MQA: Benefits and Costs

Enough has been said by now about the technical details of how Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) works to fill several books. But the technical details are only part of the story, and probably not the most interesting part—and they're certainly not what provokes the extreme emotional responses of many to the format. So let's jump into the business and practical aspects of MQA to which so many audiophiles are reacting.

From the point of view of MQA Ltd., what might success look like?

"Success" would be achieved when MQA is used to master most, if not all, new releases and back catalog of recorded music for streaming, downloading, or other uses. The higher the percentage of recordings mastered and released MQA encoded, the better. Nor must MQA be restricted to recordings of music—all sound recordings, including podcasts and, eventually, audio accompanying all forms of video, would be likely targets. Low-resolution and multichannel versions of MQA are probably already waiting in the wings.

More recordings released in MQA means more money in licensing fees for MQA Ltd. And somewhere is the tipping point, when enough recordings have been released only in MQA and it becomes the de facto standard. Then, as other formats such as FLAC and WAV slip away, MQA's hegemony snowballs. When Spotify and Apple Music come aboard, game over.

How can MQA accomplish this?

To entice music stakeholders, MQA offers the record industry significant benefits. First, its clever lossy compression scheme reduces bandwidth overhead, which translates to lower costs to store and distribute files. Second, MQA combines multiple resolution payloads into a single package, thus reducing the need for multiple inventories—master once and off you go. And to seal the deal, a third and final benefit: Since the MQA file is a lossily compressed version of the actual master recording (albeit a very clever one employing crippleware, footnote 1), and not an exact reproduction of the master recording stored in the record label's vaults, no more releasing the family jewels straight to the public. Take that, pirates!

Once securely in place in the industry, MQA would be very difficult to dislodge, and its very dominance would deter the development of newer, possibly better formats—or even discourage the retaining of such current alternatives as WAV, FLAC, etc., as viable choices in the marketplace.

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What does all of this look like from the consumer's point of view? In a nutshell, allegedly better-sounding music in a reasonably small stream or file. But here the benefit gets tricky, depending on what type of consumer you are. MQA realizes this, and has added a spoonful of sugar to help the compression medicine go down.

If you're an audiophile who dislikes anything that smells of compression, MQA has added a "deblurring" feature. At the same time, they've sincerely done what I consider a good job of creating a compression scheme that looks transparent on paper, even at the high resolutions where audiophiles dwell.

There's one problem: We have no way of separating MQA's deblurring sweetener from its compression medicine, and thus no way to critically listen to and test each process in isolation from the other. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could hear and test each process under ideal conditions to assess what, if any, effect each has on the signal, and thus verify or refute the claims made for MQA?

Of course, that would open up a nightmare scenario for MQA Ltd.: audiophiles deciding that the deblurring is good and the compression is bad. We would then demand that the compression scheme be scrapped, and that deblurring be offered as a feature somehow attached to noncompressed files.

Gone, then, would be the benefits to record labels and streaming companies, and it would actually require even a new inventory SKU: MQA Deblurred, or something like that. MQA's crippleware aspect—partial resolution with non–MQA-licensed playback, full resolution with MQA-licensed playback—would also go out the window.

So MQA will bind compression to deblurring tighter than white on rice, and make it tough to objectively or subjectively evaluate the compression scheme. This makes the job of the rational reviewer impossible: If, in comparing MQA to non-MQA files made from the same master, we hear any differences, we won't know what has caused them. We will be forced to assume that any differences we hear are the results of the synergy between deblurring and compression.

In my book, that's not good enough.

There are two issues here, and with their PR campaign MQA Ltd. has done a great job of focusing our attention on one—sound quality—and not the other: the hazards of a format monopoly. If MQA succeeds, I predict that it will lock in for a decade or two, or even longer. That will mean that all high-resolution files from the major labels during those decades will be formatted in MQA. No alternatives.

Some smaller distributors will undoubtedly continue to offer old-fashioned uncompressed masters for sale in a variety of formats, perhaps even via a boutique non-MQA streaming service. But with the major labels committed to MQA, such efforts will remain at the margins.

Which brings us back to sound quality. A possible format monopoly is all the more reason we should be absolutely sure that MQA is a format whose sound quality we can accept for the long term. But without the ability to even evaluate the format's compression scheme separate from its deblurring component, I don't believe that, over the long term, MQA is in the best interests of audiophiles. I just hope it's not too late.—Jon Iverson



Footnote 1: Two earlier articles on this subject can be found here and here.

COMMENTS
Indydan's picture

Bob Stuart's MQA is the biggest con job ever thrust upon the music industry and public. An MQA format monopoly would steer all the money into Stuart's pockets, and force music lovers to accept, whatever crumbs he thinks they should get. It would be the equivalent of a banana republic dictator living the good life, while his people starve.

If MQA becomes the dominant format, Don McLean will need to sing "The day the music died" part 2.

drblank's picture

First off, Meridian spent a lot of money on development which was over a multi-year period. Secondly, they are spending money on the marketing of MQA, which is a constant expense, so in response to your assumption, nope. It's not going into Bob Stuart's pockets.

You seem to think in a vacuum.

One can buy or stream whatever is available, it's up to the record labels to decide what formats they want to have their content distributed and us consumers pick the one that suits our pocketbook.

I would rather spend $20 a month and stream a big huge catalog, rather than paying $20 an album for Lossless is they sound pretty much the same.

I haven't heard MQA, but having read several different reviewers plus remarks of reputable recording engineers/mastering engineers, they seemed to like it.

If you don't like it, then buy expensive Lossless Digital downloads, and lots of storage. And see your pockets draining at a much quicker rate.

arve's picture

You seem to think in a vacuum.

He's not. MQA's wet dream has happened before, in other industries, and it's been deemed universally bad, For the better part of two decades, Microsoft's de-facto monopoly on viewing web content in a web browser (through MSIE being pushed on customers) held back capabilities and features on the web, and in the cases where users couldn't do something with Internet Explorer, they had to resort to an inherently unsafe (and preexisting, but unremovable) technology called "browser plugins".

In other words: It's prevented free market access to new players, startups, and it's greatly held back the world wide web, and we're still not out of the woods with regards to that one. The one extension that's been around, Flash, has cost society billions through various security exploits. It took another monopolist (Google) a strong arm to break this trend through pushing Google Chrome on everyone - and while Chrome/Chromium is more open in nature, it's not a given the replacement is overall good for the market either.

The same parallel can be found in document formats (Word processing, spreadsheets). Microsoft there, too, have a de-facto monopoly, and despite there being actual "open standards", they become hard and costly to work with, because Microsoft's nominal compliance to the standards is just that: Nominal. A company, foundation, individual or non-profit often has no choice but to still buy licensing.

MQA is just that, but for playback of 2-channel audio. It's going to actively prevent new companies from entering the market, having disastrous consequences. We are just about to enter an age where computational audio could be coming into the mainstream.

Some of what is being done with machine learning and extremely clever use of DSP and control systems is inherently incompatible with MQA - as it relies on manipulating the signal while still in the digital domain, and much of it requires band-splitting and band-limiting that is completely incompatible with the de-blurring. It will rely on feedback from physical processes to compute and process corrections - corrections that will take the harmonic distortion of a woofer from 20% to 1%, and that will allow a system to go significantly louder, while taking up less space. It will allow you to have much improved control over the speaker's directivity and interaction with the room.

What it also will do: As indicated by the previous paragraphs. The loudspeaker has largely been a stagnant technology for the better part of 50-60 years. Yes, there has been incremental improvements here and there, but a loudspeaker in 1968 is much the same as one in 2018: A passive mechanical design based on limitations in material science. With the advent of powerful digital processing, sensors and comprehensive models of a speaker's behavior, that could greatly change. But it will require a new breed of inventors and audiophiles It will come from startups, driven by enthusiasm, competence and tight budgets.

Any monopoly that creates a steep price for entry to market, or for technical limitations will prevent that invention from happening, and we will be looking at a very, very bleak future.

yuvalg9's picture

Please see below.

yuvalg9's picture

Quote: The loudspeaker has largely been a stagnant technology for the better part of 50-60 years. Yes, there have been incremental improvements here and there, but a loudspeaker in 1968 is much the same as one in 2018: A passive mechanical design based on limitations in material science.

By sheer coincidence, I have just pulled out an Israeli hi-fi magazine from Nov. 1977 from a stack of magazines. On the back cover is an ad for 3 new KEF loudspeakers. Now, if you take, for example, the Cantata featured there, and compare it to, say, an LS50, the difference in sound quality will be so huge that you will want to turn the old KEF into a bed-side cabin. Adjusting for inflation, their price would be about the same.

It is true that the basic constituents of loudspeakers have not changed for the last 50-60 years, but material research, computer simulation, the development of exotic new drivers, new ways to strengthen the enclosure, new crossover components, etc. have brought a huge improvement in the SQ of loudspeakers over the time span of the last 50-60 years. It is true, however, that a handful of companies, such as Legacy Audio and Meridian, utilize DSP's in their speakers to great effect. Heck, even KEF utilize them in their LS50 Wireless! But they are still few and far between, and the vast majority of current speakers sound vastly better than old speakers without "resorting" to signal processing measures.

Anton's picture

Now, instead of "looking for a fight," Spacehound was accurately describing this whole predicament!

https://www.stereophile.com/content/mqa-contextualized#comments-link

adamdea's picture

"I don't believe that, over the long term, MQA is in the best interests of audiophiles. I just hope it's not too late."
Combined with KR's comments in the same edition on SQ, (not to mention the letters page this month). This points to MQA really not being attractive.

crenca's picture

The author could have said more about what we already know about "deblurring", in that it is known art (i.e. slow, leaky filtering, etc.) unless Bob S. has really discovered something "new" in signal processing and if so how is he peddling it in audio when the military industrial complex would already have it classified.

Also, MQA's PR campaign has only succeeded with industry insiders such as this trade publication in focusing the debate on "sound quality". Consumers from the very beginning have been asking the hard questions about "deblurring", monopoly, IP/DRM, and the overall effect a software encoding such as MQA would have on our musical and digital ecosystems.

Matt Ruben's picture

Great piece by Jon Iverson. We could be live-and-let-live with MQA if its business model did not threaten to displace other, open-source formats like FLAC from the marketplace.

But since MQA's business model is predatory - and let's not forget that the major labels reportedly own 21% of MQA, giving them a stake in all MQA's licensing fees - we must investigate its claims of sonic benefits and consumer benefits. And most or all of those claims are misleading, at best.

Deblurring does not work unless the entire equipment chain is known, and even then it does not work on multitrack-sourced recordings if the individual multis were recorded with different equipment chains and/or at different sample rates - which is very common with popular music recordings.

In addition, as Iverson's article indicates, MQA contains DRM, because you can only copy, restore and play on non-MQA equipment a crippled version of the MQA file. The fully decoded and unfolded high-res version cannot be played on non-MQA equipment.

T.S. Gnu's picture

The danger with using the term balance is that it imports a false equivalency to the viewpoints. It is analogous to thanking a comment by a heliocentric for providing "balance" to comments by geocentrists. They ought not to be given equal credence.

allhifi's picture

Mr.Ruben: Excellent point regarding multi-tracked sourced recordings.

I was under the impression that MQA was simply a 'choice'; original native (uncompressed/WAV) files (24/96-192) remaining readily available.

It's an entirely different argument if this is NOT the case.

If, as pointed out, a 'hostile take-over' plan (i.e. absolute recording/ playback control) can be initiated as a result of this seemingly innocuous music file type -it must be quashed. Immediately.

I believed, as many I suspect, that the original music files would always be made available and MQA simply a "take it or leave it" proposition.

If there is any room whatsoever for the possibility of complete recording and playback control that has the potential to be as aggressive as feared -again this must be defeated.

Understanding it, as I think I do now, gives me new-found respect for those adamantly opposed -almost right from the start.
But all are guilty of poorly articulating their concerns; I couldn't care less what they thought of MQA's "sound" (or Mr. Stuart), but indeed have great concern with MQA's (potential) overarching stranglehold -complete with recording industry blessings).

Anything that inhibits further research (diffusing growth and betterment) must be vigorously resisted, and by recently disclosed concerns such as presented here, closed-form systems such as MQA must be buried.

peter jasz

dalethorn's picture

I for one really appreciate your point of view, and while I've played around with MQA DACs and files (I don't do streaming) a good bit, I absolutely protect myself from having files that depend on being tied to a particular computer or DAC.

One of the big problems in this whole MQA war is that the most virulently anti-MQA people are usually doing streaming, which I believe is already a done deal and a victory for MQA. What's just as bad is that many if not most of the anti-MQA brigade are using closed-source music players that are stealthily incorporating MQA coding.

So while much shouting against MQA goes on here and elsewhere, the very people who would seem to be our open-source advocates for MQA-free and DRM-free high-res downloads are actually enabling the problem that they decry.

labjr's picture

Good comment. Exactly why many were opposed from the start. Everyone should be against MQA regardless of how it sounds. I haven't heard it fully decoded but want it to fail. They've always stated that they wanted to be the only choice. Adopting MQA will kill all innovation in digital audio playback. Every audiophile publication should been dead against MQA from the start for this reason alone.

dalethorn's picture

Something I skipped over previously:

"Based on information from Auralic, a manufacturer of Audiophile Wireless Audio Streamers, Meridian Audio prohibits digital output of unpacked MQA in any digital format, only allowing the unpacked data to be fed to an on-board MQA-compatible DAC and output in analog form. Some claim this to be a part of DRM process."

