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imagic 02-08-2018 08:45 AM

Do You Think MQA Offers an Audible Benefit?
 
MQA is a proprietary audio format developed by Bob Stuart of Meridian Audio. It was introduced at a press event in New York City back in December 2014. Between then and now it's efficacy has been the subject of much debate.

The format promises hi-res fidelity that matches what's on a studio master, delivered at bitrates similar to uncompressed CD-quality audio.

In the years since, I've read comments about how it sounds better than a studio master. Others contend that MQA sounds great, but different than the master.

Certainly, there are critics who state there's no audible difference between MQA and the same master at CD quality and that AB/X listening tests can prove this. And some folks worry that if you don't "unfold" MQA on a compatible DAC or with compatible software, it's touted backward-compatibility yields below CD-quality sound.

So here's the question: Do You Think MQA Offers an Audible Benefit Versus CD Quality Audio?

Vote in the poll.

JohnAV 02-08-2018 10:16 AM

I always liked this nice series of articles from Archimago's Musings
MQA Core vs. Hi-Res Blind Test Part I: Procedure and originally a much earlier one where he first did a objective comparison entitled COMPARISON: MQA "Authentication" & Sound Quality? (Mytek Brooklyn & Meridian Explorer2)

makots 02-08-2018 10:54 AM

I always thought that FLAC was the best quality output.....

HiRez24 02-08-2018 11:06 AM

Well I think this is a very loaded question as I am sure was its intent.

I listen to MQA tracks through tidal via Roon and an Oppo 205 so I am not even actually getting a proper unfolding of the MQA but I am getting a 24bit as opposed to the 16bit. I can say for sure that the 16bit vs 24 bit does make a difference. I was always convinced that the bit depth was much more important than the sampling frequency.

As far as MQA in general is concerned I dont think it will sound any better than an SACD, DVD-A (MLP) or any other hi res flac and or wav file. But if by MQA being the new standard it means that I have access to hi-res streaming that is at least as good as other hi-res formats than I am all for it.

I am sure I will have a more defined opinion once I actually hear a proper MQA unfolding.

OsoSolitario 02-08-2018 11:15 AM

I'm 58 yo, music lover and HiFi gear aficionado since I was a teenager.

I must say I'm a bit tired of see appearing the zillionth music format that will be "The One and most definitive". I just want enjoy my music calmy against living on a no end format battlefield.

MQA? Really? NO Thanks (I don't know how it sounds, I don't care neither).

frank xbe 02-08-2018 11:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by makots (Post 55656484)
I always thought that FLAC was the best quality output.....

IMO FLAC or any well produced lossless 16 bit codec mix is good enough at playback given the lower nyquist rate at 16 bits is 22.5 KHZ

Quote:

FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, an audio format similar to MP3, but lossless, meaning that audio is compressed in FLAC without any loss in quality. This is similar to how Zip works, except with FLAC you will get much better compression because it is designed specifically for audio, and you can play back ..
.
-xiph.org/flac-

Quote:

MQA Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) is an audio codec using lossy compression[1] and a form of file fingerprinting, intended for high fidelity digital audio internet streaming and file download.[2] Launched in 2014 by Meridian Audio, it is now owned and licensed by MQA Ltd.
-en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master Quality Authenticated-

gbaby 02-08-2018 11:25 AM

Am I down with MQA, hey hey, no way.

TuteTibiImperes 02-08-2018 11:30 AM

Comparing the same album side by side on Tidal through a Bluesound Node 2, MQA vs CD quality, I can hear a difference. Of course, I can’t do it blind by myself, so it could by psychoacoustics, and there may be a slight difference in levels, not sure as I don’t have an SPL meter.

kfh227 02-08-2018 12:30 PM

D/A converters are only good for about the first 12 or 13 most significant bits. All the other bits can't be reproduced accurately to make it matter.


The higher sampling rate should make a major improvement assuming that D/A converters can support the rapid updates. High frequencies should be produced with better accuracy than a CD.


Without a complex piece of music though, you'd be hard pressed to hear differences. I've heard things in $80 headphones that I never knew existed in some music. I've listened to recording and been wowed by the fact that I could hear the keystrokes of a piano, not just the sound of the chords of the piano in a cheap system.

marcusb84 02-08-2018 12:54 PM

How can something sound "better than the master"?

