How Much MQA Is Enough?

Brazilian Record Collector Zero Freitas owns a couple million records

One common, and to my mind, valid question regarding MQA is Where's the music? So here's my question—How much is enough?

How much MQA-encoded music needs to be available to get you interested in buying an MQA-enabled DAC? And are you more interested in buying MQA downloads or in MQA streaming?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Warner Music Group's labels (relevance)


1. Assuming of course the MQA process makes music sound better (in my experience, it does)?

COMMENTS
solarophile's picture

Suppose even if quite a bit of the albums under the labels are converted to MQA, don't we also have to consider at what quality the conversions are being done?

If it's just running a 24-bit 96kHz file through the converter is all there is to it, then in what way is the music improved? I thought a proper MQA conversion needed input to the encoder about what ADC and other equipment was used in the studio so the timing can be cleaned up knowing the characteristic of the equipment? What's the chance of the label doing this with each album as I imagine there would be substantial costs and time needed to get this done right?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The MQA process -- necessarily -- includes 'de-blurring'. This is the reason for the word "Authenticated" and arguably also "Master Quality".
Anton's picture

I bought a Meridian Explorer 2 and am sitting and waiting for Tidal to hook me up with MQA!

streamerbill's picture

Using the Windows 7 or 10 Explorer2 drivers, you must open the Advanced tab in the Sound Control Panel to change the bit/sample rate to match that of the file in order to get end to end authentication. For example, the mqa files (flacs) for recordings that originated as DSD masters on the 2L site are 24/44.1. Non-DSD high-rez masters on 2L become 24/48 flacs. Bluesound handles that bit/sample rate conversion automatically. No user intervention required. Since you can only use the Explorer2 with a computer, Meridian needs to address this issue. It's very inconvenient, and I don't believe it is all that obvious from instructions that state, "select the desired bit/sample rate," as many more selections (such as 24/96) are available in the control panel. The manual selection process also appears to be the case with the Mac OS.

CLeeds's picture

Just what audio needs - another format! First, DSD was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. Now it's MQA. Next week, it will likely be something else. In the absence of some sort of standardization, it's just another expensive rabbit hole to climb into, imo.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...is you can simply ignore it. While that was also the case for DSD, the difference with MQA is its applicability for streaming. Since you can play back MQA-encoded music on any DAC, you can simply ignore it.
CLeeds's picture

Exactly - MQA can simply be ignored. Now, consider audio history and previous new format launches that were successful. The LP record, VHS tape, the Compact Disc (like it or not), the mp3 and the iPod. None of those formats could be "simply ignored." They demanded attention. That's part of why they were hits. Trying to sell hi-res to the masses is a tough sell as it is - introducing multiple hi-res options isn't likely to work long-term. MQA works with streaming? Big deal. Many listeners who stream don't care about hi-res. That's why they're streaming in the first place.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...every Tidal HiFi subscriber will, as I understand it, simply get MQA-encoded music when Tidal flips the switch. We know WMG has signed on, and we know that MQA is working on deals with the other major labels. The point is, MQA is happening, like it or not.

For the audiophile world, everyone I know who has heard MQA has said it sounds better. I don't know [m]any audiophiles who can ignore that ;-)

EternalSounds's picture

Flip My Switch...TIDAL. ;)

Lumo's picture

Had an Explorer 1 - nice. ifi Micro iDSD - nicer. Mytek Brooklyn - outstanding. With DSD x128 via Roon/HQ Player I’m not exactly waiting for MQA, but hey: streaming music on that quality level and not needing an extra 120% CPU Power (Audirvana needs up to 250% on a Mac upsampling to DSD, b.t.w.) I’ll sure give it a try. Tidal, I'm waiting!

JoeWhip's picture

Zero interest in rebuying my music yet again. No more. I will wait out the whole MQA issue for a couple of years and see where were are then. If I am not mistaken, MQA was announced at CES 2015 and where are we really 18 months later? I can wait.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...being tied to streaming/Tidal. I have no interest in the re-buy either and the world at large is losing interest in buying downloads.
tonyd's picture

I've lost count of the number of audio next-big-things I've seen come & rapidly go in the last four decades. I'm content to watch developments, and enjoy the unprecedented range of music sources I already have.

germay0653's picture

Fix the problem at the source, within the recording process so you don't have to fix it on the back end. Yes, it's an idealists view and it has to be cost effective so the recording industry adopts it but everything else is just a band aid.