So with allowance for my non-expertise in this area, I'd say emphatically YES - this is DRM.

dalethorn's picture

Extending and clarifying my above comment, this is my interpretation of DRM in current MQA files (ignoring for the moment the possibly-DRM'd MQA-enabled software music players):

We can make bit-perfect rips of audio CD's, so in essence we can back up and preserve the digital data on our CD's with no limits. Not so with SACD's regardless of claims** that we can. We can download high-res music files at 24/96 and 24/192 resolution, which play perfectly on open-source music players, and which can be converted to other formats with no restrictions. So in the case of 16/44 CD data as well as the high-res downloads, we are able to preserve the digital data 100 percent for all time, and play it losslessly on all available music players, whether open-source or not.

**My effort to convert DSD/SACD files to a high-res PCM format that would play on an open-source player, with assistance from several industry experts, failed - undoubtedly due to DRM-type restrictions. Those experts pointed to the "openness" of various parts of the playback chain, but in the end none of them could demonstrate openness throughout that chain.

And thus the problem with MQA - we cannot decode the digital data and save that data to digital files that are playable on open-source music players. To my way of thinking, this is similar to the DSD/SACD issue, but possibly worse, insofar as many SACD's have a 16/44 CD layer included, whereas in playing an MQA file on a non-MQA system, you don't get a lossless 16/44 layer.

dalethorn's picture

I use a non-MQA music player and a full-decoding MQA DAC. I'm not especially concerned about the DAC, but I'm very concerned about having elective DRM software running on my computer. So my questions are:

1) How much worse does a typical MQA'd release sound if I play it through a non-MQA DAC compared to my MQA DAC? I'm OK with CD-quality sound, and I don't have Perfect Pitch, so if tonality isn't perfect it might not be a problem for me.

2) Do we expect that non-MQA playback of MQA recordings might sound worse on average in the future than they do now, or that some functionality could be further crippled so that non-MQA playback isn't even remotely hi-fi?

3) Do we expect that non-MQA playback of MQA tracks could be locked out in the future, or that MQA tracks might be so tightly DRM'd that I couldn't back them up and restore them on a new computer without registering them?

In other words, I'm trying to get a sense of where the minimums are going to be for sound quality and freedom to back up and restore the tracks, if the official providers go 100 percent MQA.

T.S. Gnu's picture
Quote:

1) How much worse does a typical MQA'd release sound if I play it through a non-MQA DAC compared to my MQA DAC? I'm OK with CD-quality sound, and I don't have Perfect Pitch, so if tonality isn't perfect it might not be a problem for me.

Even if one assumes it sounds no worse than, for example, 16/44 CD quality, the file size is larger than any equivalent FLAC container. So at best one is getting a larger file size for the same quality.

Quote:

2) Do we expect that non-MQA playback of MQA recordings might sound worse on average in the future than they do now, or that some functionality could be further crippled so that non-MQA playback isn't even remotely hi-fi?

Depends on how cynical or gullible one is. Is what you ask possible? Yes. It is a monolithic system and you will be subject to the whims of the gatekeeper. Many are uncomfortable with that prospect.

Quote:

3) Do we expect that non-MQA playback of MQA tracks could be locked out in the future, or that MQA tracks might be so tightly DRM'd that I couldn't back them up and restore them on a new computer without registering them?

Same answer as that to the second point above.

In other words, the minimums are at best what they are with legacy PCM, but may be capped much lower. You can backup and restore present tracks at will. However, the hardware and software players that will render future tracks/streams at non-degraded SQ will be dictated (or "licensed") by a single corporate entity. The illustration is more vivid if one were to use physical objects instead of files as an example.

Imagine the scenario of buying an LP that will play at native quality on the Thorn1 turntable, but at a much more degraded level on any other device (unless the other device is licensed by paying GnuCorp a licensing feel); further imagine that newer LPs from a later date may have further restrictions when played back on the Thorn2 should licensing deals fall apart.

dalethorn's picture

Most of what you describe are non-sequiturs for digital music. The only issue is the packaging, or codec. What's clear (besides the music itself) is:
1) The digital music tracks will be clear, and no worse than the *loudness-compressed* music that already comes via the Loudness Wars.
2) The classical and jazz genres will be self-policed by those involved.
3) Any other "art" genres will have to learn to organize like (2) to protect their music.

Edit: Adding to the above about "other" genres, it would be good for musicphiles of all types to form a watchdog group to monitor the integrity of their musical genres.

arve's picture

Late answer, but I decided to look back in on this thread. Also, a fair warning. This is a long wall of text.

How much worse does a typical MQA'd release sound if I play it through a non-MQA DAC compared to my MQA DAC?

The answer is, as with so much else, "it depends".

Firstly, it depends on the particular MQA file/stream. To explain this, it's necessary to understand something about how digital audio works, and about how MQA works. I'll try to simplify it down to a "I don't need a degree in electronics or computers, but I might have had to pay attention in some science classes in high school".

In digital audio, one can convert "bits of resolution" to "magnitude of noise floor", as described in this Wikipedia article about "Effective number of bits". An MQA stream/file is a 24-bit container where the lowest nine to eleven bits of the stream are dedicated to storing a lossy representation of the input data stream. This leaves us with an effective number of "lossless" bits between 13 and 15. In real-world terms, this means that the lossless portion of an MQA file is limited to a noise floor governed by the following formula

SINAD = (ENOB*6.02 + 1.76)

* SINAD = Signal to noise and distortion (Effectively similar to "S/N")
* ENOB = "Effective number of bits" - the 13 to 15 bits

Worst-case "MQA played back without unfolding" can thus at most have a signal-to-noise ratio that is at worst 13*6.02+1.76 = 80 dB, and at best 92 dB.

This means that if you for instance have calibrated your listening levels for listening position peaks of 105 dB, the "noise" from the MQA encoding will be at a level of between 13 and 25 dB SPL in the listening position.

Which brings us to a defintion of "noise", and audibility of such. A noise artifact, such as that found on analog recording media, like "tape hiss", whether reel-to-reel is generally benign - it's entirely random in nature, and is from a mathematical and acoustical perspective almost the same as the ambient noise in any living space. Or rather, it's benign until it rises above the ambient noise floor.

Which is some of the "it depends" territory. If you have an exceptionally quiet listening space, you might have an absolute (unweighted) noise floor of about 20 dB SPL. If you have a typical residential space in a suburban or urban area, it's anywhere between 40-50 dB SPL. In the 20 dB SPL listening space calibrated to 105 dB peaks, tape hiss would mask some detail, whereas it wouldn't in the "inner-city" 50 dB SPL listening space. Some of this is because an ambient noise floor is usually "largely random", like tape hiss, or that the contribution to the absolute level of out-of-band components don't rise above the human threshold of hearing.

Then there is the elephant in the room. What if the noise isn't random? If a noise is very different in nature from the ambient noise, it may be possible to actually hear it, even if its absolute level doesn't rise above the ambient noise floor of the listening space.

The "noise" - in other words, the lowest bits of an undecoded MQA stream aren't random. In those 9-11 bits, MQA stores the high-frequency content of the original input stream. No matter what kind of mathematical gymnastics happen in the MQA algorithm, there is some connection to a _signal_ and it thus isn't random in nature - it changes throughout a stream/file in correspondence with the input data, which in turn also corresponds with the upper 13-15 bits of the audio. You then end up with this low-amplitude data having some form of "pattern" that deviates from "static noise", and it is thus more likely to actually be detectable by human beings than a random signal. Think: "being able to hear a mosquito, even though you're filling the bathtub, and the bathtub is much louder".

So, again, this is back to depends: The noise floor from the "MQA data" in an MQA container is never fully random, and whether it's audible or not depends on your room, your setup, and the ambient noise floor, and to some extent the nature of the original song and the transfer process to MQA. The one thing that can be fairly ascertained is that undecoded MQA will never be quite as objectively as good as good-old CD quality audio. Whether that is audible depends on your room, setup and music in question.

My personal take is that I don't want that doubt in my life.

dalethorn's picture

These are helpful examples - late night versus daytime noise, urban versus rural noise, random versus non-random noise. Things nearly every audiophile has already experienced, that they need to listen for in non-MQA playback of MQA files. Especially where MQA coding isn't labeled, and I have some of those.

Music_Guy's picture

...digital music sounded like. Just as we lament on these pages that a whole generation that was bought up on compressed MP3 files doesn't know what good recorded music sounds like, so too the next generation will be brought up not knowing what could have been. MQA is deemed good enough for them. No variety, no choice. Just what the MQA algorithm allows.

DRM has won out over ever improving quality.

I am not saying MQA sounds bad, even today. But, it sure kills the aspect of this "hobby" that is the pursuit of improvements in sound quality.

Make no mistake, the compressed, then unfolded output does not and can not give us the resolution of the original higher bit rate file. MP3 throws away some information. MQA throws away some information.

Ahh, what could have been...

I 'pray' for continued existence of labels and artists not aligned with the restrictive MQA CODEC consortium to give us ever improving sound files.

georgehifi's picture

REALLY!!!!! What next!!!! To suck you in.

Cheers George

Ovation123's picture

Perhaps a very dumb question (but I’ve been busy with non-audio things in real life and have only very recently started reading a lot about the latest audio developments).

If I rip my physical media to FLAC, do I have to worry? I do use Apple Music for casual listening (it’s convenient with my gear) but still sit with SACD/DVD-A/CD discs for critical listening at home and carry a hard drive loaded with lossless ripped audio for lengthy listening sessions while out of the house. Is this “out of the house” option going to become impossible or am I only going to deal with this issue with streaming (a casual music source only, for me).

More broadly, I DO NOT like the apparent monopolistic implications of MQA, as I’ve gleaned from this article. I’m agnostic re: formats (as witnessed by my gear over the years—most of which is still in rotation) but I’m firmly against losing options.

dalethorn's picture

SACD and DVD have had restrictions for a long time if not all time, whereas CD ripping to completely unprotected files has been the norm. But we have CDs now with MQA coding, and worse yet, one such CD I have has no indication of it anywhere.

T.S. Gnu's picture

If SACD and DVD-A players were ceased to be manufactured, disc owners would be restricted to hearing the CD layer or the lossy Dolby Digital on the DVD-V layer. This is an issue with HDCD discs and the hardware required to decode them. Owners of MQA content could fall into this trap despite the lessons from history. There are many who do not wish to be forced into this situation.

dalethorn's picture

Stereophile is being instrumental in bringing these possibilities to the widest possible audience now, before it's too late. Audiophiles are paying attention, especially here in these discussions, where neither the pros nor the cons are being suppressed. Sad to say, that's not the case with everyone.

allhifi's picture

Once again, if MQA is only a choice (take/leave it proposition) that does not have the potential to jeopardize current or future music making, recording and playback -may they throw their hat in the ring.

BUT, if such power (to change/influence/direct/re-direct music making, recording and playback as claimed by those concerned) is largely conferred by the mere presence of opportunity, then an entirely new problem surfaces. In which case, everyone should be concerned.

" ... If I rip my physical media to FLAC, do I have to worry?"

Yes. particularly if you could not access/record/copy using WAV.

An apt comparison, come to think of it; FLAC is supposed to represent a lossless compression format. Nothing but what actually exists on the (for example) original WAV is to be "copied". Yet upon playback, it's easy to hear the distinctions between FLAC and WAV. And by so many accounts, FLAC is the 'real-deal' And similarly, many feel sounds inferior to a WAV/AIFF file.

For whatever reason, I can pick out the (much) better sounding native WAV (compared to FLAC) 9/10 times -time and time again. And that's a suppposed lossless format that does nothing but attempt to retain what's actually on the WAV file.

And now, if this becomes the defacto 'standard', we have a very complicated (MQA) system that does this, that and the other with the original file (whether at the encoded recording/ADC end or the full-blown MQA process) and claims superiority over the orignal file (that has served listener's for the past 40-years)?

Hmmmmm. Maybe. BUT, regular non-messed with native LPCM, WAV files must be accessible. Otherwise, all of the dedicated work by recording and hardware engineer's, the myriad of CD/DAC/filter/DSP designers implementations (over the past 40-years) goes out the window based on one (admittedly talented) chap's self-serving interests; Meridian's "Minimum Phase/Apodizing" digital filters with a covoluted end-to-end system that's supposed to define "the best" ? And possible world dominance (lol) of the entire recording /playback chain ? Ouch.

That would simply be a slap-in-the-face to all who came before -and will after.

If I recall correctly, there are a few key points MQA claims:

1) Better Sound:

2) File size: (Hi-Rez 24/96-192 streaming); MQA claims a file size slightly larger than CD's 1,411 Kb/s.

3) Master Quality Authenticated: The premise/promise and guarentee of an 'Authenticated Masters' sound file.

All, genuinely arguable:

1) Depends. By no means an automatic given.
2) Consider the following:
https://www.computeraudiophile.com/blogs/entry/466-some-analysis-and-com...

https://www.xivero.com/blog/high-resolution-or-not-high-resolution-that-...

Xivero's MQA Analysis: https://www.xivero.com/blog/hypothesis-paper-to-support-a-deeper-technic...

3) In defense of MQA, a few years back, some high-res. audio downloads were shown to nothing but up-sampled, standard 16/44-48 files. Back then, MQA would indeed authenticate a (music) files provenance (a verification of authentic higher resolution). Sounds fair.

BUT, MQA's overstressing of its considerable superiority over both stanadard and authentic higher resolution files erked more than a few observers.
It wouldn't be a stretch to include naysayers that say as much by NOT offering MQA DAC's: Schiit, Auralic, Benchmark and several others. Schiit the most professional and polite of the bunch.

Add the admittedly MQA-bashing efforts of the self-serving interests of Hi-Rez. download sites.(I still cannot understand the $20-$30. pricing for such downloads considering the effort, work, materials and shipping of physical media that often sells for less, or even the same dollar amnount. What's up with that, Doc.?)

