"We have to be ready to be ready"

Back when our daughters were in grammar school, one of their superintendents said, "We have to be ready to be ready." I'll never forget that sentence and how preposterous it sounded (and still does). As people interested in the quality of our experience when listening to reproduced music, do we have to be ready to be ready?

We can surely go mad considering the possibilities, the what ifs, of "the next big thing" in hi-fi. At present, we have at least two in the air; Roon and MQA. Not to mention Roon with MQA! While you can get Roon and an MQA-enabled DAC today, should you?

I've been thinking about this of late, what with the recent Roon 1.2 announcement (see report) and all of the buzz over MQA, mine included (see my buzz). Then I read, "The MQA revolution: brother, you have to wait (and see)" over on John Darko's DigitalAudioReview.net, and I thought, yea, he's making very good points. Here's one of them:

If you’re already asking “Does it do MQA?” of your next DAC purchase, I’d ask you consider how much MQA content you currently have access to? No point future-proofing for a future that isn’t 100% guaranteed to arrive.
I recommend reading Darko's entire article as he makes a nice argument against the need to be ready to be ready.

"...happiness is the longing for repetition."—Milan Kundera

While I was very impressed with the MQA demos I've heard, the relevance of any new file format is, as Darko spells out, the availability of content. Music. At present, MQA is working on it and their in-the-works deal with Tidal to deliver MQA via Tidal's streaming service is a bright spot on the MQA content future. That being said, we don't the details of this deal including when it will happen and how much content will be high-res. Both valid questions.

I have three MQA-enabled DACs in-barn, the Meridian Prime and Explorer2 and the Mytek Brooklyn DAC. I also have a bunch of MQA content. Music. The thing about reviewing MQA is you can never do a review of MQA alone; you, by necessity, also have to review the DAC in use. Even if I find similar results to what I've already experienced, MQA sounds really good, we're still talking about being ready to be ready. It's more of a preview than review. 1

Roon is another story. You can enjoy all of the benefits of Roon today including its rich metadata linking, RoonRadio, seamless Tidal integration, and exceptional user interface. I've been using, and enjoying the crap out of, Roon for about 10 months on my MacBookPro and iMac with my iPad as remote. But with their recent release of 1.2, the company has, perhaps unwittingly, opened the ready to be ready jar. "Should I wait to buy a ____ until it's RoonReady? Wait, how do I know if ___ will ever be RoonReady?" (recommendation: ask the manufacturer)

"Longing is the agony of the nearness of the distant."—Martin Heidegger

Big Picture, Small Room
When you get down to it, many an audiophile lives in a perpetual state of being ready to be ready. What is, is never enough. What will be, is too enticing to ignore. This is where the -philia comes into audio.

But is audiophilia a bad thing? I don't know. I'd imagine it gives some people pleasure, albeit a somewhat 'abnormal appetite or liking for' something they can't have....yet.

As contradictory as it may seem coming from someone who spends his professional life listening to different things, being ready, I much prefer to focus on what I feel is the point of this hobby—the experience and enjoyment of listening to music. Right now.

Roon has added to my experience and enjoyment of listening to music in a very meaningful way so I'm on-board with building a Roon'd future. What that means is I'm on the hunt for a device to run Roon Core as well as a RoonReady device to connect to my hi-fi. The thing is, I'm in no big hurry and will wait until RoonReady devices hit the streets and shelves. That time is nearly at hand. In the mean time, I will continue to use and enjoy Roon on my Macs.

As far as MQA goes, it's too soon to jump in, for me, since the enjoyment of listening to music requires...music, lots of it.

1 For more on MQA, checkout Chris Conniker's excellent Q&A with Bob Stuart on Computer Audiophile

DH's picture

But Roon is already not in the same category as MQA. It's ready to be here and enjoyed on pretty much any existing system (or at least the majority of computer audio setups). No committment after the one year payment is necessary.

As far as audiophilia, I'm in the process of researching and auditioning the best system I can afford. I'm actually looking forward to the moment I decide and buy, b/c I really will get out of the constant upgrade cycle...really (If you knew me you'd know I ain't kidding).

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...the new release 1.2 introduces hardware compatible products and Roon's system architecture. So while I agree that you can enjoy Roon today, I do, some people are looking ahead to RoonReady hardware solutions.
viriato0811's picture

Fully agree with Michael. I am very much looking ahead for a Roon Core device which at least can match my current MacbookPro set up. This is why I am grateful for today's post which is a great reminder that listening to music is the actual pleasure.

CarterB's picture

The two hottest trends of 2016 are both Meridian spin offs. Impressive.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Let's remember that Sooloos was Sooloos before it was a Meridian product. Nonetheless, Meridian was smart enough to make it theirs and, shall I say, kind enough to let it become Roon ;-)
CarterB's picture

It's smart of them to learn to spin off products--tough for companies to do. I wonder what stake they kept?

mlknez's picture

Roon is not quite ready in my world yet. They have stated that they will be supporting multi-channel in the future, so to me they are in the same place as MQA.

