MQA Continued

As I foretold in the comments on my MQA CES posts, here is information on MQA that is intended to address some of the questions that have come up regarding implementation. My focus here is on the nuts and bolts of MQA for listeners.

Let's start at the beginning. MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated and was originally developed by Meridian. Actually, it was developed by people at Meridian including Bob Stuart and Peter Craven and they have since spun off MQA as an independent company. So MQA is both a product and a company.

There are currently five types of MQA hardware implementations:

  1. Analog to Digital Converter
  2. Digital to Analog Converter
  3. Mobile platform
  4. AV Receiver
  5. DSP Loudspeaker
According to the company, the more MQA knows about the gear responsible for A/D and D/A conversion, the better it can eliminate and/or correct for unwanted digital artifacts introduced by the conversion process. MQA does this by applying specific filters and processing based on the actual gear in use on the A/D encode side and on the DAC decode side. MQA is, ideally, an end-to-end technology. One of the most sonically important corrections these filters make, according to the company, is in the time domain. The company refers to this as "de-blurring". MQA is an end-to-end process because temporal and other artifacts can only be minimized if the two ends cooperate in real-time; in MQA the decoder/DAC is controlled by the encoder.

MQA-enabled streamers and software-enabled MQA decoders are in the works. The obvious caveat being the device or software has to know what DAC it's talking to. One physical outcome of this need to share information between decoder and DAC means that we're talking about a USB or network link, since we need two-way communication.

If anyone tries to tell you that MQA is just another compression technology, like a fancy form of FLAC, don't listen to them because they don't know what they are talking about. If someone tries to tell you how MQA sounds, while never having heard it, don't pay attention.

An MQA-enabled A/D converter on the recording side and an MQA-enabled DAC on the listening side is the ideal MQA implementation.

Since MQA exists in a world full of existing recorded music, this ideal is not always possible. What MQA have done to address this reality is they've created profiles of A/D converters. Within these profiles exist corrective filters tailored to the specific A/D converter used and its particular set of imperfections. During the MQA encoding process these corrective filters are applied, thus removing unwanted A/D artifacts, including "blurring", from the recording. As the word may suggest, "blurring" occurs in the time domain and the more we learn about how we process sound, the more we learn about our sensitivity to temporal information (if you'd like to argue this point, find your nearest neuroscientist or psychophysicist).

By creating what I'll call DAC profiles, the MQA decoding process sends a DAC the data it can handle, whether that be a max sample rate of 48kHz in an smartphone, 96Khz in a tablet, and so on, while also correcting for unwanted digital artifacts and, in Bob Stuart's words, "make the DAC chip work at its optimum performance level."

If you do not own an MQA enabled DAC, yet you play a high-res MQA encoded file on it, the file will play at 24/44.1 regardless of the original resolution. While you do not get the benefit of hearing the original resolution nor the corrective MQA DAC filter, the company says you will still benefit from the MQA encoding process because the "origami" process includes a "de-blurred" rendering for a generic DAC. Of course the proof of this concept lies in the listening.

While it is possible to MQA-enable existing DACs through a hardware or firmware upgrade, there is no way to know if your DAC will be one of them without hearing from the manufacturer.

On the content side, MQA is working with record labels to encode their catalogs. We already know that Norwegian label 2L has converted its entire, and admittedly smallish, catalog to MQA and the label founder, Morten Lindberg, has signed off on the conversion. This means that Morton has heard his MQA encoded/decoded music, analog to analog, and he likes what he's heard.

Further, since MQA is an end-to-end analog solution, where corrective filters are applied at both ends, Morton also has a good idea of what people listening to his MQA encoded music will be handed in the analog realm. It's "Authenticated". MQA offers people like Morten Lindberg a software "preview" tool for this purpose with a number of profiles, including for those with no decoder, so he can hear the analog outcome.

The MQA encoding process also reduces the associated file size of high-res files to roughly the size of a 24/44.1kHz file for transport. This makes the download process less painful for people with less-than-fast Internet connections, which is great but frankly not so sexy.

Where I'm most excited about MQA is their partnership with Tidal. Tidal Hi-Fi has become an important part of my everyday. It's where I discover most music that is new to me. With MQA's compression technology, we can stream high-res files as if they weren't in terms of their streaming bitrate while getting all of the sonic benefits MQA has to offer—a purer path from analog to analog. Or so the story goes.

Why Does Any Of This Matter?
You can read my CES listening experiences here and here as well as some very interesting comments from the Stereophile team here. The important takeaway for me after hearing the CES MQA demos is they were a very convincing proof of concept in that they clearly made music sound much better.