I'll take the band aid, for now, if it works.

NeilS's picture

Don't care about MQA. What I'd really like is better mastered music that doesn't have the dynamic range crushed, not a new lossy proprietary hardware-based format.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...that's a technical quibble as far as I'm concerned. No one, as far as I know, has come forward to show that their definition of "lossy" makes a bit of difference in terms of sound quality as it relates to MQA. My point being, saying MQA is lossy isn't saying much, imo.

The real issue for anything to do with audio is -- how does it sound?

NeilS's picture

Personally, it doesn't matter to me how close powdered eggs taste like whole eggs. The fact that MQA is lossy makes a difference in quality to me. I just don't have any interest in buying lossy music, that MQA is also proprietary and hardware based just reinforces that disinterest.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...as it relates to MQA and sound quality?

Have you heard it? If you have, you'll know that it doesn't sound like powdered eggs ;-)

NeilS's picture

The main issue for me as a music consumer is dynamic range crushing mastering, not to MQA or not to MQA.As for MQA and, nope, I haven't heard it.

Like I said, I'm really not interested in paying for lossy music, or in listening to it if there is lossless available. When I'm paying for a dozen eggs, I'd like there to be 12 in the carton :).

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...with MQA, you're getting a bakers dozen, or so my listening tells me.

See Inside MQA on Stereophile for more on "lossy" not being lossy.

NeilS's picture

"...There is no such thing as a free lunch, of course, and the tradeoff is that a decoded MQA recording is basically limited to an effective resolution of less than 24 bits..."

http://www.stereophile.com/content/inside-mqa

Anyways, I understand your perspective - you are saying it sounds better to you and you're certainly the best judge of your own experience. However, on principle MQA is DOA for me simply because it's lossy.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"This is very much a preliminary report, but it suggests that the "audio origami" aspect of MQA does work as advertised, folding super-baseband content under the recording's analog noise floor to achieve a dramatic reduction in file size/streaming bandwidth. There is no such thing as a free lunch, of course, and the tradeoff is that a decoded MQA recording is basically limited to an effective resolution of less than 24 bits. But D/A converters offering 19 bits' worth of resolution or more are rare, in my experience, and what might be at most a loss of theoretical resolution may well be outweighed by MQA's time-domain correction. And that brings us back to listening."
So again, saying MQA is "lossy" doesn't mean anything, in reality.
NeilS's picture

Saying MQA is lossy (with or without quotes) means something in my reality because as I understand it, MQA can't reproduce the entire spectrum above 22Khz, and that means something has really been lost. Whether or not we can actually hear it is a different issue, just as for whether or not I can actually tell the difference between most 320kps Mp3s and Red Book flac doesn't mean that I have the least bit of interest in paying for a 320 kps Mp3 or listening to it if a corresponding flac is available.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...what are the sonic implications? Since you cannot speak to the issue of how "lossy" relates to MQA, you are saying that you interpret "lossy" in MQA to be similar to lossy in MP3s.

I'm not trying to give you a hard time, I'm just trying to make sure we're not sticking the wrong badge on MQA based on too little information. After all, the people who have heard MQA end-to-end, which includes recording engineers listening to their own music, have said that the MQA process offers an improvement.

NeilS's picture

I know you're not trying to give me a hard time. I just think we're making different arguments - yours as I understand it is that MQA being lossy doesn't matter in practical terms, mine is that it matters to me because it's not lossless. Parallel lines of argument that don't appear to meet. :)

As for any putative sonic improvement, I can't comment on that because I haven't heard MQA, but if I could use a non-egg metaphor, I'm kind of intuitively leery about prints being better versions of the original painting.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
What if the original painting is blurry?

;-)

Cheers.

NeilS's picture

Well, to torture the metaphor, seems to me that if you hear someone suddenly telling you that a painting you've been enjoying for years is blurry, then the problem is likely with the viewer's vision, not with the painting, and that the solution would be for them to make an appointment with the optometrist, rather than telling you that they're going to paint over the original!

I think the elephant is excessive dynamic compression in mastering, not blurring, assuming that really is a problem in need of a solution.

