it go - you are the editor of a public blog (which also happens to be a business). You have to admit your failure and move on. Your readers will respect you more if you do...

michaelavorgna's picture

I just looked in the mirror to confirm ;-)

If you fact check your attributions of "you" and "yours", you'll find that they all originated with *you*. But that was a heck of a go at deflection.

crenca's picture

...and how many different ways you try to make this about me - it will always be about MQA, DRM, and your failure to understand them in relation to the digital ecosystem.

Now quit trying to save face and bone up on the basics - you have a blog and business to run that is about those very things!!!

michaelavorgna's picture

If, for you, that means I'm making this about you, then sure. As I said, my face isn't in need of saving, years aside.

How about addressing the fact that anyone can bypass MQA by simply buying a high-res download.

crenca's picture

Of course one can "by-pass" MQA by not purchasing it - that is the way markets work! This is however has nothing to do with what myself and others are saying. Strangely, you and Mr. Atkinson keep imputing ill-will on are part - that we are pointing out the FACTS of DRM and MQA because (you believe) we want "something for nothing", that we want "free lunches", etc. We are not proposing anyone *break the law* and try to circumvent the IP/DRM of MQA for piracy.

What we are pointing out is two things:

1) MQA is a DRM product all day, every day- Bob and your denials do not withstand. This fact has NOTHING to do with the problem of piracy and any roll a IP/DRM product like MQA has in "solving" this problem.

2) DRM, IP, and software patents have an impact on *legal* end users (i.e. the people who actually pay for the product) and their digital ecosystem in general in ways that are go range from "inconvenient" to "bad". This impact is large, non-trivial, etc. Thus, when end users have to consider the cost of this impact when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of MQA. In other words, MQA is not a mere sound quality tweak, or another format like PCM or FLAC, but is a different proposition altogether. It is your lack of understanding of this aspect of MQA (and digital ecosystems in general) that is really on display in your coverage of this topic.

The impact to which I refer is obvious to everyone. (Almost) everyone who reads this blog owns a TV. They understand (if only unconsciously) the roll DRM, IP, and software patents play in their ability to *legally* back up their Blue Rays or stream them from a server to an endpoint, etc. They understand that they can not skip commercials on their disks (or their DVR's) NOT because of technical limitations, but because of DRM and legal collusion between the government, hardware/software manufactures, and content providers.

Whether you agree or disagree philosophically with DRM and the problem(s) it allegedly "solves", the fact is that it has a burdensome effect everywhere it ends up. Music lovers who take advantage of the "digital" so far have been blessedly free of these burdens. MQA is a product that brings these burdens to the music lover and there is simply no way (or reason - besides a crass commercialism that is willing to simply lie) to deny it.

The "but but but what about piracy" is an industry bubble that your all stuck in. Yes, piracy is a problem - but then the music lover who actually buys your product has a "but but but", and that is the non-trivial burdens/limitations that DRM has within our digital ecosystems. You can ignore it if you wish, but it is real and we are going to of course bring it up...

michaelavorgna's picture

...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

Note - I have consistently reported on MQA's position re. DRM, I have not denied anything. Rather I understand what has been said and do not see any "DRM Trojan" other than in people's minds.

I worked for years developing custom applications mainly for Hedge Funds and while we relied on the expertise of an attorney when we looked to patent some of our work, I have experience with software and intellectual property. So your comments about my background are ill-informed.

John Atkinson's picture
michaelavorgna wrote:
...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

I think there is an exact parallel with HDCD. If you had an HDCD-capable DAC, you would get 1-2 bits greater resolution, perhaps more, from what appeared to be a regular CD. If you didn't want to pay for an HDCD decoder, you could still play the CD but at lower effective resolution.

In that sense, the same "DRM" argument could be made about HDCD, in that it restricted the quality available to people without an HDCD decoder.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

michaelavorgna's picture

And if you want play back DSD and/or anything above 24/96 you need to have the appropriate hardware/software. If you want to play back FLAC files or DSD, you cannot use iTunes. And so on...

I was hoping that "crenca" would share the practical reality of what he's been talking about for years now re. MQA and DRM. As in, exactly how will this limit MQA users. So far, all we've got are implications based on examples that have zero relevance to the question at hand coupled with baseless accusations regarding people's motives, integrity, and supposed lack of knowledge.

[Meta-content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

As Mr. Atkinson admits, the end user is managed - he can hear only what the licensor grants - in this case the 16/44 content if he does not agree to the licensor's terms (putting aside the debate that whether an MQA file actually contains the full 16/44 information that the equivalent PCM file does). PCM, DSD, Vinyl, etc. of course have none of these digital/legal limitations, and are in no way the same *legal entity* that MQA is.

The more burdensome problem is the implications of the license and everything that goes with it at the level of formats. Formats are sort of the ground we walk on in the digital world - everything else rests upon it. It's like the air we breath - now what happens to our lives when someone comes along and patents air? Or more relevant, what happens when someone comes along and patents TCP/IP? Sure, I am typing this on proprietary software (a browser by one company, an OS by another, etc.) but the "ground" of our communication is an open format called TCP/IP. Things change drastically (mostly for the worse for the end user - a small group of companies would $benefit$) if the ground becomes closed/proprietary/IP software. IF MQA (or anything like it) ever became the ground of our digital musical lives, we would all be worse off. This is a widely admitted and discussed phenomena and aspect of the market and anyone who has paid attention to and worked with software/computers/digital in the last 50 years knows what I am talking about (too many aspects to even begin to address in a comment box). We are all welcome to our opinions as to what it means to us and others, but to keep denying MQA's IP/DRM is as I have described it (Orwellian, creepy, etc.).

[Content deleted by John Atkinson - please take off-topic meta discussions off-line.]

michaelavorgna's picture

You are suggesting that if MQA takes over the digital world, it will be bad. No one has suggested this is even a possibility. For example, the MQA deal with WMG caused some concerns along these lines. So I called WMG and asked them if MQA was going to replace other high-res formats. Their answer was no.

My point being, while you paint a very dark picture using MQA, you have yet to provide one example of how this will play out in reality. For those who are not interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue. For those interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue.

[Content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

...oops, I mean I did, I did provide "one example of how this will play out in reality" - video. Have you tried to *legally* backup, copy, stream, or do anything worthwhile with your Blue Ray today (other than simply stick it in the trey and mindless absorb the FBI warning)? We don't have an analogous situation in audio because as of yet there has not been a DRM/IP takeover of our basic formats. MQA is not that yet, but as your fellow journalist Robert Harely admitted (probably in an unguarded moment) such a takeover is THE holy grail of the industry. He then in the same article incongruently argued that MQA is not a DRM product, which simply reveals that the audiophile press is either being willfully ignorant as to what DRM is or has no small amount of catching up to do on the subject.

[Content deleted by John Atkinson]

michaelavorgna's picture

Have a nice day, "crenca".

volvic's picture

I have no interest in MQA, have my CD's on a computer setup and very happy. Bob Stuart and Meridian have put out products that speak for themselves, and I own a few of them, and can only say that their after sales service is stellar, not to mention their work in the digital field is some of the best in the hi-if world. I wish I had a quarter of the engineering intelligence that Mr. Stuart has, to dismiss all his contributions and question his integrity is to me a new low on these pages. But then again Mr. Stuart doesn't need me to defend his place in audio history, it is already well entrenched.

eriks's picture

MQA compression is like MPEG compression. By understanding the contents of the faile, you can achieve much higher compression than in say Zip compression, which does not.

MPEG captures each new scene, and records the deltas. Of course, it can be lossy, but it doesn't have to. By doing this alone an order of magnitude better compression is achieved than Zip.

MQA is also being smart about what it's looking at. They make the postulate, one I agree with, that information density above 20kHz is much smaller than below, so let's alter how it's encoded to take advantage of it. Then this becomes a straightforward encoding issue. This only works for audio though, for broad band digital encoding of analog signals which do not fit the music profile this would be useless. Much like MPEG which only works because of how movies are spliced together, MQA only works because of the nature of music.

I really wish this had been introduced 20 years ago though, then MP3 would never have succeeded. If it's useful I suspect we'll see open-source compression schemes which take advantage of this idea come out in the future.

Best,

Erik

Archimago's picture

Hello Erik,
MQA would not have supplanted MP3 20 years ago. MP3 compression is much smaller in terms of bitrate. In order for MQA to maintain a "compatible" bitstream, the more significant bits have to represent standard PCM so any DAC can playback. What we have seen thus far, MQA starts at the size of 24/44 files which is *even larger* than the file from a ripped CD (16/44).

Furthermore, from what I have seen, the lowest 8 bits of these 24/44 file appears to be less compressible by a lossless encoder like FLAC. No way MQA would have provided the filesize reduction of MP3 like 128kbps back in the day or more typically 256+kbps these days with essentially CD-quality files.

eriks's picture

This would be easier if we had a spreadsheet. You could very well be right! Let me tell you what I've seen. I have a Mytek, and grabbed some files from http://www.2l.no/hires/. I used the two tracks (in multiple formats for each) from:

Vivaldi: Recitative and Aria from Cantata RV 679, "Che giova il sospirar, povero core"

The 352.8k/24 bit MQA file was 39 MB MQA file but the equivalent FLAC file was 284 MB for a little over 7x compression. Not bad at all. I did not listen to that one though, trying to compare similar sized MQA to similar sized FLAC I chose the 96/24.

Also, keep in mind that where we fold the frequency response is arbitrary. We could attempt to fold 44/16 instead of 384/24. I'm sure it would be smaller than flac. No idea if it would in the end be competitive with MP3 though.

Still I can hope, right? :)

Erik

Archimago's picture

I appreciate your hope in what MQA can accomplish. But that's not how it works. You cannot perform this audio "origami" ad infinitum to reach MP3 size with anywhere close to the quality of an MP3 data stream based on what we've seen.

In fact, since we do not have access to the decoded digital data from an MQA --> PCM to look at the frequencies beyond the 22/24kHz baseband, it's hard to quantify just how much lossy change has been imparted on the signal in the upper octaves.

Remember, you were talking about MQA supplanting MP3 if invented 20 years ago. Back then when many of us were using 56kbps modems, 128kbps music downloads were realistic though still took time. This low bitrate is FAR lower than what we're talking about here!

eriks's picture

I don't think it's appropriate to say "lossy change" since it's been described as lossless. However, earlier articles in Stereophile did in fact compare content above 20kHz and were pretty positive, with tiny changes in overall output.

Of course, it's fine to still be skeptical about whether it's lossy or not.

Best,

Erik

Archimago's picture

I believe the use of "lossy change" in the upper octaves (above 22/24kHz) is absolutely appropriate in the context of how we've defined "lossless" for the last couple of decades at least.

Let's quote Mr. Stuart:
"• b) There is no foolery here: MQA does indeed reconstruct a remarkably close approximation to the original ultrasonic information from the lower bits of a 24-bit signal."

It's not an exact replica as the term "lossless" implies as applied to a CODEC like FLAC/APE/WV/ALAC. We could say that high bit-rate MP3 reconstructs a remarkably close approximation as well... This is obvious and we did not need Mr. Stuart's lengthy Q&A's to understand this is how it has to work.

Of course, just how "remarkably close" the MQA algorithm gets it right is something we cannot answer at this time.

eriks's picture

Thank you, I missed that part about it being an approximation. I had assumed Stuart's point was that music didn't need the n most significant bits above k frequency, and then compressed and hid what remained, which in my mind is pretty brilliant.

I had not realized it was some sort of reconstruction, which is different from decompression. My bad for reading right over that part. Now we are back in MP3 land in terms of being lossy.

Best,

Erik

NeilS's picture

Absent from Mr. Stuart's rather abstruse and lengthy essay are answers to the issues raised in Archimago's first comment ("Thank you for the series") on this thread. I don't think it's the first time they've been raised. They appear to me to be germane, and whether enthusiastic, skeptical or merely curious about MQA, I believe readers would benefit from a clear and direct response from Mr. Stuart.

low2midhifi's picture

All of these downloading/streaming articles make me wonder what the automotive equivalent might be.

Wouldn't be fascinating that I would have to wade through such opaque dissertations to know where to fill my car with gas, where to change the oil, where, perchance, to have my factory transmission replaced for some other contrarian engineering standard which might have exceeded that which came with my car?

All of these "dueling" standards over which standard to stream and download leave me glad for my CD purchases. CDs may be inferior, but it's a reliable and tradable format. If I don't like a CD, I sell it; there's a ready market for such misfires in my purchases. I don't know where I'd sell my Studebaker-like MQA, MP3, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, IRAQ... files on my Seagate hard-drive, and soon-to-be-obsolete tablet menu software.

Let these interested parties in the downloading/streaming world debate what appear to be varying versions of the Confederate Dollar (no offense to audiophiles south of the Mason-Dixon line). This technological hair-splitting (all to hear songs that only an even smaller audience will like) puts the audiophile pursuit--already a marginal endeavor--even further to the outer reaches of the Solar System, Kuiper Belt, or Oort Cloud, of ever more constrained disposable income, and dwindling patience of we sympathizers of the hobby.

Keep us posted when the doctoral dissertation critiques, and standards of the week, settle on something that many of us would bother to purchase. Keep us posted when the "latest and greatest" will not be the"has-been standard" of the same forum of audio enthusiasts two years hence. VHS -vs- Betamax, Toshiba HD -vs- BluRay was nothing compared to this audio Ecumenical Council.

I look forward to the latest CD releases and recommendations from Stereophile, Amazon, Arkivmusc, Allmusic, etc. while the academic debate on the competing "internal combustion engine designs" rages on elsewhere.

When you have decided if the "new car" should have 4 or 6 or 8 or 3 wheels, let us know. When you know if the steering wheel will be on the left, right, or center, let us know, When you know, whether the "new car" runs on diesel, gasoline, kerosene, coal, wood chips, cow chips, sugar cane chaff, Uranium, moonshine, corncobs, let the rest of us know.

Until the next article, we all wait.

dalethorn's picture

I skipped over the math, but it being publicly asserted, I accept that it will hold up and the "high res container" concept will prove itself. Crypto people were talking about steganography back in the 90's before the War on Terror, and now we know that it works well enough that our intel agencies depend more on the old-fashioned ear to the ground and social engineering than they do being able to crack crypto codes. I don't see any reason why MQA licensing should be more intrusive than Dolby or any of the hundreds of license holders you see in the iPhone 'About/Legal' screens.

crenca's picture

"don't see any reason why MQA licensing should be more intrusive than Dolby or any of the hundreds of license holders you see in the iPhone 'About/Legal' screens"

And will be part of the success of MQA if it actually ever gains any significant market penetration. The denial of the IP/DRM/software patent aspect of MQA, and the claims that MQA is the *legal* equivalent of software such as FLAC or PCM encoded files however would be almost acceptable if it was just Bob and his marketing team (we all know marketing is a little truth and a lot of untruth). However, the attempt by the "audiophile press" to no simply regurgitate these untruths but to further defend them is just a wee bit unnerving...

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

You, cranky Crenca, without ever sharing who you are, have waged a one-person war on MQA on multiple websites for an exceedingly long time. No matter what facts are provided, you counter them. If people claim they hear differences, you undercut them. If your arguments don't hold up to scrutiny, you resort to personal attacks. That's your M.O.

All the finger pointing makes for excellent drama. But in the end, it will go for nought. Ultimately, the success of MQA will depend on the strength of the campaign to educate the public, and what people hear. The public's ears will be the ultimate judge. Happily, when they listen, they will listen to music, not to this blather.

I'm heading on vacation. Keep up the good fight.

mcgilroy's picture

Where exactly in his post has Crenca personally attacked you or other individuals at Stereophile or provide any untruths?!

He simply pointed out the consequent overlooking of the IP/DRM aspect of MQA and the failure of the audiophile press to address this issue properly. Being lectured about "educating the public" by proponents who are avoiding to do so is exactly why somebody like Crenca is unnerved.

Actually Crenca contributed to educating the public when he pointed out the significance of the observation of the previous poster as valuable. Just as Dolby licensing primary burdened hardware manufactures and not the content-buying consumer MQA most likely will burden DAC & ADC manufactures. Many of which have publicly voiced their criticism of MQA.

Happy holidays and if you have same spare time you might enjoy reading up on DRM and it's history. It's worth it.

jimtavegia's picture

It is most hard for your folks or at Meridian to argue with folks who live in a country that ranks 28th? in the world in Math Ability. A sad state of affairs for sure. The Math presented here IS most difficult and as we are learning there is much going on in digital audio that is not fully fully understood even yet, and more will be uncovered in the future. Think back to when the issue of jitter was first present and that is easily understood now and what an important issue it was and is, but is only a small part of the digital process, and differences audibly discernable.

When you sit in middle school math classes as a teacher like I do every day with students who can't add, subtract, or multiply with any proficiency I have problems of explaining things mathematically. I taught high school math for 6 years and came back to MS to try and fix was has gone horribly wrong in our math world. I have a wonderful lady down the hall with a masters from Georgia Tech teaching the brighter math students to take them to new heights. I have more job security. lol She often asks me how I can do what I do.

Even forgetting the very high level math going on, it always comes down to the bottom line of whether you can HEAR the improvements or not and all too many trained listeners can and have, and reported it here. No one can say that they doubt the finding just because they don't understand the math, which is incredibly foolish and only exposes yourself as one who disavows what they don't understand. It is alright to not understand all the math going on and how it relates to what we hear. The folks at Meridian are doing that for us.

The other issue, and the main one to me, is our own personal hearing flaws and differences that has become more apparent to me in my quest to find some great headphones that work for ME and MY hearing deficiencies, which are great at 69. Accurate to whom? My hearing is not the same as JA's, Tylls', or anyone else, or Bob Stuart's. What changes in frequency response I need will not work for anyone else. I can tell you that what is accurate or pleasing to them does not work for me and my HF loss. So if you, or anyone else is trying to discern the audibility of 16/44.1, 24/96, 24/192, or DSD...on what are you listening, where it is set up and does it match up to YOU and your hearing accuracy (loss)? Is your room a sonic mess? What is bright to some would not be bright to me, I can assure you, and so my level of discernment of "BETTER" will not be the same for anyone at Stereophile or anyone with near perfect hearing, whatever that is. I have learned my lesson with my Focal Spirit Pro headphones and their reduced HF energy that make then sound so dull to me. Buying them off a great review was a mistake as the reviewer and I do not HEAR the same, but they can easily work for someone with no hearing loss.

If all, or most of the folks who have attended the listening sessions for MQA can hear an improvement of what MQA can do ( and I do believe them to be honest folks, by the way) why should I doubt it even if I don't understand all the math (I don't by the way) if the result IS an "audible improvement"? If even 4 out of 5 agree, 80% does win in my math world. If the 1 out of 5 does not have near perfect hearing why would I trust his opinion anyway? I might not even know that they are not a music lover or even care about the music selected for the audition which WOULD matter as it is one of the parameters (variables) of the trial that can't be discounted as a factor. Everything matters even a + .1db change in loudness often has one preferring the "louder" as the better which is often not the case.

It is sad to read some of the comments here. I do not believe that one can present all that is going on with MQA that can be presented in a simple way, as it is not simple, but for those like me, all that matters is can I hear the improvement that all their hard work has achieved? If I can't, my only decision is to become a customer or not. My choice. It does not discount their work or their achievement. I must accept the humbling fact that I am the problem if I can't hear the improvement, too often a hard thing for people to do. Hearing small improvements is hard work, but after reading the comments of those hearing the demonstrations of the trials, these are NOT small improvements.

Archimago's picture

Hi Jim,
I've seen some of your comments over the years and appreciate your education background. It is indeed a very difficult task working in and watching the education landscape as you have.

Note though that a number of us have raised concerns about MQA that I think very much resonates with what you bring up. Essentially, "the numbers don't seem to add up" when it comes to the claims; at least not in the way the product is being marketed as being some kind of massive or "revolutionary" improvement.

- Language and meanings are being redefined euphemistically like "lossless" (they're really referring to "perceptually lossless" rather than bit-perfect lossless we're used to).

- I raised above the question of time domain issues with speakers which this technique cannot compensate for. This is important given the time-domain rationale for improved fidelity.

- The technique is proprietary and brings with it limitations to how it can be decoded (hence the IP comments) - on the consumer side, room correction DSP cannot be applied to the decoded data, nor would you be able to experiment with filter settings like HQPlayer. For hardware manufacturers, they would have to comply with MQA's "authenticated" decoder every time an MQA file is encountered in order to decode the full resolution. This would limit customized processing/filtering during playback of these file (like what PS Audio or Ayre currently does in their DACs).

Note that I do appreciate innovation and have no problem with a business making money on their ingenuity. But this technique is highly suspect starting even from the neuroscience research they are quoting and extrapolating from (eg. the whole Oohashi ultrasonic effect, look up the research paper and see what you think), all the way to hyping up the recent CD vs. high-resolution meta-analysis.

Jim, you seem like a nice man. But I believe you need to think a bit more critically about what you're reading here... In sum, the claims and theory of improved fidelity are highly suspect considering the cost including loss of freedom compared to what we already have with non-proprietary PCM and DSD.

By the way, I have "heard" MQA in one of their demos. The music sounded great, but it better sound great from a $500K sound system! But like countless other demos and complaints I have heard, they did not bother with an A/B comparison. This is why I think they need to be more open and I would challenge them to release a non-MQA standard file upsampled to 24/192 as well as an MQA-decoded file in 24/192 so anyone with a hi-res DAC that can handle 24/192 can compare in their own home to experience the difference MQA can make even if not sounding optimal. [By releasing in 192kHz, the internal antialiasing filter from one's DAC will have much less contribution to the overall sound and we should be able to evaluate a significant amount of the claimed time-domain improvement.]

jimtavegia's picture

I have just found that I really like recording and listening to 2496, but at my age I can hear some improvement when I record at 24192, but it is not consistent, but I think that has more to do with the program material and my hearing loss.

I have also not been reading anywhere else about the "problems?" with PCM at 2496, 24192, or 24384 before, so this was somewhat new to me that I will reread Stuart's comments and try to understand more...if I can. It may be beyond me at 69. I am still in the camp that if it sounds better to me it is.

I am still considering buying a Tascam DA-3000 (24192 & DSD) for my location recording work as leaving a venue and session with more is always a great thing and then mixing it down to what people can use is what I would do. My DA-688 does 24192, but I am not sure if the converters are of a high enough quality to make much difference as it is "consumer priced". I certainly does capture more.

This is all going to be fun to follow and see where it lands. I really didn't want to have to do more "homework" for this hobby of ours, but that has changed.

It may be that all of this has raised more questions than it has answered for many. The discussion is a good one.

Jim

NeilS's picture

For what it's worth, I think it's not an unreasonable expectation that editors and columnists in a professional publication model respectful and professional civil debate on its comment boards. Perhaps Mr. Atkinson, whom I think does, might have a gentle word with some of his colleagues?

Vade Forrester's picture

Whew! It's nice to see all the scientific background about MQA, and interesting to read the objections posed. But it seems to me there are two, and only two, questions that need to be resolved about MQA:

1. Does MQA sound as good or better than the best other processes for making music recordings? In other words, does it sound as good or better than DSD or high-resolution PCM recordings?

and

2. Are files produced by the MQA recording process significantly smaller than other formats?

If the answer to both of those questions is Yes, then MQA is good and should be widely adopted. If the answer to only the first question is Yes, MQA is good but whether it should be adopted depends on how much better it sounds than other recording processes. If the answer to the first question is No, then why bother with a process that sounds worse than what we already have?

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

jimtavegia's picture

Streaming listeners might, but I doubt it as for them it is not about quality, but the old background music is good enough idea. Storage is so cheap these days that I don't worry about it any more.

My main listening is 2496 downloads when I find something I like and then burn them to DVD-R's or just keep them in my computer for playback.

I am a late adopter, so we will see about MQA. Right now a very good usb dac for up to 24/192 is $150 so, I will wait.

Vade Forrester's picture

Jim, the industry is moving towards streaming as the preferred way to listen to music. I'd love to be able to listen to the best sound quality streamed from the huge libraries of online sites like Tidal without having to store or buy anything other than a monthly subscription. I envision listening in my car, on my cell phone, and of course on my hifi.

For $299, you can get a very good DAC that plays PCM files up to 192/24 and also MQA. By high-end standards, that's a bargain.

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

Archimago's picture

Right Vade. I don't want to be pedantic but do want to be clear so that folks are aware of the opposition and concerns from many in the audiophile hobby community.

1. Does it sound as good as everything else?
- How can we know without proper A/B demos or released decoded files for comparison?
- Do we just trust the testimony of a few who might have had access to original files + MQA decoding to base our decisions?
- Do we just go ahead and buy a DAC to try and potentially waste money and time with returning it if we don't ultimately think it's worthwhile? If I bought a few MQA-encoded downloads to try, can I also return that easily?
- We do know that the "end-to-end" process for MQA terminates at the DAC; not the speakers which is where distortion and time-domain smearing might be significant issues.
- MQA is not DSD. Anything that was recorded in DSD will need to be converted to PCM to go through the MQA process.
- (Although I don't think it's worth arguing about at this point, MQA does still mess with the full bit-depth though understandably so long as it's unobtrusive, music does not require a full 24-bits.)

2. Are files significantly smaller?
- Compared to 24/96 and 24/192+ FLAC files. Yes.
- But it looks to be larger than the size of typical 24/44 or 24/48 FLAC files.
- So for streaming purposes, it'll be larger than current Tidal FLAC streamed at CD bitrate of 16/44 by at least 50%. As Jim suggests, is it really worth an extra 50% data bandwidth for the streaming crowd, many of whom using cell phones and limited data plans?

3. Is it worth the loss of freedom we already enjoy?
- As a hobbyist who wants to optimize sound in my room, I want to be able to play with digital filters myself. And I want to be able to listen with customized DSP room correction which will do time domain correction for my speakers in my room.
- MQA takes away that freedom within the digital domain because we are not allowed to access the decoded full quality digital stream. If MQA gets adopted widely and becomes the only "high resolution" format, then it will be a setback for those of us wanting to achieve the best fidelity IMO. High resolution DACs are already excellent with many companies doing different and innovative things to optimize sound, and high resolution downloads are already plentiful.

------

From my perspective, this whole "end-to-end" authentication business is unnecessarily backwards because it doesn't fix the speaker time domain issues AND it takes away from the freedom of those of us who want to implement a fix! It only exists as a business model for licensing as far as I can tell.

What could be of value here is MQA's DSP processing technique to improve the mastering if the theory is true that their processing can improve time-domain accuracy from the studio. Let the studio implement the MQA processing technique and use it with their highest quality projects. Then they can proudly put a sticker advertising that their recording and processing techniques conformed to MQA standards of time-domain accuracy. Release that as "MQA-HR" 24/192+. It'll be like how JVC specially processed CD's to be "XRCD". The whole encapsulation/origami/lossy ultrasonic piece isn't needed for fidelity.

Vade Forrester's picture

Archimago, I understand your concern about DRM, but to me, that's a personal issue. I have nothing to add to the exhaustive discussions that have taken place about this issue. I respect your concerns, though I don't share them. Another exhaustively debated issue is whether MQA is lossless. I have nothing to add except to say who cares? If MQA sounds as good or better than existing recording processes, that's what matters to me. I respect those who are concerned about losslessness, but don't share that concern. For me, it's all about the sound quality.

After I submitted my post, I read John Atkinson's message about employees of other magazines needing to identify themselves, which I neglected to do out of ignorance. I am a reviewer for The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network magazines, in addition to being a long-time subscriber to Stereophile and regular reader of the excellent AudioStream website, from which I've learned a lot. I'll be careful to observe your rule in the future.

Vade Forrester

Archimago's picture

Thanks for the response.

Actually, in the discussions here, I have not invoked the term DRM but rather specifically highlighted how this would practically affect those of us already trying our best to improve fidelity. I'll leave the legal discussions to those more versed :-).

Remember, there is no magic here.

As a writer and reviewer in the audiophile press, you do have a stake in this and IMO you do have to educate yourself about how this works because that is your role as a journalist and your responsibility to your readers. It is only then that you can independently evaluate the merits of what is presented before you - able to intelligently question claims that make little sense, and endorse based on objective merit hopefully consonant with subjective impression rather than simply personal preferences.

I think readers would want to know if with your understanding and experience, this represents a path forward to advance the cause of fidelity, future innovation, and provides a freedom for them to optimize fidelity that they already enjoy.

Vade Forrester's picture

Archimago, I am diligently trying to learn everything possible about MQA so I can discuss it knowledgeably for my readers. That's why I read everything I can find about it in every forum I think is useful like this one.

I've already outlined my simplified criteria for assessing whether MQA is worthwhile. Until I can personally listen to MQA files and compare them to the the same performances recorded as the highest-resolution standard PCM and DSD files, I won't have an opinion about their sound quality. To do that I'll need a DAC that can reproduce MQA, PCM, and DSD. So far, none have come my way.

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

Archimago's picture

And totally respect the position.

John Atkinson's picture
Vade Forrester wrote:
After I submitted my post, I read John Atkinson's message about employees of other magazines needing to identify themselves, which I neglected to do out of ignorance. I am a reviewer for The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network magazines...

Thank you, Vade.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

“If you can’t hear it it’s all academic.” Paul Klipsch

Taken one way, I have nine albums that I use to test. Until Sony and Universal are MQA licenses and release six albums they own the rights to I can’t test MQA. Warner owns the rights to three albums so I wonder when and where I can download them. So does Warner in their latest SEC filing one of their business risks is “our dependence on a limited number of digital music services for the online sale of our music recordings and their ability to significantly influence the pricing structure for online music stores.” I can’t buy the music I want as MQA files so for me it is academic until I can.

Taken a second way I listened to MQA files in Meridian’s room at T.H.E. Show this year. Michael Lavorgna posted his thoughts about the Doors “Riders on the Storm” on MQA May 26, 2016. He found the rain more realistic than his hi-res version. I was allowed an A-B test with “Riders on the Storm.” Michael and I agree the rain is more “realistic” on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate. This is a small difference but it will require more testing. And I was listening in a hotel room to unfamiliar equipment so I can’t make any conclusions until hear MQA in familiar surroundings and with familiar equipment. So again academic until I compare file formats to see if I can hear any differences.

One comment, don’t forget there are a lot of hi-res files that sound worse than their CD counterparts.

One question what is the difference between “white glove” MQA files and those converted by automated processes?

John Atkinson's picture
rt66indierock wrote:
Michael and I agree the rain is more “realistic” on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate.

I am not sure I am understanding you here. The rain on "Riders on the Storm" is not "produced by a Fender Rhodes"; there is a recording of real rain that is mixed in with the recorded Rhodes electric piano (an instrument where hammers hit tuned metal tines that excite electromagnetic pickups). The sounds of the rain and the piano are separate acoustic objects in the mix.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

John,

The rain on Riders on the Storm was created two ways, one was a recording the other was a Fender Rhodes. My source is Ray Manzarek keyboardist for the Doors. He would have no reason to lie to me in the seventies. In any case I found this quote after reading your response. "Nothing could play rain like a Rhodes piano," said Manzarek, who no longer owns a Rhodes piano and had to borrow one from a collector to play on a recent VH1 "Storytellers" episode. This is from the obituary of Harold Rhodes, MTV News January 4, 2001.

I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

John Atkinson's picture
rt66indierock wrote:
The rain on Riders on the Storm was created two ways, one was a recording the other was a Fender Rhodes . . . I found this quote after reading your response. "Nothing could play rain like a Rhodes piano," said Manzarek, who no longer owns a Rhodes piano and had to borrow one from a collector to play on a recent VH1 "Storytellers" episode.

I think you are taking Ray Manzarek's words as being literal when they were not. He was referring to the downward broken-octave figure that represents the rain, not the actual sound of the rain, which was a sound-effects recording and, as Michael Lavorgna has clarified, was what he was referring to.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

John, I had a conversation with Ray in the seventies about the sound effects that can be created on electric pianos. So I’m not taking a quote from 2001 too literally I’m relating a conversation. Part of the conversation was about the song. He told me there are two parts to the rain one is the recording of the rain and the other he played on the Rhodes. As I said the recording of rain and thunder sounds more natural on the MQA version but the rain sounds created on the Rhodes sound the same which is not the way the record sounds to me. Michael’s high-res version apparently has the all the rain sounding like it was created on the Rhodes which also not the way the record sounds to me. So to me neither is correct and the cause is probably in the remastering. Like I said before I need to do more testing.

As for sounds the Rhodes, when you play rain on it can sound like glass beads hitting plexiglass. Very cold rain hitting a plexiglass window sounds the same. I’m a golfer from the Pacific Northwest so I’ve been in houses with plexiglass windows on the sides that face the golf course and noticed the difference in the sounds of cold rain hitting plexiglass and regular tempered glass. And I noticed how similar the sound of cold rain hitting a plexiglass window sounds to a Rhodes producing the effect of rain.

On both of the files I heard in the Meridian room at T.H.E. Show the rain sounded the same on each file when there should be two rain sounds. The non MQA file all the rain sounded like it was all played on a Rhodes. The MQA file sounds like the rain in the recording only.

michaelavorgna's picture

The rain in "Riders On The Storm", as well as the thunder, are recordings of rain and thunder. This was obvious back in the '70s when I listened to the LP, and it's obvious again with MQA.

rt66indierock's picture

Michael,

It wasn’t obvious to me so I asked Ray. He told he played part of the rain. See my response to John above.

michaelavorgna's picture

...in your original comment you stated, "Michael and I agree the rain is more 'realistic' on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate."

I was talking about the sound of the real (recorded) rain, not Ray's Rhodes, i.e. I would say the MQA version is more natural sounding. I'd love to get Ray's take on the MQA version since I'd extrapolate from my observations that Ray would find his Rhodes sounds more natural, too.

TJ's picture

Thank you, John and Michael, for posting this wonderfully clear and insightful explanation of so many interesting topics that are not easily understood except by experts in this field. It's answered lots of perplexing questions for me on the first reading, and will probably answer more as I go back over it. John, you and your team are setting the standard in the industry for the work you're doing, month by month. Your readers have a debt of gratitude to each of you for that.

JimAustin's picture

The obsession with DRM arises, I suspect, from an information-technology mentality--specifically from people who believe that "information ought to be free." But there are problems with this point of view--very serious problems.

1. I think some people need to think a bit more about the issue of authentication. I suspect that many of the people who shout "DRM! DRM!" are the same people who complain when they download a high-res file from a prominent high-res music site only to find that it's upsampled CD quality. Beyond iTunes and iPods, I avoided the world of servers and digital audio files for years, for precisely this reason: There were (are?) no reliable sources of high-quality audio files. (I finally built my own server, and ripped all my CDs, this past winter.)

Who wants to pay 24 bucks for a file of which the only difference from CD-resolution is that it takes far longer to download?

We need authentication. Digital files are easy to manipulate--especially when they're in an open format! When we buy something, we need to have a reason to have confidence in what we're buying. And while some of us may enjoy that kind of thing, we shouldn't have to analyze every file we download to make sure it has the spectral content we paid for. We need authentication.

2. I'm guessing that in their other lives (the lives in which, presumably, they are willing to admit to being who they are), pseudonymous critics (talk about authentication issues!) probably like to get paid for their work. They deserve to, and so do musicians. It's no secret that the music industry is far less profitable than it once was--that many artists struggle to get paid for the music they create. The reasons are complex, but they boil down to: The Internet. Free information.

