Convenience or quality? With Meridian's new Master Quality Authenticated technology, you can have both.
As most AVS members know, the balance between quality and convenience in music recordings has shifted dramatically toward convenience in the last decade or so. Highly data-compressed MP3 and other types of files dominate the music marketplace, allowing quick downloads, low-bandwidth streaming, and many thousands of songs to be stored on small players. But the cost of this convenience is too high for those of us who value quality—as much as 90% of the information in a music recording is discarded in the compression process, taking much of the music's emotional impact with it, as indicated by recent research.
As if in response to this trend, uncompressed (or losslessly compressed) high-resolution recordings are becoming an essential part of audiophiles' libraries. In many cases, however, much of the potential of high-res audio (HRA) goes unused because the original source material has no information beyond what can be fully captured with CD specs (44.1 kHz sampling rate, 16-bit resolution), thus wasting storage and bandwidth. Even worse, the provenance of a recording—how it was originally recorded and how it was processed to become the final product—is often unknown, making it difficult to know if you're really hearing what the artist intended.
At a launch event in London on December 4, British high-end audio company Meridian announced that it has developed a new technology called Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) to address these issues. MQA is said to bring together the ideals of studio-quality sound, convenience, and end-to-end authenticity. According to Meridian, "it uses a completely new concept of capturing the total essence of an original recording and conveying it all the way to the listener, assuring that what they are hearing is identical to the original master recording."
MQA starts with the original master recording that has been approved by the artist and producer. A new sampling method Meridian calls Encapsulation can resolve the finest time divisions we can hear to capture every subtlety of the recording. The process is informed by the latest research in neuroscience and psychoacoustics that reveals how we identify and locate sounds, and that timing details of a few microseconds are important.
Next, MQA uses innovative lossless processing to create a file that encodes and delivers the details of the recording and instructions for the decoder and DAC (digital-to-analog converter) about how to re-create an authenticated, exact reconstruction of the original signal. This highly efficient encoding results in smaller file sizes than super-high sampling-rate systems, allowing easy downloading and streaming while preserving all the sound of the original. And MQA can be delivered in any lossless container, such as WAV, FLAC, or ALAC.
The decoder—which can be implemented as an app, a software player, or in hardware—is said to be quite simple, and it reconstructs the exact sound approved in the studio along with an indicator to authenticate that what you're hearing is a true rendition of the original master recording. And the system works with all masters at sampling rates from 44.1 to 768 kHz. If you don't have a decoder available, an MQA file will play on conventional equipment at CD quality.
Bob Stuart, co-founder of Meridian and creator of MQA (seen in a photo from the launch event at the top of this post), says, "Music lovers need no longer be shortchanged; finally we can all hear exactly what the musicians recorded. MQA gives a clear, accurate and authentic path from the recording studio all the way to any listening environment—at home, in the car, or on the go. And we didn't sacrifice convenience. The announcement of MQA is really about the future of recorded music. Music is important to us all. When the sound is authentic, it is more involving, we understand it better and enjoy it longer. MQA is already receiving broad support from the music industry, artists, recording and mastering engineers, and record labels."
MQA is incredibly interesting, and I'm eager to learn more about its technical underpinnings. Even more important, I can't wait to hear it for myself at CES next month. MQA will available in early 2015; for more info, visit musicischanging.com
Here's a short video about the launch of MQA featuring Bob Stuart and Mike Jbara from Warner Music Group:
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