MQA: It’s Everywhere, It’s Nowhere

The good folks at MQA have done a great job at getting their technology and message out. Never mind about the benefits of the “authentication” process or the technical merits of the “origami” folding of ultrasonic frequencies within the bandwidth available to streaming companies, they’ve succeeded in convincing a couple of the major labels (and a number of smaller ones), some hardware manufacturers, and production studios to endorse and collaborate with them.

As I opened my email this morning, I clicked through to a press release issued by MQA and Universal Music Group. The title “MQA and Universal Music Group Collaborate on Advancing Hi-Res On-Demand Streaming” means that UMG, holders of one of the largest and most valuable catalogs of music has joined Warner Brother Records in support of MQA. With the world rapidly moving away from digital downloads to streaming, the move to associate “hi-res audio” — made possible by MQA processing — with the new distribution paradigm is interesting. Brace yourself for the second wave of “so-called” high-resolution audio/music promotion.

On the other side of the coin, I also received a heads up from a friend about an article written by Jim Collinson of Linn titled, “MQA is Bad For Music. Here’s Why”. You can click here to read this very compelling argument against the MQA technology. His take is rooted in the fact that MQA is great news for the labels, for the streaming services that will extol the virtues of “hi-res” and potential charge more or attract more subscribers, and MQA but doesn’t provide any real benefit for end users. His article is well worth the read.

And finally, I read a couple of posts at Archimago on the technical aspects of MQA. In early February, he authored a couple of well-documented articles. The first “Musings: Discussion on the MQA filter (and filters in general)…” drills into the bit-depth basis for timing accuracy. He successfully addresses some of the confusing and incorrect claims made about sampling in other publications as they apply to MQA. His other piece is “COMPARISON: Hardware-Decoded MQA (using Mytek Brooklyn DAC)“, which uses an MQA enabled Mytek DAC to evaluate hardware MQA decoding. Those of you who are more technically minded will appreciate the information and graphics in these posts. They confirm many of my apprehensions about this technology.

The labels are all about trying to license their catalogs again — this time under the banner of “hi-res” streaming. They extracted many millions of dollars during the “hi-res” download period (2007-2016) and are looking at reaping the same windfall as TIDAL and others play the fidelity card. The reality is that the world doesn’t really care about fidelity. They want convenience over sound quality. If adding an extra imperceptible octave to a recording from 50 years ago using MQA floats your boat then it’s time to get excited. As far as I’m concerned, streaming CD-specification sound surpasses my own requirements. If you want real high-resolution audio/music, avoid streaming.

The press release reads as follows:

LONDON AND SANTA MONICA | FEBRUARY 16, 2017 – Music technology company MQA and Universal Music Group (UMG), the world-leader in music-based entertainment, announced today that the companies have entered into a multi-year agreement that will encode UMG’s extensive catalogue of master recordings in MQA’s industry-leading technology, promising to make some of the world’s most celebrated recordings available for the first time in Hi-Res Audio streaming

Today’s announcement comes shortly after the launch of the cross-industry marketing campaign “Stream the Studio”, launched at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and spearheaded by The DEG: the Digital Entertainment Group, to raise awareness of the advantages of Hi-Res Audio streaming.

Mike Jbara, CEO of MQA, commented, “We’re very pleased to be working with Universal Music to achieve our goal of moving studio-quality sound into the mainstream. Universal’s timeless catalogue and impressive artist roster will fuel music streaming services worldwide and enable the premium listening experience for all music fans.”

Michael Nash, Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy at UMG, said, “The promise of Hi-Res Audio streaming is becoming a reality, with one service already in the market and several more committed to launching this year. With MQA, we are working with a partner whose technology is among the best solutions for streaming Hi-Res Audio, and one that doesn’t ask music fans to compromise on sound quality for convenience. We’re looking forward to working with Mike and his team at MQA to make our industry-leading roster of artists and recordings available to music fans in the highest quality possible.”

MQA – the award-winning technology which delivers master quality audio in a file small enough to stream – debuted on global music and entertainment platform, TIDAL, at the beginning of this year, and is also available internationally on several music download services.

About MQA
Using pioneering scientific research into how people hear, the MQA team has created a technology that captures the sound of the original studio performance. The master MQA file is fully authenticated in the studio and is small enough to stream, while also being backward compatible, so you can play MQA music on any device. MQA’s award-winning technology is licensed by labels, music services and hardware manufacturers worldwide and is certified by the RIAA. MQA is a UK-based private company.

For more information visit www.mqa.co.uk

About Universal Music Group
Universal Music Group (UMG) is the world leader in music-based entertainment, with a broad array of businesses engaged in recorded music, music publishing, merchandising and audiovisual content in more than 60 countries. Featuring the most comprehensive catalog of recordings and songs across every musical genre, UMG identifies and develops artists and produces and distributes the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful music in the world. Committed to artistry, innovation and entrepreneurship, UMG fosters the development of services, platforms and business models in order to broaden artistic and commercial opportunities for our artists and create new experiences for fans. Universal Music Group is a Vivendi company. Find out more at: http://www.universalmusic.com

47 thoughts on “MQA: It’s Everywhere, It’s Nowhere

  • Yes, the labels want once again sell us Sinatra and The Doors by umpteenth time and lock us to streaming monthly fees forever.

  • And no more lossless Redbook from the streamers for us either.
    We either pay up for the MQA hardware/software decoding and get something that “may” sound as good as a original uncompressed HDA file, or you get a lossy, less then 16/44 SQ sound. Everybody’s on this new money train except of the end consumer who gets to pay more for less. 🙁
    A similar concept to the end result of DRM to me.