MQA Concerns
If you follow the audio forums, you'll see lots of people jumping all over MQA and the audio press for these proof of concept demos at CES. Some are asking for answers to what they consider to be "tough questions". These "tough questions" seem to be based mainly on three concerns (and a lot of confusion); do we all have to buy new hardware and new music, is MQA forcing us into their sandbox whether we like it or not, and will MQA be another DSD where you get all dressed up and find there's not a lot of places you want to go.

What we have here is a clear case of premature evaluation. At present, the only real-world concern is for Tidal HiFi users since Tidal is working with MQA and may roll out Tidal HiFi/MQA in which case anyone subscribing to this service will receive MQA encoded streams. If you don't like this idea, unsubscribe. I'd suggest listening before doing so, but that's just me.

While the MQA decoder can incorporate software-based DSP for room correction or EQ (e.g. in AV Receivers), any such processing (including sample-rate conversion or software-based upsampling), can’t be introduced between the decoder and the DAC chip without breaking the chain.

Whether or not MQA will become widespread in terms of available content remains to be seen. Once Tidal flips the MQA switch, download site OnkyoMusic has already done so with their 2L catalog and 7Digital is in the works, people wil have a chance to hear what all of the MQA fuss is about.

In terms of adoption, i.e. should you run out and buy an MQA-enabled DAC TODAY!? Why would you? We are, in the end, talking about the enjoyment of listening to music on the hi-fi. Nothing more, nothing less. MQA is another means toward that end and to my mind, based on actually hearing MQA, it's certainly worth listening to. For yourself. Once you do, then, and only then, can you make an informed decision.


Recommending Reading:

High-Resolution Audio: A Perspective, Bob Stuart
A Hierarchical Approach to Archiving and Distribution, J. Robert Stuart, Peter G. Craven
Minimal Bounds on Nonlinearity in Auditory Processing, Jacob N. Oppenheim, Pavel Isakov, Marcelo O. Magnasco
Sampling Signals With Finite Rate of Innovation, Vetterli, M., et al.
Sampling—50 Years After Shannon, Michael Unser
Efficient Coding of natural sounds, Michael S. Lewicki

COMMENTS
R1200CL's picture

Are you 100% sure it is always delivered in 24 bit ? Onkyo Music sells 16 bit MQA. But I do not know myself if this is a 16 or 24 bit file. Anyway it is confusiong.
This should be understood if correct, old redbok will always be upsampled to 24 bit. What frequenzy then? Always 44.1 after encoded ?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
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R1200CL's picture

I think it is important to be correct and explain that MQA can be implemented in cd quality as well where no higher master quality is available. Still it is unclear if this require an upsample to 24 or if 16 bit also can be used to be certified as MQA.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
As I said in an earlier response, I've asked this question and expect an answer tomorrow.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
I've included it in another response but it's worth repeating:
There are three scenarios:

a) where the best available is 44.1/16 but the content owner wants to take advantage of artefact (sorry artifact) removal but remain in the 16-bit woBerld. In this case, the encoder will create an MQA file in a 44/16 container. This legacy file is backward compatible. The decoder will render it in a 24-bit form to maximise the dac potential.

b) where the best available is 44.1/16 and the content owner wants to make fine adjustments. In this case MQA imports to the workstation in a 24-bit form for mastering and encodes the result as 44.1/24. This legacy file is backward compatible.

c) where the best available is 44.1/16 but the content owner wants to take advantage of artefact removal and can distribute a 24-bit file. In this case, the encoder will create an MQA file in a 44.1/24 container. This legacy file is backward compatible.

Examples of a) can be found at:
shop.klicktrack.com
shop.klicktrack.com
shop.klicktrack.com

An example of b) can be seen here. The notes from Morten and Bob are helpful:
shop.klicktrack.com

CG's picture

Will there be uncompressed MQA files? By that I mean files that have been corrected for the A/D and nothing else?

How about files that the MQA system have merely stamped - the equivalent of the EXIF tags in photos - with the A/D data so that the DAC or play back system prior to the DAC can correct for the A/D as well as the D/A sampling filter? (Probably too obvious and unprofitable...) Photography has been doing this for more than two decades. Seems like that approach could improve things immensely with no downside. (When I asked around about this back in the 90's, the response was that digital audio was already perfect; go pound sand, amateur!).

Actually I could imagine this data being added to the online databases where we get the track information for ripped CD's. Hmmm... A micro charge could be added to provide that information for people who wanted that information with their track data downloads.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...the answer to your questions is no. For high-res files, the "origami" process is part of the MQA package and in terms of implementations, they are focused on delivering an end-to-end solution. That said, I did not get into farther off future plans.
CG's picture

Oh boy! Another proprietary closed system format.

