MQA Decoding Explained

An MQA encoded file can be played back in four ways; with no decoding, software decoding, hardware decoding, and a combined software/hardware decode.

If you play back a 24-bit/192kHz MQA-encoded file using iTunes through a regular DAC (i.e. a non-MQA DAC), you will get a 24/48 file.

If you play back a 24-bit/192kHz MQA-encoded file through an MQA software decoder like Tidal HiFi, Audirvana, or (soon) Roon, and you are using a regular DAC (i.e. a non-MQA DAC), you will get a 24/96 file. A software decoder does not offer the ability to 'unfold' the original file to resolutions higher than 24/96 (or 24/88.2).

If you play back a 24-bit/192kHz MQA-encoded file through an MQA-enabled DAC, you will get a 24-bit/192kHz file. If you are also using a software decoder like Tidal HiFi, Audirvana, or (soon) Roon, you can have the software decoder perform the first 'unfold'.

This scenario plays out the same for other resolutions above 24/96 and 24/88.2.

One thing to note: if the original MQA file is 24/48, 24/96, or 24/88.2, it will pass through the software decoder and be 'unfolded' to its original resolution. This brings up the interesting fact that people who love their DAC and its proprietary digital filter may very well be able to have their cake and eat it too, especially when streaming MQA content from Tidal HiFi.

Comments From Bob Stuart

  1. The strength of MQA is that one file can be played back in a wide variety of situations by the customer.
  2. The three presentations you discussed: No decode; MQA Core; Full decode are all previewed in the studio. Each is optimally set up for that presentation (with appropriate de-ringing).
  3. MQA Core (which comes out of the soft decoder or digital outputs) carries the additional information necessary for an MQA Renderer (eg Dragonfly) or a full Decoder (eg MSB, Brinkman, Mytek, Meridian) to 'finish the job downstream'.
  4. Full software decode is not possible because the DAC must be known and characterized. MQA is an analog to analog process.
Comments From Me
  1. I hate to say it, but I told you so.

For (much) more on MQA, see MQA: Questions and Answers on Stereophile

jhwalker's picture

What is the difference between an MQA "renderer" and a "full Decoder"? Seems they would both be doing the same thing?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...relies on the software decoder to perform the first decode whereas a full decoder does not.
jhwalker's picture

Thank you for the quick response!

That's a bit disappointing, though - it means users of "renderers" (like the DragonFly) are still dependent on the software vendors to implement the first level of decoding. For example, once the DragonFly updates are available later this month, they *still* won't be able to do MQA decoding *until* the players (e.g., Roon, Audirvana, etc.) implement their decoding, as well.

I was actually hoping to get a DragonFly and start getting MQA "goodness" sooner rather than later :/

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...Tidal HiFi.

Roon will turn on MQA in a matter of weeks.

austinpop's picture

Another unfortunate consequence of this for Dragonfly users is that they will not get MQA deciding from Tidal on their phones, as right now only the desktop Tidal apps do SW decoding.

Perhaps change is coming? Who knows.

bobflood's picture

that we have MQA and MQA LIGHT.

Michael Lavorgna's picture one will stop you. Is that a meaningful phrase? Not really, unless you're a half full kinda guy ;-)
bobflood's picture

smart allec. BTW, I am not a half full kinda guy; I am completely full of it and have been told so many, many times.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
dadracer's picture

Is it blue?

austinpop's picture

A year ago, Bob was huffing about the fact that MQA was an end to end process, and the only options available for the high-res content would be HW decoding.

Clearly, business realities, and no doubt, Tidal's negotiation, have brought forth the partial unfold SW decode option. Of course, now we hear it's what they planned all along. Right. Tell that to Auralic, from whom code got yanked literally at last year's CES.

Oh well. I keep an open mind about the technology, and I really hope we hear good things from MQA content on Tidal. For many of us with multi k$ non-MQA DACs, the SW option may be the only viable one for some time to come.

2_channel_ears's picture

...this is the way it turns out. I have read a lot of interviews and Q&A's with Bob Stuart but never saw it laid out this simply of "here's what you can do". Based on the understanding I had, as recently as RMAF I had been lamenting what looked like not being able to get a benefit from MQA with my Vega. Based on ML's "explainer" I am back in the ballgame and will give me reason to upgrade my Tidal account when the Roon decoder (or whatever you call it Mr. Stuart) comes online, presumably in 1.3 release this month.

philipjohnwright's picture

That any EQ / digital volume control etc - basically any processing of the signal that means it's not bit perfect - means MQA doesn't work. Other than in the no-decode scenario above.

