Against MQA: Unfolded

"Its too bad she won't live, but then again who does?"

There's still a small war raging against MQA on the interwebs. While I'm not surprised, as there are countless small wars still raging on the interwebs, I thought I'd have some fun with the inherent contradictions raging in any small war on the interwebs. Enjoy!

Here are a few of my favorite arguments against MQA offered up in pairs;

MQA processes on a track-by-track basis
MQA does bulk processing

MQA makes the file size of CD-quality recordings larger
File size does not matter

MQA will never catch on
MQA will be our only choice

MQA should be free
Tidal will have to charge more for MQA

MQA is a format
MQA is not a format

Tidal Masters only unfolds to 24/96 in software
Anything above 24/96 is a waste

"You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on." ― Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Facts
The three major record labels (Universal Music Group, Sony Music and the Warner Music Group) have signed agreements with MQA and Merlin, the global digital rights agency for the independent label sector, has also signed on. Nugs.net, the official home of live music for some of the largest touring artists in the world, is also on board.

Today, Tidal HiFi subscribers have access to MQA-encoded music at no additional cost ($19.99/month). The Tidal app also performs the first MQA "unfold", which means that anyone and everyone gets up to 24-bit/96kHz streaming. . .today.

For MQA titles on Tidal, the non-MQA versions are also available.

There are more streaming services coming that will offer MQA content.

Fictions
The misinformation train left the MQA station when it was first announced, oh so many years ago. I place part of the blame squarely on MQA because they did not offer a simple message (even though it is a complex subject). As time goes on, and MQA has become a reality, many of the people left on the misinformation train are simply misinformed due either to a lack of understanding or blind rage.

Some people are saying that MQA is "lossy" as if this actually means something. I've seen otherwise smart people make the silly comparison, "like MP3". This argument holds as much water as saying an elephant is like a house mouse because both are gray. If you just look at a house mouse and an elephant, you can plainly see that they are not the same. If you just listen to MQA and MP3, you can plainly hear they are not the same.

Some people are basing their understanding of MQA on the original MQA patent application, working under the assumption that today's MQA is identical. They are, in a word, wrong.

Nonsense
"MQA is just a money grab." I've even read, "that is the entire reason to do it—selfish greed." This last quote is from Andreas Koch of Playback Designs (in an article on www.positive-feedback.com), one of the creators of SACD and DSD. Which obviously begs the question—was that his motivation for SACD/DSD?

While I'm certain you can find people to support this nonsense, the real answer is, for MQA as well, of course not. Hunting down people's motivation is the domain of a professional and an engineering degree, or an account on a forum, just don't cut it (I like and respect Andreas Koch, even when he says silly things).

Perhaps the worst-case nonsense scenario are those manufacturers who are, or have been, vehemently anti-MQA who are now, or will soon be, adopting MQA in their products. Why? There are two possible explanations for this behavior:

A. They were wrong.
B. They were right.
If they were wrong about MQA, then they were careless in their anti-MQA stance = unprofessional. If they were right, they are adopting MQA purely for "selfish greed."

"MQA is DRM." The pertinent question here is—what are the practical implications of this claim? To date, I have not heard a rational answer.

"MQA is Meridian." No, it's not. They are separate companies.

My Official MQA Position
Who cares what my official MQA position is? OK, for those that do care, I don't have one. And I don't have one because a) it doesn't matter, and b) it doesn't matter. What I do have is experience. This matters.

And my experience tells me that MQA can make recorded music sound better (see my review of MQA). In some cases much, much better. I've never heard MQA processing make music sound worse.

You may agree, you may disagree. In either case, my experience does not change. You can question my motives, but then you'd just be being silly.

What To Do About MQA
Listen to it. If you like it, continue. If you don't, don't listen to it. Or just ignore it.

Of course, you could spend years of your life waging a small war against MQA on the interwebs but that would be much less productive (and no one lives forever).

COMMENTS
bobflood's picture

MQA will be much more successful if they can convince the music production world to adopt better (read non-loudness wars) mastering in conjunction with MQA processing. I have listened to quite a few of the MQA albums on Tidal(desktop app doing the first unfold) and those that have mastering with some dynamic range and less distortion from pushing the loudness up to near constant 0dbfs really benefit the most.The others, well not so much. Also, there have been quite a few albums given the MQA treatment that really can't benefit much as the master used is in a word, terrible.

The greatest benefit will be with new production music going forward if the industry can realize the benefits of MQA and act accordingly.

JIMIXY's picture

Andreas Koch says it all in the piece referred to here over at Positive Feedback, the writers of Positive Feedback, including the editor, are strong advocates of Direct Stream Digital. I encourage all audio enthusiasts to read this article in full, then go listen to DSD and MQA back to back.

http://positive-feedback.com/audio-discourse/questions-answers-mqa-inter...

foxhall's picture

DSD is tough to beat. It's amazing but SO niche at this point.

philipjohnwright's picture

By buying content again.

