MQA Advances and More Encountered at CES

Besides the appearance there of many new components capable of MQA decoding and rendering, CES provided an opportunity to unveil two important MQA developments. The first is that Tidal Masters (MQA playback) is now available on Android phones and tablets. While Tidal's potential rival, the French company Qobuz, is currently beta-testing its own hi-rez streaming platform for Android, iOS, Apple, and Windows devices, prior to its official launch in the US, Qobuz is limited to 24/192 resolution. MQA's folding and unfolding technology, as seen on the Android phone held by MQA's Ken Forsythe, enables Tidal to stream Masters titles of up to 24/352.8 or 384 unfolded resolution.

The second, which I discovered when Forsythe led me to the ESS Labs room on the 30th floor—a floor otherwise devoid of anything directly related to high-end audio—was ESS Labs' ES9281PRO USB DAC with HPA, featuring MQA. This DAC, which is designed to plug into USB Type C ports on phones that have eliminated headphone jacks, was framed as a "first step toward MQA decoding in headphones." Used in conjunction with the Tidal app, which already decodes MQA, it is said to provide full decoding and rendering without putting a serious drain on the phone's battery.

The ES9281PRO is a chip, not an end product. Since MQA is baked into the chip and preprogrammed, all that a manufacturer who purchases the ES9281PRO needs to do is house it as they see fit, and obtain a license from MQA. Hopefully, these devices will be designed to work with both USB Type C and Lightning ports.

In the photo, the ESS9281PRO is plugged into an Android phone, and transmitting Master Quality (MQA) sound from Tidal through headphones. The green light shows that the file is MQA-authenticated.

The one off-site exhibit I managed to visit was the elaborate, multi-area display that Harman International set up in the Hard Rock Café. With shuttle transportation provided by a special logistical team, the exhibit included a small area for two-channel audio (in passive display) amidst other sections devoted to automotive, lifestyle, and other products.

The big news was that the Levinson 5000 series of two integrated amplifiers, which was previewed at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, will ship in March. Shown in the photo are, left to right, the 5802 ($7000) and 5805 ($8500). Both have identical amplifier sections and power supplies, but the 5802 only has a digital input section, while the 5805 also has an analog section with MM and MC phono inputs whose settings can be adjusted via DIP switches. Both amps output 125Wpc into 8 ohms and 250 into 4, and are stable to 2 ohms. In addition, both can decode MQA, hi-rez PCM, and up to 2xDSD.

Let's end on a nostalgic note, with the JBL 4312G Control Monitor ($2500/pair). A reworking of the limited-edition 40th anniversary 4212SE, the 4312G incorporates an upgraded midrange driver and minor changes to the crossover.

Said to be built to today's loudspeaker standards, the 4312G Control Monitor's lineage dates back to late 1960s Model 4310."It's for people who remember JBL and have a liking for a retro-style speaker," I was told by a company spokesperson. Anyone who remembers hearing the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Starship, the Grateful Dead, Country Joe & The Fish, and the like through old JBL home, car, or studio speakers, including the 4310, please raise at least one of your hands now. Assuming you can do so without wincing in pain.

Archimago's picture

What a funny article. Most entertaining one of 2019 so far!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

There were some inaccuracies in my report of the ES9281Pro that have now been corrected. My apologies for less than perfect note taking.


tonykaz's picture

...that MQA is still fighting for a Life giving breath?

I somehow got the idea that Phono 33.3 was sucking all the available Audiophile Marketing Air, was I wrong?, again?

Has the Audiophile Press ( our lovely Mr.JVS ) discovered just exactly how much life is remaining in the MQA Concept acceptance?

I haven't heard somuchasa "peep" from the Multi-Billion Dollar Auto Industry Audio Component Designers. ( yet?)