If so that undermines things a little, particularly with Roon 1.3 about to include upsampling and EQ.

jaywhar's picture

also a concern for me - I suspect proper room correction etc would potentially provide a greater improvement in sound compared to the deblurring MQA provides on the dac side for HW decoding. As long as the software unpacked 24/96 version is good, then I guess it's an ok middle ground.

rcvaladez's picture

Hello Everyone - will the Meridian Explorer2 Digital to Analog Converter be good enough to stream 24/192? That seems to be the least expensive option at this point.

lhissinknsw's picture

This DAC works quite nicely and has no difficulty passing 24/192. I use it exclusively to play Tidal MQA via an Aries streamer using Roon. Tidal MQA files range 44.1 to 192. By clicking on the favourite symbol on the chosen album in the Tidal desktop app, Roon can then replay the MQA file since it has access to the Tidal Favourite category.

deckeda's picture

The sample rate thing relates to how it's shoved through small pipes, but has nothing to do with why it might sound better.

I'd still like to learn how a sample rate higher than 48kHz gets losslessly encoded into a 48kHz file. If it's been told I've forgotten.

I was most excited to learn that characteristics of both the originating ADC (yes, somehow?) and of the consumer's DAC are taken into consideration to deliver a custom (and, corrected) result.

Here's the thing. If the better sound is coming from the various timing corrections or whatever, in SPITE of a lossy file conversion down to 24/48, I truly do not think it would bother me. But I would still like to know.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...with Bob Stuart on Stereophile.

If you read that article and JA's various technical pieces on MQA, you'll learn that saying MQA is "lossy" makes as much sense as arguing over whether or not a 5' person is tall or short.

deckeda's picture

My understanding is that tech labels bring unnecessary and unfair judgements absent of explanation, and so they are getting dismissed altogether. It's why I skipped the invitation to answer "hi res" is most important in the earlier post, instead of a more music-based response.

What I re-read in the supplied info is that it's a better mousetrap, as the RedBook CD was claimed to be. The overriding credo is always to not throw out (nor bar) what's important. My belief is that all recording formats, from the best analog to the best digital, are necessarily lossy, philosophically.

Everyone enjoys succinct summary. Let me know if mine's wrong?

Longhand: Compared to standard PCM formats, MQA files are smaller but sound better due to temporal fixes, smart algorithm choices, and encode/decode infrastructure.

Shorthand, ripe for confusion: MQA offers better sound than the file container its shipped in.

I added that last line because that's the message I keep seeing most of the time.

Yuri Korzunov's picture

As I suppose, there compression ratio 1.5... 2 times more FLAC, isn't it?

jond's picture

I was curious about it but no dice, at least not yet. I'll live.

deckeda's picture

With MQA, licensing is ... central to it working. This is their ticket to a Very Big Thing for some time to come, so they ain't going to open source it, for example.

Aurilac may eventually pay the piper, since they play in that very narrow field of electronics that DACs live in, and MQA has targeted that market with a compelling product.

Other products, other companies will likely never ever get on board. Apple, for instance.

hrboucher's picture

Not one commenter has used the word "music". Sad.

JackKan's picture

[Comment deleted -- it was "signed" by a Linn employee but it was not posted by that person. Ed.]

NeilS's picture

Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The fact that I can stream MQA-encoded music today through Tidal HiFi *at no additional cost* to any DAC puts a rather large hole in much of your speculation, Jim.

The worst thing for people who make music is the free streaming tier.

The worst thing for consumers is to be asked to re-buy the same music over and over. Since I can stream MQA-encoded albums like "Giant Steps" *today* at no additional cost, since I already have a Tidal HiFi account, MQA is delivering hi-res streaming at no cost to me.

And you are suggesting this is all bad?

FransZappa's picture

written by Jim, who is the webdesigner for Linn, copy - pasted and posted by JackKan who probably recognizes my alias because I got some pretty harsh responses on that forum for even just considering to be willing to try MQA, which I cannot because I have no Tidal subscription and Linn does not support nor approve MQA. I own a Majik DS. Jim's reason for posting his opinion are the strong discussions on their forum whenever MQA gets mentioned.

