MQA: Yes or No? An AXPONA 2017 Poll

With any large gathering of people who share a common passion, one is bound to encounter polarizing issues and the fiercely opinionated standing on either side. In the world, it's politics and religion. In our world, it's tubes vs solid-state, whether cables really matter or not, and, most recently . . . Master Quality Authenticated.

At CES this past January, one of the more controversial issues was actually CES itself—whether the high-end segment would continue, whether it would be the last CES, whether this reflected the state of the industry, and so on. But at AXPONA, the show itself did not contain any inner controversy—and, judging from show attendance, it certainly will not be the last AXPONA. But I still wanted to take advantage of being around such a large group of audiophiles. As the show progressed, more and more conversations pointed towards MQA as being the topic of the show.

As I walked around asking industry folk and non-industry showgoers about their thoughts on MQA, most of them were eager to share their opinions: a decent spread of "yes," "no," "I'm not sure," and "what's MQA?" But when I asked if they'd be willing to share their thoughts on camera, more than half of the people I asked shied away. At first, I thought it was because they were self-conscious to be filmed; but after speaking to more people, I kept getting variations of the these answers: "I don't want to publicly state my opinion of MQA because the company I work with hasn't decided yet," "I don't want people to know I'm not a fan of MQA because we may eventually adopt it," "I like MQA but the company I work for doesn't support it right now," and "I haven't blind-tested MQA yet and I don't want to share my opinion without any backing." A very small percentage didn't know what MQA was at all, so naturally, they didn't want to be on camera either.

Here's a video compilation of the perspectives I was able to document:

COMMENTS
mrkaic's picture

The answer is simple: NO!

Herb Reichert's picture

Nice work (as usual) Jana. There is a lot going on between the lines here. But for the record, in public, I must say: I've listened to a lot of MQA recordings on CDs (Chesky), in files made by Peter McGrath and John Atkinson, and on Tidal - and every time the MQA is unsubtlly more enjoyable. I have zero knowledge or opinion about the business part of MQA; and only a partial understanding of the technology; but I trust my ears, and to me -- it is the most realistic and insightful digital I've experienced. It is hard to imagine anybody not liking the sound.

Solarophile's picture

Even more "insightful" than lossless 24/192 from which the MQA might have been sourced from??? When we know that MQA is partly lossy?

How is this possible hypothetically from the explanations we have been given and the insights from technicl people who have looked into this? There really is only one possibility left and you;re probably not going to like this explanation...

It's time for you to take a blind test (like in your avatar?) and "see" if it's that "hard" to imagine why some might not be particularly moved by an actual difference.

jhanken's picture

... is one explanation why MQA might be better. You can say it is unnecessary meddling with the signal, but it is a difference that for many, including the folks at Meridian, believe makes the signal better suited for human perception. As for the lossy compression, we need to remember that this is being done at frequencies above were red-book CD does not present data, so it may be lossy, but it is an incremental contribution to the signal compared to the world's most common lossless digital music source.

Archimago's picture

From all appearances based on work looking at the Bluesound Node 2 firmware and measurements here with MQA DACs, the antialiasing filter appears to be simply a weak minimum phase filter.

Doesn't look like an apodizing filter as per the Meridian 808i.2 CD player from back in the day.

John Atkinson's picture
Archimago wrote:
From all appearances based on work looking at the Bluesound Node 2 firmware and measurements here with MQA DACs, the antialiasing filter appears to be simply a weak minimum phase filter.

That's correct. All MQA-enabled processors seem to have an identical reconstruction filter. With 44.kHz data it has a slow rolloff trading off reduced rejection of aliased images at the top of the audioband for a short time-domain performance. See figs.3 & 4 at www.stereophile.com/content/meridian-audio-ultra-dac-da-processor-measurements.

The Meridian UltraDAC does have a switchable apodizing filter for use with non-MQA data.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Dcbingaman's picture

Back in the day, this type of filter was used on the famous Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD Player which traded aliasing for a time-optimized reconstruction filter. Everything old is new again.

Mr. Chronos's picture

Well, if you read things carefully (and the details are beyond me), IN THEORY, where MQA knows the ADC that created the recording, it can 'undo' some of the less than ideal filtering/processing done on the authoring side. Whether this is valid or not can be debated, but it is certainly a reasonable hypothesis.

rt66indierock's picture

Let’s start with the basics high resolution is not making it in the market as Robert Baird reported in Stereophile. And of course people were surprised that there were less than 16,000 high resolution albums at CES last January.

So where is MQA today in the United States? According to MQA Ltd there are fourteen companies who have been through the certification process. A rate of one every other month is slow enough that I saw faster turtles last weekend playing golf. Is anybody actually recording anything using the MQA that will sell 10,000 copies? I can’t find any. And I’ve looked and will keep looking. I’m going to two festivals while you guys will be in Munich. Recording will be topic of discussion but high resolution and MQA will never come up.

Now it may be nice that TIDAL streams MQA but the number of albums is very small and appears to be the high resolution albums of Warner Music Group. There is nothing so far to indicate releasing a few MQA versions has increased the subscriber base. And TIDAL’s market share is too small gain any traction with MQA.

The other part of the supply issue is downloads. I can’t find anywhere I can download MQA albums in the United States. Leading to one of those questions I’m sure none of the journalists you interviewed on camera would ever ask “Who has the right to sell downloadable MQA files available in Europe in the United States?”