As opposed to streaming it over t'internet. For free as a Tidal subscriber.

I haven't tried DSD yet, I doubt any potential sound quality benefit would persuade me to spend thousands on new content when the alternative is free. Actually that's not true, I KNOW I wouldn't
And MQA may be better anyway (I'm open on that one).

JIMIXY's picture

Tidal Subscription isn't free, point 1

Point 2, if you haven't tried DSD, how can you assert MQA may be better anyway?

Point 3, you can always illegally download the DSD content if you don't want to pay for it

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Your first point misses the OP's point. Here is what he said (my emphasis):
"For free as a Tidal subscriber."
Point 2 - DSD and MQA are not comparable in the way you suggest for any number of reasons the least of which being MQA can, and is being, applied to existing recordings.

Point 3 - not worth responding to.

JIMIXY's picture

Provocative reply but ok,

Point 1 - It is simply not 'for free', MQA is a benefit people can receive from paying for a Tidal subscription service, this is clear and uncontroversial.

Point 2 - Ridiculous point, there are files where the sound quality of MQA can be directly compared with similar DSD files, the Doors remasters being one example that springs to mind.
Where readers do this they find DSD easily beats MQA, this remains true regardless of how much marketing jargon the industry throw at audio enthusiasts.

Point 3 - This point remains true and relevant to the thread, regardless of your individual, ethical viewpoint, and DSD DACs are currently more common than MQA DACs at this point, https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1rHcXP7PExksxZfkif3Rv2CT1Y_ESpNSv....

Extra Point - To deride the insights of Andreas Koch, when he has created masterpieces like this, is somewhat foolish
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRLSCHujdes

Michael Lavorgna's picture
This is a personal thing for you.

What I meant to say is that MQA is being applied to existing recordings from all of the major labels and many of the independent labels. In other words, there will be a lot of MQA content. This is not the case with DSD. btw - I was a very vocal proponent of DSD and continue to enjoy the DSD recordings I own.

The point you appear to miss is that people who already have a Tidal HiFi account, like me, got MQA at no additional cost. Some people, like me, call that free. But let's not quibble over nothings. The real point here is that there are over 30,000 MQA tracks from the Warner catalog being released on Tidal and more to come. For $19.99/month which also gives you access to millions of CD-quality albums.

As far as Andreas goes, I did not deride his anything. I pointed out that he pretended to know Bob Stuart's motivation. The funny thing is, you have not objected to that.

In terms of sound quality comparisons between MQA and DSD, to each his/her own. The thing is, this is not a choice anyone needs choose between. You can have one, the other, both, or neither. The real question is - does MQA improve sound quality? Again, to each his/her own. I've reported my feelings on this subject in my review, as have others.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...that some people, like Ayre's Charley Hansen, felt that DSD was a money grab, "You have to remember that the only reason that DSD even exists is that the patents for CD were expiring. This used to amount to a $1 billion per year royalty stream for Sony and Philips, and they did not want to lose this income."

Q&A with Charles Hansen

JIMIXY's picture

Fair enough, but remember Andreas isn't alone in his conclusions on MQA in Positive Feedback (http://positive-feedback.com/audio-discourse/questions-answers-mqa-inter...),
for instance here's what Paul from PS Audio thought - http://www.psaudio.com/pauls-posts/mqa-thoughts/.
Equally here's the guys from Schiit Audio - http://schiit.com/news/news/why-we-wont-be-supporting-mqa
and Linn - https://www.linn.co.uk/blog/mqa-is-bad-for-music

Michael Lavorgna's picture
As I've posted about them. I also know that PS Audio is coming out with MQA-enabled products, so they've had a change of heart. Word has it that Ayre is too.
JIMIXY's picture

but have you covered this one - http://6moons.com/industryfeatures/mqa/1.html

"...Based on our listening tests, MQA can do well for cheaper converters. As converter quality increases, the need for MQA becomes less to eventually disappear...Based on the above and similar reluctance to support the format elsewhere, MQA at this stage does not appear to be a good thing for the small boutique firms which make up the core of our sector."

You are also right PS Audio are adding MQA rendering (not full decoding) to their products but questions remain.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...if I've covered MQA the way 6moons covered MQA? The obvious answer is no. I've covered MQA fairly thoroughly right here.

This conversation is going nowhere, fast. You are making your point, at least what I *think* is your point, in a very roundabout manner. If you a *question* for me about my position that remains unclear after reading what I've written, just ask.

If, on the other hand, you want me *change* my position for what ever reason *you* think makes sense, that ain't gonna happen.

JIMIXY's picture

I never actually asked you a question if you look back - actually you responded to one of my comments, which was a response to someone else's comments on here.

