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Jim Austin  |  Apr 19, 2018  |  47 comments
In an article published in the March 2018 Stereophile, I wrote that critics have been attacking MQA, the audio codec developed by J. Robert Stuart and Peter Craven, by accusing it of being lossy. The critics are right: MQA is, in fact, a lossy codec—that is, not all of the data in the original recording are recovered when played back via MQA—though in a clever and innocuous way. For MQA's critics, though, that's not the point: They use lossy mainly for its negative emotional associations: When audiophiles hear lossy, they think MP3.
Jim Austin  |  Feb 13, 2018  |  173 comments
When you come to a fork in the road, take it.—Yogi Berra

Over one busy week in 1986, Karlheinz Brandenburg laid the foundation of a technology that a few years later would upend the record business. Brandenburg, a PhD student in electrical engineering at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, was figuring out how to code digital music efficiently enough that it could be delivered over digital telephone lines. A patent examiner had concluded that what the application proposed was impossible, so over a week of late nights, Brandenburg produced the proof of concept and more. It was another decade before the technology—MPEG-2 level III, more commonly known as MP3—would find its true home, the Internet.

Jim Austin  |  Jan 06, 2018  |  27 comments
Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight.—Marcus Aurelius

Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), the audio codec from industry veterans Bob Stuart and Peter Craven, rests on two pillars: improved time-domain behavior, which is said to improve sound quality and what MQA Ltd. calls "audio origami," which yields reduced file size (for downloads) and data rate (for streaming). Last month I took a first peek at those time-domain issues, examining the impulse response of MQA's "upsampling renderer," the output side of this analog-to-analog system (footnote 1). This month I take a first look at the second pillar: MQA's approach to data-rate reduction. In particular, I'll consider critics' claims that MQA is a "lossy" codec.

Jim Austin  |  Dec 12, 2017  |  213 comments
I don't think I've ever seen an audio debate as nasty as the one over Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), the audio-encoding/decoding technology from industry veterans Bob Stuart, formerly of Meridian and now CEO of MQA Ltd., and Peter Craven. Stuart is the company's public face, and that face has been the target of many a mud pie thrown since the technology went public two years ago. Some of MQA's critics are courteous—a few are even well-informed—but the nastiness on-line is unprecedented, in my experience.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 05, 2017  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1980  |  21 comments
The problem confronting the magazine reviewer when organising the necessary listening tests to accompany/reinforce the measured behavior of a device under test is complex. There has never been a problem with the measurement aspect; as long as someone has access to the same test gear—and full knowledge of the test conditions—then he should be able to replicate the critic's findings exactly (assuming an infinitely narrow spread of behaviour from sample to sample—a rasher assumption with some manufacturers' equipment than of others). However, when it comes to determining reliably the audible (or inaudible?) effects on music program by an amplifier/cartridge/loudspeaker etc. then the going gets tough.
Art Dudley  |  Nov 16, 2017  |  10 comments
The mice in the walls call summer to close while nets come down and leaves turn dead red, but by the time you see this there'll be holiday music in the air . . . and some generous soul might, just might, sneak a few looks through this issue of Stereophile to see what gifts to buy before the tree goes up and presents are opened—and all will be nice!

And what better way to serve those possible givers of audio gifts—and, at the same time, honor our hobby's most deserving designers and manufacturers—than with our annual Product of the Year awards?

Jim Austin  |  Oct 19, 2017  |  12 comments
It's day five of our planned month-long stay à Paris, late April through most of May. My wife is here for work—for me, it's strictly for pleasure—and we're enjoying Paris's rich, sensual goodness: food, museums, architecture, coffee, people, food. And yet, earlier today, when we were out for a walk—we've been walking close to 10 miles each day, exploring the city—I realized that my life here has been missing something important.
Bill Sommerwerck, Others  |  Aug 08, 2017  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1985  |  15 comments
The issue is this business of "single-speaker" listening and demonstration, which has become fashionable in the UK.