Cheers

Michael Lavorgna's picture
You do know that fresco's and paintings are in need of a good cleaning now and again -- to peer through the metaphor and layers of lacquer.
NeilS's picture

Unlike frescos and paintings that get dusty and dirty, digitally encoded media doesn't. And even when a fresco is cleaned, no one presumes to tell Raphael that his fresco was blurry or that they can improve on his masterpiece. ;)

Michael Lavorgna's picture
What you have not addressed is how "lossy" applies to MQA and, since you have not heard it, you cannot speak to its strengths. While the Sistine Chapel ceiling was cleaned, no one told Michaelangelo his fresco was dull because he is dead. And it was dull. But if you'd never seen it, you could certainly argue the merits of the un-cleaned version.

This whole "solution in search of a problem" trope is presumptuous for those speaking from a position of...guessing.

All that being said, since neither of us is in a position to anoint or condemn MQA, I'm ready to call this discussion a day ;-)

NeilS's picture

I'm a consumer, not a sound engineer. I've made a distinction between what I like (i.e., I don't like to pay for lossy music, and I would rather listen to lossless than lossy) and what I know or don't know (i.e. how "lossy" applies to the sonic properties of MQA).

I don't think the ad hominem was called for, but I've enjoyed the rest of the conversation. Let's agree to disagree without being disagreeable and call it a night.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Let's keep in mind the fact that you are discounting my and every other person's experience of listening to MQA including people who have listened to their own recordings pre- and post- MQA.

You may see that as no big deal but since I do this for a living, I'd suggest, ever so kindly, that being dismissive based on a concept can be viewed as being less than kind.

NeilS's picture

I actually said nothing of the sort. I've only said that I'm not interested in MQA because it is lossy. With respect to your MQA listening experience what I said was "Anyways, I understand your perspective - you are saying it sounds better to you and you're certainly the best judge of your own experience. However, on principle MQA is DOA for me simply because it's lossy."

I think we've hit the end of the road on this conversation.

Cheers

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Cool by me. Global warming is DOA for me simply because I'm cold ;-)
ayampols's picture

Quote: How about this - when the final album is available, and that album is 24/48 or whatever, I see no reason why I should be handed anything else.

Quote: No one, as far as I know, has come forward to show that their definition of "lossy" makes a bit of difference in terms of sound quality as it relates to MQA. My point being, saying MQA is lossy isn't saying much, imo.

So for you, personally, high quality downloads must be 24/48 unless it's MQA?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
> So for you, personally, high quality downloads must be 24/48 unless it's MQA?

Nope. I've never said anything like that. Ever.

ayampols's picture

I am sorry that you took my question to be something that you felt required a defense of your published writing. I have no beef with anything you've ever said. I was just looking for a clarification.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
You took two quotes, out of context, and tried to create a narrative about my position on "high quality downloads" that directly contradicts everything I've ever written. For example, if you take a look at the weekly Download of the Week, you'll see mainly 16/44.1 recordings.

If you want to read more about my position on Hi-Res, I'd recommend starting with "Is High-Resolution Music Dead?".

ayampols's picture

> tried to create a narrative

OK I understand you better now.

bigasherm's picture

MQA is not going to solve the content availability issue for me. The Americana/Acoustic/Folk music that I like to listen to is just not available in anything above CD quality recordings. (I am not an LP guy anymore) Neither is much of the Jazz/Fusion music that I like. I do have some classic jazz music in Hirez format, but I'm not going to re-buy a big chunk of my music.

I can't see buying a new MQA compatible DAC to listen to music through Tidal either since the Amarra for Tidal player sounds fantastic through my iMac and DAC.

The only thing that would get me off the fence would be more high res music availability.

Hi-Reality's picture

Hi Michael,

I know I am repeating myself but outside its music application MQA has a tremendous potential for Telepresence, VR and AR use cases simply because it can deliver hi-res sound experience using low bandwidth.

Based on this, the MQA team now needs to grow and diversify the encoder/ADC part of the equation; broaden the MQA use case.

Regards, Babak
Hi-Reality Project

PS. I look very much forward to see you at T.H.E. SHOW Newport.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I won't be attending the Newport show. RMAF?
solarophile's picture

Remember, MQA doesn't really compress the audio that much! For VR applications, why bother with yet another layer of decoding? It's just not going to fly because doubtful it'll make much difference in these applications.

rt66indierock's picture

I would need a pool of about 200 artists to have all their new stuff go through the MQA processes to get me interested in an MQA DAC.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
For answering the question.

