One More Time With Feeling!
I heard from Bob Stuart once again. It’s clear from a number of comments that the confusion over recordings and live performances is alive an well. My original comments were based on a reading of the question and Bob’s answer that differs from what he was saying. It was my fault for taking things out of context. I shouldn’t have done it but I was conflicted by his position.
Here’s his clarification:
I see from your recent post, and in the comments, that we are in danger of taking one statement out of context and compounding the error because your readers are not privy to the background of our discussion.
A shared topic for some time has been: ‘What constitutes High Resolution in audio?’, particularly against the background of several attempted definitions in the digital domain. My original comment and subsequent note were in that context, nothing to do with MQA.
The central point I was making (and in the linked article) is that we can define ‘Resolution’ strictly in the analogue domain (and by analogy therefore in acoustic, mechanical and electrical domains!).
One reason we are in the weeds as an industry is that, for sounds, these terms have not been defined as helpfully as they were for pictures.
In optics or photography, image resolution is the detail an image holds, and one measure is how closely two lines can approach and still remain separated (resolved). That tends to be a property of e.g. a column of air, a lens or film .
In digital photography, pixels only loosely correlate to ‘resolution’ which is why they use the different term ‘definition’ for the digital part. A high definition image need not be high resolution.
In sound, ‘resolution’ should be about the separability (resolvability) of two objects or events in time; a measure that can be mapped to analogues of acoustical, mechanical or electrical domains. And unless we can define it way back in the acoustic domain we can’t be reliably guided by the auditory sciences.
A digital path is not necessary to either enable, constitute or reduce resolution. We can have a high- or low-resolution analogue path; we can have a high- or low-resolution digital path. But an analogue definition helps to inform the design of a complete chain.
So once again, I wasn’t commenting on whether analogue recording systems are high resolution or not (nor indeed on whether pre-electrical recordings aren’t analogue), I was making the point that there needn’t be a digital path to have the discussion. This is a very precise topic because it is the starting point.
Discussion over! I’d suggest people wait for your book.
You can post this or not.
46 thoughts on “One More Time With Feeling!”
I have no idea what Stuart said. It would help the average consumer if three simple questions were answered in layman terms assuming industry accepted quality recording standards and materials are used:
1) Does 16/44.1 sound better or worse than a record LP and why are why not?
2) Does 16/44.1 uncompressed sound better than 16/44.1 compressed and why or why not?
3) Does 16/44.1 sound as good as 24/88.2 and why or why not?
Which of the above would generally be considered high resolution audio?
These questions have been answered over the span of many months of posts…and will answered again in the “Music and Audio” book. Here’s the quick response”
1) Does 16/44.1 sound better or worse than a record LP and why are why not? A CD is more accurate, contains greater fidelity, and has less compromises than vinyl LPs. However, there are people that have grown to love the distortion and “sound” of vinyl LPs. They don’t have the dynamic range of CDs, they suffer from excessive crosstalk, and have frequency curves that screw up both the high and low end.
2) Does 16/44.1 uncompressed sound better than 16/44.1 compressed and why or why not? Any format conversion reduces the fidelity of the original signal. Compression—data compression—reduces file size by throwing away stuff that we “don’t hear”. The original is the best we have.
3) Does 16/44.1 sound as good as 24/88.2 and why or why not? No, if the original source recording was made using the higher standard (and no upconverted), the engineer will have greater dynamic range to work with and the higher sampling rate provides greater frequency range and easier filtering.
The 88.2 kHz/24-bit PCM file would be considered high-resolution audio, if and only if the original source recording was made at that specification.
Sure, a hi-rez 88/24-bit recording has a greater dynamic range, but in practical terms, how often does anyone come anywhere close to the 96 decibels available in 44/16 CD-quality audio, even in classical? And yet SACDs and hi-rez Blu-Rays are certainly sweeter and easier on the ears than RBCD, so there must be something else going on besides mere dynamic range (most of which isn’t used anyway).
In practical terms, you’re right. But why limit the potential when you don’t have to.
I find Bob’s wording confusing but at the bottom line I find it just more verbal mis-direction to justify calling 50+ year old recordings High Definition or High Resolution or what have you, just because they are digitized into a bigger then CD bit bucket. It ain’t so! But the powers that be need it to be so they can now once again re-sell you the same ole music one more time along with new hardware to play it back on.