MQA is not DRM. It's just obviously not, in any reasonable or conventional interpretation of that phrase. But--I am speaking for myself only--it clearly IS an attempt to gain a certain amount of leverage over the digital distribution chain: You can do whatever you want with an MQA file, but you can't play it back at optimal quality without an appropriate tool. I enjoy recorded music enough that I'm willing to pay if it means that more artists will be able to make a living. Any new approach that has the potential to help the industry regain a bit of its former health, I'm OK with.

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture
JimAustin wrote:
MQA is not DRM. It's just obviously not, in any reasonable or conventional interpretation of that phrase. But--I am speaking for myself only--it clearly IS an attempt to gain a certain amount of leverage over the digital distribution chain.

I think you are correct here, Jim. I wrote in a comment to my 2014 article on MQA—see www.stereophile.com/content/ive-heard-future-streaming-meridians-mqa—that the record company will no longer be selling a duplicate of their hi-rez master, with all the implications for piracy that that implies. Instead, they are selling something that might well sound identical to the master, but doesn't allow the master to be re-created. In other words, it is like DRM but without all the hoopla that traditional DRM involves.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

...practical or "real world" effects - particularly on the wider digital ecosystem. One can narrowly define DRM (or anything), point out how this or that does not fit (in this case MQA), and end up with a (false) picture.

This is a good example:

" Instead, they are selling something that might well sound identical to the master, but doesn't allow the master to be re-created."

followed by:

"In other words, it is like DRM but without all the hoopla that traditional DRM involves."

The thing is, as a pragmatic matter MQA is DRM - indeed it is a very good example of it. The technical aspects/implementation are a side show because DRM is about accomplishing a goal: "managing" an end user (his "rights"), in a "digital" space (thus the acronym "DRM"). In other words, for some goal of your own which I don't understand (you simply appear to be twisting words to sell something) you are wanting MQA to not be a DRM product when it is. As you yourself admit, it by design (DRM) accomplishes a very pragmatic goal of limiting the end user in some important (to labels, artists, etc.) way.

Those of us who have experience with and understand the larger digital ecosystem understand not only the DRM taken as a thing in-of-itself, but also understand the wider implications. We have been managing such things in the digital space for years.

Obviously, DRM (like any legal restriction, contract, etc.) is not an evil in of itself - it can have its place. The question is what place, and do consumers understand it, and what role does a publication such as yours have in informing your customers about it?

For what ever reason, the editors here have decided that MQA is a some kind of unqualified good and the reality of DRM is to be explained away. The thing is, the modern "digital" or "computer" audiophile and consumer has access to multiple sources of information and they by experience know something of pragmatical effect DRM has in their own digital ecosystems (e.g. video is an obvious example).

I say all this as just to point out you have an uphill battle, and I have to wonder out loud why you think the the Clintonesque "...it depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is..." your doing with DRM is going to actually change anyone's mind? Heck, I have to wonder out loud if you actually believe it! At the end of the day, it makes your publication/project look very anti-consumer...

Archimago's picture

1. Any example of how "authentication" can make anything better? So you now have 1 file type. That doesn't necessarily guarantee that it was sourced from the "best" master. Remember Pono and their blue light to "verify" that it was a genuine item from the store? Did anyone ask for that? Is there actually any demand for this among the music buying public? Do you think a studio will actually go back to the original master tapes, figure out what ADC was used, maybe what studio DSP processing was done so they can accurately "de-blur" every single song they recorded? More likely they're just going to automate the process and give us an MQA file spit out by the encoder and that will be as "authentic" as anything else they give us.

2. How does MQA result in less piracy? MQA has stated time and again in defense of it being not DRM, it doesn't stop file copying (like DRM techniques in the past that disrupt playback - eg. Cinavia). Furthermore, they claim that these MQA files sound "better" than standard 16/44. For the folks who don't care about quality, they might as well just convert these 24/44 files to 16/44 and upload to their iPhone or whatever they use.

The only thing this ends up doing is maybe grab a few dollars for MQA/Meridian with a few folks buying new DACs licensed for MQA playback (let's not forget the time and probably licensing costs for studios and audiophile hardware manufacturers to implement this in their DACs). If a song is only available in the MQA format, it will end up on a torrent somewhere. And if there is enough interest, the algorithm will probably be reverse-engineered and decoded as a flat PCM as HDCD was in years past.

Yes, artists should be paid for the work they do. Just not sure how MQA is realistically supposed to make any difference.

JimAustin's picture

as soon as I know whom I'm talking to--not before.

Jim

Archimago's picture

I think from your response that you see merit in my thought process. Could they not be discussed as is?

Does it matter who I am other than that I am an audiophile, enjoy the hobby for years, and I have a blog with about 200 posts showing much of what I own including my soundroom and how I've been curious about how audio works? You likely will know more about me by going through the blog than I know of you.

I can tell you though that I have no affiliation with the audio industry other than as a consumer. And coincidentally, like "crenca" above, my professional background is in medicine including research.

NeilS's picture

It seems that Mr. Austin has a problem with responding to the comments of unaffiliated anonymous posters. However, if posting as an editor of Stereophile, shouldn't Mr. Austin be willing to support and comply with Stereophile's policy as set out in Mr. Atkinson's post above, i.e., "...If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."?

"...Our rule is that if you are affiliated with the audio industry, you must include that affiliation in your postings. That is to prevent people working for an audio company posting praise of their own products or dissing a competitor's products. If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous. However, I feel then that your comments should not be weighted as heavily as if they were..."

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
However, if posting as an editor of Stereophile, shouldn't Mr. Austin be willing to support and comply with Stereophile's policy as set out in Mr. Atkinson's post above, i.e., "...If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."?

Jim Austin conforms to our policy by posting under his real name and identifying himself as being affiliated with Stereophile.

The policy does not cover how much weight should be given the comments of posters who don't wish to reveal their true identities; that is a personal decision and Jim has not contravened any rules.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Requiring industry affiliated posters to identify themselves as such, as I've said, I understand and appreciate. The point I was making was that for an editor to make their response conditional on whether an unaffiliated poster uses their real name seems to me inconsistent with your policy that "If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..." Since the large majority of those posting on this blog appear to be anonymous, it would seem to effectively convert such an editor's comment into an unchallengeable monologue.

These are different issues than your policy that it is a personal decision whether an editor chooses to weight the validity of the comment according to the degree of the poster's anonymity. As I've said, such a weighting strikes me as illogical.

Anyways, 'nuff said - it's your blog.

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
The point I was making was that for an editor to make their response conditional on whether an unaffiliated poster uses their real name seems to me inconsistent with your policy that "If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."

No inconsistency. The first is an individual choice on the part of Stereophile's writers and editors; the second is general policy.

NeilS wrote:
Since the large majority of those posting on this blog appear to be anonymous, it would seem to effectively convert such an editor's comment into an unchallengeable monologue.

Not so. If I wanted this site to be as you describe, I would disable the comments function. But as every poster, whether they subscribe to Stereophile or not, is allowed to post and have their comments read, provided they confirm to our rules, your conjecture is incorrect.

NeilS wrote:
Anyways, 'nuff said - it's your blog.

Indeed it is.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jimtavegia's picture

and I am also not worried about free as I believe that artists should be compensated for their work and all too many are not. We have been around this block all too many times. I want artists whose work I admire and want to hear over and over to be bought by me and others so they can make a living doing what they love to do. I would not spin my 3 turntables almost daily if convenient was my thing, but there are now many lps that I don't listen to much anymore as their sound quality is lacking either from the recording or the pressing and I don't agonize over which is the problem as I do care about my time and most of mine is in the bottom of my hour glass.

So, eClassical, Linn, Soundkeeper, BlueCoast, Primephonic, and HD Tracks will continue to get some of my cash as they are about quality. I even have a redbook release from Primephonic that is a superb recording and better than many a redbook CD I own, so quality can be done in redbook somebody just needs to care.

It will be fun to watch how this all plays out and if the masses ever start caring about quality over convenience and free. I'm not going to hold my breath. It will be fun to see what new hardware comes down the pike as well. But remembering that DVD-A and SACD players were not crazy expensive and still did not get the masses on board, sadly.

crenca's picture

When you say:

"and I am also not worried about free as I believe that artists should be compensated for their work and all too many are not"

I think that is a real worry behind much of what the editors say here (indeed I can't tell the difference between them and your average label/RIAA spokesperson). On my network you will not find a single digital music file that was not bought and paid for. Like probably most here have a collection of digital music (I am all digital - no analog) that is worth $thousands$ - indeed my collection is small compared to most.

I get the industries problem (piracy) - what I don't get is how hamstringing your actual paying customers (like myself) with deleterious DRM formats is a solution to said problem. As video has shown us, it is a complete failure at slowing (let alone stopping) piracy and complete success in limiting/annoying $paying$ customers...

Pages

MQA: Questions and Answers Sidebar 4: References

Thu, 08/11/2016

COMMENTS
adrianIII's picture

Would someone summarize these results in 25 words or less of regular-speak? Thanks!

eriks's picture

The meat for me is in the attempts at temporal correctness. I haven't yet digested it all, but Stuarts is making the argument that the filters necessary in digital recording and playback spread energy around in time (established truth of all filters, digital or analog), much further than most of us would have guessed (new to me). Instead of acting like a modern TV screen, where images are either on or off, digital audio has been like the old black and white TV's where rapidly changing images leave streaks.

Another analogy of course is the speaker. The ideal speaker has no stored energy. It's movement at any moment of time is 100% determined by the instantaneous voltage at the inputs with no "memory" of what has happened before or "precognition" of what may come after. As you probably know though, real speaker drivers store energy and re-radiate it after the fact. This is what waterfall plots of energy/time/frequency show.

For a very long time we have assumed this was not possible in digital encoding/decoding or that at least it was so small as to be inconsequential.

MQA attempts to perfectly resolve this issue in recording and playback.

I make no claims to it's correctness or audibility, that's just what I"m reading so far. When I'm better I'll revisit.

If you are more of an experimental learner, you might want to try something like XSim and simulate some speaker filters. Look at the impulse and step response carefully to see how pre-ringing and post-event smear occurs. This is of course a speaker, analog simulator, but the principles of filters spreading energy over time applies. It's free,

http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/multi-way/259865-xsim-free-crossover-desi...

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

Digital filters cause more distortion than we thought and it's more audible than we realized. MQA is a very ambitious attempt to correct this.

AJ's picture

It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality.
New math perhaps? ;-).
In my universe, SACD and DVD-A were abject failures in the marketplace. Perhaps elsewhere?

John Atkinson's picture
AJ wrote:
It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality. New math perhaps? ;-).

This article links to a recent study that shows to a high degree of statistical significance that listeners can indeed detect the difference between CD-quality audio and higher-resolution audio: http://www.audiostream.com/content/its-official-people-can-hear-high-res.

You can download the AES paper discussed from http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=18296.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

A. Hourst's picture

Sorry for the cheerleaders of the industry but you should also read what independant observers have to say about this study.
http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=5755

AJ's picture

Hi John,

If you look at the AES article, you can read my (AJ)comment in the AES Comments section. I was in correspondence with Dr Reiss the entire time, up through its release.
I'll quote for non-AES members here:

Quote:

Hi Joshua,

I do have one question. Here you say:

In summary, these results imply that, though the effect is perhaps small and difficult to detect, the perceived fidelity of an audio recording and playback chain is affected by operating beyond conventional consumer oriented levels. Furthermore, though the causes are still unknown, this perceived effect can be confirmed with a variety of statistical approaches and it can be greatly improved through training.

How would one train for an unknown cause? Shouldn't the cause be determined first (to avoid false positives, due to system artifacts for example), before any detection training occurs?

Please note Dr Reiss's verbage: "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".
Exactly how does Bob Stuart (or anyone)translate that to "improved" sound quality?? The statistical mining found no such thing. Only "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".

Where are the numbers for this "widely accepted" claim?? On what basis is this made?

jeffdyer's picture

If they were failures then it was because the mass market at that time was shifting from absolute recording quality of CD to the instant gratification of MP3 and download, not because of the sound quality inherent in the medium.

I have a small collection of SACDs, mostly for the multi channel mixes of classic albums and they sound smoother than CDs to me somehow. Maybe because there is less compression required.

AJ's picture
Quote:

If they were failures

They were. The market spoke clearly at the previous "Hi-Rez" pitches like SACD and DVDA. Currently, there is no "wide acceptance", other than in the insular and infinitesimal world of audiophiles.
Even there, as Bob Stuart states, get 3 in the same room...;-)

jeffdyer's picture

Actually, they are popular in Japan and there is a thriving trade on eBay, so for those who enjoy them, they are popular.

Just because not every man in the street drives a Ferrari, that does not mean Ferrari is a failure.

AJ's picture

Ah, then perhaps Mr Stuart can qualify his claim to:

Quote:

It is now widely accepted in by audiophiles in Japan and eBay, that "hi-rez" digital audio, with increased sampling rate or bit-depth, delivers "improved" sound quality.

No actual statistics or polls needed of course ;-).

jeffdyer's picture

Well, judging by the lack of objective facts required by many readers on this site on subjects such as $1500 AC leads, I would have thought a simple reference to eBay would have been more than enough evidence to the most casual reader that SACDs are in fact quite widely used.

brenro's picture

Where's the music?

fetuso's picture

I'm all for anything that will help music sound better, but asking people to get excited about MQA is like asking us to get excited about flying cars. Let me know when they get here.

rompolompo's picture

Can you please stop saying that sound in the air is analog. It is not. Once the signal leaves the loudspeakers it becomes acoustical energy. When we talk we do not make analog sound. Again, it is energy. It is not analog nor digital, these terms relate to the way sound is captured, stored and reproduced.

eriks's picture

The math could all be correct, and logical, but the real proof is in listening. I have listened to a couple of tracks from 2L and been unable to tell a difference in my setup, but I have no idea about the provenance. Ideally, an MQA track is recorded in MQA to begin with, or converted knowing the original ADC system. Converting a pre-existing digital track to MQA is not ideal.

Are there some publicly available tracks to listen to MQA recordings in ideal situations, vs. non-MQA that will make me jump for joy?

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

I'm glad this is here, but it really needs curating. The material is better suited for a wiki than an article, but like I said, I'm happy the data is up there for us to examine au plain aire.

Best,

Erik

RDSChicago's picture

I've been waiting almost two years for MQA to come to Tidal. When??

Archimago's picture

Thank you Mr. Stuart et al. for the details around the rationale for MQA as well as some of the technical capabilities.

There is obviously much in the text to parse and understand. However whether the reader agrees that the effects and theory of temporal blurring being discussed is of significance, can practically be accurately "fixed" (especially in complex studio mixes), and the algorithm used by MQA will result in audible benefit is unclear to many at this time. Thank you as well for discussing the noise floor effects; it's clear from the cases demonstrated that MQA is able to encode down to the noise level needed for the music. I know that much of this can be argued back and forth ad nauseum in terms of whether music should be kept as pure PCM and the benefits of encoding as per MQA's psychoacoustic modeling. However I think it is fair to say that whatever digital bit-depth and samplerate is used (certainly beyond the usual 16/44), we are discussing digital representations already close to auditory thresholds (which is my interpretation of the 52.3% accuracy rate in the hi-res vs. standard resolution meta-analysis).

However, in the time domain which MQA primarily focused on as the mechanism by which higher fidelity can be achieved, I must voice my concern around this comment:

"It's useful to know the original sampling rate of the mastering process, because that tells us about the first part of the chain. The DAC is equally important; a chain is as strong as the weakest link. More important, unless the encoder (A/D or mastering) and decoder (plus D/A) processes are complementary, it isn't possible to reach the final result and certainly not at low data rates..."

Why should we focus on the ADC/DAC as significant "weak links" in the overall audio chain (much less the "weakest link")? At least for the consumer end, is it not true that as almost always, the weakest links are the transducers (speakers) and room effects? Compared to typical speaker time-domain variations (step-response variation for example) on the order of multiple milliseconds, it is hard to imagine the significance of comparatively small changes at the level of the DAC including the occasional pre-ringing from poorly low-passed signal through a linear phase filter.

Without a truly "end to end" solution which terminates not at the level of the consumer's DAC, but the actual sound energy that reaches the listener, MQA alone IMO cannot truly achieve the goal of time-domain accuracy for the system. Furthermore, the closed hardware implementation which at this point does not allow access to the decoded digital audio data prevents the more sophisticated audiophile from implementing his/her own optimizations such as DSP room correction to suite the listening environment in an optimally transparent fashion.

Ultimately, in my opinion, if MQA is to suggest that the digital processing algorithm being implemented is an overall improvement, it should be allowing more A/B comparisons in public venues and taking up the offers such as that by Mark Waldrep to aid in "Real-World Comparisons" with actual hi-resolution content. Likely even more beneficial would be releasing high resolution files demonstrating a typical properly dithered 16/44 audio file upsampled to 24/192 (with say a standard linear filter) and the decoded output from an MQA file to 24/192 with the same mastering. This will provide an opportunity for the public to audition the effect for themselves in their own home with existing high-resolution DACs to at least provide an idea of what difference the algorithm can make. (Perhaps more appropriate would be 24/44 vs. MQA as they would have similar bitrates.)

eriks's picture

I agree there's a lot of self-serving hyperbole in the writing. I would have to go and do some simulations to fully appreciate whether digital filtering or a typical loudspeaker has more signal spread, but this can also be mostly compensated for using DiracLive or Rephase.

It would be really interesting to have a demo with DiracLive + MQA vs. not.

Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.

Best,

Erik

JimAustin's picture

>>Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.<<

I know very little about Meridian loudspeakers, but maybe these already exist?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KN0ToXOvQpo

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

I don't even know where to start. Besides sidestepping the whole DRM issue these articles are a new low not only for Bob Stuart but for audio journalism in itself.

Just one example how dishonestly Stuart answers questions: it "is understood that a digital distribution system (including MQA) can be lossless in distribution and therefore requires lossless delivery."

Well the question was if MQA is a lossless FORMAT. But Mr. Stuart sidesteps this question by speaking not about formats but about "lossless delivery."

He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy.

There are plenty more gems like this in the marketing material spread out here. I certainly hope that Stereophile gets some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims. That is what good journalism is about and what the audiophile community deserves.

Until this happens I'd venture to call Bob Stuart the Donald Trump of the Audio world.

michaelavorgna's picture

You appear to not have understood the explanations offered, i.e. this gem "He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy". Let me help (from the same paragraph you quoted):

"More important is to capture and protect (in a lossless manner) all the information in the file that relates to the music content."

On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

It's also worth noting that Stuart is a recognized expert and engineer who has authored numerous peer-reviewed papers, not to mention the fact that he actually makes things that people can hear for themselves, like MQA.

I gather from your call for "some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims" that you are neither an expert or engineer so the basis of your criticism is admittedly ill-informed.

Hmm. This behavior reminds me of someone running for public office. Who could that be....;-)

Michael Lavorgna
Editor, AudioStream

mcgilroy's picture

sir,

no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications. even after your post I don't question yours. I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-laywers about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues. I am pretty familiar with these things and look forward to the challenge.

until then let me explain why I wrote "dishonest".

the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.

if the answer is yes, say so & provide proof and means to reproduce. case settled.

if the answer is no, say so & explain why MQA as a lossy format might still might yield a better performance than a lossless format. provide proof and means to reproduce it. A/B testing would be a start, maybe third-party measurements.

instead mr. stuart prefers to move goalposts by offering a new "definition" of lossless. one that the esteemed mr stuart would not get through any peer-review in any serious publication but certainly works well enough for marketing.

the whole thing gets even more hilarious if you take into account the table given on the page "MQA Hierarchy". here suddenly "lossless" is one of the parameters to compare the different MQA-codecs. check it out - suddenly mr stuart himself says it's not (!) a lossless format...

On the DRM-issue let me just quote the first two sentences of the wikipedia entry:

"Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works.[1]DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies"

please mr stuart or mr lavorgna explain to me how MQA does not fall under this definition.

Guys - my point is: marketing like this in the age of the internet is an uphill battle. people will scrutinize your statements and fact-check the hell out of them. smoke and mirrors are all fine and dandy and necessary evil in marketing. but continually taking your customers for a ride does not pay out in the long run. it would be much simpler to come out clean and tell everybody the facts.

in the case in question I so far fail to see any evidence that MQA is not a lossy-DRM-trojan.

I'd be happy to learn else or plainly and simply told by mr stuart:

"yes the music industry wants to resilver their catalogs but does neither want to experience the MP3-wild-west all over again nor can accept Apple/Amazon/MS/Google control the distribution of their content.

MQA offers the necessary IP and DRM safeguards for content producers and on top that also comes along with a clever low bandwith High-Rez container-format. for the latter we have a nice demographics willing to spend money on music. record companies please sign up here"

if stuart or any MQA guys come out like this I'd be impressed. but I guess he further will work on truly becoming the donald trump of the audio world. a smart man with a great legacy deserves better.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications...

I don't understand your point about qualifications. You are the one who talks about "EEs," so surely Bob Stuart's own qualifications and credentials are relevant.

mcgilroy wrote:
I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication.

I really don't like "arguing by credential," but as you seem fixated on qualifications, perhaps you should note that on Stereophile's writing team, we have 4 PhDs, and while my own qualifications aren't at that elevated level, my bachelor's degree is in physics and chemistry; my post-graduate qualification is in the teaching of science at the high-school level; I am a full member of the Audio Engineering Society; an associate member of the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers; and in 2011 I was the Distinguished Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecturer at the 131st Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York. (See www.stereophile.com/content/2011-richard-c-heyser-memorial-lecture-where-did-negative-frequencies-go.)

So before you continue dismissing what we have to write, please bear in mind that this is not our first rodeo.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

Mr. Atkinson,

thank you for taking your time and chiming in.

I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors. Neither did I question Bob Stuarts credentials. I am well aware of his pedigree, fully respect his achievements and am certain he has a very solid understanding of the field. My allegation is actually worse, namely that despite better knowledge Mr. Stuart choose to mislead the public about certain aspects of the MQA format.

This includes but is not limited to the question of lossnessness, bit-rate, compression-ratios, settings for establishing reproducibility of findings like proper A/B-Testing of MQA vs incumbents and last not least the DRM & IP makeup of the MQA format.

Note that I have not included the concept of "temporal blur" in this list. Here I too remain skeptical but need more time to research this aspect.

Besides Archimago, Cernca and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public. At least that is what academica is expected to do and what the press should strive for.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors.

The text of yours to which I was referring was this:

mcgilroy wrote:
I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-[lawyers] about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues.

It seems plain that you were indeed questioning our credentials. If my own qualifications as one of the "EE people" were good enough to be accepted by the AES and IEEE, why would you dismiss them?

And now again you are referring to people who you feel are "well-respected" ie, again attempting to appeal to authority:

mcgilroy wrote:
Besides Archimago, [Crenca] and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

It is fair to point out that Archimago and Crenca hide behind anonymity.

And that to the best of knowledge, none of the "well respected industry veterans" you list have actually auditioned or analyzed MQA-encoded files and compared them with the PCM originals. We have. We feel that the improvement in sound quality is real, as you can read in our September issue.

mcgilroy wrote:
I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public.

Again you present appeals to authority, dismissing our own credentials despite your denial that you do so. If you really don't consider our qualifications appropriate to judge something like digital technology, then I have to ask why you subscribe to Stereophile at all?

And on the subject of DRM, while no, I am not a "credentialed individual from IP-Law," I remind you of the words of the respected English critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw, that you don't need to be a carpenter to judge the quality of a table.

Does MQA prevent people from copying, emailing, selling, and sharing the files? No.

Does MQA prevent people other than the owner from playing the file? No.

Does MQA prevent people from playing the file with the original hi-rez resolution? No, if they have an MQA-enabled playback system; yes, if they don't.

What is to prevent an end-user from buying an MQA-enabled playback system? Nothing, other than the sense of entitlement evidenced, for example, by you, Crenca, and Archimago in this thread.

Does MQA require a license fee to be paid by the manufacturer of such playback systems? Yes, but in that respect, it is no different from Dolby, DTS, MLP, MP3, AAC, etc, etc.

If you look at the license fees that are required to be paid by manufacturers of DVD and Blu-ray players and media, you will be astonished at how many there are. (Even the developer of the ancient Macrovision videocassette technology gets an upfront payment of $30,000 followed by $15,000 each year from a manufacturer of video disc players.) And yes, those fees result in the players being more expensive than if there were no fees to be paid, a point made by Schiit's Jason Stoddard. (One estimate is that licensing fees increase the price of a DVD player by 10%.) It is only in the case of the IP I listed above that the fact that those fees are amortized over a very large number of products/apps that keeps them transparent to the end-user.

Why can't MQA be free, like FLAC? There is no free lunch. Engineers have to feed their families just like you. Again we get back to the sense of entitlement. Engineers are free to choose an open-source model or a licensing model for their IP. There is no moral difference between the two.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

Well, it is in a round about way - it is about "value". What is the real value of a DRM product like MQA to the end user? When you point out the sound quality value, I believe you. However, as I point out here:

http://www.stereophile.com/comment/560353#comment-560353

DRM has a cost that is far larger than the initial (or ongoing) licensing fees. It has an impact on the entire (in this case musical) digital ecosystem that is separate from the dollars and cents and is almost always much more significant than the (usually relatively small) licensing fees. This is why we point out that MQA is DRM, self serving definitions do not withstand.

Just so you know, because of my past work in IT and law enforcement (I am in a different business altogether now) I maintain a bit of "anonymity" in my relationship to the internet (though if you have any skill you understand such anonymity is not all that deep). If you have seen the things I have seen, you would to. You will never (ever ever ever) find pictures of my children on Facebook for example. I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

John Atkinson's picture
crenca wrote:
I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

Our rule is that if you are affiliated with the audio industry, you must include that affiliation in your postings. That is to prevent people working for an audio company posting praise of their own products or dissing a competitor's products. If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous. However, I feel then that your comments should not be weighted as heavily as if they were signed.

All Stereophile writers and editors post under their real names, whether to our site or to third-party sites. That way we can be held responsible for what we say.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

I am not affiliated with the industry in any way except as a consumer. I agree with you that anonymity goes against the norm of social convention/trust and devalues my comments to a certain extent. It is a cost I am am OK with obviously...

JimAustin's picture

I respect and appreciate the desire of casual Internet users to maintain a certain amount of information security. The problem, IMO, comes when self-proclaimed experts refuse to man up and let people know who they are. So-called journalists who hide behind a pseudonym cannot, in my view, be trusted. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take responsibility--personal responsibility--for what you have to say. And while it's true that valid arguments can stand on their own merits, it's a bit like yelling insults out a car window as it zooms past at 50 mph. Shake my hand, introduce yourself, look me in the eye, and let's chat. Until then, I have no interest in them or what you (they) have to say.

Jim Austin (PhD Physics)
Contributing Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

Re: Crenca, Archimago "hide behind anonymity", while I do understand and appreciate the point you are making about concerns about anonymous affiliated posters promoting their own or "dissing" others' products, it did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

Instead of addressing my arguments directly, the poster was bringing up the fact that people he regards as authorities, as more highly credentialed than I am, disagree with me. It is a semantically empty debating tactic and I was calling him on it.

NeilS wrote:
It did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

It's not ad hominem. As I said in an earlier posting today, if someone doesn't want to attach his or her name to his or her opinion, I give that opinion less weight than would otherwise be the case. You obviously disagree but I am not in any way obliged to substitute your position on this for my own.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Thanks for your response. I don't think I was asking you to substitute my position, as I said, I understand and appreciate yours. I was just pointing out that whether or not the poster is anonymous doesn't logically invalidate their position, just as using one's real name doesn't logically validate it, either. Let's agree to disagree on whether that constitutes an ad hominem logical fallacy.

A. Hourst's picture

This thing about anonymity is completely beside the point. Either you have things to say or you don't, end of the argument. Some of the things that I've read and found the most interesting on the web were written by people with pseudonyms like "boulga" or "simonon". Woody Allen's real name isn't Woody, and Caravaggio was an aliase...
Some people that write under their true identity can be an embarrassment to the concept of truth as much, or even more, than anonymous posters. Like I said, beside the point...

NeilS's picture

The Federalist Papers, Mark Twain...

A. Hourst's picture

Yes, this "tell me your real name" war is nonsense.

crenca's picture

in IP law, software patents, etc. and how these things work in the digital world on both a technical and business level. This is not surprising, given their background. That said the business they are in is changing (and has been for quite a while) and some minimal understanding of DRM, formats, and their place in a digital ecosystem (in this case one centered around music) would seem to be a reasonable expectation.

Allowing Bob's self serving double speak around this aspect of MQA a free pass is a bit over the top IMO and does not reflect well on them (though the do other things very well). You are correct in that MQA (if it ever gained significant market penetration) would be a "DRM trojan"...

(edit, this post is meant as a reply to mcgilroy )

JimAustin's picture

>>the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.<<

Why would he want to mindlessly answer a misleading question? Putting it this way is an attempt at a rhetorical trap.

I'm not Stuart, though, and I'll bite. I'm speaking only for myself here. JA and (of course) Stuart are far more knowledgeable than I am, so hopefully they'll step in if I get something wrong.

Is MQA lossless in the usual IT sense? No. But why should you care? If you're capable of following Stuart's reasoning and digesting the information he provided--which, btw, is unprecedented in its shear quantity in my experience for a proprietary product--you should agree that what's "lost" isn't musically relevant because 1. it's in a region where there's no musical information, and 2. the format takes pains nevertheless to maintain any information that might be necessary to preserve temporal integrity, even in the frequency range where there's little if any musical information (more than double the upper limit of human hearing). High-res is nice but it's hideously inefficient. MQA has gone a long way toward solving this problem while making other technical improvements that seem likely to be musically relevant--and my ears tell me that they are indeed.

I think it's useful to think about this in the context of MP3. Just about everything in a CD-resolution file is potentially audible; MP3 (and similar schemes) aim to reduce file size by getting rid of the least musically relevant information. The problem is that what's musically relevant is subjective, and listening/hearing abilities vary widely; one person's irrelevant info is another person's critical timing cue. If I understand it, MQA keeps everything--losslessly--way beyond the frequencies our ears can hear. It has to because they've determined that the ear's ability to resolve in the time domain far exceeds what its (the ear's) frequency-domain performance would predict. Still, there's a lot of information above the range of human hearing--and above the range where music has any information--that isn't necessary to preserve time-domain integrity. So, compress it.

If you have no information about which part of, say, a 192/24 file is important to the musical experience, you keep all of it just to be safe. But the more you know, the more you understand, the more intelligent the decisions you can make. In my view, MQA is the result of a careful (and apparently rigorous) rethinking of digital audio delivery. If you want to understand it, you need to be willing to question, e.g., to what extent the IT-derived concept of losslessness is relevant in the high-resolution audio world.

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

crenca's picture

Only in the world of 1984 is the following true:

"On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

DRM is about (and always has been) the *legal* mechanisms used to achieve it goals, and only secondarily about any technical implementation used (e.g. some internal mechanism that makes it difficult for typical end users to "copy", etc.)

Can an end user *legally* reverse engineer an MQA encoded file if he does not have a licensed decoder (so far only hardware based) and *legally* listen to the "high res" content? No. If he does he is of course in violation of IP laws and the penalties for doing so vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

DRM is what DRM does, and MQA is DRM because it "manages" what the end user hears based on whether he has $licensed$ a decoder. MQA is DRM all day long, and no amount of Orwellian double speak from Bob or simple (willful?) ignorance from editors of audiophile blogs can change this fact.

As an editor of a blog that purports expertise in things "digital", it would behoove you to study up a bit on IP and software patents and how they are used in the market place...

(this post does not appear under Michael Lavorgna post as I intended - he is the editor to whom it is directed).

michaelavorgna's picture

Any and every MQA encoded file can be played back on any and every DAC. If you want to get something for nothing, then you've got a point. Otherwise, this years-long rant of yours is not only tired but needs to be retired.

crenca's picture

And a continuation of the double-speak. Any DAC (what Bob euphemistically calls "legacy DACs"- the kind everyone actually owns) can NOT play the "High Res" content of the MQA encoded file without an *illegal* reverse enginered hack (on the software or hardware level) THAT is DRM, all day everyday.

Your imputation of motive is also wrong. I don't want "something for nothing". If I wanted MQA I would pay for it, but I would not lie to myself or others that it is not a DRM/IP/software patent protected product. I happen to not want MQA - others do and that's fine. Either way it Is DRM today, was yesterday, and will be tomorrow...

michaelavorgna's picture

If you want to reap the full benefits of MQA end-to-end, you'll have to get an MQA-capable DAC. You want to reap the benefits of MQA without getting an MQA-enabled DAC. That = something for nothing.

Of course you can skip this entire Orwellian fantasy by simply buying hi-res downloads and playing them on your hi-res-ready DAC.

But that wouldn't be soooo dramatic, would it.

crenca's picture

You were wrong about what DRM is technically and and as a business matter. As an "audiophile" you were enthusiastic about MQA and downplayed (out of ignorance mostly) the reality of MQA and it being a product that relies on DRM for it's very place and survival in the market.

Let it go - you are the editor of a public blog (which also happens to be a business). You have to admit your failure and move on. Your readers will respect you more if you do...

michaelavorgna's picture

I just looked in the mirror to confirm ;-)

If you fact check your attributions of "you" and "yours", you'll find that they all originated with *you*. But that was a heck of a go at deflection.

crenca's picture

...and how many different ways you try to make this about me - it will always be about MQA, DRM, and your failure to understand them in relation to the digital ecosystem.

Now quit trying to save face and bone up on the basics - you have a blog and business to run that is about those very things!!!

michaelavorgna's picture

If, for you, that means I'm making this about you, then sure. As I said, my face isn't in need of saving, years aside.

How about addressing the fact that anyone can bypass MQA by simply buying a high-res download.

crenca's picture

Of course one can "by-pass" MQA by not purchasing it - that is the way markets work! This is however has nothing to do with what myself and others are saying. Strangely, you and Mr. Atkinson keep imputing ill-will on are part - that we are pointing out the FACTS of DRM and MQA because (you believe) we want "something for nothing", that we want "free lunches", etc. We are not proposing anyone *break the law* and try to circumvent the IP/DRM of MQA for piracy.

What we are pointing out is two things:

1) MQA is a DRM product all day, every day- Bob and your denials do not withstand. This fact has NOTHING to do with the problem of piracy and any roll a IP/DRM product like MQA has in "solving" this problem.

2) DRM, IP, and software patents have an impact on *legal* end users (i.e. the people who actually pay for the product) and their digital ecosystem in general in ways that are go range from "inconvenient" to "bad". This impact is large, non-trivial, etc. Thus, when end users have to consider the cost of this impact when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of MQA. In other words, MQA is not a mere sound quality tweak, or another format like PCM or FLAC, but is a different proposition altogether. It is your lack of understanding of this aspect of MQA (and digital ecosystems in general) that is really on display in your coverage of this topic.

The impact to which I refer is obvious to everyone. (Almost) everyone who reads this blog owns a TV. They understand (if only unconsciously) the roll DRM, IP, and software patents play in their ability to *legally* back up their Blue Rays or stream them from a server to an endpoint, etc. They understand that they can not skip commercials on their disks (or their DVR's) NOT because of technical limitations, but because of DRM and legal collusion between the government, hardware/software manufactures, and content providers.