Then there's the back-bench Archie(Bunker)Amigo types that offer shitloads of virulent verbose in vain attempt to pass as knowledge -or worse yet, expertise.

And for well-meaning hardware makers, it may be best to voice your objections with a sharper pen. Or hire a PR man. Or simply present your arguments deftly -or at least concisely.

In any case, there is compelling evidence that demonstrates MQA file manipulation alters (impairs?) the crucially important resolution (time/phase doamin) and perhaps bit-depth required for full, unadultered, genuine (and proveable) high resolution performance.

Take the time to read Xivero's passionate and respectful MQA concerns/arguments -links provided above.

I still must experience the (full-blown) MQA Wow factor personally. Something that has alluded me thus far.
Yet, even if I marvel in its wonderment, my fellow audiophile may not, and he reserves/deserves the right to freely access his definition of better sound -both software and hardware choices.

Likely not terribly relevant (or comparable), but my DAC offers several linear and minimum phase digital filter choices (courtesy of ESS's 9028PRO chip)and consistently (blindly) I prefer Linear Phase, or 'Brickwall' (presumably a LP Brickwall I have not verified -nor care really).

Admittedly poorly set-up (from my end), using Tidal's Masters music offerings, I thought perhpas Tidal's MQA (recording) encoding may have a synergy with the Minimum/Apodizing filter selection of my DAC -did not materialize, preferring LP/Brickwall consistently and by no small margin.

Fully realizing my 'test' hardly represented a fair MQA rendering (I believe MQA has access to the DAC's modulator and fully-validated MQA uses one of dozens of varying minimun phase 'profiles'. Yet, for some reason I was hoping for some MQA 'magic' ! Ultimately, I must wait for the real deal.)

Sooooo, where are we again? Right. Time to move on.

Can someone qualified (i.e NOT me) use their skill and expertise to provide a concise (point-form) argument against (or support of) MQA involvement for the future of formatting, archiving and delivering our beloved music.

Please. Let's get it done. And (mercifully) move on ...

pj

dalethorn's picture

"For whatever reason, I can pick out the (much) better sounding native WAV (compared to FLAC) 9/10 times -time and time again. And that's a suppposed lossless format that does nothing but attempt to retain what's actually on the WAV file."

I know people who claim that they can tell the difference between a WAV file played from a USB thumb drive and the same exact file played from the internal hard drive. I don't doubt them, because there are many things happening in a computer that could make the difference.

A similar thing for a WAV file converted to FLAC, and then converted back to the WAV format, which checksums exactly the same as the original WAV file. When the music player plays each file (WAV and FLAC), it has to do different things, even though supposedly the data sent to the DAC is identical when the FLAC is an exact compressed WAV.

If the data sent to the DAC is indeed identical, and the buffering provided by the system and the music player is working perfectly, then I suppose they should sound the same. Then again, when I have a headphone plugged into my computer and I so much as copy a file from one folder to another, I hear the copy noise in the headphone.

Perhaps the slightly different processes in playing WAV and FLAC (uncompressing the FLAC etc.) are making noises in the computer data bus, and those are somehow modulated into the DAC's output signal across the electrical connections? Who knows? I can only guess that whatever is happening for you in playing FLACs could be a larger issue in playing some MQA tracks.

allhifi's picture

Hi dt: I've heard this as well -SQ distinctions from 'drives', along with other other variables.

Yet, with respect to 'file-format', I've yet to hear one complain of WAV, yet considerable argument exists for other formats, including and specifically so-called compressed loss-less FLAC.
Whether it's a result of this reason or that, when musics replay quality is paramount, stick with the best; WAV or Apple equivalent (AIFF?).

Quantum Computing; On/Off, zero's, one's. The "only" two states ?As Quantum Physics unravels, an entire world of phenomena unfolds (Origami-style? lol).

Without doubting, questioning, wondering, disputing, analyzing, evaluating, comparing -adventuring, mankind would be hopelessly relegated to and stuck within the perpetual past.

A 'toast' then, to keep'in it real -and adventurous.

pj

dalethorn's picture

When I hung out on Cypherpunks in the 90s, there were obviously many souls there whose task it was to obfuscate the upper levels of research into cryptography and quantum crypto, steganography (i.e. MQA), anonymous 2-way cash, etc. So one day I composed a white paper on "Sub-Bit Processing". I'll leave that to your imagination, but in essence there were 6 states....

Be sure to see my summary of work on the Radka Toneff MQA 'Fairytales' topic.

allhifi's picture

Hi dt: I remain intrigued.

Please forward that 'White Paper' (or parts thereof -link would be great) and also that of " ...summary of work on the Radka Toneff MQA 'Fairytales' topic."

I can't find it?

Many thanks,

pj

dalethorn's picture

The iTunes "MQA" edition:

Apple is selling the album "Radka Toneff - Fairytales - Original Master Edition (MQA)" in the iTunes store in the U.S. now, exactly as shown for the original MQA album available from high-res stores and streaming sites. Apple also sells the older edition in the iTunes store. But the MQA album is not actually MQA'd. Here is what I found so far:

1) The iTunes "MQA" files (AAC, file extension '.m4a') have a much higher playback bitrate than any of the other iTunes files I have in my collection - several hundred of them. All previous iTunes files that I know of are 256 kbps variable bit rate, and these "MQA" tracks go as high as 461 kbps variable bit rate.

2) I converted the .m4a "MQA" tracks to FLAC, as I did with the older edition iTunes tracks, and the "MQA" edition FLACs' total size is 165.5 mb, compared to 123 mb for the older FLACs.

3) I played the .m4a "MQA" tracks as well as their FLAC conversions I made with Foobar2000, on my Mac's VOX music player using the Meridian Explorer-2 DAC, making sure to try all of the bitrates provided by the Mac's MIDI settings, and never could get a green or blue light on the DAC as I get with the Steve Reich Pulse album (I have the Pulse album in 16/44 MQA as well as high-res MQA and high-res non-MQA).

4) The iTunes "MQA" tracks are 16/44 as seen by the VOX player, as are the Reich/Pulse MQA tracks I ripped from the CD I purchased. Those Reich tracks do produce the correct light on my DAC, but these iTunes tracks do not.

In summary, Apple is presenting the new "Radka Toneff - Fairytales - Original Master Edition (MQA)" album in the iTunes store exactly the same as reviewed by major audio magazines and exactly as sold at the usual high-res download sites, albeit the iTunes version does not appear to actually be MQA'd. That presentation seems wrong to me, however the iTunes "MQA" files are of higher resolution than any other iTunes files I'm aware of, and they sound very good - audiophile quality or very nearly so.

allhifi's picture

Hi dt: Thanks for clarifying. In reading your reply, I was somehow struck by the distinctions in today's music sources from that of yesteryear.

As far as Apple (& iTurds)is concerned, I'm given yet another reason to remain at a distance.

What did Apple/iTunes have to say ?

In reading your detailed reply, I believe there remains areas (in addition to what you've introduced) that can confound source quality, VBR/CBR bitrate an example -and more I'm certain.

Your forgiving nature with Apple is both commendable and unfortunate -I'd be hammering for an answer !

That, as you say:

" ...however the iTunes "MQA" files are of higher resolution than any other iTunes files I'm aware of, .."

That's hardly any consolation to what is advertised although Apple's indifference is hardly surprising.

Ummmm .... Have you considered some fine vinyl -for your listening pleasure ?

Hmmmm, 'MQA Vinyl' -wouldn't surprise me as the MQA group no doubt would add:

" ... Don't worry, every table/cartridge will benefit."

Customer: How ?
MQA: Believe us, everyone will benefit -even 45's, and 78's!

Welcome, to the 21st century ...

pj

dalethorn's picture

As I mentioned elsewhere, I pursued the sacred answer at the real source, where Mr. Stuart appears now and then to bless the loyal followers. Asking Apple is asking to be insulted by people who can't even spell 'fidelity'. I see new forums and venues appearing to advance the cause, to magnify the mystique of MQA, all the while pitting the peasants against each other to the point of maximum attrition.

I'm happy with the iTunes files in this case, and can only hope that every such album they release with new mastering, higher fidelity, and no actual MQA proves to be as good. Some days though you have to ask "Who's in charge of this stuff?"

allhifi's picture

Hi dt: You are a passionate, sensible -and understanding man.
I wish I had such patience.

It's indeed telling that both Stuart and Apple remained silent/ indifferent.
I'm beginning to view MQA/Stuart & Co. in the same manner as I do Apple: Neither are anywhere near satisfactory -to my logic.

Strangely, I must admit it's troubling that Apple possesses such indifference; the saving grace perhaps is ALL such powerful entities eventually trip over their ever growing feet (and ego) and fall into a 6-foot trench barely big enough to accommodate them. In fact, some pushing/shoving to ensure proper burial is often required -I'd imagine. lol

If I ever stumble upon such a scenario, I've come to understand (know or seek -lol) there's always another supplier/company to fulfill our (musical) needs.

Such indifference (as Apple/MQA apparently display) is truly disheartening. Speaking openly and honestly as it all unfolds assures that we all make decisions that serve our needs, interests and ultimately -sensibilities.

Very insightful. Thanks for sharing.

pj

dalethorn's picture

Here we have 6 "states" of a communication, circuit, etc. (whatever you wish to call it):

0. not defined.
1. not connected.
2. not operating.
3. not conducting.
4. conducting.
5. superconducting.

You could redefine these any way you wish, the point being to have multiple states of a ss device rather than just on and off. Of course you'd need devices capable of reporting those (or similar) states, but as a good bit of pseudo-quantum computing is already going on today, it shouldn't be much of a stretch to build a simulator.

For classic crypto purposes it's easy to take a computer file into bits of 0 and 1 values and write them out to a new file encrypted, then at some point decrypt the ciphertext into the exact original message, since the bit values are 0 or 1 only. When you're lacking the 6-state "bits" in your classic computer, you'll have to simulate them - perhaps use 3 bits per "bit". The trick is capturing the 6 states accurately from a classic computer (0 and 1 only), then on the decryption end reducing the 6-state matrix to 0 or 1.

Why do this? It offers an additional layer of security that's based on things the hacker or listener may not have access to. But this is just scratching the surface of crypto tech - the guys in the know are years down the road on this stuff.

allhifi's picture

dt: Now that's more like it !

Your parting paragraph says it best:

Why do this? It offers an additional layer of security ....." But this is just scratching the surface of crypto tech - the guys in the know are years down the road on this stuff."

Six states of suspected/manipulatable two-state 'systems'.

Perhaps the "all cable sounds the same" crowd may wish to consider these dimensions?
Nah, some folk are simply unable to stretch the imagination any further than 1+1=2. A kind-of "a bridge too far"?

Thanks dt,

pj

P.S.

" ...that's based on things the hacker or listener may not have access to."

Touche'.

dalethorn's picture

I wrote this circa 1999:
"What would be the long-term effect on the human gene pool if one were to make an analogy to Differential Fault Analysis for use in 'decoding' DNA processes? One might have an incentive to aerial-spray various agents which could induce faults during certain stages of reproduction, then collect the data from ordinary university research projects."

If you've read the papers on Differential Fault Analysis, Differential Power Analysis, Differential ......... etc. etc., then you understand how 'faults' introduced into a crypto stream can greatly facilitate cracking secret codes. This is very old stuff by now, but the implications for other sciences are intriguing.

allhifi's picture

1999 you say ... . Where have I, where have we, been ?(-I'm being serious).

Very impressive stuff dt.

Your parting words should give us considerable pause to think of what has evolved since, near 20-years on !

pj

dalethorn's picture

And now for the scary part -- the famed crypto guys, you know, the ones the media trot out to tell us what it all means when there's a big data breach at xyz corp. - those guys tell us that as long as we use their approved crypto for our personal sensitive files, we have nothing to worry about. And the *only* reason we have leaks in government is because of insiders or careless handling by people who know better.

That's the official story. But ask yourself what happens to millions of extremely sensitive files captured in their most secure (encrypted) form by the opposition - files held in archives awaiting the next big paradigm in computing (say, quantum), and now the quantum computer arrives and all of these super-secret files open up like a church door on Sunday.

All those assurances you got that "our security is good enough for you" leave you with a feeling of dread, especially if there are consequences. But relating this to MQA - we will learn the secrets eventually, but it likely won't matter because the ship sailed long ago.

allhifi's picture

dt: Other than those who are paid for such 'work', all others are far too busy to give it the necessary time to genuinely think-it-through. (RE: Data Mining/Trolling)

What ultimately will be revealed is 'The Big Picture': What is known, trolled, captured, stored/evaluated -and its impact upon both 'proceedings' and future generations.

One thing remains clear: This is the beginning. Currently in its "childhood years"? What happens in the Growth (teenage) years will likely be as unpredictable as 'teens' themselves.

I foresee an electronic Black Plague devouring data as it had unleashed upon history. Wait a minute, where are we, and talking about? (lol).

I suppose enough ink has been devoted to such 'extensions' above/ beyond our MQA-inquiring minds. (Minimally Quantified Attributes?)

Perhaps a MQA Acronym parody would lighten up the mood ?

You have mine: (MQA) Minimally Quantified Attributes

And yours ...?

Cheers,

pj

dalethorn's picture

To be honest, all I can think of is the incredible business opportunity of MQA, and the folks who by all rights should have walked arm in arm with them to the marriage altar of sponsorship, but were spurned at the last moment like a jilted lover who'd invested in a fabulously expensive reception with thousands of important guests. Not to mention the 20-carat ring.

allhifi's picture

What "incredible" business opportunity did you/had you envisioned for MQA ?

There are more than a few (in fact an overwhelming amount) of respected professionals that (correctly) point out that it's simply NOT required. (It's a crude, in-efficient, expensive proposition with no clear benefit. FOR ANYONE!)

dalethorn, may I suggest you contact/speak to and purchase some of Xivero's (or alternative supplier) software packages.