Dick James's picture

Will it be possible to decode MQA with a software decoder so that a new DAC isn't required?

GuzziDave's picture

I read John Darko's article and while I agree with the notion that it is the availability of music that will ultimately decide the fate of any new format or process I don't think that the statement you highlighted makes a great deal of sense.

"No point future-proofing for a future that isn’t 100% guaranteed to arrive"

This is simply not logical. The future includes a wide and largely unknowable range of possible paths. By definition no future can be 100% guaranteed to arrive. That much at least I hope is obvious.'Future proofing' on the other hand is about taking actions that keep as many of those options open as can be reasonably achieved (i.e. without unacceptable investments in redundant and duplicate solutions because you cant really buy everything and nor would you want to). Consumers and manufacturers weigh these things constantly. The idea that we should all sit back and wait for some unnamed group of others to determine the direction seems to misunderstand the dynamic completely.

Manufacturers recognise this fact and are constantly assessing whether to embrace a new feature or capability largely based upon what their (potential) customers want. One of the things consumers generally want is to know that their investment in something will continue to represent good value and remain relevant for as long as possible. If manufacturer X can add MQA for an acceptable cost then they will probably do so in order to assure customers that their offering is to some extent 'future proofed'.

Only time will tell if that was a good investment by the manufacturer or the consumer. The fact that this goes on constantly should not be a concern to the consumer and perhaps we should instead see it as healthy innovation in our field.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Future-proofing is all well and good, but the value of any closed music file format lies in the amount of content available in that format. What John Darko is talking about is exactly this -- should we jump into MQA today when there's very little content available?

I think this is a valid question.

There's a cart and a horse. The horse is music, MQA is the cart, imo. If you are suggesting the opposite, and I'm not sure you are, I'd respectfully disagree.

GuzziDave's picture

I don't think we disagree about the relative importance of the music vs MQA. I am suggesting that the cost of climbing onto the MQA bandwagon is actually pretty small at least for anyone looking to buy MQA ready in the next couple of years. Today there may be only a couple of options but history suggests that there will be hundreds within 12 months.

Whether or not a piece of equipment is 'MQA ready' will be one factor in deciding between different offerings. Some people won't care. Others will. Some will be happy to wait and others will want to try it out now. I think we should all be relaxed about this dynamic.

If MQA does indeed make the sort of positive improvements that have been reported (and I really have no idea) then count me in. The MQA offering and the business model proposed seems to be quite different from just-another-format such as the Hi Res DXD so I wish them luck and hope to see it offered by Tidal sometime in the future. If I were in the market for a new DAC then I would definitely want to know that was an option even if it was not the defining one today.

gefski's picture

I'm with you and Darko -- let me know when those distributing the music open their vaults, releasing MQR in quantity.

But your article "Ready to be Ready", RTBR, reminds me of another R abbreviation -- R2R, and why there is no rush for me. Yggy, staggering information retrieval from 16/44 rips, re-listening to thousands of albums I own, cheap acquisition of several new cds a week.

Yup, interrupt my joyful listening when (if) the train gets into the station.

johndarko's picture

Of course we can't know the future but does the past not guide us? Hence my article being spun against the backdrop of DSD's failure to propagate beyond niche audiophile labels. If it happened once it could happen again. Therefore, let's not get carried away about MQA being the next big thing this time. How about we wait for the music to spill first?

tubefan9's picture

these thoughts from an industry reviewer.

PeterV's picture

How come that the fuzz around the MQA codec is so negatively biased? Is it because it takes too long for us to really experience and compare it A-B with other codecs including DSD? Is it because it might contain 'hidden' DRM functionality? Is it because we do not want to be forced to invest in new DAC's or other hardware? To me, all these debates are irrelevant, but what might be very relevant is MQA's capability to repair ADC errors and minimise the ringing effects present on older digital recordings significantly. This feature might be more important than the increased bandwidth which MQA offers by its folding-unwrapping algorithm. At this moment, only some esteemed journalists like Bob Harley for The Absolute Sound have been listening carefully to old recordings with and without MQA and their reports are convincing. So let's be patient and listen before judging. This video intrigues me most: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drv9ESli5yI

monetschemist's picture

What makes me nervous about MQA is it's a closed (patent-protected) format. I didn't like that about MP-3 either (independent of its quality or lack thereof). And I have a Linn Genki which cheerfully decodes HDCD... and I guess probably 5 or 6 HDCD format CDs... same story.

The wonderful thing about FLAC is its entirely open nature. Unlike HDCD it's not going to disappear because its proprietary manufacturer gets bored with it.

(I would not criticize MQA's technical merits).