So, sorry Michael, Jim won't be responding to your valid argument I guess but I can definitely tell you that you are not missing out on anything from the Linn forum in these matters, they are indeed suggesting this is all bad. Voodoo is the word some of them use.

stuartb's picture

I've been participating in the various MQA threads on the Linn forum, taking the unpopular position that the addition of MQA streaming to Tidal at no additional charge is at least potentially a benefit, rather than just a slippery slope toward oppressive DRM.

While I have disagreed with many participants in the discussion on the Linn forum, I don't think any of the posts could fairly be described as "Linn commercials," no matter how skeptical/critical they may be of MQA. How does a post -- even by a Linn employee -- outlining the writer's concerns with MQA as a format amount to a commercial for Linn? Deleting such posts here just seems to give support to the negative conspiracy theory view of MQA.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
As was mentioned above by "FransZappa", the post, while being signed by Jim, was not posted by him. The person who posted it went to on promote Linn in additional, off-topic comments. The entire series of posts were very misleading as one could have assumed they were all from "Jim".

If the real Jim would like to post something on AudioStream, he is certainly more than welcome.

pirad's picture

Linn has the Exakt technology described by them as below:

Our latest systems use Exakt technology to preserve the natural sound of every instrument like never before.
Until now, no speaker system has ever been able to synchronise all the elements that make up every note, including all the harmonics.
Exakt ensures the perfect time alignment of every part of every note, so now you can enjoy the same natural sound that was recorded by the artist".

It is proprietary and adds costs. Fortunately, just like with MQA, buying Linn in not compulsory.

JackKan's picture

[Linn commercial deleted, Ed.]

MusicEar's picture

Did he say it wrongly or simply implying that MQA sounds like analog? The way MQA files are playback really puzzle me. Why give a few options that doesn't allow full blown decoding to take place?

solarophile's picture

They give these options because without them, there is no incentive to spend $$$ to buy the hardware!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
With the software decode option, no new hardware is needed.

I'm going to ask you to stop pretending you know people's motives, solarophile. Stick to facts or go somewhere else.

pirad's picture

Linn licenses Exakt to others.

v1m's picture

Very nice. Better than I expected. This is not on MQA hardware, but instead unfolded through the Tidal desktop app en route to decoding in my OPPO HA-1 and first-gen Meridian Explorer. Both sound musically rich with, understandably, different strengths.

The old "how good was the sound to begin with?" question comes up quite starkly when comparing results from album to album. So, ranging from sublime recording quality (2L's compilation The Nordic Sound) to good (Coltrane's Giant Steps, Rattle/Berlin Philharmonker's Pictures at an Exhibition, Bowie's Aladdin Sane) to OK (Rundgren's Something/Anything) to haha-nothing-can-save-it (The Replacements' Tim) hear their individual beauty alongside their discrete sonic characteristics. It's good enough that you stop caring about limitations, the litmus test for me. There's a level of pleasure that is pretty consistent with what I already know in many cases from their corresponding hi-res, non-streamed, non-MQA releases. I found, for instance, the downsampled Coltrane to sound just as good as the 192/24 FLAC I own. That may be a measure of the material...DAC and amp...the headphones (Denons and Audioquest) or even my much-used ears.

I'm really happy as a Tidal customer to have this material available (and more on the way). Will I buy an MQA dac? Maybe, one day, but I'm hardly hurting for delicious music or superb playback, and I suspect the increase in pleasure to be had, if any, isn't hugely motivational to me. What really thrills me are access and convenience wedded to good sound. What a time for the music lover to be alive!

brianls's picture

I've been following the MQA history with only a slightly furrowed brow. Are there concerns? Sure. Is there a potentially 'real' increase in sound quality? Sure. Many of the people who heard and then reported on MQA audio said only cautiously that it was somewhat better, but that your mileage may vary.
So I was a little excited to hear that I could just saunter down to my music room and listen for myself :)
Furrow gone.
My system is admittedly quite resolving, so I may not get the same benefit listening on my desktop system. But this just sounds better, without qualification. I sat scratching my head trying to figure out if some of the improvement I heard was some sort of bias of expectation. Later that evening, my wife walked into the house, took two steps, and stopped. She could hear the difference immediately - No bias there.
So when the update is ready for my DAC, I will make sure to run, not walk, out to get it.
Let's hear it for happy endings :)

pirad's picture

Wife Authentication Factor. I put my music lover wife and audiophile friend to a blind test of master vs hifi Tidal files. The audiophile had a 70 % success rate in naming master files as his preferred ones. My wife was 100% on the spot. She just said it sounded natural and musical.