Bob you can deny this has anything to do with MQA but in reality it has EVERYTHING to do with MQA. If folks don’t buy into your definition of HDA the $ you make off the licensing of MQA would be hugely diminished.
I got an idea for ya, open source MQA and release it under the GPL and we can all quit worrying over definitions.
I may not be the brightest bulb on the tree but growing up on the city streets of Chicago I know a hustle when it hits me. LOL
Enjoy reading your website very much so thanks for the effort. I agree 100% with what Bob is saying in his response. The nyquist limit is what Bob is talking about in photography where there is a measurement of lines per mm or inch and it applies to whether the sensor in the back of the camera is film or a chip. The limit is only in the analog domain though. I am reminded of the journey Lincoln Mayorga took in his search for “HD” audio in the founding of Sheffield Labs. It doesn’t need to be digital to be HD. Standards would help but I think in the end they could also be misleading.
It is possible to reach human hearing fidelity without digital systems…but there aren’t any analog consumer formats that do. High-resolution music files at 96/24 PCM do it easily and cheaply. Vinyl LPs—even the stuff that Shefffield Labs did—don’t qualify as High-resolution audio.
These days every time the term High Definition is used, its particular definition needs to be included; otherwise people continue to be confused. That is not to be imply that confusion will not continue anyway. Note that in layman’s terminology, which is where most of us reside, the newer term High Definition and the older term High Fidelity hardly differ. Come to think of it I’m not sure that the old marketing term High Fidelity neccessarily correlated with high fidelity sound; I just assumed that it did; silly me.
I don’t think the definition will ever be meaningful. There’s simply too much at stake. Too much money.
Yes I wish there was a way to measure the quality of a recording that reflected the recordings fidelity other than just bits used. I agree with what you’re saying. Very interesting discussion.
I am not sure that I agree with the statement that High Resolution and High Definition are not one in the same and just mere word play. HD has pretty much been the real of film and TV, where audio has captured the ideal of High Resolution. The whole point of high resolution audio is to get the samples taken, closer together (more per second) as the picture of the Riemann sum comes to mind for those inclined to look at it. There is also a reason that the “refresh rate” for HDTV has become more important as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riemann_sum
Anyone who has looked at a wav file in a DAW like Sony Sound Forge or many other great ones knows that the music we listen to when viewed is not the perfect, single tone wave form everyone thinks can be perfectly reproduced by redbook audio, 16/44.1khz. And if all we listened to were single test tones it might be all we needed. Once all the instruments and their overtones and then the vocalists add theirs, it become quite a complicated stream to sort out and recreate. Stretch out the wave form time in a DAW and look at what a real music wave form looks like as it is playing.
There is a reason that tape machines went to 30ips and why 24/192khz audio and DSD can sound better for the same reason today, these abrupt changes in wave form level and frequency must be copied (followed) as perfectly as possible, but the music must be tracked from the start that way. It is the reason that everyone wants the “real master tape” for reissues and not some 2nd or 3rd generation copy to work with.
Otherwise we just end up with a preference of some mastering over another and not necessarily “better”, which is always a moving target anyway. When we listen our music playback systems are now an important part and alter what we perceive as well. It is a much more complicated process, but the I, for one, having recorded at 24/96 and 24/192, and not with fancy kilo-buck ADDA’s , often lose enjoyment of my CD collection, but much of it is mastered so well that I still can. Even good quality 24/96 or 24/192 ADDA is a remarkable thing and it is sad to me that too many main-stream music lovers still don’t get it. I do think that MQA can be a big deal for them to realize there is more to hear. For many of them you have to make it that all they have to do is hit “play” as anything more complicated will move them away.
Jim, the steps that you see when you drill down into a WAV files on a DAW don’t represent the output of the digital file. The output is smooth…just like the original analog waveform. Nyquist-Shannon worked in the past and works now…with sine waves and complex music.
Discussion NOT over Mr. Stuart. You don’t get the final word when you are WRONG.
