Dr. AIX's POSTS — 12 January 2015

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I spent almost an hour chatting with Bob Stuart about his new MQA development on the last day of the CES show. As I explained yesterday, the technology “encapsulates” temporal information in the ultrasonic frequency range below the noise floor of a standard 16-bit recording (which is 90 dB below the maximum amplitude), which can be used by MQA compliant hardware (some components will require only a firmware upgrade) to deliver the equivalent of a 192 or even 384 kHz PCM recordings without any loss AND within a pipe that is 1/10 the size of the original…or roughly that of a CD. Amazing.

However, today I would like to share my thoughts after listening to a wide variety of music from diverse decades and formats. The first thing up was a recording of Bob Dylan accompanying himself with his harmonica and steel string acoustic guitar. The tune was “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. Robert explained how Steve Berkowitz, Senior Vice President of Sony Music’s Legacy Records and a multiple Grammy Award winning producer, spent months tracking down the “right” analog master of the Dylan Track. The tune was written in 1962 and released on the 1963 album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” and as a single.

The Meridian system consisted of a Sooloos music server (owned by Meridian now) and a couple of their top of the line digital speakers…the Meridian DSP7200 loudspeakers. I sat precisely in the middle position about 7-8 feet away from the speakers. When the music started, I was immediately aware of the clarity and detail in the sound. Honestly, I expected to hear more hiss than was present at the start of the track. There’s no way to know the provenance of the tracks…is it the flat transfer of the EQ’d master…but I can attest to the fact that I’ve never heard Bob Dylan sound that transparent and clear. I’ve got the “Best of Bob Dylan” 44.1 16-bit PCM tracks on my Sprint One M8 Harman Kardon Edition phone, which sound amazing even in headphones…but the MQA versions were a move up.

But all was not sonic bliss, there were a few notes that I would have adjusted if I were doing the transfers or remastering. They were rare but the few occasions when they did happen they possessed an edginess. The sound was just noticeable enough that I would not have been able to do repeated listenings to this great piece of music. This was not the fault of MQA, I should point out. However, somewhere in the processing and transfer of the analog master something was missed…in my opinion.

Then Robert played “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack, which won the 1974 Grammy Award for Record of the Year. The track is well known to most music lovers of my generation. I can remember walking home in the early morning hours of the day after my job at Dominoes Pizza in Ann Arbor, Michigan hearing that song. It’s a fairly sparse arrangement with a bass, drums, acoustic guitar, percussion, background vocals, and electric piano. The MQA version was very present sounding, intimate, and possessed the full frequency spectrum. The triangle and kick drum were especially precise and clear. The sound was ideal.

The next tune was a recording done in the offices/studio of Ahmet Ertegün, the founder of Atlantic Records and a major force in the discovery of important talent in Rock and Blues…including Ben E. King, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Wilson Pickett. The track he played was a jazz number featuring Ray Charles. This one was a disappointment…at least for me. I explained my feelings to Robert and the others present. The sound was dull, distant, thin, and colored by the sound of the acoustics (an office) of that space it was recorded in. Again, I would stress that this is not the fault of the MQA technology but rather the fidelity of the technology and recording circumstances of the time…the late 1950s.

We listened to some contemporary recordings by Morten Lynberg of 2L and even a Daft Punk track. The 2L recording was sublime in every way or as good as it could be in two-channel stereo. The Daft Punk track lacked any dynamic range, a victim of the production methods and requirements of commercial music, but did have a lot of complex instrumental layers that were perfectly preserved by the MQA process.

The MQA technology seems ideally suited to pulling the best sound out of the hundreds of thousands of aging analog master tapes and presenting them once again. Getting the best “Master Studio Quality” from those tapes is very important. MQA and a number of other technologies can make sure that we get the very best of these standard resolution masterpieces.

I was impressed and encouraged. I’ll withhold final judgment until I hear my own files through MQA. I’m setting that up in the next week or so.

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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.

(18) Readers Comments

  1. Thanks for your reporting of the listening session, but it really tells us just about zero, nothing, nada of use. I imagine you know why I make that complaint. If you heard the file in redbook form, and then in MQA format, or hear a native hirez bit of music, then MQA it might tell us something. But you heard isolated music of unknown remastering. It means MQA doesn’t sound bad on its on. But whether it sounds better than redbook or something in between there is no basis to say. Well mastered redbook can be very good.