Steve Parry's picture

I have a Meridian 818v2 which I am very fond of. It can be upgraded to the v3 that has MQA, but due to the cost and lack of MQA music, I have been holding off. That is no longer an overriding concern. Is there any way to find out what albums on Tidal have MQA, other than being a Tidal customer? I may have to use the Tidal trial period, but just curious...thanks!

MusicEar's picture

Not everyone will want to upgrade their system, especially those who have already invested a lot of money. It forces us to buy a new hardware in order to enjoy the full blown decoding effects, ie, fold back to original sample frequency and time domain smear correction. It is very obvious it boiled down into making money by licencing to hardware companies. Why settle for software decoding where it can only do a 'sub standard' decoding? Software is a very power tool that can virtually do in place of hardware, it is whether they want to do it or not.

Chuck not Anonymous Hinton's picture

I find it hard to believe it is 24/192 even w/ MQA compression, the amount of 24/192 files is quite limited and most are not popular music. I've searched around a bit looking for a definitive answer to this, I suspect they are mostly 16/44 or 48, using MQA to fit better down the pipe. As the software decoding seems to be all you need for files upto 24/96, for Tidal STREAMING a hardware modified DAC would then never be needed, right? (because they are not streaming 24/192 files)

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...24/384 files.
Chuck not Anonymous Hinton's picture

Are there albums out there in 24/384?, are you saying Tidal either:

1. takes various files, up converts them to 24/384, compresses them with MQA, streams them, then unpacks to 24/96 with software, then (if you pay) unpacks again in hardware to 24/192....
2. has a secret stash of thousands of songs recorded in 24/384 we never heard of....

Michael Lavorgna's picture
MQA takes the original file and 'packs' it into a 24/44.1 or 24/48 FLAC container for delivery. There is no 'up convert'.

If you use a software decoder, the original file will 'unpack' to a max of either 24/96 or 24/88.2.

If you have an MQA DAC, the original file will 'unpack' to its original resolution.

Chuck not Anonymous Hinton's picture

so, nearly all, or all the files tidal is streaming are not 24/192, correct?
since they are not streaming 24/192 files, you don't need an MQA DAC, as I said in the first post.

as the vast majority of music is in 16/44, most of what Tidal streams will therefore for NOT benefit from MQA, because plain old Tidal does 16/44.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I do not know the mix of hi-res Tidal content but there are at least 30k hi-res tracks coming to Tidal.

Tidal subscribers have two options - Premium and HiFi. Premium is a lossy service, HiFi is at least CD quality and since last Thursday, hi-res via MQA.

EternalSounds's picture

TIDAL's 16/44 current offerings aren't used to create an MQA file. TIDAL is receiving a new MQA version sourced from the studio aka "Master" which has been processed using MQA’s ‘audio origami’ technique.

mswlogo's picture

Yes, one of the tricks MQA uses is the 8 extra low bits in 24 bit 44.1Khz or 48Khz can be used. You'll notice all the 2L MQA Demos are 24/44 or 24/48 and often twice as large as the 16/44 versions. Probably partly due to lower compression (which takes up streaming bandwidth by the way). These 24 bit files are completely compatible with all the lossless formats and DACs for the last 20 years. So it's all backwards compatible. But now they are releasing MQA CD's which are hard limited to 16bits 44.1. Now what these will get unfolded to I don't know. But getting 24/88 (or more) out of a 16/44 container is becoming a little hard to swallow. Just a slight dither change can make one instance to another sound different and audiophiles will be happy to argue over which is "better".

deckeda's picture

> The file gets shrunk for transport and expanded during playback. No one said they stream a file type greater than 24/48. It's compressed more than a lossless 24/48 would be, but brought out to a higher-sample rate file.

