MQA, Mytek, Meridian/D'Agostino/Wilson & A/B (C will come later)

Appropriately, the MQA room was the last room I visited at CES 2016. In it, I heard two demos on two different systems where I got to compare an MQA'd file with the exact same file in its original, non-MQA state.

For the first demo, I listened to a 24/352.8kHz 2L track streaming from Tidal on the MQA-enabled Mytek Brooklyn DAC ($1995) using a pair of headphones I failed to note or photograph. Beyond my obvious interest in Mytek's new Brooklyn DAC, I use their Stereo192-DSD every day, this would be the first time the opportunity arose to compare an MQA file with the same file non-MQA'd. I sat down, got comfortable and Michal from Mytek showed me how to instantaneously A/B, which I went about doing.

"Immediate, obvious bloom." That's all I wrote and it captures what I heard, well enough. I'll just add that the MQA encoded file sounded a lot better than the 24/352.8 original, which sounded just lovely to begin with.

Before we get to the next demo, I want to share a conversation I had with Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio in the hall at CES and after CES over the phone. When I bumped into Peter at CES, he asked if I'd heard the MQA demo using his files, Peter is also an accomplished and respected recording engineer, in the MQA room. I hadn't. Peter shared that when he first listened to one of his recordings using MQA encoding/decoding, he cried. "This is moving in the direction one fantasizes when recording these pieces." Peter later explained.

"MQA closes the gap between what I hear from the mic feed and the storage medium chosen to present it" is another of my favorite quotes from Peter since recording engineers, and musicians as we are learning from Graham Nash's comments over on Stereophile, have heard things we haven't—namely the original context of the recording. Jon Iverson, who is also a recording engineer, has also commented that what he looks for in hi-fi is a sound as close to the mic feed as he can get. Interesting. I'll leave our conversation with Peter with one last quote, "This is of breathtakingly unbelievable significance."

MQA's Bob Stuart played me one of Peter's recordings through a pair of Wilson Sasha Series-2 speakers driven by the D'Agostino Momentum stereo amplifier. Handling DA conversion and MQA decoding was the Meridian 818v3 Reference Audio Core. First up was the original 88.2kHz file and it sounded lovely, as do all of Peter's recordings. After about 3 seconds into the MQA encoded version I started scribbling; "emotional connection immediate", "musicians in space = u are there", "increased dynamics", "easier to follow movement". Then I stopped writing and just listened to some of the most natural and beautiful sounding digital reproduction I've heard.

Next up was Keith Jarret from the Köln Concert. The original 24/96 version went first followed by the MQA encoded version. My notes, "If you want to hear the difference MQA makes, just listen" and "unravels micro-events perfectly".

It's that last comment, "unravels micro-events perfectly", that may be most telling. Peter McGrath had shared a very similar thought, "it's all about the minute aspects of time". This reminded me, once again, of this lovely quote from Jean-Marie Piel, co-editor of the French music and audio magazine Diapason:

"The essence of an interpretation lies in working on the infinitely small..." ~Jean-Marie Piel
That's my story on the MQA A/B. "C" being MQA faqs answered is coming soon, more than likely some time tomorrow.

keithsonic's picture

Thanks to all the team for exhaustive(ing) coverage.
MQA is obviously coming and personally cant wait. After Meridian's mis-step in supporting DVD-A and losing customers (me) as a result I hope they score this time.
Some manufacturers have been quick to announce compatible DACs and I'm sure you will keep us posted but what are the prospects for dCs, Chord etc. retrofitting MQA to existing models like Rossini and my own DSX1000? I have not seen any mention of this or even whether it is possible as software or hardware upgrade. Needless to say MQA uptake will be slow if we all have to ditch existing DACs.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
MQA is an unfolding story and I will do my best to keep pace. While it is not possible to make any generic statements about existing DACs and MQA, it is possible to deliver the MQA decode technology as a firmware update in some devices.
keithsonic's picture

dCS is listed as an MQA 'partner' but makes no mention of upgrade paths on its web site. I am looking forward to your Rossini review and no doubt you can quiz them about their plans at the time. The link below seems to suggest that MQA is being implemented as optional hardware extensions (including FPGA as used by dCS) so would be good to know if the Rossini is future-proofed.