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MQA - any experiences yet?

Frank Harvey

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Jun 27, 2008
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I still haven't properly read up on how it works, but I'm not too interested in that part, I'm more interested in how it sounds. There's quite a lot of MQA titles on TIDAL, and that list grows bigger daily, although I wouldn't say there's a great deal that appeals to me as yet, but there's enough to give it a listen. Having the Bluesound streamers and a TIDAL account, I decided to explore a few titles...

For the record, I was using a Bluesound PowerNode II and a pair of Ophidian Minimo speakers, so whilst not cheap (about £1500), it's nothing extravagant either.

Whilst I'm not yet familiar with the 2015 remaster, the MQA version of Tori Amos' Under The Pink was revealing little details I hadn't heard before. I should've made a note of what they were at the time.

I gave Fleetwood Mac's Rumours a listen, despite not really knowing the album. I've always like the track The Chain (yes, I used to watch Formula 1 back in those days!), and whenever I've heard it in demos, it has always sounded good. This was sounding sublime, very vinyl-like. I've always maintained that TIDAL is a much better sounding streaming service than Spotify, but MQA seems to remove the service even further from sounding like a streaming service. I use Napster a lot for finding new music, and used to use it a lot for background listening, so I'm fully aware of how a low quality streaming service sounds. There is no way I'd have guessed this version of Rumours was streamed - if I'd been blindfolded, I'd have guessed it was a hi-res copy.

I'd always though that Jim Morrison's vocals on the The Doors' Riders On The Storm had a low-fi reverb on it, but listening to the MQA version suggests differently. It seems what he's singing has been overdubbed, and more than once, with one overdub being JM speaking the words at the same time as singing them - this clearly came across on the MQA version. Upon hearing this, I switched to the digital file I've used for quite some time now for demonstrations, and the details I've listed above didn't exist - it just sounded like the previously mentioned reverb. And this is the hi-res remaster! I have heard that MQA uses the original master where possible, so I don't know if what I'm hearing is down to a different master being used or maybe the hi-res master was using a worn master.

I'm not categorically stating that MQA is better than hi-res, but it has certainly piqued my interest in the format. Did L.A. Woman generally sound better on either the hi-res file or streaming MQA? The MQA had a vinyl-like smoothness about it, making the hi-res file sound a little "toppy" (which seems to be all too common on a lot of remasters). I suppose which you'd prefer might depend on the tonal balance of your system, or whether you're a vinyl fan or not. Don't forget, my comparisons and findings weren't through a crazy priced high end system. For me, I'll be having a good listen to more familiar albums as and when they appear, and I'll be taking home a Node II so I can have a listen through my own far more familiar system.

Has anyone else heard any MQA albums yet? Had a chance to compare against CD or hi-res copies? Any thoughts?
 

Al ears

Moderator
davidf said:
I still haven't properly read up on how it works, but I'm not too interested in that part, I'm more interested in how it sounds. There's quite a lot of MQA titles on TIDAL, and that list grows bigger daily, although I wouldn't say there's a great deal that appeals to me as yet, but there's enough to give it a listen. Having the Bluesound streamers and a TIDAL account, I decided to explore a few titles...

For the record, I was using a Bluesound PowerNode II and a pair of Ophidian Minimo speakers, so whilst not cheap (about £1500), it's nothing extravagant either.

Whilst I'm not yet familiar with the 2015 remaster, the MQA version of Tori Amos' Under The Pink was revealing little details I hadn't heard before. I should've made a note of what they were at the time.

I gave Fleetwood Mac's Rumours a listen, despite not really knowing the album. I've always like the track The Chain (yes, I used to watch Formula 1 back in those days!), and whenever I've heard it in demos, it has always sounded good. This was sounding sublime, very vinyl-like. I've always maintained that TIDAL is a much better sounding streaming service than Spotify, but MQA seems to remove the service even further from sounding like a streaming service. I use Napster a lot for finding new music, and used to use it a lot for background listening, so I'm fully aware of how a low quality streaming service sounds. There is no way I'd have guessed this version of Rumours was streamed - if I'd been blindfolded, I'd have guessed it was a hi-res copy.