The premise: bringing a second pair of loudspeakers into your auditioning room upsets the sound of the pair you're listening so badly that the first speaker's ability to correctly reproduce the timbre of musical instruments is destroyed. This observation is almost surely correct.

Robert Baird  |  Jul 27, 2017  |  2 comments
The three most traumatic events anyone can experience in life? The death of a loved one? A surprise audit by the IRS? Your entire LP collection purloined by a disgruntled ex-lover?

And, oh yes—moving.

As 2016 turned to 2017, my wife and I were forced to move from an apartment we wrongly assumed we'd never ever have to leave, which in New York City means a lot. Perhaps we were just a tad naïve?

Stephen Mejias  |  Jul 11, 2017  |  21 comments
The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World, by Damon Krukowski. The New Press, 2017. Hardcover, 240 pp., $24.95. Also available as an e-book.

Defining noise is tricky business.

In high-end audio, noise is often defined as the enemy—of music, beauty, truth. Engineers and enthusiasts alike spend significant amounts of time, energy, and money attempting to minimize or control noise so that it has the least possible impact on the source signal: music. In this way—if we are intelligent, careful, and fortunate—we can extract from our stereos cleaner, clearer, more naturally beautiful sound for listening experiences that are enriching, emotionally compelling, and, above all, fun. On the other hand, when noise is allowed to excessively modulate the signal, music can sound relatively abrasive, more mechanical, and, ultimately, less engaging.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  May 07, 2017  |  68 comments
By the time we had finished the house tour and admired the quiet beauty of the fir-canopied neighborhood, we sensed that we would follow our hearts from unsafe and increasingly unaffordable East Oakland, CA to the serene hamlet of Port Townsend, WA. We also knew that the only suitable place for my reference/review system would be in the 22' x 22' detached garage
Tyll Hertsens  |  Jan 31, 2017  |  10 comments
Some 100 engineers and scientists from around the globe assembled for the Audio Engineering Society's 2016 International Conference on Headphone Technology, in Aalborg, Denmark.

I figured it was coming, but it wasn't until just after I'd returned from the Audio Engineering Society's 2016 International Conference on Headphone Technology—held last August in Aalborg, Denmark—and was writing up my report and summary on the event for InnerFidelity.com (footnote 1) that I knew for sure: Headphones are about to change . . . a lot.

John Atkinson, Will Hammond  |  Dec 08, 2016  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1990  |  9 comments
In "Music and Fractals" in the November 1990 issue, I discuss how digital audio's quantization of amplitude information in what was originally a continuous waveform represents a fundamental difference between analog and digital representations of music. In a letter published in the English magazine Hi-Fi Review in January 1990, John Lambshead conjectured that naturally originating sounds were pseudo-fractal in character; that is, their waveforms have a wealth of fine detail, and that detail itself has an even finer-structured wealth of fine detail, and so on, until the crinkliness of the waveform is finally enveloped in the analog noise that accompanies every sound we hear.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Sep 01, 2016  |  First Published: Aug 01, 1985  |  1 comments
There were no surprises, innovations, or breakthrough designs in loudspeakers at the 1985 Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. By and large, those on display were nothing more than refinements of, or variations on, previous speaker designs. Of course, there's nothing the matter with that; any improvement in a product is a step in the right direction. It merely perpetuates the pattern of the past ten years: evolution but no revolution.
John Atkinson  |  Aug 18, 2016  |  67 comments
Last June, Jim Austin briefly discussed the operation of MQA in his review of the Meridian Explorer2 USB DAC, but you can find a more detailed explanation on Stereophile's website here and here. MQA involves two fundamental concepts, discussed in a paper presented to the Audio Engineering Society in October 2014. The first is responsible for a large reduction in the bandwidth required to store and stream high-resolution files, the second for a potential improvement in sound quality. . .

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