Is it too early to toss MQA onto the back Closet Shelve ( next to 8-Track and little 45rpm records )? ( which is what I suspected when Stoddard & Moffat did their Darko Interview on the Subject )


Is Mr.JVS just being polite by giving Mr.MQA a little bit of face time as a consolation-reward for Exhibiting at CES. ( just showing up, for gods sake, alongside Mr.JVS )

Should we wonder if any other Bonafide Audiophiles were found wandering around ?

Tony in Michigan

ps. Thanks for the Report Mr.JVS, it seems you've captured the essence of the experience. On your return trip home, will you rejuvenate yourself with a BottleHead Visit?

ok's picture

says you can’t serve two (or more..) masters at the same time.

bob stern's picture

The comparison between lossless high-res on Qobuz and MQA on Tidal is carefully crafted to be literally true but misleading.

First, regarding lossless 192 KHz on Qobuz being in beta: The technology is not beta, just the US market access. Specifically, Qobuz has been offering lossless high-res in Europe for years, and the current offering of lossless 192 KHz streaming in Europe is not a beta. The only beta aspect is marketing to the US. Qobuz currently is offering accounts to only a limited number of US "beta" customers but plans to be open to all US customers in a month.

Second, Qobuz is offering lossless 192 KHz streaming now, whereas the MQA announcement merely says 384 KHz MQA encoding on Tidal is "enabled".

Third, the MQA process of downsampling 384 KHz to MQA and then "unfolding" it back to 384 KHz is not lossless — the 384 KHz output is not identical to the 384 KHz input. In contrast, the 192 KHz streams from Qobuz are genuinely lossless — if the source is 192 KHz, the 192 KHz output will be bit-for-bit identical to the source.

tonykaz's picture

2 ( both of mine ) thumbs up.

Tony in MIchigan

DH's picture

Max real resolution without upsampling with MQA is 24/96. The MQA encoding process doesn’t encode frequencies above any found in a 96k resolution master. Anything above that is thrown out by the MQA encoding process. So the “second unfold” of an original 24\384 is merely an upsample of the “first unfold” (which is only 24\96 actual resolution) to 24/384.

It isn’t in any way a “real” 24\384 file.

Qobuz, on the other hand, is streaming full fledged lossless 24/192, that unlike MQA, isn’t upsampled from 24\96.

tonykaz's picture

Out comes the Big Guns.

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

ESS has omnidirectional loudspeakers ........ There are some favorable reviews on-line ....... May be Stereophile could review ESS speakers? :-) ..........

spacehound's picture

1) Do you find 24/192 music unsatisfactory?

2) As others have said, anything beyond 96 in MQA is merely upsampling. This has been proven by many fully qualified and competent testers. (It is quite simple to do given basic lab equipment.)
So why do you continue to perpetuate the myth that it is anything else?

3) Tidal. At present Tidal (to which I subscribe) provides less than 0.1% of its catalogue in MQA form.
And it constantly releases far more music in non-MQA form than it does in MQA form. As a result the percentage of MQA music on Tidal, already very small, is decreasing with time.

4) As has been said, the Qobuz 24/192 is not a beta. The only 'beta' part is the USA marketing.

OffordTimperley's picture

We are not idiots.

Graham Luke's picture

...speak for yourself....oh, wait.

Wdw's picture

Have great respect for your music reviews and your show reviews but why shill so transparently for MQA?
The post above correctly describes your writing to be “crafted to be literally true but misleading” and so it is a bewildering position for you to take and only serves to undermine your credibility. No respect for this. So, I ask why.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I had no intention to mislead anyone. I will agree, in retrospect, that my statement about Qobuz would have been better stated as "Tidal's potential rival in the U.S., the French company Qobuz, is currently beta-testing in the U.S. its own hi-rez streaming platform for Android, iOS, Apple, and Windows devices. The Qobuz hi-rez platform, which is live in Europe, is limited to 24/192 resolution." Rather than change the copy, which will remove the context for the critical comments above, I accept the criticism, and have stated the facts more clearly herein.