I'd always though that Jim Morrison's vocals on the The Doors' Riders On The Storm had a low-fi reverb on it, but listening to the MQA version suggests differently. It seems what he's singing has been overdubbed, and more than once, with one overdub being JM speaking the words at the same time as singing them - this clearly came across on the MQA version. Upon hearing this, I switched to the digital file I've used for quite some time now for demonstrations, and the details I've listed above didn't exist - it just sounded like the previously mentioned reverb. And this is the hi-res remaster! I have heard that MQA uses the original master where possible, so I don't know if what I'm hearing is down to a different master being used or maybe the hi-res master was using a worn master.

I'm not categorically stating that MQA is better than hi-res, but it has certainly piqued my interest in the format. Did L.A. Woman generally sound better on either the hi-res file or streaming MQA? The MQA had a vinyl-like smoothness about it, making the hi-res file sound a little "toppy" (which seems to be all too common on a lot of remasters). I suppose which you'd prefer might depend on the tonal balance of your system, or whether you're a vinyl fan or not. Don't forget, my comparisons and findings weren't through a crazy priced high end system. For me, I'll be having a good listen to more familiar albums as and when they appear, and I'll be taking home a Node II so I can have a listen through my own far more familiar system.

Has anyone else heard any MQA albums yet? Had a chance to compare against CD or hi-res copies? Any thoughts?
Correct me if I am wrong but don't you need MQA compatible hardware to actually utilise this format fully?
 

Frank Harvey

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Al ears said:
Correct me if I am wrong but don't you need MQA compatible hardware to actually utilise this format fully?
Yes, that is correct, but some DACs already decide MQA, like Bluesound and AudioQuest's DragonFly products.

Apparently there are some benefits even through non MQA products, it's just that you don't get the full benefit.
 

drummerman

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Jan 18, 2008
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Apparently the app (Tidal) unfolds part of the MQA package but for the rest you need a compatible DAC.

Meridian Explorer is only £129 and reputedly quite a decent USB DAC regardless of MQA.
 

Al ears

Moderator
davidf said:
Al ears said:
Correct me if I am wrong but don't you need MQA compatible hardware to actually utilise this format fully?
Yes, that is correct, but some DACs already decide MQA, like Bluesound and AudioQuest's DragonFly products.

Apparently there are some benefits even through non MQA products, it's just that you don't get the full benefit.
Thanks David. I didn't realise the Bluesound was so well equipped. Should have read the specs sheet. :)

If you cannot decode MQA surely it's just like a 24/96 flac file isn't it?
 

insider9

Well-known member
Sep 20, 2016
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I have been listening to Masters section on Tidal since Friday it was released. True you do need an MQA DAC for full benefit of it. Tidal desktop app can decode MQA partially and will allow for 24/92 FLAC for non MQA DACs (just the first unfold). My setup is PC with Tidal desktop into Yamaha WXC-50. David, you may remember, I have been interested in Bluesound Node 2. My understanding is that the first Node also supports MQA.

I can chime in with some feedback. Every single album I listened to sounded far superior to Spotify, mostly better than CD counterpart (didn't have all CD to do A/B comparison) and to my ears also better than hi-res files (only had Led Zeppelin to compare). Differences to Spotify are almost unfair as some Spotify albums sound really flat in comparison. When comparing to CD/hi-res some are close to call but there are differences. The better the original recording the closer it is to my ears. The fact is I'm greatly impressed even not listening with full benefits.

Overall MQA to me sounds cleaner (e.g. Otis Redding), more detailed (or the detail is easier to pick, earlier mentioned 'Riders on the Storm' bongos at the end are super clear the sound of the storm is stunning), imaging is more precise (e.g. Led Zeppelin 'No Quarter') bass sounds fuller (e.g. Steely Dan 'Two Against Nature'), more dynamic overall (e.g. RHCP 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik') with deeper more engaging soundstage (just about any jazz record and more). I've listened to quite a bit that's on offer already and looking forward for Tidal to add more. Once even more albums are added I'll definitely be getting a streamer or a DAC with full MQA support. Bluesound Node 2 would be ideal though only had Yamaha for few months and it gives me all I need with exception to MQA, so reluctand to sell.

The annoying part of it all is that you need to get up if like me you're using a desktop PC. Another gripe is that certain albums appear 3-5 times in search e.g. Led Zeppelin 'Houses of Holy' appears 3 times Remastered Hifi version 16bit / 44.1kHz, Deluxe Edition (MQA) for me 24 bit / 96kHz and Remastered Version (MQA) also 24bit / 96kHz for me. The last two are likely 24bit / 192kHz if you have a MQA DAC.
 

shadders

Well-known member
Nov 19, 2009
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Hi,

Has anyone listened to an MQA encoded song on a Non MQA DAC, as it is stated that you should not hear a difference to the CD version.