“One reason we are in the weeds as an industry is that, for sounds, these terms have not been defined as helpfully as they were for pictures. ”
Big WRONG! You are in the weeds because your industry does not understand sound or hearing. Your model is badly flawed. Sound is not an electronic phenomenon, it is an acoustic phenomenon, a branch of mechanical engineering called fluid dynamics. And it is still in a rather primitive state. However there is some knowledge out there and it is accessible. I highly recommend you read papers and books by Leo Beranek, one of the world’s best acousticians. If you read only one of them, you should read his comparison of 58 concert halls. It’s a free download on his web site. I’ve read it two dozen times or more and learn something new from it each time.
I’ve developed my own model and it is very different. Its requirements are very different and the closest thing to it would be full development of Wave Field Synthesis, an experimental concept that comes to the same conclusion I did about 10 years earlier but approaches it from an entirely different route. Here is an example of part of what I saw in 1974, what actually happens, what you have to be able to duplicate, and what my technology can do that others can’t. There’s even more to it but this is a good start. Click on the image and it will launch, load, and start your default video player. (BTW, my technology is patented.) Keep in mind this clip is slowed down by a factor of about 200 so what you see actually takes about 1/3 of a second in real time.
Can someone explain to me what technical problems MQA is trying to solve OUTSIDE of network bandwidth which I of course agree is important to streaming providers who want to reduce their overall storage costs?
Bob in his original remark mentioned that MQA is more philosophy than codec but really didn’t come much deeper than that.
I’m just trying to get my head around the MQA ecosystem which so far, I have not been able to do for whatever reason. For example, MQA offers a chain of trust with respect to masters. Why is that needed? What problem is that feature trying to solve? MQA also apparently offers some sort of phase correction during playback? Again, why? Finally, is MQA licensing free and if it isn’t, what are the terms of such licensing?
I just get the impression from Meridian that they aren’t being completely forthright about all the details around MQA and trying to treat it as some nebulous brand so audiophiles get the impression that MQA = better. Ultimately, that maybe true, but I need to understand the why before I start drinking their proverbially Kool-Aid.
Alex, I’ll be including his entire Q&A in the book but for now, think of MQA as a system of authentication and minimizing signal degradation.
We get stonewalled by Mr Stuart who will reveal such information on MQA he deems appropriate at a time he deems appropriate.
You who seemingly have some inside information obtained from Mr Stuart in your Q&A is holding that back until you release the book. I’m sure your book will be very informative and teach much about the realities of High End Audio. But to hold info on the new technology hostage for increased book sales, I feel your doing your readers a dis-service in this matter. Do you really want to portray your book in a Mommy Dearest tell-all light?
I have been in touch with Bob Stuart since last year about MQA. It took him a long time to respond to my questions AND I’m sure it took him a while to write the answers. And yes, the information that he provided will be available only upon publication of the book…at his request and with my approval. I see nothing wrong with that. I’ve written about the MQA technology and will continue to do so…
Alex, I watched a recent u-tube video of Bob explaining MQA and he was at pains to explain that MQA was like audio “origami”. It was able to fold the frequencies above 20 kHz into parts of the lower bandwidth below the audible noise floor. As you say, “an issue important to streaming providers who want to reduce their overall storage costs.” As I understand it, Bob Stuart is working with Tidal to do exactly that. Tidal brags that they provide a better fidelity signal, CD level not MP3 in quality, but that they hope to provide a high definition signal soon. Neither Tidal nor Meridian have jointly thrown the “swtich on” in that regard. Many of us are waiting for this one. I wonder whether this feature is going to be the most important part of MQA for us audio consumers.
Jack, MQA—or technologies like it, if they come along—will benefit streaming services like TIDAL. But only if the source content is better than a CD…and most isn’t.
Information channels whether digital or analog have two dimensions, amplitude and bandwidth. Resolution if it has any meaning at all is the smallest incremental change that can be made within that window. Once the resolution of the information channel matches or exceeds the resolution of human perception, further improvement is of no value in this type of application. For example, 4K UHD television is clearly superior to 1080 P displays if the video material being used exploits its full capabilities. You don’t need any tests to prove it, just take one look at it and you will see the difference instantly unless your sight is impaired such as by cataracts.
My amplitude resolution is about 1/2 db over a span of about 1 1/2 to 2 octaves in some frequency ranges. My pitch resolution is between 1/4 and 1/8 of a half tone. That’s about a 1% change.