Cheers.

VK's picture

-"How much MQA-encoded music needs to be available to get you interested in buying an MQA-enabled DAC?"
Basically everything. I hate not being allowed to buy some music because it is not available in the format i need/want.

-"And are you more interested in buying MQA downloads or in MQA streaming?"
At the moment none of it.

Of course, assuming MQA sounds WAY, WAY BETTER than regular PCM. If it is like a VHS to DVD difference, then i'll buy it!

Best regards!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
-- Steven Wright

I haven't seen anyone use all caps to describe the differences they've heard between MQA and PCM so that may be that, for you ;-)

soundman45's picture

Michael: I was just wondering if the AES has chimed in on this format yet?
Usually if they get involved the format is vetted and for real as an accepted lossless format.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...beyond publishing the MQA paper, "A Hierarchical Approach to Archiving and Distribution"

I'm not sure I understand this focus on lossy versus lossless when it comes to MQA since no one, at least to my knowledge, has offered a technical argument as to how the MQA process will negatively affect sound quality.

I realize that, at present, it is difficult to hear MQA end-to-end so we're stuck analyzing its technical merits. I would suggest that in so doing, we try to steer clear of trying to equate MQA with MP3 in terms of applying the "lossy" tag.

whell's picture

...the answer for me is probably thousands, as in MQA becomes the defacto industry standard.

Given your findings, it seems that for now the best bang for the buck would be to purchase HQ Player. Using software settings, I might be able to approximate the sonic benefits of MQA without buying new hardware and without repurchasing the music I own with MQA encoding.

If that's the case, I'd probably wait until there's a large and growing collection of new music encoded with MQA before I'd see the cost / benefit of buying new hardware play back MQA encoded music files.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
To re-state my position, MQA, when delivered via Tidal HiFi, is crucial to MQA's relevance.

For all of the music I own, buying a better DAC and/or using HQPlayer will deliver the most bang for my buck.

ednaz's picture

Again, a reference that suggests HQPlayer is audibly different than the other stuff. (Like JRiver.) It took me several years to get my wife zeroed in on and comfortable using JRiver and JPlay versus stuffing CDs into players. How big is the difference in user interface between JRiver and HQPlayer? How big is the performance difference?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...HQPlayer/Roon/Tidal is the winning combo. I'd skip HQPlayer's interface except for initial setup and let Roon run things.

The difference between the JRiver and the Roon interface is akin to the difference between post-it notes and a touch screen, ime.

Performance-wise, there are many variables to take into account, but Roon/HQPlayer is the winning combo for me.

CraigS's picture

"HQPlayer/Roon/Tidal is the winning combo" - And a great topic for a future article. All run on your Intel NUC?

gefski's picture

SInce I'm thrilled with redbook via Yggy, and am now streaming Tidal, no big hurry.

If MQA sounds great, and xxx,xxx titles become available, I can just buy an Explorer.

jk8860's picture

Michael, since the main thrust of MQA seems to be streaming my answer is 0! I am in an area that the telecoms deem not worthy of high speed internet service and have to resort to satellite internet, a poor substitute. I don't anticipate interest beyond my 'desert island' recordings, a number of around 200, but I will not be repurchasing those. I divide my music into two groups: background and sit-down, serious listening. Background music doesn't have to be highest quality, that would be a waste in my book. I guess I am in the catch-22 position: not interested in repurchasing, not able to stream!

ktracho's picture

I guess I'm a hermit, but I haven't bought a DAC in over 10 years. My next DAC will be able to decode MQA, no matter how much MQA-encoded music is available. After all the time I've waited, the last thing I want to do is buy a DAC that becomes instantly obsolete.

Fetuso's picture

i just bought a new DAC a year ago, built into my Peachtree Nova 125se. MQA would have to prove itself far superior to get me to make a change. Besides, I'm one of those old fashioned types that likes to put in a cd or lp and listen from end to end.

audiofool's picture

I believe some features of MQA will survive because they occur at source, require only a 1 time code implementation and have immediate benefit for users. however I am skeptical that full MQA support is a good thing if it requires MQA code updates whenever a manufacturer adds a new DAC solution.