CG's picture

BTW... I am NOT suggesting that MQA doesn't work or sounds bad. I don't know, because I've never heard it. The preliminary reviews sound really promising.

My disappointment, if you want to call it that, is that this doesn't do anything for the library of music that I've accumulated over the past three or so decades. I guess that's just the way the business works.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'm not a fan of re-buying music I already own, but MQA via Tidal, especially if it comes in at the same price at as Tidal HiFi ($20/mo.), is a compelling story.
CG's picture

That's true if you live in an area where higher speed internet is no more expensive. The top aDSL speed is barely enough for HD TV streaming, with nothing else running. Add in a Tidal audio stream and it breaks. So, you need higher download speed. Which costs more. Assuming it is even available at all.

This isn't so much a problem outside the United States. I'm not going to emmigrate just for MQA streaming.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I'd move ;-)
Doak's picture

i think ALL I want out of MQA is to be able to STREAM a great selection of Hi-Res music via TIDAL, and maybe other providers. Oh, I also want to be able to do it via my Auralic Aries to the Lampizator DAC (with which I am "in lust"). ;-)

tbrads's picture

Michael,
As usual, you have done a very nice job of explaining the various pieces and where they are planned/exist in the MQA signal path. The proof is in the listening, and as I posted on CA, I hope to use no more than one month of Tidal/MQA to figure out if it is worth it (assuming I have an MQA-targeted dac, etc by then). Seems to be a low cost of evaluation; not sure why so many are pushing back on theory without hearing. It's not like Bob Stuart has a history of vaporware.

Ted_B

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Yes, the proof is in the listening. I look forward to listening to MQA some more.

I'm not surprised by the push back. It's what some people seem to enjoy doing.

Cheers.

miguelito's picture

I listened to MQA in NYC in March 2015. Very impressive demo - with Meridian-chosen material. I want MQA in TIDAL.

However, I do not want to buy a new DAC. I have a $25k DAC that I am extremely happy with. When fed high res PCM or DSD it performs beautifully. I want MQA to stop telling me that they cannot do that.

I understand that if you profiled the DAC you could do a bit better a job of decoding, but this is marginal compared to all sorts of other issues such as room interactions. In this regard, it would make perfect sense for MQA to provide a default DAC profile, maybe a few to choose, and then allow a generic DAC to work off of that, or allow subsequent room correction DSP to operate.

sonnenwender's picture

Hi Michael,
thanks for your clarifications. One thing that was missing and that could be of interest: will it be possible to do the MQA decoding also on the software side in the media player used (like Roon) or Streamers (like Aries, Aurenders or others) that will then send a PCM file to the DAC? In that way we could retain our beloved DACs and still enjoy the quality of MQA endoded files in our libraries or streaming via Tidal.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"MQA-enabled streamers and software-enabled MQA decoders are in the works. The obvious caveat being the device or software has to know what DAC it's talking to. One physical outcome of this need to share information between decoder and DAC means that we're talking about a USB or network link, since we need two-way communication."
CG's picture

Uhh, couldn't one just click on a scrollable list of some kind? That would mean that today's DAC could be used.

Same philosophy as not requiring every previous piece of music to be re-digitized...

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"While the MQA decoder can incorporate software-based DSP for room correction or EQ (e.g. in AV Receivers), any such processing (including sample-rate conversion or software-based upsampling), can’t be introduced between the decoder and the DAC chip without breaking the chain."

So some of today's DACs cannot be used.

CG's picture

So... The filter characteristics of the ADC can be corrected without it being in the hardware chain, but the filter characteristics of the DAC cannot be??

OK...

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The MQA decode process employs corrective filters based on the DAC in use. At present, all of the MQA demos have been done using MQA-enabled hardware with internal DACs. The software and streaming solutions will also apply these corrective filters based on the DACs they are talking to.
CG's picture

Understood.

But, just why is a hardware connection and interaction required to communicate what the DAC might be? In fact, that information is often available from the USB profile of the attached device. (Of course, not with SPDIF)
A simple checkbox in the playback software Preferences or whatever section ought to communicate that just fine.

The only reasons I can think of for hardware "handshaking" are:

* When ASRC might be used, since the filtering is changing dynamically

* Any time dynamic filter modifications are used

* To collect an additional royalty fee from the DAC manufacturer.

The first is probably problematic to begin with, since any feedback to the decoding would be delivered after the correction has already been applied and the data sent to the DAC.

I'm not sure how widespread the second case is in real life.

