Music in the Round #84: Multichannel MQA Page 2

This arrangement is exactly the one I use with my other servers. The only special requirement for MQA was to make sure that all of JRiver's DSP options were turned off, including any up/downsampling, file conversion, and dither settings. It was also necessary to uncheck the box for "Open device with exclusive access."

Mmm-mmm, Good
Most of the recordings I'd requested from 2L were hi-rez DXD files (24/352.8)—the MQA versions downloaded in a fraction of the time it took to download the unprocessed originals. The batch of 10 original files (5.96GB) was more than six times larger than the MQA batch (936MB)—individual tracks differed in size by factors ranging from 2 to 10. I loaded the MQA versions into JRiver, and played some of them first to ensure that my settings would permit the Mytek Brooklyn DACs to unfold MQA properly.

Hot dog! Depending on the randomly selected MQA multichannel file, the MQA logos on all three Myteks lit up either bright green (MQA) or blue (MQA Studio, footnote 2); in both cases, playback was at 24/352.8. If I defeated MQA on the Myteks, the light went out and playback was at 24/44.1. I was ready to go.

To get a bit of a handle on the sound of the Mytek itself, I began with familiar non-MQA recordings. The impressive little Brooklyn includes a headphone amplifier, volume control, and enough outputs and inputs (including phono) for it to serve as the central preamp-controller of a stereo system. Jim Austin's review in the November 2016 issue covers in detail the Brooklyn's features and performance; I can echo his statements about its revelation of soundstage and texture.


In multichannel, that soundstage opened up spectacularly; the Mac-Mytek system was fully competitive with my reference Baetis-exaSound system, which was connected to the same preamp with a matching set of Kubala-Sosna Anticipation interconnects. With careful level matching, they were nearly indistinguishable as long as I turned off the latter system's Dirac Live equalization. In rapid A/B comparisons, the Myteks were a tiny bit less sharp (read: smoother) on treble transients, and offered a slightly deeper soundstage than the exaSound e28.

Comparing the decoded MQA files with the DXD originals was fascinating because 2L's recordings are quite marvelous to begin with. They have space, transparency, detail, and impact, and are some of the best recordings available today. In fact, my only quibble is that 2L likes to employ a slightly more immersive experience than I think ideal, but we can ignore that as it is a constant in these considerations. However, when I switched from the DXD (native 24/352.8) to the MQA version (24/44.1 decoded to 24/352.8), there was a consistent improvement in the impression of transparency, and the disassociation of the soundstage from the physical positions of the speakers.

This was obvious with the first recording I tried: Et misericordia, from Kim André Arnesen's Magnificat, performed by vocal soloists, the Nidaros Cathedral Girls Choir, and the Trondheim Soloists, and conducted by Anita Brevik (BD, 2L 2L-106-SABD). With MQA, the opening strings seemed simultaneously more diaphanous and more detailed, while the voice of soprano Else Bonesronning was more plainly human and pure. While the treble was easy to appreciate, a similar improvement extended through the midrange to the low bass, as exemplified by the improved definition of the notes played by organist Magne H. Draagen in the Fecit potentiam. At first the bass sounded less full, but I soon realized that what I was hearing was tighter, more melodic bass. Similarly, from a jazz recording—Quiet Winter Night, by the Hoff Ensemble (BD, 2L 2L-087-SABD)—the bass-and-drums introduction of "Blågutten" retained more of its identifiable character, almost as if the clouding of room resonances had been erased. When the trumpet entered, it was in appropriate balance and placement—but in the MQA version, it seemed to pierce the soundstage with its presence.

I listened to all 11 multichannel recordings 2L and Bob Stuart had prepared, including two surprises. One was a recording by the Guarneri Quartet of the string quartets of Ravel and Debussy, and of Fauré's first, originally released on DVD-Audio (Surrounded-By Entertainment SBE-1004-9, footnote 3). Bob Stuart and I love this recording, and I was thrilled to hear what magic MQA might perform with it. Ah! An old friendship renewed. The Mytek Brooklyns unfolded this original 24/96 four-channel recording as 24/96, but the presence and clarity were clearly improved. The other surprise was a broadband pink-noise signal played sequentially in each of the five channels, and it, too, sounded different in MQA—the treble was finer-grained, the bass less resonant.

