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Every interested audiophile, equipment manufacturer, audio engineer, and content supplier should carefully read “MQA: A Review of controversies, concerns, and cautions” by Archimago, which was posted on the Computer Audiophile site back in March. I hold Archimago in the highest regard (and consider him a friend) but this article is a thorough, thoughtful, and critical analysis of the hoax that is MQA. I don’t know why I didn’t hear about it sooner — I don’t spend very much time reading CA — but kudos to Chris and Archimago for a terrific piece.

Please take the time to read the entire article — it is long but well written and painstakingly supported with illustrations, annotations, and footnotes (I was even mentioned in one of them). The first section examines the “need” for a new format — especially a lossy one that costs everyone in the supply chain and doesn’t deliver on its promises. The 50 page chapter in my book Music and Audio: A User Guide To Better Sound on MQA is called, “MQA: A Solution To What?” because the claimed ability to deliver high-resolution audio through a narrow CD-sized pipe doesn’t provide any audible benefit for the vast majority of music consumers. If you’ve read some of the articles on this website or the chapter in the book, you already know that wrapping ultrasonic frequencies (20-40 kHz) beneath the audio band sounds quite reasonable but only if the original masters have meaningful amounts of ultrasonic content — they don’t. So why bother developing a complex “origami” folding scheme when the only partials being folded are noise, hiss, recording bias, and other uncorrelated signals. If you don’t start with a bona fide high-resolution recording, then MQA is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. And virtually all commercial releases regardless of period are standard resolution.

Archimago confronts and dismisses every argument made by the inventors of MQA with careful technical and scientific rigor. He destroys the sycophant mainstream audiophile authors that have described this highly flawed scheme as “the most significant audio technology of my lifetime” or “MQA’s ability to deliver better than high-res quality sound” with an objective sensibility and dispassionate thoroughness. I would challenge any of these authors to refute the supported statements in Archimago’s article. They may push back with their go to, tried and true, escape hatch rationale, “it just sounds better”. But wouldn’t you think that professional journalists would want to defend what they hear with technical and scientific facts? Apparently not.

I did find the hundreds of comments on the article in support of the article a very promising sign. The investors behind the MQA quest for world domination are certainly not going to like this high profile article. Andrew Quint of TAS opened his editorial on MQA with “The codec known as MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) is clearly in its ascendancy.” As audiophiles, let’s hope he’s wrong. The world doesn’t need another lossy, DRM restricted, codec that pushes open source, free, and better formats aside. The major labels love MQA because they’ll reap additional ± and undeserved — profits from long tail catalog and MQA-equipped device makers will prompt unknowing music enthusiasts to spend stupid money on something they don’t really need.

The best thing that audiophiles around the world can do is let the major labels and everyone else the has bought into the MQA strategy know that we’re on to them. We should avoid doing business with any and all companies that want to force us into their closed world view. Read the article, share it with everyone you know, write letters to the editors, and go to social media and like every comment that resists the MQA message. Collectively we have the power. If no one buys into their nonsense, they will be forced to back off. Then we can get back to making better sounding records!

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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. Hi Mark

    And hopefully that is MQA laid to rest. People can and will choose to use it, but I think the point about it not being anything to buy into, is now finally made.

    I hope that we can continue to push for more artists to record in Hi Res.

    My one concern through all of the MQA chatter, is that I have still not heard of any initiatives by the main recording companies to encourage all artists to move to a Hi Res recording chain.

    It is likely that I am not reading in the right places to know about that. Do you have any pointers?

    It is also a surprise that an initiative is not being well publicized, but then again that would call the recording industry out for all the Hi Res out there that is not Hi Res (Silly me).

    I think it is time to start the long hard journey into getting the main stream studios to upgrade their equipment and record and release at 24/96. I’ll bet there are plenty of studios that can already do this, but choose not to release at 24/96.

    FLAC 16/44.1 and the like are perfect for streaming, there are few places without sufficient bandwidth to take those files at full chat and will sound great as well.

    Hi Res streaming is being charged at a premium, but weirdly no one is calling that a scam as well.

    Guess I will just have to be happy with good remastering.

    All the best

    Gordon

    • Gordon…the truth is that the mainstream recording industry, producers, and audio engineers aren’t interested in high-resolution audio. They use 24-bit PCM as a capture format to provide additional headroom — a buffer against distortion and stick to 48 kHz because of plugin compatibility and processing power. Virtually, all mastered releases don’t require more. The audiophile fixation on 96/24 PCM and other crazier numbers and new formats is a niche and will always be a niche. If MQA gets it’s way, the whole industry will be forced to feed from their source — not a good thing for business and for sound. But great for the companies involved. A well-recorded 48 /24 release is more than adequate for the masses — move it to 96 kHz and you’ve got enough for even the most discriminating audiophile.

      • So, move to 96 kHz?.. But this frequency’s too low to consider it seriously as a benefit for ears. 24-bit? Just played recently with such audio and can firmly state that it’s absolutely unnecessary (probably, even during recording, when a real professional’s at work).

        • You obviously have different experiences than I do. There is absolutely no need to go higher than 96 kHz. As for 24-bits, an audiophile recording exceeds the limits of 16-bits regularly and it’s critical to a successful recording. Whether or not it’s needed for most consumer audio reproduction, that’s another matter.