Finally since there is no music available why are you writing about it?

Molbio's picture

Count me as one who, on hearing the adoption of MQA, jumped on the Tidal train. I signed up for a 6 month term of service and comparing Tidal with Spotify's Hi-rez service, Tidal is clearly the hands down winner. The differences, to my ears, are subtle but generally MQA yields a more pleasurable listening experience. While Spotify has the better curation Tidal clearly has the fidelity. The world as it is and for better or worse, streaming is fast becoming the preferred way of delivering music. Beating our chests, we may lament at the passing of the music business of our youth but MQA is the first mass market digital format that, to my ears, is in indistinguishable from Hi-rez and finally is musical enough to make me leave red book CDs, MP3s and the rest of the digital flotsam far behind.

tonykaz's picture

Red Book is first generation ( 16/44.1 ),
24/96 is second generation digital.

MQA is Second Generation digital packaged in the small box of Red Book.

It's simply a matter of Storage Space.

For manufacturers ( like Schiit ) it's an investment in Product-Development annnnnnnd like KEF an investment in their Competitor's future success.

The Vinyl guys "must" be committed to their "Digital Denial": Digital is a gigantic Global Success that they refuse to imbrace , no matter how beautifully it's refined. All vinyl systems are outrageously expensive, which makes it a rich man's niche that needs to protected and shielded from common realities.

Your airplane wing opener & script are Pro-level, who wrote that Prose? Another well done piece ***** ! Have you been watching Casey Neistat's YouTube Channel?

Nice Work

Tony in Michigan

Solarophile's picture

MQA is 24/44 or 24/48 so it is not the same box size as Red Book. It is 50% bigger at least. Not a huge increase, but bigger nonetheless.

tonykaz's picture

Well, OK, I'll take your word for it, I'm certainly not technically accurate.

Still, I can only use about 10 bits ( or less ) for home playback. ( 60 db of dynamic range ).

24 bit recordings only have 22 bits useful ( I'm told ) which amounts to a whopping 132 db of dynamic range. Does anyone have a home music system with that kind of playback capability?

24 bit seems, to me, like having an 18 wheeled Semi Truck capable of doing 144 mph and using it to haul a three drawer file cabinet while observing a 75 mph speed limit.

Overkill on a grand scale.

Tony in Michigan

dce22's picture

"24 bit seems, to me, like having an 18 wheeled Semi Truck capable of doing 144 mph and using it to haul a three drawer file cabinet while observing a 75 mph speed limit."

Loving the analogy, two thumbs up Tony.

Who need MQA in a world where you stream HD and UHD movies from the internet why pack the file in a lossy compression just download the 24b 96k FLAC file.

Solarophile's picture

24-bits is not needed. Never said it was needed or important.

Just wanted to remind everyone that MQA was NEVER Red Book size despite the oft-repeated statement probably based on MQA comparing uncompressed WAV 16/44 with FLAC 24/44. I guess the only time it is Red Book is when they release these 16/44 CDs mentioned recently - hilarious.

Yes, I like your analogy as well!

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for the clarity.

I'm told that the Pro-Audio segment is 24 bit for the recording process needing 144 db of dynamic range. The Mastering guys squish it down to Consumer levels of/about 8 or 9 Bits max ( 48 to 54 db dynamic range ) because it's all that consumer gear is able to handle. ( for the most part ).

All this controversy makes being an Audiophile exciting. ( and distracting )

The real excitement comes when the iPhone8 is released.

Tony in Michigan

jhanken's picture

I love Schiit because of the awesome value and products and am a huge KEF fan, and really was not a Meridian fan for years because of how I perceived their value proposition, but MQA really is a gift to audio, it is hard to think of a valid criticism.

palbratelund's picture

...all the major labels and larger indie groups, more streaming services and loads more of the major hifi companies are going ahead and making the world sound a little better in an easy way. With MQA.

Labels saved loads of storage space and bandwidth in delivery chain from reducing number of delivery formats.

Streaming services can easily stream high resolution at approximately same rate as 44.1/16 FLAC. All without adding more delivery formats hitting storage and CDN.

Listeners got high resolution streaming at same price as redbook streaming only 5 minutes ago.

No wonder why people are complaining ;)

Solarophile's picture

Sure - they can keep doing what they're doing fooling around with MQA. I think the point of these discussions is that MQA is actually at least 50% bigger to stream than actual 16/44, is lossy compared to the original source, and so far sounds no different to many people with no evidence of this "deblur" thing they talk about. In fact the albums looks like they're batch converted with no special attebtion paid.

It's good that software decode is supported and that's good enough I think for anyone who wants a listen. Makes no sense at this point spending more buying MQA hardware and hard to imagine what benefit it is to pay MQA licensing fees based on the lack of clear benefits to buy MQA albums if available.

I'm sure many people will take it for free! There's just no compelling reason to put money down.

BTW - I have an AudioQuest Dragonfly Black since last year. Still waiting for this mystical firmware to add MQA. 3 months and nada from AQ or MQA. I hope few people out there bought the DF for this "buy now, get MQA later" promise. Ridiculous. Yet another botched announcement?