Whether you agree or disagree philosophically with DRM and the problem(s) it allegedly "solves", the fact is that it has a burdensome effect everywhere it ends up. Music lovers who take advantage of the "digital" so far have been blessedly free of these burdens. MQA is a product that brings these burdens to the music lover and there is simply no way (or reason - besides a crass commercialism that is willing to simply lie) to deny it.

The "but but but what about piracy" is an industry bubble that your all stuck in. Yes, piracy is a problem - but then the music lover who actually buys your product has a "but but but", and that is the non-trivial burdens/limitations that DRM has within our digital ecosystems. You can ignore it if you wish, but it is real and we are going to of course bring it up...

michaelavorgna's picture

...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

Note - I have consistently reported on MQA's position re. DRM, I have not denied anything. Rather I understand what has been said and do not see any "DRM Trojan" other than in people's minds.

I worked for years developing custom applications mainly for Hedge Funds and while we relied on the expertise of an attorney when we looked to patent some of our work, I have experience with software and intellectual property. So your comments about my background are ill-informed.

John Atkinson's picture
michaelavorgna wrote:
...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

I think there is an exact parallel with HDCD. If you had an HDCD-capable DAC, you would get 1-2 bits greater resolution, perhaps more, from what appeared to be a regular CD. If you didn't want to pay for an HDCD decoder, you could still play the CD but at lower effective resolution.

In that sense, the same "DRM" argument could be made about HDCD, in that it restricted the quality available to people without an HDCD decoder.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

michaelavorgna's picture

And if you want play back DSD and/or anything above 24/96 you need to have the appropriate hardware/software. If you want to play back FLAC files or DSD, you cannot use iTunes. And so on...

I was hoping that "crenca" would share the practical reality of what he's been talking about for years now re. MQA and DRM. As in, exactly how will this limit MQA users. So far, all we've got are implications based on examples that have zero relevance to the question at hand coupled with baseless accusations regarding people's motives, integrity, and supposed lack of knowledge.

[Meta-content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

As Mr. Atkinson admits, the end user is managed - he can hear only what the licensor grants - in this case the 16/44 content if he does not agree to the licensor's terms (putting aside the debate that whether an MQA file actually contains the full 16/44 information that the equivalent PCM file does). PCM, DSD, Vinyl, etc. of course have none of these digital/legal limitations, and are in no way the same *legal entity* that MQA is.

The more burdensome problem is the implications of the license and everything that goes with it at the level of formats. Formats are sort of the ground we walk on in the digital world - everything else rests upon it. It's like the air we breath - now what happens to our lives when someone comes along and patents air? Or more relevant, what happens when someone comes along and patents TCP/IP? Sure, I am typing this on proprietary software (a browser by one company, an OS by another, etc.) but the "ground" of our communication is an open format called TCP/IP. Things change drastically (mostly for the worse for the end user - a small group of companies would $benefit$) if the ground becomes closed/proprietary/IP software. IF MQA (or anything like it) ever became the ground of our digital musical lives, we would all be worse off. This is a widely admitted and discussed phenomena and aspect of the market and anyone who has paid attention to and worked with software/computers/digital in the last 50 years knows what I am talking about (too many aspects to even begin to address in a comment box). We are all welcome to our opinions as to what it means to us and others, but to keep denying MQA's IP/DRM is as I have described it (Orwellian, creepy, etc.).

[Content deleted by John Atkinson - please take off-topic meta discussions off-line.]

michaelavorgna's picture

You are suggesting that if MQA takes over the digital world, it will be bad. No one has suggested this is even a possibility. For example, the MQA deal with WMG caused some concerns along these lines. So I called WMG and asked them if MQA was going to replace other high-res formats. Their answer was no.

My point being, while you paint a very dark picture using MQA, you have yet to provide one example of how this will play out in reality. For those who are not interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue. For those interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue.

[Content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

...oops, I mean I did, I did provide "one example of how this will play out in reality" - video. Have you tried to *legally* backup, copy, stream, or do anything worthwhile with your Blue Ray today (other than simply stick it in the trey and mindless absorb the FBI warning)? We don't have an analogous situation in audio because as of yet there has not been a DRM/IP takeover of our basic formats. MQA is not that yet, but as your fellow journalist Robert Harely admitted (probably in an unguarded moment) such a takeover is THE holy grail of the industry. He then in the same article incongruently argued that MQA is not a DRM product, which simply reveals that the audiophile press is either being willfully ignorant as to what DRM is or has no small amount of catching up to do on the subject.

[Content deleted by John Atkinson]

michaelavorgna's picture

Have a nice day, "crenca".

volvic's picture

I have no interest in MQA, have my CD's on a computer setup and very happy. Bob Stuart and Meridian have put out products that speak for themselves, and I own a few of them, and can only say that their after sales service is stellar, not to mention their work in the digital field is some of the best in the hi-if world. I wish I had a quarter of the engineering intelligence that Mr. Stuart has, to dismiss all his contributions and question his integrity is to me a new low on these pages. But then again Mr. Stuart doesn't need me to defend his place in audio history, it is already well entrenched.

eriks's picture

MQA compression is like MPEG compression. By understanding the contents of the faile, you can achieve much higher compression than in say Zip compression, which does not.

MPEG captures each new scene, and records the deltas. Of course, it can be lossy, but it doesn't have to. By doing this alone an order of magnitude better compression is achieved than Zip.

MQA is also being smart about what it's looking at. They make the postulate, one I agree with, that information density above 20kHz is much smaller than below, so let's alter how it's encoded to take advantage of it. Then this becomes a straightforward encoding issue. This only works for audio though, for broad band digital encoding of analog signals which do not fit the music profile this would be useless. Much like MPEG which only works because of how movies are spliced together, MQA only works because of the nature of music.

I really wish this had been introduced 20 years ago though, then MP3 would never have succeeded. If it's useful I suspect we'll see open-source compression schemes which take advantage of this idea come out in the future.

Best,

Erik

Archimago's picture

Hello Erik,
MQA would not have supplanted MP3 20 years ago. MP3 compression is much smaller in terms of bitrate. In order for MQA to maintain a "compatible" bitstream, the more significant bits have to represent standard PCM so any DAC can playback. What we have seen thus far, MQA starts at the size of 24/44 files which is *even larger* than the file from a ripped CD (16/44).

Furthermore, from what I have seen, the lowest 8 bits of these 24/44 file appears to be less compressible by a lossless encoder like FLAC. No way MQA would have provided the filesize reduction of MP3 like 128kbps back in the day or more typically 256+kbps these days with essentially CD-quality files.

eriks's picture

This would be easier if we had a spreadsheet. You could very well be right! Let me tell you what I've seen. I have a Mytek, and grabbed some files from http://www.2l.no/hires/. I used the two tracks (in multiple formats for each) from:

Vivaldi: Recitative and Aria from Cantata RV 679, "Che giova il sospirar, povero core"

The 352.8k/24 bit MQA file was 39 MB MQA file but the equivalent FLAC file was 284 MB for a little over 7x compression. Not bad at all. I did not listen to that one though, trying to compare similar sized MQA to similar sized FLAC I chose the 96/24.

Also, keep in mind that where we fold the frequency response is arbitrary. We could attempt to fold 44/16 instead of 384/24. I'm sure it would be smaller than flac. No idea if it would in the end be competitive with MP3 though.

Still I can hope, right? :)

Erik

Archimago's picture

I appreciate your hope in what MQA can accomplish. But that's not how it works. You cannot perform this audio "origami" ad infinitum to reach MP3 size with anywhere close to the quality of an MP3 data stream based on what we've seen.

In fact, since we do not have access to the decoded digital data from an MQA --> PCM to look at the frequencies beyond the 22/24kHz baseband, it's hard to quantify just how much lossy change has been imparted on the signal in the upper octaves.

Remember, you were talking about MQA supplanting MP3 if invented 20 years ago. Back then when many of us were using 56kbps modems, 128kbps music downloads were realistic though still took time. This low bitrate is FAR lower than what we're talking about here!

eriks's picture

I don't think it's appropriate to say "lossy change" since it's been described as lossless. However, earlier articles in Stereophile did in fact compare content above 20kHz and were pretty positive, with tiny changes in overall output.

Of course, it's fine to still be skeptical about whether it's lossy or not.

Best,

Erik

Archimago's picture

I believe the use of "lossy change" in the upper octaves (above 22/24kHz) is absolutely appropriate in the context of how we've defined "lossless" for the last couple of decades at least.

Let's quote Mr. Stuart:
"• b) There is no foolery here: MQA does indeed reconstruct a remarkably close approximation to the original ultrasonic information from the lower bits of a 24-bit signal."

It's not an exact replica as the term "lossless" implies as applied to a CODEC like FLAC/APE/WV/ALAC. We could say that high bit-rate MP3 reconstructs a remarkably close approximation as well... This is obvious and we did not need Mr. Stuart's lengthy Q&A's to understand this is how it has to work.

Of course, just how "remarkably close" the MQA algorithm gets it right is something we cannot answer at this time.

eriks's picture

Thank you, I missed that part about it being an approximation. I had assumed Stuart's point was that music didn't need the n most significant bits above k frequency, and then compressed and hid what remained, which in my mind is pretty brilliant.

I had not realized it was some sort of reconstruction, which is different from decompression. My bad for reading right over that part. Now we are back in MP3 land in terms of being lossy.

Best,

Erik

NeilS's picture

Absent from Mr. Stuart's rather abstruse and lengthy essay are answers to the issues raised in Archimago's first comment ("Thank you for the series") on this thread. I don't think it's the first time they've been raised. They appear to me to be germane, and whether enthusiastic, skeptical or merely curious about MQA, I believe readers would benefit from a clear and direct response from Mr. Stuart.

low2midhifi's picture

All of these downloading/streaming articles make me wonder what the automotive equivalent might be.

Wouldn't be fascinating that I would have to wade through such opaque dissertations to know where to fill my car with gas, where to change the oil, where, perchance, to have my factory transmission replaced for some other contrarian engineering standard which might have exceeded that which came with my car?

All of these "dueling" standards over which standard to stream and download leave me glad for my CD purchases. CDs may be inferior, but it's a reliable and tradable format. If I don't like a CD, I sell it; there's a ready market for such misfires in my purchases. I don't know where I'd sell my Studebaker-like MQA, MP3, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, IRAQ... files on my Seagate hard-drive, and soon-to-be-obsolete tablet menu software.

Let these interested parties in the downloading/streaming world debate what appear to be varying versions of the Confederate Dollar (no offense to audiophiles south of the Mason-Dixon line). This technological hair-splitting (all to hear songs that only an even smaller audience will like) puts the audiophile pursuit--already a marginal endeavor--even further to the outer reaches of the Solar System, Kuiper Belt, or Oort Cloud, of ever more constrained disposable income, and dwindling patience of we sympathizers of the hobby.

Keep us posted when the doctoral dissertation critiques, and standards of the week, settle on something that many of us would bother to purchase. Keep us posted when the "latest and greatest" will not be the"has-been standard" of the same forum of audio enthusiasts two years hence. VHS -vs- Betamax, Toshiba HD -vs- BluRay was nothing compared to this audio Ecumenical Council.

I look forward to the latest CD releases and recommendations from Stereophile, Amazon, Arkivmusc, Allmusic, etc. while the academic debate on the competing "internal combustion engine designs" rages on elsewhere.

When you have decided if the "new car" should have 4 or 6 or 8 or 3 wheels, let us know. When you know if the steering wheel will be on the left, right, or center, let us know, When you know, whether the "new car" runs on diesel, gasoline, kerosene, coal, wood chips, cow chips, sugar cane chaff, Uranium, moonshine, corncobs, let the rest of us know.

Until the next article, we all wait.

dalethorn's picture

I skipped over the math, but it being publicly asserted, I accept that it will hold up and the "high res container" concept will prove itself. Crypto people were talking about steganography back in the 90's before the War on Terror, and now we know that it works well enough that our intel agencies depend more on the old-fashioned ear to the ground and social engineering than they do being able to crack crypto codes. I don't see any reason why MQA licensing should be more intrusive than Dolby or any of the hundreds of license holders you see in the iPhone 'About/Legal' screens.

crenca's picture

"don't see any reason why MQA licensing should be more intrusive than Dolby or any of the hundreds of license holders you see in the iPhone 'About/Legal' screens"

And will be part of the success of MQA if it actually ever gains any significant market penetration. The denial of the IP/DRM/software patent aspect of MQA, and the claims that MQA is the *legal* equivalent of software such as FLAC or PCM encoded files however would be almost acceptable if it was just Bob and his marketing team (we all know marketing is a little truth and a lot of untruth). However, the attempt by the "audiophile press" to no simply regurgitate these untruths but to further defend them is just a wee bit unnerving...

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

You, cranky Crenca, without ever sharing who you are, have waged a one-person war on MQA on multiple websites for an exceedingly long time. No matter what facts are provided, you counter them. If people claim they hear differences, you undercut them. If your arguments don't hold up to scrutiny, you resort to personal attacks. That's your M.O.

All the finger pointing makes for excellent drama. But in the end, it will go for nought. Ultimately, the success of MQA will depend on the strength of the campaign to educate the public, and what people hear. The public's ears will be the ultimate judge. Happily, when they listen, they will listen to music, not to this blather.

I'm heading on vacation. Keep up the good fight.

mcgilroy's picture

Where exactly in his post has Crenca personally attacked you or other individuals at Stereophile or provide any untruths?!

He simply pointed out the consequent overlooking of the IP/DRM aspect of MQA and the failure of the audiophile press to address this issue properly. Being lectured about "educating the public" by proponents who are avoiding to do so is exactly why somebody like Crenca is unnerved.

Actually Crenca contributed to educating the public when he pointed out the significance of the observation of the previous poster as valuable. Just as Dolby licensing primary burdened hardware manufactures and not the content-buying consumer MQA most likely will burden DAC & ADC manufactures. Many of which have publicly voiced their criticism of MQA.

Happy holidays and if you have same spare time you might enjoy reading up on DRM and it's history. It's worth it.

jimtavegia's picture

It is most hard for your folks or at Meridian to argue with folks who live in a country that ranks 28th? in the world in Math Ability. A sad state of affairs for sure. The Math presented here IS most difficult and as we are learning there is much going on in digital audio that is not fully fully understood even yet, and more will be uncovered in the future. Think back to when the issue of jitter was first present and that is easily understood now and what an important issue it was and is, but is only a small part of the digital process, and differences audibly discernable.

When you sit in middle school math classes as a teacher like I do every day with students who can't add, subtract, or multiply with any proficiency I have problems of explaining things mathematically. I taught high school math for 6 years and came back to MS to try and fix was has gone horribly wrong in our math world. I have a wonderful lady down the hall with a masters from Georgia Tech teaching the brighter math students to take them to new heights. I have more job security. lol She often asks me how I can do what I do.

Even forgetting the very high level math going on, it always comes down to the bottom line of whether you can HEAR the improvements or not and all too many trained listeners can and have, and reported it here. No one can say that they doubt the finding just because they don't understand the math, which is incredibly foolish and only exposes yourself as one who disavows what they don't understand. It is alright to not understand all the math going on and how it relates to what we hear. The folks at Meridian are doing that for us.

The other issue, and the main one to me, is our own personal hearing flaws and differences that has become more apparent to me in my quest to find some great headphones that work for ME and MY hearing deficiencies, which are great at 69. Accurate to whom? My hearing is not the same as JA's, Tylls', or anyone else, or Bob Stuart's. What changes in frequency response I need will not work for anyone else. I can tell you that what is accurate or pleasing to them does not work for me and my HF loss. So if you, or anyone else is trying to discern the audibility of 16/44.1, 24/96, 24/192, or DSD...on what are you listening, where it is set up and does it match up to YOU and your hearing accuracy (loss)? Is your room a sonic mess? What is bright to some would not be bright to me, I can assure you, and so my level of discernment of "BETTER" will not be the same for anyone at Stereophile or anyone with near perfect hearing, whatever that is. I have learned my lesson with my Focal Spirit Pro headphones and their reduced HF energy that make then sound so dull to me. Buying them off a great review was a mistake as the reviewer and I do not HEAR the same, but they can easily work for someone with no hearing loss.

If all, or most of the folks who have attended the listening sessions for MQA can hear an improvement of what MQA can do ( and I do believe them to be honest folks, by the way) why should I doubt it even if I don't understand all the math (I don't by the way) if the result IS an "audible improvement"? If even 4 out of 5 agree, 80% does win in my math world. If the 1 out of 5 does not have near perfect hearing why would I trust his opinion anyway? I might not even know that they are not a music lover or even care about the music selected for the audition which WOULD matter as it is one of the parameters (variables) of the trial that can't be discounted as a factor. Everything matters even a + .1db change in loudness often has one preferring the "louder" as the better which is often not the case.

It is sad to read some of the comments here. I do not believe that one can present all that is going on with MQA that can be presented in a simple way, as it is not simple, but for those like me, all that matters is can I hear the improvement that all their hard work has achieved? If I can't, my only decision is to become a customer or not. My choice. It does not discount their work or their achievement. I must accept the humbling fact that I am the problem if I can't hear the improvement, too often a hard thing for people to do. Hearing small improvements is hard work, but after reading the comments of those hearing the demonstrations of the trials, these are NOT small improvements.

Archimago's picture

Hi Jim,
I've seen some of your comments over the years and appreciate your education background. It is indeed a very difficult task working in and watching the education landscape as you have.

Note though that a number of us have raised concerns about MQA that I think very much resonates with what you bring up. Essentially, "the numbers don't seem to add up" when it comes to the claims; at least not in the way the product is being marketed as being some kind of massive or "revolutionary" improvement.

- Language and meanings are being redefined euphemistically like "lossless" (they're really referring to "perceptually lossless" rather than bit-perfect lossless we're used to).

- I raised above the question of time domain issues with speakers which this technique cannot compensate for. This is important given the time-domain rationale for improved fidelity.

- The technique is proprietary and brings with it limitations to how it can be decoded (hence the IP comments) - on the consumer side, room correction DSP cannot be applied to the decoded data, nor would you be able to experiment with filter settings like HQPlayer. For hardware manufacturers, they would have to comply with MQA's "authenticated" decoder every time an MQA file is encountered in order to decode the full resolution. This would limit customized processing/filtering during playback of these file (like what PS Audio or Ayre currently does in their DACs).

Note that I do appreciate innovation and have no problem with a business making money on their ingenuity. But this technique is highly suspect starting even from the neuroscience research they are quoting and extrapolating from (eg. the whole Oohashi ultrasonic effect, look up the research paper and see what you think), all the way to hyping up the recent CD vs. high-resolution meta-analysis.

Jim, you seem like a nice man. But I believe you need to think a bit more critically about what you're reading here... In sum, the claims and theory of improved fidelity are highly suspect considering the cost including loss of freedom compared to what we already have with non-proprietary PCM and DSD.

By the way, I have "heard" MQA in one of their demos. The music sounded great, but it better sound great from a $500K sound system! But like countless other demos and complaints I have heard, they did not bother with an A/B comparison. This is why I think they need to be more open and I would challenge them to release a non-MQA standard file upsampled to 24/192 as well as an MQA-decoded file in 24/192 so anyone with a hi-res DAC that can handle 24/192 can compare in their own home to experience the difference MQA can make even if not sounding optimal. [By releasing in 192kHz, the internal antialiasing filter from one's DAC will have much less contribution to the overall sound and we should be able to evaluate a significant amount of the claimed time-domain improvement.]

jimtavegia's picture

I have just found that I really like recording and listening to 2496, but at my age I can hear some improvement when I record at 24192, but it is not consistent, but I think that has more to do with the program material and my hearing loss.

I have also not been reading anywhere else about the "problems?" with PCM at 2496, 24192, or 24384 before, so this was somewhat new to me that I will reread Stuart's comments and try to understand more...if I can. It may be beyond me at 69. I am still in the camp that if it sounds better to me it is.

I am still considering buying a Tascam DA-3000 (24192 & DSD) for my location recording work as leaving a venue and session with more is always a great thing and then mixing it down to what people can use is what I would do. My DA-688 does 24192, but I am not sure if the converters are of a high enough quality to make much difference as it is "consumer priced". I certainly does capture more.

This is all going to be fun to follow and see where it lands. I really didn't want to have to do more "homework" for this hobby of ours, but that has changed.

It may be that all of this has raised more questions than it has answered for many. The discussion is a good one.

Jim

NeilS's picture

For what it's worth, I think it's not an unreasonable expectation that editors and columnists in a professional publication model respectful and professional civil debate on its comment boards. Perhaps Mr. Atkinson, whom I think does, might have a gentle word with some of his colleagues?

Vade Forrester's picture

Whew! It's nice to see all the scientific background about MQA, and interesting to read the objections posed. But it seems to me there are two, and only two, questions that need to be resolved about MQA:

1. Does MQA sound as good or better than the best other processes for making music recordings? In other words, does it sound as good or better than DSD or high-resolution PCM recordings?

and

2. Are files produced by the MQA recording process significantly smaller than other formats?

If the answer to both of those questions is Yes, then MQA is good and should be widely adopted. If the answer to only the first question is Yes, MQA is good but whether it should be adopted depends on how much better it sounds than other recording processes. If the answer to the first question is No, then why bother with a process that sounds worse than what we already have?

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

jimtavegia's picture

Streaming listeners might, but I doubt it as for them it is not about quality, but the old background music is good enough idea. Storage is so cheap these days that I don't worry about it any more.

My main listening is 2496 downloads when I find something I like and then burn them to DVD-R's or just keep them in my computer for playback.

I am a late adopter, so we will see about MQA. Right now a very good usb dac for up to 24/192 is $150 so, I will wait.

Vade Forrester's picture

Jim, the industry is moving towards streaming as the preferred way to listen to music. I'd love to be able to listen to the best sound quality streamed from the huge libraries of online sites like Tidal without having to store or buy anything other than a monthly subscription. I envision listening in my car, on my cell phone, and of course on my hifi.

For $299, you can get a very good DAC that plays PCM files up to 192/24 and also MQA. By high-end standards, that's a bargain.

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

Archimago's picture

Right Vade. I don't want to be pedantic but do want to be clear so that folks are aware of the opposition and concerns from many in the audiophile hobby community.

1. Does it sound as good as everything else?
- How can we know without proper A/B demos or released decoded files for comparison?
- Do we just trust the testimony of a few who might have had access to original files + MQA decoding to base our decisions?
- Do we just go ahead and buy a DAC to try and potentially waste money and time with returning it if we don't ultimately think it's worthwhile? If I bought a few MQA-encoded downloads to try, can I also return that easily?
- We do know that the "end-to-end" process for MQA terminates at the DAC; not the speakers which is where distortion and time-domain smearing might be significant issues.
- MQA is not DSD. Anything that was recorded in DSD will need to be converted to PCM to go through the MQA process.
- (Although I don't think it's worth arguing about at this point, MQA does still mess with the full bit-depth though understandably so long as it's unobtrusive, music does not require a full 24-bits.)

2. Are files significantly smaller?
- Compared to 24/96 and 24/192+ FLAC files. Yes.
- But it looks to be larger than the size of typical 24/44 or 24/48 FLAC files.
- So for streaming purposes, it'll be larger than current Tidal FLAC streamed at CD bitrate of 16/44 by at least 50%. As Jim suggests, is it really worth an extra 50% data bandwidth for the streaming crowd, many of whom using cell phones and limited data plans?

3. Is it worth the loss of freedom we already enjoy?
- As a hobbyist who wants to optimize sound in my room, I want to be able to play with digital filters myself. And I want to be able to listen with customized DSP room correction which will do time domain correction for my speakers in my room.
- MQA takes away that freedom within the digital domain because we are not allowed to access the decoded full quality digital stream. If MQA gets adopted widely and becomes the only "high resolution" format, then it will be a setback for those of us wanting to achieve the best fidelity IMO. High resolution DACs are already excellent with many companies doing different and innovative things to optimize sound, and high resolution downloads are already plentiful.

------

From my perspective, this whole "end-to-end" authentication business is unnecessarily backwards because it doesn't fix the speaker time domain issues AND it takes away from the freedom of those of us who want to implement a fix! It only exists as a business model for licensing as far as I can tell.

What could be of value here is MQA's DSP processing technique to improve the mastering if the theory is true that their processing can improve time-domain accuracy from the studio. Let the studio implement the MQA processing technique and use it with their highest quality projects. Then they can proudly put a sticker advertising that their recording and processing techniques conformed to MQA standards of time-domain accuracy. Release that as "MQA-HR" 24/192+. It'll be like how JVC specially processed CD's to be "XRCD". The whole encapsulation/origami/lossy ultrasonic piece isn't needed for fidelity.

Vade Forrester's picture

Archimago, I understand your concern about DRM, but to me, that's a personal issue. I have nothing to add to the exhaustive discussions that have taken place about this issue. I respect your concerns, though I don't share them. Another exhaustively debated issue is whether MQA is lossless. I have nothing to add except to say who cares? If MQA sounds as good or better than existing recording processes, that's what matters to me. I respect those who are concerned about losslessness, but don't share that concern. For me, it's all about the sound quality.

After I submitted my post, I read John Atkinson's message about employees of other magazines needing to identify themselves, which I neglected to do out of ignorance. I am a reviewer for The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network magazines, in addition to being a long-time subscriber to Stereophile and regular reader of the excellent AudioStream website, from which I've learned a lot. I'll be careful to observe your rule in the future.

Vade Forrester

Archimago's picture

Thanks for the response.

Actually, in the discussions here, I have not invoked the term DRM but rather specifically highlighted how this would practically affect those of us already trying our best to improve fidelity. I'll leave the legal discussions to those more versed :-).

Remember, there is no magic here.

As a writer and reviewer in the audiophile press, you do have a stake in this and IMO you do have to educate yourself about how this works because that is your role as a journalist and your responsibility to your readers. It is only then that you can independently evaluate the merits of what is presented before you - able to intelligently question claims that make little sense, and endorse based on objective merit hopefully consonant with subjective impression rather than simply personal preferences.

I think readers would want to know if with your understanding and experience, this represents a path forward to advance the cause of fidelity, future innovation, and provides a freedom for them to optimize fidelity that they already enjoy.

Vade Forrester's picture

Archimago, I am diligently trying to learn everything possible about MQA so I can discuss it knowledgeably for my readers. That's why I read everything I can find about it in every forum I think is useful like this one.

I've already outlined my simplified criteria for assessing whether MQA is worthwhile. Until I can personally listen to MQA files and compare them to the the same performances recorded as the highest-resolution standard PCM and DSD files, I won't have an opinion about their sound quality. To do that I'll need a DAC that can reproduce MQA, PCM, and DSD. So far, none have come my way.

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

Archimago's picture

And totally respect the position.

John Atkinson's picture
Vade Forrester wrote:
After I submitted my post, I read John Atkinson's message about employees of other magazines needing to identify themselves, which I neglected to do out of ignorance. I am a reviewer for The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network magazines...

Thank you, Vade.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

“If you can’t hear it it’s all academic.” Paul Klipsch

Taken one way, I have nine albums that I use to test. Until Sony and Universal are MQA licenses and release six albums they own the rights to I can’t test MQA. Warner owns the rights to three albums so I wonder when and where I can download them. So does Warner in their latest SEC filing one of their business risks is “our dependence on a limited number of digital music services for the online sale of our music recordings and their ability to significantly influence the pricing structure for online music stores.” I can’t buy the music I want as MQA files so for me it is academic until I can.

Taken a second way I listened to MQA files in Meridian’s room at T.H.E. Show this year. Michael Lavorgna posted his thoughts about the Doors “Riders on the Storm” on MQA May 26, 2016. He found the rain more realistic than his hi-res version. I was allowed an A-B test with “Riders on the Storm.” Michael and I agree the rain is more “realistic” on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate. This is a small difference but it will require more testing. And I was listening in a hotel room to unfamiliar equipment so I can’t make any conclusions until hear MQA in familiar surroundings and with familiar equipment. So again academic until I compare file formats to see if I can hear any differences.

One comment, don’t forget there are a lot of hi-res files that sound worse than their CD counterparts.

One question what is the difference between “white glove” MQA files and those converted by automated processes?

John Atkinson's picture
rt66indierock wrote:
Michael and I agree the rain is more “realistic” on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate.

I am not sure I am understanding you here. The rain on "Riders on the Storm" is not "produced by a Fender Rhodes"; there is a recording of real rain that is mixed in with the recorded Rhodes electric piano (an instrument where hammers hit tuned metal tines that excite electromagnetic pickups). The sounds of the rain and the piano are separate acoustic objects in the mix.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

John,

The rain on Riders on the Storm was created two ways, one was a recording the other was a Fender Rhodes. My source is Ray Manzarek keyboardist for the Doors. He would have no reason to lie to me in the seventies. In any case I found this quote after reading your response. "Nothing could play rain like a Rhodes piano," said Manzarek, who no longer owns a Rhodes piano and had to borrow one from a collector to play on a recent VH1 "Storytellers" episode. This is from the obituary of Harold Rhodes, MTV News January 4, 2001.

I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

John Atkinson's picture
rt66indierock wrote:
The rain on Riders on the Storm was created two ways, one was a recording the other was a Fender Rhodes . . . I found this quote after reading your response. "Nothing could play rain like a Rhodes piano," said Manzarek, who no longer owns a Rhodes piano and had to borrow one from a collector to play on a recent VH1 "Storytellers" episode.

I think you are taking Ray Manzarek's words as being literal when they were not. He was referring to the downward broken-octave figure that represents the rain, not the actual sound of the rain, which was a sound-effects recording and, as Michael Lavorgna has clarified, was what he was referring to.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

John, I had a conversation with Ray in the seventies about the sound effects that can be created on electric pianos. So I’m not taking a quote from 2001 too literally I’m relating a conversation. Part of the conversation was about the song. He told me there are two parts to the rain one is the recording of the rain and the other he played on the Rhodes. As I said the recording of rain and thunder sounds more natural on the MQA version but the rain sounds created on the Rhodes sound the same which is not the way the record sounds to me. Michael’s high-res version apparently has the all the rain sounding like it was created on the Rhodes which also not the way the record sounds to me. So to me neither is correct and the cause is probably in the remastering. Like I said before I need to do more testing.

As for sounds the Rhodes, when you play rain on it can sound like glass beads hitting plexiglass. Very cold rain hitting a plexiglass window sounds the same. I’m a golfer from the Pacific Northwest so I’ve been in houses with plexiglass windows on the sides that face the golf course and noticed the difference in the sounds of cold rain hitting plexiglass and regular tempered glass. And I noticed how similar the sound of cold rain hitting a plexiglass window sounds to a Rhodes producing the effect of rain.

On both of the files I heard in the Meridian room at T.H.E. Show the rain sounded the same on each file when there should be two rain sounds. The non MQA file all the rain sounded like it was all played on a Rhodes. The MQA file sounds like the rain in the recording only.

michaelavorgna's picture

The rain in "Riders On The Storm", as well as the thunder, are recordings of rain and thunder. This was obvious back in the '70s when I listened to the LP, and it's obvious again with MQA.

rt66indierock's picture

Michael,

It wasn’t obvious to me so I asked Ray. He told he played part of the rain. See my response to John above.

michaelavorgna's picture

...in your original comment you stated, "Michael and I agree the rain is more 'realistic' on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate."

I was talking about the sound of the real (recorded) rain, not Ray's Rhodes, i.e. I would say the MQA version is more natural sounding. I'd love to get Ray's take on the MQA version since I'd extrapolate from my observations that Ray would find his Rhodes sounds more natural, too.

TJ's picture

Thank you, John and Michael, for posting this wonderfully clear and insightful explanation of so many interesting topics that are not easily understood except by experts in this field. It's answered lots of perplexing questions for me on the first reading, and will probably answer more as I go back over it. John, you and your team are setting the standard in the industry for the work you're doing, month by month. Your readers have a debt of gratitude to each of you for that.

JimAustin's picture

The obsession with DRM arises, I suspect, from an information-technology mentality--specifically from people who believe that "information ought to be free." But there are problems with this point of view--very serious problems.

1. I think some people need to think a bit more about the issue of authentication. I suspect that many of the people who shout "DRM! DRM!" are the same people who complain when they download a high-res file from a prominent high-res music site only to find that it's upsampled CD quality. Beyond iTunes and iPods, I avoided the world of servers and digital audio files for years, for precisely this reason: There were (are?) no reliable sources of high-quality audio files. (I finally built my own server, and ripped all my CDs, this past winter.)

Who wants to pay 24 bucks for a file of which the only difference from CD-resolution is that it takes far longer to download?

We need authentication. Digital files are easy to manipulate--especially when they're in an open format! When we buy something, we need to have a reason to have confidence in what we're buying. And while some of us may enjoy that kind of thing, we shouldn't have to analyze every file we download to make sure it has the spectral content we paid for. We need authentication.

2. I'm guessing that in their other lives (the lives in which, presumably, they are willing to admit to being who they are), pseudonymous critics (talk about authentication issues!) probably like to get paid for their work. They deserve to, and so do musicians. It's no secret that the music industry is far less profitable than it once was--that many artists struggle to get paid for the music they create. The reasons are complex, but they boil down to: The Internet. Free information.

MQA is not DRM. It's just obviously not, in any reasonable or conventional interpretation of that phrase. But--I am speaking for myself only--it clearly IS an attempt to gain a certain amount of leverage over the digital distribution chain: You can do whatever you want with an MQA file, but you can't play it back at optimal quality without an appropriate tool. I enjoy recorded music enough that I'm willing to pay if it means that more artists will be able to make a living. Any new approach that has the potential to help the industry regain a bit of its former health, I'm OK with.

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture
JimAustin wrote:
MQA is not DRM. It's just obviously not, in any reasonable or conventional interpretation of that phrase. But--I am speaking for myself only--it clearly IS an attempt to gain a certain amount of leverage over the digital distribution chain.

I think you are correct here, Jim. I wrote in a comment to my 2014 article on MQA—see www.stereophile.com/content/ive-heard-future-streaming-meridians-mqa—that the record company will no longer be selling a duplicate of their hi-rez master, with all the implications for piracy that that implies. Instead, they are selling something that might well sound identical to the master, but doesn't allow the master to be re-created. In other words, it is like DRM but without all the hoopla that traditional DRM involves.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

...practical or "real world" effects - particularly on the wider digital ecosystem. One can narrowly define DRM (or anything), point out how this or that does not fit (in this case MQA), and end up with a (false) picture.

This is a good example:

" Instead, they are selling something that might well sound identical to the master, but doesn't allow the master to be re-created."

followed by:

"In other words, it is like DRM but without all the hoopla that traditional DRM involves."

The thing is, as a pragmatic matter MQA is DRM - indeed it is a very good example of it. The technical aspects/implementation are a side show because DRM is about accomplishing a goal: "managing" an end user (his "rights"), in a "digital" space (thus the acronym "DRM"). In other words, for some goal of your own which I don't understand (you simply appear to be twisting words to sell something) you are wanting MQA to not be a DRM product when it is. As you yourself admit, it by design (DRM) accomplishes a very pragmatic goal of limiting the end user in some important (to labels, artists, etc.) way.

Those of us who have experience with and understand the larger digital ecosystem understand not only the DRM taken as a thing in-of-itself, but also understand the wider implications. We have been managing such things in the digital space for years.