As to lossy, I refused to own a CD player until HDCD came in market and I doubt anyone is aware of what HDCD recordings they have... it shoed its worth in upscale players and the bit robbing it did had little impact for players without HDCD capability. I don't see MQA as any different

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Is that like being kind of pregnant?

;-0

tulysses's picture

Bringing up HDCD is one of the best comments I've heard when trying to compare the concept of MQA to something that was already brought to market. Not really talking about their comparative sound quality improvements or relative merits, but a similar idea in improving digital sound. Personally, I haven't heard MQA and therefore have no interest at the moment. There is something about Meridian's MQA approach/promotion that, for no reason I can concretely name, gives me pause. So to answer Michael's question, at the moment, even if everything was MQA, wouldn't matter without auditioning and understanding more about it.

ednaz's picture

I was very pleased with my discipline when HD content became widely available. I listened to some 24/96 files back to back with 16/44, both files that had been remastered, and files that hadn't. When I realized I could definitely hear a difference for HD (and it was good) even with my older DACs (Logitech Transporter, Logitech Touch, Peachtree DACiT) I decided to re-buy any music that I listened to and loved, particularly if it was re-mastered. When I got a better DAC for my main system, it shifted the thought process. It made 16/44 sound excellent - still distinguishable from lower and higher res, and then I could definitely tell the 24/192 quality. (Also DXD and DSD but since I didn't have those before, not a comparative decision.) My new rule was, remastered, good. If I owned it 16/44, not remastered, no new buy.

That sets up my decision on MQA. The current 24/96 and higher resolution files are so realistic with my main DAC that it's hard to imagine "better." For recordings done in venues I've played, I can tell you where on the stage or studio different performers are standing. Some files, my dogs go berserk because they're convinced someone is in the house without their permission, and I know their hearing beats mine.

How am I going to "audition" MQA? If it's on a DAC that's not as capable as the main system, since my main DAC isn't going to have MQA capability, will I be making a decision based on bad data? This is tough. I love my music - it's my drug of choice - and I'll pay up gladly if I can get a "better high" from MQA. How big is the improvement? And how will I know for sure other than to buy a new (pretty high end) DAC that's MQA capable... which on the surface feels like a bad way to spend hard earned money?

The bar for MQA is so much higher than the bar for higher res files, because higher res put the bar up to Olympic high jumper levels. Given my less than perfect listening environment (since I can't justify a perfect environment because it's my job) now there's a mud pit in front of the take off zone. Really, hard to imagine clearing that bar.

fritzg's picture

I see where one can buy MQA DACs. Where can one buy MQA downloads in the US?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Or any of the other multitude of posts on MQA here and elsewhere? MQA is certainly not "Vaporware" since it exists.

That being said, the point of this post was to ask the question, "How much MQA-encoded music needs to be available to get you interested in buying an MQA-enabled DAC?" I was looking for a number.

fritzg's picture

I know my comment title was snark, but so far I see nothing to buy. Been 2L and 7digital and can't find anything to purchase. I own nearly 35,000 tracks. Surely a few of them are for sale in the MQA format somewhere. Can you point me to where I can buy songs like the one Darko cited in his review so I can listen and decide myself what it sounds like compared to what I already own?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I'm asking *you* to tell *me* "How much MQA-encoded music needs to be available to get you interested in buying an MQA-enabled DAC?"

Is that not clear?

fritzg's picture

It is hard to answer since so far nothing is for sale. Not gonna buy a MQA-enabled DAC with NOTHING to play on it. So the answer is they need to start selling music now. It costs them nothing to "turn the switch". Until they do, there is no reason to buy any hardware. And until they start actually selling popular music, I won't be buying any hardware and will consider MQA music to be as real as the mythical snipe.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'm not really interested in buying MQA downloads since I'm mainly interested in buying new music. But...The idea that Tidal will stream MQA content including high-res, as far as I know at no additional cost over the current HiFi price, coupled with my experience that MQA simply sounds better, means that I'll have access to however many MQA-encoded albums Tidal rolls out for no additional cost. If I want to dive into MQA decoded, I can buy an MQA-enabled DAC. Or not.
JoeWhip's picture

Some MQA downloads available on highresaudio.com.

ncmusicguy's picture

For a handful of reasons, I won't be participating in the MQA revolution.
Primary reasons being:
not interested in re-purchasing music

not interested in streaming in my primary system (I stream through desktop speakers while working)

not interested in re-purchasing MQA-enabled music in 2-4 years when the next technology flavor du jour appears, which I believe will happen, just as redbook files begat 24/96 which begat 24/192 which begat DSD, which begat double DSD which begat quad DSD

I was heartened to read the responses by Schitt Audio and PS Audio. I hope all equipment manufacturers take a hard look at this. Over the past few years I've read comments from a few DAC manufacturers who stated they had no interest in including DSD in their products, but felt compelled to do so. I would prefer to see manufacturers work to improve their basic DAC performance. My next DAC will likely be one based on something other than a generic off-the-shelf chip.