RichB 02-08-2018 01:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by marcusb84 (Post 55657266)
How can something sound "better than the master"?


It depends if a person likes the inaccuracies introduced, then, yes it can.


- Rich

JDEATON 02-08-2018 01:27 PM

I’m old, 64 next month and a life long audiophile. In the 80’s when CD’s arrived and were touted as “perfect sound forever”, I wanted to love digital audio, but found CD’s to be harsh, thin and cold sounding, the opposite of warm, lush and engaging. I found myself not listening to a whole CD.

Over time CD audio improved some, better players, better A/D converters I suspect, but 16/44 CD quality Digital audio never provided me the engaging experience of analog.

Then SACD, and DVD-audio arrived. Big improvement for me. Hi-res discs we much more satisfying than CD’s. I jumped in with both feet. I loved the 5.1 surround capability and purchased as many surround DVD-audio and SACD discs as I could afford. Then, they were pretty much gone.

Next up was HDTracks with Hi-res downloads. I was intrigued enough to buy a Meridian Director DAC and purchased a few HDTrack albums. Hmmm… I liked what I heard. Much more analog like than CD for me. However, purchasing HDTracks albums gets expensive quickly.

Finally along comes, MQA, Tidal, and Roon. I think the concept of being able to stream thousands of Hi-res quality albums for only a $20 monthly Tidal subscription is a wonderful thing. Now I own a Mytek Brooklyn (MQA capable) DAC. My Hi-res audio library has gone from hundreds to thousands. There are now nearly 10,000 MQA titles available with many more coming.

Check out this link: http://www.meridianunplugged.com/ubb...&Number=268318

Yes, I think MQA sounds better than CD.

m. zillch 02-08-2018 01:29 PM

Meridian, which makes money from the adoption of MQA, states that there are audible benefits to their MQA processing over unprocessed CD quality, even to some degree without a decoder being used during playback. For example, here:
"No decoder? You don’t need a decoder to enjoy our ‘standard’ sound quality – which is now widely agreed by mastering communities to be superior to CD."

Also
:
"According to MQA Ltd, playing the un-decoded version still enables the consumer to benefit from the deblurring processes used in the creation or folding of the track. "

Also in this interview with their founder, Bob Stuart:
"One thing we haven’t talked about is backward compatibility. . . . If you don’t have a decoder, you can play it back without a decoder because it is PCM. MQA turns PCM into PCM. When you play it back, it’ll play back on a legacy system sounding better than a CD. . . . So you get great sound on legacy players, and it means that you can take the single mechanical and put it in your car, you can put it in Sonos, you can put it in iTunes, you can put it on a phone, and get better-than-CD quality."

He's right about one thing. If you have a good ear like I do, perhaps from having sold very expensive, top-flight, audiophile-grade gear for literally decades, it does indeed sound different. MQA sounds worse and here's the proof:
Quote:

Originally Posted by m. zillch (Post 49910017)
I've done a careful analysis of MQA.

First off, I can prove that people can hear a difference (at least sometimes) with MQA because I myself, through my very modest system, can hear a difference with music files processed with MQA vs. identical ones which are not, but rather than just taking my word for it [which nobody should without evidence gathered under controlled conditions to preclude the possibility of expectation bias clouding the results], I can actually demonstrate this ability via the free, easy-to-use, scientifically valid, double blind, level matched audibility test, Foobar ABX, showing strong statistical significance in my perfect 10 out of 10 score:

foo_abx 2.0.1 report
foobar2000 v1.3.9
2016-02-21 12:36:20

File A: Blagutten 30s MQA deblurred.flac
SHA1: 5dbfedabb9a34ff56924284ac99d56a35f083c64
File B: Blagutten 30s NO deblur.flac
SHA1: 2cbd133091ce07e6dea69fb297ac477bdb2e609d

Output:
DS : Primary Sound Driver
Crossfading: NO

12:36:20 : Test started.
12:38:46 : 01/01
12:39:09 : 02/02
12:39:22 : 03/03
12:39:37 : 04/04
12:39:54 : 05/05
12:40:08 : 06/06
12:40:35 : 07/07
12:41:01 : 08/08
12:41:14 : 09/09
12:41:31 : 10/10
12:41:31 : Test finished.