The position by those who oppose MQA appears to be that anyone who writes anything about it at all - most certainly anyone who likes how it sounds and dares to say so - is a shill for MQA. The basic message is, if you write about this, your credibility will be undermined.

In point of fact, my credibility is underscored by my intention to speak my truth. It is perfectly fine with me if others disagree with what I say. Those who need to resort to ad hominem attacks in order to silence me say far more about themselves than about me.

The other tactic used by diehard opponents of MQA is to repeat the same misrepresentations over and over again. There are numerous cases of alternate facts above. Stereophile has published a number of articles by John Atkinson and Jim Austin that address the technical aspects of MQA. Rather than get into back and forths, I'll let those articles speak for themselves. They are all available on this website.

Bob Stern is incorrect when he states that there are currently no MQA files of 352.8 and 384kHz sampling rate on Tidal. Here is a list of 24/352 MQA Eudora titles such as the one shown in the photo, all of which are available on Tidal in the US:

Admittedly, it isn't a large list. But it's a start. Truth be told, not many labels release titles at such a high sampling rate. Eudora, Sono Luminus, and 2L are the exception.

BTW, the Sono Luminus and 2L titles I've reviewed for Stereophile sound exceptional. On a good system, the soundstage is boundless. 24/88.2 and 24/96 sound very fine, but 24/352.8 and 24/384 are something else entirely, especially when recorded with a process that simulates the 3D holographic experience. I especially like 2L's 24/352.8 MQA versions, which on my dCS gear, sound even more convincing than the non-MQA versions. Sound engineer Morten Lindberg sends them to me. Don't miss the Utopias recording.

Bob Stern is convinced that Qobuz hi-rez will launch in the U.S. in February. That would be lovely. In fact, I've been eagerly awaiting the time when portals for both Tidal and Qobuz hi-rez are available on Roon and dCS software, and I have the opportunity to compare their sound with the software I prefer. However, as a member of the press who has been twice led to believe that Qobuz's U.S. hi-rez launch was imminent - I even prepared a story about the launch which we had to pull at the last minute when the launch became a beta test - I'll believe it when I see it. I'm sure it will come, but exactly when...

My thanks to everyone who reads and appreciates my music reviews. It's time to get back to exactly that. In a week that includes two live performances in Seattle - back-to-back Seattle Opera and Seattle Symphony - multiple recording reviews, and two visits from manufacturers, I have just enough time to walk the dogs (who only care about MQA if it's edible) and, too infrequently, go to the gym.

Happy New Year, everyone, and happy post-Winter Solstice. When you live in the Pacific Northwest and walk three rabid terrorers morning day and night, every day of more light makes a difference.


spacehound's picture

I have no reason to doubt your sincerity. And I believe your opinions to be honest. In fact I have discovered several pieces of music that I now enjoy due to your music reviews.

But the fact re MQA is that the sample rate is a maximum of 96K and the bit depth in Bob Stuart's OWN WORDS is "about 17" (it can be a lesser value depending on the immediate form of the music but is never more than 17).

Both of these things are easily proven using no more than an oscilloscope and a spectrum analyser, which are as basic to an electronics lab as a saw and plane are to a woodworker.

The indicated "384K" or whatever is achieved by inserting samples containing values consisting entirely of zeros between the existing 96K samples. The "24" is achieved by padding out both those and the genuine samples with additional zeros to make 24.

This has been proven by many people, by now probably several hundred. Your refusal to accept it (any one of us could show it to you) merely reduces your credibility.

spacehound's picture

Re MQA sample rates (and bit depth) you are wrong. And your logical fallacy of an 'appeal to authority' in the form of John Atkinson and Jim Austin does not alter that.

The maximum resolution of an MQA file is 96K with a bit depth (in Stuart's own words as reported by Stereophile) of "about 17".

You can all keep pretending otherwise as much as you want but it won't change the facts as demonstrated by many people using simple and well understood procedures.

DH's picture

I'm interested in true information being given to consumers. Especially by pros in the audiophile press. That's my motivation.