          • I meant if there is no need to go higher than 96 kHz, there is similarly no need to go higher than 44.1 kHz because there are not more than two reasons for higher sample rate both of which definitely have nothing to do with alleged ability to hear ultrasonic frequencies (i.e. >22.05 kHz). As to 16-bit, it is absolutely sufficient for delivering entire dynamic range of any audio recording. Any. And since we do already have plenty of CD recordings and nowadays this format is still on [the only issue could 24-bit>16-bit decimation, but, as stated previously, professionals should have learnt to cope with 16-bit during recording/mastering], why go claiming the opposite?

          • There are reasons for moving the sampling rate to 96 kHz — extra ultrasonic octave, easier filtering, relaxing anti-aliasing LPF etc. Likewise, having recordings with greater than 96 dB of SNR requires more than 16-bits. You can disagree, but since it is so simple to use real high-resolution rates, I see no reason to limit myself. The general music industry is something else.

          • Since any CD (and this format deservedly remains the standard) recording can be easily transformed into Hi-Rez, there is no reason in 96/24. Probably, who can’t do it will choose 96/24 (or somewhat higher) recordings, but I personally wouldn’t be happy listening to them.

          • Thanks for your input. You’re assertion that a CD can be upconverted to Hi-Rez is correct but the file wouldn’t have any more fidelity than the original CD. This is what the rest of the world is doing and calling it high-resolution audio. However, if one starts with a native 96/24 file, there are differences.

          • Just forgot to add that one quite serious research made by or may-be for a company revealed that 14-bit is enough for delivering entire dynamic range a human would actually need, so even 16-bit is considered there a waste! Of course, noise-shaped dither is always a necessity, be it 16-bit, 24-bit or 64-bit.

            What about upconversion? Watts and Lavry take notice this process brings:

            1. high frequencies with no attenuation

            2. clearer transients

            These are what constitutes the so-called high-resolution audio. Other things being claimed are myths.

          • You may want to accept less but when the technology is available to record and distribute audio with over 120 dB of dynamic range — the range of the real world — why not? It’s simply too easy not to work within this standard. Upconversion doesn’t improve the fidelity of commercial recordings. There are some filtering benefits but generally speaking the fidelity of a recording is locked in a the time of the original session. High-resolution audio is limited to recordings that have been made using 96 kHz/24-bits at the time of the original sessions. Anything else is “fake Hi-Res music”.

          • Upconversion does make transients more clearly heard and high frequencies not rolled-off. What it doesn’t make better is high frequency response, but accepting the idea that one is capable of perceiving sound frequencies above 22.05 kHz seems pretty ridiculous. Noise-shaped dither makes dynamic range sufficient that 24-bit becomes waste. That’s the whole thing with so-called high-resolution audio.

          • Upconversion doesn’t do anything for transients. Making original recording at 96 kHz does result in better filtering and less in band distortion. Using 24-bits guarantees that the original master isn’t compromised but does only benefit recordings made and distributed at that rate. I’m done with the back and forth with you — thanks for your comments.

  2. Archimago’s own blog http://archimago.blogspot.de is a must-read.
    The CA article was ‘just’ a summary of what he has been writing about MQA during the last couple of years there.
    Thanks to Chris Connacker, he now – with the CA article – may have reached more readers.
    Do check out Archimago’s Musings – definitely eyeopening stuff!

  3. Hi Mark,

    I came across that article by accident a few weeks ago and was going to give you the heads up but thought you’d probably seen it. I found it the most grounded and sensible discussion of this subject I’ve read by far. It seems MQA is a terrible distraction when the whole recording industry really should up its game – but to do so it needs an incentive and as you say it hasn’t got one – it seems the majority of people who genuinely do enjoy music, though they may not be considered audiophiles, neither know or care about hi definition. I fail to see how streaming can properly reimburse artists and recording studios/staff as it cheapens music to an extreme giving even less reason for studies to reequip with 96/24 or whatever. MQA has been a very unwelcome diversion in my opinion.

  4. I think there many audiophile’s out there like me, who have long ago, ripped our CD collections, sold all our Albums, after ripping them as well to a computer and stored them on a mobile device. I had only listened to true Hifi, via BlueRay discs, and my discs from Aix records. They had become my go to demo discs. With the advent of Tidal/MQA streaming I have been reinvigorated into listening to music again. The MQA process does a great job with much of the old analogue catalogues, and the early digital Cd’s. There appears, from a perfectly subjective analysis, to be some increased spacial soundstage that the MQA process does perform. When compared to Mark’s full 5.1 disc, it is pale by comparison, but it is pleasing. I stream 98% of my listening time, what i don’t stream, i download to my phone in the Tidal app and for the car and the boat, it is more than adequate, and kicks the ass out of Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music. I have been defending Mark and Archimago on the MQA Facebook page since its inception, you are not welcome if you dis MQA. The defenders of the faith are swift to criticize you if you post a link, and i have had my knuckles wrapped a few times. I posted Mark’s booth location for the Munich show, saying, “Go ask him for yourself”. In the evolution of recorded sound I think MQA is a welcome codex, for streaming. To try and market it as anything more than that is pure poppycock. Market capitalism will sort things out. I hope? I do understand making the true facts known, is very important. In this era of Fake news, Fox news, Trump news, all in the same sentence, we have to be careful that the holders of the content, don’t force only MQA content down our throat. I sold my Sonos streamer for a entry level Bluesound Node. Now they have a Node 2. There are a few cheaper USB stick DAC options to fully decode the MQA content.

    • Thanks Glen. The MQA process isn’t supposed to “do a great job” on older analog recording or anything else. If you want to so some processing on any materials to make it sound “better” then feel free. But the MQA process is technically lossy and presents issues beyond the bad business model. I’m amazed how money and reputation has managed to get this flawed process as far as it has. It should be soundly rejected by all audiophiles.

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