----------
Total: 10/10
Probability that you were guessing: 0.1%

-- signature --
6da7bffa67cfdca34ec62e752f99e8d203f52d7e


Bob Stuart of Meridian, one of the main MQA inventors, would have us believe the audible difference is due to "deblurring" accomplished by MQA processing however that's not the case at all. Want to know the real difference? It is a change in the music's perceived "air" and transparency due to a subtle change [Note: an increase] in the noise floor shaping in the audible range which any CD quality "limited" music could just as easily replicate if such a goal was desired [no need for "Hi-Res" to manifest such a change] starting around 8 or 9 kHz and increasing as you move higher.

Here is a close up of the noise floor's frequency response change, originally published by Archimago, which shows this and clued me in on how and what to focus on when I did the above, double blind test, getting a perfect score. From the color legend we see blue and green are the MQA processed music, with and without MQA decoding. The red and yellow have no MQA processing applied to the music:
https://www.avsforum.com/forum/attach...1&d=1480295897
https://www.avsforum.com/forum/attach...1&d=1480277959
As we can see from the measurements, MQA processing, both decoded and not decoded, actually adds considerable high frequency noise in the audible frequency range (+12dB at 15kHz and nearly double that at 20kHz) . . . but this isn't perceived as "noise", per se, it is perceived as "air" or "sheen".

[^Each vertical mark is a 6 dB increment. Frequency in Hz is shown across the bottom of the graph.]

I am indebted to the measurements of the Meridian Explorer2 performed by Archimago. His original work I took these screen grabs from here:
http://archimago.blogspot.com/2016/0...-meridian.html
Or search for this MQA decoding device by name at his blog if the link expires.

Speaking of authentication, anyone can verify my double-blind, Foobar ABX test log and my resulting perfect 10/10 score, by cutting and pasting it in its entirety, meaning including "foo_abx 2.0.1 report" at the very beginning and concluding with the signature number:
6da7bffa67cfdca34ec62e752f99e8d203f52d7e
And inserting this entire copied text into the signature check verification page to be sure it is valid and has not been tampered with.

m. zillch 02-08-2018 01:52 PM

The song which exhibited a measurable increase in <20kHz noise when MQA encoded, regardless if decoding was used during playback or not, shown in Archimago's measurements and later confirmed to be audible in my double blind testing through a non-decoding MQA system is:

Bøhren/Åserud: Blågutten HOFF ensemble "Quiet Winter Night"

Both MQA encodeded and non-encoded versions of the song can be downloaded for comparison, for free here.

It is a superbly well recorded piece. Great job 2L ! Here is a low quality Youtube version to give you a rough idea of what to expect:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_c...&v=6bDRxM6QjE0

Frank Derks 02-08-2018 01:57 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by kfh227 (Post 55657090)
D/A converters are only good for about the first 12 or 13 most significant bits. All the other bits can't be reproduced accurately to make it matter.

This is not correct. DAC chips have far better linearity than you are suggesting. At least down to 20bits it isn't an issue.


Quote:

The higher sampling rate should make a major improvement assuming that D/A converters can support the rapid updates. High frequencies should be produced with better accuracy than a CD.

This is not correct. With standard bitrate (44.1/48kHz) high frequencies in the audible range are reproduces accurately already.
The only thing that happens is that the noise floor drops a little as if another bit is added because the quantization noise is spread over a wider bandwidth.
Doubling the sampling rate is a very inefficient way for just lowering the noise floor a couple of dB.




Quote:

Without a complex piece of music though, you'd be hard pressed to hear differences. I've heard things in $80 headphones that I never knew existed in some music. I've listened to recording and been wowed by the fact that I could hear the keystrokes of a piano, not just the sound of the chords of the piano in a cheap system.

J__Chris 02-08-2018 01:58 PM

Quote from OP


"In my online explorations, I’ve read comments about how MQA sounds better than a studio master. Other voices contend that the format sounds great, but is somehow different than the master, which is an interesting claim given that MQA literally stands for “Master Quality Authenticated…” words that effectively promise what you hear is in fact what’s on the master."