The third, is, well, why not just say that you want mo money? One would think that the fee built into the stream subscription would be enough, Maybe not.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"To collect an additional royalty fee from the DAC manufacturer."
CG's picture

Actually, I did. Look just above. :8^)

I just assumed (uh-oh) that the MQA folks were going to charge a royalty to any manufacturer who used MQA software to make their DAC MQA enabled. If I turn out to be wrong about that, I will admit my error right here and now in advance.

The obvious corollary to that is that DACs will need to be replaced or upgraded in some way. Fortunately, that's all free for everybody in the channel.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
;-)

It is my understanding that in the case where the MQA decoder is embedded in a media player or streamer, the only requirement from the DAC side is something that's already done for the handshake to occur (unless they've screwed that up).

miguelito's picture

Other than knowing the max rates it can stream, why does it need to know any more? I can tell Roon what max rate it can send to a DAC and it will downsample if the data is of a higher bit rate. The question pertains the DAC profiles - MQA should provide a default DAC profile. Even if you've profiled a DAC, you still have unknowns such as amplification, speakers, and room to deal with, so the minute improvement from DAC profiling is a tiny sliver of the whole.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...included in the quote referenced above:

"...any such processing (including sample-rate conversion or software-based upsampling), can’t be introduced between the decoder and the DAC chip without breaking the chain."

My guess is MQA wants to begin their roll-out with the ideal, end-to-end solution. This makes sense to me. As I mentioned, I did not get into longer term plans so the scenario you and others have been asking about may very be happen, some day.

I'll see if I can get more info on this.

miguelito's picture

Understood, and don't disagree with their rollout process, more control then expand. And if they were clear about this then I would be 100% on-board. But they have been very dodgy about it, so more clarifycation from the horse's mouth (just an expression, not a comment on Bob Stuart's looks), would be great.

R1200CL's picture

"At present, the only real-world concern is for Tidal HiFi users since Tidal is working with MQA and may roll out Tidal HiFi/MQA in which case anyone subscribing to this service will receive MQA encoded streams. If you don't like this idea, unsubscribe. I'd suggest listening before doing so, but that's just me"

Are you 100% sure only MQA, no redbok stream available ?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
MQA encoded streams does not mean high-res only.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
...both an MQA stream and a separate non-MQA stream? Something like Tidal MQA and Tidal HiFi?

If that is your question, my understanding is no, Tidal will be moving its HiFi service over to MQA.

R1200CL's picture

Thanks.

tbrads's picture

And if the answer is 16/44, then would moving it all to MQA (and then not decoding it) produce 24/44 streams, which may render some slow-but-currently-adequate internet connections unusable? I am not sure of the bandwidth differences so maybe a moot point.
ted_b

Michael Lavorgna's picture
And should hear back sometime tomorrow.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
Here is the answer from MQA:
There are three scenarios:

a) where the best available is 44.1/16 but the content owner wants to take advantage of artifact removal but remain in the 16-bit world. In this case, the encoder will create an MQA file in a 44/16 container. This legacy file is backward compatible. The decoder will render it in a 24-bit form to maximise the dac potential.

b) where the best available is 44.1/16 and the content owner wants to make fine adjustments. In this case MQA imports to the workstation in a 24-bit form for mastering and encodes the result as 44.1/24. This legacy file is backward compatible.

c) where the best available is 44.1/16 but the content owner wants to take advantage of artefact removal and can distribute a 24-bit file. In this case, the encoder will create an MQA file in a 44.1/24 container. This legacy file is backward compatible.

Examples of a) can be found at:
shop.klicktrack.com
shop.klicktrack.com
shop.klicktrack.com

An example of b) can be seen here. The notes from Morten and Bob are helpful:
shop.klicktrack.com

R1200CL's picture

Just to be 100% clear. A MQA version of a track vs a redbok track. So the redbok track will not exist anymore.
Remember today you can find several version of same albu / /track. To follow your logic, only the true studio version will be available.
Also remember there is something called MQA vs Studio MQA. Read Meridian2 user manual and data sheet.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I don't understand this:
"Remember today you can find several version of same albu / /track. To follow your logic, only the true studio version will be available."
As far as "MQA Studio" goes, I have not seen reference to this language in any of the current MQA literature. My understanding is "MQA Studio" simply means that an MQA-enabled D/A converter was used.
R1200CL's picture

Let me try to explain. Look up the band Queen on Tidal as an example. There you will find several versions of the same album, made from the same master. The original one, and a remaster, and some times a de luxe version. Then according to your understanding of what will happen when Tidal flip the MQA switch, all these albums will be MQA versions. My understanding is that you can only make one MQA version from the master. But I may be totally wrong. To me it is very strange that redbok versions will be removed and replaced with one MQA version. How can there exist one original MQA version and one later remaster MQA version from the same album. Maybe a MQA deluxe version can make sense. I do not know. To me it seems more logical to keep the redbok versions and add the MQA versions, as there exist MP3 versions. (Not visible for Hifi subscribers).
Also I can not see that Tidals 40 millions tracks will be available at once. MQA and redbok and even MP3 will has to be available. (Even Hifi subscribers get MP3 if only available).