Audio-philia's picture

I believe the AudioQuest MQA firmware update is due out this Wednesday, 17th. It'll be available to download from their website here: http://www.audioquest.com/digitalupdates.

michaelavorgna's picture

Since Tidal's MQA Masters free add-on to my Tidal HiFi account, I've noticed there are even more pairs of socks missing a sock after laundry.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

rt66indierock's picture

Are you saying Sony has licensed MQA?

Do you believe Spotify’s recent announcement of an agreement with Warner Music Group means MQA is coming to Spotify?

How are loads more major hi-fi companies introducing products when the MQA certification process is so lengthy?

Why is high resolution streaming important when there is no market for high resolution in general?

Where is the delivery chain you mentioned? It doesn’t seem to exist in the United States.

PS Listeners only got MQA at Redbook prices with TIDAL because they couldn’t charge more.

cgh's picture

The haphazard roll out and the whole discussion around MQA is indicative. Imagine an airplane being rolled out like MQA... would you fly on it? To paraphrase a former treasury secretary's comment about the US tax code: the discerning and paying audio consumer base deserve an audio codec that looks like it was designed on purpose.

cgh's picture

The other thing I find really interesting is how the these narratives form and unfurl. Because of the press you get to witness the construction of all these non-falsifiable hyper-realities built on a small handful of recordings that people feel A/B well (the unicorns) and a small amount of overhyped press, all coupled with well-cemented audio cognitive biases. A hallmark of hype is when something new, that's arguably demonstrable and easy to understand, balkanizes the (non-lay) target audience.

-Rudy-'s picture

So the majority of replies are from "industry people," ones who have a vested interest in selling products. Far as I noticed, AXPONA this year was attended by far more audio consumers than dealers and manufacturers reps. So, why not ask them instead? The industry is there to sell product. If none of us are convinced that MQA is worth shelling out thousands of dollars for, then it's a moot point. All I see in the video in the majority are industry people giving this a positive endorsement, with only a couple of sane replies against it. Hardly a fair and accurate poll.

I was highly visible at the show for two days. Did anyone approach me about my opinion on MQA? Nope. Next time, let's ask only those who buy these technologies, not those with a ve$ted interest in it.

The thing that bothers many of us is that any time Bob Stuart is asked specific questions about the technology, he dodges them, or starts laying on the layers of technical bull-crap (his way of changing the subject). Sorry, but to most of us out here, MQA is a sham, and a money grab by all those involved, especially Meridian. Since DVD-Audio died, they can no longer sell licensing for their MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing), so they need something to replace that. (This is a bitter memory from when I used to author DVD-Audio discs--the MLP software was an expensive additional purchase for us.)

Selling high-res with all this vague double-talk of "unfolding" simply masks the fact that all they are trying to sell with this sham is LOSSY high-res music. It uses the exact same reasoning that MP3 and Sony's ATRAC for MiniDisc made: it is throwing away information that we apparently are not able to hear anyway. (Yet we do hear the artifacts when this allegedly "unnecessary" information is discarded...the sound is altered for the worse.)

I have Tidal, I've heard MQA in Tidal, I've compared it to the same high-res downloads offered by Warner's (and it's a lame selection) on the same DAC, and I remain unimpressed. There is a difference from the sources, minor at that, but all I see are way too many dollar signs to properly get into MQA, and that is what impresses me the least.

We have sufficient bandwidth in the consumer space now that 24/96 or even DSD could be streamed on today's broadband Internet connections. MQA is pointless for end users. Since the general public will never go for it, the whole thing reeks of a sham to sell more new technology to gullible audiophiles. We already have high-res audio in both PCM and DSD. We don't need another format.

Take a hike, MQA...maybe the industry likes you, but the majority of us consumers have no use. See ya.

mpb020479's picture

how the best-case scenario for MQA is anything other than "niche product." Even if everyone who ever attended any audio equipment show ever signed up for TIDAL or some other MQA-related service, that's still just a drop in the bucket of the overall music listening audience. Most people don't absorb music on equipment that can discern mp3 from lossless.

So, given that MQA is probably already limited to the audiophile community in general, the market is further segmented by needing specific equipment to get the most out of MQA. The people who own MQA want licensing fees from the recording studios, licensing fees from the digital audio product manufacturers, and hardware or software access/insight into the DAC or player.

Those roadblocks will segment the already-limited audience further. It's a neat idea for a format, but I'm getting an SACD-vibe from it. If the people who own the MQA format can make money on it, great for them.

Herb Reichert's picture

Audiophiles are always saying, "It's about the music." But not even one of the above responses refers to the sound or experience of music via MQA - on Tidal or anywhere else. Who among you has actually listened with an open mind?

mrkaic's picture

What I see is support for the notion that MQA is a marketing ploy. The support comes from the pages of YOUR OWN magazine. John Atkinson listened to MQA vs non-MQA songs in a self administered blind test and correctly detected 4 out of 7 pieces. After that he claimed that "...though this is insufficient to prove formal identification, I feel that it is relevant information."

Yes it is relevant, but not in the way he and you want it to be. His "experiment" cannot reject the hypothesis that the differences between MQA and other digital formats are random and that MQA is no better than existing digital formats.

If you want to convince your readers in the superiority of MQA, then conduct a proper blind test and use real statisticians to design the test and analyze the results.