    • Admin

      You’re right. Redbook streaming at 44.1 kHz/16-bits can sound great. Moving to MQA doesn’t give you anything more if the original source wasn’t high-res — and virtually everything isn’t high-res.

  • Basically, I see MQA as really only useful as a replacement for MP3 on streaming content, most notably, Internet Radio. For instance, WCRB in Boston streams the live concerts of the great Boston Symphony, every Saturday night during the season. The broadcasts are very high quality (for MP3) at 192 Kbps, but that still isn’t as good as straight, non-compressed 16/44.1. KHz. It would be wonderful to have access, over the Internet, to hi-res live concerts like this, at quality so high, that it is actually better than what Bostonians can get over the air via local FM.
    This would open up a world of high quality LIVE music from around the world! Imagine being able to hear the BBC Proms live in glorious fidelity from the Royal Albert Hall in London, or a Puccini opera live from La Scala in Milan. While my interest is classical, other musical interests would be served as well: Rock, jazz, world music, etc.

    • Admin

      There is sufficient bandwidth these days to stream at CD spec.

  • Robert

    Hello Mark
    As a consumer, If I do not trust the quality of the product I can shop elsewhere. I thought the main interest in MQA was the promise or guarantee that I was downloading an original, not a copy. In the old days your reputation for selling high quality products was sufficient. If AIX sells lousy recordings, the word will spread and the business will fail. Is it really that hard to buy high quality downloads with honest and accurate documentation of the recording process?.

    • Admin

      MQA states that they are preserving the original fidelity as heard in the studio. They say “studio quality”. Well, which studio? The mixing studio, the mastering studio, or the studio where the safety tape copies were digitized? This is all marketing spin to benefit the labels and MQA. The quality of the original transfers to a 96 kHz/24-bit PCM file and then losslessly compressed to FLAC format (an open standard) will eclipse the MQA version. And yes, it really is that hard to buy high quality downloads.

  • Mick Emery

    I am so tired of the Government and Companies spouting ‘Alturnitive Facts’ trying to make people believe whatever BS they want. The most upsetting thing about their use of alturnitive facts is that people believe what they say.

    Very Sad Times

    • Admin

      I’ve purposefully avoided all hints at political discussions and will continue to do so. But “alternative facts” have no place in audio, music, and life. Lies are lies. Misrepresentations are misrepresentations. And those people or companies that purposefully spout them should be called out at every turn.

      • Mick Emery

        I only said Government because they coined ‘Alternative facts’ . My wish is that people would understand that you cant put back the fidelity after it has been removed through conversion, format limitations, mastering/remastering,
        ect. Music has to be recorded as Hi-Res to be Hi-Res, the bi bucket conversion does’nt make it Hi-Res. MQA cant make a track Hi-Res by adding a meta-data EQ’ing scheme and people should understand that MQA is all marketing hype.
        I Love your True Hi-Res albums, the 17 I have and the other 20 I will be purchasing as funds allow.
        Everyone I let listen to your music Loves what they hear as well.


        • Admin

          Thanks Mick for the comment and encouragement. The people at the DEG, The Recording Academy, labels, and consumer electronics companies are pushing high-resolution audio quite hard. They need — and want — a reason for people to purchase new equipment and replenish their catalogs.

  • Larry

    You say in your post that “the world does not care about fidelity” and from my experience I would agree with this. I think most people recognize high-res fidelity when they hear it but will not go out of their way at all to get it.

    I will question whether the world cares about Tidal as well! I bring them up as you mentioned that company in relationship to the MQA streaming. Not a single person that I know (and I ask frequently) has even heard of Tidal let alone listen to them. This includes friends in Europe who live in Finland who have never heard of the company. Contrast that with Spotify or Pandora and everyone knows about them and for the most part are happy with the free lowbrow service not the upper tier ( paid higher fidelity) service.

    • Admin

      Larry, TIDAL is trying to use fidelity as a way to segregate them from the others. But you’re right, the world is enjoying Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music. The thought that WB Records and Universal will “lock” their new transfers up in MQA-only versions is good for the labels but not good for consumers.

  • gordon wheeler

    Hi Mark

    I think that MQA is a non starter. To come from a long way back, if we start at the HRA definitions 2 or so years ago, I believe you mentioned that the categorization of HRA included a category that basically permitted the use of any recording to be put into a high resolution container and it became Hi Res.

    MQA basically does the same but, as far as I can tell, gets the original master to pass on to us. Either way the source is not Hi Res.

    Whilst I have an MQA enabled DAC and have used the “Master” playback function of Tidal and have enjoyed the sound, I simply cannot get behind it, because it remains the same old same old.

    I have to say that I was about to at least praise them for raising the quality level of streaming playback, when I read this piece and the comments and agree that quite simply redbook flac will render the same results and the only difference will be the quality of the playback devices.

    As purely a personal opinion, I would prefer if you could spend more of your posting time talking about projects that are promoting the recording of high fidelity music (specifically 24/96).

    Alas I fear that the old adage of “the main stream isn’t interested in high fidelity” will actually ring true. Not that you will continue to post the same thing just that the brick wall of ignorance needs to be hit until it succumbs.

    I feel that yourself and others like minded need to nurture the next generation in to high fidelity recording studios/techniques/output and bring down the barrier of cost (not a business man so don’t have suggestions on the finance side of that) so that we and everyone can break free of the monotony of new formats (sic) and catalogue regurgitation.