I haven't heard MQA, so my decision isn't based on sound quality. It is simply based on my listening preferences, budget, and refusal to continue participating in equipment upgrades to keep pace with incremental improvements (or not in some cases).

I'm trying hard not to be cynical about this, but the statement by Schitt Audio was sobering; something to the effect that Bob Stuart would exert control across the entire industry end-to-end. I don't begrudge people making money, and I've owned Meridian equipment, so I have no grudge. I've read some of his writing and he is clearly a very bright person who is passionate about sound and music. It just doesn't feel like a good situation to me to have a closed, proprietary technology influencing everything.

Cheers!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Control seems to be an ingredient of MQA, which is something I pointed out in my review. The glitch in this conceptual widget is tri-headed: some DAC manufacturers did not want to support DSD but they ended up supporting DSD; MQA may very well sound better; and MQA is bigger than DSD or anything else we've seen in digital audio in years.
PAR's picture

Unlike mnay of your correspondents I have actually heard MQA albeit in its early days around the time of its launch last year. What I heard, whilst limited in scope, was very encouraging. So I don't need a lot of convincing that MQA may be a good thing.

Neverthless I am unlikely to consider buying any new hardware unless MQA becomes well enough established to be the norm. I have seen experimental formats come and go and true success depends upon universal adoption by the software suppliers for all of their releases. MQA's announcements that certain record companies "support" the format doesn't amount to much. Think of multi channel vinyl formats from the 1970s or the attempt to introduce noise reduced LPs. All the record company support amounted to was a trial release of a handful of titles to test the water. Knowing record companies I doubt that their current plans extend much beyond this.

So, ask me again in 2018 or 19 - if by then it will be at all necessary.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
How much. What number do you attach to "well enough established"?
PAR's picture

.. well enough established means adopted universally by all record companies and where all of their releases are MQA encoded - in my home territory of the UK. So the number would be , er, how many album titles are released monthly across all genres? let's say < 1,000 including re-releases of back catalogue. Then give it a year or so for it to be clearly consistent. So say 12,000 albums. NB: I doubt if I would consider re -buying much in the way of titles that I already own. The latter is a policy that I have followed ever since there were other formats to vinyl.

There is one alternative where I would still consider buying MQA hardware. That is if where although the majority of new releases were not MQA encoded virtually all of those in my favoured genre ( classical music) were. So that would drop the requisite number somewhat.

As you can guess I am referring to downloaded material. Streaming media is different as I believe that no hardware need be involved as the online player or downloaded app for the service could (would?) have a software MQA decoding solution. That is also dependent on whether I ever subscribe to such a service. Only mild interest so far.

alex.dunavski's picture

Hello Audiostream and Audiostream’s readers. I have never written on any Hi-Fi forums or to Hi-Fi magazines before. Rather than getting involved in any opinion exchanges or (heaven forbid) debates, I do wish to answer your fair and interesting question (which I had actually been thinking about), “How much MQA-encoded music needs to be available to get [me] interested in buying an MQA-enabled DAC”. I welcome, but do not require any feedback. My opinion / answer is much more complex than simply stating any specific number of albums or tracks:

I have close to 2000 FLAC albums in about 20 genres and sub-genres, and have purchased a little over 300 high resolution albums from the available hi-rez download sites, over the past year and a half, i.e. so far. There are currently virtually no more hi-rez albums that I am interested in downloading. Of course, I do intend to purchase more, when more hi-rez content that I am interested in becomes available. Using this analogy pertaining to my personal readiness for investing in some new audio format …

If a $300 or cheaper MQA-enabled DAC/player were to become available, and if Tidal (or other streaming source’s) catalog were to include about 200 albums that I would be interested in, then I would (very seriously consider and) subscribe at up to $20-$30 per month to Tidal (or whichever MQA streaming content provider), and would purchase the inexpensive MQA-enabled DAC/player, just for my thorough try of MQA audio. That is the limit I could afford, even if my MQA try/experiment were to end up as failure/disappointment, as I still could repurpose the MQA DAC/player (for non-MQA purposes) and (so) without feeling like I have thrown the money (completely) away.