Obviously, DRM (like any legal restriction, contract, etc.) is not an evil in of itself - it can have its place. The question is what place, and do consumers understand it, and what role does a publication such as yours have in informing your customers about it?

For what ever reason, the editors here have decided that MQA is a some kind of unqualified good and the reality of DRM is to be explained away. The thing is, the modern "digital" or "computer" audiophile and consumer has access to multiple sources of information and they by experience know something of pragmatical effect DRM has in their own digital ecosystems (e.g. video is an obvious example).

I say all this as just to point out you have an uphill battle, and I have to wonder out loud why you think the the Clintonesque "...it depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is..." your doing with DRM is going to actually change anyone's mind? Heck, I have to wonder out loud if you actually believe it! At the end of the day, it makes your publication/project look very anti-consumer...

Archimago's picture

1. Any example of how "authentication" can make anything better? So you now have 1 file type. That doesn't necessarily guarantee that it was sourced from the "best" master. Remember Pono and their blue light to "verify" that it was a genuine item from the store? Did anyone ask for that? Is there actually any demand for this among the music buying public? Do you think a studio will actually go back to the original master tapes, figure out what ADC was used, maybe what studio DSP processing was done so they can accurately "de-blur" every single song they recorded? More likely they're just going to automate the process and give us an MQA file spit out by the encoder and that will be as "authentic" as anything else they give us.

2. How does MQA result in less piracy? MQA has stated time and again in defense of it being not DRM, it doesn't stop file copying (like DRM techniques in the past that disrupt playback - eg. Cinavia). Furthermore, they claim that these MQA files sound "better" than standard 16/44. For the folks who don't care about quality, they might as well just convert these 24/44 files to 16/44 and upload to their iPhone or whatever they use.

The only thing this ends up doing is maybe grab a few dollars for MQA/Meridian with a few folks buying new DACs licensed for MQA playback (let's not forget the time and probably licensing costs for studios and audiophile hardware manufacturers to implement this in their DACs). If a song is only available in the MQA format, it will end up on a torrent somewhere. And if there is enough interest, the algorithm will probably be reverse-engineered and decoded as a flat PCM as HDCD was in years past.

Yes, artists should be paid for the work they do. Just not sure how MQA is realistically supposed to make any difference.

JimAustin's picture

as soon as I know whom I'm talking to--not before.

Jim

Archimago's picture

I think from your response that you see merit in my thought process. Could they not be discussed as is?

Does it matter who I am other than that I am an audiophile, enjoy the hobby for years, and I have a blog with about 200 posts showing much of what I own including my soundroom and how I've been curious about how audio works? You likely will know more about me by going through the blog than I know of you.

I can tell you though that I have no affiliation with the audio industry other than as a consumer. And coincidentally, like "crenca" above, my professional background is in medicine including research.

NeilS's picture

It seems that Mr. Austin has a problem with responding to the comments of unaffiliated anonymous posters. However, if posting as an editor of Stereophile, shouldn't Mr. Austin be willing to support and comply with Stereophile's policy as set out in Mr. Atkinson's post above, i.e., "...If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."?

"...Our rule is that if you are affiliated with the audio industry, you must include that affiliation in your postings. That is to prevent people working for an audio company posting praise of their own products or dissing a competitor's products. If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous. However, I feel then that your comments should not be weighted as heavily as if they were..."

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
However, if posting as an editor of Stereophile, shouldn't Mr. Austin be willing to support and comply with Stereophile's policy as set out in Mr. Atkinson's post above, i.e., "...If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."?

Jim Austin conforms to our policy by posting under his real name and identifying himself as being affiliated with Stereophile.

The policy does not cover how much weight should be given the comments of posters who don't wish to reveal their true identities; that is a personal decision and Jim has not contravened any rules.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Requiring industry affiliated posters to identify themselves as such, as I've said, I understand and appreciate. The point I was making was that for an editor to make their response conditional on whether an unaffiliated poster uses their real name seems to me inconsistent with your policy that "If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..." Since the large majority of those posting on this blog appear to be anonymous, it would seem to effectively convert such an editor's comment into an unchallengeable monologue.

These are different issues than your policy that it is a personal decision whether an editor chooses to weight the validity of the comment according to the degree of the poster's anonymity. As I've said, such a weighting strikes me as illogical.

Anyways, 'nuff said - it's your blog.

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
The point I was making was that for an editor to make their response conditional on whether an unaffiliated poster uses their real name seems to me inconsistent with your policy that "If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."

No inconsistency. The first is an individual choice on the part of Stereophile's writers and editors; the second is general policy.

NeilS wrote:
Since the large majority of those posting on this blog appear to be anonymous, it would seem to effectively convert such an editor's comment into an unchallengeable monologue.

Not so. If I wanted this site to be as you describe, I would disable the comments function. But as every poster, whether they subscribe to Stereophile or not, is allowed to post and have their comments read, provided they confirm to our rules, your conjecture is incorrect.

NeilS wrote:
Anyways, 'nuff said - it's your blog.

Indeed it is.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jimtavegia's picture

and I am also not worried about free as I believe that artists should be compensated for their work and all too many are not. We have been around this block all too many times. I want artists whose work I admire and want to hear over and over to be bought by me and others so they can make a living doing what they love to do. I would not spin my 3 turntables almost daily if convenient was my thing, but there are now many lps that I don't listen to much anymore as their sound quality is lacking either from the recording or the pressing and I don't agonize over which is the problem as I do care about my time and most of mine is in the bottom of my hour glass.

So, eClassical, Linn, Soundkeeper, BlueCoast, Primephonic, and HD Tracks will continue to get some of my cash as they are about quality. I even have a redbook release from Primephonic that is a superb recording and better than many a redbook CD I own, so quality can be done in redbook somebody just needs to care.

It will be fun to watch how this all plays out and if the masses ever start caring about quality over convenience and free. I'm not going to hold my breath. It will be fun to see what new hardware comes down the pike as well. But remembering that DVD-A and SACD players were not crazy expensive and still did not get the masses on board, sadly.

crenca's picture

When you say:

"and I am also not worried about free as I believe that artists should be compensated for their work and all too many are not"

I think that is a real worry behind much of what the editors say here (indeed I can't tell the difference between them and your average label/RIAA spokesperson). On my network you will not find a single digital music file that was not bought and paid for. Like probably most here have a collection of digital music (I am all digital - no analog) that is worth $thousands$ - indeed my collection is small compared to most.

I get the industries problem (piracy) - what I don't get is how hamstringing your actual paying customers (like myself) with deleterious DRM formats is a solution to said problem. As video has shown us, it is a complete failure at slowing (let alone stopping) piracy and complete success in limiting/annoying $paying$ customers...

Pages

MQA: Questions and Answers Sidebar 3: Example: Portland State: Amazing Grace: Audibility Analysis

Thu, 08/11/2016

COMMENTS
adrianIII's picture

Would someone summarize these results in 25 words or less of regular-speak? Thanks!

eriks's picture

The meat for me is in the attempts at temporal correctness. I haven't yet digested it all, but Stuarts is making the argument that the filters necessary in digital recording and playback spread energy around in time (established truth of all filters, digital or analog), much further than most of us would have guessed (new to me). Instead of acting like a modern TV screen, where images are either on or off, digital audio has been like the old black and white TV's where rapidly changing images leave streaks.

Another analogy of course is the speaker. The ideal speaker has no stored energy. It's movement at any moment of time is 100% determined by the instantaneous voltage at the inputs with no "memory" of what has happened before or "precognition" of what may come after. As you probably know though, real speaker drivers store energy and re-radiate it after the fact. This is what waterfall plots of energy/time/frequency show.

For a very long time we have assumed this was not possible in digital encoding/decoding or that at least it was so small as to be inconsequential.

MQA attempts to perfectly resolve this issue in recording and playback.

I make no claims to it's correctness or audibility, that's just what I"m reading so far. When I'm better I'll revisit.

If you are more of an experimental learner, you might want to try something like XSim and simulate some speaker filters. Look at the impulse and step response carefully to see how pre-ringing and post-event smear occurs. This is of course a speaker, analog simulator, but the principles of filters spreading energy over time applies. It's free,

http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/multi-way/259865-xsim-free-crossover-desi...

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

Digital filters cause more distortion than we thought and it's more audible than we realized. MQA is a very ambitious attempt to correct this.

AJ's picture

It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality.
New math perhaps? ;-).
In my universe, SACD and DVD-A were abject failures in the marketplace. Perhaps elsewhere?

John Atkinson's picture
AJ wrote:
It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality. New math perhaps? ;-).

This article links to a recent study that shows to a high degree of statistical significance that listeners can indeed detect the difference between CD-quality audio and higher-resolution audio: http://www.audiostream.com/content/its-official-people-can-hear-high-res.

You can download the AES paper discussed from http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=18296.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

A. Hourst's picture

Sorry for the cheerleaders of the industry but you should also read what independant observers have to say about this study.
http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=5755

AJ's picture

Hi John,

If you look at the AES article, you can read my (AJ)comment in the AES Comments section. I was in correspondence with Dr Reiss the entire time, up through its release.
I'll quote for non-AES members here:

Quote:

Hi Joshua,

I do have one question. Here you say:

In summary, these results imply that, though the effect is perhaps small and difficult to detect, the perceived fidelity of an audio recording and playback chain is affected by operating beyond conventional consumer oriented levels. Furthermore, though the causes are still unknown, this perceived effect can be confirmed with a variety of statistical approaches and it can be greatly improved through training.

How would one train for an unknown cause? Shouldn't the cause be determined first (to avoid false positives, due to system artifacts for example), before any detection training occurs?

Please note Dr Reiss's verbage: "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".
Exactly how does Bob Stuart (or anyone)translate that to "improved" sound quality?? The statistical mining found no such thing. Only "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".

Where are the numbers for this "widely accepted" claim?? On what basis is this made?

jeffdyer's picture

If they were failures then it was because the mass market at that time was shifting from absolute recording quality of CD to the instant gratification of MP3 and download, not because of the sound quality inherent in the medium.

I have a small collection of SACDs, mostly for the multi channel mixes of classic albums and they sound smoother than CDs to me somehow. Maybe because there is less compression required.

AJ's picture
Quote:

If they were failures

They were. The market spoke clearly at the previous "Hi-Rez" pitches like SACD and DVDA. Currently, there is no "wide acceptance", other than in the insular and infinitesimal world of audiophiles.
Even there, as Bob Stuart states, get 3 in the same room...;-)

jeffdyer's picture

Actually, they are popular in Japan and there is a thriving trade on eBay, so for those who enjoy them, they are popular.

Just because not every man in the street drives a Ferrari, that does not mean Ferrari is a failure.

AJ's picture

Ah, then perhaps Mr Stuart can qualify his claim to:

Quote:

It is now widely accepted in by audiophiles in Japan and eBay, that "hi-rez" digital audio, with increased sampling rate or bit-depth, delivers "improved" sound quality.

No actual statistics or polls needed of course ;-).

jeffdyer's picture

Well, judging by the lack of objective facts required by many readers on this site on subjects such as $1500 AC leads, I would have thought a simple reference to eBay would have been more than enough evidence to the most casual reader that SACDs are in fact quite widely used.

brenro's picture

Where's the music?

fetuso's picture

I'm all for anything that will help music sound better, but asking people to get excited about MQA is like asking us to get excited about flying cars. Let me know when they get here.

rompolompo's picture

Can you please stop saying that sound in the air is analog. It is not. Once the signal leaves the loudspeakers it becomes acoustical energy. When we talk we do not make analog sound. Again, it is energy. It is not analog nor digital, these terms relate to the way sound is captured, stored and reproduced.

eriks's picture

The math could all be correct, and logical, but the real proof is in listening. I have listened to a couple of tracks from 2L and been unable to tell a difference in my setup, but I have no idea about the provenance. Ideally, an MQA track is recorded in MQA to begin with, or converted knowing the original ADC system. Converting a pre-existing digital track to MQA is not ideal.

Are there some publicly available tracks to listen to MQA recordings in ideal situations, vs. non-MQA that will make me jump for joy?

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

I'm glad this is here, but it really needs curating. The material is better suited for a wiki than an article, but like I said, I'm happy the data is up there for us to examine au plain aire.

Best,

Erik

RDSChicago's picture

I've been waiting almost two years for MQA to come to Tidal. When??

Archimago's picture

Thank you Mr. Stuart et al. for the details around the rationale for MQA as well as some of the technical capabilities.

There is obviously much in the text to parse and understand. However whether the reader agrees that the effects and theory of temporal blurring being discussed is of significance, can practically be accurately "fixed" (especially in complex studio mixes), and the algorithm used by MQA will result in audible benefit is unclear to many at this time. Thank you as well for discussing the noise floor effects; it's clear from the cases demonstrated that MQA is able to encode down to the noise level needed for the music. I know that much of this can be argued back and forth ad nauseum in terms of whether music should be kept as pure PCM and the benefits of encoding as per MQA's psychoacoustic modeling. However I think it is fair to say that whatever digital bit-depth and samplerate is used (certainly beyond the usual 16/44), we are discussing digital representations already close to auditory thresholds (which is my interpretation of the 52.3% accuracy rate in the hi-res vs. standard resolution meta-analysis).

However, in the time domain which MQA primarily focused on as the mechanism by which higher fidelity can be achieved, I must voice my concern around this comment:

"It's useful to know the original sampling rate of the mastering process, because that tells us about the first part of the chain. The DAC is equally important; a chain is as strong as the weakest link. More important, unless the encoder (A/D or mastering) and decoder (plus D/A) processes are complementary, it isn't possible to reach the final result and certainly not at low data rates..."

Why should we focus on the ADC/DAC as significant "weak links" in the overall audio chain (much less the "weakest link")? At least for the consumer end, is it not true that as almost always, the weakest links are the transducers (speakers) and room effects? Compared to typical speaker time-domain variations (step-response variation for example) on the order of multiple milliseconds, it is hard to imagine the significance of comparatively small changes at the level of the DAC including the occasional pre-ringing from poorly low-passed signal through a linear phase filter.

Without a truly "end to end" solution which terminates not at the level of the consumer's DAC, but the actual sound energy that reaches the listener, MQA alone IMO cannot truly achieve the goal of time-domain accuracy for the system. Furthermore, the closed hardware implementation which at this point does not allow access to the decoded digital audio data prevents the more sophisticated audiophile from implementing his/her own optimizations such as DSP room correction to suite the listening environment in an optimally transparent fashion.

Ultimately, in my opinion, if MQA is to suggest that the digital processing algorithm being implemented is an overall improvement, it should be allowing more A/B comparisons in public venues and taking up the offers such as that by Mark Waldrep to aid in "Real-World Comparisons" with actual hi-resolution content. Likely even more beneficial would be releasing high resolution files demonstrating a typical properly dithered 16/44 audio file upsampled to 24/192 (with say a standard linear filter) and the decoded output from an MQA file to 24/192 with the same mastering. This will provide an opportunity for the public to audition the effect for themselves in their own home with existing high-resolution DACs to at least provide an idea of what difference the algorithm can make. (Perhaps more appropriate would be 24/44 vs. MQA as they would have similar bitrates.)

eriks's picture

I agree there's a lot of self-serving hyperbole in the writing. I would have to go and do some simulations to fully appreciate whether digital filtering or a typical loudspeaker has more signal spread, but this can also be mostly compensated for using DiracLive or Rephase.

It would be really interesting to have a demo with DiracLive + MQA vs. not.

Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.

Best,

Erik

JimAustin's picture

>>Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.<<

I know very little about Meridian loudspeakers, but maybe these already exist?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KN0ToXOvQpo

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

I don't even know where to start. Besides sidestepping the whole DRM issue these articles are a new low not only for Bob Stuart but for audio journalism in itself.

Just one example how dishonestly Stuart answers questions: it "is understood that a digital distribution system (including MQA) can be lossless in distribution and therefore requires lossless delivery."

Well the question was if MQA is a lossless FORMAT. But Mr. Stuart sidesteps this question by speaking not about formats but about "lossless delivery."

He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy.

There are plenty more gems like this in the marketing material spread out here. I certainly hope that Stereophile gets some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims. That is what good journalism is about and what the audiophile community deserves.

Until this happens I'd venture to call Bob Stuart the Donald Trump of the Audio world.

michaelavorgna's picture

You appear to not have understood the explanations offered, i.e. this gem "He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy". Let me help (from the same paragraph you quoted):

"More important is to capture and protect (in a lossless manner) all the information in the file that relates to the music content."

On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

It's also worth noting that Stuart is a recognized expert and engineer who has authored numerous peer-reviewed papers, not to mention the fact that he actually makes things that people can hear for themselves, like MQA.

I gather from your call for "some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims" that you are neither an expert or engineer so the basis of your criticism is admittedly ill-informed.

Hmm. This behavior reminds me of someone running for public office. Who could that be....;-)

Michael Lavorgna
Editor, AudioStream

mcgilroy's picture

sir,

no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications. even after your post I don't question yours. I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-laywers about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues. I am pretty familiar with these things and look forward to the challenge.

until then let me explain why I wrote "dishonest".

the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.

if the answer is yes, say so & provide proof and means to reproduce. case settled.

if the answer is no, say so & explain why MQA as a lossy format might still might yield a better performance than a lossless format. provide proof and means to reproduce it. A/B testing would be a start, maybe third-party measurements.

instead mr. stuart prefers to move goalposts by offering a new "definition" of lossless. one that the esteemed mr stuart would not get through any peer-review in any serious publication but certainly works well enough for marketing.

the whole thing gets even more hilarious if you take into account the table given on the page "MQA Hierarchy". here suddenly "lossless" is one of the parameters to compare the different MQA-codecs. check it out - suddenly mr stuart himself says it's not (!) a lossless format...

On the DRM-issue let me just quote the first two sentences of the wikipedia entry:

"Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works.[1]DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies"

please mr stuart or mr lavorgna explain to me how MQA does not fall under this definition.

Guys - my point is: marketing like this in the age of the internet is an uphill battle. people will scrutinize your statements and fact-check the hell out of them. smoke and mirrors are all fine and dandy and necessary evil in marketing. but continually taking your customers for a ride does not pay out in the long run. it would be much simpler to come out clean and tell everybody the facts.

in the case in question I so far fail to see any evidence that MQA is not a lossy-DRM-trojan.

I'd be happy to learn else or plainly and simply told by mr stuart:

"yes the music industry wants to resilver their catalogs but does neither want to experience the MP3-wild-west all over again nor can accept Apple/Amazon/MS/Google control the distribution of their content.

MQA offers the necessary IP and DRM safeguards for content producers and on top that also comes along with a clever low bandwith High-Rez container-format. for the latter we have a nice demographics willing to spend money on music. record companies please sign up here"

if stuart or any MQA guys come out like this I'd be impressed. but I guess he further will work on truly becoming the donald trump of the audio world. a smart man with a great legacy deserves better.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications...

I don't understand your point about qualifications. You are the one who talks about "EEs," so surely Bob Stuart's own qualifications and credentials are relevant.

mcgilroy wrote:
I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication.

I really don't like "arguing by credential," but as you seem fixated on qualifications, perhaps you should note that on Stereophile's writing team, we have 4 PhDs, and while my own qualifications aren't at that elevated level, my bachelor's degree is in physics and chemistry; my post-graduate qualification is in the teaching of science at the high-school level; I am a full member of the Audio Engineering Society; an associate member of the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers; and in 2011 I was the Distinguished Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecturer at the 131st Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York. (See www.stereophile.com/content/2011-richard-c-heyser-memorial-lecture-where-did-negative-frequencies-go.)

So before you continue dismissing what we have to write, please bear in mind that this is not our first rodeo.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

Mr. Atkinson,

thank you for taking your time and chiming in.

I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors. Neither did I question Bob Stuarts credentials. I am well aware of his pedigree, fully respect his achievements and am certain he has a very solid understanding of the field. My allegation is actually worse, namely that despite better knowledge Mr. Stuart choose to mislead the public about certain aspects of the MQA format.

This includes but is not limited to the question of lossnessness, bit-rate, compression-ratios, settings for establishing reproducibility of findings like proper A/B-Testing of MQA vs incumbents and last not least the DRM & IP makeup of the MQA format.

Note that I have not included the concept of "temporal blur" in this list. Here I too remain skeptical but need more time to research this aspect.

Besides Archimago, Cernca and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public. At least that is what academica is expected to do and what the press should strive for.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors.

The text of yours to which I was referring was this:

mcgilroy wrote:
I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-[lawyers] about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues.

It seems plain that you were indeed questioning our credentials. If my own qualifications as one of the "EE people" were good enough to be accepted by the AES and IEEE, why would you dismiss them?

And now again you are referring to people who you feel are "well-respected" ie, again attempting to appeal to authority:

mcgilroy wrote:
Besides Archimago, [Crenca] and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

It is fair to point out that Archimago and Crenca hide behind anonymity.

And that to the best of knowledge, none of the "well respected industry veterans" you list have actually auditioned or analyzed MQA-encoded files and compared them with the PCM originals. We have. We feel that the improvement in sound quality is real, as you can read in our September issue.

mcgilroy wrote:
I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public.

Again you present appeals to authority, dismissing our own credentials despite your denial that you do so. If you really don't consider our qualifications appropriate to judge something like digital technology, then I have to ask why you subscribe to Stereophile at all?

And on the subject of DRM, while no, I am not a "credentialed individual from IP-Law," I remind you of the words of the respected English critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw, that you don't need to be a carpenter to judge the quality of a table.

Does MQA prevent people from copying, emailing, selling, and sharing the files? No.

Does MQA prevent people other than the owner from playing the file? No.

Does MQA prevent people from playing the file with the original hi-rez resolution? No, if they have an MQA-enabled playback system; yes, if they don't.

What is to prevent an end-user from buying an MQA-enabled playback system? Nothing, other than the sense of entitlement evidenced, for example, by you, Crenca, and Archimago in this thread.

Does MQA require a license fee to be paid by the manufacturer of such playback systems? Yes, but in that respect, it is no different from Dolby, DTS, MLP, MP3, AAC, etc, etc.

If you look at the license fees that are required to be paid by manufacturers of DVD and Blu-ray players and media, you will be astonished at how many there are. (Even the developer of the ancient Macrovision videocassette technology gets an upfront payment of $30,000 followed by $15,000 each year from a manufacturer of video disc players.) And yes, those fees result in the players being more expensive than if there were no fees to be paid, a point made by Schiit's Jason Stoddard. (One estimate is that licensing fees increase the price of a DVD player by 10%.) It is only in the case of the IP I listed above that the fact that those fees are amortized over a very large number of products/apps that keeps them transparent to the end-user.

Why can't MQA be free, like FLAC? There is no free lunch. Engineers have to feed their families just like you. Again we get back to the sense of entitlement. Engineers are free to choose an open-source model or a licensing model for their IP. There is no moral difference between the two.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

Well, it is in a round about way - it is about "value". What is the real value of a DRM product like MQA to the end user? When you point out the sound quality value, I believe you. However, as I point out here:

http://www.stereophile.com/comment/560353#comment-560353

DRM has a cost that is far larger than the initial (or ongoing) licensing fees. It has an impact on the entire (in this case musical) digital ecosystem that is separate from the dollars and cents and is almost always much more significant than the (usually relatively small) licensing fees. This is why we point out that MQA is DRM, self serving definitions do not withstand.

Just so you know, because of my past work in IT and law enforcement (I am in a different business altogether now) I maintain a bit of "anonymity" in my relationship to the internet (though if you have any skill you understand such anonymity is not all that deep). If you have seen the things I have seen, you would to. You will never (ever ever ever) find pictures of my children on Facebook for example. I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

John Atkinson's picture
crenca wrote:
I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

Our rule is that if you are affiliated with the audio industry, you must include that affiliation in your postings. That is to prevent people working for an audio company posting praise of their own products or dissing a competitor's products. If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous. However, I feel then that your comments should not be weighted as heavily as if they were signed.

All Stereophile writers and editors post under their real names, whether to our site or to third-party sites. That way we can be held responsible for what we say.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

I am not affiliated with the industry in any way except as a consumer. I agree with you that anonymity goes against the norm of social convention/trust and devalues my comments to a certain extent. It is a cost I am am OK with obviously...

JimAustin's picture

I respect and appreciate the desire of casual Internet users to maintain a certain amount of information security. The problem, IMO, comes when self-proclaimed experts refuse to man up and let people know who they are. So-called journalists who hide behind a pseudonym cannot, in my view, be trusted. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take responsibility--personal responsibility--for what you have to say. And while it's true that valid arguments can stand on their own merits, it's a bit like yelling insults out a car window as it zooms past at 50 mph. Shake my hand, introduce yourself, look me in the eye, and let's chat. Until then, I have no interest in them or what you (they) have to say.

Jim Austin (PhD Physics)
Contributing Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

Re: Crenca, Archimago "hide behind anonymity", while I do understand and appreciate the point you are making about concerns about anonymous affiliated posters promoting their own or "dissing" others' products, it did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

Instead of addressing my arguments directly, the poster was bringing up the fact that people he regards as authorities, as more highly credentialed than I am, disagree with me. It is a semantically empty debating tactic and I was calling him on it.

NeilS wrote:
It did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

It's not ad hominem. As I said in an earlier posting today, if someone doesn't want to attach his or her name to his or her opinion, I give that opinion less weight than would otherwise be the case. You obviously disagree but I am not in any way obliged to substitute your position on this for my own.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Thanks for your response. I don't think I was asking you to substitute my position, as I said, I understand and appreciate yours. I was just pointing out that whether or not the poster is anonymous doesn't logically invalidate their position, just as using one's real name doesn't logically validate it, either. Let's agree to disagree on whether that constitutes an ad hominem logical fallacy.

A. Hourst's picture

This thing about anonymity is completely beside the point. Either you have things to say or you don't, end of the argument. Some of the things that I've read and found the most interesting on the web were written by people with pseudonyms like "boulga" or "simonon". Woody Allen's real name isn't Woody, and Caravaggio was an aliase...
Some people that write under their true identity can be an embarrassment to the concept of truth as much, or even more, than anonymous posters. Like I said, beside the point...

NeilS's picture

The Federalist Papers, Mark Twain...

A. Hourst's picture

Yes, this "tell me your real name" war is nonsense.

crenca's picture

in IP law, software patents, etc. and how these things work in the digital world on both a technical and business level. This is not surprising, given their background. That said the business they are in is changing (and has been for quite a while) and some minimal understanding of DRM, formats, and their place in a digital ecosystem (in this case one centered around music) would seem to be a reasonable expectation.

Allowing Bob's self serving double speak around this aspect of MQA a free pass is a bit over the top IMO and does not reflect well on them (though the do other things very well). You are correct in that MQA (if it ever gained significant market penetration) would be a "DRM trojan"...

(edit, this post is meant as a reply to mcgilroy )

JimAustin's picture

>>the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.<<

Why would he want to mindlessly answer a misleading question? Putting it this way is an attempt at a rhetorical trap.

I'm not Stuart, though, and I'll bite. I'm speaking only for myself here. JA and (of course) Stuart are far more knowledgeable than I am, so hopefully they'll step in if I get something wrong.

Is MQA lossless in the usual IT sense? No. But why should you care? If you're capable of following Stuart's reasoning and digesting the information he provided--which, btw, is unprecedented in its shear quantity in my experience for a proprietary product--you should agree that what's "lost" isn't musically relevant because 1. it's in a region where there's no musical information, and 2. the format takes pains nevertheless to maintain any information that might be necessary to preserve temporal integrity, even in the frequency range where there's little if any musical information (more than double the upper limit of human hearing). High-res is nice but it's hideously inefficient. MQA has gone a long way toward solving this problem while making other technical improvements that seem likely to be musically relevant--and my ears tell me that they are indeed.

I think it's useful to think about this in the context of MP3. Just about everything in a CD-resolution file is potentially audible; MP3 (and similar schemes) aim to reduce file size by getting rid of the least musically relevant information. The problem is that what's musically relevant is subjective, and listening/hearing abilities vary widely; one person's irrelevant info is another person's critical timing cue. If I understand it, MQA keeps everything--losslessly--way beyond the frequencies our ears can hear. It has to because they've determined that the ear's ability to resolve in the time domain far exceeds what its (the ear's) frequency-domain performance would predict. Still, there's a lot of information above the range of human hearing--and above the range where music has any information--that isn't necessary to preserve time-domain integrity. So, compress it.

If you have no information about which part of, say, a 192/24 file is important to the musical experience, you keep all of it just to be safe. But the more you know, the more you understand, the more intelligent the decisions you can make. In my view, MQA is the result of a careful (and apparently rigorous) rethinking of digital audio delivery. If you want to understand it, you need to be willing to question, e.g., to what extent the IT-derived concept of losslessness is relevant in the high-resolution audio world.

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

crenca's picture

Only in the world of 1984 is the following true:

"On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

DRM is about (and always has been) the *legal* mechanisms used to achieve it goals, and only secondarily about any technical implementation used (e.g. some internal mechanism that makes it difficult for typical end users to "copy", etc.)

Can an end user *legally* reverse engineer an MQA encoded file if he does not have a licensed decoder (so far only hardware based) and *legally* listen to the "high res" content? No. If he does he is of course in violation of IP laws and the penalties for doing so vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

DRM is what DRM does, and MQA is DRM because it "manages" what the end user hears based on whether he has $licensed$ a decoder. MQA is DRM all day long, and no amount of Orwellian double speak from Bob or simple (willful?) ignorance from editors of audiophile blogs can change this fact.

As an editor of a blog that purports expertise in things "digital", it would behoove you to study up a bit on IP and software patents and how they are used in the market place...

(this post does not appear under Michael Lavorgna post as I intended - he is the editor to whom it is directed).

michaelavorgna's picture

Any and every MQA encoded file can be played back on any and every DAC. If you want to get something for nothing, then you've got a point. Otherwise, this years-long rant of yours is not only tired but needs to be retired.

crenca's picture

And a continuation of the double-speak. Any DAC (what Bob euphemistically calls "legacy DACs"- the kind everyone actually owns) can NOT play the "High Res" content of the MQA encoded file without an *illegal* reverse enginered hack (on the software or hardware level) THAT is DRM, all day everyday.

Your imputation of motive is also wrong. I don't want "something for nothing". If I wanted MQA I would pay for it, but I would not lie to myself or others that it is not a DRM/IP/software patent protected product. I happen to not want MQA - others do and that's fine. Either way it Is DRM today, was yesterday, and will be tomorrow...

michaelavorgna's picture

If you want to reap the full benefits of MQA end-to-end, you'll have to get an MQA-capable DAC. You want to reap the benefits of MQA without getting an MQA-enabled DAC. That = something for nothing.

Of course you can skip this entire Orwellian fantasy by simply buying hi-res downloads and playing them on your hi-res-ready DAC.

But that wouldn't be soooo dramatic, would it.

crenca's picture

You were wrong about what DRM is technically and and as a business matter. As an "audiophile" you were enthusiastic about MQA and downplayed (out of ignorance mostly) the reality of MQA and it being a product that relies on DRM for it's very place and survival in the market.

Let it go - you are the editor of a public blog (which also happens to be a business). You have to admit your failure and move on. Your readers will respect you more if you do...

michaelavorgna's picture

I just looked in the mirror to confirm ;-)

If you fact check your attributions of "you" and "yours", you'll find that they all originated with *you*. But that was a heck of a go at deflection.

crenca's picture

...and how many different ways you try to make this about me - it will always be about MQA, DRM, and your failure to understand them in relation to the digital ecosystem.

Now quit trying to save face and bone up on the basics - you have a blog and business to run that is about those very things!!!

michaelavorgna's picture

If, for you, that means I'm making this about you, then sure. As I said, my face isn't in need of saving, years aside.

How about addressing the fact that anyone can bypass MQA by simply buying a high-res download.

crenca's picture

Of course one can "by-pass" MQA by not purchasing it - that is the way markets work! This is however has nothing to do with what myself and others are saying. Strangely, you and Mr. Atkinson keep imputing ill-will on are part - that we are pointing out the FACTS of DRM and MQA because (you believe) we want "something for nothing", that we want "free lunches", etc. We are not proposing anyone *break the law* and try to circumvent the IP/DRM of MQA for piracy.

What we are pointing out is two things:

1) MQA is a DRM product all day, every day- Bob and your denials do not withstand. This fact has NOTHING to do with the problem of piracy and any roll a IP/DRM product like MQA has in "solving" this problem.

2) DRM, IP, and software patents have an impact on *legal* end users (i.e. the people who actually pay for the product) and their digital ecosystem in general in ways that are go range from "inconvenient" to "bad". This impact is large, non-trivial, etc. Thus, when end users have to consider the cost of this impact when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of MQA. In other words, MQA is not a mere sound quality tweak, or another format like PCM or FLAC, but is a different proposition altogether. It is your lack of understanding of this aspect of MQA (and digital ecosystems in general) that is really on display in your coverage of this topic.

The impact to which I refer is obvious to everyone. (Almost) everyone who reads this blog owns a TV. They understand (if only unconsciously) the roll DRM, IP, and software patents play in their ability to *legally* back up their Blue Rays or stream them from a server to an endpoint, etc. They understand that they can not skip commercials on their disks (or their DVR's) NOT because of technical limitations, but because of DRM and legal collusion between the government, hardware/software manufactures, and content providers.

Whether you agree or disagree philosophically with DRM and the problem(s) it allegedly "solves", the fact is that it has a burdensome effect everywhere it ends up. Music lovers who take advantage of the "digital" so far have been blessedly free of these burdens. MQA is a product that brings these burdens to the music lover and there is simply no way (or reason - besides a crass commercialism that is willing to simply lie) to deny it.

The "but but but what about piracy" is an industry bubble that your all stuck in. Yes, piracy is a problem - but then the music lover who actually buys your product has a "but but but", and that is the non-trivial burdens/limitations that DRM has within our digital ecosystems. You can ignore it if you wish, but it is real and we are going to of course bring it up...

michaelavorgna's picture

...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

Note - I have consistently reported on MQA's position re. DRM, I have not denied anything. Rather I understand what has been said and do not see any "DRM Trojan" other than in people's minds.

I worked for years developing custom applications mainly for Hedge Funds and while we relied on the expertise of an attorney when we looked to patent some of our work, I have experience with software and intellectual property. So your comments about my background are ill-informed.

John Atkinson's picture
michaelavorgna wrote:
...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

I think there is an exact parallel with HDCD. If you had an HDCD-capable DAC, you would get 1-2 bits greater resolution, perhaps more, from what appeared to be a regular CD. If you didn't want to pay for an HDCD decoder, you could still play the CD but at lower effective resolution.

In that sense, the same "DRM" argument could be made about HDCD, in that it restricted the quality available to people without an HDCD decoder.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

michaelavorgna's picture

And if you want play back DSD and/or anything above 24/96 you need to have the appropriate hardware/software. If you want to play back FLAC files or DSD, you cannot use iTunes. And so on...

I was hoping that "crenca" would share the practical reality of what he's been talking about for years now re. MQA and DRM. As in, exactly how will this limit MQA users. So far, all we've got are implications based on examples that have zero relevance to the question at hand coupled with baseless accusations regarding people's motives, integrity, and supposed lack of knowledge.