    More power to the elbow, as we say in England, to you and 2L for example.

    I for one will not be signing up to Tidal because I have a large collection of music and the means to take it with me, size of file is not an issue.

    Looking forward to the release of your book and your posts.


    • Admin

      Gordon, thanks for the comments. You’re one of the few people that I know that actually has an MQA enabled DAC and has not made “over the moon” statements about their experiences. You absolutely right that any MQA processed stream has been created from a standard-resolution “master”. And those masters in virtually every case are not new transfers from an archival tape. That process has already been done for “so-called” HD audio download sites. I already talked about the fact that many of those transfers were not done from the original approved masters because they can’t be located or have been worn out. As I understand it, MQA processed tunes are done from the existing transfers — and while they boast high-resolution specifications, they maintain their decidedly standard-resolution fidelity due to the provenance of the analog production process. Yes, MQA is a boon for streaming services. Bob Stuart was very astute in developing a technology that could bring the myth of hi-res audio to the new delivery paradigm. Too bad the source material isn’t all like AIX or 2L, then we might have something to praise. A well made FLAC encoded high-resolution transfer of an analog master will equal or surpass the fidelity of an MQA version. The MQA process raises the noise floor in the audio band to accommodate the “origami” fold of the ultrasonic frequencies — of which there are none worth reproducing.

      I understand that perhaps I should tailor my posts to the positive things that are happening in hi-res audio/music. But in all honesty, I don’t see any. I made a very serious attempt to create a process and catalog of “better than CD” albums. I demonstrated those to the Recording Academy, to other engineers, artists, and to label executives in an attempt to show them that fidelity can be a major selling point. Many heard the tracks and raved about the amazing quality and then went right back to producing overcompressed, heavily mastered, commercial sounding tracks. Why can’t 2L win a Grammy? Because Morten and I are on the outside of the mainstream music business and that’s where it counts.

      The book is coming. Stay tuned.

  • Mark, did you happen to read my piece on DAR?

  • Mark Dargan

    I think you are all so focused perceived malevolent motives by MQA that you do not countenance an alternative possibility – that MQA have in fact found a way to fix a key problem inherent with digitally encoded music which, as I and many others can clearly hear as better, but knowing , as stated by several posters, that most people don’t know or care about this improvement, have sought to find a way to persuade greedy record companies to pay for MQA.

    They have cleverly presented MQA to record companies as a way to deliver hi-res music without “selling” their DSD masters. Which is nonsense really since if the MQA file sounds just as good as the DSD master, who needs to ever pay more for the DSD master? MQA are selling an illusion to them. Thus I can get to listen to premium high res music while paying for a CD grade file. To do this I have to pay a small amount to buy a MQA capable DAC ( so far DAC upgrades to MQA are free to the end user or the selling prices are the same. ) The undoubtedly veniel greedy record companies can not charge me any extra for that decoding since I pay for the decoder and the file is dual use, so the selling price is largely determined by the basic CD price.

    In my experience, once you have heard an MQA decoded song it is hard to go back to plain vanilla CD. And I for one can’t afford to pay the going rate for music I want to listen to on DSD.

    • Admin

      Mark, thanks for the comments. I don’t thing Meridian, MQA, or the labels have “malevolent motives”. For them it’s just a business opportunity — a way to stretch extract additional revenue in the streaming world from the hi-res audio hype that has been mission one for a number of years. If the recordings with MQA processing sound better than an exact equivalent at 96 kHz/24-bit PCM or FLAC, then great (it would be very difficult to make that comparison as the CD versions are not the source for the new MQA processed files — but that’s the only test that would be valid.). The “improvement” provides an extra octave of ultrasonic partials to be included in a CD bandwidth stream through a clever scheme of “folding” these frequencies into audio band. It also claims to cure “time smear”, which happens at the Nyquist frequency or half the sample rate. BTW there is more “time smearing” in your playback environment than in the worst offending digital file.

      If it’s possible to use an open source format and achieve exactly the same level of fidelity (which is definitely possible and it’s certainly not DSD), then why used a closed system that uses a lossy codec to “authenticate” the fidelity of a “master source”? It makes no sense to me. The music world will take a huge step backwards if MQA becomes the only way the record companies issue or stream high fidelity music. It’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

      I don’t know what you mean when you say “DSD masters”. DSD is a coding scheme developed to archive analog masters. It was never intended as a consumer format. The professional audio engineering world doesn’t produce commercial music using DSD of any resolution. The masters owned by the labels are analog tape copies. The ones that have been digitized are done using high-resolution PCM. You’re not listening to “premium high res music” at all. You — and the rest of the listening world — are hearing standard-resolution audio masters digitized into high-res bit buckets that are for the most part empty. The ultrasonics are needed during the folding process because the original masters don’t have any ultrasonic frequencies to start with.

      I’ve heard MQA encoded music on a fabulous systems a number of times and can state without hesitation that a 96/24 PCM or FLAC file sounds as good if not better AND there’s not loss in either the undecoded file or MQA version.

  • Darren B

    I felt I needed to chime in here and add a counterpoint to all of this “speculation”. It’s seem that there is a lot speculation on the outcome as things are just leaving the gate.

    I stream from 3 different service providers (2x @ Redbook, 1x @ MP3 [320kbps]) and I purchase physical media. I have, but I no longer purchase digital downloads.

    I am a TIDAL HiFi Subscriber and have been for over 2 years. At present, for streaming MQA, TIDAL HiFi subscription appears to be the only option. Since, I also have an MQA capable streamer in a Bluesound Node 2, I was able to sample and compare MQA. I had previously bought the Node 2 so that I could stream local hi-res content from a NAS that my Sonos components couldn’t. The fact that the Node 2 also supports MQA was a bonus.