MQA uses the 3 LSB of the 16 bit word to encode the higher frequencies, and is effectively a greater form of dither. (from what I have read).

We did have HDCD, which never became popular, so will we have the same result with MQA?

Regards,

Shadders.
 

Frank Harvey

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Jun 27, 2008
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I might make that comparison tomorrow. I can use TIDAL from the Innuos ZENith, as I have a few RHCP albums on it, as well as Tori Amos and The Doors (although The Doors is hi-res - that'll make it more interesting!).
 

shadders

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Nov 19, 2009
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davidf said:
I might make that comparison tomorrow. I can use TIDAL from the Innuos ZENith, as I have a few RHCP albums on it, as well as Tori Amos and The Doors (although The Doors is hi-res - that'll make it more interesting!).
Hi David,

Thanks - the comparison will be interesting. Any statement on the degree of change between standard CD and MQA will be helpful, and high resolution too.

Some of the MQA texts on blogs/descriptions indicates high resolution is excessive, yet MQA is designed to provide the extended frequency, in a smaller packet. If high resolution and MQA are similar, then all you save is the size of the audio track.

MQA is meant to solve timing issues that are introduced with digital filters etc., that smear the sound. What is not stated is whether the entire album needs to be re-recorded, to have the maximum benefit, or whether there is limited benefit from existing recordings. That is, does MQA have a specific recording technique?

Regards,

Shadders.
 

Frank Harvey

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Jun 27, 2008
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shadders said:
What is not stated is whether the entire album needs to be re-recorded, to have the maximum benefit, or whether there is limited benefit from existing recordings. That is, does MQA have a specific recording technique?
Well based on what I heard with The Doors' Riders On The Storm, it seems any album can benefit from it - unless the MQA came from a different master to the hi-res remaster. I'll be putting the ZENith/Moon/Eclipse system back on tomorrow, so I'll see if I hear similar differences on that (non MQA) system. I can always include a Node II if I need to compare against MQA.
 

Superaintit

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I listened to the Meridian 5200 speakers which were excellent.
On it I listened to albums that were non mqa and mqa. I couldn't discern any major effect. To the extend that were it blindfolded I would have stated it was the exact same song replayed. No difference in my opinion.
Still great speakers though.
 

ellisdj

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Dec 11, 2008
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As far as I am aware there is no Meridian MQA Decoder at present so you likely only heard MQA Lite - not the full MQA

I think only the Meridian Ultra Dac has mqa support and you wouldnt have heard that with the DSP5200
 

busb

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Jun 14, 2011
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Superaintit said:
I listened to the Meridian 5200 speakers which were excellent. On it I listened to albums that were non mqa and mqa. I couldn't discern any major effect. To the extend that were it blindfolded I would have stated it was the exact same song replayed. No difference in my opinion. Still great speakers though.
I have some so-called hi-res files on my MacMini that I play through Audirvana Plus. These include flacs (24/96) & DSD64. They all sound great. I'm yet to hear any poor hi-res music but all is classical that is usually never badly recorded but sometimes a little flat-sounding. Some have stated their preference for hi-res but as has been pointed out, they are usually mastered with a lot more care than the CD versions - if this is indeed the case, it's no more than pulling the wool. Some people have down-sampled hi-res to CD quality to then find no difference! The stated aim of MQA is to reduce file size without down-grading SQ. It uses more than one technique but many are familiar with folding the inaudible high frequencies back into normal audio spectrum in a way that ordinary playback chains can decode more or less unchanged but with an MQA enabled system, will fully decode & benefit from. How much of that benefit is available without an MQA DAC from say TIDAL, I don't know. On the face of it, a great idea. However, not everyone agrees that IT IS such a great idea. Take one hardware manufacture's opinion:

http://schiit.com/news/news/why-we-wont-be-supporting-mqa

They seem object on 3 grounds, cost, arduous licensing & technical grounds. Now, not all closed & proprietary standards are a bad thing: Bluetooth was entirely invented by Ericsson whereas IEEE 802.11 variants took ages to finalise due to wrangling which caused serious delays. The problem for MQA is that a certain degree of delay would allow greater scrutiny of not just the technical aspects but who's going to profit from it! I've heard that Linn ain't that happy - OK - they compete with Meridian (or MQA Ltd indrectly) so they would be unhappy but does that automatically invalidate any concerns they may have?