Don't ask me how you add samples later, or hide them when shrunk. I wasn't that good at [math.]

deckeda's picture

but Michael, you're referring to what the file looks like after-the-fact, yes?

mswlogo's picture

MQA is signing contracts with labels like Warner to re-encode their entire library in MQA. 40-50 year old analog tape recordings. And call them 24/384 MQA (or what ever bit rate well above redbook). As stated if they are truly remastered then can often be improved regardless of the format of delivery.

ednaz's picture

It's what I heard. I spent some time doing Tidal vs Tidal MQA through their Windows player, and I'll take Tidal MQA any time, although with a lot of rock albums that chose to compete in the loudness wars, the difference wasn't anything I could hear. Two albums I thought sounded worse. Good production is more important than MQA.

Because I didn't have an MQA DAC, I decided to compare Tidal MQA with my local server's 24/96 and 24/192 (depending on what I had) and with Red Book rips. Tidal MQA usually beat the Red Book rips, although again, in some cases where production squeezed the life out of the music, couldn't tell. What I was interested most in was Tidal MQA software decoded versus high res on my server. By and large, high res on local server was much, much better. Enough so that my wife (who was quietly enduring my madness while reading) looked up a couple of times and said "this sounds much better than the last one, is this the new technology thing?" And it wasn't... it was local high res, the one she thought wasn't as good was the Tidal MQA decoded. She loves music but seldom listens deep - it's always one of many tasks, so that she could tell a difference was striking.

My conclusion there is that the remix/re-producing that has been done for a lot of high res stuff is a big part of what makes MQA tracks sound good - because they're being compared to older, more heavy handed production on CD tracks. But the surprise of local HD sounding better... is puzzling, because while technically MQA is lossy, I get the math well enough to think that it's probably as lossy as the air between my speakers and ears.

My Explorer 2 arrived yesterday (nice sale on) and I'll be trying Tidal MQA hardware decode versus software decode, although only with headphones. I'm betting on mild advantage if at all for HW decode, although I'm prepared to be surprised. And will run local HD vs Tidal HD hardware decode, and I'm betting dead heat there.

But that's the end of the time I'll spend on this. I like music and the flow of an album way too much to waste another hour bouncing around. I was curious, but from here on I'll leave that to the professionals. For me - I'm not going to rush out for a new MQA DAC beyond the Explorer 2 unless my dead heat expectations get trashed. Tidal MQA? Absolutely. Local HD MQA? I think the quality of local HD alone is so strong that the incremental benefit will be a shrug. We'll see.

slim's picture

Thanks, ednaz, for this concise and helpful comparison report. Saves me hours of bouncing around :-)

solarophile's picture

Looks like Arch posted a thorough article on MQA and hi-res downloads on his blog.

Good ideas also and I wonder if software decoding becomes even more powerful in the future as he suggests.

slim's picture

Haven't read deeply into MQA, so this may be stupid or nitpicky, but shouldn't your article read "..., you will get a 24/xx stream" rather than "..., you will get a 24/xx file" ? Or are intermediate files being created ?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

That "stream" is streaming what?

slim's picture

As the title of this site suggests, I was expecting that stream to be streaming audio :-) and was lead astray by the wording "... get a 24/xx file". Probably irrelevant in the MQA world.
Can you point to any 24-bit/192kHz MQA-encoded file for download that iTunes would be willing to play, i.e. in an ALAC container?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...are wrapped in a FLAC container.
ednaz's picture

Spent about an hour comparing HW decoding (MacBook Pro with Tidal MQA to Explorer2, testing with two different headphones) to SW decoding (two different ways - software decoding direct from MacBook Pro, and MacBook Pro with Tidal MQA software decoding to a iFi iDSD Black DAC/headphone system (yes, my family took good care of me at Christmas). The two headphones were Fostex TH-X00 ebony (closed back) and Sennheiser HD 6XX (open back) both from MassDrop.

To the chase I shall cut. It was hard to tell the difference between hardware and software decoding. The difference was almost completely in a sense of space or presence - the musicians were a bit more present HW decoding than SW decoding. But how much? I had to really concentrate to hear it on some music. On other music, it was in my face better HW decoded. And on some music I couldn't tell at all. Seemed very dependent on the music, which takes me back to "MQA won't fix badly produced music" and that the re-mastering process, whether straight HD or MQA, probably matters most. The effect was greater on the open backed headphones than closed back (please don't ask why... I have no idea, just was.) The difference was less noticeable via the iFi than direct from laptop, which makes me think that the DAC itself may be more impactful on better sound than MQA.