    When I became aware of the MQA content back at the begin of January, I did check it out — because I could with the Node 2. Did I hear a difference — YES I did. Did I prefer the difference — YES, in some cases. Can I truly quantify the difference — NO, but in some cases it was more significant and noticeable than some of the other technology comparisons I have done.

    Could a non-audiophile friend hear a difference that I could hear — NO. And here in lies the first problem, and I think it’s part of the point of Mark’s post. Different people “hear” differently, or hear what they want or care to hear, or want to afford. Some people have trained themselves for what they want, expect, or prefer to hear. It’s important to note that MQA may or may not address any listening or preference deficits for some people. For a lot of people costs will prejudice their perception.

    The first point I want to make, based on my personal experiences, and the press/commentary over the last year, is that no one that I am aware of has yet to make a claim that MQA encoding/remastering/etc makes what they hear sound worse. If this in fact the case, there should be some acknowledgement for this alone. Let’s face it, there were 3 ways to respond to how we hear and MQA encoded track:
    a) sounds worse,
    b) no difference, or
    c) sounds better.

    So far, most of the dialog is in the (b) and (c) category. So, my opinion right now is that if I am paying for and streaming at HiFi quality, and I have the bandwidth, AND I have an MQA capable streamer, do I care whether it’s MQA or Redbook any longer? If I am not getting any degradation in the listening experience, I don’t care. The delivery pipeline in the streaming service providers, CDN’s and ISP’s might care, but for me I don’t see an issue that justifies creating back pressure against a technology from the consumers perspective. Where it matters the most is with the content publishers and whether they feel the need to license and remaster an alternative issue of their content with MQA encoding. Media storage is “cheap”, there is no need to be dialoging the format to be one or the other, both Redbook and MQA formats can be mastered and published.

    And I am not going to get into the licensing/proprietary conversation. This conversation needs to be addressed from the perspective of paying the bill and that’s the consumer. So, let the consumer decide.

    For now I can enjoy the benefits for no additional cost with TIDAL. At this point, for the few albums I have sampled and compared to Redbook, I preferred the MQA version. I do not know what exactly contributed to that difference. I doubt it has anything to do directly with delivering ultrasonic content (and for my age that’s anything above 15KHz). Maybe there was some actual remastering, maybe it’s the de-blurring, maybe it’s the result of moving the anti-aliasing effects into the ultrasonic bands by moving the Nyquist cutoff to a higher frequency, and maybe it’s all of the above?

    MQA encoding is much more than an alternative to Redbook or bandwidth compressed (lossy or lossless) delivery mechanisms. I see that MQA is about correcting inherent flaws in the ADC/DAC processing, and takes advantages of developments in neuroscience as it applies to how our brains interpret sound waves.

    Here’s the way I see it with comparing MQA to Redbook, or for that matter any hi-res content to Redbook. If MQA is delivering hi-res content as 24-bit/{44.1,48}KHz content, the inherent increase in dynamic range allows for remastering to address at least one basic Redbook mastering issue: normalizing peaks to 0dBFS. If levels are lowered to peak lower than 0dBFS, and should be to address inter-sample peak distortions, this is going to disrupt the ability for someone to perform a proper A-B comparison.

    No one is being forced to embrace MQA right now. I doubt there will become wide spread demand for MQA. It is clear that the market has shifted to streaming and for whatever the economic reason is for the labels to be remastering with MQA encoding, there will or will not be long term acceptance by publishers and consumers to continue. In streaming is the delivery format of the future, it makes sense that MQA is one of the options selectable just like how you select between Vinyl and a CD. I suspect that a preference may grow and develop organically as what happened with the transition from Vinyl to CD.

    The second point I want to make is a concern over replacing all Redbook content for consumption on Redbook only gear with MQA files. I’ve never liked this premise of MQA.

    From the MQA website it states: “MQA is a revolutionary end-to-end technology that delivers master quality audio in a file that’s small enough to stream or download. What’s more, it’s backwards compatible, so will play on any device.”

    This is a backwards compatibility assertion to garner acceptance and implies that MQA tracks can replace Redbook tracks. I certainly hope that does not happen. There should be the traditional mastering for Redbook and complementary mastering for MQA and hi-res. If my device is only capable of Redbook playback, I want the Redbook version, if my device is capable of MQA playback, I want the MQA version. If it’s any other combination, that should be my choice — I don’t want other people making that decision for me.

    Some of my initial observations related to MQA streaming with TIDAL is:

    1. Multiple albums issues presented for an album release in the catalog and no indicator on which is which.
    In one case, before MQA addition to TIDAL catalog, only 1 album issue was available. A remastered version.
    Following the MQA edition, 3 album issues are available now.
    Specifically added was the non-remastered issue, in MQA and non-MQA format
    >> Note this confirms a dual format delivery strategy

    2. Unless you are using the TIDAL desktop app, browsing “What’s News > Albums > Masters”, you don’t know if something is MQA encoded or not in the catalog.
    As of yet, there is No UI indicator during general catalog browsing to determine which selections are MQA, Redbook FLAC, or MP3/ALAC. This is the case with so far with the Sonos, Blusound, and TIDAL controller Apps.