MQA vs MQA Studio: No one has heard about these 2 versions, but if one read
https://www.meridian-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Explorer2M-ds.pdf or
https://www.meridian-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Explorer2-User...
these versions are indicated with different lights available on the DAC. So we need an explaination. If you cold help us clarify, it would be good. I have not checked the Berkly user guide.

Also we know the MQA transport frequency is either 44.1 or 48, that can be decoded up to anything from 44.1 to 384. Maybe even more. Still we do not know if 16 bit can be optional, or if all redbok has to be 24. Nor do we know if 32 bit is an option.

I think we need better explainations about how MQA can be created, and what the different versions are.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The answer to your questions regarding "MQA Studio" are contained within the PDFs you linked to.

I can see you are very interested in the specifics of MQA and while I doubt I will be able to answer all of your questions to your satisfaction now, they will most certainly be answered when it actually matters -- upon implementation.

miguelito's picture

But OTOH, MQA files produced by 2L have been analyzed by experts on computeraudiophile.com and found that the undecoded MQA file had less dynamic range than the equivalent redbook file. So it is not clear that the claim that undecoded MQA will sound as good or better than redbook is true...

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...until we can listen. It's worth noting that the preview tool provided to recording engineers includes a profile for undecoded MQA.
DH's picture

At CA, at least one professional with significant DSP experience has analyzed the 2L files and come to the conclusion that when played back on non-MQA equipment, the MQA encoded files have LESS information and more noise (i.e., only the part of the file that isn't encoded gets played back) than the equivalent original file without MQA encoding.
Maybe, even if this is accurate, the MQA'd files on non-MQA HW will sound fine. But maybe they won't sound as good as they would have otherwise.

If that's so, it's a problem for Tidal. And I, like you, love Tidal.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...in order to determine how they sound. Also, the idea that Tidal will roll out a technology that will make their service sound worse is hard to swallow.
miguelito's picture

One important benefit of MQA and the attention it has raised is the increased focus on the quality of the capture chain. There's so much music currently produced with massively compressed and distorted sound that could benefit from more careful capture! MQA indirectly (or directly) is putting the spotlight on this issue and I think this is great...

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Peter McGrath, whose recordings were used as part of the MQA demo at CES, felt that the improved clarity he heard as a result of the encode/decode process would help inform his future recordings. Things like spatial cues appear to be much more accurate with MQA giving a clearer picture of mic placement, etc.
germay0653's picture

I don't know if it's even possible but wouldn't be nice if there were some way to provide a converter, like dbPoweramp, to convert between existing, downloaded/ripped, files in whatever format to MQA so one wouldn't be FORCED to buy it again.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I think the word "forced" is a bit...forced?
deckeda's picture

... in the sense the MQA experience won't be fully rendered without them

germay0653's picture

touche!

jbucko's picture

I'm enjoying this thread and the thoughtful responses from Michael. I too am excited for MQA to come to Tidal! Since I have a relatively inexpensive DAC at the present, it will be a good excuse to upgrade in the future :)

deckeda's picture

MQA features some lossy compression, and the new file will have a lower sample rate than the original. We learned that months ago.

To the extent it sounds better (to say nothing of the presumed success of 16-bit MQA files from Onkyo or a Tidal stream) implies the conversion processes are more important than whatever resolution the file medium is. I'm not questioning that in the least, within reason and I'll define "reason" here as not being lossy like an MP3.

Conceptually it also appears to put the brakes on a sampling- or DSD-rate races that can't be won, because only analog tech has indefinite resolution. The best thing I've read yet about MQA is that people are listening to it and forming an opinion first and worrying about the "how" somewhat later.

By contrast, when what you mainly have to consider is numbers on a screen (16 vs 24 bit files, your 24/96 files vs my 24/192 or DSD 2.8 or his DSD 5.6 files ....) then it quickly devolves into a mess that becomes harder to want to listen to any of it.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...as the original recording as long as you are playing it through an MQA-enabled DAC.

What the Tidal/MQA combo gets you is streaming high-res in the original resolution. So you can be listening to a 24/96 recording, then 24/192 or 24/352.8, etc. In other words, you don't have to worry about bitrates, just enjoy.

deckeda's picture

Some of the MQA features are contradictory, such as Tidal delivering a 24/192 file that doesn't weigh more than a 24/28 FLAC or whatever. Or maybe the small file example was back a few months ago when MQA wasn't claiming to deliver hi res files; that's indeed new.