Anyone interested in the technical aspects may finds these pages interesting:

http://www.audiomisc.co.uk/MQA/origami/ThereAndBack.html

There's 2 more pages accessible from the arrow at the bottom of that page.

My final thoughts on the subject is that the mastering is far more important than the format.
 

shadders

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Nov 19, 2009
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Hi,

Not able to insert the link, but if you search on schiit and MQA, the audio company made a statement on MQA and why they are not supporting it.

Essentially, MQA Ltd is inserting itself in the audio chain, and wants paying for it from everyone involved, which is the studio, manufacturing (CD/DVD), DAC providers, and customers. Possibly the artist too.

Some further reading, indicates that their system is twofold. The compression by MQA into smaller bit rates for audio files. And the reversal of any system (filter) that smears the signal in the time domain.

If the smearing of the signal is a problem, you don't need MQA, you just need studio equipment redesign to negate this aspect throughout the chain. It is a mathematical process, which should not be the domain of a proprietary system. Anyone with the relevant software and experience can complete this task.

Regards,

Shadders.
 

Al ears

Moderator
shadders said:
Hi,

Not able to insert the link, but if you search on schiit and MQA, the audio company made a statement on MQA and why they are not supporting it.

Essentially, MQA Ltd is inserting itself in the audio chain, and wants paying for it from everyone involved, which is the studio, manufacturing (CD/DVD), DAC providers, and customers. Possibly the artist too.

Some further reading, indicates that their system is twofold. The compression by MQA into smaller bit rates for audio files. And the reversal of any system (filter) that smears the signal in the time domain.

If the smearing of the signal is a problem, you don't need MQA, you just need studio equipment redesign to negate this aspect throughout the chain. It is a mathematical process, which should not be the domain of a proprietary system. Anyone with the relevant software and experience can complete this task.

Regards,

Shadders.
I can see why Schiit don't support MQA. They build DACs and really MQA will only come into its own when streaming through MQA compatible devices. Downloads etc you are still better off with hi-res uncompressed files as data storage devices are cheap so no worries about file size.
 

shadders

Well-known member
Nov 19, 2009
152
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18,670
Al ears said:
shadders said:
Hi,

Not able to insert the link, but if you search on schiit and MQA, the audio company made a statement on MQA and why they are not supporting it.

Essentially, MQA Ltd is inserting itself in the audio chain, and wants paying for it from everyone involved, which is the studio, manufacturing (CD/DVD), DAC providers, and customers. Possibly the artist too.

Some further reading, indicates that their system is twofold. The compression by MQA into smaller bit rates for audio files. And the reversal of any system (filter) that smears the signal in the time domain.

If the smearing of the signal is a problem, you don't need MQA, you just need studio equipment redesign to negate this aspect throughout the chain. It is a mathematical process, which should not be the domain of a proprietary system. Anyone with the relevant software and experience can complete this task.

Regards,

Shadders.
I can see why Schiit don't support MQA. They build DACs and really MQA will only come into its own when streaming through MQA compatible devices. Downloads etc you are still better off with hi-res uncompressed files as data storage devices are cheap so no worries about file size.
Hi,

I think that is the problem, that MQA Ltd want to be part of the entire audio chain, and we all will have to pay them for it. One aspect is smaller file size, but the other is the insertion of MQA in every part of audio processing.

For example, a DAC ic from Cirrus, Analog Devices, or Texas Instruments, will have a digital filter in every chip. MQA want these companies to tell MQA the details of their DAC which is not available to anyone else - possibly a trade secret. They (MQA), then will provide the codec specific for that DAC IC, which must be implemented by the IC manufacturer OR the DAC unit manufacturer. Then, MQA want the DAC IC manufacturer to pay MQA if they include the codec in their chip, OR the DAC unit manufacturer to pay them if they include the codec in their unit design.

This is the same for any equipment (studio recording, processing etc.), who is part of the audio chain, including CD/DVD manufacturers.

Everyone in the chain has to pay.

The "A" in MQA represents Authentication. The details of this aspect are not fully available, but, the inference from other comments are that, the DAC unit will only signify that the file being played is an MQA file, if the entire audio chain is an MQA processed audio chain. Essentially, an MQA audio file ensures maximum royalty return for MQA Ltd.

Regards,

Shadders.
 