Drop the MQA-thing, as I will do. I've truly enjoyed our discussion thus far but we (both) must really stop beating this dead horse.

I've said my piece (peace?)... and goodwill to all,

pj
(P.S. I must go to my Mommy's -and help with some (light -as in illuminating lights) dusting on some newly installed 'LED' household lights. If I'm late, I'm in trouble. And I 'll tell her: "it was Dale's fault"!)

Have a great day everyone ...

DH's picture

I've listened to MQA on an MQA DAC. I've found some recordings sound a bit better, some not so different, and some worse. I've even found a few I think sound worse than the CD version. Of course, I only can be more or less sure I was listening to comparisons based on the same master in any case, so it's hard to compare.

But from that my conclusion is "what do we need MQA for?"

In addition, I don't buy the whole reducing bandwidth and streaming argument. You can take a 24/96 FLAC master and reduce it to something like 18/96, properly dithered and it will be smaller than the equivalent MQA file, and will be, actually, less lossy (in terms of actual music content, not lossy at all in many cases). So again, the question is " what is MQA for?" - other than setting up a DRM'ed and controlled, monopolized music format?

allhifi's picture

RE:

" ...In addition, I don't buy the whole reducing bandwidth and streaming argument. You can take a 24/96 FLAC master and reduce it to something like 18/96, properly dithered and it will be smaller than the equivalent MQA file, and will be, actually, less lossy (in terms of actual music content, not lossy at all in many cases)"

INDEED, not lossy at all !

In fact 18/192 (appropriately dithered) file not likely much larger than MQA file size.

The MQA company simply underestimated the explosive DSP growth in recent years and the grave (and rightful) concerns of the people/listeners it was intended to serve.
That MQA has failed to appease those who present an articulate (and respectful) argument/questions to MQA that goes unanswered remains rather insulting.

pj

Relayer's picture

Some cogent thought on at least some aspects of this situation.

KeithyD's picture

Man.........who knew MQA would be a bigger "Hot Potato" than Mpingo discs, expensive IC's and power cords?

Anton's picture

I think you are supposed to put it in the MQA Kool Aid.

digilog's picture

So who are these idiots? Look in the mirror: They're all you that keep commenting in these bottomless MQA blogs.

MQA is such a bit-player topic in audio, it ain't worthy of all but a few articles.

Hey, don't fault the 'Phile. They've hit a goldmine with MQA and baitin' the public for FREE content. One of the staff editors spews off a few paras ... and all you SUCKERS fill in the rest.

Are all your lives SO BORING -- and pathetically lacking interest -- that y'all are givin' away your limited lifetimes to such a small-potatoes topic?

PFFFFFTTTTTTTTTTTT!

Graham Luke's picture

That was good. Are you feeling better now?

dalethorn's picture

A little levity doesn't hurt. Much. Ouch.

allhifi's picture

For sure, look into that mirror ...!

pj

Graham Luke's picture

'Format monopoly'; the two words that are the most significant in the above article. Thank you, Jon; you are SPOT ON.

Wdw's picture

I have tried to hear this “great new thing”, gone to trade shows, subscribe to Tidal but find nothing other than willful subterfuge and dishonesty. No willingness on the MQA group’s part to show us the improvements, if any....just rent seeking at its most base. Can’t we just stop this in its tracks!
Thank you Jon

rgelen's picture

There's a fundamental misconception in this piece, and that is that MQA isn't a format. It doesn't supersede lossless file formats whether they are uncompressed like .wav or aiff, or losslessly compressed like FLAC or ALAC. Indeed, MQA requires a lossless format to convey the data in a form that can be unfolded at the playback end.

crenca's picture

It is a format, a piece of software. As the article correctly states, it offers a "crippleware" (another word for this is "freemium")PCM section so that your "legacy dac" (Bob's description of non MQA dacs) can play something, but you need an MQA dac to decode the full software, because only an MQA dac recognizes and decodes this new format...

rgelen's picture

OK, I should have been more specific. It's not a file format like AIFF, WAV or FLAC.

T.S. Gnu's picture

Formats are either Pulse Code Modulation, Pulse Width Modulation (as in DSD), or Pulse Amplitude Modulation.

There has been a lot of conflation of terminology and it would be helpful if people referred to MQA as what it is — a codec. Then, comparing the "advantages" it bestows and the restrictions it imposes with that of other codecs makes a discussion easier to navigate. As in, what does this new codec do that others don't (the technical details sorely underreported by the audio press) and what does it restrict in comparison to existing codecs (ANY form of DSP)? The latter is rarely highlighted and it is good to see writers like Kal bring focus to that. Very simply, bass management and room correction are at odds with the BLOT — the Blue LED Of Truth.

For those who take comfort that the future may allow for these manipulation DS in the digital domain, it might be wise to remember that them that give and also take the away. The only assurances against unilateral impositions and dispensations are in open source standards. Perhaps it is the right time to focus on this aspect.

allhifi's picture

Mr Guru: If one wasn't blinded by your finely carved prose, they might very well have missed your (primary) assertion, namely:

" ...There has been a lot of conflation of terminology and it would be helpful if people referred to MQA as what it is — a codec. Then, comparing the "advantages" it bestows and the restrictions it imposes with that of other codecs makes a discussion easier to navigate ...".

Good point in describing as a codec. Partly. Now, I'm no expert, but, what other "codec" gets to the Master (recording) to make changes (& manipulations) as does the MQA "codec" ?

And, an appropriate segue thus unfolds (ewe, pun):

"As in, what does this new codec do that others don't ..."

Let's start with Mr. Stuart telling us that to achieve 'better sound', an end-to-end system approach is required. And so, the manipulation of/at the recording itself is initiated.
And, if I'm not mistaken (and I very well could be), he employs a minimum-phase type filter at some point -in this "Master File' (recording) stage.

That suggests to me that a similar 'distortion-producing' MP filter is demanded at the DAC -the exact filter type known to distort the delicate phase/time relationships of the original signal.
In other words, this "end-to-end system" is nothing more than a distorted version (right-through no less) of the original recording that is NOT plagued by spectral (phase & magnitude) distortions ? NICE !

And I must wonder, if a Linear Phase Brickwall filter was used at the original ADC stage, (and I clearly prefer LP/Brickwall at the other end), and now that the recording has been manipulated with an MP filter , will I now require a minimum phase/apodizing (DAC) filter to gain the "benefits " of a such an end-to-end system ?

Yes, must be the end-to-end answer -according to Mr. Stuart's discoveries.

Think about that for a moment.

As I've mentioned previously, if we have the option of Take-it or Leave it (MQA), no harm or foul. BUT, if it infests the original recording (or access to -if the recording company's ONLY offer MQA-manipulated recording files), we all should be concerned.

I just can't imagine consumer selection of either not being offered/available -by these on-board record company's.

So, for all of you far more qualified chaps out there, can you chime in?

pj

Exsomnis's picture

Tidal still maintains standard flac/alac album streams side by side with their MQA’d album releases and you can generally hear an improvement in SQ between the two. The MQA version usually sounds more articulate and clear - with a more palpable sense of presence due to the blacker background. The caveat being that the source material was well recorded and mastered to begin with.

Whether or not Tidal intentionally reduces bitrate on their non-MQA content is up for debate but if they aren’t, then I like what I hear with MQA. In the end, will it affect me as an end consumer? Let me put it this way - DRM has been around in various forms for decades now, and is not going away anytime soon. As long as high SQ mastering objectives are met and standards are maintained and propagated to a wider swathe of the music industry, I won’t complain.

allhifi's picture

Exsomnis: Very nicely said.

pj

dce22's picture

The "deblurring" feature will damage 44.1khz playback for everybody MQA should never be used in mass music production, for people that want to understand anti-alias/anti-image filtering watch this video

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest
Speaker: Rob Watts

Beyond Off the Shelf DAC Chips
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84Lb2qQBoMM
Filtering in ADC DAC at 17:00 minutes

DAC Masterclass
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXyjsSYjnL8

AJ's picture

Nice piece Jon. You will now be branded a "Hater" ;-).
This is exactly what "they" have been saying all along.
Now, I'm perfectly fine if some stereophile believer needs unauthentic aliasing distortion (MQA) to make their spatially deprived stereophonic system sound less worse. That's a subjective choice, like a high output impedance SET amp or some other pathological audio widget.
Where I have to draw the line is at music being mastered with unauthentic aliasing distortion, so that all are forced into the cult whether willing or not. Leave the masters uncompressed and aliasing distortion free (aka "blurred") so we can both have our cake.

allhifi's picture

RE:

"...Leave the masters uncompressed and aliasing distortion free (aka "blurred") so we can both have our cake."

Touche'

pj
(P.S> love the "blurred" reference ! lol)

steve21's picture

The good news is all the attention MQA is attracting means audiophiles will be able to form an opinion of the product and as consumers will have some influence on how MQA will be adopted commercially.
Bad news is that after we get a good look at "the man behind the curtain" we see yet another DRM compression technique trying to capture market domination.
When 16/44 was prematurely adopted as the industry standard for CD's every one with an ear knew eventually it would be improved. What that improvement would be has been a whack a mole game between engineers developing new formats and consumers rejecting them. With the advent of 24/192 and or DSD downloads it appears the industry is willing to put its best foot forward as far as releasing the best possible quality to consumers. However when MQA's Spenser Chrislu says "releasing that format(24/192) is basically giving away the crown jewels" it reveals volumes about what MQA is trying to do. And so it continues.........The fellows that have never deviated from vinyl must be having a good chuckle.

allhifi's picture

RE: " ...However when MQA's Spenser Chrislu says "releasing that format(24/192) is basically giving away the crown jewels" it reveals volumes about what MQA is trying to do."

Be specific, "What are they trying to do"?

It suggests to me more of who they're serving -and it appears not the consumer/listener.
(I wonder if the quoted chap got a retaliatory MQA-style British lashing ! lol)

If MQA was merely another codec as someone alluded to earlier, then by all means anyone is free to throw their hat in the ring. BUT, once that "codec" requires manipulation of the master recording, well that's an entirely different discussion, and no longer can it be considered simply another codec (such as FLAC, WAV, AAC, etc.). This may be particularly true considering the great concern it has generated.

And the more I think upon it (really never did previously believing it was simply a take/leave it offering) the more I can see all the valid concerns presented including sound quality, DRM, file size, impact upon the 'open-source' hardware/software market and indeed the financial burden of the entire proposition.

In all cases, I cannot see a single (consumer) benefit regarding MQA.
I'm guessing the legacy (of the the very talented Mr. Stuart and company) envisioned may in fact be a near-successful pipe-dream.

What prompted the (MQA) thought in the first place is unique in itself. I suspect it was envisioned as a global panacea (from a 1980's perspective) that simply failed to recognize the enormous leaps and bounds made in DSP the past decade, let alone the past few years; precisely the time "MQA" was envisioned.
In other words, since the 2010's, the improvements/capabilities of the DSP we have today was underestimated by the MQA team back then/when.
Naturally, at that point (once substantial investment began), it's sink or swim. And it appears MQA continues to be treading water ...

To Be Continued ... lol

pj

NeilS's picture

Good column, better late than never, but far too late. If this column is indeed now "As We See It", I think Stereophile still has a lot of explaining for "As We Saw It": going on two years of incessant wide-eyed boosterism of MQA.

Anton's picture

Are you saying some people were for it before they were against it?

NeilS's picture

I've heard that Gregory Anton was for it before he was against it.

allhifi's picture

Honestly, Stereophile were/are early-later-current advocates ?

Geesh, (lol) although I was unaware of this, not that it makes one iota of a difference whatsoever -including earlier Back Bleacher Blathering from TAS stakeholders. BTW, where is that Harley guy anyway ?

pj

solarboy297's picture

then the record store. There is great music out there without all of this hissing at each other. Jeeze..

Laurence Svirchev's picture

When industry associations build standards they are are for the common good, usually. A good example is the old USB contraption, now superseded by USB-C and if you like it for your purposes, wireless transmission. Then there are not so good standards that limited what the ears could handle: 20-20kHz 16-44.
These are industry-wide consensus standards. But this MQA as described? Bad idea. It's not industry wide and it locks out competition. It sounds like monopoly. Everyone who reads Stereophile knows there is an art to mastering and presenting music. I've listened to older and remastered versions of Ellington's 'And His Mother Called Him Bill' and prefer the older one.
The multitude of companies offering different takes on music recording and play-back systems attests to the undesirability of a single format monopoly. "My ears and aesthetics are different than yours" should be the rule.

hapinoregon's picture

As an aging neo-Luddite with absolutely no interest in streaming, or any other computer related means of listening to my music, what does MQA mean to me? Will I still be able to buy vinyl and "regular" CDs/DVDs w/o worrying about yet another "up-grade"?

dalethorn's picture

No upgrade will be needed, so far anyway. The CDs, i.e. the masters they are made from, and undoubtedly the digital masters the LPs are made from, will be mastered with MQA encoding. They will sound similar to what we have already, on existing gear. Supposedly they will sound better if you play them through a DAC that has MQA code to retrieve the "extra" stuff that MQA will encode into those masters. It's anyone's guess at this point how it will eventually turn out, until the MQA company tells us exactly what processes are going into the "MQA encoding", and what processes retrieve the extra stuff out of that code when you have the MQA DAC. Without that DAC, the MQA company has assured us not to worry about anything. But there is some worry...

allhifi's picture

dalethorn: You say

" ...But there is some worry..."

Sure is. and here it is repeated:

" ...Let's start with Mr. Stuart telling us that to achieve 'better sound', an end-to-end system approach is required. And so, the manipulation of/at the recording itself is initiated.
And, if I'm not mistaken (and I very well could be), he employs a minimum-phase type filter at some point -in this "Master File' (recording) stage.

