Dr. AIX's POSTS — 03 December 2014

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This headline is is front and center at the Meridian sponsored website Music Is Changing. I received a note from a reader today (thanks very much for the info) about a big announcement that will be happening on December 4. The site has a big counter ticking away the seconds until we can find out what Meridian has to say. At the top of the page are the letter “MQA”, which is obviously an acronym for something. My guess is it stands for Meridian Quality Audio. What could Meridian possible have up its sleeve?

For those who don’t know, Meridian is one of the uber brands in the world of high-end audio. There are just a few companies that really do push the envelope on audio quality and Meridian is definitely in the club. I’m not going to mention any others that I believe are standard bearers because to do so would detract from the purpose of this post. We’d spend the rest of the year arguing about who is and who isn’t in that exclusive club. But trust me, Meridian is one of them without a doubt.

Robert Stuart, the head of the company (and am acquaintance of mine), is a truly brilliant man. I’m one of those people that holds him in the highest regard because he knows his stuff and is always looking for ways to improve digital audio. I settled in on high-resolution PCM audio largely because of some conversations that Robert and I shared when DVD-Audio and SA-CD were launched back at the dawn of the 21st century. His explanations coupled with the additional information I learned from John Siau of Benchmark Digital formed the foundation of my format preferences. Those original thoughts have only been fortified as I’ve researched the realities of all recording formats.

I have a couple of Meridian components in my studio. Robert was very kind in letting me return from a CES show with a couple of the units he used during the company’s demonstrations. In my equipment rack, are the Model 800 DVD-Audio/Video Player and a Model 861 Processor. They are expensive components. When they were current pieces, they would set you back over $35,000. I thank my friendship (and months of gentle pestering) with several people at the company for having these state-of-the-art audio components. They really do deliver some of the best playback of my recordings and I still use them when showing off my DVD-Audio titles.

But the big announcement from Meridian is not about music at all. It’s certainly not going to be about it sounds…Meridian doesn’t control the actual fidelity of the recordings that labels large and small produce and release. They are going to announce their partnership with Tidal and the inclusion of the CD specification streaming within their hardware. The “change” that they’re talking about is the abandonment of physical media and even downloads in favor of streaming. With Tidal claiming to be the “world’s first high-resolution, streaming digital music” service, the shift is away from physical discs (CD, SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray Pure Audio). The music is going to be the same…it’s the way you consumer it that is what’s changing.

So just how big a deal is this? Not very big in my opinion. The masses can’t tell the difference between a good quality MP3 files (at 320 kbps) and a CD, so I don’t understand what the fuss is about. The world doesn’t really need 25 million CD rips streaming to your home system or portable device. What we really need is better sounding recordings in any format.

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I’m still looking to raise the $3700 needed to fund a booth at the 2015 International CES. I received some very generous contributions but still need to raise additional funds. Please consider contributing any amount. I write these posts everyday in the hopes that readers will benefit from my knowledge and experience. I hope you consider them worth a few dollars. You can get additional information at my post of December 2, 2014. Thanks.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(6) Readers Comments

  1. I quizzed Tidal a while ago. Basically inferred that their claims for “high fidelity” and “lossless” we’re ambiguous at best. I insinuated they were purposefully evading the “high def” ” high rez” debate. Then posed the question, why anyone would justify $20/mo for ripped audio already owned. Any reason to believe they would respond ? OF COURSE NOT !!

  2. Mark, I subscribed to Tidal over the weekend after taking their *320 kpbs MP3 vs CD* test and got the free 14-day trial. I have played with it quite a bit, and though it’s nice to be able to access a music I used it have (we lost all our CDs and records when our moving van was stolen during a move 3 years ago, but that’s another story). I have Tidal coming in through the app on a Mac Mini I designed originally for optimal music file handling (SSD, etc.), and it’s feeding a PS Audio Perfectwave DAC via USB with a fancy cable. Last January I bought a Sony HAP-Z1ES and have loaded many CDs and downloaded hi res files on it as well. All of this is going into a relatively new system: McIntosh C50 Preamp (all sources connected with Shunyata balanced XLR cables) into two McIntosh 275 tube amps in mono driving Martin Logan Summit X electrostatic speakers with the fabulous Shunyata cables. It is a highly resolving system. All that to say, after spending time with Tidal, I did A-B testing between the Tidal audio stream and the same music ripped from CDs and hi res files residing on the Sony. By now I am familiar with the very minor differences between the Mac Mini playing files through the PS Audio DAC and the Sony’s output, so I was disappointed when critically comparing the Tidal streams to the files on the Sony. I would characterize the difference as being an overall drop in resolution of about 15% on sound stage, depth, and mid and high frequency resolution. The bass, though not as tight as the Sony files, had good depth, but was slower (mushier).
    So, it’s disappointing in that Tidal will not serve as a serious listening source, but will certainly be more enjoyable than MOG, which is what I used for filler music before. I’m anxious to compare Qobuz to Tidal when it is available…supposedly any day now.
    One more thing: though I got 4 of 5 right on the Tidal “test”, when taking the test I didn’t think the samples made for a very good test. Now that I know there is a general loss in the quality of the CD based streams of about 15%, it makes more sense why the test samples probably seemed valid to the engineers in their studios before putting it online.

    • This is very interesting…thanks. They’ve reached out to me as offered a free subscription. I guess I should take advantage of it and then report.

  3. For once I don’t agree with you.
    “The world doesn’t really need 25 million CD rips streaming to your home system or portable device. What we really need is better sounding recordings in any format.”
    We need both – not one OR the other.

    As you often pointed out, ‘better sounding recordings’ is a matter of educating the guys involved in recording.
    I – as a layman – have no big influence on that, and depend on your expertice in that matter.
    My influence is limited to being willing to pay for a (multichannel, please) ‘highres’ recording with a proved provenance.

    Everyone should be able to choose, whether he wants the ‘lossless’ files (fromTidal or others) or the ‘good sounding 320 kpbs’ files (from Spotify or others).
    Having access to all the music of a streaming service is worth the pay anyway.

    Nevertheless, Tidal should stop talking about ‘high resolution streaming’ – and just call their files ‘lossless redbook/cd quality’.

    FB

    • OK…we do need both but not with hefty price tags and excessive hype like we get with Pono.

      • Forget Pono!

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