    3. I have a Sonos Connect and a Bluesound Node2 streamer
    My Sonos streamer is only capable of processing flac files at max 16/44.1
    Yet, when I selected an MQA issue on the Sonos – it plays.
    What exactly is being delivered? It cannot be a 24-bit MQA FLAC file.. the Sonos will not process it.
    A substitution in the streaming service for my selection has occurred without my knowledge.

    4. Streaming an MQA encoded album does use more bandwidth (transfer bytes) than the Redbook FLAC version … I suspect mostly from using 24-bit in the encoding.

    5. A good part of the MQA content that Warner has mastered and released to TIDAL is of a vintage and genre that I am interested in. I’d speculate that this older content and selection is favoured more by the demographic that represents audiophiles and was done purposely to gather more initial interest.

    Some of the universal challenges presented going forward:
    1/ Long term financial sustainability of TIDAL
    2/ If and when other streaming providers will embrace Redbook or MQA delivery (ie Apple, Spotify, etc)
    3/ Content availability in MQA encoding
    4/ Latency to remaster and release MQA issues
    5/ Label re-mastering/re-release/box set re-issue shenanigans
    6/ Label participation in remastering with MQA
    7/ Issue/release selection in streaming services
    8/ Issue replacements on streaming services
    9/ Still no provenance information — what exactly is being delivered for the selection?
    10/ Labels get on the band wagon, releasing content as MQA when do benefit can be derived from all of the MQA algorithms
    11/ Changing mastering techniques to not normalize to 0dBFS and to stop over compressing (DR) the content
    12/ Will a physical delivery medium with MQA content ever evolve?
    13/ Will subscriptions fees be increased to garner access to MQA content? And if so, by how much?
    14/ Believing that MQA is only an alternative to Redbook or bandwidth compressed (loss or lossless) delivery mechanisms

    Some of the challenges some people may experience
    1/ “renting” their music vs owning their music
    2/ Sufficient and reliable bandwidth and CDN’s to address streaming MQA content
    This could be addressed in allowing streaming appliance to download and store a local copy of content the same as the way they allow content to be downloaded and stored of mobile devices
    3/ Accepting $20/mo or more as a reasonable fee to “rent” their music in HiFi quality

    Speculated, but may not really be an issue (IMO)
    1/ Only MQA encoded content will be available in the future.
    As long as CD’s are being sold, a Redbook format will have to be made available.
    2/ Music will only be available via streaming in the future
    Broadband Internet is still not available everywhere
    3/ Having to repurchase your music library again
    I labels would stop pulling and replacing content on the streamers I would fully embrace streaming
    4/ Universal (UMG) may continue to watermark their streamed content (quality degradation) and still package it in an MQA container

    I have only listed these points in brevity to keep this post as short as possible.

    The market is where it’s at because that’s where the majority of customers has taken it. In most of the world today, we operate in a free enterprise system based on basic economic theory of supply and demand. MQA was not demanded by the consumer, but in every technology shift there are one or more entities that will take the gamble and see if there is interest, and if the demand warrants it sufficiently over time, basic economics will take over — regardless of how individuals desire the outcome.

    No pun intended, but this quote does seem appropriate:
    “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.” –Malcolm Muggeridge

    • Glen Rasmussen

      I was preparing a reply, until I read yours. I concur. I have similar experiences as you. Thank you for your post.

    • Interesting comment Darren. However, let’s be clear about a couple things.

      1. Yes there are people who feel the *undecoded* MQA is inferior to standard RedBook. This is an important reminder that the encoding does do things especially to the high frequencies compared to a standard 16-bit CD resolution downsample. It’s supposed to act like noise shaped dither.

      2. Why do you say this?
      “I see that MQA is about correcting inherent flaws in the ADC/DAC processing, and takes advantages of developments in neuroscience as it applies to how our brains interpret sound waves.”

      That IMO is unproven MQA/Meridian ad-speak that they want us to believe. There is no evidence that “inherent flaws” of the ADC/DAC processing is fixed by MQA. In fact, I believe their filter algorithms are suboptimal – prone to excessive aliasing distortions and intersample overloads. Likewise, I find MQA rather cagey about what they mean about “developments in neuroscience”. It’s all rather speculative stuff that might sound impressive, but technically meaningless.

      • Darren B


        re your (1) .. *undecoded* MQA is inferior to standard Redbook. ..

        I have not listened to undecoded MQA files, but my position is biased to concur, and that’s why I was trying to assert that MQA files should only be processed on MQA equipment and Redbook on non-MQA equipment.

        re your (2) .. This may be a topic/discussion to engage in another forum/post.
        Briefly, this is about what can be measured objectively vs what we hear — as in what our brains perceive as sound, not what is received at the ear drums. I would concur that the neuroscience element of MQA is unproven, and I also believe that different results will manifest with different people if the algorithm is based on “fooling us.” We are barely 2 months into this content in general availability. I suspect it will be years before this fully settles out.

        It has always intrigued me why different people prefer different audio processing equipment, and why some people could hear a differences in A-B comparisons and others not. Can neuroscience help explain this?

        I recall when audio in Redbook (CD’s) was introduced and the resistance that ensued as well. So, I am definitely more intrigued by the social response to MQA in a comparative to historical format changes.

        • Hi Darren,
          Yes the social response is interesting. And that I think is an important component to all of this beyond the science of what it’s doing.

          What I find most interesting about audiophiles and advocates of things like MQA in not about the engineering science which can be objectively demonstrated. Rather it is about the *psychology* of the whole thing. That some are convinced that it makes a “big” difference when I believe in fact there is little to be excited about.