Not to be harsh, but it's best to keep an open mind and don't believe everything that they, or anyone else, are trying to sell you with MARKETING MUMBO JUMBO. Just because they name a Product "MQA-Master Quality Authenticated" doesn't mean that it is. Yet you seem to have fallen for it hook, line and sinker unless there was some caveat that I missed.


As a comment above notes how does something become better sounding that the master???????? There is so much Voodoo and Mysticism in the audio/video field that it's no wonder why a large segment of the population couldn't careless about this hobby.

donktard 02-08-2018 02:03 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by m. zillch (Post 55657696)
The song which exhibited a measurable increase in <20kHz noise when MQA encoded, regardless if decoding was used during playback or not, shown in Archimago's measurements and later confirmed to be audible in my double blind testing through a non-decoding MQA system is:

Bøhren/Åserud: Blågutten HOFF ensemble "Quiet Winter Night"

Both MQA encodeded and non-encoded versions of the song can be downloaded for comparison, for free here.

So, what does it do? Adds some rising response on high frequencies? At least thats what I am deducing from noise floors. :D

dnoonie 02-08-2018 02:08 PM

With qualifications, not as good as CD.

MQA needs to be easier to use, restricting the best audio to specific hardware makes use difficult. I'm glad it's around, I have used it and I'll use it again in the future.

Unfortunately Tidal has no ASIO support so it ran through Window Mixer. I'm not sure what hardware/software is needed to support the best quality and I'm not going to trouble myself to figure it out. Fix it and I might buy a subscription 4 to 6 months out of the year, else I'll limit my subscription to 1 or 2 months a year.

I'd have to say that with my setup it sounds about as good as a CD played through Windows Mixer with Windows Media Player but not as good as a CD played ASIO direct using JRiver MC.

Cheers,

Frank Derks 02-08-2018 02:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by m. zillch (Post 55657696)
The song which exhibited a measurable increase in <20kHz noise when MQA encoded, regardless if decoding was used during playback or not, shown in Archimago's measurements and later confirmed to be audible in my double blind testing through a non-decoding MQA system is:

Bøhren/Åserud: Blågutten HOFF ensemble "Quiet Winter Night"

Both MQA encodeded and non-encoded versions of the song can be downloaded for comparison, for free here.


Unfortunately this file is not suitable for a good test.


This is the filename you get when downloaded:
2L-087_06_stereo_DXD_FLAC.mqa.flac
Note the DXD tag in the name. What you got is a crappy DXD stream (encoded from a clean PCM source) encoded into MQA and this DSD noise is most likely the culprit causing the rise of the noise floor.

m. zillch 02-08-2018 02:16 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by donktard (Post 55657762)
So, what does it do? Adds some rising response on high frequencies? At least thats what I am deducing from noise floors. :D

It may, or my not, leave the frequency response alone and may only add noise to the audible band from ~9kHz to 20kHz as Archimago's testing shows and which I documented I can hear in the above posts. In order to do a proper frequency response measurement we would need to get a hold of an encoder.

imagic 02-08-2018 02:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by J__Chris (Post 55657738)
Quote from OP


"In my online explorations, I’ve read comments about how MQA sounds better than a studio master. Other voices contend that the format sounds great, but is somehow different than the master, which is an interesting claim given that MQA literally stands for “Master Quality Authenticated…” words that effectively promise what you hear is in fact what’s on the master."


Not to be harsh, but it's best to keep an open mind and don't believe everything that they, or anyone else, are trying to sell you with MARKETING MUMBO JUMBO. Just because they name a Product "MQA-Master Quality Authenticated" doesn't mean that it is. Yet you seem to have fallen for it hook, line and sinker unless there was some caveat that I missed.


As a comment above notes how does something become better sounding that the master???????? There is so much Voodoo and Mysticism in the audio/video field that it's no wonder why a large segment of the population couldn't careless about this hobby.

What? No. Just keeping my opinionating to a minimum here, and spelling out what MQA claims to be.

The responses to the poll are totally logical because ABX testing has shown that it's super tough or impossible to differentiate 16/44.1 from hi-res assuming identical mastering, proper implementation of dithering, and that there's no IM distortion warping the hi-res playback.

No format can improve upon the original. And yet such a claim has been made by some of the magic-believers over at Stereophile.