[Meta-content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

As Mr. Atkinson admits, the end user is managed - he can hear only what the licensor grants - in this case the 16/44 content if he does not agree to the licensor's terms (putting aside the debate that whether an MQA file actually contains the full 16/44 information that the equivalent PCM file does). PCM, DSD, Vinyl, etc. of course have none of these digital/legal limitations, and are in no way the same *legal entity* that MQA is.

The more burdensome problem is the implications of the license and everything that goes with it at the level of formats. Formats are sort of the ground we walk on in the digital world - everything else rests upon it. It's like the air we breath - now what happens to our lives when someone comes along and patents air? Or more relevant, what happens when someone comes along and patents TCP/IP? Sure, I am typing this on proprietary software (a browser by one company, an OS by another, etc.) but the "ground" of our communication is an open format called TCP/IP. Things change drastically (mostly for the worse for the end user - a small group of companies would $benefit$) if the ground becomes closed/proprietary/IP software. IF MQA (or anything like it) ever became the ground of our digital musical lives, we would all be worse off. This is a widely admitted and discussed phenomena and aspect of the market and anyone who has paid attention to and worked with software/computers/digital in the last 50 years knows what I am talking about (too many aspects to even begin to address in a comment box). We are all welcome to our opinions as to what it means to us and others, but to keep denying MQA's IP/DRM is as I have described it (Orwellian, creepy, etc.).

[Content deleted by John Atkinson - please take off-topic meta discussions off-line.]

michaelavorgna's picture

You are suggesting that if MQA takes over the digital world, it will be bad. No one has suggested this is even a possibility. For example, the MQA deal with WMG caused some concerns along these lines. So I called WMG and asked them if MQA was going to replace other high-res formats. Their answer was no.

My point being, while you paint a very dark picture using MQA, you have yet to provide one example of how this will play out in reality. For those who are not interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue. For those interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue.

[Content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

...oops, I mean I did, I did provide "one example of how this will play out in reality" - video. Have you tried to *legally* backup, copy, stream, or do anything worthwhile with your Blue Ray today (other than simply stick it in the trey and mindless absorb the FBI warning)? We don't have an analogous situation in audio because as of yet there has not been a DRM/IP takeover of our basic formats. MQA is not that yet, but as your fellow journalist Robert Harely admitted (probably in an unguarded moment) such a takeover is THE holy grail of the industry. He then in the same article incongruently argued that MQA is not a DRM product, which simply reveals that the audiophile press is either being willfully ignorant as to what DRM is or has no small amount of catching up to do on the subject.

[Content deleted by John Atkinson]

michaelavorgna's picture

Have a nice day, "crenca".

volvic's picture

I have no interest in MQA, have my CD's on a computer setup and very happy. Bob Stuart and Meridian have put out products that speak for themselves, and I own a few of them, and can only say that their after sales service is stellar, not to mention their work in the digital field is some of the best in the hi-if world. I wish I had a quarter of the engineering intelligence that Mr. Stuart has, to dismiss all his contributions and question his integrity is to me a new low on these pages. But then again Mr. Stuart doesn't need me to defend his place in audio history, it is already well entrenched.

eriks's picture

MQA compression is like MPEG compression. By understanding the contents of the faile, you can achieve much higher compression than in say Zip compression, which does not.

MPEG captures each new scene, and records the deltas. Of course, it can be lossy, but it doesn't have to. By doing this alone an order of magnitude better compression is achieved than Zip.

MQA is also being smart about what it's looking at. They make the postulate, one I agree with, that information density above 20kHz is much smaller than below, so let's alter how it's encoded to take advantage of it. Then this becomes a straightforward encoding issue. This only works for audio though, for broad band digital encoding of analog signals which do not fit the music profile this would be useless. Much like MPEG which only works because of how movies are spliced together, MQA only works because of the nature of music.

I really wish this had been introduced 20 years ago though, then MP3 would never have succeeded. If it's useful I suspect we'll see open-source compression schemes which take advantage of this idea come out in the future.

Best,

Erik

Archimago's picture

Hello Erik,
MQA would not have supplanted MP3 20 years ago. MP3 compression is much smaller in terms of bitrate. In order for MQA to maintain a "compatible" bitstream, the more significant bits have to represent standard PCM so any DAC can playback. What we have seen thus far, MQA starts at the size of 24/44 files which is *even larger* than the file from a ripped CD (16/44).

Furthermore, from what I have seen, the lowest 8 bits of these 24/44 file appears to be less compressible by a lossless encoder like FLAC. No way MQA would have provided the filesize reduction of MP3 like 128kbps back in the day or more typically 256+kbps these days with essentially CD-quality files.

eriks's picture

This would be easier if we had a spreadsheet. You could very well be right! Let me tell you what I've seen. I have a Mytek, and grabbed some files from http://www.2l.no/hires/. I used the two tracks (in multiple formats for each) from:

Vivaldi: Recitative and Aria from Cantata RV 679, "Che giova il sospirar, povero core"

The 352.8k/24 bit MQA file was 39 MB MQA file but the equivalent FLAC file was 284 MB for a little over 7x compression. Not bad at all. I did not listen to that one though, trying to compare similar sized MQA to similar sized FLAC I chose the 96/24.

Also, keep in mind that where we fold the frequency response is arbitrary. We could attempt to fold 44/16 instead of 384/24. I'm sure it would be smaller than flac. No idea if it would in the end be competitive with MP3 though.

Still I can hope, right? :)

Erik

Archimago's picture

I appreciate your hope in what MQA can accomplish. But that's not how it works. You cannot perform this audio "origami" ad infinitum to reach MP3 size with anywhere close to the quality of an MP3 data stream based on what we've seen.

In fact, since we do not have access to the decoded digital data from an MQA --> PCM to look at the frequencies beyond the 22/24kHz baseband, it's hard to quantify just how much lossy change has been imparted on the signal in the upper octaves.

Remember, you were talking about MQA supplanting MP3 if invented 20 years ago. Back then when many of us were using 56kbps modems, 128kbps music downloads were realistic though still took time. This low bitrate is FAR lower than what we're talking about here!

eriks's picture

I don't think it's appropriate to say "lossy change" since it's been described as lossless. However, earlier articles in Stereophile did in fact compare content above 20kHz and were pretty positive, with tiny changes in overall output.

Of course, it's fine to still be skeptical about whether it's lossy or not.

Best,

Erik

Archimago's picture

I believe the use of "lossy change" in the upper octaves (above 22/24kHz) is absolutely appropriate in the context of how we've defined "lossless" for the last couple of decades at least.

Let's quote Mr. Stuart:
"• b) There is no foolery here: MQA does indeed reconstruct a remarkably close approximation to the original ultrasonic information from the lower bits of a 24-bit signal."

It's not an exact replica as the term "lossless" implies as applied to a CODEC like FLAC/APE/WV/ALAC. We could say that high bit-rate MP3 reconstructs a remarkably close approximation as well... This is obvious and we did not need Mr. Stuart's lengthy Q&A's to understand this is how it has to work.

Of course, just how "remarkably close" the MQA algorithm gets it right is something we cannot answer at this time.

eriks's picture

Thank you, I missed that part about it being an approximation. I had assumed Stuart's point was that music didn't need the n most significant bits above k frequency, and then compressed and hid what remained, which in my mind is pretty brilliant.

I had not realized it was some sort of reconstruction, which is different from decompression. My bad for reading right over that part. Now we are back in MP3 land in terms of being lossy.

Best,

Erik

NeilS's picture

Absent from Mr. Stuart's rather abstruse and lengthy essay are answers to the issues raised in Archimago's first comment ("Thank you for the series") on this thread. I don't think it's the first time they've been raised. They appear to me to be germane, and whether enthusiastic, skeptical or merely curious about MQA, I believe readers would benefit from a clear and direct response from Mr. Stuart.

low2midhifi's picture

All of these downloading/streaming articles make me wonder what the automotive equivalent might be.

Wouldn't be fascinating that I would have to wade through such opaque dissertations to know where to fill my car with gas, where to change the oil, where, perchance, to have my factory transmission replaced for some other contrarian engineering standard which might have exceeded that which came with my car?

All of these "dueling" standards over which standard to stream and download leave me glad for my CD purchases. CDs may be inferior, but it's a reliable and tradable format. If I don't like a CD, I sell it; there's a ready market for such misfires in my purchases. I don't know where I'd sell my Studebaker-like MQA, MP3, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, IRAQ... files on my Seagate hard-drive, and soon-to-be-obsolete tablet menu software.

Let these interested parties in the downloading/streaming world debate what appear to be varying versions of the Confederate Dollar (no offense to audiophiles south of the Mason-Dixon line). This technological hair-splitting (all to hear songs that only an even smaller audience will like) puts the audiophile pursuit--already a marginal endeavor--even further to the outer reaches of the Solar System, Kuiper Belt, or Oort Cloud, of ever more constrained disposable income, and dwindling patience of we sympathizers of the hobby.

Keep us posted when the doctoral dissertation critiques, and standards of the week, settle on something that many of us would bother to purchase. Keep us posted when the "latest and greatest" will not be the"has-been standard" of the same forum of audio enthusiasts two years hence. VHS -vs- Betamax, Toshiba HD -vs- BluRay was nothing compared to this audio Ecumenical Council.

I look forward to the latest CD releases and recommendations from Stereophile, Amazon, Arkivmusc, Allmusic, etc. while the academic debate on the competing "internal combustion engine designs" rages on elsewhere.

When you have decided if the "new car" should have 4 or 6 or 8 or 3 wheels, let us know. When you know if the steering wheel will be on the left, right, or center, let us know, When you know, whether the "new car" runs on diesel, gasoline, kerosene, coal, wood chips, cow chips, sugar cane chaff, Uranium, moonshine, corncobs, let the rest of us know.

Until the next article, we all wait.

dalethorn's picture

I skipped over the math, but it being publicly asserted, I accept that it will hold up and the "high res container" concept will prove itself. Crypto people were talking about steganography back in the 90's before the War on Terror, and now we know that it works well enough that our intel agencies depend more on the old-fashioned ear to the ground and social engineering than they do being able to crack crypto codes. I don't see any reason why MQA licensing should be more intrusive than Dolby or any of the hundreds of license holders you see in the iPhone 'About/Legal' screens.

crenca's picture

"don't see any reason why MQA licensing should be more intrusive than Dolby or any of the hundreds of license holders you see in the iPhone 'About/Legal' screens"

And will be part of the success of MQA if it actually ever gains any significant market penetration. The denial of the IP/DRM/software patent aspect of MQA, and the claims that MQA is the *legal* equivalent of software such as FLAC or PCM encoded files however would be almost acceptable if it was just Bob and his marketing team (we all know marketing is a little truth and a lot of untruth). However, the attempt by the "audiophile press" to no simply regurgitate these untruths but to further defend them is just a wee bit unnerving...

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

You, cranky Crenca, without ever sharing who you are, have waged a one-person war on MQA on multiple websites for an exceedingly long time. No matter what facts are provided, you counter them. If people claim they hear differences, you undercut them. If your arguments don't hold up to scrutiny, you resort to personal attacks. That's your M.O.

All the finger pointing makes for excellent drama. But in the end, it will go for nought. Ultimately, the success of MQA will depend on the strength of the campaign to educate the public, and what people hear. The public's ears will be the ultimate judge. Happily, when they listen, they will listen to music, not to this blather.

I'm heading on vacation. Keep up the good fight.

mcgilroy's picture

Where exactly in his post has Crenca personally attacked you or other individuals at Stereophile or provide any untruths?!

He simply pointed out the consequent overlooking of the IP/DRM aspect of MQA and the failure of the audiophile press to address this issue properly. Being lectured about "educating the public" by proponents who are avoiding to do so is exactly why somebody like Crenca is unnerved.

Actually Crenca contributed to educating the public when he pointed out the significance of the observation of the previous poster as valuable. Just as Dolby licensing primary burdened hardware manufactures and not the content-buying consumer MQA most likely will burden DAC & ADC manufactures. Many of which have publicly voiced their criticism of MQA.

Happy holidays and if you have same spare time you might enjoy reading up on DRM and it's history. It's worth it.

jimtavegia's picture

It is most hard for your folks or at Meridian to argue with folks who live in a country that ranks 28th? in the world in Math Ability. A sad state of affairs for sure. The Math presented here IS most difficult and as we are learning there is much going on in digital audio that is not fully fully understood even yet, and more will be uncovered in the future. Think back to when the issue of jitter was first present and that is easily understood now and what an important issue it was and is, but is only a small part of the digital process, and differences audibly discernable.

When you sit in middle school math classes as a teacher like I do every day with students who can't add, subtract, or multiply with any proficiency I have problems of explaining things mathematically. I taught high school math for 6 years and came back to MS to try and fix was has gone horribly wrong in our math world. I have a wonderful lady down the hall with a masters from Georgia Tech teaching the brighter math students to take them to new heights. I have more job security. lol She often asks me how I can do what I do.

Even forgetting the very high level math going on, it always comes down to the bottom line of whether you can HEAR the improvements or not and all too many trained listeners can and have, and reported it here. No one can say that they doubt the finding just because they don't understand the math, which is incredibly foolish and only exposes yourself as one who disavows what they don't understand. It is alright to not understand all the math going on and how it relates to what we hear. The folks at Meridian are doing that for us.

The other issue, and the main one to me, is our own personal hearing flaws and differences that has become more apparent to me in my quest to find some great headphones that work for ME and MY hearing deficiencies, which are great at 69. Accurate to whom? My hearing is not the same as JA's, Tylls', or anyone else, or Bob Stuart's. What changes in frequency response I need will not work for anyone else. I can tell you that what is accurate or pleasing to them does not work for me and my HF loss. So if you, or anyone else is trying to discern the audibility of 16/44.1, 24/96, 24/192, or DSD...on what are you listening, where it is set up and does it match up to YOU and your hearing accuracy (loss)? Is your room a sonic mess? What is bright to some would not be bright to me, I can assure you, and so my level of discernment of "BETTER" will not be the same for anyone at Stereophile or anyone with near perfect hearing, whatever that is. I have learned my lesson with my Focal Spirit Pro headphones and their reduced HF energy that make then sound so dull to me. Buying them off a great review was a mistake as the reviewer and I do not HEAR the same, but they can easily work for someone with no hearing loss.

If all, or most of the folks who have attended the listening sessions for MQA can hear an improvement of what MQA can do ( and I do believe them to be honest folks, by the way) why should I doubt it even if I don't understand all the math (I don't by the way) if the result IS an "audible improvement"? If even 4 out of 5 agree, 80% does win in my math world. If the 1 out of 5 does not have near perfect hearing why would I trust his opinion anyway? I might not even know that they are not a music lover or even care about the music selected for the audition which WOULD matter as it is one of the parameters (variables) of the trial that can't be discounted as a factor. Everything matters even a + .1db change in loudness often has one preferring the "louder" as the better which is often not the case.

It is sad to read some of the comments here. I do not believe that one can present all that is going on with MQA that can be presented in a simple way, as it is not simple, but for those like me, all that matters is can I hear the improvement that all their hard work has achieved? If I can't, my only decision is to become a customer or not. My choice. It does not discount their work or their achievement. I must accept the humbling fact that I am the problem if I can't hear the improvement, too often a hard thing for people to do. Hearing small improvements is hard work, but after reading the comments of those hearing the demonstrations of the trials, these are NOT small improvements.

Archimago's picture

Hi Jim,
I've seen some of your comments over the years and appreciate your education background. It is indeed a very difficult task working in and watching the education landscape as you have.

Note though that a number of us have raised concerns about MQA that I think very much resonates with what you bring up. Essentially, "the numbers don't seem to add up" when it comes to the claims; at least not in the way the product is being marketed as being some kind of massive or "revolutionary" improvement.

- Language and meanings are being redefined euphemistically like "lossless" (they're really referring to "perceptually lossless" rather than bit-perfect lossless we're used to).

- I raised above the question of time domain issues with speakers which this technique cannot compensate for. This is important given the time-domain rationale for improved fidelity.

- The technique is proprietary and brings with it limitations to how it can be decoded (hence the IP comments) - on the consumer side, room correction DSP cannot be applied to the decoded data, nor would you be able to experiment with filter settings like HQPlayer. For hardware manufacturers, they would have to comply with MQA's "authenticated" decoder every time an MQA file is encountered in order to decode the full resolution. This would limit customized processing/filtering during playback of these file (like what PS Audio or Ayre currently does in their DACs).

Note that I do appreciate innovation and have no problem with a business making money on their ingenuity. But this technique is highly suspect starting even from the neuroscience research they are quoting and extrapolating from (eg. the whole Oohashi ultrasonic effect, look up the research paper and see what you think), all the way to hyping up the recent CD vs. high-resolution meta-analysis.

Jim, you seem like a nice man. But I believe you need to think a bit more critically about what you're reading here... In sum, the claims and theory of improved fidelity are highly suspect considering the cost including loss of freedom compared to what we already have with non-proprietary PCM and DSD.

By the way, I have "heard" MQA in one of their demos. The music sounded great, but it better sound great from a $500K sound system! But like countless other demos and complaints I have heard, they did not bother with an A/B comparison. This is why I think they need to be more open and I would challenge them to release a non-MQA standard file upsampled to 24/192 as well as an MQA-decoded file in 24/192 so anyone with a hi-res DAC that can handle 24/192 can compare in their own home to experience the difference MQA can make even if not sounding optimal. [By releasing in 192kHz, the internal antialiasing filter from one's DAC will have much less contribution to the overall sound and we should be able to evaluate a significant amount of the claimed time-domain improvement.]

jimtavegia's picture

I have just found that I really like recording and listening to 2496, but at my age I can hear some improvement when I record at 24192, but it is not consistent, but I think that has more to do with the program material and my hearing loss.

I have also not been reading anywhere else about the "problems?" with PCM at 2496, 24192, or 24384 before, so this was somewhat new to me that I will reread Stuart's comments and try to understand more...if I can. It may be beyond me at 69. I am still in the camp that if it sounds better to me it is.

I am still considering buying a Tascam DA-3000 (24192 & DSD) for my location recording work as leaving a venue and session with more is always a great thing and then mixing it down to what people can use is what I would do. My DA-688 does 24192, but I am not sure if the converters are of a high enough quality to make much difference as it is "consumer priced". I certainly does capture more.

This is all going to be fun to follow and see where it lands. I really didn't want to have to do more "homework" for this hobby of ours, but that has changed.

It may be that all of this has raised more questions than it has answered for many. The discussion is a good one.

Jim

NeilS's picture

For what it's worth, I think it's not an unreasonable expectation that editors and columnists in a professional publication model respectful and professional civil debate on its comment boards. Perhaps Mr. Atkinson, whom I think does, might have a gentle word with some of his colleagues?

Vade Forrester's picture

Whew! It's nice to see all the scientific background about MQA, and interesting to read the objections posed. But it seems to me there are two, and only two, questions that need to be resolved about MQA:

1. Does MQA sound as good or better than the best other processes for making music recordings? In other words, does it sound as good or better than DSD or high-resolution PCM recordings?

and

2. Are files produced by the MQA recording process significantly smaller than other formats?

If the answer to both of those questions is Yes, then MQA is good and should be widely adopted. If the answer to only the first question is Yes, MQA is good but whether it should be adopted depends on how much better it sounds than other recording processes. If the answer to the first question is No, then why bother with a process that sounds worse than what we already have?

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

jimtavegia's picture

Streaming listeners might, but I doubt it as for them it is not about quality, but the old background music is good enough idea. Storage is so cheap these days that I don't worry about it any more.

My main listening is 2496 downloads when I find something I like and then burn them to DVD-R's or just keep them in my computer for playback.

I am a late adopter, so we will see about MQA. Right now a very good usb dac for up to 24/192 is $150 so, I will wait.

Vade Forrester's picture

Jim, the industry is moving towards streaming as the preferred way to listen to music. I'd love to be able to listen to the best sound quality streamed from the huge libraries of online sites like Tidal without having to store or buy anything other than a monthly subscription. I envision listening in my car, on my cell phone, and of course on my hifi.

For $299, you can get a very good DAC that plays PCM files up to 192/24 and also MQA. By high-end standards, that's a bargain.

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

Archimago's picture

Right Vade. I don't want to be pedantic but do want to be clear so that folks are aware of the opposition and concerns from many in the audiophile hobby community.

1. Does it sound as good as everything else?
- How can we know without proper A/B demos or released decoded files for comparison?
- Do we just trust the testimony of a few who might have had access to original files + MQA decoding to base our decisions?
- Do we just go ahead and buy a DAC to try and potentially waste money and time with returning it if we don't ultimately think it's worthwhile? If I bought a few MQA-encoded downloads to try, can I also return that easily?
- We do know that the "end-to-end" process for MQA terminates at the DAC; not the speakers which is where distortion and time-domain smearing might be significant issues.
- MQA is not DSD. Anything that was recorded in DSD will need to be converted to PCM to go through the MQA process.
- (Although I don't think it's worth arguing about at this point, MQA does still mess with the full bit-depth though understandably so long as it's unobtrusive, music does not require a full 24-bits.)

2. Are files significantly smaller?
- Compared to 24/96 and 24/192+ FLAC files. Yes.
- But it looks to be larger than the size of typical 24/44 or 24/48 FLAC files.
- So for streaming purposes, it'll be larger than current Tidal FLAC streamed at CD bitrate of 16/44 by at least 50%. As Jim suggests, is it really worth an extra 50% data bandwidth for the streaming crowd, many of whom using cell phones and limited data plans?

3. Is it worth the loss of freedom we already enjoy?
- As a hobbyist who wants to optimize sound in my room, I want to be able to play with digital filters myself. And I want to be able to listen with customized DSP room correction which will do time domain correction for my speakers in my room.
- MQA takes away that freedom within the digital domain because we are not allowed to access the decoded full quality digital stream. If MQA gets adopted widely and becomes the only "high resolution" format, then it will be a setback for those of us wanting to achieve the best fidelity IMO. High resolution DACs are already excellent with many companies doing different and innovative things to optimize sound, and high resolution downloads are already plentiful.

------

From my perspective, this whole "end-to-end" authentication business is unnecessarily backwards because it doesn't fix the speaker time domain issues AND it takes away from the freedom of those of us who want to implement a fix! It only exists as a business model for licensing as far as I can tell.

What could be of value here is MQA's DSP processing technique to improve the mastering if the theory is true that their processing can improve time-domain accuracy from the studio. Let the studio implement the MQA processing technique and use it with their highest quality projects. Then they can proudly put a sticker advertising that their recording and processing techniques conformed to MQA standards of time-domain accuracy. Release that as "MQA-HR" 24/192+. It'll be like how JVC specially processed CD's to be "XRCD". The whole encapsulation/origami/lossy ultrasonic piece isn't needed for fidelity.

Vade Forrester's picture

Archimago, I understand your concern about DRM, but to me, that's a personal issue. I have nothing to add to the exhaustive discussions that have taken place about this issue. I respect your concerns, though I don't share them. Another exhaustively debated issue is whether MQA is lossless. I have nothing to add except to say who cares? If MQA sounds as good or better than existing recording processes, that's what matters to me. I respect those who are concerned about losslessness, but don't share that concern. For me, it's all about the sound quality.

After I submitted my post, I read John Atkinson's message about employees of other magazines needing to identify themselves, which I neglected to do out of ignorance. I am a reviewer for The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network magazines, in addition to being a long-time subscriber to Stereophile and regular reader of the excellent AudioStream website, from which I've learned a lot. I'll be careful to observe your rule in the future.

Vade Forrester

Archimago's picture

Thanks for the response.

Actually, in the discussions here, I have not invoked the term DRM but rather specifically highlighted how this would practically affect those of us already trying our best to improve fidelity. I'll leave the legal discussions to those more versed :-).

Remember, there is no magic here.

As a writer and reviewer in the audiophile press, you do have a stake in this and IMO you do have to educate yourself about how this works because that is your role as a journalist and your responsibility to your readers. It is only then that you can independently evaluate the merits of what is presented before you - able to intelligently question claims that make little sense, and endorse based on objective merit hopefully consonant with subjective impression rather than simply personal preferences.

I think readers would want to know if with your understanding and experience, this represents a path forward to advance the cause of fidelity, future innovation, and provides a freedom for them to optimize fidelity that they already enjoy.

Vade Forrester's picture

Archimago, I am diligently trying to learn everything possible about MQA so I can discuss it knowledgeably for my readers. That's why I read everything I can find about it in every forum I think is useful like this one.

I've already outlined my simplified criteria for assessing whether MQA is worthwhile. Until I can personally listen to MQA files and compare them to the the same performances recorded as the highest-resolution standard PCM and DSD files, I won't have an opinion about their sound quality. To do that I'll need a DAC that can reproduce MQA, PCM, and DSD. So far, none have come my way.

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

Archimago's picture

And totally respect the position.

John Atkinson's picture
Vade Forrester wrote:
After I submitted my post, I read John Atkinson's message about employees of other magazines needing to identify themselves, which I neglected to do out of ignorance. I am a reviewer for The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network magazines...

Thank you, Vade.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

“If you can’t hear it it’s all academic.” Paul Klipsch

Taken one way, I have nine albums that I use to test. Until Sony and Universal are MQA licenses and release six albums they own the rights to I can’t test MQA. Warner owns the rights to three albums so I wonder when and where I can download them. So does Warner in their latest SEC filing one of their business risks is “our dependence on a limited number of digital music services for the online sale of our music recordings and their ability to significantly influence the pricing structure for online music stores.” I can’t buy the music I want as MQA files so for me it is academic until I can.

Taken a second way I listened to MQA files in Meridian’s room at T.H.E. Show this year. Michael Lavorgna posted his thoughts about the Doors “Riders on the Storm” on MQA May 26, 2016. He found the rain more realistic than his hi-res version. I was allowed an A-B test with “Riders on the Storm.” Michael and I agree the rain is more “realistic” on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate. This is a small difference but it will require more testing. And I was listening in a hotel room to unfamiliar equipment so I can’t make any conclusions until hear MQA in familiar surroundings and with familiar equipment. So again academic until I compare file formats to see if I can hear any differences.

One comment, don’t forget there are a lot of hi-res files that sound worse than their CD counterparts.

One question what is the difference between “white glove” MQA files and those converted by automated processes?

John Atkinson's picture
rt66indierock wrote:
Michael and I agree the rain is more “realistic” on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate.

I am not sure I am understanding you here. The rain on "Riders on the Storm" is not "produced by a Fender Rhodes"; there is a recording of real rain that is mixed in with the recorded Rhodes electric piano (an instrument where hammers hit tuned metal tines that excite electromagnetic pickups). The sounds of the rain and the piano are separate acoustic objects in the mix.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

John,

The rain on Riders on the Storm was created two ways, one was a recording the other was a Fender Rhodes. My source is Ray Manzarek keyboardist for the Doors. He would have no reason to lie to me in the seventies. In any case I found this quote after reading your response. "Nothing could play rain like a Rhodes piano," said Manzarek, who no longer owns a Rhodes piano and had to borrow one from a collector to play on a recent VH1 "Storytellers" episode. This is from the obituary of Harold Rhodes, MTV News January 4, 2001.

I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

John Atkinson's picture
rt66indierock wrote:
The rain on Riders on the Storm was created two ways, one was a recording the other was a Fender Rhodes . . . I found this quote after reading your response. "Nothing could play rain like a Rhodes piano," said Manzarek, who no longer owns a Rhodes piano and had to borrow one from a collector to play on a recent VH1 "Storytellers" episode.

I think you are taking Ray Manzarek's words as being literal when they were not. He was referring to the downward broken-octave figure that represents the rain, not the actual sound of the rain, which was a sound-effects recording and, as Michael Lavorgna has clarified, was what he was referring to.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

John, I had a conversation with Ray in the seventies about the sound effects that can be created on electric pianos. So I’m not taking a quote from 2001 too literally I’m relating a conversation. Part of the conversation was about the song. He told me there are two parts to the rain one is the recording of the rain and the other he played on the Rhodes. As I said the recording of rain and thunder sounds more natural on the MQA version but the rain sounds created on the Rhodes sound the same which is not the way the record sounds to me. Michael’s high-res version apparently has the all the rain sounding like it was created on the Rhodes which also not the way the record sounds to me. So to me neither is correct and the cause is probably in the remastering. Like I said before I need to do more testing.

As for sounds the Rhodes, when you play rain on it can sound like glass beads hitting plexiglass. Very cold rain hitting a plexiglass window sounds the same. I’m a golfer from the Pacific Northwest so I’ve been in houses with plexiglass windows on the sides that face the golf course and noticed the difference in the sounds of cold rain hitting plexiglass and regular tempered glass. And I noticed how similar the sound of cold rain hitting a plexiglass window sounds to a Rhodes producing the effect of rain.

On both of the files I heard in the Meridian room at T.H.E. Show the rain sounded the same on each file when there should be two rain sounds. The non MQA file all the rain sounded like it was all played on a Rhodes. The MQA file sounds like the rain in the recording only.

michaelavorgna's picture

The rain in "Riders On The Storm", as well as the thunder, are recordings of rain and thunder. This was obvious back in the '70s when I listened to the LP, and it's obvious again with MQA.

rt66indierock's picture

Michael,

It wasn’t obvious to me so I asked Ray. He told he played part of the rain. See my response to John above.

michaelavorgna's picture

...in your original comment you stated, "Michael and I agree the rain is more 'realistic' on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate."

I was talking about the sound of the real (recorded) rain, not Ray's Rhodes, i.e. I would say the MQA version is more natural sounding. I'd love to get Ray's take on the MQA version since I'd extrapolate from my observations that Ray would find his Rhodes sounds more natural, too.

TJ's picture

Thank you, John and Michael, for posting this wonderfully clear and insightful explanation of so many interesting topics that are not easily understood except by experts in this field. It's answered lots of perplexing questions for me on the first reading, and will probably answer more as I go back over it. John, you and your team are setting the standard in the industry for the work you're doing, month by month. Your readers have a debt of gratitude to each of you for that.

JimAustin's picture

The obsession with DRM arises, I suspect, from an information-technology mentality--specifically from people who believe that "information ought to be free." But there are problems with this point of view--very serious problems.

1. I think some people need to think a bit more about the issue of authentication. I suspect that many of the people who shout "DRM! DRM!" are the same people who complain when they download a high-res file from a prominent high-res music site only to find that it's upsampled CD quality. Beyond iTunes and iPods, I avoided the world of servers and digital audio files for years, for precisely this reason: There were (are?) no reliable sources of high-quality audio files. (I finally built my own server, and ripped all my CDs, this past winter.)

Who wants to pay 24 bucks for a file of which the only difference from CD-resolution is that it takes far longer to download?

We need authentication. Digital files are easy to manipulate--especially when they're in an open format! When we buy something, we need to have a reason to have confidence in what we're buying. And while some of us may enjoy that kind of thing, we shouldn't have to analyze every file we download to make sure it has the spectral content we paid for. We need authentication.

2. I'm guessing that in their other lives (the lives in which, presumably, they are willing to admit to being who they are), pseudonymous critics (talk about authentication issues!) probably like to get paid for their work. They deserve to, and so do musicians. It's no secret that the music industry is far less profitable than it once was--that many artists struggle to get paid for the music they create. The reasons are complex, but they boil down to: The Internet. Free information.

MQA is not DRM. It's just obviously not, in any reasonable or conventional interpretation of that phrase. But--I am speaking for myself only--it clearly IS an attempt to gain a certain amount of leverage over the digital distribution chain: You can do whatever you want with an MQA file, but you can't play it back at optimal quality without an appropriate tool. I enjoy recorded music enough that I'm willing to pay if it means that more artists will be able to make a living. Any new approach that has the potential to help the industry regain a bit of its former health, I'm OK with.

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture
JimAustin wrote:
MQA is not DRM. It's just obviously not, in any reasonable or conventional interpretation of that phrase. But--I am speaking for myself only--it clearly IS an attempt to gain a certain amount of leverage over the digital distribution chain.

I think you are correct here, Jim. I wrote in a comment to my 2014 article on MQA—see www.stereophile.com/content/ive-heard-future-streaming-meridians-mqa—that the record company will no longer be selling a duplicate of their hi-rez master, with all the implications for piracy that that implies. Instead, they are selling something that might well sound identical to the master, but doesn't allow the master to be re-created. In other words, it is like DRM but without all the hoopla that traditional DRM involves.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

...practical or "real world" effects - particularly on the wider digital ecosystem. One can narrowly define DRM (or anything), point out how this or that does not fit (in this case MQA), and end up with a (false) picture.

This is a good example:

" Instead, they are selling something that might well sound identical to the master, but doesn't allow the master to be re-created."

followed by:

"In other words, it is like DRM but without all the hoopla that traditional DRM involves."

The thing is, as a pragmatic matter MQA is DRM - indeed it is a very good example of it. The technical aspects/implementation are a side show because DRM is about accomplishing a goal: "managing" an end user (his "rights"), in a "digital" space (thus the acronym "DRM"). In other words, for some goal of your own which I don't understand (you simply appear to be twisting words to sell something) you are wanting MQA to not be a DRM product when it is. As you yourself admit, it by design (DRM) accomplishes a very pragmatic goal of limiting the end user in some important (to labels, artists, etc.) way.

Those of us who have experience with and understand the larger digital ecosystem understand not only the DRM taken as a thing in-of-itself, but also understand the wider implications. We have been managing such things in the digital space for years.

Obviously, DRM (like any legal restriction, contract, etc.) is not an evil in of itself - it can have its place. The question is what place, and do consumers understand it, and what role does a publication such as yours have in informing your customers about it?

For what ever reason, the editors here have decided that MQA is a some kind of unqualified good and the reality of DRM is to be explained away. The thing is, the modern "digital" or "computer" audiophile and consumer has access to multiple sources of information and they by experience know something of pragmatical effect DRM has in their own digital ecosystems (e.g. video is an obvious example).

I say all this as just to point out you have an uphill battle, and I have to wonder out loud why you think the the Clintonesque "...it depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is..." your doing with DRM is going to actually change anyone's mind? Heck, I have to wonder out loud if you actually believe it! At the end of the day, it makes your publication/project look very anti-consumer...

Archimago's picture

1. Any example of how "authentication" can make anything better? So you now have 1 file type. That doesn't necessarily guarantee that it was sourced from the "best" master. Remember Pono and their blue light to "verify" that it was a genuine item from the store? Did anyone ask for that? Is there actually any demand for this among the music buying public? Do you think a studio will actually go back to the original master tapes, figure out what ADC was used, maybe what studio DSP processing was done so they can accurately "de-blur" every single song they recorded? More likely they're just going to automate the process and give us an MQA file spit out by the encoder and that will be as "authentic" as anything else they give us.

2. How does MQA result in less piracy? MQA has stated time and again in defense of it being not DRM, it doesn't stop file copying (like DRM techniques in the past that disrupt playback - eg. Cinavia). Furthermore, they claim that these MQA files sound "better" than standard 16/44. For the folks who don't care about quality, they might as well just convert these 24/44 files to 16/44 and upload to their iPhone or whatever they use.

The only thing this ends up doing is maybe grab a few dollars for MQA/Meridian with a few folks buying new DACs licensed for MQA playback (let's not forget the time and probably licensing costs for studios and audiophile hardware manufacturers to implement this in their DACs). If a song is only available in the MQA format, it will end up on a torrent somewhere. And if there is enough interest, the algorithm will probably be reverse-engineered and decoded as a flat PCM as HDCD was in years past.

