RMAF: Starting the Day with MQA

That title will surely get a rise out of some folks!

Be that as it may, the aforementioned company ran two MQA Live events at RMAF, during which high-resolution (24/192) MQA streams of live jazz ensembles were streamed in real time to various rooms at the show. MQA claims that the streams were essentially analog to analog, right off the desk.

Having missed Friday morning's private media event, presented by Bluesound, which featured Zara McFarlane and band streaming to audiences in London, NYC, and Denver—I was covering press events elsewhere—I began my Saturday by heading to the Brinkmann Audio/Eggleston Works room on the 11th floor where I caught the Denver-only live stream of the Misha Mullov-Abbado Group. Brinkmann was but one of twelve participating companies whose rooms showcased MQA. The others were Aurender, Bel Canto, Bluesound (in the CanJam), Cary, Dali, Esoteric, iFi (also in the CanJam), Krell, Mark Levinson, Moon by Simaudio, NAD, and Pro-Ject (in two locations, one being CanJam).

Playback software from Amarra, Audirvana, and Roon was called into play in the various rooms. There were any number of other MQA partners at the show, including NAD, dCS, Cocktail Audio, and Astell&Kern.

The elevator situation being what it was at RMAF, I chose to hike up 11 floors. By the time this panting Serinus reached 1103, every seat was filled. Gratitude and blessings to Greg Weaver of TAS who, after the first number, handed me his front row center seat as he headed off to another commitment.

Those who left when Greg did missed something special. After the first mellow number, which sounded nicely warm and clear, especially in the midrange, but rather soporific, MQA recording engineer Spencer Chrislu must have made some essential changes to the sound. All of a sudden, percussion became alive, horns had bite, and the feed conveyed so much dynamic range that when all the musicians went at it at once, the sound grew louder than the small room could hold. For a live feed from London, it sounded quite impressive.

With this demo, MQA showed that a version of its encoder can run in real-time, and authenticate a high-rez studio feed that can be folded into a small, 1.3Mbps stream and received by anyone with a decent connection. This include mobile phone users on 3G networks. The demo also sent the message that radio and TV need no longer limit themselves to compromised sound.

After the demo, I returned to the room to get a better sense of its sound. Highs were alive and vibrant, the midrange solid, and bass excellent although a mite boomy in places. Doing the honors were EgglestonWorks Viginti speakers ($39,990/pair); the Brinkmann Nyquist MkII streaming DAC ($17,990), which is the successor to the unit Stereophile reviewed; the US premiere of the Brinkmann Marconi MkII line preamplifier ($13,990); Brinkmann mono amplifiers ($19,990/pair); AudioQuest cabling and Niagara Low-Z power noise-dissipation system ($3999); and an HRS-RXR rack.

In a room shared with J-Corder, a Washington state company that restores Technics reel-to-reel tape decks, Technics staged the US debut of its Ottava S SC-C50 wireless speaker system ($799, seen grille-less at the center of the photo above). With full streaming capabilities (including Tidal and Spotify), and Bluetooth, AirPlay, and Chromecast readiness, the self-powered all-digital speaker contains three coaxial horn units, six speakers, and one subwoofer/four Jeno jitter-reduction engines. It also offers "room acoustic calibration," "Space Tune auto with built-in microphone" (not sure what that is), and lots, lots more. Stereo pairings are possible.

For the RMAF 2018 installment of how not to run a demo, we turn to a two-room suite whose demo I fled after discovering that (a) the presenter was only playing little snippets of music, which meant that as soon as I began to sink into something, it was yanked away without warning and replaced without pause with different music that was sometimes in a different key, (b) competing with these soundbites was lots and lots of talking, so much so that it took two passes before I could actually experience a full minute of music, and (c) when I noted that the music was playing too loud for such a small space, and asked if it could be turned down, I was told to move back, where the sound was still too loud.