My points are clear but am happy to summarise,

- 6moons, Positive Feedback, Andreas Koch, DSD innovator and co-founder of Payback Designs, the guys from Schiit Audio, people at Linn, people at HighResAudio.com and guy at Archimago Musings have all expressed strong reservations about MQA. This is notable.

- DSD beats MQA in listening tests

- Andreas Koch is an audio expert and someone who deserves our respect.

- Tidal isn't free, with or without MQA

- MQA might very well be a 'money grab'

Michael Lavorgna's picture
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Michael Lavorgna's picture
- Lots of people do not have strong reservations about MQA.

- This is not a meaningful statement since there is no indication of the "test" environment, the number of participants, etc. It appears to be a rumor. Besides, a comparison of DSD and MQA ignores the fact that DSD is a limited format in terms of content whereas MQA is not. And MQA's real value is delivered through streaming, imo.

- The same can be said for Bob Stuart. But I do not agree with you in that no one has the right to speak to someone's motives when they are just guessing. That is unprofessional.

- No one said Tidal is free. As I said, Tidal HiFi is $19.99/month which gets you CD-quality streaming of millions of albums and remains $19.99/month now that MQA/Hi-Res streaming has been added to the service.

- And you might very well be a unicorn.

PeterMusic's picture

Thanks for the great piece, I agree wholeheartedly. Like virtually everybody on this forum, I have a "lifetime supply" of non-MQA music. Like virtually all of the posters who have heard MQA tracks, I thought the small number I heard sounded terrific.

The thing that irks me about many of the MQA naysayers is the apparent mean spiritedness of those who sound like they want MQA to fail. Neil Young drew similar jeers for trying to launch Pono. It reminds me of Gavin Belson, the evil corporate titan from HBO's Silicon Valley, when he says "I don't know about you people, but I don't want to live in a world where someone else is making the world a better place than we do."

We should all hope for successful innovations in sound quality. If we're lucky, we'll feel "forced" to pay for them.

foxhall's picture

Some MQA content on TIDAL I've heard is remarkable but MQA doesn't make an album void of dynamic range sound any better to my ears. Still fatiguing and annoying.

Wouldn't Apple and Spotify need to adopt MQA for it to be truly relevant?

texanalog's picture

"What To Do About MQA
Listen to it. If you like it, continue. If you don't, don't listen to it. Or just ignore it."

Your blog post should have just been titled "What To Do About MQA" followed by the section titled "Facts" and your above 4 short sentence​s.

Despite the constant negative press covfefe, I see no reason to continue to stir the MQA pot.

Of course, you could spend years of your life continuing to stir the MQA pot on the interwebs but that would be much less productive (and no one lives forever).

Replicant - More human than human. MQA - more original than original.

Yuri Korzunov's picture

As far as I know, MQA not only compression format. There considered full music production - distribution - playback workflow. The workflow beging from ADC (Mytek Brooklyn ADC as example).

However, many music production workflows demands editing of recorded audio stuff.

And we get question, how to edit compressed, as I suppose, stuff, that output from ADC?

bubblewrap's picture

"Perhaps the worst-case nonsense scenario are those manufacturers who are, or have been, vehemently anti-MQA who are now, or will soon be, adopting MQA in their products. Why? There are two possible explanations for this behavior:

A. They were wrong.
B. They were right.

If they were wrong about MQA, then they were careless in their anti-MQA stance = unprofessional. If they were right, they are adopting MQA purely for "selfish greed."

Regardless of everything else, I feel duty bound to point out that I think you know that this is not a fair characterisation. A business that relied on VCRs in the 1970s could have been perfectly sincere in "vehemently" arguing that Betamax was technically superior to VHS, but would have had to use VHS not because of selfish greed, but because the rest of the industry was more technically ignorant and less discerning.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...and orangutans.

MQA is an option: Any DAC can play an MQA-encoded file without MQA so there's no need to add it to a DAC if one feels it's not a benefit.

j. phelan's picture

A few questions:

Are there any good (technical) reasons to support MQA ? Esp. in an era of 24-bit recording.

Have there been any (honest) comparisons with CD ?

Has any hi-rez format sounded better (overall) than CD ? (throw out new masterings, which can throw off comparisons).

What was Meridian's goal here ?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...have been answered, at length, by MQA and others. We have covered MQA as has Stereophile (and many others). Google is your friend.

Re. comparisons, there are also many available online including my review of MQA which is linked to in this article.

Perhaps you missed this:

"MQA is Meridian." No, it's not. They are separate companies.
Bromo33333's picture

The thing that characterizes most online audio debates is that they tend to be ignorance based, and always take time away from the important pursuit of music appreciation.

I will happily enjoy MQA if it brings streaming to a higher level. It's an interesting, clever development. Should be fun!