In other words if smaller file sizes are always a feature, how does that pan out with a 24/352.8 file? Even more lossy compression?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...are delivered at the streaming bitrate of roughly a 24/44.1 file. When they are 'unfolded' they go back to their original resolution.

In terms of "Even more lossy compression", that's one of the main selling points of MQA, where the claim is no perceptual loss (my words). The second paper linked to at the end, "A Hierarchical Approach to Archiving and Distribution" should offer some relevant info.

We can dispute every single claim made, question the motives of the people behind the product, and rant and rave over how this should all be free, and so on (not you, people on forums and such). For me, the proof is in the listening. End of story. If I listen and like, I may jump in when the time is right, meaning content availability via Tidal. If I listen and don't like, no harm no foul.

R1200CL's picture

44.1 is not the only transport frequency. From this you can only get a multiple of 2,4, or 8. The 48 KHz will give you the 96, 192, and 384. So you have either 44.1 or 48. Agree ?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
As in file size.
BradleyP's picture

Does anyone know if at least some of the TIDAL material will be hi-res files packed down and re-expanded with the MQA process, or will all of it be MQA'd redbook? The latter would be fine, but the former would be awesome. I'm sure it's already been addressed somewhere in the reporting and discussion, but it hasn't jumped out at me, which doesn't mean it shouldn't have.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
They first demoed this capability at RMAF using a laptop streaming a 24/352.8 file from the 2L label over the hotel's WiFi using MQA. The Mytek MQA demo I heard at CES was also streaming a 24/352.8 file from Tidal.
miguelito's picture

I doubt that redbook will be MQA encoded since it would require higher bandwidth to send out than redbook. I expect a very limited selection of MQA files on TIDAL, at least for some time.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
miguelito's picture

Cool

R1200CL's picture

The MQA FAQ talks about HSM. Should this be understood as DRM ? Would be nice if you could find out more about the intention behind this function.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...content providers.
"Every MQA encoder will need access to an HSM (Hyper-Security Module) that issues the encrypted signatures contained within each file"
So yes, MQA is not open source. If content providers want to implement MQA, they have to pay:
"Costs of owning and implementing HSM within your environment will generally range between £5,000 - £20,000 but it’s important you discuss this with your technical team and MQA."
deckeda's picture

[The site software wouldn't let me reply; it just refreshes the screen when text is submitted.]

I agree ... and have no interest in attempting to dispute a technique I haven't heard. My goal is understand the methodology better and I think that has some validity because experience taught me that lossy compression harms music irreparably. I will read the article, thanks. I suspect it'll tell me everything'll be OK. If I seem reticent it's because we've all been down that particular road before.

I look forward to learning how a higher resolution original goes through more lossy compression to stay at the small, stated delivery/streaming size but retains (gains, actually, given the MQA treatment) the original fidelity upon unpacking. I do understand how bitrate and sample rate can wind up being the same as the original, but that sort of "resolution" isn't what I'm curious about, anymore than I am that MP3s have the same overall resolution as CDs (both 16/44.1 files.)

I wanted to give context to my concerns insofar as I understand the landscape. I'm not passing judgment on MQA here.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I've heard MQA, as have many others. Digging into the theory is all well and good, but it doesn't mean anything compared to listening.
miguelito's picture

I've only listened to a few tracks, all chosen by Meridian (about 15 maybe). Wonder what real-world performance is like.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Looking forward to it.
miguelito's picture

Same

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

At CES, in the listening session with John Atkinson, Michael Fremer, and myself, we also heard before and after tracks recorded by Peter Mc Grath. For a detailed discussion of that experience, please see http://www.stereophile.com/content/mqas-sound-convinces-hardened-showgoers

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I just added some more information on the specifics of the CES demos from Bob Stuart as Page 2, Manufacturer's Comment.
drblank's picture

Amarra, Pure Music and/or Audirvana going to come out with MQA compatibility for those that won't get a MQA ready DAC?

FYI, I think Meridian and the media (in general) has done a horrible job in explaining MQA. Every article I read doesn't necessarily clarify things as well.. This is one of the first where some of my early questions actually got answered. But in general, I think MQA is still not being marketed very well in terms of explaining the technology.

Question, let's say I had a DAW and I made my own recordings, what would I need to get in terms of hardware and software to encode recordings with MQA? I've seen ZERO information that actually explains the products needed to do this.

Anyone have any idea on what one would need in order to encode recordings for MQA? Obviously, ProTools is probably the most common DAW platform, but Pyramix is very popular amongst the high res crowd that does anything with DSD. But what does Meridian offer/require?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...for implementation in media players.

