I haven’t written about MQA for a while. But a couple of recent articles and some information from a reader make an update timely. I’ve ceased reading or posting comments on FB groups dedicated to MQA or with threads about the process because discussing the science behind it in the hopes of convincing audiophiles that it has no merit is about as successful as convincing a flat Earther (one of my former tenants believes the Earth is flat, so I have some experience in this area) that they live on a sphere. The Q&A section on the MQA website is full of untrue statements and spin. For example, “Inside the file, MQA is very different: the audio data is higher resolution; it’s cleverly packed and designed to preserve and confirm that you get full Master Quality, wherever you listen.” However, they don’t tell you that it’s impossible that the MQA has “higher resolution” than the original master file. And what is “Master Quality?” Isn’t the master the file they get from the labels BEFORE the MQA is applied? Claiming “Master Quality” is like saying MP3 encoding is “CD Quality.” Either you get to hear the original master file provided by the record label or not. Master Quality is a marketing term dreamed up by the professionals at MQA.
MQA is so dangerous to the recording industry that I dedicated an entire chapter of Music and Audio: A User Guide to Better Sound to MQA. Titled “MQA: A Solution To What?,” I included discussions of the technical failings of the process and the fact that “folding ultrasonics” doesn’t matter if the original masters don’t have any ultrasonics to begin with. There were sections provided by designers and audio engineers confirming my analysis of MQA. The book also included a lengthy interview with the format’s inventor Robert Stuart, who I have considered a friend and supporter ever since I started recording and releasing high-resolution recordings. Bob was very impressed with my work and even gifted me a couple of very expensive Meridian components years ago. But his efforts to create an MQA-only streaming music world is misplaced and dangerous. And it seems largely motivated by money not fidelity enhancement.
Neil Young Explains Why He’s Not On TIDAL
On January 3, 2021, Neil Young authored and posted an article on his NYA Times-Contrarian webpage titled, “TIDAL MISLEADING LISTENERS“. The all caps are his, not mine. If you haven’t read it, you should. Neil is not one to mince words. And while I have been critical of his mission to save “high-quality music,” his conclusions about MQA are spot on.
Here are couple of quotes from the article:
“TIDAL is calling their files of my songs Masters. But TIDAL’s MQA files are not my masters. I make my masters – not TIDAL. I made my masters the way I wanted them to sound. If TIDAL referred to their titles as TIDAL MASTERS, I would have no problem, but they don’t. They call them Masters. I had my music removed from that platform. They are not my masters.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: MQA claims, “…you get exactly what the creators intended,” is patently false! You get what MQA or TIDAL decides sounds “better.”
“Tidal’s master is a degradation of the original to make it fit in a box that collects royalties.”
MQA is the company supplying technology to TIDAL. In their own official descriptions they go into what they did to my original files. They altered them and charge a royalty. I feel that my master files are in no way improved. They are degraded and manipulated. I made them. I know the difference. I can hear it.
I support Neil’s efforts to avoid MQA at all costs and require that TIDAL remove his catalog from their site. And while I realize Mr. Young’s catalog means a whole lot more to TIDAL than my 75 AIX Records albums, I also insisted that TIDAL remove my albums from their site because they applied the MQA lossy, DRM codec to my files without my knowledge. I authorized my distributor to make my albums available for streaming but I did not consent to them being degraded by the MQA methodology. I want music lovers that enjoy my recordings to hear them the way I intended NOT with the MQA process. I believe that if more artists understood what the labels are allowing MQA and the streaming companies to do to their art, they would require them to be removed as well.
The most dangerous part of the MQA quest to rule the audio world is that the original high-resolution masters won’t be available to listeners. The labels and MQA generate more profits but fidelity diminishes. And don’t forget we all get to pay for the licenses and royalties that MQA collects from hardware companies and streaming providers. I will never purchase a piece of equipment from a manufacturer that fell for the MQA nonsense and added their process and logo to their DACs or players. I can only hope that audiophiles that research the realities of the format avoid these companies as well.
Dollars and Nonsense
Don’t think it’s all about maximizing return on investment and profits (if they ever get there)? Companies like TIDAL and nugs.net are charging a hefty premium for content encoded with MQA. Take a look at the following chart taken from the nugs.net site. The cost of the MQA encoded format is twice the cost of the MP3 and $2.00 more than a lossless “HD” version encoded using FLAC. Give me the “HD” FLAC version. FLAC is an excellent codec, it’s FREE, and lossless. In fact, MQA “comes is a lossless FLAC file.” Why pay more for something you can get for free?
A Pretty Dismal Profit and Loss Statement
I have always had a great deal of respect for Bob Stuart until he started pushing MQA. He IS brilliant and done a great deal to elevate digital audio in the audiophile world but he’s not equally talented in building a business. But he lost me with his insistence that MQA was going to be the savior of music in any digital format. In fact, the hope is that MQA will be the savior of Meridian Audio and reap huge profits one micro dollar at a time for the new MQA Limited company and its investors. MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) was chosen as the lossless codec for the now defunct DVD-Audio format back in 2000. MLP was sold to Dolby some years later and rebranded as Dolby TrueHD, which is one of the two lossless codecs for Blu-ray discs. However, I believe the codec was held back for the emerging area of audio streaming. Bob Stuart was absolutely correct about the coming obsolescence of physical media. The era of streaming audio—in “so-called” high-resolution audio—has arrived. Would you invest in a compression scheme used to deliver “master quality audio” via every distribution format currently available including streaming, broadcast, and even physical discs (yes, you can purchase MQA encoded CDs!)?
Several years ago. I was shown a table that confirmed Meridian had been losing large sums of money for a while. Despite marketing and selling very pricey hardware, they had lost tens of millions of dollars over the preceding 15 years. As I recall, the amount was somewhere around $48 million. If you were in charge of a company flushing that kind of money down the toilet, you might use a little hyperbole when discussing your latest venture (MQA) to trying the stop the bleeding. I hope that MQA fails miserably and is relegated to the dust bin of failed audio technologies. It is not good for the industry. It is not good for fidelity. And it’s not good for music reproduction. The only thing MQA is good for is MQA Limited, Bob Stuart, and its investors.
I was provided an updated financial analysis of Meridian Audio Limited and MQA Limited recently by a reader. When I inquired about his statement that Meridian and MQA had lost $100 Million, he replied, “The numbers are from audited financial statements available at Companies House website. Meridian’s numbers stop in 2017 because Bob Stuart left the board. Note: These numbers do not include the sale of intellectual property like MLP and the sale of MQA. They are just operations. I circulated these numbers in 2018. At the current exchange rate, 71,333,839 and a smaller than normal loss estimate for 2020 (2.3 million pound loss) gets me to $100 million dollar loss.
Let’s hope that the companies financial woes continue and the music we enjoy will be available without their destructive process. No well-heeled company should be able to buy their way into monopolizing an audio format. Streaming or downloading the original digital master is actually what the artist, engineers, and producer want you to hear! And it’s what we should demand!
Happy New Year Book Discount!
I’ve been spending a few hours everyday working on the new book. For those interested in my previous book, the 880-page, 4 pound Music and Audio: A User Guide to Better Sound, I’m offered a 50% discount off the paperback book with or without the blu-ray disc. Use coupon code HappyNewYear50 during check out. This coupon will be valid until March 1, 2021. Thanks for your interest.