Those who believe in the value of HRA, HDA, or whatever they choose to call it require a greater size information channel than say RBCD. The argument I have with Mark Waldrep is whether a channel sufficient for all music is of sufficient size or a channel great enough for anything you can hear is required. Audiophiles, at least some of them believe that frequencies above 20 kHz need to be recorded and reproduced even though audiologists insist they have no perceptible effect.
At the heart of MQA there is a system which trades bandwidth for amplitude in the digital domain in a tricky way. It allows extended bandwidth beyond 20 kHz to be passed through a 20 kHz wide channel window by changing its frequency and amplitude to fit through an RBCD window and then reconstructs the original signal by an inverse process. This was valuable when the size of these windows was small and expensive. Today much larger windows are very cheap and getting cheaper all the time. For example you can buy a 4 terabyte hard drive for between about 100 and 200 dollars and transmission rates of 50 megahertz is now typically on the low side for 4G LTE smart phones and cable IP service. If this extra information is of value then MQA, B, D solves a problem that is really no longer an issue. Think of how much larger the window for streaming HD video is. Even that is cheap. By the time the problem was solved with clever tricks, the problem was gone, it’s no longer a problem.
Very wise conclusion on the part of Bob.
I, and I’m sure many others like, me cannot wait to read your book. I certainly feel it has the potential to become THE reference when it comes to high res audio.
From your blog it is clear you fully understand the subject and are able to explain the différences.
I’m patienlty waiting for the book to come out as I feel it will be worth the wait.
I’m working on the book every spare moment…stay tuned.
Conventional digital video is plagued by noise (from analog tape), Gibbs effect (because of compression), timing errors (due to insufficiently high frame rate).
As for digital audio, a CD record, when decently noise-shape-dithered and properly upsampled, delivers superior sound quality amongst any known format.
Ian Shepherd is much more an expert on sound recording than you, Mark.
I enjoy reading Ian’s blog and know him to be a strong advocate for great sounding recordings. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion. But you’re terribly mistaken, if you believe that it can’t get any better than compact discs. It can. And I’m among a select group of engineers that has demonstrated it.
mistake is you figure that the filter does necessarily introduce pre-ring
I am surprised at you Mark. What a load of blather about nothing from ole Bob Stuart at Meridian as opposed to Robert Stuart of the AES.
Timing resolution? Really, timing. That leaves out 30 ips tape as the wow and flutter really mucks about with timing. One of Bob’s own papers from back when correctly shows that even redbook can time to 55 picoseconds (or much better with dither). Is that not enough?
Malarkey covered in marmalade.
Oh, and yes, ole Bob wasn’t even referencing MQA in the comments …..very funny.
If photos resolve two closely space objects why does audio not resolve two closely spaced objects? Instead we go with resolve in time. Yet listening, or more accurately hearing is about space. Timing is just part of its methodology.
Dennis, I haven’t signed on to MQA. I don’t thing the world needs it because it requires every source file to be processed with MQA, a very subtle and “lossy” format as opposed to MLP or the original wav files. I’m sticking with my “unauthenticated” master PCM files for the time being.
I have never known a format generate such passionate debate!
In the interest of brevity, having heard MQA mastered material on both my Explorer 2 and a Meridian DSP setup for a demo at the beginning of last year, I can categorically state the differences and improvements over ‘high res’ / Red Book to be significant enough for this to be a new benchmark in audio reproduction, especially given the file size, accessibility and potential market. It pretty much is a one size fits all!
The smaller MQA type can even be written to CD which will play on a normal CD player and authenticate and play on an MQA decoder!
I appreciate it is difficult to try and grasp the technicalities of what the format brings to the table and it only really starts to make sense once you have heard it in action and past this point, resolution, A vs D become largely irrelevant.
For me it’s just about the music, I have a deep enough technical grounding to understand how MQA works and don’t see the need for technical one upmanship when all that matters is how it sounds.
Thanks for your input…but you lost me when you ended with “all that matters is how it sounds”. That’s perfectly fine…but it expresses your personal subjective reaction to the music prepared with and without MQA. I’ve heard it too…although not in an immediate comparison and it sounded great. But it didn’t sound better than what I hear all the time in my studio.
I refuse to support the claim that an MQA version can eclipse the fidelity of my original High-resolution audio files. There haven’t been converted or processed and are completely lossless…MQA isn’t.