As you put it so eloquently -- all I have seen here is attitude and spin, but no direct evidence. :)

Solarophile's picture

Nice summary!

I have listened to MQA through both the software decoded Tidal stream and DAC.Does nothing for me and it looks like some other people in the comments have done the same. Unlikely it would any how with these old Warner recordings.

rt66indierock's picture

It’s about the music sounds good but I can’t buy my reference albums in the United States to do a real listening test.

I’m willing to buy a few MQA albums I like that are available in Europe and a DragonFLy Red with MQA firmware to listen but I can’t even do that.

And open or closed mind doesn’t matter because I can’t buy MQA albums in the Grand Canyon State.

montaldo's picture

I'm with Herb. I am more interested in understanding what you all think about MQA's SOUND compared to Redbook or high-res CD or vinyl. Especially for those who have not heard MQA, your theoretical opinions of whether it "could" work based on superficial, or even not so superficial, readings of the underlying technologies are not very compelling.
If there is one thing we've learned over the years as audiophiles is that we don't really understand what creates convincing sound. We simply don't know what to measure and don't understand how our brain processes signals. And while I admit the recording industry is not above profiteering on the back of a technology that is not really better, there is no reason to assume such a thing until you have heard it and judged for yourself based on the sound.

dalethorn's picture

I don't do streaming and won't start, but I would like to test this because I'm a tech enthusiast and audiophile. I need an album in MQA and the same album in a lossless format to compare. I need an MQA-capable DAC, but I don't want to spend a thousand dollars just to satisfy my curiosity. Would a low-cost MQA DAC be good enough to reveal the differences?

brenro's picture

I was in the same boat. I bought a Bluesound Node 2 to stream Tidal with the MQA capability. I honestly can't hear any difference, maybe a little more air, but is the relatively low cost DAC causing me to miss something or is MQA just not all that?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

These two questions are fair. I can't answer them, because my at-home listening experiences - brief, so far, because I'm in the midst of an amp review, and don't want to be switching different DACs in and out - have been on the Meridian UltraDAC, which is not low cost. The comparisons I've heard at shows and stores as a Contributing Editor to Stereophile have also been on high cost equipment. I do believe strongly that wired/wireless, noise floor, and cable as well as equipment quality all play a part in what you can hear.

To reiterate what I say in the video, direct comparison of John Atkinson's hi-rez recordings with and without MQA (on the UltraDACP) were revelatory. I also remember Peter Mc Grath's reaction when he heard his files with MQA, and compared before and after. I've also heard similar from a number of other sound engineers. But all of us use good DACs, cabling, and loudspeakers, and pay attention to the power source.

In response to the legitimate question about why the video includes so many industry people, Jana was performing multiple duties at AXPONA, attempting to interview people while also blogging rooms because I could not possibly cover all the new products solo. I'm sure the person who was "highly visible" at AXPONA - moreso than others? - uses a pseudonym, and assumes to speak for everyone was not intentionally avoided. We can only do what we can do. Jana works with integrity, and did not cherry pick her participants in order to ensure a given outcome to the video.

Having said that, I strongly reject the accusation that industry people who have a vested interest in selling product lack the integrity to make informed and impartial statements about MQA. They may promote a specific product or products, but that does not make them inclined to promote one format over the other. The ultimate conclusion of such accusations is that anyone who has any investment in the capitalist system lacks all integrity, and cannot be trusted.

Finally, I would point to the comment above from Pal Bratelund. I'm not sure where he's working now - I don't have his current address - but he was for many years one of my contacts at Tidal. All these people who are crying that the argument that streaming and storing hi-rez via smaller size MQA files that also happen to sound better is bogus might take a listen to what he has to say... and then, I expect, continue to pan MQA.

Ultimately, it's a small nay brigade that does all the anti-MQA posting. I'd wager a bet that most of Stereophile's readership, as well as people with open minds who care about better sound, are eager to hear what MQA can do.

Andrei's picture

I'm Stereophile readership, semi open minded. Not eager to hear it. We need a new format / hardware like a hole in the head.

montaldo's picture

I am a long-time Stereophile reader, am very open minded about MQA and cannot wait to hear it.

cgh's picture

I am not anti-MQA. And I am totally open. I'm also not alone on this. I am anti- the way the industry approaches this stuff. It's half-assed.

And while I agree that you have no conflicts of interest in the way of renumeration (I'd be shocked if anyone makes any money in this game) there's a Kool-aid factor that challenges your credibility (granted, SF cred is probably the highest in the industry IMO). We're dealing with a demographic that pays for crystal dots to be glued to the walls of their listening room because they'll couple to the resonance of the earth and make music sound better! OK? They are totally game parting with their money. It's fishy stuff like this where SF can shine. One year ago this month, in regards to MQA, JA is quoted as saying "In almost 40 years of attending audio press events, only rarely have I come away feeling that I was present at the birth of a new world." What's the gestation period for some critical and objective press on it all if it's truly about sound? MQA was launched 3 years ago. Born digital companies are born and sold in that time. I was hanging out with the guys that started Venmo recently. In 3 years they launched and was bought by Braintree and a year later by Paypal. It was a tangible product with no Voodoo. You talk to the creators three years in and it doesn't sound like something they invented by accident. This is the issue Jason. It's just basic credibility, transparency, and objectivism.

cgh's picture

Incidentally, a large group is having an MQA A/B today. Should be some more listening impressions soon....