For your other questions, I'd suggest looking at the MQA site's page for Contnet Providers.

drblank's picture

They have very little information.

Maybe we can all submit questions for people like yourself to ask Meridian since they don't answer our questions directly and the local dealerships are not that knowledgeable either. They only talk about what Meridian products are MQA, which is on their website, but when it comes to how one can create MQA content? Nothing. I would think they would have that end covered since that's the first part of the chain.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The purpose of this post was to try to clear up some confusion. I don't have the time, nor is it appropriate, for me to act a customer service interface to MQA.
jim tavegia's picture

I hope this works out and becomes the next big thing and that the masses will get on board because they don't really have to do anything. If it sounds "better" without decoding, that has to be a good thing.

I have enjoyed some 24/192 tracks from Linn through my very affordable Steinberg UR-22 usb interface ($150) and find that they are the best audio I have heard to date, but convenient it is not as my high rez players, Tascam DR-2ds for portable players only handle 2496 and on the go that is sufficient. But if all new music at some point was MQA, that could be a game changer if affordable. Now the Apogee Groove has my eyes and ears I could also use it with my MacBook Air. An Apogee MQA Groove?

It will be interesting to see where we are by the next Christmas selling season with MQA. How many devices will decode it will be key.

miguelito's picture

to 24/96 any file of higher sampling rate with many tools out there, and those Linn files will sound just as good as your 24/192 versions. It is the careful recording and production that makes the files sound so good. I would even venture that if you downsampled to 24/48 you'd still be mighty pleased.

Jorgen Skadhauge's picture

Qobuz, any sign that they will join the MQA-club ?

Majik's picture

Thanks for your coverage on MQA Michael, it's much appreciated and I think the curiosity expressed to this post provides a good measure of interest in the technology. Wish I could say that MQA release/implementation was as ambitious as the promotion. The 'buzz' on MQA is over a year old now w/out anything other than insider reports on how it sounds.

I'm currently evaluating the Brooklyn DAC/Pre and for a couple weeks have been trying to substantiate it's functionality but have yet to discover a file that triggers 'MQA' on the display. Downloaded several files from 2L last nite; both MQA & DSD of the same file. The DSD files were shown as such on the Brooklyn display but the MQA files only as 24/44.1...no MQA designator. I'm also a Hi-Res subscriber to TIDAL and while I've seen the Brooklyn display '17/44.1' while streaming some TIDAL content, haven't heard anything to make me believe there's any improvement to the sound quality.

All that to say that I really wanna see MQA fulfill it's hype but I'm not sure that'll happen on the Brooklyn during the audition period, which says a lot to me about the proportion of promotion vs. implementation for users who have the technology for evaluation. I look forward to your continued coverage.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
MQA aside, if possible ;-), how do you like the Brooklyn? I'm looking forward to getting one in for review.
Majik's picture

Will it stay or will it go?
Still too early to say yet but w/a brief intro here's my current take:
I purchased the Brooklyn as part of a plan to transition from tubes to SS and greatly simplify an audio system that's been in place for nearly 20 yrs. (replacing a 2 box preamp, phono pre & DAC). So, I'm asking a lot but there's been significant advancement in the last 20 yrs. & it's time to try new stuff.

Vinyl is & will remain important to me, so I've spent a disproportionate amount of time w/the phono stage. I've been pleasantly surprised so far. Some days I think it could be all I need, other days I wish for a little more air on top and a bit more meat in the middle. On the whole, it doesn't favor any part of the spectrum, is very revealing, easy to listen to & not fiddly to use. So far, I'd give it a solid 'B' pushing 'B+'.

The DAC is a step above my Benchmark DAC1. It's more refined, retrieves more information, is very even/neutral and has a very solid/grounded sound. Evaluated strictly as a DAC, it's a keeper...probably pushing 'A-'. Also, the DAC seems cut from the same sonic cloth as the phono section, so going from one to the other isn't radically different (haven't decided if that good or not).

Lastly, as a preamp, is where I encounter the most hesitation. I'm not hip to the whole push-button, multi function, menu selection interface (as opposed to conventional preamp controls) so it's been a little kludgey for me. There are no feet on the Brooklyn (just little rubber pads), so the control knob sits very close to the shelf making it a little awkward to grasp/rotate. The control knob only acts as volume control when it's in mini-display mode. When I go to adjust the volume while it's in full-display mode it switches between modes/menus instead (landing on the bypass volume setting several times has caused great anxiety)!!...it's not a fault w/the Brooklyn, rather my clumsiness w/the interface. The Apple remote that comes w/the Brooklyn is a mystery to me...no idea how it controls the unit & there's no instruction in the "manual"/on-line other than how to pair it. I'm using the XLR outputs to an Ayre V5xe amp thur 25 ft. of interconnect and I'm not convinced the Brooklyn has enough drive to pull that off. Maybe the source of what I sometimes hear as lack of top end air/sparkle.