IMO, the “passionate debate” is not because of the format itself. It’s a clever scheme to create a hardware/software ecosystem euphemistically termed “authenticated”.
It’s because of the HYPE around the format among various audiophile enclaves and promoted by promoters. Just like the ridiculousness of Neil Young’s claims created quite a stir. It’s not that the iPhone can’t already do hi-res to some extent or that one could not already download 24/96+ from places like HDTracks but his theatrics and unbelievable claims. Just look at the MQA promotional videos for a flashback!
Looking outside the usual audiophile hangouts, MQA isn’t really gathering much interest as far as I can tell.
Bottom line… Mark is right that the world doesn’t need it. As Soundmind notes, there’s a trade-off between dynamic range and *lossy* extension of bandwidth. Plus being locked in to the whole “ecosystem” idea. I know Bob Stuart doesn’t use the term “DRM” but it is still being locked into some kind of proprietary software/hardware scheme. I can go to 2L now and buy MQA files but without a new DAC, I would not have a “right” to the supposed extended resolution encoded by their “origami”.
Finally, from the perspective of network data compression, MQA files look like they compress poorly using lossless techniques like FLAC. I’m not sold at all that streaming needs to be high-res, but if we did need to go that way, I think 24/48 FLAC lossless would compress just as well with the benefit of true 24-bit dynamic range (MQA is comparatively limited), slightly extended bandwidth, and uncompromised freedom of universal playback. If someone really loves the music so much as to want a copy for themselves and think that it could benefit from even higher resolution, then just buy the 24/96+.
In all, MQA looks like a compromised technical and entitlement “solution” for consumers. Indeed, something we really didn’t need in the first place…
I’m going to withhold my ultimate judgement on MQA until I hear my own recordings processed with their “authentication” process. I’m dubious about whether a lossy, low bandwidth version could be as good or better than my original files, but I have the utmost respect for Robert Stuart and his genius, so we’ll wait and see.
I recently got a RBCD of Enrique Granados chamber music on Aevea (that’s the record label) that advertises an LRA (loudness range) of 18 decibels; i.e., the difference between the softest and loudest sounds on the CD is 18 decibels, which really doesn’t sound like that much to me. The recording is available as a high-rez 88.2/32-bit download also — not that I have any equipment that can play 32-bit encoding. I’ve never seen a record label advertise this LRA spec before. Have you measured the LRA of your recordings, Mark?
I have measured a bunch of my recordings. Specifically, Scott Wilkinson and I made sure that all of the examples we used in the AVS Forum “test” exceeded the fidelity of a CD. The dynamic range of the files was 93 dB or more.
At least the discussion about resolution has drifted in the realm of its scientific definition instead of marketing hyperbole. I’m glad people are beginning to give some thought to what the word resolution actually means, its denotation instead of its connotation. Now you can begin a discussion that involves numbers.
So in the past few days since this post came out I have gotten all of my current issues of “Stereophile”, “Sound & Vision” and “The Absolute Sound”. The theme of all of them is of course high resolution audio, and the MQA “miracle” (my word for their enthusiasm, not theirs).
Interesting in the fact that much of the high resolution content they talk about, of course, does not meet your definition (of the strict definition of the licensing groups) but they still call it high-res. There were a couple of references in what I read to the source material of the files, but, they really did not delve into what that meant. I read it all with a wary eye, having been educated at this site about the real meaning behind those file types, hardware specs, etc.
At the end of the day for me, even if it is not high resolution by the strictest definition, if it gets the general public at large to want a better quality sound, or listen to a higher bitrate file (whether lossy or lossless) I might consider it a win for the industry. My opinion only.
Nice ad, Mark, in “The Absolute Sound” and I hope this gets someone’s attention, as I recall last year at the Axpona show you mentioned no journalist from any publication made an appearance at your room. I was there last year for a time and plan to be there again this year, see you Friday and perhaps Saturday.
Thanks Larry…I haven’t seen the ad yet but several press inquiries have come my way. We’ll see what happens in Chicago this year. We’re going to have the same setup as last year except that Oppo has provided a customized player with a built in multiple S/P DIF digital out board. I can make these machines available to those interested parties.