Bob Stern is correct in saying there are no actual 352 or 384 MQA files. The MQA encoding process strips out any frequencies above what would be found in a 96k recording when it encodes a file greater than 96k sample rate.
On playback with an MQA DAC, the file is "unfolded" to 88 or 96k (its actual resolution after MQA encoding) and then UPSAMPLED to whatever the nominal resolution of the original source file was. This is also true for all the files of supposed 352 or 384 resolution you referred to.

This is not misinformation and has been confirmed in interviews by Bob Stuart and in material published by MQA. Nothing in JA's or Jim Austin's articles contradicts this. They can't because it is simply the truth about how the MQA algorithm works. That's one of the reasons that MQA stopped referring to their files as "lossless" and now says they are "perceptually lossless".

I'd suggest as a professional who writes about these subjects you need to be acquainted with the basic facts, and stop, even if unintentionally, promoting untruths.

I aslo, btw, much enjoy your music reviews and have bought several albums after being made aware of them by your reviews.

glq's picture

@DH. As a professional in signal processing, I find it difficult to watch so much concentrated misinformation in amateur posts. These are basic facts of audio signal processing, MQA, and high resolution (and CD as well).
1) You claim MQA strips out frequencies above those found in 96kHz files. That would mean stripping out everything above 48 kHz. Of course MQA does not do that. It retains data up to 96 kHz, in a folded manner.
2) There is no music information above 96 kHz. Therefore recordings above 192 kHz are capturing empty space, noise, and possibly distortions beyond 96 kHz.
3) In digital audio processing, all files are always upsampled to at least 354 kHz as part of routine processing in the d to a converter (the only exception to that being non-oversampling converters).
4) The advantage in MQA is that it substitutes a very good set of filters for the filters that would otherwise be used by the converter. Additionally there are other processing advantages if you read their literature.
5) A general advantage of 192 kHz or 354 kHz is that the formats allow bypassing of a couple of stages of standard converter upsampling, but not all stages. This is what the higher sample rate is buying you, not any greater music information. Filtering is (one of) the keys.

Graham Luke's picture

..still be 'perceptually' unconvinced...?

DH's picture

The original note by Jason implied/claimed that MQA files of supposed DXD resolution were somehow higher resolution than a 192 file from Qobuz.
This is patently untrue, as no MQA file has real resolution above that of a 24/96khz recording.
MQA max actual resolution is that of a 96khz file. It doesn't encode anything above that resolution. So yes, it doesn't encode signals above 48k. It's described by MQA themselves when they explain how their system works. I'm not making it up.

The rest of your post is irrelevant to the discussion. I'm not discussing whether hi res recordings have audible music signals or not. The supposed MQA DXD files Jason referred to are not acutal DXD files. The MQA decoding process upsamples them to that rate from 88 or 96k after the "first unfold". This is inherently different from what happens with an actual DXD rate file when sent to a DAC. If you think the "bypassing" of those stages in a DAC is important/worthwhile, you don't get it with MQA. You do get it if you have an actual DXD file. Get the difference?

The MQA filters are not special/unusual and not of particularly high quality. This has been specifically demonstrated by several tests of them that are available online. They are actually what is referred to as "leaky" filters with lots of aliasing artifacts in the audible range. That doesn't mean there is something wrong with them, but certainly they can't fairly be seen as some special kind of high quality filters.
Some people clearly like their sound, which is fine. But it is simply incorrect to say that they are special in some way or necessarily higher quality than other filters available in some other playback software. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Better quality filters are available for those who wish to use them.