          Sure, for now there might seem to be interest with announcements of Warner on board last year and now Universal. But the proof is to come whether there will be staying power and whether we would care in another couple years. It would ultimately be interesting to see if MQA ever makes money on this!

  • A great article by Jim Collinson of Linn outlining the many negative aspects of MQA. His talk on the DRM like details of MQA are very close to the things I’ve been harping on forever. A great read over all. IMO.

  • Chris Wright

    As a past purchaser of a good number of excellent Meridian components, not least because I always found them a straight shooting company, I’m somewhat disappointed in Bob Stuart for indulging in the sort of smoke and mirrors marketing that I would normally associate with lesser individuals and organizations. The world just doesn’t need another format to further muddy already murky waters, much less one that so clearly fails to deliver an actual improvement. More power, then to the likes of Linn, PS Audio and Benchmark for a range of recent statements that put MQA into a more realistic context. And people wonder why vinyl has made such a strong comeback. A fallback, indeed, to a time when we didn’t have to suffer all the nonsense of the latest less than revolutionary digital format.

  • Dez Fretz

    Anyone willing to give MQA a listen?

    Meridian Explorer2 DAC is $299

    Download some free tracks from the 2L ‘Test Bench’.

    Try the 2L recording called “Remote Galaxy”

    Let us know what you experience.

    • Admin

      I’m certainly not going to trade in my Benchmark DAC2 HGC for an MQA-enabled Explorer 2. They offered to provide me one AND encode a number of my native high-resolution recordings but never followed through — despite repeated requests and having uploaded the files to an FTP for them. Having experienced MQA at a coupe of CES shows and owning a state-of-the-art mastering studio, I fail to see how a lossy codec “improves” the fidelity of an original source tape. My experience steers me back to an open format that doesn’t suffer from the myth of high-res audio and reduces the fidelity of my music.

      • Chris Wright

        With you on the Benchmark DAC2 HGC, Mark. Benchmark has been quite outspoken on the issue of MQA and I certainly don’t expect them to ever update their firmware to accommodate it. Frankly I’m not worried by that as their DACs do an absolutely stellar job with lossless files that haven’t been subjected to all the “origami” jiggery pokery associated with MQA.

        In essence, the growing industry MQA take up is due to the saving on streaming and storage costs, plus another opportunity to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and sell yet another format. It’s a marriage of convenience, rather than some new revolutionary idea that means we should throw all our old kit out of the window.

        • Admin

          MQA perpetuates the hoax of high-resolution audio in the new streaming domain.

      • Larry

        Audio Advisor has them marked down to $199 now, cheap enough to perhaps consider one just to have as a spare or use on my office computer. It would certainly allow for an in home comparison. I don’t have high expectations either way. I have my system to the point I am more than satisfied with the sound and have quit feeling that there “has to be something more” to the sound. Perhaps I will just leave well enough alone!

        • Admin

          Larry, I really don’t need any additional hardware. In fact, I’ve been trying to lighten my equipment load. I’m in agreement with the likes of Schiit Audio, Benchmark, Archimago, Misko, and others that MQA is a non-starter.

  • Bernd


    I had a discussion in another forum on the internet regarding MQA.
    My opponent asked me to get a free 30 days subscription to TIDAL and download some Led Zeppelin files from there.

    My answer as as follows:
    “… being a fan of the Yardbirds from their early beginning not only since Jimmy Page played guitar on their album “Little Games” I have ALL “Led Zeppelin” records at home.
    There is really no need to get it once again. If there was any recorded music I was interested in then I bought it either it was vinyl or CD or DVD-A. This collection is much bigger than my collection of downloaded files from the internet. I do not intend to tell others to do it the same way I do but I wanted to tell you, that I was really not impressed so much when I compared music which was MQA encoded against RBCD with a friend who has a TIDAL subscription.
    He’s a person who is much younger than I am and uses internet downloads as his primary music source. I also know, that this kind of service has the biggest growth in music industry but that is not my cup of tea.
    From a technical point of view there have been enough inspections on what MQA does and what is only – so to say – lyric of the marketing people.”

    I also find interesting what Schiit Audio says about MQA, maybe you’ve read it before.
    I will go on buying records on CD, DVD-A and BluRay the same as I buy books and do not use Kindle and other e-book readers. I truely like my library and my record collection!


    • Admin

      Thanks for the comments. I don’t know how Bob Stuart and company have managed to get such traction for his MQA thing. With celebrity and big time engineers singing its praises, I felt I must be missing something. Until, I looked into it, listened to it, compared it to what I already have, and read reports from knowledgeable people — who may not be celebrities but are at least as smart as most of those I’m seen promoting it. I keep coming back to the notion that it is a solution to a non-problem. Pass.

  • Diego Humanes

    The idea about MQA is fine. However, to appreciate it you need over standard equipment: a dac, high quality speakers and amplifiers, which most people don’t have. High resolution formats such as DVD-A,SACD, DSD have failed in the market because controlled studies have said people hear no difference. That is not going to change with mqa. Mqa is just a compression format, it’s not going to be any better than those.

    24/96 or DSD make sense mainly as a studio format for processing/mixing/recording . 44.1KHz/16 bit quality is enough nowadays for home, which additionally benefit from superbit masters.

    I have a 170€ dac and a 170€ headphone and can’t notice better quality in 24/96 samples. It just sounds as a good recording. Maybe with a thousand worth equipment I can notice. But I think with better dac and speakers I am still going to enjoy better sound with CD quality all the same.

    Most music in history is stored in CDs. Today’s music is overprocessed and compressed by loudness wars. 24/96 studio format for that music makes me laugh, it is so much not worth it!