As to the sense of presence... when I was messing around, replaying songs and passages one way or another, I accidentally flipped the "3D" switch on the iFi... and it was the same type of change, the musicians were more present, and less inside my head with the 3D switched on, or via HW decoding on the Explorer2. Not saying identical effect, but similar enough to get me to play around back and forth. Not enough patience to try it with speakers.

There are a lot of variables here, enough to cause a month of non-stop arguments, and someone with more patience and time will probably explore them, and it'll be fun to read. Not fun to do. My personal hierarchy now: MQA Tidal over Tidal, no matter how decoded. HW decoding by a hair over SW, although the difference is more music influenced than the Tidal MQA vs straight HD. And I'm unlikely to rush out to buy a fancy MQA DAC for locally stored HD music until a few people have done and written about that painfully tedious most variables controlled project and swear that they heard angels singing. In the room.

For me, well produced or well re-produced HD is such a big jump over red book with a really good DAC that I raise up my "good enough" flag, particularly since the difference to me was really apparent on a small set of music. Everyone's ears are different. So your mileage may vary.

RichardTownsend's picture

Hi all,

I compared Tidal MQA hardware decode vs non-decoded material on my Mytek Brooklyn. This is easy to do in a level-matched way because it's possible to turn off the MQA decoding in the Brooklyn. The decoded version is definitely nicer - it sounds more fluid, are more like it's being played by actual people. It's just more relaxing to listen to. It lifts my mood like live music does, even though the effect is subtle.

I tried to compare software decode with hardware decode but it's hard to do because the settings don't work quite as expected. I don't think my results will be reliable, but for what it's worth the hw decode was definitely better.

mswlogo's picture


Shutting MQA Decode off is not "testing" MQA capabilities. Because there is some argument that a non Decoded MQA is not gonna be the same as a never encoded original 24/384 FLAC. Which would be the only fair comparison. Or even a 20/48 unencoded FLAC would be fairer. Problem is, that's not a very easy comparison to make. For example I could write a Codec that flips the low two bits of each word and it would still sound Ok. But when "Decoded" flipping the low two bits back it would sound better. Now would you give this miracle codec of mine credit for the improved sound when the undecoded (but compatible) version sounded worse? You need the original to compare.

PeterV's picture

Hi Michael, thanks for your extensive Q&A and explanation how MQA works.

So the MQA algorithm actively corrects for the sum of all digital 'blur' which accumulated in past A/D recording and D/D mastering. MQA also corrects for present D/A time-smear errors within the DAC itself.

So this very sophisticated encoding-decoding process is capable to deliver superior SQ compared to the original (digital) master itself, only analog masters will sound better, correct?

Does this mean that also vinyl productions, which have been manufactured form digital masters intrinsically contain digital time-smear as well?

Can we therefore expect to see MQA corrected analog (vinyl) records on the market soon?

Wilderness's picture

I ordered a Meridian Explorer 2 DAC. What happens if I play a purchased MQA file from software that isn't MQA software, such as JRiver, while using the Explorer 2 DAC? Will the DAC fully decode the MQA file, or must I also use MQA software?


Michael Lavorgna's picture
It's worth pointing out that there's a new breed of MQA decoders called a "Renderer", like the AudioQuest DragonFlys, which do require an MQA software decoder. The software decoder performs the first "unfold" and the Render performs the final, full "unfold".
crofta's picture

I am just music lover, not scientist, so probably that is why I cannot understand one issue so far. I understand that Renderers decode 24/96 core to 24/192. AQ DragonFlys work up to 24/96, and higher frequencies are downsampled to the half. So what is the Renderer performance usefulness ? How it works ? Dragonfly decode 24/96 core to 24/192 and downsample to 24/96 at the same time ?

Alfetta87's picture

Hi Michael,
Your top explanation are clear, but I need a confirmation:
I used a MacBook Air with Tidal, connected to an Arcam rDac via USB. Sounded great.
I bought a Bluesound Node 2 with Tidal playback, essentially because of the App I run from my iPad (which is very convenient).
On regular tracks, the rDac performs better than the Node 2 internal DAC. The rDac has no MQA decoding.
According to Bluesound (I wrote them) the signal at the coaxial out is not MQA decoded and I would have only 16/44.1 on the rDac.

According to your explenation, if the orginial MQA file is 24/192 I would have 24/96 with my Mac playback.
What's about my rDac, what resolution does it play the original 24/192 MQA file (coaxial input)? According to your explenation, "only 24/48"?


