Dr. AIX's POSTS — 12 January 2016

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The MQA company has a new logo and a new website. They were doing demos and pitching their new technology at the Venetian Hotel during CES 2016 and I spent about 60 minutes chatting with members of their team. I spent some time with Robert Stuart, the inventor of the technology, after he returned from one of the high-res sessions. It was just a year ago that I spent time with Bob and Spencer Chrislu, MQA’s Director of Content Services, in a similar suite at the Venetian and experienced MQA for the first time. I wrote about the experience of hearing Ray Charles and Bob Dylan in the MQA format in a couple of posts. You can check out the articles by clicking here.

The company has made tremendous progress during the intervening 12 months. They have finalized the tools that will used to encode source audio into MQA compatible files. I learned a little about them during the California Audio Show because my table partner was Jonathan Reichbach, the head of Sonic Studios. He’s a very smart guy and has spent decades working with audio digital signal processing and developing professional tools for mastering facilities. I have known him and used his software since I started Pacific Coast Sound Works way back in 1989. He’s the guy behind Amarra, the high-end playback software. MQA has also secured some important strategic “playback partners” including Pioneer, Mytek, Onkyo, Bluesound, Meridian (no big surprise there!), Auralic, Aurender, Ixion, Kripton, Berkeley Audio Design, and Imagination.

I also spoke with Michal Jurewicz, the head of Mytek about MQA and why he believes it’s important for his DACs to include this new technology. His latest DAC is a masterpiece and compatible with virtually every format currently available. It’s called “Brooklyn” and is compatible with virtually every format and sample rate currently available to audiophiles. I’ll share more of my conversation and his thoughts on the “sound” of MQA when I review his DAC. Who knows…by then MQA will have encoded the files that I shared with them many months ago and sent them back. That’s a listening session that I’m looking forward to.

My first encounter in the MQA suite was with Spencer, a long time acquaintance from our days working on DVD-Audio. He was working at Warner Brothers at the time. He insisted that the MQA technology improves the fidelity of any source audio selection. This statement runs counter to the assurances I got from Bob back at the Newport Show in June. At that time, Bob told me that MQA minimizes any loss of fidelity that happens from the original analog transfer to digital through to the final reproduction. That’s different than what Spencer and others have claimed. And it’s important to a record producer and record company owner. I don’t want the fidelity or sound of my source files (which were natively recorded and processed at 96 kHz/24-bits) altered in any way. I like the way they sound when played back in my studio or the demo setups that I’ve realized at AXPONA and other trade shows.

If my recordings are suffering from “time smear” or “time blur” due to recent discoveries in neuroscience, I certainly don’t hear these deficiencies. Is it possible to improve the entire signal path? Yes. But I’m not convinced that a recording made using my all high-resolution digital process warrants the use of MQA. I’m looking forward to hearing some examples so that I offer an informed opinion.

To be continued…

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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.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. Mark thanks for the MQA update. Reading between the lines I do not plan to change out my two current model DACs just yet. I look forward to your upcoming review(s) of material that has received the MQA touch.

    • I’m looking forward to making my own evaluation.

  2. I am a new subscriber & just read the archived reports from January 2015 about MQA. A small footnote regarding Roberta Flack & “Killing Me Softly”….. Mark Abramson, who produced Judy Collins for Elektra, told me he had offered that song to Judy & was hugely disappointed when she rejected it. I don’t know if she has since done a version of it but I think things worked out for the best. Roberta’s voice has a warmth Judy’s lacks & gives the song exceptional emotional depth.

    • Thanks and welcome.

  3. I visited a room at the Venetian (can’t remember which one as I was in a hurry and late to a meeting) where they were streaming The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” from Tidal using MQA. They just happened to have the vinyl recording there and I requested a quick A/B. This is not scientific as I cannot provide all the links in the chain up to the speakers, but after 10 seconds it was NO CONTEST and vinyl won. The analog recording was warmer and more organic, i.e. it sounded more “real.” If MQA is improving the presentation, it was lost somewhere in the chain. My 2 cents. BTW, I’ve heard the Meridian demo and it sounded great with old vinyl like Sinatra.

    • Herb, the only way you can make a fair comparison is to set up a rigorous A|B|X comparison. Playing a vinyl LP and then a digital MQA (or normal) file doesn’t cut it. I suspect that the vinyl LP will sound “better” to you…but it may not be as close to the original. Funny, that Bruce Botnick, the engineer and mixer of that track, was here yesterday meeting with some folks in one of the studios.

  4. Since the review comments I’ve read by JA, JVS, and others in Stereophlle, Bob is backing off on the original comments he made to you. Hey if everyone is saying they hear improvements why should he disagree? Or you. Got to go along to get along they say. 😉

  5. AFAICT, it’s like HDCD and it’s main application is high-res streaming (folding high-res freq spectrum to . Also, from looking at Meridian’s patent filings (and I could be very wrong) but a MQA enabled file is actually lossy when played through a non-MQA compliant player.

    Finally, how does MQA solve the problem of labels/engineers etc upsampling standard-res files and pawning them off as high-res?

    • I agree…MQA is most appropriate for “high-res” streaming…although, I don’t see any reason to take “hi-res” transfers and stream them as 96 kHz/24-bit equivalent. A well made CD would be just fine.

  6. Hello Mark
    Do the artist or musicians have any say in the manipulation of their music, or did they give up control years ago?. Maybe they never had it. I hope some people or companies are saving the true original recordings.

    • The artists say they care. And I’m sure that many of them do…but they also follow the sage advice of their producers and engineers…and the label folks. It’s all about selling more records, making money, and having successful careers. I heard from a second hand source that the big shots of acquisition at Pono that they approached 10 different acts about remastering their class albums and all 10 turned them down. They like what they have already produced and don’t see any reason to redo them.

      I think the same sentiment will dominate MQA’s requirement to remaster or retransfer all of the analog masters.

    • Can you imagine how big an artist would have to be to stand up to his label and insist on doing things his way and not the labels? Easier to start their own labels which I believe a few have done.

  7. Hi Mark, did you record a sine tone through your AD like Morten from 2L did to receive the MQA “White Glove” treatment of your files?

    • After meeting Bob and his team at the CES 2015, I sent them a bunch of files. Never heard back, in spite of assurances to the contrary. I can do whatever they need…

  8. Mark, Do you know anything about the details of the Sennheiser AMBEO 3D immersive audio technology that was demonstrated at CES? One thing I find interesting about AMBEO is Andreas Sennheiser’s comparison of AMBEO to ATMOS and DTS:X, “And our format is optimized for music. So, we’re really focused on how people perceive music, and all the little elements — not just to have the biggest wow effect, but to make the music sound as natural as possible”.

    Sennheiser Ambeo link.

    • I’ve only heard of it. I’ll do some research and let you know what I think.

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