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

In simple A/B comparisons, people invariably pick B over A. As Kal Rubinson explained to me after 20 members of the Pacific Northwest Audio Society visited my house for an A/B amp comparison, studies have confirmed that when you do A/B, especially with unfamiliar music and equipment, people invariably pick B, simply because more information sinks in the second time around. It is in this light that comments from members of the PNWAS, as contained in my forthcoming review of the Audionet Max monoblock amplifier, must be understood. You must perform, at the least A-B-A, and also switch which is A and which is B as you move from sample to sample. In addition, if you're using short sound bites, you're not truly listening to music, because the emotional response central to musical appreciation is compromised.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

In reference to the comment about John Atkinson's exclamation, we seem to live in an age where the expression of wonder, especially on the part of a seasoned and feted expert in the field of audio and engineering, is met with skepticism. For those readers able to understand the integrity and honesty with which John expressed his feelings, there is but one credo: Let no one steal your joy.

cgh's picture

I don't know that world Jason! I respect John. I thought his statement was hyperbolic and premature. I thought that then and I think that now. I don't have any cognitive biases with this stuff, but it doesn't take long to start forming reasonable biases based on what is not shown in the presence of big claims.

I do have some biases. When I was working on my physics PhD I remebeer my department (it's a well known research institution) getting unsolicited theories all the time; disproving relativity, quantum mechanics, etc. At the time we'd read the material and have a laugh. Sometimes they were sad: the person was clearly mentally ill. The only other instance where I've witnessed similar claims of pseudo science, where basic science has been misappropriated, has been audio. So, yes, I can be skeptical, especially when people in audio make claims that leverage research areas that are represented by peer-reviewed journals that I've published in. Not so in this case, though. I'd call the context for the statement you reference one thing: hope.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I tried to post my comment a bit farther up, where it belongs, but the system doesn't want me to. And there you have it.

ednazarko's picture

Not being in the mood to dump a lot of money on a technology that is so heavily debated without listening, I picked up a Meridian Explorer 2, which has MQA and is pretty cheap. No question that streaming MQA from Tidal is better than streaming non-MQA. Tiny bit better using MQA in hardware than in the streaming software. So, I do hear it as better. But, I also have to be listening in evaluation mode to notice it. (My guess is that professional reviewers are in that mode by default.) If I'm air-conducting Beethoven, air guitaring Rush, or just digging on McBride, I don't think I'd notice.

Because I think it's better at the margin. What I mean by that is, listening to non-MQA through a DAC that's a bit higher end I'll take the sound of the higher end non-MQA DAC every time. Even my iFi Micro iDSD black, which is close in price, sounds much better playing high res files than the Explorer 2 playing MQA files.

That's where I kind of get stuck. How much more would I spend for MQA in a DAC versus the same DAC without? Not much. And while I've found it to be a worthwhile cost to get high res versions of many things I had in red book CD rips (particularly when there was re-mixing and mastering when the high res were produced), I don't think the difference would be big enough for me to re-buy MQA versions of things I have in high res, based on what I've heard so far.

But if I was shopping for a new DAC, I wouldn't avoid MQA, but I wouldn't make it a key decision criterion. Not based on what I've heard so far. And because I already own a couple terabytes of non-MQA files, wringing the best sound out of them is my #1 priority.

volvic's picture

Who first heard the MCD and MCD pro CD players in the early 80's and has since purchased several of their products and experienced their great customer service, I cannot imagine Mr. Stuart coming out with something that is not stellar. Mr. Stuart's history proves he doesn't sell or offer snake oil. No, I haven't heard it, and my vast collection of vinyl and Cd means I have no interest in streaming at this time. But if anyone in hi-if was going to have my trust Mr. Stuart and his offerings would be tops. Maybe it won't blow me away, but if MQA can compress a 192/24 file and bring it to my speakers with the same quality through my internet pipes, then I am impressed. Will MQA make it better ? Not so sure, but if not the process itself Appears to be already successful. As everything the market will decide.

Dcbingaman's picture

Volvic, I am an owner of a Meridian multi-channel system and a big fan of Bob Stuart. I think he is justified in being a bit coy on explaining exactly how MQA works, his is a fiercely competitive business.

That said, Meridian's complete absence of an upgrade strategy for legacy Meridian products is surprising and puts some doubt in my mind as to their real motivations. It looks to me like a play to sell more licensing and equipment.

They need to come clean on why they are doing this. In addition some senior Stereophile writers I know are dubious as to the impact MQA will have going forward. It seems to be a niche within a niche.

stalepie's picture

I can't seem to hear a difference between 16/44 and 24/88 or 24/96, so I'd think the lossy form of the hi-res would be even less noticeable, unless it's a matter of unconscious preferences that take form over the long term (ultrasonic frequencies affecting the brain without one's realizing).

mrkaic's picture

Red Book CDs is all you need. Have any audiophiles proved they can hear differences between CD's and other so called high definition formats in a rigorous blind test?

Audiophiles should really watch these videos: https://www.xiph.org/video/

Music_Guy's picture

MQA is a fine lossy CODEC with DRM. It uses the same sort of "proprietary methods" that cable manufacturers use make their cables sound better. If that works for cables, MQA must work for DACs too.