Nbtgm1's picture

Hi there
Just bought the Node2 and connected with coax to my ARCAM rDAC and then to the AMP. Sounds great but also wondering if this setup is optimal with TIdal's HIFI service, incl their new Masters. And forthcoming MQA as well. Read your post from June and would ask what you concluded? Do I need a new MQA compatible DAC to get better sound?

Alfetta87's picture

No really news here except that if you want to enjoy MQA, you have to use the Node 2's analogue outputs as the decoding is done in the hardware section. The rDac's DAC is of better quality than the Node 2, even if the latter plays MQA. What I still didn't figure if the MQA signal before its decoding is already of higher resolution (higher than 16/44.1), in that case the rDac would receive a higher resoltion than standard 16/44.1 files, and thus sound better.

All in all, I'm happy with the Node 2, because with one single device I can play Tidal, or files stored on my NAS, or listen to Internetradio and use it with one app. Previously on my MacBook Air I was playing Tida, then VLC or Audirvana for Flac files stored on my NAS, and Webradio from a brower.
I will figure how to improve further and post my results when I'v get some.

HelpfulDad's picture

I balked for a year before I bought the Explorer 2 because I couldn't find any content. Finally, when Warner went MQA and Tidal offered it, I took the plunge. I'm an audiophile on a budget. I am emotionally moved by music and have enough technical know how to squeeze a lot out of a little. I like really good vinyl reproduction, but that's expensive, so I make due with a tangential tracking turntable and exceptional cartridge with vintage electronics and I'm using an OPPO BDP95 for DVD-Audio, SACD, and hires file reproduction.

I have had a VERY hard time getting a working understanding of MQA and how to actually enjoy it. I've read a ton on the Internet and a lot of the discussion is crap and actually more confusing than anything.

So I'm going to rant a little, and offer up some opinions for those of you out there who just want to hear better music and are having the same trouble as I did getting information and content about MQA. These are things I wish I knew as I started.

Meridian is mostly to blame for all of the confusion. Their explanations are so obtuse. Their documentation is more of a reference variety, meaning if you already know how their device works, you can look at it for details you may have forgotten. But good luck gleaning any real understanding from their Explorer 2 documentation on how it interacts with a PC and/or Windows. After a lot of back and forth with Meridian, including an escalation, I got what I needed, but it was painful. Do you really know how to interpret what the lights on the Explorer 2 mean?

But, also to blame are the many people who have SOME understanding of digital audio and this technology specifically, who make false statements using their limited understanding responding to good questions posed by others. I wish they'd STFU because they're misleading people. The Internet is loaded with misinformation and agenda laden discussion about MQA that Meridian shows no interest in correcting. My favorite was that MQA was like MP3. A compression scheme with limited quality.

Part of the issue is also the millenial effect. Millenials never answer a direct question with a direct answer and many of them love to post on forums. So getting this information is as difficult as ordering a sandwich deviation from a millenial at Subway. You ask a question and they go off on some tangent based on their interpretation of what they think you actually mean versus what you asked.

Let me start where this all really matters; reproducing music. MQA reproduces the original more realistically. I bought an Explorer 2 and when streaming Masters from Tidal HiFi the difference in realism was palpable. Similar to the difference between the remastered CD of Abbey Road and my safety master 15 IPS reel to reel copy. MQA sounds like a safety master. Even on the cheap Explorer 2. After I burned it in for 200 hours, it's even better. I don't know how to quantify realism, but it's there. And, without my Explorer 2, even using my iphone 6s 10.3.2 ios through my Nissan 48/24 Bose system, when I stream the same Masters content from Tidal it's better than the same content I have resampled from 96/24 to 48/24 on my phone. True, it could be the resampling process, but it doesn't seem to be that because it's always better. Tidal Masters tracks sound better than the native 48/24 I have on the phone.

Here's a few things about MQA that I've discovered in my research and use of it that may help those struggling for understanding:

It's different than FLAC, WAV, MP3, ALAC, AAC or any other digital storage/sampling/compression method/format/file because it has information about the hardware used to digitize embedded in file. It can be in a file with a FLAC format and will play just like a FLAC file, but...