Yes, artists should be paid for the work they do. Just not sure how MQA is realistically supposed to make any difference.

JimAustin's picture

as soon as I know whom I'm talking to--not before.

Jim

Archimago's picture

I think from your response that you see merit in my thought process. Could they not be discussed as is?

Does it matter who I am other than that I am an audiophile, enjoy the hobby for years, and I have a blog with about 200 posts showing much of what I own including my soundroom and how I've been curious about how audio works? You likely will know more about me by going through the blog than I know of you.

I can tell you though that I have no affiliation with the audio industry other than as a consumer. And coincidentally, like "crenca" above, my professional background is in medicine including research.

NeilS's picture

It seems that Mr. Austin has a problem with responding to the comments of unaffiliated anonymous posters. However, if posting as an editor of Stereophile, shouldn't Mr. Austin be willing to support and comply with Stereophile's policy as set out in Mr. Atkinson's post above, i.e., "...If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."?

"...Our rule is that if you are affiliated with the audio industry, you must include that affiliation in your postings. That is to prevent people working for an audio company posting praise of their own products or dissing a competitor's products. If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous. However, I feel then that your comments should not be weighted as heavily as if they were..."

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
However, if posting as an editor of Stereophile, shouldn't Mr. Austin be willing to support and comply with Stereophile's policy as set out in Mr. Atkinson's post above, i.e., "...If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."?

Jim Austin conforms to our policy by posting under his real name and identifying himself as being affiliated with Stereophile.

The policy does not cover how much weight should be given the comments of posters who don't wish to reveal their true identities; that is a personal decision and Jim has not contravened any rules.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Requiring industry affiliated posters to identify themselves as such, as I've said, I understand and appreciate. The point I was making was that for an editor to make their response conditional on whether an unaffiliated poster uses their real name seems to me inconsistent with your policy that "If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..." Since the large majority of those posting on this blog appear to be anonymous, it would seem to effectively convert such an editor's comment into an unchallengeable monologue.

These are different issues than your policy that it is a personal decision whether an editor chooses to weight the validity of the comment according to the degree of the poster's anonymity. As I've said, such a weighting strikes me as illogical.

Anyways, 'nuff said - it's your blog.

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
The point I was making was that for an editor to make their response conditional on whether an unaffiliated poster uses their real name seems to me inconsistent with your policy that "If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."

No inconsistency. The first is an individual choice on the part of Stereophile's writers and editors; the second is general policy.

NeilS wrote:
Since the large majority of those posting on this blog appear to be anonymous, it would seem to effectively convert such an editor's comment into an unchallengeable monologue.

Not so. If I wanted this site to be as you describe, I would disable the comments function. But as every poster, whether they subscribe to Stereophile or not, is allowed to post and have their comments read, provided they confirm to our rules, your conjecture is incorrect.

NeilS wrote:
Anyways, 'nuff said - it's your blog.

Indeed it is.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jimtavegia's picture

and I am also not worried about free as I believe that artists should be compensated for their work and all too many are not. We have been around this block all too many times. I want artists whose work I admire and want to hear over and over to be bought by me and others so they can make a living doing what they love to do. I would not spin my 3 turntables almost daily if convenient was my thing, but there are now many lps that I don't listen to much anymore as their sound quality is lacking either from the recording or the pressing and I don't agonize over which is the problem as I do care about my time and most of mine is in the bottom of my hour glass.

So, eClassical, Linn, Soundkeeper, BlueCoast, Primephonic, and HD Tracks will continue to get some of my cash as they are about quality. I even have a redbook release from Primephonic that is a superb recording and better than many a redbook CD I own, so quality can be done in redbook somebody just needs to care.

It will be fun to watch how this all plays out and if the masses ever start caring about quality over convenience and free. I'm not going to hold my breath. It will be fun to see what new hardware comes down the pike as well. But remembering that DVD-A and SACD players were not crazy expensive and still did not get the masses on board, sadly.

crenca's picture

When you say:

"and I am also not worried about free as I believe that artists should be compensated for their work and all too many are not"

I think that is a real worry behind much of what the editors say here (indeed I can't tell the difference between them and your average label/RIAA spokesperson). On my network you will not find a single digital music file that was not bought and paid for. Like probably most here have a collection of digital music (I am all digital - no analog) that is worth $thousands$ - indeed my collection is small compared to most.

I get the industries problem (piracy) - what I don't get is how hamstringing your actual paying customers (like myself) with deleterious DRM formats is a solution to said problem. As video has shown us, it is a complete failure at slowing (let alone stopping) piracy and complete success in limiting/annoying $paying$ customers...

Pages

MQA: Questions and Answers Sidebar 2: Example: Portland State Chamber Choir

Thu, 08/11/2016

COMMENTS
adrianIII's picture

Would someone summarize these results in 25 words or less of regular-speak? Thanks!

eriks's picture

The meat for me is in the attempts at temporal correctness. I haven't yet digested it all, but Stuarts is making the argument that the filters necessary in digital recording and playback spread energy around in time (established truth of all filters, digital or analog), much further than most of us would have guessed (new to me). Instead of acting like a modern TV screen, where images are either on or off, digital audio has been like the old black and white TV's where rapidly changing images leave streaks.

Another analogy of course is the speaker. The ideal speaker has no stored energy. It's movement at any moment of time is 100% determined by the instantaneous voltage at the inputs with no "memory" of what has happened before or "precognition" of what may come after. As you probably know though, real speaker drivers store energy and re-radiate it after the fact. This is what waterfall plots of energy/time/frequency show.

For a very long time we have assumed this was not possible in digital encoding/decoding or that at least it was so small as to be inconsequential.

MQA attempts to perfectly resolve this issue in recording and playback.

I make no claims to it's correctness or audibility, that's just what I"m reading so far. When I'm better I'll revisit.

If you are more of an experimental learner, you might want to try something like XSim and simulate some speaker filters. Look at the impulse and step response carefully to see how pre-ringing and post-event smear occurs. This is of course a speaker, analog simulator, but the principles of filters spreading energy over time applies. It's free,

http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/multi-way/259865-xsim-free-crossover-desi...

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

Digital filters cause more distortion than we thought and it's more audible than we realized. MQA is a very ambitious attempt to correct this.

AJ's picture

It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality.
New math perhaps? ;-).
In my universe, SACD and DVD-A were abject failures in the marketplace. Perhaps elsewhere?

John Atkinson's picture
AJ wrote:
It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality. New math perhaps? ;-).

This article links to a recent study that shows to a high degree of statistical significance that listeners can indeed detect the difference between CD-quality audio and higher-resolution audio: http://www.audiostream.com/content/its-official-people-can-hear-high-res.

You can download the AES paper discussed from http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=18296.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

A. Hourst's picture

Sorry for the cheerleaders of the industry but you should also read what independant observers have to say about this study.
http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=5755

AJ's picture

Hi John,

If you look at the AES article, you can read my (AJ)comment in the AES Comments section. I was in correspondence with Dr Reiss the entire time, up through its release.
I'll quote for non-AES members here:

Quote:

Hi Joshua,

I do have one question. Here you say:

In summary, these results imply that, though the effect is perhaps small and difficult to detect, the perceived fidelity of an audio recording and playback chain is affected by operating beyond conventional consumer oriented levels. Furthermore, though the causes are still unknown, this perceived effect can be confirmed with a variety of statistical approaches and it can be greatly improved through training.

How would one train for an unknown cause? Shouldn't the cause be determined first (to avoid false positives, due to system artifacts for example), before any detection training occurs?

Please note Dr Reiss's verbage: "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".
Exactly how does Bob Stuart (or anyone)translate that to "improved" sound quality?? The statistical mining found no such thing. Only "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".

Where are the numbers for this "widely accepted" claim?? On what basis is this made?

jeffdyer's picture

If they were failures then it was because the mass market at that time was shifting from absolute recording quality of CD to the instant gratification of MP3 and download, not because of the sound quality inherent in the medium.

I have a small collection of SACDs, mostly for the multi channel mixes of classic albums and they sound smoother than CDs to me somehow. Maybe because there is less compression required.

AJ's picture
Quote:

If they were failures

They were. The market spoke clearly at the previous "Hi-Rez" pitches like SACD and DVDA. Currently, there is no "wide acceptance", other than in the insular and infinitesimal world of audiophiles.
Even there, as Bob Stuart states, get 3 in the same room...;-)

jeffdyer's picture

Actually, they are popular in Japan and there is a thriving trade on eBay, so for those who enjoy them, they are popular.

Just because not every man in the street drives a Ferrari, that does not mean Ferrari is a failure.

AJ's picture

Ah, then perhaps Mr Stuart can qualify his claim to:

Quote:

It is now widely accepted in by audiophiles in Japan and eBay, that "hi-rez" digital audio, with increased sampling rate or bit-depth, delivers "improved" sound quality.

No actual statistics or polls needed of course ;-).

jeffdyer's picture

Well, judging by the lack of objective facts required by many readers on this site on subjects such as $1500 AC leads, I would have thought a simple reference to eBay would have been more than enough evidence to the most casual reader that SACDs are in fact quite widely used.

brenro's picture

Where's the music?

fetuso's picture

I'm all for anything that will help music sound better, but asking people to get excited about MQA is like asking us to get excited about flying cars. Let me know when they get here.

rompolompo's picture

Can you please stop saying that sound in the air is analog. It is not. Once the signal leaves the loudspeakers it becomes acoustical energy. When we talk we do not make analog sound. Again, it is energy. It is not analog nor digital, these terms relate to the way sound is captured, stored and reproduced.

eriks's picture

The math could all be correct, and logical, but the real proof is in listening. I have listened to a couple of tracks from 2L and been unable to tell a difference in my setup, but I have no idea about the provenance. Ideally, an MQA track is recorded in MQA to begin with, or converted knowing the original ADC system. Converting a pre-existing digital track to MQA is not ideal.

Are there some publicly available tracks to listen to MQA recordings in ideal situations, vs. non-MQA that will make me jump for joy?

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

I'm glad this is here, but it really needs curating. The material is better suited for a wiki than an article, but like I said, I'm happy the data is up there for us to examine au plain aire.

Best,

Erik

RDSChicago's picture

I've been waiting almost two years for MQA to come to Tidal. When??

Archimago's picture

Thank you Mr. Stuart et al. for the details around the rationale for MQA as well as some of the technical capabilities.

There is obviously much in the text to parse and understand. However whether the reader agrees that the effects and theory of temporal blurring being discussed is of significance, can practically be accurately "fixed" (especially in complex studio mixes), and the algorithm used by MQA will result in audible benefit is unclear to many at this time. Thank you as well for discussing the noise floor effects; it's clear from the cases demonstrated that MQA is able to encode down to the noise level needed for the music. I know that much of this can be argued back and forth ad nauseum in terms of whether music should be kept as pure PCM and the benefits of encoding as per MQA's psychoacoustic modeling. However I think it is fair to say that whatever digital bit-depth and samplerate is used (certainly beyond the usual 16/44), we are discussing digital representations already close to auditory thresholds (which is my interpretation of the 52.3% accuracy rate in the hi-res vs. standard resolution meta-analysis).

However, in the time domain which MQA primarily focused on as the mechanism by which higher fidelity can be achieved, I must voice my concern around this comment:

"It's useful to know the original sampling rate of the mastering process, because that tells us about the first part of the chain. The DAC is equally important; a chain is as strong as the weakest link. More important, unless the encoder (A/D or mastering) and decoder (plus D/A) processes are complementary, it isn't possible to reach the final result and certainly not at low data rates..."

Why should we focus on the ADC/DAC as significant "weak links" in the overall audio chain (much less the "weakest link")? At least for the consumer end, is it not true that as almost always, the weakest links are the transducers (speakers) and room effects? Compared to typical speaker time-domain variations (step-response variation for example) on the order of multiple milliseconds, it is hard to imagine the significance of comparatively small changes at the level of the DAC including the occasional pre-ringing from poorly low-passed signal through a linear phase filter.

Without a truly "end to end" solution which terminates not at the level of the consumer's DAC, but the actual sound energy that reaches the listener, MQA alone IMO cannot truly achieve the goal of time-domain accuracy for the system. Furthermore, the closed hardware implementation which at this point does not allow access to the decoded digital audio data prevents the more sophisticated audiophile from implementing his/her own optimizations such as DSP room correction to suite the listening environment in an optimally transparent fashion.

Ultimately, in my opinion, if MQA is to suggest that the digital processing algorithm being implemented is an overall improvement, it should be allowing more A/B comparisons in public venues and taking up the offers such as that by Mark Waldrep to aid in "Real-World Comparisons" with actual hi-resolution content. Likely even more beneficial would be releasing high resolution files demonstrating a typical properly dithered 16/44 audio file upsampled to 24/192 (with say a standard linear filter) and the decoded output from an MQA file to 24/192 with the same mastering. This will provide an opportunity for the public to audition the effect for themselves in their own home with existing high-resolution DACs to at least provide an idea of what difference the algorithm can make. (Perhaps more appropriate would be 24/44 vs. MQA as they would have similar bitrates.)

eriks's picture

I agree there's a lot of self-serving hyperbole in the writing. I would have to go and do some simulations to fully appreciate whether digital filtering or a typical loudspeaker has more signal spread, but this can also be mostly compensated for using DiracLive or Rephase.

It would be really interesting to have a demo with DiracLive + MQA vs. not.

Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.

Best,

Erik

JimAustin's picture

>>Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.<<

I know very little about Meridian loudspeakers, but maybe these already exist?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KN0ToXOvQpo

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

I don't even know where to start. Besides sidestepping the whole DRM issue these articles are a new low not only for Bob Stuart but for audio journalism in itself.

Just one example how dishonestly Stuart answers questions: it "is understood that a digital distribution system (including MQA) can be lossless in distribution and therefore requires lossless delivery."

Well the question was if MQA is a lossless FORMAT. But Mr. Stuart sidesteps this question by speaking not about formats but about "lossless delivery."

He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy.

There are plenty more gems like this in the marketing material spread out here. I certainly hope that Stereophile gets some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims. That is what good journalism is about and what the audiophile community deserves.

Until this happens I'd venture to call Bob Stuart the Donald Trump of the Audio world.

michaelavorgna's picture

You appear to not have understood the explanations offered, i.e. this gem "He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy". Let me help (from the same paragraph you quoted):

"More important is to capture and protect (in a lossless manner) all the information in the file that relates to the music content."

On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

It's also worth noting that Stuart is a recognized expert and engineer who has authored numerous peer-reviewed papers, not to mention the fact that he actually makes things that people can hear for themselves, like MQA.

I gather from your call for "some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims" that you are neither an expert or engineer so the basis of your criticism is admittedly ill-informed.

Hmm. This behavior reminds me of someone running for public office. Who could that be....;-)

Michael Lavorgna
Editor, AudioStream

mcgilroy's picture

sir,

no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications. even after your post I don't question yours. I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-laywers about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues. I am pretty familiar with these things and look forward to the challenge.

until then let me explain why I wrote "dishonest".

the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.

if the answer is yes, say so & provide proof and means to reproduce. case settled.

if the answer is no, say so & explain why MQA as a lossy format might still might yield a better performance than a lossless format. provide proof and means to reproduce it. A/B testing would be a start, maybe third-party measurements.

instead mr. stuart prefers to move goalposts by offering a new "definition" of lossless. one that the esteemed mr stuart would not get through any peer-review in any serious publication but certainly works well enough for marketing.

the whole thing gets even more hilarious if you take into account the table given on the page "MQA Hierarchy". here suddenly "lossless" is one of the parameters to compare the different MQA-codecs. check it out - suddenly mr stuart himself says it's not (!) a lossless format...

On the DRM-issue let me just quote the first two sentences of the wikipedia entry:

"Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works.[1]DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies"

please mr stuart or mr lavorgna explain to me how MQA does not fall under this definition.

Guys - my point is: marketing like this in the age of the internet is an uphill battle. people will scrutinize your statements and fact-check the hell out of them. smoke and mirrors are all fine and dandy and necessary evil in marketing. but continually taking your customers for a ride does not pay out in the long run. it would be much simpler to come out clean and tell everybody the facts.

in the case in question I so far fail to see any evidence that MQA is not a lossy-DRM-trojan.

I'd be happy to learn else or plainly and simply told by mr stuart:

"yes the music industry wants to resilver their catalogs but does neither want to experience the MP3-wild-west all over again nor can accept Apple/Amazon/MS/Google control the distribution of their content.

MQA offers the necessary IP and DRM safeguards for content producers and on top that also comes along with a clever low bandwith High-Rez container-format. for the latter we have a nice demographics willing to spend money on music. record companies please sign up here"

if stuart or any MQA guys come out like this I'd be impressed. but I guess he further will work on truly becoming the donald trump of the audio world. a smart man with a great legacy deserves better.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications...

I don't understand your point about qualifications. You are the one who talks about "EEs," so surely Bob Stuart's own qualifications and credentials are relevant.

mcgilroy wrote:
I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication.

I really don't like "arguing by credential," but as you seem fixated on qualifications, perhaps you should note that on Stereophile's writing team, we have 4 PhDs, and while my own qualifications aren't at that elevated level, my bachelor's degree is in physics and chemistry; my post-graduate qualification is in the teaching of science at the high-school level; I am a full member of the Audio Engineering Society; an associate member of the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers; and in 2011 I was the Distinguished Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecturer at the 131st Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York. (See www.stereophile.com/content/2011-richard-c-heyser-memorial-lecture-where-did-negative-frequencies-go.)

So before you continue dismissing what we have to write, please bear in mind that this is not our first rodeo.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

Mr. Atkinson,

thank you for taking your time and chiming in.

I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors. Neither did I question Bob Stuarts credentials. I am well aware of his pedigree, fully respect his achievements and am certain he has a very solid understanding of the field. My allegation is actually worse, namely that despite better knowledge Mr. Stuart choose to mislead the public about certain aspects of the MQA format.

This includes but is not limited to the question of lossnessness, bit-rate, compression-ratios, settings for establishing reproducibility of findings like proper A/B-Testing of MQA vs incumbents and last not least the DRM & IP makeup of the MQA format.

Note that I have not included the concept of "temporal blur" in this list. Here I too remain skeptical but need more time to research this aspect.

Besides Archimago, Cernca and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public. At least that is what academica is expected to do and what the press should strive for.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors.

The text of yours to which I was referring was this:

mcgilroy wrote:
I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-[lawyers] about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues.

It seems plain that you were indeed questioning our credentials. If my own qualifications as one of the "EE people" were good enough to be accepted by the AES and IEEE, why would you dismiss them?

And now again you are referring to people who you feel are "well-respected" ie, again attempting to appeal to authority:

mcgilroy wrote:
Besides Archimago, [Crenca] and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

It is fair to point out that Archimago and Crenca hide behind anonymity.

And that to the best of knowledge, none of the "well respected industry veterans" you list have actually auditioned or analyzed MQA-encoded files and compared them with the PCM originals. We have. We feel that the improvement in sound quality is real, as you can read in our September issue.

mcgilroy wrote:
I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public.

Again you present appeals to authority, dismissing our own credentials despite your denial that you do so. If you really don't consider our qualifications appropriate to judge something like digital technology, then I have to ask why you subscribe to Stereophile at all?

And on the subject of DRM, while no, I am not a "credentialed individual from IP-Law," I remind you of the words of the respected English critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw, that you don't need to be a carpenter to judge the quality of a table.

Does MQA prevent people from copying, emailing, selling, and sharing the files? No.

Does MQA prevent people other than the owner from playing the file? No.

Does MQA prevent people from playing the file with the original hi-rez resolution? No, if they have an MQA-enabled playback system; yes, if they don't.

What is to prevent an end-user from buying an MQA-enabled playback system? Nothing, other than the sense of entitlement evidenced, for example, by you, Crenca, and Archimago in this thread.

Does MQA require a license fee to be paid by the manufacturer of such playback systems? Yes, but in that respect, it is no different from Dolby, DTS, MLP, MP3, AAC, etc, etc.

If you look at the license fees that are required to be paid by manufacturers of DVD and Blu-ray players and media, you will be astonished at how many there are. (Even the developer of the ancient Macrovision videocassette technology gets an upfront payment of $30,000 followed by $15,000 each year from a manufacturer of video disc players.) And yes, those fees result in the players being more expensive than if there were no fees to be paid, a point made by Schiit's Jason Stoddard. (One estimate is that licensing fees increase the price of a DVD player by 10%.) It is only in the case of the IP I listed above that the fact that those fees are amortized over a very large number of products/apps that keeps them transparent to the end-user.

Why can't MQA be free, like FLAC? There is no free lunch. Engineers have to feed their families just like you. Again we get back to the sense of entitlement. Engineers are free to choose an open-source model or a licensing model for their IP. There is no moral difference between the two.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

Well, it is in a round about way - it is about "value". What is the real value of a DRM product like MQA to the end user? When you point out the sound quality value, I believe you. However, as I point out here:

http://www.stereophile.com/comment/560353#comment-560353

DRM has a cost that is far larger than the initial (or ongoing) licensing fees. It has an impact on the entire (in this case musical) digital ecosystem that is separate from the dollars and cents and is almost always much more significant than the (usually relatively small) licensing fees. This is why we point out that MQA is DRM, self serving definitions do not withstand.

Just so you know, because of my past work in IT and law enforcement (I am in a different business altogether now) I maintain a bit of "anonymity" in my relationship to the internet (though if you have any skill you understand such anonymity is not all that deep). If you have seen the things I have seen, you would to. You will never (ever ever ever) find pictures of my children on Facebook for example. I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

John Atkinson's picture
crenca wrote:
I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

Our rule is that if you are affiliated with the audio industry, you must include that affiliation in your postings. That is to prevent people working for an audio company posting praise of their own products or dissing a competitor's products. If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous. However, I feel then that your comments should not be weighted as heavily as if they were signed.

All Stereophile writers and editors post under their real names, whether to our site or to third-party sites. That way we can be held responsible for what we say.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

I am not affiliated with the industry in any way except as a consumer. I agree with you that anonymity goes against the norm of social convention/trust and devalues my comments to a certain extent. It is a cost I am am OK with obviously...

JimAustin's picture

I respect and appreciate the desire of casual Internet users to maintain a certain amount of information security. The problem, IMO, comes when self-proclaimed experts refuse to man up and let people know who they are. So-called journalists who hide behind a pseudonym cannot, in my view, be trusted. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take responsibility--personal responsibility--for what you have to say. And while it's true that valid arguments can stand on their own merits, it's a bit like yelling insults out a car window as it zooms past at 50 mph. Shake my hand, introduce yourself, look me in the eye, and let's chat. Until then, I have no interest in them or what you (they) have to say.

Jim Austin (PhD Physics)
Contributing Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

Re: Crenca, Archimago "hide behind anonymity", while I do understand and appreciate the point you are making about concerns about anonymous affiliated posters promoting their own or "dissing" others' products, it did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

Instead of addressing my arguments directly, the poster was bringing up the fact that people he regards as authorities, as more highly credentialed than I am, disagree with me. It is a semantically empty debating tactic and I was calling him on it.

NeilS wrote:
It did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

It's not ad hominem. As I said in an earlier posting today, if someone doesn't want to attach his or her name to his or her opinion, I give that opinion less weight than would otherwise be the case. You obviously disagree but I am not in any way obliged to substitute your position on this for my own.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Thanks for your response. I don't think I was asking you to substitute my position, as I said, I understand and appreciate yours. I was just pointing out that whether or not the poster is anonymous doesn't logically invalidate their position, just as using one's real name doesn't logically validate it, either. Let's agree to disagree on whether that constitutes an ad hominem logical fallacy.

A. Hourst's picture

This thing about anonymity is completely beside the point. Either you have things to say or you don't, end of the argument. Some of the things that I've read and found the most interesting on the web were written by people with pseudonyms like "boulga" or "simonon". Woody Allen's real name isn't Woody, and Caravaggio was an aliase...
Some people that write under their true identity can be an embarrassment to the concept of truth as much, or even more, than anonymous posters. Like I said, beside the point...

NeilS's picture

The Federalist Papers, Mark Twain...

A. Hourst's picture

Yes, this "tell me your real name" war is nonsense.

crenca's picture

in IP law, software patents, etc. and how these things work in the digital world on both a technical and business level. This is not surprising, given their background. That said the business they are in is changing (and has been for quite a while) and some minimal understanding of DRM, formats, and their place in a digital ecosystem (in this case one centered around music) would seem to be a reasonable expectation.

Allowing Bob's self serving double speak around this aspect of MQA a free pass is a bit over the top IMO and does not reflect well on them (though the do other things very well). You are correct in that MQA (if it ever gained significant market penetration) would be a "DRM trojan"...

(edit, this post is meant as a reply to mcgilroy )

JimAustin's picture

>>the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.<<

Why would he want to mindlessly answer a misleading question? Putting it this way is an attempt at a rhetorical trap.

I'm not Stuart, though, and I'll bite. I'm speaking only for myself here. JA and (of course) Stuart are far more knowledgeable than I am, so hopefully they'll step in if I get something wrong.

Is MQA lossless in the usual IT sense? No. But why should you care? If you're capable of following Stuart's reasoning and digesting the information he provided--which, btw, is unprecedented in its shear quantity in my experience for a proprietary product--you should agree that what's "lost" isn't musically relevant because 1. it's in a region where there's no musical information, and 2. the format takes pains nevertheless to maintain any information that might be necessary to preserve temporal integrity, even in the frequency range where there's little if any musical information (more than double the upper limit of human hearing). High-res is nice but it's hideously inefficient. MQA has gone a long way toward solving this problem while making other technical improvements that seem likely to be musically relevant--and my ears tell me that they are indeed.

I think it's useful to think about this in the context of MP3. Just about everything in a CD-resolution file is potentially audible; MP3 (and similar schemes) aim to reduce file size by getting rid of the least musically relevant information. The problem is that what's musically relevant is subjective, and listening/hearing abilities vary widely; one person's irrelevant info is another person's critical timing cue. If I understand it, MQA keeps everything--losslessly--way beyond the frequencies our ears can hear. It has to because they've determined that the ear's ability to resolve in the time domain far exceeds what its (the ear's) frequency-domain performance would predict. Still, there's a lot of information above the range of human hearing--and above the range where music has any information--that isn't necessary to preserve time-domain integrity. So, compress it.

If you have no information about which part of, say, a 192/24 file is important to the musical experience, you keep all of it just to be safe. But the more you know, the more you understand, the more intelligent the decisions you can make. In my view, MQA is the result of a careful (and apparently rigorous) rethinking of digital audio delivery. If you want to understand it, you need to be willing to question, e.g., to what extent the IT-derived concept of losslessness is relevant in the high-resolution audio world.

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

crenca's picture

Only in the world of 1984 is the following true:

"On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

DRM is about (and always has been) the *legal* mechanisms used to achieve it goals, and only secondarily about any technical implementation used (e.g. some internal mechanism that makes it difficult for typical end users to "copy", etc.)

Can an end user *legally* reverse engineer an MQA encoded file if he does not have a licensed decoder (so far only hardware based) and *legally* listen to the "high res" content? No. If he does he is of course in violation of IP laws and the penalties for doing so vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

DRM is what DRM does, and MQA is DRM because it "manages" what the end user hears based on whether he has $licensed$ a decoder. MQA is DRM all day long, and no amount of Orwellian double speak from Bob or simple (willful?) ignorance from editors of audiophile blogs can change this fact.

As an editor of a blog that purports expertise in things "digital", it would behoove you to study up a bit on IP and software patents and how they are used in the market place...

(this post does not appear under Michael Lavorgna post as I intended - he is the editor to whom it is directed).

michaelavorgna's picture

Any and every MQA encoded file can be played back on any and every DAC. If you want to get something for nothing, then you've got a point. Otherwise, this years-long rant of yours is not only tired but needs to be retired.

crenca's picture

And a continuation of the double-speak. Any DAC (what Bob euphemistically calls "legacy DACs"- the kind everyone actually owns) can NOT play the "High Res" content of the MQA encoded file without an *illegal* reverse enginered hack (on the software or hardware level) THAT is DRM, all day everyday.

Your imputation of motive is also wrong. I don't want "something for nothing". If I wanted MQA I would pay for it, but I would not lie to myself or others that it is not a DRM/IP/software patent protected product. I happen to not want MQA - others do and that's fine. Either way it Is DRM today, was yesterday, and will be tomorrow...

michaelavorgna's picture

If you want to reap the full benefits of MQA end-to-end, you'll have to get an MQA-capable DAC. You want to reap the benefits of MQA without getting an MQA-enabled DAC. That = something for nothing.

Of course you can skip this entire Orwellian fantasy by simply buying hi-res downloads and playing them on your hi-res-ready DAC.

But that wouldn't be soooo dramatic, would it.

crenca's picture

You were wrong about what DRM is technically and and as a business matter. As an "audiophile" you were enthusiastic about MQA and downplayed (out of ignorance mostly) the reality of MQA and it being a product that relies on DRM for it's very place and survival in the market.

Let it go - you are the editor of a public blog (which also happens to be a business). You have to admit your failure and move on. Your readers will respect you more if you do...

michaelavorgna's picture

I just looked in the mirror to confirm ;-)

If you fact check your attributions of "you" and "yours", you'll find that they all originated with *you*. But that was a heck of a go at deflection.

crenca's picture

...and how many different ways you try to make this about me - it will always be about MQA, DRM, and your failure to understand them in relation to the digital ecosystem.

Now quit trying to save face and bone up on the basics - you have a blog and business to run that is about those very things!!!

michaelavorgna's picture

If, for you, that means I'm making this about you, then sure. As I said, my face isn't in need of saving, years aside.

How about addressing the fact that anyone can bypass MQA by simply buying a high-res download.

crenca's picture

Of course one can "by-pass" MQA by not purchasing it - that is the way markets work! This is however has nothing to do with what myself and others are saying. Strangely, you and Mr. Atkinson keep imputing ill-will on are part - that we are pointing out the FACTS of DRM and MQA because (you believe) we want "something for nothing", that we want "free lunches", etc. We are not proposing anyone *break the law* and try to circumvent the IP/DRM of MQA for piracy.

What we are pointing out is two things:

1) MQA is a DRM product all day, every day- Bob and your denials do not withstand. This fact has NOTHING to do with the problem of piracy and any roll a IP/DRM product like MQA has in "solving" this problem.

2) DRM, IP, and software patents have an impact on *legal* end users (i.e. the people who actually pay for the product) and their digital ecosystem in general in ways that are go range from "inconvenient" to "bad". This impact is large, non-trivial, etc. Thus, when end users have to consider the cost of this impact when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of MQA. In other words, MQA is not a mere sound quality tweak, or another format like PCM or FLAC, but is a different proposition altogether. It is your lack of understanding of this aspect of MQA (and digital ecosystems in general) that is really on display in your coverage of this topic.

The impact to which I refer is obvious to everyone. (Almost) everyone who reads this blog owns a TV. They understand (if only unconsciously) the roll DRM, IP, and software patents play in their ability to *legally* back up their Blue Rays or stream them from a server to an endpoint, etc. They understand that they can not skip commercials on their disks (or their DVR's) NOT because of technical limitations, but because of DRM and legal collusion between the government, hardware/software manufactures, and content providers.

Whether you agree or disagree philosophically with DRM and the problem(s) it allegedly "solves", the fact is that it has a burdensome effect everywhere it ends up. Music lovers who take advantage of the "digital" so far have been blessedly free of these burdens. MQA is a product that brings these burdens to the music lover and there is simply no way (or reason - besides a crass commercialism that is willing to simply lie) to deny it.

The "but but but what about piracy" is an industry bubble that your all stuck in. Yes, piracy is a problem - but then the music lover who actually buys your product has a "but but but", and that is the non-trivial burdens/limitations that DRM has within our digital ecosystems. You can ignore it if you wish, but it is real and we are going to of course bring it up...

michaelavorgna's picture

...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

Note - I have consistently reported on MQA's position re. DRM, I have not denied anything. Rather I understand what has been said and do not see any "DRM Trojan" other than in people's minds.

I worked for years developing custom applications mainly for Hedge Funds and while we relied on the expertise of an attorney when we looked to patent some of our work, I have experience with software and intellectual property. So your comments about my background are ill-informed.

John Atkinson's picture
michaelavorgna wrote:
...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

I think there is an exact parallel with HDCD. If you had an HDCD-capable DAC, you would get 1-2 bits greater resolution, perhaps more, from what appeared to be a regular CD. If you didn't want to pay for an HDCD decoder, you could still play the CD but at lower effective resolution.

In that sense, the same "DRM" argument could be made about HDCD, in that it restricted the quality available to people without an HDCD decoder.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

michaelavorgna's picture

And if you want play back DSD and/or anything above 24/96 you need to have the appropriate hardware/software. If you want to play back FLAC files or DSD, you cannot use iTunes. And so on...

I was hoping that "crenca" would share the practical reality of what he's been talking about for years now re. MQA and DRM. As in, exactly how will this limit MQA users. So far, all we've got are implications based on examples that have zero relevance to the question at hand coupled with baseless accusations regarding people's motives, integrity, and supposed lack of knowledge.

[Meta-content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

As Mr. Atkinson admits, the end user is managed - he can hear only what the licensor grants - in this case the 16/44 content if he does not agree to the licensor's terms (putting aside the debate that whether an MQA file actually contains the full 16/44 information that the equivalent PCM file does). PCM, DSD, Vinyl, etc. of course have none of these digital/legal limitations, and are in no way the same *legal entity* that MQA is.

The more burdensome problem is the implications of the license and everything that goes with it at the level of formats. Formats are sort of the ground we walk on in the digital world - everything else rests upon it. It's like the air we breath - now what happens to our lives when someone comes along and patents air? Or more relevant, what happens when someone comes along and patents TCP/IP? Sure, I am typing this on proprietary software (a browser by one company, an OS by another, etc.) but the "ground" of our communication is an open format called TCP/IP. Things change drastically (mostly for the worse for the end user - a small group of companies would $benefit$) if the ground becomes closed/proprietary/IP software. IF MQA (or anything like it) ever became the ground of our digital musical lives, we would all be worse off. This is a widely admitted and discussed phenomena and aspect of the market and anyone who has paid attention to and worked with software/computers/digital in the last 50 years knows what I am talking about (too many aspects to even begin to address in a comment box). We are all welcome to our opinions as to what it means to us and others, but to keep denying MQA's IP/DRM is as I have described it (Orwellian, creepy, etc.).

[Content deleted by John Atkinson - please take off-topic meta discussions off-line.]

michaelavorgna's picture

You are suggesting that if MQA takes over the digital world, it will be bad. No one has suggested this is even a possibility. For example, the MQA deal with WMG caused some concerns along these lines. So I called WMG and asked them if MQA was going to replace other high-res formats. Their answer was no.

My point being, while you paint a very dark picture using MQA, you have yet to provide one example of how this will play out in reality. For those who are not interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue. For those interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue.

[Content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

...oops, I mean I did, I did provide "one example of how this will play out in reality" - video. Have you tried to *legally* backup, copy, stream, or do anything worthwhile with your Blue Ray today (other than simply stick it in the trey and mindless absorb the FBI warning)? We don't have an analogous situation in audio because as of yet there has not been a DRM/IP takeover of our basic formats. MQA is not that yet, but as your fellow journalist Robert Harely admitted (probably in an unguarded moment) such a takeover is THE holy grail of the industry. He then in the same article incongruently argued that MQA is not a DRM product, which simply reveals that the audiophile press is either being willfully ignorant as to what DRM is or has no small amount of catching up to do on the subject.