The capper was a two-channel track (it's available in multichannel) that's my go-to track for testing a system's balance, soundstage, and voice: Finzi's "Come Away, Death," sung by mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland accompanied by pianist Sergei Osadchuk, in a free 24/192 PCM download (SACD/CD, 2L 2L-064-SACD). I knew this one well, and now I know it better. The voice is clearer, and its place in the soundstage clearly set, and the piano has just the right balance of cabinet and room resonances. I will say no more, lest I sink into hackneyed audiophile verbiage. Gorgeous.


After listening to all of the multichannel samples, as well as a few dozen stereo tracks, I am confident in saying that MQA, played through Mytek's Brooklyn DACs, made a real and consistent improvement. If MQA can recruit recording companies to offer sufficient, interesting, and new MQA-encoded recordings in multichannel, I don't see how the technology can be ignored. I'd be in with both feet.

However, the differences weren't blatant; I couldn't hear them without paying close attention. A visiting colleague said similar things, and although we agreed that MQA's improvements were of the same order that we experience from applying good speaker and room correction, we also agreed that they were a different sort of difference. It's not yet possible to integrate EQ with MQA, but it's been suggested that it might be possible to insert such DSP just after the first step of MQA unfolding. That might be another step toward Nirvana.

Coming 'Round in the Round
Slated for my next column is exaSound's e38 eight-channel DAC, Roon 1.3 and new multichannel servers from Baetis, Fidelizer Nimitra, and Playback Designs, the last with a stack of three of Playback's Merlot DACs.

Footnote 2: Since this an experimental trial, the materials were marked MQA and MQA Studio for cross-checking the playback rather than indicating provenance.—Bob Stuart

Footnote 3: This recording comes from the same label as another of my longtime favorites, Willie Nelson's Night and Day (DVD-A, Surrounded-By Entertainment SBE-1001-9)—one of my two "Records to Die For" for 2017. Keep an eye out for any of Surrounded-By's DVD-A releases, now long out of print.

Gumbo2000's picture

Niche: Audiophilia
Micro-niche: MQA
Nano-niche: Multichannel MQA

Kal Rubinson's picture

Granted but it's in such obscure niches where one finds the gems. ;-)

Htnut1975's picture

I wasn't sure i understood the problem with room correction DSP and MQA. If the dac converts prior to sending to a processor or sends the unfolded MQA stream digitally to a processor, and suppose the processor is the unit applying room correction, what would be the issue?

Kal Rubinson's picture

But after the DAC, you have analog. So, in order to do any DSP, you would have to redigitize the signals. As a result, yes, you would have MQA but it is probable that any advantage that may be would be negated by any additional analog-to-digital-to-DSP-to-digital machinations.

mcdiamond's picture

All the USB DAC's were synchronized by WCLK in a daisy chain. How did you checked out, that there is no delay between L/R + C/LFE + SL/SR?

Kal Rubinson's picture

I didn't but I imagine that it is the reason for synchronizing the WCLK. If you suspect that there is a problem with this procedure (I have no reason to believe there is), ask Mytek.

FWIW, I erred, once or twice, in setting the CLK for one of the DACs to "Internal" and the sound was not good.

mcdiamond's picture

There is no doubt about the WLCK interconnection, that the DAC are in sync. Normal consumer OS are not able to give out a proper sync.

The question was about a constant shift between the stereo DAC.
E. g. the L/R could be earlier like the C/LFE and SL/SR are somewhere. You won't recognice it so easily, because there will be no extra distortion. Just the soundfield will be somehow different.
Was there any procedure to do?