That suggests to me that a similar 'distortion-producing' MP filter is demanded at the DAC -the exact filter type known to distort the delicate phase/time relationships of the original signal.
In other words, this "end-to-end system" is nothing more than a distorted version (right-through no less) of the original recording that is NOT plagued by spectral (phase & magnitude) distortions ? NICE !

And I must wonder, if a Linear Phase Brickwall filter was used at the original ADC stage, (and I clearly prefer LP/Brickwall at the other end), and now that the recording has been manipulated with an MP filter , will I now require a minimum phase/apodizing (DAC) filter to gain the "benefits " of a such an end-to-end system ?

Yes, must be the end-to-end answer -according to Mr. Stuart's discoveries.

Think about that for a moment."

Your honor, the Crown (not Crown-Jewels) rests its case.

pj

dalethorn's picture

In all fairness, we have only Stuart's description of some "amazing" processes in the MQA coding, and Archimedes' graphs and annotations (with attendant opinion) to challenge Stuart's assertions. So far as I know, the listening has been mostly inconclusive, but that could be because the folks doing the MQA masters are being very careful with them and devoting lots of hand-on time to make sure nothing offensive gets released. Once the process gets more automated, who knows?

So, if MQA bulldozes its way into the archives of the big music companies, choices could become much more limited. Just as bad would be if Stuart and others no longer have an incentive to prove the veracity of their claims, let alone have open demos of their product with critics on hand to challenge them.

Come to think of it, have these open demos with critics ever been done? So many mysteries, so few answers.

allhifi's picture

Hi dt: The following is of grave concern:

" ... until the MQA company tells us exactly what processes are going into the "MQA encoding ..."

" ...the MQA company has assured us not to worry about anything. But there is some worry..."

MQA TELLS US Not to Worry ? For goodness-sake, no requirement to disclose details is alarmingly bewildering. And dangerous.

Fact is, they should be compelled to inform PRECISELY what their goofy 'encoding' does. Such a precedent-setting 'side-step' is dangerous and shockingly unprofessional. To think that a one-company/interest entity has the "authority" to set (and forget) the rules, is deeply troubling.

I think I'll commence a non-profit "Charity" whose simple, single objective is to provide a cohesive voice to the overwhelming majority of industry entities that will be gravely impacted by this self-serving, selfish, greedy and indifferent organization.

" Turn and run
Nothing can stop them
Around every river and canal their
Power is growing
Stamp them out
We must destroy them
They infiltrate each city with their thick dark warning odour
They are invincible
They seem immune to all our herbicidal battering ..."

Genesis - 'The Return Of The Giant Hogweed'

pj

dalethorn's picture

I was watching a film where a high official talked about friendly souls and how quickly they vanish into the night, yet monsters are very real and insufferable - the only cure being to feed them until they're fat and useless and move on to the next target.

Should MQA be one of those monsters, you would wish that they remain visible, even though you cannot see what they have in their pockets. Unfortunately, they have both the gift of invisibility as well as being able to project false images of themselves for you to chase down the rabbit hole.

Invisibility as in MQA downloads and CDs that are not labeled anywhere. False positives as in iTunes albums that are labeled, yet have no MQA coding - and yet they sound quite good due to having greater resolution than the older/existing files, not to mention benefitting from new mastering.

I play the role of the curious, almost disinterested customer who is out to see what new things I can get, and to see whether the skeptics, dissidents, and fans on all sides will cancel themselves out, leaving MQA to continue its conquest.

I participated in a fairly new MQA forum up until 36 hours ago, when I finally realized that the people running it were not what they presented themselves to be. I spoke before about steganography and its relation to cryptography as well as MQA. The nature of the beast is that you don't get to know the things you want to know. Consider the possibility that most of the clues or insights are red herrings.

allhifi's picture

dalethorn: You are too passionate, inquiring -and sensible- to be participating in (extended-discussion) forums with faceless/ nameless folk.

I, for one, enjoy your passionate (and most informative) replies.

To engage with those devoid of any accountability and self-identification is a waste of (your) good intentions.

That such nameless entities exist (and are advocated) within the core structure of publications such as this one should give real reason to pause -and stop 'extended' contributions.

Seriously, ArchieBunkerAmigo a self-professed authority ? Who the heck is this guy? Provenance indeed ! lol

I was also (very recently) informed of long-standing Stereophile writer Sam Tellig being nothing other than a pseudonym for a chap by the name of Tom Gillet -somewhat clever, but still. Why not Mot Tellig ? (Maybe a bit too esoteric/foreign?)

If readers were aware (all along) of the pseudonym of the writer, all would be good (to my mind). That I (an infrequent Audio magazine reader) discovered this recently has somehow irked me for reasons not entirely clear -other than a national publications deception of a (fake) contributing author I suppose. It's a bit off-putting for me, is all I can say/feel.

Sooooo, whomever speaks with a paycheck from the publication should at least have the decency (manhood) to identify their true identity.
Were/are ArchieBunkerAmigo and "Sam Tellig" some deeply embedded spies required for national security that a pseudonym was/is demanded ?

In any case, I for one enjoy your insightful contributions.

Moving forward, I'd strongly recommend limited communication with those hiding, cowering, within the shadows of anonymity.

peter jasz
(pj)

dalethorn's picture

Those who hide behind 'nyms and who poison discussions, who ban those that want more transparency, who put up barriers against all who don't bow at their altars - they seem to be self-defeating, if not completely irrational. Yet, I wonder if there isn't a different plan altogether, say, an accomodation they would like to make with their opposition. For example....

I purchased a music player which is highly regarded by the "world's largest anti-MQA" forum host, with the intent to convert DSD files to 24/192 or 24/96 WAV or FLAC files. I was "assisted" in the conversion effort by persons from the software company, the anti-MQA people who advertise and promote the software, and an occasional stereophile writer. To make a long story short, the conversions failed on all counts, due in my now-informed opinion to a form of DRM in the music player. I have extensive documentation on this.

And so I propose the question - if they, the most anti-MQA folks in the world are OK with severe restrictions in their music players, to the point of bragging about my conversion failure and how they refused to offer information that would make the conversion a success, why would they be so against MQA? Maybe it's because they didn't get something they wanted, and I'll leave that to your imagination.

allhifi's picture

Hmmm. I'm not sure what to add. Other than was one "C. Conqueror" involved ? If so, I can categorically and accurately state his psych profile.

Run, run (as fast as can be) from the "Conqueror" ! lol Although I'm very serious. Some "stuff" is so poisoned, it's really hard to digest. And yes, these arm-chair (keyboard King) Emperor's ill-fated fantasies come crumbling down, one key-stroke at a time.

It goes something like this:

" .. Those who hide behind 'nyms and who poison discussions, who ban those that want more transparency, who put up barriers against all who don't bow at their altars ..."

We know who you are "Chrissy the Conqueror", and, and and whatever/whoever else. (lol)

I think it time to revisit the Record (CD) store, copy to HD and navigate with the necessary (available, reputable) software to our hearts delight.

I assure everyone that fancy hi-rez/DSD is NOT mandatory for superb sound quality. I enjoy reg-rez (that sounds very hi-rez) every day. Should hi-rez files, formats and the opportunity present itself, I'll give it a listen.

In the meantime, I have FM radio, Internet Radio, CD's -and some HD music I can access when/if required. Messing around with "new" physical formats or computer audio is like any other newly introduced 'format' -it takes (inordinate amount of?) time to iron out the wrinkles.

I need not be part of that movement (although I feel one stirring) and in fact am not. The simple reason is that I don't believe I'm being cheated out of great sound -in fact far from it.

OK, I'm getting tired here. Carry on ...

pj

tonykaz's picture

Suppose you end up scaling down to a 600 sq.ft. little one bedroom for your Lazyboy days, only room for a couple thousand CDs.
You'll, by then, appreciate the technical people's continued work in refining our Streaming systems and our little handheld receiving gear.

Actually, all those folks that live a portable life will only have access to lovely High-Quality music thru Streaming Music delivery systems.

MQA is better than anything we've had before.

Tony in Michigan

Graham Luke's picture

...said which empirical study, employing back-to-back, blind testing...?
Better than 24/96 FLAC files? Really? Okay, other than 10 year olds and dogs, who can hear an improvement?

tonykaz's picture

You're right, of course, as an Audiophile.

I'm referring to our Walkman kind of portability type music systems, even iPods & ear buds.

MQA is a Compression type for our Smart Phone Marketplace. I can't see how it fits in with us Big System Audiophiles.

We discuss MQA because it aspires to great things and Audiophile levels of music capability but the typical user will only have an LG Tone or simple in-ear transducers.

MQA isn't for us, unless we find ourselves confined to a Smart Phone music system.

An Astel & Kern player and a nice JH Custom In-ear will probably out Play an Audiophile LG MQA Smart Phone or it might not. We'll find out soon because someone at Stereophile will now be reviewing the LG Quad DAC MQA Smart Phone.

I've had to live a Road Life with only a little Cassette Player and a few cassettes. Streaming Music & Video Content with RedBook is a wonderful dream realized. I can accept it as a significant improvement and advancement.

We just experienced John Atkinson auditioning an IRS V System built around & with a A+ Level Electronics, he used a simple SD Memory Card as the source ( not a full blown Vinyl player ). We are entering into a fascinating & technologically competent world.

I'm as ready as I can be, let them bring it on.

Tony in Michigan

ps. did you see the "Roll-up" OLED TV ?

allhifi's picture

Hi GM: Someone's understanding of bandwidth, high-frequency extension/audibility appears lost on the remarks presented.

Seriously, "Blind" testing, "Empirical" studies are required in determining fidelity ?

And what exactly do you mean, when:

" ..Okay, other than 10 year olds and dogs, who can hear an improvement? " ?

Let me guess, are you suggesting that a child's 18-KHz upper-frequency audibility detection (or a canine's 50K) somehow equates with high-definition hi-fi -as we hear it ?

pj

allhifi's picture

You don't say:

" ... and our little handheld receiving gear."

You think that that may be the problem itself; letting go of your gear -that's hand-held.

pj

tonykaz's picture

I can "let go", I've been letting go of music formats since the 1950s.

I am rather fond of the little handheld complete music systems like the Astel & Kern

Tony in Michigan

allhifi's picture

Hi Tony: You're right -the compact music player's are quite nice.

You know, it appears that physically compact digital music player's (and/or DAC's) confers gains in performance.
Exhibit #1: Chord DAC's. My, my, if there ever was an argument for compact goodness !

Keep enjoying in Michigan,

pj

tonykaz's picture

of course!

We have plenty of nice to choose from.

Tony in Michigan

allhifi's picture

Tony-In-Michigan (TIM): Terribly Inadequate Mantra: TIM !

pj

allhifi's picture

No worries, you'll/we'll continue to do as we always have.

However, If you're a critical listener (and consume remastered material), future re-masters (of classic's) may very well be MQA'd -to the detriment of critical listeners. Come to think of it, even the rare newer material (music) worth having may also be implicated. Arghhhh.

pj

Stevens's picture

A few truths:
MQA sound quality is not proven. Take up has been minimal.
The recording majors have not committed. They are minority’s investors in MQA Ltd. They and many others make HD steams available via Qobuz and others.
Qobuz has proven there is no mass market for HD streams, they went bust trying, realised the market is very small and created a new business plan on that basis.
If the majors were committed they’d buy Tidal. They haven’t.
Tidal are likely to go bust leaving MQA without a platform.
In Europe I’ve been streaming 24/192 at home for 3 years no problem. I can also do so via my phone. The Qobuz app allows me to select the maximum preferred streaming rates for WiFi and mobile data.
The Crown Jewels argument is rubbish. The majors allow unlimited offline downloads via Qobuz, but they can’t be copied.
MQA only has limited funds for further marketing.
I will eat my stereo if MQA has any degree of success.

allhifi's picture

Great reply. Here's hoping.

pj
(P.S. Save the stereo though -just in case. We'll defeat the Beast some other way should Menacingingly Quantified Audio (Menacing Quality Audio, Meaningless Quacky Audio, Morbid Quality, ahh-hah; Missing Quality Audio! ?) take root. A Return of the Giant Hogweed sort of thing "....Stomp them out, nothing can stop them ..." lol.

pj

Stevens's picture

The vast majority of the streaming market is low definition via Spotify. My kids 17 and 20 both use it. I would bet my life that no one at Stereofile could hold their attention proposing the benefits of MQA for more than about 30 seconds.
Moreover, as most streaming is by phone (a lot of mine is via Qobuz mobile in HD via a Mojo DAC and headphones, my kids use Chromecast), is MQA going to persuade Apple, Samsung, Huawei and the rest to build in extra hardware and pay a license fee for the privilege? Get real.

allhifi's picture

Stevens: I just love the " Moreover" usage -so last century !

pj
P.S> But Harley sure loves the sophistication it confers. lol

allhifi's picture

Keep it roll'in Stevens !

pj

David Harper's picture

MQA won't go anywhere. Most people just listen to MP3. I'm an "audiophile" and MQA sounds like a well thought-out way to get stupid audiophiles to make a few people very wealthy. It not only requires exclusivity in the recording and playback, but it makes everything else obsolete!
By the time everyone figures out that it doesn't sound any better than a well mastered CD recording, it will be too late. We've been down this road before. The best sq I've ever heard was MOFI vinyl. Maybe we need RVQA. Retro vinyl quality authenticated.

wareagle's picture

I agree with much that has been said in previous posts raising concerns about MQA. From a philosophical perspective, monopolies are not good for consumers. If MQA does have this as an end goal, then I am adamantly opposed to their efforts.

digilog's picture

Not just dogs ... but sons-a-bitches y'all are born-n-bred to be ...
... just slightest aroma of three capital letters (MQA) ... and y'all come-a-runnin' . Beggin' fer more.... pimpin' the 'ophile fer more porn ...