Happily, after noting that the system gave every indication of producing solid and extremely satisfying sound worth struggling for, I retreated to the outer room for a quiet chat with Benchmark's ever-affable, extremely knowledgeable Rory Rall. There, I learned that in addition to MartinLogan Impression ESL 11A speakers ($9995/pair), Aurender N100H network streamer, and Benchmark cabling, Benchmark was showing its new DAC3B D/A processor ($1695), LA4 line amplifier/preamplifier ($2495), and AHB2 power amplifier ($2995) in monoblock configuration. The DAC3B is designed to save money for people who don't necessarily need a remote—it's optional—and can do without a headphone amplifier. The DAC3B would certainly work well for those who own or are considering Benchmark's "ultimate" LA4 line amplifier, which also serves as a headphone amplifier.

Kaveh Saffari's Southern California-based Audiologiconline.com showcased an impressive system with the North American debut of the Italian-made Sigma Acoustics 2.3 Orchestra loudspeaker in premium walnut cabinet ($38,750/pair). Designed by Aldo Zaninello, the speaker includes a customized Heil AMT ribbon, Accuton midrange, and customized Scan-Speak Revelator subwoofer. The three-way bass-reflex design touts 90.5dB sensitivity and a frequency response of 28Hz-24kHz

I was extremely impressed with how the system handled a Channel Classics SACD of Mahler's Symphony 2, delivering an excellent midrange and depth, even in the nearfield, and solid bass that extended to the lowest double bass lines. (Some speakers and systems make a mess of these lines, and others fail to reproduce them entirely.) There was extra midrange emphasis on my SACD of soprano Carolyn Sampson singing Fauré's "Les roses d'Ispahan"—that may be due to the electronics—but the highs were lovely, and the air around voice and piano delicious.

The Sigma Acoustics 2.3 Orchestra loudspeakers kept excellent company in the form of Aavik's U 300 amplifier ($30,000), Esoteric K03X SACD/CD player ($12,000), Music Tools Italy Isostatic stands, and lots of power products and cables from Ansuz Acoustics. Aavik and Ansuz, for those unaware, are sister companies of Raidho Acoustics.

Distributor Vana, Ltd. and PrimaLuna partnered to present a winning system—the only one of three in the room that I heard—headlined by the EAT (European Audio Team) C-Sharp turntable with C-Note 10" arm and Jo No.5 MM cartridge ($4295), brand new EAT E-Glo Petit hybrid tube phono preamplifier ($1495), PrimaLuna Dialogue HP integrated amp ($4399), and Audio Physic Tempo speakers ($6495/pair in Cherry wood). The sound was appealingly warm, lovely, and musical on Yarlung's new 45rpm issue from the Yuki Mabuchi Trio. With nice air on instruments, this room struck me as an island of sanity and beauty amidst [you fill in the blank]. "Definitely worth checking out," I wrote in my notes about a system with the potential to satisfy many an audiophile.

EAT's discrete E-Glo Petit contains two 12AX7 dual triodes, and four J-FET 2SK209 transistors in cascode-parallel configuration.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"I chose to hike-up 11 floors" .......

According to Google search, 0.17 calories can be burned per stair climbed :-) ...........

Typically there are 8-16 stairs per floor :-) .............

Bodhi's picture

MQA is just a gimmick imho. Maybe i'll release an SDD (super duper duper) format some day? Lol!

dalethorn's picture

".....MQA recording engineer Spencer Chrislu must have made some essential changes to the sound..."

It's when the human doesn't make changes, as during a remaster, but rather they are applied by an automated process that one wonders at the result. The sheer number of albums encoded suggest an automated process.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

while everyone in the room condensed that Spencer had done some remixing, the email I've just received says "no." It seems that band just picked up the pace.

May I assume the computer you use to post your comments was manufactured, in part, by automated machines? Do you find hand-wired computers more accurate?

dalethorn's picture

This could get complicated. I will concede that an automated coding process may work well 90-95 percent of the time, but my engineering instincts say that if it's an 'improvement' process, it's going to need a lot of hands-on. Once we got away from cassettes, consumer Dolby went away. DBX had great promise for dynamics, but that never took off for consumers. I'll reserve some judgement on MQA in terms of its automation, although I haven't heard anything negative in my listening tests.