    For now, MQA sounds like marketing. They are selling it to us knowing that most people hear music in smartphones and youtube with cheap desktoaster Quality Authenticp speakers, let alone dacs or good sound cards.

    I am a humble audiophile, but first I need good dacs, good amplifiers, good speakers, good cables, good rooms, good headphones, which is thousands worth money and then MQA. I don’t have that equipment now. CD lossless is enough for me and 95% of the people.

    • I’m pretty much in agreement with your comments. We audiophiles debate about the latest tweaks, equipment, and accessories but it ultimately comes down to how much fidelity is in the tracks delivered by the artists, producers, engineers, and labels. MQA may make some points in the streaming of real high-resolution audio tracks but no one is interested in recordings by 2L, MA Records, LInn, and AIX Records. The rest of the stuff from WB and UNiversal is standard res and won’t benefit from high-res or MQA despite what others are saying. In fact, the lossy codec will make the normal CD res versions sound worse! Who wants that?

  • Soundmind

    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” He chortled in his joy.

    How nice to see CDs receding into obsolescence. A vast market of old technology that I am completely satisfied with including some of the greatest performances by the greatest musicians of all time relegated to next to free and almost every one of them in virtually as new condition. More great recordings than I could hear in a lifetime. It’s so nice to be a Luddite.

  • Anthony Johnson

    Temporal resolution

    Chapter 5.3 describes a digital audio system with a sample frequency of 48 kHz to be able to accurately represent frequencies up to 20 kHz. For continuous signals, this frequency is the limit of the human hearing system. But most audio signals are discontinuous, with constantly changing level and frequency spectrum – with the human auditory system being capable of detecting changes down to 6 microseconds.

    To also accurately reproduce changes in a signal’s frequency spectrum with a temporal resolution down to 6 microseconds, the sampling rate of a digital audio system must operate at a minimum of the reciprocal of 6 microseconds = 166 kHz. Figure 515 presents the sampling of an audio signal that starts at t = 0, and reaches a detectable level at t = 6 microseconds. To capture the onset of the waveform, the sample time must be at least 6 microseconds.

    In the professional live audio field, a 48 kHz sampling rate is adopted as standard, with some devices supporting multiples of this rate: 96khz and 192kHz. (Some devices also support 44.1 khz and 88.2 kHz for compatibility with the music recording field, eg. the Compact Disk). However, apart from the temporal resolution of a digital part of an audio system, the temporal characteristics of the electro-acoustic components of a system also have to be considered. In general, only very high quality speaker systems specially designed for use in a music studio are capable of reproducing temporal resolutions down to 6 microseconds assumed that the listener is situated on-axis of the loudspeakers (the sweet spot). For the average high quality studio speaker systems, a temporal resolution of 10 microseconds might be the maximum possible. Live sound reinforcement speaker systems in general can not support such high temporal resolutions for several reasons.

    Firstly, high power loudspeakers use large cones, membranes and coils in the transducers – possessing an increasing inertia at higher power ratings. A high inertia causes ‘time smear’ – it takes some time for the transducer to follow the changes posed to the system by the power amplifier’s output voltage. Some loudspeaker manufacturers publish ‘waterfall’ diagrams of the high frequency drivers, providing information about the driver’s response to an impulse – often spanning several milliseconds. The inertia of a driver prevents it from reacting accurately to fast changes.

    Secondly, live systems often use multiple loudspeakers to create a wide coverage area, contradictory to the concept of creating a sweet spot. The electro-acoustic designer of such a system will do what ever is possible to minimize the interference patterns of such a system, but the result will always have interference on all listening positions that is more significant than the temporal resolution of the digital part of the system.

    Aside from audio quality parameters, the choice of a sampling rate can also affect the bandwidth – and with it the costs – of a networked audio system. Table 504 on the next page presents the main decision parameters.

    As a rule of thumb, 48 kHz is a reasonable choice for most high quality live audio systems. For studio environments and for live systems using very high quality loudspeaker systems with the audience in a carefully designed sweet spot, 96 kHz might be an appropriate choice. Regarding speaker performance, 192 kHz might make sense for demanding studio environments with very high quality speaker systems – with single persons listening exclusively in the system’s sweet spot.

    table 504: Main decision parameters for the selection of a digital audio system’s sample rate

    Audio quality issues
    desired temporal resolution

    48 kHz
    96 kHz
    192 kHz 20 μS – high quality
    10 μS – very high quality
    5 μS – beyond human threshold
    typical latency

    48 kHz
    96 kHz
    192 kHz 4 ms default signal chain
    2 ms default signal chain
    1 ms default signal chain
    application type

    sweet spot
    wide coverage
    supports high temporal resolutions
    difficult to achieve high temporal resolutions

    low power
    high power

    might support 96kHz and 192 kHz at sweet spot
    supports 48kHz

  • Camilo Rodriguez

    I just posted this comment on Audirvana’s FB wall; we’ll see how long it manages to stay there. Give it a like if it is still there. I will re-post if necessary:

    “Hi there, I purchased Audirvana + almost two years ago and I am personally not interested in MQA. I do not support the MQA business model (https://www.linn.co.uk/blog/mqa-is-bad-for-music), nor the claim that MQA brings sonic improvements. In fact, the exact opposite has been documented to be true: https://benchmarkmedia.com/blogs/application_notes/163302855-is-mqa-doa


    My question is quite simple: Will I be definitively shut out of all future updates of Audirvana + if I do not pay the MQA-based fee for the most recent version of Audirvana +, or will there be non-MQA versions of future updates available for Audirvana customers who do not wish to participate or support the MQA scheme?

