I hinted at the coming announcement from high-end equipment manufacturer in yesterday’s post. Today, the veil has been removed and we’re learning more about what MQA is. First, there’s the acronym. It stands for Master Quality Authenticated and is supposed to be a new method of capturing and representing digital audio in a much smaller package. The website states, “A revolutionary British technology is bringing a whole new meaning to the sound of music. MQA will change everything.” The new scheme is called “encapsulation” and is based on the way we all hear sound.
This is all starting to make sense now. A month ago, I attended Robert Stuart’s (and Peter Craven) paper session entitled, ” A Hierarchical Approach to Archiving and Distribution”. Little did I know that it would branded MQA and available as a commercial product complete with encoders and decoders. Leave to the brainiacs at Meridian to come up with a new way of storing and retrieving music.
The essence of this new approach is described in the abstract of the paper. Here’s what it says:
“When recording, the ideal is to capture a performance so that the highest possible sound quality can be recovered from the archive. While an archive has no hard limit on the quantity of data assignable to that information, in distribution the data deliverable depends on application-specific factors such as storage, bandwidth or legacy compatibility. Recent interest in high-resolution digital audio has been accompanied by a trend to higher and higher sampling rates and bit depths, yet the sound quality improvements show diminishing returns and so fail to reconcile human auditory capability with the information capacity of the channel. By bringing together advances in sampling theory with recent findings in human auditory science, our approach aims to deliver extremely high sound quality through a hierarchical distribution chain where sample rate and bit depth can vary at each link but where the overall system is managed from end-to-end, including the converters. Our aim is an improved time/frequency balance in a high-performance chain whose errors, from the perspective of the human listener, are equivalent to no more than those introduced by sound traveling a short distance through air.”
So what does that mean for the future of high-resolution audio? It means smaller audio files that contain all of the information of very large sound files produced through the use of very high sampling rates. As they say on one of my favorite TV programs, how do they do it?
I’ll go into the details in tomorrow’s post but as a teaser, think about all of those empty data bytes that you’ve been downloading when you purchase a high-resolution audio file. As sample rates increase to 192, 384, 768 and even 1536 using 24-bit or 32-bit words, audio files are getting huge! What if you could scale the encoding of a piece of music according to how much information is present at each frequency range and at each stage in the production/distribution chain? Obviously, there is not a lot of sound in the ultrasonic region…even if you agree with me and accept that partials at 40 kHz make sense. So why do we need to through 24-bits of information to storage amplitudes that are down 70-90 dB? What Robert and Peter have come up with is a way to maximize the use of digital data where it makes the most difference…in the audible range and to tailor the amount of data at each stage in the distribution process.
But this new approach to capture and distribution doesn’t address the fact that the original source recordings…the input to the new “encapsulation” process…still don’t have sufficient fidelity to tax 96 kHz/24-bit PCM. The burden will still be on the producers of the music to get their act together and release records worthy of the MQA technology.
The promise of MQA lies in the uniqueness of the approach. This is data compression without loss. Remember these very same individuals brought us MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) 16 years ago. This isn’t really unexpected.
To be continued.
I’m still looking to raise the $3700 needed to fund a booth at the 2015 International CES. I’ve 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 network, 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.