There is information embedded in the digital file that isn't used with a simple non-MQA DAC. There has to be unfolding/decoding to make it useful. Even if you software unfold using Tidal, you won't get every benefit. And, if I could blaspheme here as a boomer, I'm not yet clear how the Masters sound better through a non-MQA DAC, but they do. Not as good as using the MQA DAC, but better than other sources.

Part of the decoding is an unfolding process to extract the information from the file. This can be done in player software or in MQA Decoder/DAC hardware. Unfolding is only part of it though. If it's unfolded and passed on to a non-MQA DAC, it's unused and it's below the noise floor so it doesn't interfere. This is where the "Lossless" argument begins.

The understanding of the concept of "Lossless" needs to evolve. Much has been said about MQA being inherently "lossy" because of it's use of data below the noise floor that is part of the music stream. In the primitive concept of "Lossless" that is a factual statement. But, if we're going to go there, then ANY digital audio is "lossy" because it doesn't completely reproduce the analog waveform. Even using enormous sample rates and bit length (i.e. 384/32 or even 768/64) the sampling process misses anything between samples. What I find humorous is that those who say MQA is inherently "lossy" have no issue with accepting the lost representation of the waveform between the samples or between the steps created by the bit length. I'm sure this is going to drag out the Nyquist anti-hi-res devotees who say that it doesn't matter because we can't hear anything above 20khz, so 44.1k samples are plenty to represent music. But, in reality, this is an argument that "lossy" is fine because we don't hear it anyway. So these devotees pound on everyone about accepting lossy 44.1/16 as adequate because we don't hear it. is that different than what Meridian says about data below the noise floor? It isn't. I'm going to start posting elsewhere about why High sample rates and bit length matters to take on the Nyquist lemmings but that's for another post. If anyone wants to respond to this post, please let's not have the Nyquist says 44.1 is plenty discussion here. I bring it up as an example of why we already accept "lossy" digital audio anyway yet with MQA, it's cited as an issue.
Digital Audio is inescapably "lossy" because there is information missing between samples, no matter how small. Question is what sounds better. What sort of loss is immaterial? MQA changes what is missing as not audible, but it's not accurate to say it's more lossy than any other digital format.

Meridian, Tidal, and anyone else are doing an awful job of connecting people with content. Some examples: I asked Meridian for a listing of all known MQA content and/or providers of some content.....Answer: we don't do that.

While Tidal does offer MQA content, there is no way to browse only MQA content. Their desktop app has some weird bug that they keep ignoring my reports about, that stops the listing at "Linkin Park" using the arcane navigation method they recommend and there isn't any other way to limit browsing to just MQA. (It happens on more than one PC)

Also Tidal: If you're like me, you go back and forth between the iphone and your home rig. When you're on the iphone, not only can't you play Masters content out through a camera adapter and to an MQA Decoder/DAC, you aren't even shown that content when browsing. I have a playlist of MQA tracks, and I can play those. At home, the Explorer 2 does a wonderful job with it. But, on the phone, while it plays, it's not delivered to the DAC as MQA, even through the camera adapter. So, if I'm on my phone and I make a playlist or favorite something, I have edit that when I get back to my desktop and find the Master copy, and replace what I did on the phone. BTW...there's no technical or capability reason they can't give us access to Masters material on the iphone, since 48/24 is available, they just choose not to do it.

Bottom line about content is that it appears that Tidal is the only game in town. There may be others, but I literally can't find the stuff anywhere except for some limited Jazz and Classical that I wasn't interested in. I've yet to find any downloadable popular MQA material from anyone, only stream or download in Tidal for Tidal access only. Not foobar. If you know where it is, please enlighten me.

I've beaten the implementation of the Explorer 2 drivers, USB console, Tidal App on Windows 10 and decoding the Explorer 2 lights to death and it works finally. Feel free to message me if you're having trouble and I'll do my best to answer your question and, equally important, tell you if I don't know the answer instead of giving you a BS answer.

If there is anyone from Columbia records on here, please get on board. So many great titles aren't getting the treatment. Good for Warner Bros.. Bridge over Troubled Water would be most welcome by me

nghy9700's picture

Auraclic Altair resolve the Problem?

Ataraxia's picture

I'm new to MQA. Using Tidal HiFi subscription and MQA installed software option. Using iPhone and mconnect UPnP to control my Yamaha A2080 AVR. The mconnect app shows songs at most so far 24/48. From what I gather this is an improvement but may not be a complete MQA unwrap. ? :)