JBLMVBC's picture

“Anyone who remembers hearing the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Starship, the Grateful Dead, Country Joe & The Fish, and the like through old JBL home, car, or studio speakers, including the 4310, please raise at least one of your hands now. Assuming you can do so without wincing in pain.”
Yes Victor, you and the Stereophile main writers are such spring chicken all right!
First, JBL is still producing some of the best professional drivers in the industry, period. Used in JBL designed professional grade speakers or as separate components, they certainly can make most of the units used in pricey audiophile gear blush. High efficiency, tonal quality, reliability, their presence is unmistakable.
Second, unreported here is the rising popularity of the Japanese site Kenrick Sound that is rebuilding some of the iconic JBL large studio monitors of the 43 and 44 series, to great demand as their products seem to be sold out as soon as they come out of the shop.
So sure, some designs may have been tuned for boomy disco results, but there is no need for smugness when professional products in use for years have set quality standards of sound reproduction. Try a Mercury Living Presence 45RPM of Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso conducted by Paray on an active 4 way JBL pro system and cry for your $200,000 plus designer speakers…'s picture

Amen. I didn't take Serinus' dis to heart, but you are correct about JBL's. 4350's are the beating heart of one of the best systems I've ever heard, anywhere, on all types of music: body, tone, presence... you start to wonder where "modern" speaker designers lost the plot, because JBL's, Altecs, and Tannoys can make their stuff sound twee. As for Kenrick Sound, I've never visited but judging from their Youtube channel they are doing God's work.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Let's see. I'm clear that I was trashed for being older than some, but it's not clear where in my copy I dish the JBLs. A little defensive, perhaps? Or perhaps you were reading my inner thoughts, which harken back to the JBL car speakers I installed in my ancient Opel that were so bass heavy, no matter what I did, that I couldn't enjoy the music. I still have them in a box if anyone wants to buy 26 year-old car speakers. Well, maybe they're 30 years old, or 35 years old, or...

Regardless, boys, we are not our equipment, electronic or otherwise. Please, let's not take every critical comment under the sun as a personal attack that we must address, lest someone think us weak.'s picture

I meant to put "dis" in quotes but between spell check insisting on turning it into "dish" (as it did to you), and your name into "Serious", I was otherwise diverted...

It was clear enough that you were smiling when you typed that, of course. The poster I responded to, however, had a strong point about reviewers looking down on/ being ignorant of how great pro PA brands like JBL can be in home audio use. I'm still not clear who "trashed" you for being older than some... anyhow, best to you.

texanalog's picture

"...please raise at least one of your hands now. Assuming you can do so without wincing in pain."

Imprecise language leads to inferred conclusions.

JBLMVBC's picture

And yes indeed, I remember a demo with a female jazz vocalist -the name I never knew even back then- using a 76cm/s 2 channels master tape source feeding a pair of 4343 monitors in the early 80s “Festival du Son” in Paris: magical. That detailed, present, alive sound I wanted for a long time and finally 15 y ago managed to build my system with JBL drivers: 2242, 2226, 2446+2386, 2404...
Come on Victor, many of us are still fit! Raise both hands those who are!LOL

Anton's picture

Is there yet a phone that can wirelessly send full-on MQA or higher resolutions to speakers with built in DACs?

That would be a serious, exit-level system.

Two speakers and my phone would perfect.

My phone sends signals to some battery powered speakers I have and it ain't Hi Fi yet, but imagine if it could be!

I hear Nordost quaking in fear!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

As for your final comment, what is the sound of one interconnect quaking?

Anton's picture

It sounds like Thor's hammer not striking something.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

P-waves are supposed to be infrasonic :-) .........

texanalog's picture

"...please raise at least one of your hands now. Assuming you can do so without wincing in pain."

Imprecise language leads to inferred conclusions.

Sorry, this comment was made in regards to a post you made above, not this post.

bullethead's picture

Flak, FLAC. I like all of it ...

Need to get a phone that has this built in. I love Tidal and it is here today.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The LG V30 phone does PCM, MQA, and DSD, and has portals for Tidal and Qobuz. See my review on this site. There is now an LG V40 that may be even better. I'm awaiting feedback on that one. Also, please re-read my discussion of the ESS Labs DAC chip, which has now been corrected.

ok's picture