Even if it unfolds with a greater than 44.1/16 equivalent stream, the MQA people make no explicit claim of restoring the "full" input resolution. Do they? They just say they manipulate the original source by secret methods to make MQA equipped DACs sound better.

MQA exploits the fact that even the best equipment today can't use all the bits (24? 32?)present in the high-res files. Great place to try to encode some "extra" information. Very clever.

I don't like the DRM, myself. In the past, this has just inconvenienced the consumer. (Me)

Perhaps MQA can encode the source in such a way that less-than-
perfect DACs equipped with MQA can decode the resultant file so the output sounds better, more time-aligned and all that. (Engineers in all fields have improved the performance of non-ideal systems by altering the signal to compensate non-perfect transfer functions for years; either analog or digital.)

I have an MQA enabled system. Thank goodness that it plays the current files that exist. I wish MQA all the best, if they end up delivering better sound to our DACs, Great! I can't hear a startling difference, myself. Maybe that will change as the technology is improved. I wish them the best on their sound-improving promises. DRM...not so much.

With or without MQA, to this date, the original recording/engineering has orders of magnitude more bearing on the final sound than the super high resolution file itself. If MQA can stimulate superior mastering, bring it!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

What DRM? You can copy an MQA-encoded file.

Music_Guy's picture

I suppose I was being defensive based on other experiences with DRM not allowing "fair use."

rt66indierock's picture

Utimaco disagrees. “MQA turned to Utimaco, a leading manufacturer of hardware-based security solutions that provide the root of trust to keep cryptographic keys safe, secure critical digital infrastructures and protect high value data assets. “ “Critical to the continued success and monetization of the streaming and download services of the entertainment industry, is the ability to secure and safeguard end-to-end transmission of intellectual property. A market leader in hardened encryption, Utimaco is at the forefront of enabling the authenticated delivery needed to drive next-generation entertainment consumption.”

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

This is taken out of context. The complete source for this quote, which is here -
http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/utimaco_mqa.pdf -
clarifies that Utimaco's role was "to ensure the integrity of the artist’s music from the original source to the end listener." This is not DRM.

rt66indierock's picture

When I wrote MQA is Vaporware I had list of easy to find answers for questions like what is DRM. I used a project of the UNC School of Law. The Digital Rights Management site has a straightforward explanation of what is DRM (drm.web.unc.edu). The site’s first example of DRM is “Ensuring distribution of unaltered works.” Exactly what you are saying is not DRM.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Again, you take something out of context in order to defend tortured reasoning. The audiophile argument against DRM is that it both diminishes sound quality and prevents people from copying and sharing files without being tracked and held liable for violation of law. That is not what is going on with MQA. People who are shouting "Foul, it's DRM" are trying to raise red flags where there are no flags to raise.

In a democracy, of course, you are perfectly free to insist otherwise.

rt66indierock's picture

I have a broader definition of DRM than you do. My view is one that corresponds to current law in the United States. It isn’t tortured reasoning to use the same definition for publishing, video, computers and networks, gaming and music in my life. Especially in the case of the first two I’m protecting my own rights.

Let’s look at this differently. Bob Stuart wants to make money from MQA. If you accept this as true let’s take look at the last two major music formats as a little history lesson. Optical digital playback and recording what would become CD was invented in 1965. The man who invented it received nothing. The man who invented the MP3 also received nothing. I fairly certain Bob Stuart knew this. And he had created Meridian Lossless Packing. This had fees and royalties so he has experience setting up a proprietary (closed) system where he gets fees for encoding, royalties based on volume and royalties for the playback (decoding) equipment.

MQA converts and encodes music files then decodes then. The only way to receive licensing fees and royalties is to have a closed system from end to end to protect your ability to receive compensation for creating MQA. Any closed digital system is managing rights. I may trust Apple with a closed system with my iPhone but MQA is asking me to trust Warner Music Group, Sony and Universal. I haven trusted these corporations for my entire adult life but you are asking me trust them in 2017 and going forward for an audio format?

It’s a little late to be accusing me of raising red flags. Over 75,000 have viewed the flag I raised January 2nd and there technical discussions of MQA following my post that had tens of thousands of views.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The number of hits you've gotten by distorting the truth concerns me not. Nor am I concerned with people who are content to be convinced by words rather than by listening.

What does me concern me as an audio reviewer / music critic / journalist, however, are facts. Hence, I speak as a journalist, rather than as a spokesperson for MQA, which I most definitely am not.

MQA's official response to accusations of DRM, which was posted over a year ago, is:
".... MQA is the antithesis of a DRM system: everyone can hear the music without a decoder!

"Even FLAC requires a decoder, so does AAC, MP3, etc; vinyl and optical discs require players. There isn’t anyone who can’t play an MQA file on a mobile phone or an existing system.

"DRM is about limiting access, tracking or copy protection. MQA does none of these.

"MQA is about getting access to the definitive essence of great performances, with sound quality that is not otherwise achievable and reassuring you when you have it.

"MQA files and decoders exist today, they can’t suddenly stop access to the music.

"MQA does carry provenance, metadata and (optionally) creation rights information that might help the artist or publisher. It does not (unlike some downloads) carry information tracking the purchaser and we reject audible watermarks."