That's probably more than you care to know but on the whole I've been satisfied with the performance of the Brooklyn. I had high hopes that it could be an all in one replacement for my previous, much more $$ system. It has not exceeded expectations but it hasn't disappointed either. Whether it remains long term...TBD.

Looking forward to your experience and evaluation of the Brooklyn.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
On a personal note, I'm not a fan of the DAC/Preamp approach in terms of system building. When you say, "...other days I wish for a little more air on top and a bit more meat in the middle" I think preamp. That said, if I was you I'd be curious to know what would happen if I moved the Mytek close to the Ayre, removing the 25' cables.

But that's really an oversimplification and I can see how for some people/systems, the DAC/pre works just fine.

Majik's picture

...start me wondering what it would sound like if I broke down the system & set it up between the speakers!
Swap racks, speaker cable, interconnects, et al. Rearrange the network connection, find a place for the turntable & on &on...
Nope, too much work for me...I'll wait for you to do the heavy lifting then see if we sync up!

Seriously thou, I suspect you're right re: a preamp w/the system configured as it is now. I'll likely require a conventional preamp to satisfy me.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"I'll wait for you to do the heavy lifting..." Sounds like a good plan ;-)
jim tavegia's picture

I know that is what ProTools is mostly about, but I can tell you that if a native file starts out as 2496 or better, going to 2448 always loses something, even to my old ears. The only exception would be something redbook mastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound. I have not heard any better redbook from anyone else. The files that have bought from Linn, Bluecoast, and eClassical in at least native 2496 (much of the BlueCoast is native DSD) and burned to DVD-Vs are just head and shoulders better than anything else I've heard. You are right in production does matter, but there is no reason today not to track at 2496 or higher. How many master tapes do we hear about that people wish they were either better taken care of, or tracked better. Too many and now I am not reading good reviews of the lastest MFSL Kind of Blue 45rpm vinyl release. Now with the likes of the very affordable Tascam DA-3000 SDHC cards sure don't take up much space these days. I have a 64 gig one in my Tascam DR-680 MK2 that can do 6 tracks of 2496 and 2 of 24192. You can link two of them and get 12 tracks of 2496 and very nice audio. Go line in and use your best mic pres and make a hit record.

24bitbob's picture

MQA is a niche, within a niche (within a niche, even). The technical superiority, if we allow us to assume it is superior, will come to nought unless there is a sustainable market for the product. Aside from those who actively follow this website (a few thousand at most), and a few other similar websites, who are the customers for MQA?

I see lots on the 'quality' of the product; let's be generous and assume that's proven, but I see absolutely nothing on the demand, or the business case for that product. Despite the fact that it's better, it's probably DOA.

I can't help but feel (and yes, back to that old chestnut again), if the music industry gave a damn about sound quality, that they've had the means since Adam was a boy, to do better. They haven't, and I don't think they ever will. They serve the mass market, not a mini niche. Meanwhile, a few specialist labels will pursue MQA, and a bunch of guys will spend a bunch of money on equipment which is MQA ready, and they will listen to Sibelius again and again for the next while.

Yes, I'm sceptical, but not without reason. I'd love my scepticism to be corrected.

Meridian need to be applauded for their efforts in developing and promoting MQA, but until the guys at 'the big end of town' wake up to quality, not a lot will change. Unfortunately.

Cheers,

Niche, niche Bob

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Claiming something to be DOA before it has Arrived, is a bit presumptuous.
" Aside from those who actively follow this website (a few thousand at most)..."
What ever source you used for that metric is off by more than 1 zero.
stevebythebay's picture

Seems likely that Meridian has to get the portability crowd on board. It's where the action seems to be for most music today and into the future. So, coming up with a licensing formula for hardware and software companies that won't be too onerous, yet attract customers to noticeably better sounding players will help, especially if streaming technology continues to improve. If and when you can stream MQA without too big a bump in monthly cost over other options is necessary. We've seen the jump in headphone quality/usage. Now getting associated quality source into the mix is the next step. Hopefully Apple and Samsung get onboard the MQA train as that would certainly help things along.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
This was also a "proof of concept" demo.
stevebythebay's picture

Nice but no commitment there. Maybe if we see WiFi / MQA capable players from Sony, Cowon, iRiver, Philips, etc. then there might be a chance for MQA to take hold.

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