[Content deleted by John Atkinson]

michaelavorgna's picture

Have a nice day, "crenca".

volvic's picture

I have no interest in MQA, have my CD's on a computer setup and very happy. Bob Stuart and Meridian have put out products that speak for themselves, and I own a few of them, and can only say that their after sales service is stellar, not to mention their work in the digital field is some of the best in the hi-if world. I wish I had a quarter of the engineering intelligence that Mr. Stuart has, to dismiss all his contributions and question his integrity is to me a new low on these pages. But then again Mr. Stuart doesn't need me to defend his place in audio history, it is already well entrenched.

eriks's picture

MQA compression is like MPEG compression. By understanding the contents of the faile, you can achieve much higher compression than in say Zip compression, which does not.

MPEG captures each new scene, and records the deltas. Of course, it can be lossy, but it doesn't have to. By doing this alone an order of magnitude better compression is achieved than Zip.

MQA is also being smart about what it's looking at. They make the postulate, one I agree with, that information density above 20kHz is much smaller than below, so let's alter how it's encoded to take advantage of it. Then this becomes a straightforward encoding issue. This only works for audio though, for broad band digital encoding of analog signals which do not fit the music profile this would be useless. Much like MPEG which only works because of how movies are spliced together, MQA only works because of the nature of music.

I really wish this had been introduced 20 years ago though, then MP3 would never have succeeded. If it's useful I suspect we'll see open-source compression schemes which take advantage of this idea come out in the future.

Best,

Erik

Archimago's picture

Hello Erik,
MQA would not have supplanted MP3 20 years ago. MP3 compression is much smaller in terms of bitrate. In order for MQA to maintain a "compatible" bitstream, the more significant bits have to represent standard PCM so any DAC can playback. What we have seen thus far, MQA starts at the size of 24/44 files which is *even larger* than the file from a ripped CD (16/44).

Furthermore, from what I have seen, the lowest 8 bits of these 24/44 file appears to be less compressible by a lossless encoder like FLAC. No way MQA would have provided the filesize reduction of MP3 like 128kbps back in the day or more typically 256+kbps these days with essentially CD-quality files.

eriks's picture

This would be easier if we had a spreadsheet. You could very well be right! Let me tell you what I've seen. I have a Mytek, and grabbed some files from http://www.2l.no/hires/. I used the two tracks (in multiple formats for each) from:

Vivaldi: Recitative and Aria from Cantata RV 679, "Che giova il sospirar, povero core"

The 352.8k/24 bit MQA file was 39 MB MQA file but the equivalent FLAC file was 284 MB for a little over 7x compression. Not bad at all. I did not listen to that one though, trying to compare similar sized MQA to similar sized FLAC I chose the 96/24.

Also, keep in mind that where we fold the frequency response is arbitrary. We could attempt to fold 44/16 instead of 384/24. I'm sure it would be smaller than flac. No idea if it would in the end be competitive with MP3 though.

Still I can hope, right? :)

Erik

Archimago's picture

I appreciate your hope in what MQA can accomplish. But that's not how it works. You cannot perform this audio "origami" ad infinitum to reach MP3 size with anywhere close to the quality of an MP3 data stream based on what we've seen.

In fact, since we do not have access to the decoded digital data from an MQA --> PCM to look at the frequencies beyond the 22/24kHz baseband, it's hard to quantify just how much lossy change has been imparted on the signal in the upper octaves.

Remember, you were talking about MQA supplanting MP3 if invented 20 years ago. Back then when many of us were using 56kbps modems, 128kbps music downloads were realistic though still took time. This low bitrate is FAR lower than what we're talking about here!

eriks's picture

I don't think it's appropriate to say "lossy change" since it's been described as lossless. However, earlier articles in Stereophile did in fact compare content above 20kHz and were pretty positive, with tiny changes in overall output.

Of course, it's fine to still be skeptical about whether it's lossy or not.

Best,

Erik

Archimago's picture

I believe the use of "lossy change" in the upper octaves (above 22/24kHz) is absolutely appropriate in the context of how we've defined "lossless" for the last couple of decades at least.

Let's quote Mr. Stuart:
"• b) There is no foolery here: MQA does indeed reconstruct a remarkably close approximation to the original ultrasonic information from the lower bits of a 24-bit signal."

It's not an exact replica as the term "lossless" implies as applied to a CODEC like FLAC/APE/WV/ALAC. We could say that high bit-rate MP3 reconstructs a remarkably close approximation as well... This is obvious and we did not need Mr. Stuart's lengthy Q&A's to understand this is how it has to work.

Of course, just how "remarkably close" the MQA algorithm gets it right is something we cannot answer at this time.

eriks's picture

Thank you, I missed that part about it being an approximation. I had assumed Stuart's point was that music didn't need the n most significant bits above k frequency, and then compressed and hid what remained, which in my mind is pretty brilliant.

I had not realized it was some sort of reconstruction, which is different from decompression. My bad for reading right over that part. Now we are back in MP3 land in terms of being lossy.

Best,

Erik

NeilS's picture

Absent from Mr. Stuart's rather abstruse and lengthy essay are answers to the issues raised in Archimago's first comment ("Thank you for the series") on this thread. I don't think it's the first time they've been raised. They appear to me to be germane, and whether enthusiastic, skeptical or merely curious about MQA, I believe readers would benefit from a clear and direct response from Mr. Stuart.

low2midhifi's picture

All of these downloading/streaming articles make me wonder what the automotive equivalent might be.

Wouldn't be fascinating that I would have to wade through such opaque dissertations to know where to fill my car with gas, where to change the oil, where, perchance, to have my factory transmission replaced for some other contrarian engineering standard which might have exceeded that which came with my car?

All of these "dueling" standards over which standard to stream and download leave me glad for my CD purchases. CDs may be inferior, but it's a reliable and tradable format. If I don't like a CD, I sell it; there's a ready market for such misfires in my purchases. I don't know where I'd sell my Studebaker-like MQA, MP3, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, IRAQ... files on my Seagate hard-drive, and soon-to-be-obsolete tablet menu software.

Let these interested parties in the downloading/streaming world debate what appear to be varying versions of the Confederate Dollar (no offense to audiophiles south of the Mason-Dixon line). This technological hair-splitting (all to hear songs that only an even smaller audience will like) puts the audiophile pursuit--already a marginal endeavor--even further to the outer reaches of the Solar System, Kuiper Belt, or Oort Cloud, of ever more constrained disposable income, and dwindling patience of we sympathizers of the hobby.

Keep us posted when the doctoral dissertation critiques, and standards of the week, settle on something that many of us would bother to purchase. Keep us posted when the "latest and greatest" will not be the"has-been standard" of the same forum of audio enthusiasts two years hence. VHS -vs- Betamax, Toshiba HD -vs- BluRay was nothing compared to this audio Ecumenical Council.

I look forward to the latest CD releases and recommendations from Stereophile, Amazon, Arkivmusc, Allmusic, etc. while the academic debate on the competing "internal combustion engine designs" rages on elsewhere.

When you have decided if the "new car" should have 4 or 6 or 8 or 3 wheels, let us know. When you know if the steering wheel will be on the left, right, or center, let us know, When you know, whether the "new car" runs on diesel, gasoline, kerosene, coal, wood chips, cow chips, sugar cane chaff, Uranium, moonshine, corncobs, let the rest of us know.

Until the next article, we all wait.

dalethorn's picture

I skipped over the math, but it being publicly asserted, I accept that it will hold up and the "high res container" concept will prove itself. Crypto people were talking about steganography back in the 90's before the War on Terror, and now we know that it works well enough that our intel agencies depend more on the old-fashioned ear to the ground and social engineering than they do being able to crack crypto codes. I don't see any reason why MQA licensing should be more intrusive than Dolby or any of the hundreds of license holders you see in the iPhone 'About/Legal' screens.

crenca's picture

"don't see any reason why MQA licensing should be more intrusive than Dolby or any of the hundreds of license holders you see in the iPhone 'About/Legal' screens"

And will be part of the success of MQA if it actually ever gains any significant market penetration. The denial of the IP/DRM/software patent aspect of MQA, and the claims that MQA is the *legal* equivalent of software such as FLAC or PCM encoded files however would be almost acceptable if it was just Bob and his marketing team (we all know marketing is a little truth and a lot of untruth). However, the attempt by the "audiophile press" to no simply regurgitate these untruths but to further defend them is just a wee bit unnerving...

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

You, cranky Crenca, without ever sharing who you are, have waged a one-person war on MQA on multiple websites for an exceedingly long time. No matter what facts are provided, you counter them. If people claim they hear differences, you undercut them. If your arguments don't hold up to scrutiny, you resort to personal attacks. That's your M.O.

All the finger pointing makes for excellent drama. But in the end, it will go for nought. Ultimately, the success of MQA will depend on the strength of the campaign to educate the public, and what people hear. The public's ears will be the ultimate judge. Happily, when they listen, they will listen to music, not to this blather.

I'm heading on vacation. Keep up the good fight.

mcgilroy's picture

Where exactly in his post has Crenca personally attacked you or other individuals at Stereophile or provide any untruths?!

He simply pointed out the consequent overlooking of the IP/DRM aspect of MQA and the failure of the audiophile press to address this issue properly. Being lectured about "educating the public" by proponents who are avoiding to do so is exactly why somebody like Crenca is unnerved.

Actually Crenca contributed to educating the public when he pointed out the significance of the observation of the previous poster as valuable. Just as Dolby licensing primary burdened hardware manufactures and not the content-buying consumer MQA most likely will burden DAC & ADC manufactures. Many of which have publicly voiced their criticism of MQA.

Happy holidays and if you have same spare time you might enjoy reading up on DRM and it's history. It's worth it.

jimtavegia's picture

It is most hard for your folks or at Meridian to argue with folks who live in a country that ranks 28th? in the world in Math Ability. A sad state of affairs for sure. The Math presented here IS most difficult and as we are learning there is much going on in digital audio that is not fully fully understood even yet, and more will be uncovered in the future. Think back to when the issue of jitter was first present and that is easily understood now and what an important issue it was and is, but is only a small part of the digital process, and differences audibly discernable.

When you sit in middle school math classes as a teacher like I do every day with students who can't add, subtract, or multiply with any proficiency I have problems of explaining things mathematically. I taught high school math for 6 years and came back to MS to try and fix was has gone horribly wrong in our math world. I have a wonderful lady down the hall with a masters from Georgia Tech teaching the brighter math students to take them to new heights. I have more job security. lol She often asks me how I can do what I do.

Even forgetting the very high level math going on, it always comes down to the bottom line of whether you can HEAR the improvements or not and all too many trained listeners can and have, and reported it here. No one can say that they doubt the finding just because they don't understand the math, which is incredibly foolish and only exposes yourself as one who disavows what they don't understand. It is alright to not understand all the math going on and how it relates to what we hear. The folks at Meridian are doing that for us.

The other issue, and the main one to me, is our own personal hearing flaws and differences that has become more apparent to me in my quest to find some great headphones that work for ME and MY hearing deficiencies, which are great at 69. Accurate to whom? My hearing is not the same as JA's, Tylls', or anyone else, or Bob Stuart's. What changes in frequency response I need will not work for anyone else. I can tell you that what is accurate or pleasing to them does not work for me and my HF loss. So if you, or anyone else is trying to discern the audibility of 16/44.1, 24/96, 24/192, or DSD...on what are you listening, where it is set up and does it match up to YOU and your hearing accuracy (loss)? Is your room a sonic mess? What is bright to some would not be bright to me, I can assure you, and so my level of discernment of "BETTER" will not be the same for anyone at Stereophile or anyone with near perfect hearing, whatever that is. I have learned my lesson with my Focal Spirit Pro headphones and their reduced HF energy that make then sound so dull to me. Buying them off a great review was a mistake as the reviewer and I do not HEAR the same, but they can easily work for someone with no hearing loss.

If all, or most of the folks who have attended the listening sessions for MQA can hear an improvement of what MQA can do ( and I do believe them to be honest folks, by the way) why should I doubt it even if I don't understand all the math (I don't by the way) if the result IS an "audible improvement"? If even 4 out of 5 agree, 80% does win in my math world. If the 1 out of 5 does not have near perfect hearing why would I trust his opinion anyway? I might not even know that they are not a music lover or even care about the music selected for the audition which WOULD matter as it is one of the parameters (variables) of the trial that can't be discounted as a factor. Everything matters even a + .1db change in loudness often has one preferring the "louder" as the better which is often not the case.

It is sad to read some of the comments here. I do not believe that one can present all that is going on with MQA that can be presented in a simple way, as it is not simple, but for those like me, all that matters is can I hear the improvement that all their hard work has achieved? If I can't, my only decision is to become a customer or not. My choice. It does not discount their work or their achievement. I must accept the humbling fact that I am the problem if I can't hear the improvement, too often a hard thing for people to do. Hearing small improvements is hard work, but after reading the comments of those hearing the demonstrations of the trials, these are NOT small improvements.

Archimago's picture

Hi Jim,
I've seen some of your comments over the years and appreciate your education background. It is indeed a very difficult task working in and watching the education landscape as you have.

Note though that a number of us have raised concerns about MQA that I think very much resonates with what you bring up. Essentially, "the numbers don't seem to add up" when it comes to the claims; at least not in the way the product is being marketed as being some kind of massive or "revolutionary" improvement.

- Language and meanings are being redefined euphemistically like "lossless" (they're really referring to "perceptually lossless" rather than bit-perfect lossless we're used to).

- I raised above the question of time domain issues with speakers which this technique cannot compensate for. This is important given the time-domain rationale for improved fidelity.

- The technique is proprietary and brings with it limitations to how it can be decoded (hence the IP comments) - on the consumer side, room correction DSP cannot be applied to the decoded data, nor would you be able to experiment with filter settings like HQPlayer. For hardware manufacturers, they would have to comply with MQA's "authenticated" decoder every time an MQA file is encountered in order to decode the full resolution. This would limit customized processing/filtering during playback of these file (like what PS Audio or Ayre currently does in their DACs).

Note that I do appreciate innovation and have no problem with a business making money on their ingenuity. But this technique is highly suspect starting even from the neuroscience research they are quoting and extrapolating from (eg. the whole Oohashi ultrasonic effect, look up the research paper and see what you think), all the way to hyping up the recent CD vs. high-resolution meta-analysis.

Jim, you seem like a nice man. But I believe you need to think a bit more critically about what you're reading here... In sum, the claims and theory of improved fidelity are highly suspect considering the cost including loss of freedom compared to what we already have with non-proprietary PCM and DSD.

By the way, I have "heard" MQA in one of their demos. The music sounded great, but it better sound great from a $500K sound system! But like countless other demos and complaints I have heard, they did not bother with an A/B comparison. This is why I think they need to be more open and I would challenge them to release a non-MQA standard file upsampled to 24/192 as well as an MQA-decoded file in 24/192 so anyone with a hi-res DAC that can handle 24/192 can compare in their own home to experience the difference MQA can make even if not sounding optimal. [By releasing in 192kHz, the internal antialiasing filter from one's DAC will have much less contribution to the overall sound and we should be able to evaluate a significant amount of the claimed time-domain improvement.]

jimtavegia's picture

I have just found that I really like recording and listening to 2496, but at my age I can hear some improvement when I record at 24192, but it is not consistent, but I think that has more to do with the program material and my hearing loss.

I have also not been reading anywhere else about the "problems?" with PCM at 2496, 24192, or 24384 before, so this was somewhat new to me that I will reread Stuart's comments and try to understand more...if I can. It may be beyond me at 69. I am still in the camp that if it sounds better to me it is.

I am still considering buying a Tascam DA-3000 (24192 & DSD) for my location recording work as leaving a venue and session with more is always a great thing and then mixing it down to what people can use is what I would do. My DA-688 does 24192, but I am not sure if the converters are of a high enough quality to make much difference as it is "consumer priced". I certainly does capture more.

This is all going to be fun to follow and see where it lands. I really didn't want to have to do more "homework" for this hobby of ours, but that has changed.

It may be that all of this has raised more questions than it has answered for many. The discussion is a good one.

Jim

NeilS's picture

For what it's worth, I think it's not an unreasonable expectation that editors and columnists in a professional publication model respectful and professional civil debate on its comment boards. Perhaps Mr. Atkinson, whom I think does, might have a gentle word with some of his colleagues?

Vade Forrester's picture

Whew! It's nice to see all the scientific background about MQA, and interesting to read the objections posed. But it seems to me there are two, and only two, questions that need to be resolved about MQA:

1. Does MQA sound as good or better than the best other processes for making music recordings? In other words, does it sound as good or better than DSD or high-resolution PCM recordings?

and

2. Are files produced by the MQA recording process significantly smaller than other formats?

If the answer to both of those questions is Yes, then MQA is good and should be widely adopted. If the answer to only the first question is Yes, MQA is good but whether it should be adopted depends on how much better it sounds than other recording processes. If the answer to the first question is No, then why bother with a process that sounds worse than what we already have?

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

jimtavegia's picture

Streaming listeners might, but I doubt it as for them it is not about quality, but the old background music is good enough idea. Storage is so cheap these days that I don't worry about it any more.

My main listening is 2496 downloads when I find something I like and then burn them to DVD-R's or just keep them in my computer for playback.

I am a late adopter, so we will see about MQA. Right now a very good usb dac for up to 24/192 is $150 so, I will wait.

Vade Forrester's picture

Jim, the industry is moving towards streaming as the preferred way to listen to music. I'd love to be able to listen to the best sound quality streamed from the huge libraries of online sites like Tidal without having to store or buy anything other than a monthly subscription. I envision listening in my car, on my cell phone, and of course on my hifi.

For $299, you can get a very good DAC that plays PCM files up to 192/24 and also MQA. By high-end standards, that's a bargain.

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

Archimago's picture

Right Vade. I don't want to be pedantic but do want to be clear so that folks are aware of the opposition and concerns from many in the audiophile hobby community.

1. Does it sound as good as everything else?
- How can we know without proper A/B demos or released decoded files for comparison?
- Do we just trust the testimony of a few who might have had access to original files + MQA decoding to base our decisions?
- Do we just go ahead and buy a DAC to try and potentially waste money and time with returning it if we don't ultimately think it's worthwhile? If I bought a few MQA-encoded downloads to try, can I also return that easily?
- We do know that the "end-to-end" process for MQA terminates at the DAC; not the speakers which is where distortion and time-domain smearing might be significant issues.
- MQA is not DSD. Anything that was recorded in DSD will need to be converted to PCM to go through the MQA process.
- (Although I don't think it's worth arguing about at this point, MQA does still mess with the full bit-depth though understandably so long as it's unobtrusive, music does not require a full 24-bits.)

2. Are files significantly smaller?
- Compared to 24/96 and 24/192+ FLAC files. Yes.
- But it looks to be larger than the size of typical 24/44 or 24/48 FLAC files.
- So for streaming purposes, it'll be larger than current Tidal FLAC streamed at CD bitrate of 16/44 by at least 50%. As Jim suggests, is it really worth an extra 50% data bandwidth for the streaming crowd, many of whom using cell phones and limited data plans?

3. Is it worth the loss of freedom we already enjoy?
- As a hobbyist who wants to optimize sound in my room, I want to be able to play with digital filters myself. And I want to be able to listen with customized DSP room correction which will do time domain correction for my speakers in my room.
- MQA takes away that freedom within the digital domain because we are not allowed to access the decoded full quality digital stream. If MQA gets adopted widely and becomes the only "high resolution" format, then it will be a setback for those of us wanting to achieve the best fidelity IMO. High resolution DACs are already excellent with many companies doing different and innovative things to optimize sound, and high resolution downloads are already plentiful.

------

From my perspective, this whole "end-to-end" authentication business is unnecessarily backwards because it doesn't fix the speaker time domain issues AND it takes away from the freedom of those of us who want to implement a fix! It only exists as a business model for licensing as far as I can tell.

What could be of value here is MQA's DSP processing technique to improve the mastering if the theory is true that their processing can improve time-domain accuracy from the studio. Let the studio implement the MQA processing technique and use it with their highest quality projects. Then they can proudly put a sticker advertising that their recording and processing techniques conformed to MQA standards of time-domain accuracy. Release that as "MQA-HR" 24/192+. It'll be like how JVC specially processed CD's to be "XRCD". The whole encapsulation/origami/lossy ultrasonic piece isn't needed for fidelity.

Vade Forrester's picture

Archimago, I understand your concern about DRM, but to me, that's a personal issue. I have nothing to add to the exhaustive discussions that have taken place about this issue. I respect your concerns, though I don't share them. Another exhaustively debated issue is whether MQA is lossless. I have nothing to add except to say who cares? If MQA sounds as good or better than existing recording processes, that's what matters to me. I respect those who are concerned about losslessness, but don't share that concern. For me, it's all about the sound quality.

After I submitted my post, I read John Atkinson's message about employees of other magazines needing to identify themselves, which I neglected to do out of ignorance. I am a reviewer for The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network magazines, in addition to being a long-time subscriber to Stereophile and regular reader of the excellent AudioStream website, from which I've learned a lot. I'll be careful to observe your rule in the future.

Vade Forrester

Archimago's picture

Thanks for the response.

Actually, in the discussions here, I have not invoked the term DRM but rather specifically highlighted how this would practically affect those of us already trying our best to improve fidelity. I'll leave the legal discussions to those more versed :-).

Remember, there is no magic here.

As a writer and reviewer in the audiophile press, you do have a stake in this and IMO you do have to educate yourself about how this works because that is your role as a journalist and your responsibility to your readers. It is only then that you can independently evaluate the merits of what is presented before you - able to intelligently question claims that make little sense, and endorse based on objective merit hopefully consonant with subjective impression rather than simply personal preferences.

I think readers would want to know if with your understanding and experience, this represents a path forward to advance the cause of fidelity, future innovation, and provides a freedom for them to optimize fidelity that they already enjoy.

Vade Forrester's picture

Archimago, I am diligently trying to learn everything possible about MQA so I can discuss it knowledgeably for my readers. That's why I read everything I can find about it in every forum I think is useful like this one.

I've already outlined my simplified criteria for assessing whether MQA is worthwhile. Until I can personally listen to MQA files and compare them to the the same performances recorded as the highest-resolution standard PCM and DSD files, I won't have an opinion about their sound quality. To do that I'll need a DAC that can reproduce MQA, PCM, and DSD. So far, none have come my way.

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network

Archimago's picture

And totally respect the position.

John Atkinson's picture
Vade Forrester wrote:
After I submitted my post, I read John Atkinson's message about employees of other magazines needing to identify themselves, which I neglected to do out of ignorance. I am a reviewer for The Absolute Sound and SoundStage! Network magazines...

Thank you, Vade.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

“If you can’t hear it it’s all academic.” Paul Klipsch

Taken one way, I have nine albums that I use to test. Until Sony and Universal are MQA licenses and release six albums they own the rights to I can’t test MQA. Warner owns the rights to three albums so I wonder when and where I can download them. So does Warner in their latest SEC filing one of their business risks is “our dependence on a limited number of digital music services for the online sale of our music recordings and their ability to significantly influence the pricing structure for online music stores.” I can’t buy the music I want as MQA files so for me it is academic until I can.

Taken a second way I listened to MQA files in Meridian’s room at T.H.E. Show this year. Michael Lavorgna posted his thoughts about the Doors “Riders on the Storm” on MQA May 26, 2016. He found the rain more realistic than his hi-res version. I was allowed an A-B test with “Riders on the Storm.” Michael and I agree the rain is more “realistic” on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate. This is a small difference but it will require more testing. And I was listening in a hotel room to unfamiliar equipment so I can’t make any conclusions until hear MQA in familiar surroundings and with familiar equipment. So again academic until I compare file formats to see if I can hear any differences.

One comment, don’t forget there are a lot of hi-res files that sound worse than their CD counterparts.

One question what is the difference between “white glove” MQA files and those converted by automated processes?

John Atkinson's picture
rt66indierock wrote:
Michael and I agree the rain is more “realistic” on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate.

I am not sure I am understanding you here. The rain on "Riders on the Storm" is not "produced by a Fender Rhodes"; there is a recording of real rain that is mixed in with the recorded Rhodes electric piano (an instrument where hammers hit tuned metal tines that excite electromagnetic pickups). The sounds of the rain and the piano are separate acoustic objects in the mix.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

John,

The rain on Riders on the Storm was created two ways, one was a recording the other was a Fender Rhodes. My source is Ray Manzarek keyboardist for the Doors. He would have no reason to lie to me in the seventies. In any case I found this quote after reading your response. "Nothing could play rain like a Rhodes piano," said Manzarek, who no longer owns a Rhodes piano and had to borrow one from a collector to play on a recent VH1 "Storytellers" episode. This is from the obituary of Harold Rhodes, MTV News January 4, 2001.

I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

John Atkinson's picture
rt66indierock wrote:
The rain on Riders on the Storm was created two ways, one was a recording the other was a Fender Rhodes . . . I found this quote after reading your response. "Nothing could play rain like a Rhodes piano," said Manzarek, who no longer owns a Rhodes piano and had to borrow one from a collector to play on a recent VH1 "Storytellers" episode.

I think you are taking Ray Manzarek's words as being literal when they were not. He was referring to the downward broken-octave figure that represents the rain, not the actual sound of the rain, which was a sound-effects recording and, as Michael Lavorgna has clarified, was what he was referring to.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rt66indierock's picture

John, I had a conversation with Ray in the seventies about the sound effects that can be created on electric pianos. So I’m not taking a quote from 2001 too literally I’m relating a conversation. Part of the conversation was about the song. He told me there are two parts to the rain one is the recording of the rain and the other he played on the Rhodes. As I said the recording of rain and thunder sounds more natural on the MQA version but the rain sounds created on the Rhodes sound the same which is not the way the record sounds to me. Michael’s high-res version apparently has the all the rain sounding like it was created on the Rhodes which also not the way the record sounds to me. So to me neither is correct and the cause is probably in the remastering. Like I said before I need to do more testing.

As for sounds the Rhodes, when you play rain on it can sound like glass beads hitting plexiglass. Very cold rain hitting a plexiglass window sounds the same. I’m a golfer from the Pacific Northwest so I’ve been in houses with plexiglass windows on the sides that face the golf course and noticed the difference in the sounds of cold rain hitting plexiglass and regular tempered glass. And I noticed how similar the sound of cold rain hitting a plexiglass window sounds to a Rhodes producing the effect of rain.

On both of the files I heard in the Meridian room at T.H.E. Show the rain sounded the same on each file when there should be two rain sounds. The non MQA file all the rain sounded like it was all played on a Rhodes. The MQA file sounds like the rain in the recording only.

michaelavorgna's picture

The rain in "Riders On The Storm", as well as the thunder, are recordings of rain and thunder. This was obvious back in the '70s when I listened to the LP, and it's obvious again with MQA.

rt66indierock's picture

Michael,

It wasn’t obvious to me so I asked Ray. He told he played part of the rain. See my response to John above.

michaelavorgna's picture

...in your original comment you stated, "Michael and I agree the rain is more 'realistic' on the MQA file but the sound of rain produced by a Fender Rhodes is more like how Michael described it “akin to glass beads hitting plexiglass” on the hi-res file so the MQA rain played on the Rhodes is not as accurate."

I was talking about the sound of the real (recorded) rain, not Ray's Rhodes, i.e. I would say the MQA version is more natural sounding. I'd love to get Ray's take on the MQA version since I'd extrapolate from my observations that Ray would find his Rhodes sounds more natural, too.

TJ's picture

Thank you, John and Michael, for posting this wonderfully clear and insightful explanation of so many interesting topics that are not easily understood except by experts in this field. It's answered lots of perplexing questions for me on the first reading, and will probably answer more as I go back over it. John, you and your team are setting the standard in the industry for the work you're doing, month by month. Your readers have a debt of gratitude to each of you for that.

JimAustin's picture

The obsession with DRM arises, I suspect, from an information-technology mentality--specifically from people who believe that "information ought to be free." But there are problems with this point of view--very serious problems.

1. I think some people need to think a bit more about the issue of authentication. I suspect that many of the people who shout "DRM! DRM!" are the same people who complain when they download a high-res file from a prominent high-res music site only to find that it's upsampled CD quality. Beyond iTunes and iPods, I avoided the world of servers and digital audio files for years, for precisely this reason: There were (are?) no reliable sources of high-quality audio files. (I finally built my own server, and ripped all my CDs, this past winter.)

Who wants to pay 24 bucks for a file of which the only difference from CD-resolution is that it takes far longer to download?

We need authentication. Digital files are easy to manipulate--especially when they're in an open format! When we buy something, we need to have a reason to have confidence in what we're buying. And while some of us may enjoy that kind of thing, we shouldn't have to analyze every file we download to make sure it has the spectral content we paid for. We need authentication.

2. I'm guessing that in their other lives (the lives in which, presumably, they are willing to admit to being who they are), pseudonymous critics (talk about authentication issues!) probably like to get paid for their work. They deserve to, and so do musicians. It's no secret that the music industry is far less profitable than it once was--that many artists struggle to get paid for the music they create. The reasons are complex, but they boil down to: The Internet. Free information.

MQA is not DRM. It's just obviously not, in any reasonable or conventional interpretation of that phrase. But--I am speaking for myself only--it clearly IS an attempt to gain a certain amount of leverage over the digital distribution chain: You can do whatever you want with an MQA file, but you can't play it back at optimal quality without an appropriate tool. I enjoy recorded music enough that I'm willing to pay if it means that more artists will be able to make a living. Any new approach that has the potential to help the industry regain a bit of its former health, I'm OK with.

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture
JimAustin wrote:
MQA is not DRM. It's just obviously not, in any reasonable or conventional interpretation of that phrase. But--I am speaking for myself only--it clearly IS an attempt to gain a certain amount of leverage over the digital distribution chain.

I think you are correct here, Jim. I wrote in a comment to my 2014 article on MQA—see www.stereophile.com/content/ive-heard-future-streaming-meridians-mqa—that the record company will no longer be selling a duplicate of their hi-rez master, with all the implications for piracy that that implies. Instead, they are selling something that might well sound identical to the master, but doesn't allow the master to be re-created. In other words, it is like DRM but without all the hoopla that traditional DRM involves.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

...practical or "real world" effects - particularly on the wider digital ecosystem. One can narrowly define DRM (or anything), point out how this or that does not fit (in this case MQA), and end up with a (false) picture.

This is a good example:

" Instead, they are selling something that might well sound identical to the master, but doesn't allow the master to be re-created."

followed by:

"In other words, it is like DRM but without all the hoopla that traditional DRM involves."

The thing is, as a pragmatic matter MQA is DRM - indeed it is a very good example of it. The technical aspects/implementation are a side show because DRM is about accomplishing a goal: "managing" an end user (his "rights"), in a "digital" space (thus the acronym "DRM"). In other words, for some goal of your own which I don't understand (you simply appear to be twisting words to sell something) you are wanting MQA to not be a DRM product when it is. As you yourself admit, it by design (DRM) accomplishes a very pragmatic goal of limiting the end user in some important (to labels, artists, etc.) way.

Those of us who have experience with and understand the larger digital ecosystem understand not only the DRM taken as a thing in-of-itself, but also understand the wider implications. We have been managing such things in the digital space for years.

Obviously, DRM (like any legal restriction, contract, etc.) is not an evil in of itself - it can have its place. The question is what place, and do consumers understand it, and what role does a publication such as yours have in informing your customers about it?

For what ever reason, the editors here have decided that MQA is a some kind of unqualified good and the reality of DRM is to be explained away. The thing is, the modern "digital" or "computer" audiophile and consumer has access to multiple sources of information and they by experience know something of pragmatical effect DRM has in their own digital ecosystems (e.g. video is an obvious example).

I say all this as just to point out you have an uphill battle, and I have to wonder out loud why you think the the Clintonesque "...it depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is..." your doing with DRM is going to actually change anyone's mind? Heck, I have to wonder out loud if you actually believe it! At the end of the day, it makes your publication/project look very anti-consumer...

Archimago's picture

1. Any example of how "authentication" can make anything better? So you now have 1 file type. That doesn't necessarily guarantee that it was sourced from the "best" master. Remember Pono and their blue light to "verify" that it was a genuine item from the store? Did anyone ask for that? Is there actually any demand for this among the music buying public? Do you think a studio will actually go back to the original master tapes, figure out what ADC was used, maybe what studio DSP processing was done so they can accurately "de-blur" every single song they recorded? More likely they're just going to automate the process and give us an MQA file spit out by the encoder and that will be as "authentic" as anything else they give us.

2. How does MQA result in less piracy? MQA has stated time and again in defense of it being not DRM, it doesn't stop file copying (like DRM techniques in the past that disrupt playback - eg. Cinavia). Furthermore, they claim that these MQA files sound "better" than standard 16/44. For the folks who don't care about quality, they might as well just convert these 24/44 files to 16/44 and upload to their iPhone or whatever they use.

The only thing this ends up doing is maybe grab a few dollars for MQA/Meridian with a few folks buying new DACs licensed for MQA playback (let's not forget the time and probably licensing costs for studios and audiophile hardware manufacturers to implement this in their DACs). If a song is only available in the MQA format, it will end up on a torrent somewhere. And if there is enough interest, the algorithm will probably be reverse-engineered and decoded as a flat PCM as HDCD was in years past.

Yes, artists should be paid for the work they do. Just not sure how MQA is realistically supposed to make any difference.

JimAustin's picture

as soon as I know whom I'm talking to--not before.

Jim

Archimago's picture

I think from your response that you see merit in my thought process. Could they not be discussed as is?

Does it matter who I am other than that I am an audiophile, enjoy the hobby for years, and I have a blog with about 200 posts showing much of what I own including my soundroom and how I've been curious about how audio works? You likely will know more about me by going through the blog than I know of you.

I can tell you though that I have no affiliation with the audio industry other than as a consumer. And coincidentally, like "crenca" above, my professional background is in medicine including research.

NeilS's picture

It seems that Mr. Austin has a problem with responding to the comments of unaffiliated anonymous posters. However, if posting as an editor of Stereophile, shouldn't Mr. Austin be willing to support and comply with Stereophile's policy as set out in Mr. Atkinson's post above, i.e., "...If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."?

"...Our rule is that if you are affiliated with the audio industry, you must include that affiliation in your postings. That is to prevent people working for an audio company posting praise of their own products or dissing a competitor's products. If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous. However, I feel then that your comments should not be weighted as heavily as if they were..."

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
However, if posting as an editor of Stereophile, shouldn't Mr. Austin be willing to support and comply with Stereophile's policy as set out in Mr. Atkinson's post above, i.e., "...If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."?

Jim Austin conforms to our policy by posting under his real name and identifying himself as being affiliated with Stereophile.

The policy does not cover how much weight should be given the comments of posters who don't wish to reveal their true identities; that is a personal decision and Jim has not contravened any rules.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Requiring industry affiliated posters to identify themselves as such, as I've said, I understand and appreciate. The point I was making was that for an editor to make their response conditional on whether an unaffiliated poster uses their real name seems to me inconsistent with your policy that "If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..." Since the large majority of those posting on this blog appear to be anonymous, it would seem to effectively convert such an editor's comment into an unchallengeable monologue.