As for MQA, I’m not convinced that the world needs another encode/decode technology to marginally improve the sound of very high-end audio. Forget about the whole high-resolution debacle, I just want people to make better recordings available. And it’s possible to do that today without clever schemes. Just hearing well produced music tracks in full Hi-Res PCM is a true joy.
MQA seems like a very innovative approach to encoding/decoding, but similar to your feelings, I’m not too interested in the main benefits that are being advertised. However, there is an aspect of MQA that I find more interesting that doesn’t get as much discussion. It seems the discussion has been focused on MQA and it’s applicability for ‘high-res” recordings. Ok, that’s fine, not much content there, so it doesn’t get me too excited.
Instead, I find the simple reduction in bandwidth (while maintaining a lossless signal) to be potentially very useful. And not just for streaming services like Tidal, but for personal use. For example, I have some of your multi-channel recordings, not as DVD-A, but as digital flac files. Given the bandwidth of a 96/24 6-channel flac file, my home wifi is not up to the task of streaming this from a server to the decoding devices. And even the USB protocols implemented in your average receiver are not always up to the challenge. Do you know if MQA would be able to encode a multi-channel recording? What is the expected reduction in bandwidth? Maybe it is enough to be able to reliably stream them by wifi? Of course a proper decoder would need to be present. And this might be a moot point as Wifi transfer protocols improve, but for now I think this aspect of MQA isn’t getting enough credit.
Surround is on the radar of MQA but Bob has told me that they’re only dealing with 2-channels at the present time. It’s a stereo world after all. BTW MQA doesn’t maintain a “lossless” signal, it is lossy.
I am confused then when Meridian claims that their processor is lossless, and has the ability to unpack exactly the encoded data. How can a encoder/decoding system (MQA in this case) not maintain a lossless signal as you say, but still be able to reproduce the original data bit-for-bit? Do you address this issue in the full interview in your book?
MQA is not lossless. The authentication assures the user that the file has not been altered since the MQA processing…these doesn’t mean that MQA is lossless. I do talk about MQA extensively in the book.
30 page release of info on MQA by Bob Stuart over at Computer Audiophile.
you should read Robert Harley’s review on MQA at theabsolutesound.com:
Best and funniest thing here in his answers on the comments:
“You may want to withhold your conclusion that MQA is no better sounding than “high-resolution” until you hear it for yourself. In my assessment of MQA in the next issue, I compare the MQA file with the high-bit-rate masters from which the MQA file was made. The MQA is better. This isn’t your proverbial “hyperbole machine.” I’m simply reporting what I hear. Incidentally, recording professionals are saying the same thing …”
I’m just waiting for the next genius that enables me to get a print of Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” better than the original.
What I try to say is, the more these kind reviewers promote MQA the less I’m interested in it.
I couldn’t agree more. And from my understanding of MQA following discussions with the inventor Robert Stuart, it’s not intended to be better sounding than the original…it is meant to exactly as the original! Robert Harley and other members of the audiophile press have been gushing about MQA for many months. I’ve heard it and was impressed but not overwhelmed…my recordings sound much better than anything I heard in the MQA demo. MQA includes a lossy process…how can anyone think that would result in a “better sounding” file. Conversions always diminish fidelity.
I also read “The Absolute Sound” review of MQA and found it very clear that they feel it makes it sounds better than the master by somehow recreating the microphone feed before it was compromised by any recording medium.
I will reserve judgement until I hear for myself. I saw a number of references in the article about “ill-informed critics” who claim that MQA material can never be high resolution if the source material was not recorded on equipment that meets the high resolution standard. They further claimeded said critics are “blatantly wrong”. Was that a veiled reference to you Mark??? I certainly took it that way.
Larry, I don’t know whether the people at TAS pay any attention to me. It seems to me that Robert Harley and the bunch have been swept up by the mystique of MQA. But I know Robert Stuart and believe that he’s a true genius with regards to this stuff. My question is whether audiophiles actually care? I don’t think trying to elevate a 1960s era analog recording to “high-resolution” status is honest or necessary. MQA stands for “Master Quality” Authenticated. I’m not interested in Master Quality. That means it’s never any better than what we had 40 years ago…I want better than what the music industry has been doing for 50 years.
I know I’m not “blatantly wrong” since I’ve gotten my information from the source—the inventor of the process. Maybe the misinformation is coming from the other side…it wouldn’t be the first time.