    In other words, will I be forced to pay for a format I do not want in order to receive the benefits for a product I already paid for, or will I have the option to opt-out of MQA and continue benefiting from the product I already paid for, with non-MQA updates of Audirvana +?

    Imagine a new proprietary chemical formula that supposedly enhances the properties of salt, which is claimed to be more pleasing to the human palate, and capable of rendering any dish even more delicious. You would want to try it, right? And why not, what could you lose? If you don’t like it or notice no difference, you can always go back to your usual pink salt from Peru or the Himalayas.

    Now imagine that this formula will be added to ALL food sold by ALL restaurants and supermarkets without exception, and that every consumer on the planet will have to pay the costs of the license for the use this magic formula of deliciousness, every time they consume food that incorporates salt of any origin or form. Imagine that all companies selling salt would have to pay for the license to use the formula and add the logo on their packaging, be it because they believe in it, or just to avoid risking being excluded from the market and the preference of consumers. Would you support such a business model?

    Does this neo-feudal – in lack for a better word – business model in which a middleman simply sits back and lives from the rent he has imposed on every person who creates, records, publishes and consumes content seem fair to you?

    Well, that’s exactly what MQA is about: the false and unproven claims that MQA improves sound quality, the lack of scientific and technical thereof – while there is sufficient evidence to prove the opposite – and yet another ploy by large media corporations to squeeze value out of content they do not create (http://www.mqa.co.uk/customer/news/post/warner-mqa-deal).

    I have supported Audirvana since the beginning, as it represented a truly versatile, well engineered and no-nonsense digital player with a fair price tag. Now, however, I am being charged more than half the amount I paid for Audirvana + for a format I never asked for, and apparently given no alternative but to finance a technology that seeks to become an industry standard we all have to abide by, all the way from musicians, studios, labels, audio equipment manufacturers and software manufacturers. Does that sound like a land grab to you?

    But this is not just a corporate land grab, as portrayed in the article published by Jim Collinson (that I linked to further up), it is a coup that will force through a neo-feudal proprietary regime on everyone who makes, records, publishes, sells or consumes music, by adding nothing but a BS certificate of provenance we do not need, and by, in a purely fake-news and Trump style, promote a non-existing benefit based on scientific and factually inaccurate information.

    I sure hope Audirvana keeps their intelligence and, most importantly, their integrity in place, and offers those of us who do not want to finance the MQA proprietary neo-feudal snake-oil regime, the option to continue being respectable customers who receive the benefits of the the product we paid for, in the form of successive updates of Audirvana +.”


    • Camilo, I’m with you 100%. The whole MQA promotion by the company (and their well-heeled investors), the admiring magazines, the labels, the equipment manufacturers, and the software guys is less a quest for “better” sound and less “time smear” and more about a continuous revenue stream built around a bunch of hocus-pocus, feel good audiofoolery, IMHO. Those who want to revel in the misplaced notion that it “just sounds better” can indulge if they want but those of us that recognize the technical and business problems with MQA should be able to enjoy our lossless, higher fidelity option. That being real high-resolution, unmastered, PCM for me. But if you put yourself in a leadership role at one of the organizations listed above, you’d be under a lot of pressure to conform in order to increase revenues. Recording and reproduction technologies have reached a level where we can produce and distribute fidelity equal to our ability to hear. We have that potential but the music industry opts not to maximize sound quality. They want more profits and so do the rest of the people in the supply path starting with the artists. The SOP rules the day and MQA or high-resolution music don’t really make any difference in the professional world. The people behind them are simply pushing marketing concepts that will fatten their wallets. It’s been working for downloads so why not try it for streaming.

      • Camilo Rodriguez

        Thanks for your comment, Mark, I appreciate the support.

        I have since written to Audirvana demanding an answer to my question, and being clear about it not being motivated by my discontent to have to pay for the update, nor even the false claims which have been sufficiently debunked. It is essentially a political matter, because even if MQA constituted audible improvements and innovation, the business model would still be the attempt to control and derive profit from every step in the production and supply chain of musical content. Let alone the illegitimate control over consumers through the peculiar form of DRM that MQA represents. It would not only be a land grab concerning the entire industry – from the musician to the consumer – but how we own and consume music.

        We’ll see what kind of answer I get, if any, but I wish other people would like my comment and post their own to exert some pressure.

        Best regards,


        • I’ll be curious to see if you receive any reply. The folks at MQA no longer respond to me.

          • Camilo Rodriguez

            I’m not holding my breath, but I think they can scribble a polite answer telling me to pay up or bug off and get another player. The interesting consequence of that answer would be that Audirvana would basically admit to and confirm the land grab and monopoly attempt that we are denouncing. They would effectively impose MQA and the financing of it to their customers without any alternative to opt-out.

            Where the move towards the land grab is already present, is in the betrayal to the loyalty of Audirvana’s older customer base, which go back before December 2016, and who would be excluded from getting MQA included. Only the new customers would get MQA included and the customers who have already been long-standing supporters would have to finance the cost of MQA. With what kind of logic do you decide to repay the loyalty of your oldest customers by imposing the cost of a feature that would substantially limit and alter the way we consume music, and by giving them no alternative but to pay up or bug off?!

            Anyhow, I am pretty certain MQA will only – and temporarily – fool the feeble minded audiophile mindset blinded by its first-world consumerist idiocy, and later just deflate as have previous industry land grab and DRM attempts.

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