I was heartened to learn from several other vendors that MQA is not a regular topic of conversation and audiophiles aren’t asking whether this or that DAC will include this completely unnecessary technology. But I do continue to read discussions and comments posted by advocates for MQA. Steven Stone’s recent 2018 Show Report contains a rather curious section that narrows down the conditions under which MQA encoded music sounds best (if it’s supposed to sound different from the master at all!). His first universal truth is “if you really want to hear what MQA can do, you must begin with a well-recorded phase-correct recording of instruments in a real acoustic space”. Apparently, he liked the MQA process on a variety of Peter McGrath’s recordings as played in the Paragon Room through Wilson speakers at the AXPONA show — but only if you sit in the “prime listening position”. If his assessment is correct (which is highly doubtful), virtually all of the MQA albums being streamed on Tidal won’t benefit from the MQA process because they were produced in the confines of a recording studio. Additionally, listeners have to sit in a single location in order to maximize the sonic benefits accorded to MQA processed material. Wow.
As the purveyor of recordings made using high-resolution PCM (at 96 kHz/24-bits) in acoustically rich venues that are indeed phase coherent, my catalog would be a prime candidate for MQAing, right? As I’ve stated before, the inventor of the technology and others in MQA employ have offered to process some of my tracks and let me experience the “magic” that MQA can impart on my otherwise high fidelity tracks. I uploaded 12 tracks to a mutually agreed on FTP site almost 4 years ago and despite repeated requests haven’t heard back from the company about when I can download the MQA tracks. I suspect that the MQA versions will sound different than my high-resolution originals — and I would consider that a degradation of their fidelity — and a violation of the tenants of the process as explained to me by the inventor. All this talk about MQA’s “sonic improvements” or its ability to deliver “more readily identifiable soundstaging” or whatever people say they like about it, contradicts the intended design goals of the technique. Robert Stuart told me that the process shouldn’t enhance the sound of an original master. It’s primary job is to maintain more of the original fidelity through each stage of production — and reproduction. The idea is to lose less fidelity along the way. So those that hear and value the euphonious effects of MQA are actually arguing against it. No change from master recording to reproduced output would be ideal — and imperceptible.
As far as I can glean from all of the articles, technical papers, patent applications, and conversations I’ve had, the advantages of an MQA-encoded file apply only to real high-resolution music recordings when streamed through a bandwidth limited network (wired or wireless). It was not designed to be a sonic enhancement process but rather a bandwidth saving technology — and it does manage that trick although there are other “open source” methods that accomplish the same thing. The record companies that have submitted to the hoax that is MQA don’t have catalogs of high-resolution audio with ultrasonic frequencies in need of origami folding. This is my biggest complaint about the MQA myth. If the trick of folding ultrasonic content under the in band content is key to its “better sound” then there better be meaningful amounts of ultrasonic content in the original tracks. The fact is there isn’t any and even if there were, your system and ears couldn’t process it. The CEA/CTA and its associated member companies continues to promote “hi-res” music as the next big thing in music — they don’t realize that taking old content and wrapping it in a large bit bucket doesn’t do anything — but it is good for commerce.
One recent FB comment dismissed my dislike of MQA by saying that I just don’t have adequate equipment or that my hearing is incapable of experiencing the fidelity improvements of MQA. Once again, it’s a personal failing that I can’t hear the difference. This regular subjectivist retort is tired and completely false. The MQA process is a business that hopes to dominate streaming music by promising the removal of “time smearing” and other digital artifacts for a very limited catalog (maybe 2500 high-resolution titles) for individuals sitting in the “sweet spot” for those with great hearing who happen to own state-of-the-art systems. How is that a real business proposition?
But wait — there’s more. Just when you thought physical discs were becoming obsolete, MQA is pushing to have their process applied to compact discs. I’ll talk more about that tomorrow. And don’t forget that the AXPONA Show special for the book is still in effect. Use the code “axpona 2018” during checkout at the Music and Audio site.