These are different issues than your policy that it is a personal decision whether an editor chooses to weight the validity of the comment according to the degree of the poster's anonymity. As I've said, such a weighting strikes me as illogical.

Anyways, 'nuff said - it's your blog.

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
The point I was making was that for an editor to make their response conditional on whether an unaffiliated poster uses their real name seems to me inconsistent with your policy that "If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous..."

No inconsistency. The first is an individual choice on the part of Stereophile's writers and editors; the second is general policy.

NeilS wrote:
Since the large majority of those posting on this blog appear to be anonymous, it would seem to effectively convert such an editor's comment into an unchallengeable monologue.

Not so. If I wanted this site to be as you describe, I would disable the comments function. But as every poster, whether they subscribe to Stereophile or not, is allowed to post and have their comments read, provided they confirm to our rules, your conjecture is incorrect.

NeilS wrote:
Anyways, 'nuff said - it's your blog.

Indeed it is.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jimtavegia's picture

and I am also not worried about free as I believe that artists should be compensated for their work and all too many are not. We have been around this block all too many times. I want artists whose work I admire and want to hear over and over to be bought by me and others so they can make a living doing what they love to do. I would not spin my 3 turntables almost daily if convenient was my thing, but there are now many lps that I don't listen to much anymore as their sound quality is lacking either from the recording or the pressing and I don't agonize over which is the problem as I do care about my time and most of mine is in the bottom of my hour glass.

So, eClassical, Linn, Soundkeeper, BlueCoast, Primephonic, and HD Tracks will continue to get some of my cash as they are about quality. I even have a redbook release from Primephonic that is a superb recording and better than many a redbook CD I own, so quality can be done in redbook somebody just needs to care.

It will be fun to watch how this all plays out and if the masses ever start caring about quality over convenience and free. I'm not going to hold my breath. It will be fun to see what new hardware comes down the pike as well. But remembering that DVD-A and SACD players were not crazy expensive and still did not get the masses on board, sadly.

crenca's picture

When you say:

"and I am also not worried about free as I believe that artists should be compensated for their work and all too many are not"

I think that is a real worry behind much of what the editors say here (indeed I can't tell the difference between them and your average label/RIAA spokesperson). On my network you will not find a single digital music file that was not bought and paid for. Like probably most here have a collection of digital music (I am all digital - no analog) that is worth $thousands$ - indeed my collection is small compared to most.

I get the industries problem (piracy) - what I don't get is how hamstringing your actual paying customers (like myself) with deleterious DRM formats is a solution to said problem. As video has shown us, it is a complete failure at slowing (let alone stopping) piracy and complete success in limiting/annoying $paying$ customers...

Pages

MQA: Questions and Answers Sidebar 1: Example: Nielsen: 2L-120 Track 1

Thu, 08/11/2016

COMMENTS
adrianIII's picture

Would someone summarize these results in 25 words or less of regular-speak? Thanks!

eriks's picture

The meat for me is in the attempts at temporal correctness. I haven't yet digested it all, but Stuarts is making the argument that the filters necessary in digital recording and playback spread energy around in time (established truth of all filters, digital or analog), much further than most of us would have guessed (new to me). Instead of acting like a modern TV screen, where images are either on or off, digital audio has been like the old black and white TV's where rapidly changing images leave streaks.

Another analogy of course is the speaker. The ideal speaker has no stored energy. It's movement at any moment of time is 100% determined by the instantaneous voltage at the inputs with no "memory" of what has happened before or "precognition" of what may come after. As you probably know though, real speaker drivers store energy and re-radiate it after the fact. This is what waterfall plots of energy/time/frequency show.

For a very long time we have assumed this was not possible in digital encoding/decoding or that at least it was so small as to be inconsequential.

MQA attempts to perfectly resolve this issue in recording and playback.

I make no claims to it's correctness or audibility, that's just what I"m reading so far. When I'm better I'll revisit.

If you are more of an experimental learner, you might want to try something like XSim and simulate some speaker filters. Look at the impulse and step response carefully to see how pre-ringing and post-event smear occurs. This is of course a speaker, analog simulator, but the principles of filters spreading energy over time applies. It's free,

http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/multi-way/259865-xsim-free-crossover-desi...

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

Digital filters cause more distortion than we thought and it's more audible than we realized. MQA is a very ambitious attempt to correct this.

AJ's picture

It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality.
New math perhaps? ;-).
In my universe, SACD and DVD-A were abject failures in the marketplace. Perhaps elsewhere?

John Atkinson's picture
AJ wrote:
It is now widely accepted by 0.000000000000000001% of the human population that "hi-rez" audio delivers improved sound quality. New math perhaps? ;-).

This article links to a recent study that shows to a high degree of statistical significance that listeners can indeed detect the difference between CD-quality audio and higher-resolution audio: http://www.audiostream.com/content/its-official-people-can-hear-high-res.

You can download the AES paper discussed from http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=18296.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

A. Hourst's picture

Sorry for the cheerleaders of the industry but you should also read what independant observers have to say about this study.
http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=5755

AJ's picture

Hi John,

If you look at the AES article, you can read my (AJ)comment in the AES Comments section. I was in correspondence with Dr Reiss the entire time, up through its release.
I'll quote for non-AES members here:

Quote:

Hi Joshua,

I do have one question. Here you say:

In summary, these results imply that, though the effect is perhaps small and difficult to detect, the perceived fidelity of an audio recording and playback chain is affected by operating beyond conventional consumer oriented levels. Furthermore, though the causes are still unknown, this perceived effect can be confirmed with a variety of statistical approaches and it can be greatly improved through training.

How would one train for an unknown cause? Shouldn't the cause be determined first (to avoid false positives, due to system artifacts for example), before any detection training occurs?

Please note Dr Reiss's verbage: "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".
Exactly how does Bob Stuart (or anyone)translate that to "improved" sound quality?? The statistical mining found no such thing. Only "Can detect" "causes are still unknown".

Where are the numbers for this "widely accepted" claim?? On what basis is this made?

jeffdyer's picture

If they were failures then it was because the mass market at that time was shifting from absolute recording quality of CD to the instant gratification of MP3 and download, not because of the sound quality inherent in the medium.

I have a small collection of SACDs, mostly for the multi channel mixes of classic albums and they sound smoother than CDs to me somehow. Maybe because there is less compression required.

AJ's picture
Quote:

If they were failures

They were. The market spoke clearly at the previous "Hi-Rez" pitches like SACD and DVDA. Currently, there is no "wide acceptance", other than in the insular and infinitesimal world of audiophiles.
Even there, as Bob Stuart states, get 3 in the same room...;-)

jeffdyer's picture

Actually, they are popular in Japan and there is a thriving trade on eBay, so for those who enjoy them, they are popular.

Just because not every man in the street drives a Ferrari, that does not mean Ferrari is a failure.

AJ's picture

Ah, then perhaps Mr Stuart can qualify his claim to:

Quote:

It is now widely accepted in by audiophiles in Japan and eBay, that "hi-rez" digital audio, with increased sampling rate or bit-depth, delivers "improved" sound quality.

No actual statistics or polls needed of course ;-).

jeffdyer's picture

Well, judging by the lack of objective facts required by many readers on this site on subjects such as $1500 AC leads, I would have thought a simple reference to eBay would have been more than enough evidence to the most casual reader that SACDs are in fact quite widely used.

brenro's picture

Where's the music?

fetuso's picture

I'm all for anything that will help music sound better, but asking people to get excited about MQA is like asking us to get excited about flying cars. Let me know when they get here.

rompolompo's picture

Can you please stop saying that sound in the air is analog. It is not. Once the signal leaves the loudspeakers it becomes acoustical energy. When we talk we do not make analog sound. Again, it is energy. It is not analog nor digital, these terms relate to the way sound is captured, stored and reproduced.

eriks's picture

The math could all be correct, and logical, but the real proof is in listening. I have listened to a couple of tracks from 2L and been unable to tell a difference in my setup, but I have no idea about the provenance. Ideally, an MQA track is recorded in MQA to begin with, or converted knowing the original ADC system. Converting a pre-existing digital track to MQA is not ideal.

Are there some publicly available tracks to listen to MQA recordings in ideal situations, vs. non-MQA that will make me jump for joy?

Best,

Erik

eriks's picture

I'm glad this is here, but it really needs curating. The material is better suited for a wiki than an article, but like I said, I'm happy the data is up there for us to examine au plain aire.

Best,

Erik

RDSChicago's picture

I've been waiting almost two years for MQA to come to Tidal. When??

Archimago's picture

Thank you Mr. Stuart et al. for the details around the rationale for MQA as well as some of the technical capabilities.

There is obviously much in the text to parse and understand. However whether the reader agrees that the effects and theory of temporal blurring being discussed is of significance, can practically be accurately "fixed" (especially in complex studio mixes), and the algorithm used by MQA will result in audible benefit is unclear to many at this time. Thank you as well for discussing the noise floor effects; it's clear from the cases demonstrated that MQA is able to encode down to the noise level needed for the music. I know that much of this can be argued back and forth ad nauseum in terms of whether music should be kept as pure PCM and the benefits of encoding as per MQA's psychoacoustic modeling. However I think it is fair to say that whatever digital bit-depth and samplerate is used (certainly beyond the usual 16/44), we are discussing digital representations already close to auditory thresholds (which is my interpretation of the 52.3% accuracy rate in the hi-res vs. standard resolution meta-analysis).

However, in the time domain which MQA primarily focused on as the mechanism by which higher fidelity can be achieved, I must voice my concern around this comment:

"It's useful to know the original sampling rate of the mastering process, because that tells us about the first part of the chain. The DAC is equally important; a chain is as strong as the weakest link. More important, unless the encoder (A/D or mastering) and decoder (plus D/A) processes are complementary, it isn't possible to reach the final result and certainly not at low data rates..."

Why should we focus on the ADC/DAC as significant "weak links" in the overall audio chain (much less the "weakest link")? At least for the consumer end, is it not true that as almost always, the weakest links are the transducers (speakers) and room effects? Compared to typical speaker time-domain variations (step-response variation for example) on the order of multiple milliseconds, it is hard to imagine the significance of comparatively small changes at the level of the DAC including the occasional pre-ringing from poorly low-passed signal through a linear phase filter.

Without a truly "end to end" solution which terminates not at the level of the consumer's DAC, but the actual sound energy that reaches the listener, MQA alone IMO cannot truly achieve the goal of time-domain accuracy for the system. Furthermore, the closed hardware implementation which at this point does not allow access to the decoded digital audio data prevents the more sophisticated audiophile from implementing his/her own optimizations such as DSP room correction to suite the listening environment in an optimally transparent fashion.

Ultimately, in my opinion, if MQA is to suggest that the digital processing algorithm being implemented is an overall improvement, it should be allowing more A/B comparisons in public venues and taking up the offers such as that by Mark Waldrep to aid in "Real-World Comparisons" with actual hi-resolution content. Likely even more beneficial would be releasing high resolution files demonstrating a typical properly dithered 16/44 audio file upsampled to 24/192 (with say a standard linear filter) and the decoded output from an MQA file to 24/192 with the same mastering. This will provide an opportunity for the public to audition the effect for themselves in their own home with existing high-resolution DACs to at least provide an idea of what difference the algorithm can make. (Perhaps more appropriate would be 24/44 vs. MQA as they would have similar bitrates.)

eriks's picture

I agree there's a lot of self-serving hyperbole in the writing. I would have to go and do some simulations to fully appreciate whether digital filtering or a typical loudspeaker has more signal spread, but this can also be mostly compensated for using DiracLive or Rephase.

It would be really interesting to have a demo with DiracLive + MQA vs. not.

Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.

Best,

Erik

JimAustin's picture

>>Perhaps the bombshell that's yet to drop is that if MQA gets widely accepted, Meridian plans on introducing speakers which extend the MQA DAC correction out to the drivers themselves.<<

I know very little about Meridian loudspeakers, but maybe these already exist?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KN0ToXOvQpo

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

I don't even know where to start. Besides sidestepping the whole DRM issue these articles are a new low not only for Bob Stuart but for audio journalism in itself.

Just one example how dishonestly Stuart answers questions: it "is understood that a digital distribution system (including MQA) can be lossless in distribution and therefore requires lossless delivery."

Well the question was if MQA is a lossless FORMAT. But Mr. Stuart sidesteps this question by speaking not about formats but about "lossless delivery."

He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy.

There are plenty more gems like this in the marketing material spread out here. I certainly hope that Stereophile gets some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims. That is what good journalism is about and what the audiophile community deserves.

Until this happens I'd venture to call Bob Stuart the Donald Trump of the Audio world.

michaelavorgna's picture

You appear to not have understood the explanations offered, i.e. this gem "He then continues to essentially argue that MQA is more lossless than lossless by being lossy". Let me help (from the same paragraph you quoted):

"More important is to capture and protect (in a lossless manner) all the information in the file that relates to the music content."

On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

It's also worth noting that Stuart is a recognized expert and engineer who has authored numerous peer-reviewed papers, not to mention the fact that he actually makes things that people can hear for themselves, like MQA.

I gather from your call for "some serious experts and engineers to fact-check Stuarts claims" that you are neither an expert or engineer so the basis of your criticism is admittedly ill-informed.

Hmm. This behavior reminds me of someone running for public office. Who could that be....;-)

Michael Lavorgna
Editor, AudioStream

mcgilroy's picture

sir,

no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications. even after your post I don't question yours. I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-laywers about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues. I am pretty familiar with these things and look forward to the challenge.

until then let me explain why I wrote "dishonest".

the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.

if the answer is yes, say so & provide proof and means to reproduce. case settled.

if the answer is no, say so & explain why MQA as a lossy format might still might yield a better performance than a lossless format. provide proof and means to reproduce it. A/B testing would be a start, maybe third-party measurements.

instead mr. stuart prefers to move goalposts by offering a new "definition" of lossless. one that the esteemed mr stuart would not get through any peer-review in any serious publication but certainly works well enough for marketing.

the whole thing gets even more hilarious if you take into account the table given on the page "MQA Hierarchy". here suddenly "lossless" is one of the parameters to compare the different MQA-codecs. check it out - suddenly mr stuart himself says it's not (!) a lossless format...

On the DRM-issue let me just quote the first two sentences of the wikipedia entry:

"Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works.[1]DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies"

please mr stuart or mr lavorgna explain to me how MQA does not fall under this definition.

Guys - my point is: marketing like this in the age of the internet is an uphill battle. people will scrutinize your statements and fact-check the hell out of them. smoke and mirrors are all fine and dandy and necessary evil in marketing. but continually taking your customers for a ride does not pay out in the long run. it would be much simpler to come out clean and tell everybody the facts.

in the case in question I so far fail to see any evidence that MQA is not a lossy-DRM-trojan.

I'd be happy to learn else or plainly and simply told by mr stuart:

"yes the music industry wants to resilver their catalogs but does neither want to experience the MP3-wild-west all over again nor can accept Apple/Amazon/MS/Google control the distribution of their content.

MQA offers the necessary IP and DRM safeguards for content producers and on top that also comes along with a clever low bandwith High-Rez container-format. for the latter we have a nice demographics willing to spend money on music. record companies please sign up here"

if stuart or any MQA guys come out like this I'd be impressed. but I guess he further will work on truly becoming the donald trump of the audio world. a smart man with a great legacy deserves better.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
no need to throw around accusations and assumptions about qualifications...

I don't understand your point about qualifications. You are the one who talks about "EEs," so surely Bob Stuart's own qualifications and credentials are relevant.

mcgilroy wrote:
I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication.

I really don't like "arguing by credential," but as you seem fixated on qualifications, perhaps you should note that on Stereophile's writing team, we have 4 PhDs, and while my own qualifications aren't at that elevated level, my bachelor's degree is in physics and chemistry; my post-graduate qualification is in the teaching of science at the high-school level; I am a full member of the Audio Engineering Society; an associate member of the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers; and in 2011 I was the Distinguished Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecturer at the 131st Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York. (See www.stereophile.com/content/2011-richard-c-heyser-memorial-lecture-where-did-negative-frequencies-go.)

So before you continue dismissing what we have to write, please bear in mind that this is not our first rodeo.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mcgilroy's picture

Mr. Atkinson,

thank you for taking your time and chiming in.

I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors. Neither did I question Bob Stuarts credentials. I am well aware of his pedigree, fully respect his achievements and am certain he has a very solid understanding of the field. My allegation is actually worse, namely that despite better knowledge Mr. Stuart choose to mislead the public about certain aspects of the MQA format.

This includes but is not limited to the question of lossnessness, bit-rate, compression-ratios, settings for establishing reproducibility of findings like proper A/B-Testing of MQA vs incumbents and last not least the DRM & IP makeup of the MQA format.

Note that I have not included the concept of "temporal blur" in this list. Here I too remain skeptical but need more time to research this aspect.

Besides Archimago, Cernca and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public. At least that is what academica is expected to do and what the press should strive for.

John Atkinson's picture
mcgilroy wrote:
I did not question your credentials nor those of the Stereophile authors.

The text of yours to which I was referring was this:

mcgilroy wrote:
I did indeed have talks with both electrical engineers as well as IP-[lawyers] about MQA.

I fail to see evidence for such in Stereophile or your publication. Once you get opinions on MQA by IP-lawyers/legal scholars and by EE people on your page we can go further down the rabbit hole on the both the legal and technical issues.

It seems plain that you were indeed questioning our credentials. If my own qualifications as one of the "EE people" were good enough to be accepted by the AES and IEEE, why would you dismiss them?

And now again you are referring to people who you feel are "well-respected" ie, again attempting to appeal to authority:

mcgilroy wrote:
Besides Archimago, [Crenca] and other authors well respected industry veterans like Dan Lavry, Daniel Weiss, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have voiced concern with MQA, their marketing approach and the actual merits of the format.

It is fair to point out that Archimago and Crenca hide behind anonymity.

And that to the best of knowledge, none of the "well respected industry veterans" you list have actually auditioned or analyzed MQA-encoded files and compared them with the PCM originals. We have. We feel that the improvement in sound quality is real, as you can read in our September issue.

mcgilroy wrote:
I wish a respected publication like Stereophile would tap into this discussion in a more profound manner than evident so far. This might include credentialed individuals from EE, IP-Law and related fields to provide their analysis to educate the public.

Again you present appeals to authority, dismissing our own credentials despite your denial that you do so. If you really don't consider our qualifications appropriate to judge something like digital technology, then I have to ask why you subscribe to Stereophile at all?

And on the subject of DRM, while no, I am not a "credentialed individual from IP-Law," I remind you of the words of the respected English critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw, that you don't need to be a carpenter to judge the quality of a table.

Does MQA prevent people from copying, emailing, selling, and sharing the files? No.

Does MQA prevent people other than the owner from playing the file? No.

Does MQA prevent people from playing the file with the original hi-rez resolution? No, if they have an MQA-enabled playback system; yes, if they don't.

What is to prevent an end-user from buying an MQA-enabled playback system? Nothing, other than the sense of entitlement evidenced, for example, by you, Crenca, and Archimago in this thread.

Does MQA require a license fee to be paid by the manufacturer of such playback systems? Yes, but in that respect, it is no different from Dolby, DTS, MLP, MP3, AAC, etc, etc.

If you look at the license fees that are required to be paid by manufacturers of DVD and Blu-ray players and media, you will be astonished at how many there are. (Even the developer of the ancient Macrovision videocassette technology gets an upfront payment of $30,000 followed by $15,000 each year from a manufacturer of video disc players.) And yes, those fees result in the players being more expensive than if there were no fees to be paid, a point made by Schiit's Jason Stoddard. (One estimate is that licensing fees increase the price of a DVD player by 10%.) It is only in the case of the IP I listed above that the fact that those fees are amortized over a very large number of products/apps that keeps them transparent to the end-user.

Why can't MQA be free, like FLAC? There is no free lunch. Engineers have to feed their families just like you. Again we get back to the sense of entitlement. Engineers are free to choose an open-source model or a licensing model for their IP. There is no moral difference between the two.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

Well, it is in a round about way - it is about "value". What is the real value of a DRM product like MQA to the end user? When you point out the sound quality value, I believe you. However, as I point out here:

http://www.stereophile.com/comment/560353#comment-560353

DRM has a cost that is far larger than the initial (or ongoing) licensing fees. It has an impact on the entire (in this case musical) digital ecosystem that is separate from the dollars and cents and is almost always much more significant than the (usually relatively small) licensing fees. This is why we point out that MQA is DRM, self serving definitions do not withstand.

Just so you know, because of my past work in IT and law enforcement (I am in a different business altogether now) I maintain a bit of "anonymity" in my relationship to the internet (though if you have any skill you understand such anonymity is not all that deep). If you have seen the things I have seen, you would to. You will never (ever ever ever) find pictures of my children on Facebook for example. I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

John Atkinson's picture
crenca wrote:
I have been posting under the assumption that I do not have to state my real name here, but if that is in violation of your forum rules just let me know...

Our rule is that if you are affiliated with the audio industry, you must include that affiliation in your postings. That is to prevent people working for an audio company posting praise of their own products or dissing a competitor's products. If you are not so affiliated, then there is no problem with you remaining anonymous. However, I feel then that your comments should not be weighted as heavily as if they were signed.

All Stereophile writers and editors post under their real names, whether to our site or to third-party sites. That way we can be held responsible for what we say.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

crenca's picture

I am not affiliated with the industry in any way except as a consumer. I agree with you that anonymity goes against the norm of social convention/trust and devalues my comments to a certain extent. It is a cost I am am OK with obviously...

JimAustin's picture

I respect and appreciate the desire of casual Internet users to maintain a certain amount of information security. The problem, IMO, comes when self-proclaimed experts refuse to man up and let people know who they are. So-called journalists who hide behind a pseudonym cannot, in my view, be trusted. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take responsibility--personal responsibility--for what you have to say. And while it's true that valid arguments can stand on their own merits, it's a bit like yelling insults out a car window as it zooms past at 50 mph. Shake my hand, introduce yourself, look me in the eye, and let's chat. Until then, I have no interest in them or what you (they) have to say.

Jim Austin (PhD Physics)
Contributing Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

Re: Crenca, Archimago "hide behind anonymity", while I do understand and appreciate the point you are making about concerns about anonymous affiliated posters promoting their own or "dissing" others' products, it did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
Re: "Appeal to authority", I'm not sure I understand how or whether the use of the term in your post relates to the logical fallacy.

Instead of addressing my arguments directly, the poster was bringing up the fact that people he regards as authorities, as more highly credentialed than I am, disagree with me. It is a semantically empty debating tactic and I was calling him on it.

NeilS wrote:
It did also seem to me to be an example of an ad hominem logical fallacy. Whether or not they are anonymous is irrelevant to the soundness or lack thereof of the points they raise.

It's not ad hominem. As I said in an earlier posting today, if someone doesn't want to attach his or her name to his or her opinion, I give that opinion less weight than would otherwise be the case. You obviously disagree but I am not in any way obliged to substitute your position on this for my own.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

Thanks for your response. I don't think I was asking you to substitute my position, as I said, I understand and appreciate yours. I was just pointing out that whether or not the poster is anonymous doesn't logically invalidate their position, just as using one's real name doesn't logically validate it, either. Let's agree to disagree on whether that constitutes an ad hominem logical fallacy.

A. Hourst's picture

This thing about anonymity is completely beside the point. Either you have things to say or you don't, end of the argument. Some of the things that I've read and found the most interesting on the web were written by people with pseudonyms like "boulga" or "simonon". Woody Allen's real name isn't Woody, and Caravaggio was an aliase...
Some people that write under their true identity can be an embarrassment to the concept of truth as much, or even more, than anonymous posters. Like I said, beside the point...

NeilS's picture

The Federalist Papers, Mark Twain...

A. Hourst's picture

Yes, this "tell me your real name" war is nonsense.

crenca's picture

in IP law, software patents, etc. and how these things work in the digital world on both a technical and business level. This is not surprising, given their background. That said the business they are in is changing (and has been for quite a while) and some minimal understanding of DRM, formats, and their place in a digital ecosystem (in this case one centered around music) would seem to be a reasonable expectation.

Allowing Bob's self serving double speak around this aspect of MQA a free pass is a bit over the top IMO and does not reflect well on them (though the do other things very well). You are correct in that MQA (if it ever gained significant market penetration) would be a "DRM trojan"...

(edit, this post is meant as a reply to mcgilroy )

JimAustin's picture

>>the simple question posed to mr. stuart & MQA by many blogs and people was "is MQA a lossless format?!"

this is a simple yes/no answer.<<

Why would he want to mindlessly answer a misleading question? Putting it this way is an attempt at a rhetorical trap.

I'm not Stuart, though, and I'll bite. I'm speaking only for myself here. JA and (of course) Stuart are far more knowledgeable than I am, so hopefully they'll step in if I get something wrong.

Is MQA lossless in the usual IT sense? No. But why should you care? If you're capable of following Stuart's reasoning and digesting the information he provided--which, btw, is unprecedented in its shear quantity in my experience for a proprietary product--you should agree that what's "lost" isn't musically relevant because 1. it's in a region where there's no musical information, and 2. the format takes pains nevertheless to maintain any information that might be necessary to preserve temporal integrity, even in the frequency range where there's little if any musical information (more than double the upper limit of human hearing). High-res is nice but it's hideously inefficient. MQA has gone a long way toward solving this problem while making other technical improvements that seem likely to be musically relevant--and my ears tell me that they are indeed.

I think it's useful to think about this in the context of MP3. Just about everything in a CD-resolution file is potentially audible; MP3 (and similar schemes) aim to reduce file size by getting rid of the least musically relevant information. The problem is that what's musically relevant is subjective, and listening/hearing abilities vary widely; one person's irrelevant info is another person's critical timing cue. If I understand it, MQA keeps everything--losslessly--way beyond the frequencies our ears can hear. It has to because they've determined that the ear's ability to resolve in the time domain far exceeds what its (the ear's) frequency-domain performance would predict. Still, there's a lot of information above the range of human hearing--and above the range where music has any information--that isn't necessary to preserve time-domain integrity. So, compress it.

If you have no information about which part of, say, a 192/24 file is important to the musical experience, you keep all of it just to be safe. But the more you know, the more you understand, the more intelligent the decisions you can make. In my view, MQA is the result of a careful (and apparently rigorous) rethinking of digital audio delivery. If you want to understand it, you need to be willing to question, e.g., to what extent the IT-derived concept of losslessness is relevant in the high-resolution audio world.

Jim Austin, Contributing Editor
Stereophile

crenca's picture

Only in the world of 1984 is the following true:

"On DRM, Stuart has addressed this numerous times elsewhere. Here's a quote, "MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."

DRM is about (and always has been) the *legal* mechanisms used to achieve it goals, and only secondarily about any technical implementation used (e.g. some internal mechanism that makes it difficult for typical end users to "copy", etc.)

Can an end user *legally* reverse engineer an MQA encoded file if he does not have a licensed decoder (so far only hardware based) and *legally* listen to the "high res" content? No. If he does he is of course in violation of IP laws and the penalties for doing so vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

DRM is what DRM does, and MQA is DRM because it "manages" what the end user hears based on whether he has $licensed$ a decoder. MQA is DRM all day long, and no amount of Orwellian double speak from Bob or simple (willful?) ignorance from editors of audiophile blogs can change this fact.

As an editor of a blog that purports expertise in things "digital", it would behoove you to study up a bit on IP and software patents and how they are used in the market place...

(this post does not appear under Michael Lavorgna post as I intended - he is the editor to whom it is directed).

michaelavorgna's picture

Any and every MQA encoded file can be played back on any and every DAC. If you want to get something for nothing, then you've got a point. Otherwise, this years-long rant of yours is not only tired but needs to be retired.

crenca's picture

And a continuation of the double-speak. Any DAC (what Bob euphemistically calls "legacy DACs"- the kind everyone actually owns) can NOT play the "High Res" content of the MQA encoded file without an *illegal* reverse enginered hack (on the software or hardware level) THAT is DRM, all day everyday.

Your imputation of motive is also wrong. I don't want "something for nothing". If I wanted MQA I would pay for it, but I would not lie to myself or others that it is not a DRM/IP/software patent protected product. I happen to not want MQA - others do and that's fine. Either way it Is DRM today, was yesterday, and will be tomorrow...

michaelavorgna's picture

If you want to reap the full benefits of MQA end-to-end, you'll have to get an MQA-capable DAC. You want to reap the benefits of MQA without getting an MQA-enabled DAC. That = something for nothing.

Of course you can skip this entire Orwellian fantasy by simply buying hi-res downloads and playing them on your hi-res-ready DAC.

But that wouldn't be soooo dramatic, would it.

crenca's picture

You were wrong about what DRM is technically and and as a business matter. As an "audiophile" you were enthusiastic about MQA and downplayed (out of ignorance mostly) the reality of MQA and it being a product that relies on DRM for it's very place and survival in the market.

Let it go - you are the editor of a public blog (which also happens to be a business). You have to admit your failure and move on. Your readers will respect you more if you do...

michaelavorgna's picture

I just looked in the mirror to confirm ;-)

If you fact check your attributions of "you" and "yours", you'll find that they all originated with *you*. But that was a heck of a go at deflection.

crenca's picture

...and how many different ways you try to make this about me - it will always be about MQA, DRM, and your failure to understand them in relation to the digital ecosystem.

Now quit trying to save face and bone up on the basics - you have a blog and business to run that is about those very things!!!

michaelavorgna's picture

If, for you, that means I'm making this about you, then sure. As I said, my face isn't in need of saving, years aside.

How about addressing the fact that anyone can bypass MQA by simply buying a high-res download.

crenca's picture

Of course one can "by-pass" MQA by not purchasing it - that is the way markets work! This is however has nothing to do with what myself and others are saying. Strangely, you and Mr. Atkinson keep imputing ill-will on are part - that we are pointing out the FACTS of DRM and MQA because (you believe) we want "something for nothing", that we want "free lunches", etc. We are not proposing anyone *break the law* and try to circumvent the IP/DRM of MQA for piracy.

What we are pointing out is two things:

1) MQA is a DRM product all day, every day- Bob and your denials do not withstand. This fact has NOTHING to do with the problem of piracy and any roll a IP/DRM product like MQA has in "solving" this problem.

2) DRM, IP, and software patents have an impact on *legal* end users (i.e. the people who actually pay for the product) and their digital ecosystem in general in ways that are go range from "inconvenient" to "bad". This impact is large, non-trivial, etc. Thus, when end users have to consider the cost of this impact when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of MQA. In other words, MQA is not a mere sound quality tweak, or another format like PCM or FLAC, but is a different proposition altogether. It is your lack of understanding of this aspect of MQA (and digital ecosystems in general) that is really on display in your coverage of this topic.

The impact to which I refer is obvious to everyone. (Almost) everyone who reads this blog owns a TV. They understand (if only unconsciously) the roll DRM, IP, and software patents play in their ability to *legally* back up their Blue Rays or stream them from a server to an endpoint, etc. They understand that they can not skip commercials on their disks (or their DVR's) NOT because of technical limitations, but because of DRM and legal collusion between the government, hardware/software manufactures, and content providers.

Whether you agree or disagree philosophically with DRM and the problem(s) it allegedly "solves", the fact is that it has a burdensome effect everywhere it ends up. Music lovers who take advantage of the "digital" so far have been blessedly free of these burdens. MQA is a product that brings these burdens to the music lover and there is simply no way (or reason - besides a crass commercialism that is willing to simply lie) to deny it.

The "but but but what about piracy" is an industry bubble that your all stuck in. Yes, piracy is a problem - but then the music lover who actually buys your product has a "but but but", and that is the non-trivial burdens/limitations that DRM has within our digital ecosystems. You can ignore it if you wish, but it is real and we are going to of course bring it up...

michaelavorgna's picture

...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

Note - I have consistently reported on MQA's position re. DRM, I have not denied anything. Rather I understand what has been said and do not see any "DRM Trojan" other than in people's minds.

I worked for years developing custom applications mainly for Hedge Funds and while we relied on the expertise of an attorney when we looked to patent some of our work, I have experience with software and intellectual property. So your comments about my background are ill-informed.

John Atkinson's picture
michaelavorgna wrote:
...for someone who owns an MQA-enabled DAC as it relates to this "DRM" issue? In other words, exactly how will MQA impose a burden on its users?

I think there is an exact parallel with HDCD. If you had an HDCD-capable DAC, you would get 1-2 bits greater resolution, perhaps more, from what appeared to be a regular CD. If you didn't want to pay for an HDCD decoder, you could still play the CD but at lower effective resolution.

In that sense, the same "DRM" argument could be made about HDCD, in that it restricted the quality available to people without an HDCD decoder.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

michaelavorgna's picture

And if you want play back DSD and/or anything above 24/96 you need to have the appropriate hardware/software. If you want to play back FLAC files or DSD, you cannot use iTunes. And so on...

I was hoping that "crenca" would share the practical reality of what he's been talking about for years now re. MQA and DRM. As in, exactly how will this limit MQA users. So far, all we've got are implications based on examples that have zero relevance to the question at hand coupled with baseless accusations regarding people's motives, integrity, and supposed lack of knowledge.

[Meta-content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

As Mr. Atkinson admits, the end user is managed - he can hear only what the licensor grants - in this case the 16/44 content if he does not agree to the licensor's terms (putting aside the debate that whether an MQA file actually contains the full 16/44 information that the equivalent PCM file does). PCM, DSD, Vinyl, etc. of course have none of these digital/legal limitations, and are in no way the same *legal entity* that MQA is.

The more burdensome problem is the implications of the license and everything that goes with it at the level of formats. Formats are sort of the ground we walk on in the digital world - everything else rests upon it. It's like the air we breath - now what happens to our lives when someone comes along and patents air? Or more relevant, what happens when someone comes along and patents TCP/IP? Sure, I am typing this on proprietary software (a browser by one company, an OS by another, etc.) but the "ground" of our communication is an open format called TCP/IP. Things change drastically (mostly for the worse for the end user - a small group of companies would $benefit$) if the ground becomes closed/proprietary/IP software. IF MQA (or anything like it) ever became the ground of our digital musical lives, we would all be worse off. This is a widely admitted and discussed phenomena and aspect of the market and anyone who has paid attention to and worked with software/computers/digital in the last 50 years knows what I am talking about (too many aspects to even begin to address in a comment box). We are all welcome to our opinions as to what it means to us and others, but to keep denying MQA's IP/DRM is as I have described it (Orwellian, creepy, etc.).

[Content deleted by John Atkinson - please take off-topic meta discussions off-line.]

michaelavorgna's picture

You are suggesting that if MQA takes over the digital world, it will be bad. No one has suggested this is even a possibility. For example, the MQA deal with WMG caused some concerns along these lines. So I called WMG and asked them if MQA was going to replace other high-res formats. Their answer was no.

My point being, while you paint a very dark picture using MQA, you have yet to provide one example of how this will play out in reality. For those who are not interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue. For those interested in MQA, this is a total non-issue.

[Content deleted by John Atkinson]

crenca's picture

...oops, I mean I did, I did provide "one example of how this will play out in reality" - video. Have you tried to *legally* backup, copy, stream, or do anything worthwhile with your Blue Ray today (other than simply stick it in the trey and mindless absorb the FBI warning)? We don't have an analogous situation in audio because as of yet there has not been a DRM/IP takeover of our basic formats. MQA is n