    Thanks for your reporting though. I don’t mean to be overly critical, just don’t know a simpler way to phrase it.

    • You’re right, of course. I think Robert and his associates were very proud of the quality of the sound that they produced from sources that were, in most cases, quite old. I firmly believe that they can deliver very high quality lossless versions of analog or PCM digital sources…at substantially lower bandwidth than conventional schemes. I’ll be able to report on your issue when IU get some of my files MQA’d and can compare.

  2. Best part of the story was about you walking home from Dominoes thru an early Ann Arbor morning. What were you listening to Roberta Flack on?

    • We had a radio in the pizza shop…I took some poetic license because I remember those short transits home very vividly. When the sign on the band on the corner blinked -20 degrees and 3:30 in the am…I remember.

  3. Congratulations to you, Mark, for having listened for the first time in your life to a properly noise-shaped Upsampled MP3 track. Sure many will agree to pay for air with MQA.

    I am suggesting the solely authentic HD audio :

    * decimal word {NO quantizing error}

    * 768 kHz sample rate {NO anti-alias filter, smoothest high frequency cancellation}

    * mono {NO phase shift between the two channels}

    • Did you read the post?

      • Well, O.K.

        MQA = MLP 44.1/16 + 192/384 resampling + anti-aliasing filter attenuation {technique was first applied by dCS; Meridian have also used some rhetoric from neighbouring Chord Electronics}

        Then, apparently, OptimFROG 44.1/16 + 192 kHz upsampling + filter attenuation will give on much better results just in terms of file size… Period.

        • MQA is not 44.1/16 with MLP applied.

          • Then, which specifications does it have {if any} ?

  4. “The MQA technology seems ideally suited to pulling the best sound out of the hundreds of thousands of aging analog master tapes and presenting them once again. Getting the best “Master Studio Quality” from those tapes is very important.”

    Man you lost me here Mark, you make it sound like MQA can make an improvement to the sound of the original tape and that’s not possible. The best we can hope for is that MQA is a completely transparent compression system that allows large digital files to be to be transported at a faster speed with no loss of fidelity.
    You need to do some honest A-B listening tests with your best recordings to determine the transparency of the system.
    The above post proved nothing except your opinions of the sound of the original recordings and told us nothing about MQA.
    Don’t mean to be disrespectful, I much appreciate the work you put into educating us with your daily blog. But I question the reason for this positive brag on MQA when there were no testing procedures to support it?

    • Sal,

      If you read my previous posts on MQA, you’ll know that I don’t regard MQA as anything more than a potential streaming carrier for high-quality audio. I will get to the comparison, I simply reported on what I heard.

      • Sorry, just seems you were a bit premature in praising the sound before it had been submitted to complete A-B listening tests of a known source like your own recordings.

        • I don’t feel I’ve said anything than I heard some terrific recordings played back in the Meridian room. I’ll get to the final comparison asap.

  5. You said Mark: “MQA and a number of other technologies can make sure that we get the very best of these standard resolution masterpieces.”
    Let’s hope that one of those “other technologies” is the Plangent process. From what I have heard, it makes indeed a difference as far as involvement into the music.

    • Plangent is a major step among many…better tape transports, electronics, and post processing like the clever trick that CAPSTAN and PLANGENT provide. However, the cost is too high think this will be done to anything bu the very best quality projects.

  6. I found it interesting that you thought MQA had promise with it being played using a Sooloos music server. I auditioned one a while back but was disappointed. When I heard CD rips and 24/96 PCM from an Aurender I immediately sold my Meridian CD player and have been happy since. I only mention this because as I slowly learn about music play back I’m astounded how much a difference the kit used can make. Not news to others of course. Thanks for your posts Mark, I have much to learn.

    • The recordings I heard the other day were very accurate reproductions of excellent transfers from analog tape and some high-resolution digital (PCM). It is not a requirement to spend lots of money on fancy equipment, power cords, RF Towers, and other gear. Just get a reasonable setup, a good set of speakers, and some great sounding recordings.

      • The hardest thing will probably be ‘getting some great sounding recordings’.

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