Kirk to Khan: "I'm laughing at the superior intellect".

PFFFFFFFFFFFTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!

gsnorris's picture

I find this debate over digital acronyms instead of musical sound thoroughly depressing.

When I started music lessons over 55 years ago, my brain began accumulating the indelible sonic attributes of the individual and collective instruments around me. Much later, when I wanted to assemble a stereo system, I happened upon "The Absolute Sound" and "Stereophile."

The idea seemed straightforward: dismiss the equipment and focus on the realistic presentation of the music. And there I went, with great success, trusting my ears and sonic memories.

So, I must ask, what the hell are you all doing? It appears you're focused on how bits of data are collected instead of realistic renderings of the instruments. Do you ever listen to live music? What am I missing?

dalethorn's picture

This specific issue is not the normal audiophile issue where "more bits" or "better bits" with less jitter means a more realistic tonality. This issue is about audiophiles resisting a new packaging scheme for the music, because they feel that the packaging mechanism (codec) corrupts the bits. That feeling seems to be based mostly on the technical tests rather than the listening.

crenca's picture

...what you are missing is the engineering, math, and signal processing (theoretically discussed, practically implemented) being at the root pf the very thing you seek, the "realistic renderings of instruments". What you seek is provided by consumer electronics and digital software (even if your vinyl only, most new recordings are mastered in digital these days). These electronics and digital encodings are grounded on engineering, math, and "acronyms". You might not have any interest in understanding the place of all this, but then you have to just trust us when we tell you it is all "basic" and necessary...

gsnorris's picture

Very well said. I would be more interested in the theories and engineering if I had kept up with their development over the years. You're right - it now seems so esoteric I will have to rely on those of you who get it to sort things out, so thanks for that - to all of you. From now on I will probably dig deeper only when I see opinions on how the different encodings manifest themselves in the sound that arrives at my ears. I don't acquire many new recordings and don't stream, but that needs to change.

allhifi's picture

G.S. Norris: You're missing precisely what your sensible post (and early on and continued experience) has correctly and effectively concerned itself with, namely (and using your words):

" ....The idea seemed straightforward: dismiss the equipment and focus on the realistic presentation of the music."

This is precisely what (I think -lol) the anti-MQA crowd is attempting to preserve; the 'realistic' presentation of music. And it is possibly deeply flawed by the MQA process that furthermore impacts future "pressings" of our beloved music by MQA's insistence on manipulating the actual, original recordings ADC's 'encoding' algorithm -that in all probability favors their specific DAC filter architecture (minimum phase/apodizing)-that incidentally was also pioneered by the same passionate (MQA) group !
In other words, an MQA manipulated "Master recording" very well may have a "hidden" marker that releases MQA's "full magic" only when/if you purchase MQA capable equipment. And even then, it's arguable if there is consistently improved sound. In fact, MQA may be in fact offer the exact opposite: Worse sound.

There is ample objective evidence that demonstrates MQA's minimum phase filter choices in fact skews the delicate amplitude/phase relationships of the original signal, largely preserved by the use of Linear Phase digital filter design. It's quite easy to hear this on DAC's that offer both filter choices.

" ...And there I went, with great success, trusting my ears and sonic memories."

As one should. A fantastic method in evaluating and selecting gear in effort for a deeper understanding of the music we treasure.

" ...It appears you're focused on how bits of data are collected instead of realistic renderings of the instruments."

No. Focus here (MQA) is on precisely the distortion inducing artifacts of the MQA process that may in fact INHIBIT the "realistic renderings of the instruments."

" ...Do you ever listen to live music?"

Other than offering no comment about your live music listening question, I suspect the aforementioned helps answer your most concerning question:

" ... I must ask, what the hell are you all doing?"

I hope this has helped answer just that.

pj

miguelito's picture

As you know many have expressed reservations with MQA, many of which are very well addressed here. I am delighted to see this in Stereophile.
#renewstereophile #canceltas

dalethorn's picture

I was curious about MQA, so I bought an MQA DAC and several high-res recordings in MQA format plus their non-MQA counterparts. I posted my comparison-listening results in several places, but they were thread-bombed out of existence. Stereophile is the most tolerant forum of all, but you can see the hostiles circling the wagons here too. I'm neutral on some aspects, skeptical on others, but most of all I'm appalled at the level of angst from a handful of erstwhile critics.

miguelito's picture

But I don't mind. I have a pretty decent system (dCS Rossini+Clock, Audio Note Kondo Ongaku, AvantGarde Duo Mezzo) and I have listened to a lot of MQA on TIDAL (fully hardware decoded in the Rossini) and compared to both redbook and high res I own.
Verdict?
- Decoding is better than not decoding (of course!)
- Decoded MQA sounds generally better than redbook (but it's not day and night, and at 2x the file size!).
- Decoded MQA often sounds a little different than high res, but never found a case that is markedly better.

YMMV!

boulderskies's picture

Well said sir. Its amazing how critical people can be of change.
So, what was your impressions of MQA with hi-rez files?

Scott

dalethorn's picture

I bought the high-res versions (24/88/96) of Steve Reich's Pulse and the Buena Vista Social Club album. I then bought the Reich MQA'd CD, as well as a 16/44 download of Reich's Pulse that was also MQA'd - apparently the CD and the download are the same. Then I got the BVSC MQA'd download from HighResAudio.

The BVSC MQA version sounds slightly brighter, but it doesn't sound more hissy or irritating on sibilants, so I'd guess that there could be something in the separate mastering process of that album for MQA that might not even be related to MQA itself. One of the mysteries of MQA is that we don't have a process to determine what was the more likely cause of the difference in sound.

The difference between the MQA and non-MQA Pulse album was very subtle for me, and I'd say that someone with a system that has a near-perfect and very extended treble would hear slightly more "air" and/or greater sense of space with the MQA version. I don't hear a significant midrange difference in either album.

In both the Reich case and the BVSC case, the differences I reported required that the MQA DAC show the proper "authenticating" lights. When that doesn't show correctly, or when using a non-MQA DAC, the greater "air" or detail (if that's what it really is) doesn't happen. I didn't spend much time listening for quality when playing back without MQA enabled, so while they didn't sound much different that way, the differences could be even less than the differences you'd hear between any two masters made at different times.

I don't use an MQA-aware music player, just a full-decoding budget priced MQA DAC. I asked a few times whether an MQA-aware player** could make sure my Macbook MIDI settings were always correct for MQA playback of different file resolutions, which I have to do manually now, but have never gotten an answer.

**My free Vox player has all options disabled except playback, so I do get the full MQA effect with the DAC I use, albeit I have to adjust the MIDI manually to get the correct authentication.

allhifi's picture

Hi Dale: Excellent comparo.

My concern is whether your non MQA file was (came from) the original and not from a MQA-modulated "Master" version. That would be a fairer comparison.

In fact, come to think of it (and since Mr. Stuart enjoys the merits of 'provenance'), wouldn't it be wonderful if we were informed that the original file (at the ADC stage) was MQA'd -or not. To Be, or Not to Be (kinda thing)!

To validate your comparisons, it must be confirmed if the non-MQA file (you used) was not MQA'd at the encoding stage. lol

Now, all we need is a "light" (on future DAC's) that illuminates when a 'encoded' music file has been MQA'd/encoded ! If it has been MQA'd, there's a real possibility that it would favor a specific digital filter algorithm (at the DAC stage) -making it a highly suspect "format".

Here's a toast then, to real "provenance".

Cheers,

pj

dalethorn's picture

At the risk of repeating something already stated, my best two examples were the Buena Vista Social Club album and the Steve Reich Pulse album.

The Pulse album was released in MQA and non-MQA at the same time I believe, and whether there is a claim that the non-MQA version was untouched by MQA people, I have to assume they would somehow be involved, even if to give it their blessing. The difference in sound, with the MQA DAC lights lit properly for the MQA version, and the DAC lights also lit properly for the non-MQA version (using a full decoding DAC and non-MQA music player), was negligible. I determined there was a little more "air" with the MQA version, and less with the high-res 24/96 version, but it was very subtle, and there's no way for me to guess which is more "accurate".

The BVSC album in MQA was a recent master, and my HDTracks 24/96 version much older. The sound was obviously different. While the MQA version was brighter and sibilants more noticeable, I didn't sense that there was increased distortion or other irritants added. I assume that the newer master was just a new mix.

And therein lies one mystery: Will new MQA masters get loving care from the best audiophile engineers, or will the process ultimately be mostly automated such that any increases in treble (for example) will exaggerate problems in the original master? The other mystery, i.e. will precious existing masters of the best audiophile-loved albums be protected from replacement by versions infected by MQA and other proprietary codecs - who knows the answer to that?

BTW, I somehow got a copy of an old pop tune that was remastered and compressed for the Loudness Wars a couple years ago, and wasn't able to get a better copy for more than a year. Once I got the better copy and compared them, it was sickening to hear what the engineers did to the original music. And I'm not exaggerating about the sickening part.

To date I haven't experienced anything like that with MQA, but if MQA is being applied to masters that are/were being compressed for loudness, it makes sense to worry that bad remasters could make their way into the albums we would like to purchase. We could ask around to our fellow audiophiles "Can we depend on any of the high-res sites such as HDTracks to let us know early on whether bad things are happening to these masters, or -- get this -- whether MQA is being applied and not labeled as such. Consider that I have a CD and a download from Onkyo/Arkiv that is MQA'd, but not labeled - not on the disc, the packaging, or the liner notes.

allhifi's picture

Great points.

Simple openness is all anyone can hope for -in fact we should demand. It's really not asking much.

You make a very compelling point when you state:

" ... or whether MQA is being applied and not labeled as such.

Consider that I have a CD and a download from Onkyo/Arkiv that is MQA'd, but not labeled - not on the disc, the packaging, or the liner notes."

This must SIMPLY (and openly) be stated. It must be disclosed. Specifically regarding MQA since it's a one-pony show; it benefits one specific brand/interests. And thus MQA 'encoded' discs/files must be identifiable.

pj

labjr's picture

In the case of MQA, I think most people are critical of the reason for it's existence more than they are for the sound quality. I, for one, don't care if it sounds better, which apparently it's a mixed bag. It's just a bad idea to hand one company a monopoly for what is basically a new filtering scheme(that they're supposedly gonna make better as time goes on). And it's deliberately bundled with lossy compression because nobody would want to pay for licensing for just some new filter.

allhifi's picture

I think you're right:

" ...It's just a bad idea to hand one company a monopoly for what is basically a new filtering scheme ..."

pj

allhifi's picture

Hi Dale: I missed it (your comparisons). Please provide a link to it. I have yet to hear MQA, and would truly be interested in what you discovered.

My concern with MA lies in its manipulation of the 'encoding' changes that may impact SQ for all others not interested -or don't feel it sounds better.

All I wish to know (and care about)is if the non-manipulated MQA Master file (recording) remains accessible/available for distribution -and consumption.

As I think upon it now, how is it that not Stereophile (or any other publication) has NOT reached out to the recording company's to ask precisely that: Will the original music file (non MQA processed) be available for consumption ? YES. Or NO ? So, so simple.
Then, as I've always maintained, MQA becomes a take it or leave it proposition that does NOT impact future growth.

Cheers,

pj

dalethorn's picture

Here's the link to my preliminary listening tests: http://dalethorn.com/Audio_MQA_Notes.pdf

There are so many problems in this subject that I doubt I could list just the ones I've encountered. I'll take a stab at this anyway. I saw the Archimedes article as did everyone else, and had no quarrel at all with the factual graphs and annotations. The accompanying text however expressed much opinion and angst, and way too many audiophiles locked into that opinion and angst as being as truthful as the graphic results themselves. That in itself shouldn't have been a huge problem, but it became one when my little listening test got bombed out of existence on several forums.

The problem with much of that suppression is the backlash - regardless of what truths or untruths lie at the core of this MQA thing, people of good intent don't like to be browbeaten or suppressed like that. What's done is done now, and hopefully the clearer heads can proceed to expose the core issues in language that everyone can understand, beyond the graphs and numbers. Not to ignore the tech results, but to better present them.

I joined an MQA forum last week that billed itself as "MQA developments and reviews", but it turns out that the title should have been "MQA on Tidal" for those who use an MQA music player, which I don't. I avoid streaming, and also after investigating several MQA-friendly music players, I've decided against those at least for the time being. To be honest, I'm appalled at the way things are going vis-a-vis the Internet, high-power cell phones, and the possibility that someday DACs might not be available without embedded MQA or other potential DRM codecs.

Another feeling I have in this matter concerning sound quality is, I'm not so much worried about sound quality as I am about DRM and other nuisances, such as having to be online to certain sites to register a music player. I'm of the old school, that I should be able to pay for a music player, download the zip/install file on one computer, then install it on a computer that never is connected to a network or Internet. But, I've seen from my experiments with converting DSD to PCM, that even the more strongly anti-MQA folks are still perfectly willing to be subjects of their tech providers, rather than masters of their own fates when it comes to proprietary software and other black boxes.

BTW, the Radka Toneff album is being released in MQA format in the U.S. on Apple's iTunes. Whether it's going to be Apple's usual 256 kbps format with MQA coding or a higher base resolution, I don't know but I'm going to find out, for better or worse. Lastly I would add an approximated quote from an old movie, that when it comes to MQA and other Internet dark zones, "I'm not your best friend - I'm probably your only friend."

allhifi's picture

Hi Dale: Thank you for the link -and sharing your experiences.

You mentioned a furious retort by those that have read your discoveries ? A telling shame really. Instead of banking listening observations in whatever's left "upstairs" in these folks, it was met by derision?