It is true that MQA files are protected, in the sense that, if you change the file, it won't authenticate. That, of course, makes total sense, because how can the file be authenticated otherwise? But there are no restrictions on copying or moving an MQA file, and there is no tracking. In addition, anyone who can play PCM files can play MQA-encoded PCM files without restriction. You only need a decoder to hear the full results of MQA-encoding. And a decoder is not MQA.

I am not at all interested in seeing who can post more times on this subject. I have posted the facts as I understand them. Having done so, I move on.

crenca's picture

You Jason don't get to define DRM anymore than I do. MQA denials of their product not being DRM do not withstand. DRM is not about about this or that technical implementation (thus the fact that FLAC "requires decoder" does not make it DRM) but rather about its *legal* status.

For many consumers DRM = copy restriction/encryption. This "hard" form of DRM is DRM, but it is not the only kind of DRM or indeed the most common kind.

Youself or any particular consumer of MQA might not care about this aspect of MQA but it is nonetheless an important aspect of it to many.

These are the first two sentences of the DRM entry from Wikipedia:

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

MQA not only fits, but is actaully a good example of DRM...

rt66indierock's picture

Since you are concerned about facts let’s look at the facts. First you are accepting MQA’s official response as fact. Chris Connaker at Computer Audiophile had the same problem. There is nothing to counter the arguments and opinion threads on his site about MQA that he could counter without referencing MQA sources.

MQA is the antithesis of DRM because you can hear file without an MQA? True but doesn’t answer the question about whether the MQA part of the file uses DRM. An MQA file has two parts and one part is encoded as PCM and the MQA portion is encoded with a MQA licensed encoder. When you play an MQA file on a DAC without an MQA decoder you hear only the part of the file not encoded by the licensed MQA encoder. To hear an MQA file it must be decoded by a licensed MQA decoder.

MQA and you choose to focus on the middle of the record encode create a file then decode it to create the impression there is no DRM. If you license the encoding process and decoding process of MQA you are limiting the access to the MQA file to only those consumers who purchase licensed software and hardware. You are managing the rights of the consumer by requiring an MQA license. That is DRM.

You quoted MQA as saying an MQA file carries providence, metadata and (optionally) creation rights. None of these require a company with the expertise in encryption Utimaco has to include them in an audio file. It can be done with inexpensive or free tools readily available to create digital music files. This raises the question of why did MQA seek out Utimaco to in your view authenticate MQA files? The obvious explanation is more is going on but I would like to hear Bob’s reasons for using Utimaco.

I view MQA’s facts you quote as marketing materials carefully crafted to give answers about the MQA file and not the encoding and decoding processes where digital rights are being managed.

Finally I haven’t commented on the sound because I don’t have a reasonable basis for doing so. I test audio in a consistent way. At the very least I need the six albums I mentioned in my April 30, 2017 post on the thread MQA is Vaporware on my local hard drive to make any comparisons with non MQA albums. I will acquire a DragonFly Red now that the MQA update has a release date (May 17th) listen in my office to TIDAL and wait for downloads to be available in the United States.

Dcbingaman's picture

"Engineers in all fields have improved the performance of non-ideal systems by altering the signal to compensate non-perfect transfer functions for years; either analog or digital."

Amen. While MQA is a laudable achievement, (as is the Meridian anodizing filter), the most amazing achievement of this type I have ever experienced is what DTS has done with DTS Neural technology. DTS Neural allows a "DownMix" converter to digitally encode in an ANALOG 2-channel file, all the digital data required to reproduce a digital 5.1 surround recording, using a DTS "Upmix" converter. I have heard it demonstrated in a SOTA system in three places (my living room, at my Meridian dealer's room and at this little shack in Calabasas, CA, and it is truly remarkable. For instance, in an encoded stereo recording of Sting, (I forget the album), he was reproduced between the L&R channels, dead center, just as one would expect, but with the Upmix converter enabled, he was sitting on a stool behind me, solely emanating from the left rear speaker, WITH NO ARTIFACTS ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE ROOM, and with his ensemble all around. Further, the encoded ANALOG stereo signal had no perceptible differences from the unencoded signal.

The DTS Neural encoding was engineered to be robust enough to survive transmittal via FM radio transmission and reception, and DTS licensed every surround sound processor maker to include UPMIX in all their products for a nominal fee. ANY 5.1 channel recording can be down mixed to encoded digital or analog stereo, with no licensing fee required, as long as they use accredited processors, (DaySequerra and Harris Radio make the best ones).

A number of NPR classical music producers such as Classical 24 have been using the technology for years, and I can "see" an encoded file playback via Internet radio using my DaySequerra MULTIMIX processor - there are many of these files out there.

And yet.....hardly anyone knows about this, even though it's almost magic. DTS Neural has been around for at least 8 years, and NOBODY has paid any attention that I know if. MQA is not nearly as significant as DTS Neural (or MCH SACD or DVD-A for that matter), so believing that it will revolutionize the music business is a bit like believing in the tooth fairy, Neil Young's Pono or Flubber. I'm sorry, but them's the facts.

michaelavorgna's picture

There's a wonderful new recording of Golijov's "Azul" available on Tidal Masters (MQA). It sounds wonderful.

tonykaz's picture

has released a catalyst to the most useful discussion/debate about MQA to date.