Barbapapa

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I posted my experiences in an earlier post somewhere. For the purposes of this thread I did a quick comparison of Renaud Capucon/Khatia Buniatishvili Franck, Grieg, Dvorak: Sonatas for violin & piano (which I have on CD as well).

- Bluesound Node 2 using internal DAC with MQA

- Quad Vena DAC streaming from Bluesound Node 2 MQA through optical.

- Quad Vena DAC from cheap Philips Blu-ray player playing CD through Coax.

The CD clearly sounds worst: in comparison the sound seems muffled (not softer; I tried increasing the volume).

The two MQA options in comparison are much clearer; it is indeed much more like the violin is in the room. I find it difficult to distinguish the Quad Vena DAC and the Bluesound DAC: there may be the tiniest of differences, but not quickly noticeable. Maybe I would find some difference after extensive listening, but then I might as well imagine things. This is in fact similar to non-MQA music which I also find sounding similar through either DAC.

Provisional conclusion: the improvements (if any) may in this set-up be due mostly to the 'remastering' part of MQA and/or the higher resolution once unfolded. The MQA-qualified DAC in itself doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

Now some caveats:

- I didn't do blind A-B tests, furthermore the Quad Vena takes about half a second to switch inputs.

- The DACs used are quite modest to hifi standards; it could well be that better DACs would give clearer differences.

- My whole set-up is quite modest (fairly cheap speakers) which could be the reason why I can't distinguish the two DACs in MQA.

I also did a quick test using my Sennheiser 598 headphone (which I find quite revealing), again there is only the slightest of differences. Then I got bored and decided to just enjoy the music instead (lovely album, can really recommend it).
 

Frank Harvey

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@barbapapa

You may have found the CD inferior as some find the digital outputs from certain sources to be inferior to others. This is something I can't prove, but do believe myself. The transport, being mechanical, does play a part in how good a digital source can sound, in my opinion. Opinions vary...
 

shadders

Well-known member
Nov 19, 2009
152
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18,670
Barbapapa said:
I posted my experiences in an earlier post somewhere. For the purposes of this thread I did a quick comparison of Renaud Capucon/Khatia Buniatishvili Franck, Grieg, Dvorak: Sonatas for violin & piano (which I have on CD as well).

- Bluesound Node 2 using internal DAC with MQA

- Quad Vena DAC streaming from Bluesound Node 2 MQA through optical.

- Quad Vena DAC from cheap Philips Blu-ray player playing CD through Coax.

The CD clearly sounds worst: in comparison the sound seems muffled (not softer; I tried increasing the volume).

The two MQA options in comparison are much clearer; it is indeed much more like the violin is in the room. I find it difficult to distinguish the Quad Vena DAC and the Bluesound DAC: there may be the tiniest of differences, but not quickly noticeable. Maybe I would find some difference after extensive listening, but then I might as well imagine things. This is in fact similar to non-MQA music which I also find sounding similar through either DAC.

Provisional conclusion: the improvements (if any) may in this set-up be due mostly to the 'remastering' part of MQA and/or the higher resolution once unfolded. The MQA-qualified DAC in itself doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

Now some caveats:

- I didn't do blind A-B tests, furthermore the Quad Vena takes about half a second to switch inputs.

- The DACs used are quite modest to hifi standards; it could well be that better DACs would give clearer differences.

- My whole set-up is quite modest (fairly cheap speakers) which could be the reason why I can't distinguish the two DACs in MQA.

I also did a quick test using my Sennheiser 598 headphone (which I find quite revealing), again there is only the slightest of differences. Then I got bored and decided to just enjoy the music instead (lovely album, can really recommend it).
Hi,

Thanks. It would be good to see if high resolution differed by much compared to MQA. Do you have the material to compare with MQA?

Regards,

Shadders.
 

Barbapapa

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Feb 13, 2016
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@ davidf: True, I've also had the vague impression that CD in this way did not play as well as it could/should. This even though I'm of the belief that bits are bits. I should try to rip the CD and then play the FLAC through the Bluesound Node, to compare accurately to the MQA version. I'll see when I'll find time to do so.

@ shadders: That would be a nice experiment. Presently I don't think I've got one of the MQA albums in hi-res (other than a few test tracks from 2L). I'll see whether I can find an album that might be suitable for comparison. Probably classical as I'm most familiar with that kind of material, although I found the Pink Floyd I listened to also quite enjoyable.
 

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