Kal Rubinson's picture

Understand that point but there is no procedure involved as far as I know. The L/R DAC generates the CLK which is sent to the C/Sub DAC and then relayed to the SL/SR DAC. I doubt that this is a problem considering that the links were very short and any timing differences would be inordinately less than those caused by speaker placement errors on the sub-millimeter level.

Again, if you are concerned about this, ask Mytek as I am not bothered by it.

roeckj's picture

I really appreciated this column on MQA; I plan now to closely follow its commercial development.

I noticed in Manufacturers' Comments in the hard copy of Stereophile in which your column originally appeared that MQA's Bob Stuart observed that it is technically possible to perform EQ and other DSP in MQA, so I'm hoping that when multichannel MQA enabled units are ultimately sold to the public it will integrate DSP.

Multichannel DSD has the same problem. I am particularly concerned with speaker distance adjustments and bass management being only as good as the "fidelity" of the DSD to PCM conversion mechanics. Have you found a way to handle DSP purely in DSD?

Kal Rubinson's picture

I have not found an effective way to do DSP in DSD but I have also not found any significant disadvantage to DSD-to-PCM conversions.

roeckj's picture

I understand the necessity of DSD to PCM conversion when playing a multichannel SACD. But given the large file sizes, isn't more practical to stick to high resolution PCM multichannel downloads in FLAC, given that it is highly likely that the master was in DSD and the PCM conversion has already been made in the mixing process?

P.S. I really enjoy your Stereophile column; it is the first thing I look for when I open my copy of the magazine.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I am not concerned with the file size and I do not see a consistent advantage for PCM or DSD given the wide range of available resolutions.

Generally, I download in the format and resolution in which the recording was made, if that information is available.

Thanks for your comments.

egsp's picture

I have trouble understanding what the resistance to multi-channel is. Its superiority seems so obvious to me--truly glorious when well-implemented! A real advance in recorded music, IMO.

Thank you for your efforts--it seems like MC might disappear without it. I buy many of your recommended recordings, too. The 2L recordings are incredible!

PeterMrozik's picture

I acquired a copy of Reflections based on your review, and I received it yesterday. I noticed that there are a number of versions of the album in different formats, with different resolutions. It looks like the one to focus on is the 5.1 DTS-HD 24/384 copy, but I also wanted to mention that there is a lower resolution copy mastered (encoded? not certain of the appropriate verb here) in ATMOS, which should be fun to compare.
I also found to my delight that you can extract MQA encoded FLAC files, so I now have a great collection of 24/384 MQA titles to listen to on my MQA capable media player.
Interestingly, these are all on a Blu-Ray Audio disc, but they also include a copy on SACD. May I assume that the SACD version will be inferior to the 5.1 DTS-HD version or would I be in error in thinking that?
I'm very much looking forward to listening to this over the weekend. And it all of a sudden occurs to my why I might want full range speaker for my surround channels, since with this recording there is no "front" orientation, you are truly in the center of the action from what I understand.
Thanks for the recommendation. While I tracked down the winner of the Grammy for Surround recording, I also spotted that Dire Straits "Love Over Gold" is also available, one of my very favorite albums, so one of this is UPS'ing it's way to me at this very moment. Have you heard it? What did/do you think of it?


I listened to Reflections several times this weekend, what a wonderful recording! I settled on listening to the 5.1 DTS-HD version for a full listening, but experimented with the Atmos copy too. Overall, I think the Atmos copy did a slightly better job of the surround placement of instruments, but the lower resolution (96k) was a bit of a drawback when compared to the 384k DTS-HD version. I listened to the stereo MQA tracks on my Pioneer PMP and that sounded just outstanding, even on my lesser bedroom system.
There is also a SACD copy - I wonder, are there any advantages that this version may have that the ones on the Blu-Ray do not?

parnelligq's picture

I need a little advice. what are the best usb cables and hub for HIFI to connect a BlueSound vault to a PC and a DROBO? Any help is much appreciated.