This smallish group of commentors ( about 20 ) seem to have brought "Clarity" of the essence of what is being presented as the "next great" advancement.

In contrast to:

A group of polarized Industry folks speaking from their "Audiophile" perspective.

I suspect that MQA is more of an iPhone Application than a "Audiophile" advancement. It helps in creating a Good-Better-Best marketing strategy, something like Gas at the Gas Station: Reg. - Mid Grade - Premium. (320 - Red Book - MQA highRez)!

Roon might become the much bigger thing, it's becoming a Google type of search assist.

Tony in Michigan

crenca's picture

There were 19 "industry folks" vs 2 "audiophiles"...not sure how this video brought "clarity". It certainly did not bring a "consumer" perspective and frankly is more of the same from the audiophile press - the industry talking about itself to itself...

tonykaz's picture

Right you are!

I was referring to the readership commenters, not the Video that we 20 responded to. Jana's video was the catalyst that prompted reasoned responses.

Tony in Michigan

bigasherm's picture

MQA is never going to take off unless there a lot of people that care about sound quality. From what I can see, not many people care about high resolution sound. Most people that I know listen to Pandora or iTunes through their phones, wireless speakers, and Sonos systems if they care about sound quality. Are those people going to care about MQA? Probably not.

The big issue with MQA for me is the the same issue that I have with other forms of high resolution audio. I like Americana/Alt Country/Acoustic music. High resolution music just isn't available for much of music that I listen to. Pretty much all of the high resolution music that I own is Jazz music. Everything else in my music collection is CD's that been been ripped that are stored on a networked hard drive.

MQA has even more limited content right now and about the only MQA music that Tidal has now that appeals to me are some Jazz releases that I already own. That is not much of a reason to consider investing in new gear.

mrkaic's picture

Everyone should read the article linked below and then ponder how much engineering he/she really knows. Especially those who keep posting here, but don't understand the basics of signal processing.

https://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

dce22's picture

Nobody who understands how digital audio works can deny that 44.1khz rate is all that is needed, and nobody who has designed dacs can deny that all the oversampling chips that are on the market are compromised for cost benefits so the best practise is to use 24bit 96khz (60khz is ideal but 96khz is studio standard) to move filter problems into the ultrasonic frequency and to have more then enough Signal to Noise range to store the best that analog to digital coversion devices can offer.

Running faster rate than 96khz can compromise the ADC performance, DAC dont have that problem you need to record first then play it back so 96khz is ideal.

Edit: MQA 44.1khz unpacked to 88.2khz is not good because it uses Meridian oversampling filters that are also crap. Just plain old 24bit 96khz FLAC is perfect quality and size for download.

ssimon's picture

Do you have a guest room?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Yes. And optional canine body warming, at the dog's discretion.

But wait. Was this question meant for me? I somehow thought it was part of the Building a Sound Room discussion. If it isn't, I have no idea whom you're talking to.

As to the statement, "If MQA is ever going to take off...," it has already been embraced by two major labels. I am told there will be more announcements in Munich.

jason

Anton's picture

I have an Explorer 2 MQA for my Tidal, but last week opted for the new Oppo disc player without MQA. SACD is fine by me, I don't care if MQA hits 'mechanical' media at all.

I think MQA will remain a streaming thing, for me.

christophervalle's picture

One component of MQA that I haven't heard discussed, dissected and dragged around is the authentication issue. Based on what I've read (too much, I suppose), the provenance and authentication is based on "sign off" by either the artist, recording engineer or producer. This is the thumbs up that we are listening to the real McCoy, or at least that's what is being delivered.

Is that really happening? Did they get the artist (engineer, producer) back in the studio to listen to the MQA encoded and decoded audio to certify that it was exactly what was on the master tape? Or did they set up someone with a rubber stamp? Even if closer to the former, do they compare the master tape with the MQA version to assure they are I-dentical? I'm just as skeptical about this as I am the other, more technical bits, but those have been explored to death, a fair amount of which is conjecture or based on flawed listening experiences. (This is no criticism of anyone that shares their honest opinion.)

How is the authentication part actually done?

Sal1950's picture

It matters little what MQA may or may not sound like.
MQA is a unhanded attempt to lock up lossless distribution of digital files.

Geoff1954's picture

The more I read about MQA the more lost I feel. Many of the comments above -- no matter how well intentioned -- read to me as if they were another language.

But I do use TIdal's desktop app (with a Light Harmonic Pulse DAC) which has allowed me to listen to some MQA albums. And I am able to go back and forth between the same album with MQA and without. I know I can hear the difference. The MQA sound is fuller.

I don't know why. I'm not sure I care (though I understand why others with more technical knowledge than I will ever have, do). I simply hope Tidal will make more albums available in MQA soon. And that they play correctly all the time. Which they do not do now. There is apparently some "known" issue that makes MQA playback in some computer/stereo configurations unreliable. Tidal says Meridian is working on this issue as it is in their domain.

Meanwhile, when I can hear an MQA album, I love it.

Reinhold Martin's picture

Could be helpful for deeper insight to look here: https://www.xivero.com/de/hypothesis-paper-to-support-a-deeper-technical...

dcolak's picture

It´s a trick to make it even harder to own the music we paid for while actually doing nothing for the sound quality.

Just no!