Timcognito's picture

Is a beautiful new baby technology that makes music better sounding and vastly reduces file size, although its evolving at a very slow rate. Bottom line, what music lover wouldn’t want it and I will reinforce what Michael said above about the naysayers being able to ignore it. Now let’s talk about the bathwater.

I must be on the internet to get it, now.

I can’t download it and put it on my phone or hard drive, yet.
I can’t convert my existing CD quality music with a home software or hardware end to end converter yet, even if it’s not “authenticated” (designers of MQA admit it enhances any music digital file and reduces file size. Also, most of the MQA codecs to do so will be generated after it’s done for the recording companies and could made available on the internet, charging for luxury)

Why are big stake holders being coy about whether they are trying to convert the music supply from a user ownership to a leasing model by suppling the best sounding, MQA, stuff through streaming only (my first three observations make it seem to me like they would like to and they are giving to us at no extra charge, on Tidal anyway)

It's not clear how the musical artist benefits from it.

That said, the streaming thing is a great innovation especially if the music creators are getting paid. I want MQA but want it to be less vertically integrated. I plan to get it when titles become plentiful. Why are MQA stakeholder’s reluctant to address the user storage and pre-owned music market with downloads and converters? Good or bad, evolution is not goal directed, things change and one must live with whatever happens, even if you don’t like it. You can say that about global warming, electric cars, MQA adoption or any other change you don’t control.

For those agitated about the MQA topic, listen to a whole album by Rachel’s for free to calm down. I just did. Not sure of the of the recorded quality only the musical quality. Plan to buy it and own it and hope they make something on my purchase. Thank you Joe Sundra and Michael Lavorgna for bringing it to my attention.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NFgtBxU7iU

24bitbob's picture

I know you're a strong advocate of the maxim that numbers don't matter when listening to music, but I was interested when you mentioned 'unfolding', and then 'everybody gets up to 24bits 96khz straight away'. I've seen that inference in other articles too.

That kind of infers that MQA is like a form of compression, which I didn't think it was. I thought it was kind of a means of retrieving more data (music??) from within the parameters already established, i.e. within a 16/44.1 bucket? I mean MQA isn't HD is it?

Not that it matters. If it tickles your musical pallet then it has succeeded. MQA clearly does a lot of tickling.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Specifically this part
That kind of infers that MQA is like a form of compression, which I didn't think it was. I thought it was kind of a means of retrieving more data (music??) from within the parameters already established, i.e. within a 16/44.1 bucket? I mean MQA isn't HD is it?
MQA reduces the file size of high-res content for transport. Is this what you mean by "compression"?

MQA does not retrieve more data, rather it corrects for anomalies introduced by the A/D and D/A process, according to the company.

" I mean MQA isn't HD is it?" By "HD", do you mean High-Res? Or something else? If you mean to ask, Does MQA deliver high-res content, the answer is Yes.

agb's picture

Once a signal is encoded, or folded as they like to say, it can be unfolded or played back folded. It cannot be played back un-encoded. The problem is that it was encoded permanently. Accordingly, it cannot be played back in its original form - forever. It's a locked in system that alters the recording permanently. At least that's how I understand it. I don't know what the implications are, but there will be some, and we should not conclude that they will be insignificant.

Our recordings are a treasure, and history. Once we distort, fold, process, the record or the history, it cannot be recovered intact. Unless of course, there's a mechanism to do just that. At this time I don't see evidence of doing so.

jhanken's picture

OK, any device that can play Red Book CD will get the same data as before (i.e. for many audionphiles, all that is necessary or valuable), and all of the "compressed" augmented data exists well below the sound floor and is ignored from a statistically significant and aesthetically compelling standpoint. That compressed data contains pretty much only the harmonics over the generally regarded human hearing threshold are at stake. Plus the apodizing filters help sound be realized chronologically consistently. No need to fear MQA, bottom line.

agb's picture

Once encoded, it cannot be played back un-encoded. That's the point.

That point does not change with the passage of time.

In other words, future improvements are permanently blocked.

It may sound better today.

Tomorrow is up for grabs by another technology that will hopefully not be encoded.

CraigS's picture

Hi Michael,
I know that your musical tastes probably don't include the Boss, but I noticed this morning that he is offering (at least some) of his concert downloads in MQA. Thought you'd like the data point.
http://live.brucespringsteen.net (see, e.g., 11/22/2009 show)
I dont have an MQA enabled DAC yet (I do like the Tidal MQA), so I'm just getting the 24/48 files today.
Keep up the good work.
Craig

CraigS's picture

I'll by the MQA (same price) and have my cake and eat it too should I ever get an MQA DAC.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...more than 10 times. My wife is a huuuge fan, from the Stone Pony days, and so am I!

Thanks for the heads up.

Guess who's playing?

;-)

CraigS's picture

my guess is Bruuuuuuuuuuce :)

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