Rest assured, I've been passionately involved in this business for decades and have met very successful loudspeaker company founders (and million-dollar audio distributors) unable to distinguish whether their loudspeakers were in or out of phase ! (personal experience). There are more 'deaf' audiofools out there than practically imaginable. lol.
(I'd suspect the bitter responses were primarily (entirely?) from North--American sites ?)

Anyway, (pay mind to the mob-rule mentality and note the cowardly anonymity of the loud-mouths, but otherwise) pay no mind !

Moving on, I'm not certain whether you were referencing ArchiedBunkeramigo's rant when you said:

"... I saw the Archimedes article as did everyone else, and had no quarrel at all with the factual graphs and annotations. The accompanying text however expressed much opinion and angst, and way too many audiophiles locked into that opinion and angst as being as truthful as the graphic results themselves."

But if so, understand the mentality of the source: someone who is "making" a career based on being nothing more than a hairy-legged participant in the anti-MQA cheerleader brigade. Squad 'leader' sort of thing -and similarly narcissistic.

In fact, if you strip ABA's ink-wasting rants of those very graphs, we're left with an argument that can be summed up in a paragraph -about 50-words max. Yet readers were subjected to an incessant (and embarrassingly), long-winded waste of precious minutes (mercifully relegated to the trash-bin of memory).

Yet, your post (much required/demanded) speaks to a number of prevalent issues and concerns. Continuing with:

" ... what truths or untruths lie at the core of this MQA thing people of good intent don't like to be browbeaten or suppressed like that."
(You're right. Again, note the source and the faceless/nameless cowardice of those who respond aggressively -and compartmentalize accordingly.)

" ...What's done is done now, and hopefully the clearer heads can proceed to expose the core issues in language that everyone can understand, beyond the graphs and numbers. Not to ignore the tech results, but to better present them."

Now THAT, was a beautiful thing to read !

In life, there are very few genuine leaders, visionaries, etc. In fact, even simple plain honesty, decency, respect and expertise is in desperately short supply -the world over.
The propensity for 'herd mentality' surfaces soon enough -an ugly truth within animal culture.

You continue to touch upon excellent concerns:

" .....Another feeling I have in this matter concerning sound quality is, I'm not so much worried about sound quality as I am about DRM and other nuisances... "...I'm of the old school, that I should be able to pay for a music player, download the zip/install file on one computer, then install it on a computer that never is connected to a network or Internet ...." ...that folks are still perfectly willing to be subjects of their tech providers, rather than masters of their own fates when it comes to proprietary software and other black boxes."

A very compelling argument for "old-school" sensibility, as you articulated.

Summarizing then, a much-needed, level headed community approach must be fostered (and respected) to sort through the concerns raised.
By far the most important concern for me would be to know whether 'untouched' master recordings will remain accessible for distribution -and playback.

The derision and division that has emerged (a seemingly North American susceptibility) is unfortunate, yet we must seek greener pastures -that indeed exist.

Any comments missing author identification must be seen for what it is -weak cowardice not worthy of a second thought. Move on.

Thank you for sharing.

peter jasz

dalethorn's picture

"By far the most important concern for me would be to know whether 'untouched' master recordings will remain accessible for distribution -and playback."

Allow me to offer a possibly darker future scenario. Let's say that we're not talking about untouched masters, but rather the ongoing re-releases of old albums with new masters that make at least minor improvements and fixes for old problems, tape problems - whatever they are that audiophiles are grateful to see fixed.

If the reviews are generally positive and there are no widespread concerns about onerous DRM-like restrictions, we may find ourselves way down the road on the MQA or similar issue, waiting for the switch to be flipped where DRM can be locked in for all of the newer masters.

There are crypto people like Adi Shamir who have broken 4096-bit AES crypto with a laptop computer and microphone, and so many audiophiles would assume that "any DRM" can be broken or (as in the Apple phone instances) 'jailbroken'. I don't think so. Even though we don't have 'real' quantum computer technology today, the pseudo-quantum techniques for embedding trigger dates etc. within music files can be made undecipherable, although their presence as anomalous data would be detectable.

Anyway, despite my scare story, know that the proliferation of MQA is the real issue, because it is growing and it will be good or bad or neither, depending on things we don't know now. I read in some places that Tidal has over 10 thousand MQA'd albums available for streaming. If that's true, then MQA'ing those was done in an automated process and not with tender loving hands-on care by the better mastering engineers.

Those hands-on remasters that we read about in reviews will be the tip of the iceberg, and I can only hope that the great mastering engineers will continue such work until there are hundreds more of these superior recordings available for purchase at the usual download sites in the next 10-20 years. But the record companies could slow this process to a crawl in favor of other priorities, so the lesson is continued vigilance as well as "stock up now".

allhifi's picture

Touche' ! But, Ouch.

pj

John Atkinson's picture
I deleted several postings this morning because they were exchanges of flames.Please address the subject, not throw insults at other posters.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

spacehound's picture

That MQA has been totally debunked by peer-reviewed measurements by 'Archimago' and many others, both in and outside the audio trade.

And as the MQA supporters have been totally unable to refute such measurements, all of which are quite straightforward and repeatable by anyone with a few appropriate instruments and fairly moderate 'technical' knowledge, the MQA supporters have resorted to attacks often based on 'anonymity', choosing to overlook that, for example, Boyle's law would still be true even if his name had been forgotten.

Come to that, who DID first claim that 1+1=2? Probably some anonymous Greek.

allhifi's picture

Space and ArchieBunkerAmigo, now there's a pairing:

" That MQA has been totally debunked by peer-reviewed measurements by 'Archimago'"

LOL. An oxymoron if there ever was one.

" ...MQA supporters have resorted to attacks often based on 'anonymity', choosing to overlook that, for example, Boyle's law would still be true even if his name had been forgotten.
Come to that, who DID first claim that 1+1=2? Probably some anonymous Greek."

Speaking of anonymity Spacehound, care to disclose your name ?

(Or is posterity to state "It was the brilliant work of spacehound that defeated the MQA-conquering world envisioned by some clever Brit's." ?)

Goes to show, a little knowledge (and the handy Internet) can be a dangerous thing. lol

pj

spacehound's picture

You, an anonymous person, are criticising me, largely because of my anonymity.

allhifi's picture

I write often (always ending with authorship), but when my full name is used in an opening post/reply, I resort to my initials upon further/added replies -that appears to be the case here.

peter jasz

*Hint: Your turn Spacey: Now's the time to disclose your full name.

spacehound's picture

I will. But first I ask you two questions.

1) When posting measurable (by anyone), and mathematically proven (the proofs repeatable by anyone), FACTS why should the poster's name matter?

2) Opinions. Opinions are not facts so are not vulnerable to a 'truth test'. Some here like MQA, others do not, and those who don't, such as myself, give FACTUAL reasons why it cannot be superior to PCM or DSD. Personally I also gave a FACTUAL reason why some may prefer MQA - its proven distortions can sometimes give an entirely fake 'liveliness' to some music.
So, bearing in mind that we all have opinions on things of interest to us, and also that only the insecure have so little faith in their own opinions that they need to seek the opinions of others before spending their money, I ask you WHY attaching a name to an opinion matters?

I would be most interested in your answers.

However, my name is Mark Powell and I live in the UK.
So a third question. Now you know my name, and bearing in mind that FACTS are true by definition, with or without a name attached, I ask you if my OPINIONS will carry more weight from now on?

allhifi's picture

Hi Mark, nice to meet you.

You offer sincerity (strength -and respect) when disclosing authorship. Knowing now with whom I conversing, I can refer to you by any name you wish -moving forward.

Otherwise (personally) I'd never engage anyone at length hiding under a blanket of anonymity. Speaking firmly, clearly and the courage to back it up with a real identity, as you have, is most refreshing.

Moving on, I shutter at those with "facts" used to prove something. More often than not (in fact routinely), new discoveries (described as facts) are always "found" relegating the old facts to the trash bin. Surely you have seen/experienced this (in various fields) previously ?

Yet more specifically, here, when you state:

" .. give FACTUAL reasons why it cannot be superior to PCM or DSD. Personally I also gave a FACTUAL reason why some may prefer MQA - its proven distortions can sometimes give an entirely fake 'liveliness' to some music."

(Interestingly, I find non-MQA Minimum-Phase filters to yield a soft, rounded "sound" -and not the most welcoming "liveliness" you assert.)

" ...So, bearing in mind that we all have opinions on things of interest to us, and also that only the insecure have so little faith in their own opinions that they need to seek the opinions of others before spending their money ..."

(OR resort to "facts" because of similar insecurities. By the way, your FACTS also represent an opinion with respect to how the 'facts' impact upon one's subjective impressions.)

I caution all to be leery of 'facts' -as the term is often used.

Mark, I can very easily change the sound of any sound system by choice of cabling, AC power source -and of course equipment selection. So much so, that one can easily be fooled into believing an entire new sound system has emerged (with AC Power and cabling changes only). Anyone with credible experience (and an ear) has experienced this, routinely.

In fact, I look forward to the day I can demonstrate this (to say, you). I so wish to visit the UK !

Finally, you state: " ... and bearing in mind that FACTS are true by definition ....."

Who presents the facts, Mark? Was it not a fact that 70-years ago the medical establishment (the most egregious abusers of "the facts") performed dangerous, deadly life-impairing surgeries (mind and spine) that were based on medical facts ? Were those and countless other facts that ruined (or ended) people's lives not been shamelessly removed (from the fact bin) and mercilessly debunked since ?

Or the fact that "Light" was carried by an 'ether', until Einstein disproved this magical fact to be mere folly.

The list of changing facts is endless -throughout history, as it remains/is used today.

Let's come around to the discussion at hand -MQA. Other than the very real possibility that MQA'd Mastered files will severely jeopardize all other audio/hi-fi interests, I strongly suggest that MQA'd re-masters not only be clearly identified as such -but what exactly the encoding process entails.
With this knowledge (these facts), no-MQA'd folk/industry may have a fighting chance moving forward.

But, better yet, have available all non-molested MQA music files on offer for those that wish to access it.

Thank you Mr. Powell.

peter jasz

spacehound's picture

The only reason I was ever anonymous was as a precaution against spam and junk mail. But I don't keep anything of importance on this computer and junk filters have greatly improved. I also use effective 'anti-tracking' software.

What do I think of MQA?
Initially I was open-minded. But as Stuart's claims got more and more ludicrous I became 'against' it.
I do not have the expertise (or sufficient interest in gaining it) to create 'new' tests but have been able to perform those done by 'Archimago' and a couple of other people and have found them to be 100% valid. And repeatability by anyone of reasonable competence in the relevant field is the very essence of 'science'.

"Old facts to the trashbin".
We've done this fairly recently with Quantum Mechanics and I am personally involved, though no great expert.
As I just said to Dale, in many things the 'old' facts remain valid within their limits.

allhifi's picture

Hi spacehound: Woah, Quantum Mechanics. Nice.

Now there's a field, as you correctly point out, that shall rewrite some truths that have been parading as facts for quite some time.

I'm most pleased you brought this up, since I believe it is precisely in the field (Quantum Physics) that may offer insight (as a hi-fi example) into why certain audio cables are/sound distinctive from the other -in actual mathematical terms.
I'm confident that will no doubt all of a sudden clear up the hearing issues of those currently unable to comprehend the topic. lol

Naturally, much greater insights will be gained.

Nice chatting.

Cheers,

pj
P.S. Not to put a fine point on it, but your parting words caught my attention in that "...the old facts remain valid within their limits". A bit of a departure from an earlier assertion that suggested the 'term' was more or less carved in (silly-putty? lol) stone!

dalethorn's picture

People say they can state certain facts, and because they're facts they're true. Even the dictionaries lean in the direction of "fact == true". But wise individuals know from history that things regarded as facts at one time may be found unfactual at another time.

Smart people understand that facts (names, places, dates, events) are all subject to revision and disproof. You gave your name, and we can find things about that name, but we still have no ironclad proof of anything.

A simple example: All professional photographers and certainly most reputable scientists know for a fact that there are no photographs dating from before 1824. None whatever, no matter how small or how crude. Yet a group of scientists who've investigated a perfect 6-foot long photographic negative of a man on a linen cloth contend that it was somehow created 500 years before 1824, even though the technology to create a small pocket-size photo didn't exist then. There aren't even any writings to suggest that such technology was known then.

Today we *verify* alleged facts to know whether they're true facts or not. But when the "facts" are entwined into political, social, and business interests, the facts can be so twisted and so deeply buried in disinformation that the greater public may never discover what's really going on.

How many of the audiophiles who are aware of or concerned about MQA are able to personally validate the data presented by the Archimaga guy? I don't have the tools to do it, and I certainly don't trust people who have well-known anti-MQA motives to tell me what's true or not.

And lastly, your opinion will always be just your opinion and nothing more. If you state verifiable facts and leave out the opinion, then you'll encounter less skepticism.

spacehound's picture

1) Those we 'discover'. The limitations you mention are valid for those.

2) Those we 'create'. Computers, MQA, Hifi, etc. are in that category. They are neither discovery nor art. Just plain and straightforward 'engineering' that within the limits we set work exactly as we intend and cannot go outside those limits.

Note. Type 2 facts are not altered by new discoveries. In the last forty or so years we have discovered a whole new physics that in some ways demonstrate we were totally wrong (Einstein included) about many things.
But it doesn't matter. The stream engine still works exactly as intended, as does the computer, simply because they are not 'discoveries' and use water/electricity in a 'macro' manner that we control.

dalethorn's picture

I've created a lot of things - computer code for example. Now as far as knowing for a fact what I've created, there are things I know: I know what the line of code says, and I know what it does within a specific host system. What I don't know: The code that underlies my code, and what to expect when running in different systems where I haven't tested it. My website contains some very complex code, and the performance of that code is subject to failure outside of its QA history.