T.S. Gnu's picture

Are you implying that the process of mastering every audio track is as replicate as the process of manufacturing a computer? Certainly sounds that way, unless your smugness is somehow overshadowing an actual valid argument.

Charles E Flynn's picture

You might enjoy this new book review by James Gleick:


The review is of "The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World", by Simon Winchester

Harper, 395 pp., $29.99


Indydan's picture

A gimmick with DRM...

Anton's picture

I have developed a fetish for wireless speakers. Thank you for the report on the Technics.

I consider these to be "audio toys" for "Hi Fi on the patio/deck."

Our club had a shoot out and the Acoustic Research Catalina (about 200$ per pair) won last year.

This coming shoot out, we will also be checking out the Mackie Free Play Live (800 per pair,) the Soundstage 360 (about 650 per pair,) and maybe these babies could play...we also require self-powered, so this may be quite a find!


ADDED AFTER GOOGLE SEARCH: Dang, self-powered did not mean battery powered. Crud, a stereo pair of those looked like fun. Our shoot outs are battery powered.

Current club champ of self powered (still AC connected) for patio/deck is the Mackie 15 BST. Allows for some equalization to adapt to the situation.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The specs on the Technics wireless speakers look very good ......... Check the Technics website :-) ........

Anton's picture

My initial enthusiasm was tempered by lack of battery power option.

I love the wireless revolution.

Allen Fant's picture

Those Sigma Acoustics loudspeakers are too sweet- JVS!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I'd love a report. Thanks for the strokes. Our dogs are barking in appreciation.

Indydan's picture

A bear shits in the woods.
Serinus promotes MQA.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I've lost some weight of late.

I do not promote MQA. I report on it honestly, just as I report on everything I hear at a show. If I don't like what I hear, I say so.

T.S. Gnu's picture

Yet...you somehow made a grand leap to a conclusion that Chrislu was involved in an exercise of knob twiddling. Doesn’t inspire much confidence in "everything" you purportedly hear.

DH's picture

But I bet you aren't willing to do an unsighted properly setup test of MQA vs. non -MQA. All of your evaluations take place in gardens designed to cultivate expectation bias...

NeilS's picture

"...That title will surely get a rise out of some folks!.."

Chris Connaker from Computer Audiophile's presentation on MQA at RMAF 2018 certainly got a rise out of some folks that appear to be affiliated with MQA who were in the audience, including MQA's CEO, Mike Jbara


Draw your own conclusions.

dalethorn's picture

Quoting CC from CA: "I host the world's largest anti-MQA threads and pay someone to write a front page article on the same topic..."

Archimago's picture

Yes, there are big threads on CA about MQA.

Yeah, I got a few bucks for writing that front page article as discussed on my blog this week. So what?

You could perhaps submit something to publish and get paid too...

dalethorn's picture

Deny, deny, deny. CC has been dishonest and arrogant in his attitude toward MQA, and in publicly publishing private messages. Those are facts.

DH's picture

You have a vendetta against Chris and his site b/c he banned you for your behavior there.

dalethorn's picture

You're lying of course. Are you even aware of that? I called CC out for being dishonest and abusive, and the creep blocked me from responding to his abuse. One of his sycophants even threatened me. So you know nothing about this, and it's best to keep your uninformed opinion to yourself.

DH's picture

Look at the amount of invective and abuse you can't resist writing. Your post merely proves my point. You were banned at CA and have been banned/suspended at other forums for your abusive forum posts. Facts are facts, even when you can't accept reality.

dalethorn's picture

The point that you've just proven is that you're out of your mind. I have no problems of such kind, but you do - you have a terrible obsession with this case that you can't let go of.

In case you think that "banning" is evidence of wrongdoing, might I remind you that Jesus, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela and many others have been "banned" or worse for speaking truth to the kind of corrupt power you defend.

Now be a good little man and go talk to someone who can help you.