It should be mentioned, another sacrifice/compromise that I would feel I would be doing by trying MQA streaming and by investing in the inexpensive MQA DAC/player, would be in that (1) I insist on owning my music, and insist on (2) not having a computer humming in my listening room (and that is why trying a streaming source for me is just a try and not a strategic move), and I (3) highly prefer that my DAC is also (or rather, primarily) a network player (MQA-enabled and supporting Tidal … and only then also a DAC).

By the way, investing in a zero-noise (fan-less and with solid state disk) computer intended as an audio player plus a high quality DAC is out-of-question until I may get to being certain that I (would) love MQA, at which point I would start gradually buying MQA downloads, but would possibly abandon the streaming service altogether (again).

Ideally, my Pioneer Elite N-50 network player would get a firmware update to support MQA (why not, one hopes, as Pioneer already has an MQA-enabled portable player, I hear). Or, I would buy another MQA-enabled network player acting also as an external DAC, and repurpose the N-50 into my secondary audio room … while doing something good (have no idea what that may be though, at the moment :-) with my current DAC in my secondary room.

Anton's picture

I have enjoyed reading all the different points of view regarding this subject.

Just as a weird aside, I was much more enthused about MQA before I got my May/June edition of the Absolute Sound. After reading through the editorial to start the issue and many of the subsequent breathless adorations of MQA, the overtly over effusive gushing has given me great pause - TAS is basically repackaging the "perfect sound forever" pitch I got about CD thirty-some years ago.

Michael, you are a trustworthy guy I look up to. The hi fi review industry seems to be overly embracing this new wonder. Can you see why it might give a pro-review-industry guy like me some consternation?

Read the "From The Editor" piece at the front of the May/June TAS and tell me it doesn't give you a bit of the willies. The TAS editorial reads like ad copy written with the author's nose solidly embedded in MQA's butt.

Like I stated early in the replies, I'm already on board, but the 'critical' reviews that read like marketing copy really do make people wonder.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...prevents me from sharing my feelings about the TAS MQA piece but I agree with you.
DH's picture

For me a good chunk of the music on Tidal. I don't plan on rebuying my existing collection, but a serious implementation of Tidal MQA would make an MQA DAC seem worthwhile.

Question is: are most DACs going to have MQA?
I'd hate to go DAC shopping and find a couple of DACs that I want to buy that don't have MQA and then have the dilemma of whether I should buy a different DAC that I like a bit less, but that has MQA. And the more high-end you go, it seems the less likely there will be MQA - those high end builders are very picky about their designs, etc.

ctsooner@alumni.ou.edu's picture

I've heard MQA. I liked what I heard, but I also can't say if it's better than any of my high rez music running through my system. I stream Tidal and will get a portable player to use MQA I'm sure. At home, I can't see changing my Empirical Audio OSDE/SE just to get an MQA DAC. I know that the new QX5 may or may not eventually have MQA. Alex said that they are waiting to see how much content is put out and if their target market demands it. I am sure may other players are waiting for the same thing. If the top three lables sign up, maybe then the manufacturers will install the necessary hardware. I will get the Aurender streamer to replace my current server and that will have MQA in it soon. If I were to buy a new DAC, then I'd want MQA most probably. My current DAC puts special attention on the clocking as well as the pre and post filter so I don't get the ringing that many DAC's get and that seems to be one area that MQA cleans things up. I had the first ever CD player the Sony ES 501 that I bought on the ship (retired Navy) the first day it was out in Japan and I bought every CD they released over the next year as our ship was in Asia and Indian Ocean so they kept getting the CD's from Japan for us. I now have a ton of music I never listen to. I don't want to go through all of this again. JMHO

beaur's picture

My answer is; when there is a critical mass for both streaming and download and physical discs. That's as nebulous as MQA is now so it's a good number.