Summing up, the 'facts' of what you create may be true within a narrow context, but the more complex and useful your creations become, the more they are subject to being demonstrated as "not true", and certainly not true in all cases.

allhifi's picture

Hi dt: I just read this moments ago:

" ..You gave your name, and we can find things about that name, but we still have no ironclad proof of anything."

Not so. It's proof of everything. Everything I write, and opine. it's proof I'm confident with my words/thoughts, not afraid to share in simple effort to enhance (as one element of a collective) the art & /science of music reproduction. Such is the sheer insight and enjoyment music/hi-fi has offered up since childhood -something I find very worthy of sharing.

To me, music is much more than a "hobby". I find it far more compelling, meaningful, educational, spiritual and thoroughly enjoyable than any other hobby (I'm aware). Passionate listeners, musician's and recording engineers would likely agree.

Finally, when you say:

" .. And lastly, your opinion will always be just your opinion and nothing more. If you state verifiable facts and leave out the opinion, then you'll encounter less skepticism."

Right. Well, with an attached name and numerable 'replies', one can determine for themselves whether such 'opinions' merit truthful observations (collectively as well) that may lead to "factual" understandings.

Never dismiss authors who may demonstrate, articulate, and stimulate intelligent discussions. For without them, there's no way factual science can be conveyed -articulately that is, for 'human' consumption/understanding.

pj

dalethorn's picture

Presumably this involves contentious discussion where one party may be at a disadvantage, having been "banned" from a site that is sponsoring the other party. It's very quiet here now, at least in this topic, but the smoldering ashes may come to life soon in a related topic. Now, while I have some alleged hacking credentials, I would never impose on anyone's privacy here or elsewhere, if you know what I mean. It would be wrong, unethical etc. Just because they do it doesn't mean I would.

allhifi's picture

Hi Dale: So called 'office politics' I could never stomach; any 'sites' that continue this under-handed, immature practice are dead to me. And for all the right reasons.

Whether it's "quiet", loud, busy or slow (at such sites) and the pawns involved concern me not.

I learn so much, so fast - I must thank them. Does anyone ever consider how 'better' cars, clothing, hi-fi take root? By examining what came before; flaws, weaknesses, shitty product , negligence/ indifference etc.
It's absolutely no different regardless of product or service.

In any case, may all genuine music lovers enjoy the day ...

pj

dalethorn's picture

One of my bosses used to talk about the "50 thousand foot view" of a project, so that we could understand the total costs of things, the risks, the unexpected things etc. He also understood that competitors would try to siphon away customers we could service and support very well, by lying to them about the capabilities of their product, which we knew in some cases would fail them.

When certain competitors did fail customers due to misrepresentations, sometimes those customers would spread a lot of negativity around the industry, which could had a negative impact on us. Certainly if we made a customer angry, that would be the worst thing, but even when we acquired a competitor's angry failure, people would forget where the anger came from after awhile and turn on us if we didn't go out of our way to help them fix what the other guy screwed up.

Nearly every company that I've worked for learned these kinds of lessons the hard way, and so they would protect themselves with secret Business Plans that kept employees and associates in the dark, and even investors to a degree. You'll occasionally see where some bigshot reads about their own dismissal in the media before they're told by their employer. It's usually not because they did something wrong or stole something etc. - it's simply because the business plan changed, they were given plenty of clues, but they didn't get with it.

I'm skipping over some things here for brevity, but the point is that the real Business Plan is usually a secret, and what's public is often the old plan, or even a diversion. I have many stories - here's just one:

In 1982, when I was selling everything from HP proprietary computers to Commodore 64's at Olympic Sales L.A., a customer bought a 64 and wrote a short program on it, which cleared itself after the customer entered about 200 lines on the keyboard. They brought it in and I entered the same lines on our demo model, which also spontaneously erased itself. Ditto with a new computer I took out of a sealed box.

At this point, and as a programmer myself, I realized that this model had a very serious O/S bug - the O/S itself included a BASIC language. So I told the customer "we have a bug here, and I need to get with my boss and have him get with Commodore to figure it out." Well, the customer got there first and told officials** at Commodore that I said all of their computers are defective, which Commodore then relayed to my boss.

**Real officials were much easier to get ahold of then - does not apply today.

And so the moral of the story is "Admit nothing. Deny everything. Demand proof, then refuse to accept it."

T.S. Gnu's picture

it is refreshing to see this column in this publication despite it being rather tardy in its arrival. It is also interesting to see what was once a leading publication in the world of audio press, following a trail blazed by those who do not carry out audio journalism as their prime vocation.

It will be educational to view this episode with hindsight a few years from now, and see whether it serves as a learning experience to those who do not demand that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Resting on the ground of "but it sounds better" argument without any investigation regarding mastering, EQ or even volume differences between the items under the "listening tests" especially with the easily available tools on hand doesn't provide a firm foothold for a rational discussion of the purported merits of a "revolutionary" technology.

A good start by Mister Iverson, and hopefully the beginning of an era of reporting incorporating more critical thinking.

allhifi's picture

Truly dazzling:

"it is refreshing to see this column in this publication despite it being rather tardy in its arrival."

" ...It will be educational to view this episode with hindsight a few years from now, and see whether it serves as a learning experience to those who do not demand that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

It's already educational.

pj

dalethorn's picture

"It is also interesting to see what was once a leading publication in the world of audio press, following a trail blazed by those who do not carry out audio journalism as their prime vocation."

I consider Stereophile to be THE leading publication of audio journalism, and especially because they have allowed a great deal of dissent (including yours) here that has not been allowed on other sites that would like to be seen as leading.

T.S. Gnu's picture

Allowing dissenting opinions isn't a sign of leadership. It is simply a sign of not being authoritarian. Perhaps a closer look at certain regimes on this planet may clear things up for you.

dalethorn's picture

Bad analogy, Gnu. We need not look to political regimes for our examples of suppression, we need look to other audio sites such as the one that hosted Archimedes' article.

allhifi's picture

DT: Oh wow. I offered up an appropriate word lashing to the same narci of that same flailing computer audio website.

He not only "You Are Banned" me from the site, but felt it was necessary to look up my IP address to restrict complete access to his delicate website, that is (not surprisingly) linked to his even more delicate ego. (Ahhh, the telltale signs)

And here I thought I was special ! lol

pj

dalethorn's picture

Banning an IP address is silly. Even the average 4th-grader works around those things. I think a famous general once said something along the line of "conquest is easy, but control is hard".

allhifi's picture

Hey Dale: It doesn't take a General to understand the concept of the quote presented.

I thought "damn, a 4th Grader" (lol) when I originally thought:
"Huh, what's that all about (IP address banning)?"

The point being it takes a real weak, insecure individual (predatory really this chap -knowing my poor computer knowledge) to turn around and do this because he was outwitted. And (as in a 4-th grade manner) retaliates by doing such a thing.

It simply speaks to the boy inside. I quite enjoy filtering out such hot-shots, calling-them-out on questionable remarks, or indeed motives -unrealistically favoring a brand, for example.

In any case, I do need to graduate to Grade-5 (computer literacy) through-to-high-school-University-Doctorate some time soon. I've fallen terribly behind. Do you offer courses?

Cheers,

pj

dalethorn's picture

I'm not the expert, although I did write for two hacker rags. I even worked hackers dot com for awhile until one of the "army rangers" there had enough of me and ended my tenure. People are afraid of so many things - religion, politics, hackers, plastic waste ..... anyway, just grab a cellphone with a decent screen and clear the browser's history and you're in. Other devices are trickier in that you have to reset the router (assuming wi-fi) to a different IP address.

To be honest, I can't necessarily blame the guy for banning people, or even blocking them if(!) they're a big enough threat. And who am I to judge anyway? It's a sad state of affairs when so many people who have real concerns about MQA are treated badly, so they drop out of the struggle and leave only the most radical persons running the opposition to MQA. If they think they can stop it with charts and graphs and rants about distortion and phase/timing corruption et al, they're mistaken. It's going to require diplomacy to get people moving in a positive direction.

I once learned the important difference between checkers and chess - chess is played by the generals and admirals and a few crackpots, and it's all grand strategy sacrificing pawns, bishops and knights, and even the occasional queen if the risk is worth it. But checkers is different. The radical types think they're playing a chess game, but I think differently.

Checkers moves are so well known that professionals will play 50-100 games or more ending in a tie, before someone finally wins. It isn't about strategy really, although there is the rare "cook" that can win a game. In checkers, the object is to play for a draw. Really. The smart player is very patient, waiting for the opponent to make a mistake, then he jumps on it. This game is going to be won or lost on things that the tech guys aren't party to.

allhifi's picture

Hey Dale: I loved the Chess/Checkers story !

You touched upon a number of points -all well articulated.

Of concern to me is precisely what you say, as it requires dissecting:

"To be honest, I can't necessarily blame the guy for banning people, or even blocking them if(!) they're a big enough threat."

The 'banning' component is completely (and correctly) appropriate when a flagrant nut-case is uttering threats in addition to near incoherent writing/blather.

My writing, on the other hand, is precisely as you may have read in my previous posts -same style, thoughts/concerns, doubts and have no issue in naming names.

Sooooo, when some (mostly the ego-sensitive narcissists) decide they have been "insulted" (albeit stylishly) they begin to cry (to Maama) and demonstrate their (imaginary) "authority" by taking such fundamentally flawed actions: Screw him, he's challenging me,
or doesn't like what I'm saying ... -I'll show him.

These guys are so easy to pick out it's laughable. Surely one must possess the 'cahonies' when entering into a public forum to accept sharp-tongued retorts. Not threatening (other than to ego), or via ugly words, but by simple, well-meaning dialog.

ArchieBunkerAmigo knows who I'm referring to.

OK, where are we now, oh yeh, MQA: Your obviously concerned with the back-door rants (as we see here) regarding MQA. Don't concern yourself.
As long as original digital master (music) files remain available, the story ends -for me anyway. Forum dissension can go on for the next ten (or one-hundred) years arguing sound quality merits.

Cheers to all,

pj

dalethorn's picture

When it comes to you being banned, I'd suggest that a core group of people who are heavily vested in maintaining the dogma got together and decided that you had to go. For reasons nobody outside of the group is told. Which makes it all the more interesting because they don't want your help. We're at a point in the MQA thing where we should be extremely transparent and welcoming of new information, and banning only the obvious trolls. But *business plans* are always secret - employees and customers aren't informed until the deal is done. You might expect that *business plan* refers to what MQA has planned, and that what the anti-MQA folks are working on isn't a business plan. Don't be so sure.

allhifi's picture

Hey Dale: It concerns me not what/why some publishers (or their PR team) seek in such forums, but one would think a "punchy" , swift, sometimes witty style would be of interest to everyone. Call it what you will, but I see it as their loss. In bothers me NOT one iota. In fact, I get a good chuckle out of it. It also informs me what distinguishes professional models from run-of-the-mill examples operated by even lower than run-of-the-mill management.
(They may also wish to revisit Freedom of Speech legislation -lol)

Back to music. You're absolutely right when you state:

" ...We're at a point in the MQA thing where we should be extremely transparent and welcoming of new information, "

As far as sound quality/MQA and the system employed, Stereophile's excellent 'Questions/Answers' column from 2017?(courteously answered by Mr. Stuart) provided great clarity from a codec point of view.

Personally, I thought what should/could possibly be answered further? Until I gave it further thought a few weeks back.
As I repeatedly pointed out here, the manipulation of the master recording that Stuart claims beneficial for ALL system's/DAC's was not even touched upon. Perhaps the most important of all -since I believe his 'End-to-End'system requires "matching profile" filtering.
In fact, it is THE (my) major concern. And, similarly, whether non-MQA'd Masters will remain available for distribution.
I simply cannot see why both should not be made available, but since it's the recording industry/record company's call, verification would be in order.

Soooo, big-guns out there (Nationally recognized Audio Mag's) and those pretending to have a big voice (hiding under pseudonyms), get out there, step up to the plate, investigate and tell us something really useful/meaningful. It's long overdue.

Alright, enough of that now,

pj

dalethorn's picture

Reading elsewhere (heh) about the changes to DACs such as the iFi Nano BL, where an MQA update allegedly changes the sound, I decided to listen to a couple of DACs last night that I've had for a year or more. One of those, the DragonFly Red, I updated to MQA firmware a few weeks ago. It did change the sound more than I would have guessed, and I was not playing any MQA tracks at that time (last night). I'm surprised that there aren't more comments about this on the various sites. Was the change positive? If I really thought so I'd say so. Was it negative? Could be - I'll wait and see if anyone else on a neutral site has any comment.

allhifi's picture

Scott: C'mon, let's have it. Don't be shy.

How was it? What's going on with SQ ?

One-week is along enough time to give us an update. Hurry, I'm rubbing fingers in anticipation. Live bait ! lol

DUNNunn, DUNN-unn, DUHNN-unn .....

pj

dalethorn's picture

I don't want to be irresponsible or sensational here (actually, I'd like to be, but this is too important), so I must caution you that I don't have two DF Red's to compare (with and without the MQA firmware), so I'm relying on my previous experience comparing three DACs for their differences some months ago, to this latest comparison.

The new sound seems to be richer, even "thicker" in a way - less clarity and instrumental separation to some extent. What made the impression jump out at me was that I wasn't doing any testing, MQA or otherwise. I was just listening with one DAC and switched to the other, where the difference should have been fairly subtle, but it wasn't.

I'll do some more listening with different sources and DACs to see if the impressions hold up, but someone in a neutral corner needs to start comparing identical DACs with and without MQA firmware.

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