I'm not into high-end audio snake oil voodoo and so far I've heard no convincing demo that shows MQA sounds better than properly mastered 16/44.1, that's my personal take on it.

m. zillch 02-08-2018 02:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Frank Derks (Post 55657806)
Unfortunately this file is not suitable for a good test.


This is the filename you get when downloaded:
2L-087_06_stereo_DXD_FLAC.mqa.flac
Note the DXD tag in the name. What you got is a crappy DXD stream (encoded from a clean PCM source) encoded into MQA and this DSD noise is most likely the culprit causing the rise of the noise floor.

I see your point although when I did this a year or more ago I don't remember seeing that then. Maybe I overlooked it.
Also the tests I run from some of the 2L Hi-res downloads sometimes require better synchronization and level matching than what they provide. Notice the songs in my test log are called " 30s sample" , for example, rather than the native files.

Might you happen to know of two files which would be more suitable to test? Thanks.

Foothill 02-08-2018 02:23 PM

Stuart did some valuable work in the past with MLP, but he has now lost all his credibility with this MQA nonsense.

m. zillch 02-08-2018 02:30 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by imagic (Post 55657856)
No format can improve upon the original.

I totally agree. Meridian however does indeed make this very claim about MQA.

donktard 02-08-2018 02:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by m. zillch (Post 55657844)
It may, or my not, leave the frequency response alone and may only add noise to the audible band from ~9kHz to 20kHz as Archimago's testing shows and which I documented I can hear in the above posts. In order to do a proper frequency response measurement we would need to get a hold of an encoder.

Interesting. Ridiculous also. Audible benefits from encoder that might be "slightly" better then current typical lossless encoders is miniscule in comparision with couple of minor mastering tweaks. Gimme some flacs/wavs and Izotope Ozone and I will give you some epic audible benefits. :D

drewTT 02-08-2018 02:40 PM

You crusty old foggies...haha...MQA is legit bruh...

Frank Derks 02-08-2018 02:42 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by m. zillch (Post 55657896)
I see your point although when I did this a year or more ago I don't remember seeing that then. Maybe I overlooked it.
Also the tests I run from some of the 2L Hi-res downloads sometimes require better synchronization and level matching than what they provide. Notice the songs in my test log are called " 30s sample" , for example, rather than the native files.

Might you happen to know of two files which would be more suitable to test? Thanks.


If you go to the L2 demo downloads just float the mouse over the mqa filename.


Ola Gjeilo: North Country II for example is listed as having 96 kHz as original source.


DXD can be anything between DSD64 and 24bit 352.8kHz...
DSD64 has the typical rise in noisefloor that is shown in the fr graph in your earlier posting.

m. zillch 02-08-2018 02:54 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Frank Derks (Post 55657806)
This is the filename you get when downloaded:
2L-087_06_stereo_DXD_FLAC.mqa.flac
Note the DXD tag in the name. What you got is a crappy DXD stream (encoded from a clean PCM source) encoded into MQA and this DSD noise is most likely the culprit causing the rise of the noise floor.

I get your point but according to 2L the master source is DXD:
" All our albums originally recorded in DXD are now available in a wide range of resolutions, including DXD, DSD64 and DSD128, along with physical products like CD, SACD, Pure Audio Blu-ray and vinyl. "

You may say "But all DXD starts as PCM "and while that's true we don't know for sure what their MQA track and stereo tracks provided for download comes from. If I recall correctly the sampling rate convertor they use is hardware based not software.

If they are taken literally on that page (and the one for this album) then the master for both is DXD "Original source
DXD (352.8kHz/24bit)" and you are right, it adds HF noise, however it would be exhibited in all their versions.

m. zillch 02-08-2018 02:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Frank Derks (Post 55658006)
If you go to the L2 demo downloads just float the mouse over the mqa filename.


Ola Gjeilo: North Country II for example is listed as having 96 kHz as original source.


Thanks.
When I have the chance and a quiet room I'll run more tests!

[P.S. When you scroll all the way to the right it still implies the master was DXD though]

Frank Derks 02-08-2018 02:59 PM

Your graph is actually showing that MQA is not capable reproducing the DSD noise hump accurately and this alone is proof that MQA is already lossy well below 20kHz.


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