What I need defined is what is an MQA; file; stream; disc? If Tidal "flips the switch" does that mean they just reprocessed old files into MQA containers or have the "master" been processed through an MQA ADC? Does that reprocessed file sound as good as new music that is MQA enabled from the beginning. Also the PS Audio statement worries me more than Schiit's. If hardware innovation is held hostage to a software codec that's never a good thing.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...comes in two forms; a recording is encoded and a representative from the record label listens to, and signs off on, the MQA encode. A file that has been signed off on will light up the MQA light on a DAC blue. The other process does not involve the sign off, but still performs the MQA encode, which includes the "de-blurring" or time domain correction = green light. This is the authentication part of MQA.

MQA is an end-to-end process as described above where the decode is necessarily performed by an MQA-enabled DAC. The encode is performed on a digital file which can be downloaded or streamed. I have not had any discussion about MQA encoded discs so I cannot answer that one.

This is not all that dissimilar in concept to using an Ayre QA-9 ADC for recording and the Ayre QB-9 DAC for playback in that the same apparently excellent* digital filter would be used on both sides, thereby reducing digital artifacts.

* Stereophile QA-9 Measurements

johnnya's picture

Mike you are a trustworthy critic/reviewer. So, with all seriousness, I pose several questions:

1. Who is the intended population for MQA?
2. Is this population of sufficient mass to support MQA rollout by streaming service, MQA enabled DAC?
3. Can/will MQA enabled DACS be available to audiophiles with less than high end discretionary buying power, for example in the 300-500-1000$ range?
4. Given the known age demographic of the audiophile population, is there a critical mass of buyers/listeners with non compromised hearing who will actually benefit from MQA?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
!. This is a question for MQA. I can only guess and that rarely works out well ;-)
2. see #1.
3. Today, the Meridian Explorer2 at $299 is the least expensive MQA-enabled DAC I'm aware of. The Bluesound Node 2 ($499) is now MQA-ready. There's also the Onkyo DP-X1 High-Resolution Digital Audio Player ($799) and the Pioneer XDP-100R-K portable player ($700). MQA also demoed with the HTC One A9 smartphone at CES.
4. See #1.
pdxdon's picture

I primarily listen to streamed content, either my ripped content or Tidal, though I have a turntable and a small record collection. I use an Auralic Vega and think it is a decent DAC. I just auditioned an Audio Research Reference DAC, which was somewhat better but has an undeveloped streaming solution. It also cannot do MQA, obviously.
If I buy a new DAC, it makes sense to include MQA since I use Tidal so much. What is not clear to me is how when Tidal flips the switch how all of the older content will suddenly be MQA encoded if it is not remastered that way.
If MQA really takes off, I would suspect the market for used DACs would tank to a certain degree.
I would need to hear a good A-B of a new affordable MQA DAC vs. my Vega to see how comprehensive the difference is.

geoffrey's picture

"..buyers/listeners with non compromised hearing.

Finding adult >30 without compromised hearing is rare. Listening tests and equipment reviews are so subjective even without psychological, environmental factors complicating listener opinions further still. Little wonder there is such nonsense perpetuated upon audio equipment buyers at every turn.

gefski's picture

50,000 titles (albums), meaning I might be able to find 5000 that I want to listen to (and don't already own). There might be another bunch that I already own worth comparing MQA to redbook.

Answer to 2nd question - streaming.

Jorgen Skadhauge's picture

just the albums I like the most ;) - but, please Michael what about MQA radio, that would be a good place for MQA to start. Could you do something here, so everybody could have a wonderful quality instead of in best case 320kbit.

pdxdon's picture

Help me out.

My understanding is that part of the encoding process is to compensate for the ADC in use, which means the record company would need to be part of the process. It then becomes harder to understand how Tidal could then just do a mass "de-blur" process.

What am I missing?

Is there no way to update the software of a DAC or streaming software to provide the decoding?

Thanks for the great discussion.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...that all MQA needs to know is the ADC that was used. Even if they don't, they can apply a corrective filter based on an analysis of the file, according to the company.
Melvin's picture

I guess. I purchased a Bluesound Node 2 not long ago without realizing they had an MQA plan. I've been having a listen to several files (thank you 2L!) and I'm encouraged. So far I'm not hearing a night and day difference with my modest system but I like what I'm hearing. In the mix is a Schiit Bifrost Multibit and a Chord Qute EX. Can't wait to hear more.

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