Audio Asylum Thread Printer
Get a view of an entire thread on one page
|For Sale Ads|
I am wanting to "stream" if that's the correct word, music from "Tidal Masters" network streaming service at MQA level. At the moment I have a Cambridge Audio CXA60 which I am currently streaming music to off an android via bluetooth aptX CODEC. In order to get MQA sound bluetooth simply will not cut the muster. Tidal masters App requires a "desktop" to work the full app and play MQA. Obviously not parking my iMac next to my hi-fi to link up. Do I require a network streaming DAC such as Oppp Sonata or Cambridge Audio CXN (2 that i have in mind) in order to play MQA quality? I won't sign up to Tidal until I find a way of getting the MQA as it's meant to be listened to.
Cambridge Audio informed me that MQA over bluetooth will provide 16/44.1kHz only!
So wired connection is out of bounds. So I am looking for a network player that has Tidal Integration I believe? Do either CXN or Oppo Sonata fit into this mould? How do other audiophiles play Tidal or Qobuz MQA files through their speakers. Obviously it's streamed music for convenience so i want it to be convenient to play that music!
- The only way to get the full 24/192 benefit of MQA is with a MQA capable DAC.
- The Tidal player will do software decoding of MQA which gets you to 24/96. Still excellent.
- If you play a Tidal Master and do not have software decoding enabled it is still delivering a high quality 24/48 stream.... which is better than CD quality. Non Master streams (HiFi) are 16/44.1 which is the same as a CD.
I am presently playing music using the Tidal player in my office setup from my Mac Mini driving my DAC and the rest of my system. Here I am able to get 24/96 out of the Tidal MQA streams as the Tidal player software is doing the MQA decoding.
I can also use Roon with Tidal (Roon being the front-end interface to Tidal) and have the music streamed over the network to my basement system to the microRendu network streamer. In this scenario playing through Roon over the network, MQA is not decoded but I'm still able to get the benefit of "better than CD quality" via the 24/48 Tidal Master. I control it using the iPad that I take with me down to the basement. The iPad is running the Roon App as a remote control.
The article in Audiostream explains MQA decoding clearly at a very high level with a diagram that makes it easy to understand.
> > If you play a Tidal Master and do not have software decoding enabled it is still delivering a high quality 24/48 stream.... which is better than CD quality. < <
Actually this is not the case. MQA is delivered in a 48/24 FLAC container. However the seven or eight Least Significant Bits (LSBs) of the container are used to store the "folded" dual-rate audio data (encoded losslessly) and the quad-rate audio data (encoded with lossy compression). They *replace* the low-level bits in the original 24-bit file. reducing the resolution of MQA below 24 bits.
If one starts with a full 192/24 true high-res source file, MQA encoding/decoding allows three possibilities:
1) Hardware decoding of MQA can perform both unfolds. The result is 192 kHz sampling rate but with a resolution of something less than 17.2 bits maximum. It appears that the number of lower bits required to store the dual- and quad-rate information is dependent on the signal levels in those upper bands. The MQS AES paper specifies that program material of a string quartet results in only 17.2 bits of resolution after the first unfolding (dual-rate source).
However according to James Boyk of Caltech, the string family (violin, viola, cello) has the lowest amount of signal power above 20 kHz than any other orchestral instrument besides an oboe. Boyk's article measures cymbals as having 30 dB (1000x) more power than a violin. Without further information it seems that the baseband audio resolution could be reduced as much as 6 bits fewer than the example of the string quartet.
2) If using a non-MQA DAC, the Tidal app allows for a single unfold via software, delivering up to 96 kHz sample rates, but again the resolution is still limited to a maximum of 17.2 bits (depending on the levels of high-frequency energy in the track).
3) If no decoding is used the 192/24 source file will be delivered with at a 48 kHz sampling rate, again with a maximum of 17.2 bits (depending on the levels of high-frequency energy in the track). For the published example of a string quartet, this potentially about 1 extra bit over Redbook. It is unknown at this time, but possible that music with high levels of high-frequency energy (eg, lots of cymbals, percussion, synthesizer, even brass or piano) would have *less* than 16 bits of resolution in the baseband - possibly even as low as 11 bits.
...so what my gear is "seeing" as a 48/24 FLAC isn't really the case. A bit of trickery like putting a tiny gift in a huge gift box. It looks impressive until you open it up and see what's really inside. ;-)
Your DAC is indeed receiving a FLAC stream of 48/24. The problem is that not all of those bits are being played back as music without decoding. Even with full hardware decoding, a 192kHz file will be limited to a maximum resolution of 17.2 bits. This only makes sense, given that there is no such thing as a free lunch. How else could a losslessly-compressed file be further compressed? Something has to give, and with MQA it is a combination of lossy compression of the quad-rate data plus discarding the bottom bits in the baseband (single-rate) data.
MQA apparently asserts that the at least 6.8 (and possibly as much as 11.8) of the lower-order bits are inaudible. We have all heard that claim before, specifically when we were told that MP3 compression provided "CD quality". The maximum possible resolution MQA can achieve (decoded or not) is 17.2 bits. While this can result in excellent sound quality, it also result in a loss of resolution - both measurable and (to my ears, at least) audible.
Bit depths of 24 or greater are not necessarily required for delivery to the playback system. But they are absolutely required in the studio when post-processing (ie, mixing, EQ, reverb, and many other effects) to maintain 16-bit resolution of the final product. While it is true that 24 bits of real resolution *may* not be audible to a skilled listener, I would hesitate to state that as a fact until actually tested. As JA notes in his "Measurements" sections, many modern DACs are able to achieve 19 or even 20 bits of actual resolution. When he tested the Meridian Explorer2 he concluded "With 24-bit data, the noise floor drops by 16dB or so, suggesting resolution approaching 19 bits."
This near 19 bit resolution of the Meridian Explorer2 exceeds the resolution of MQA files. This was borne out in listening tests using the Explorer2 comparing both the original 96/24 of The Doors "Riders on the Storm" with the MQA version available on Tidal. From Wikipedia, "Jim Morrison recorded his main vocals and then whispered the lyrics over them to create the echo effect"(see link below). When listening to the full high-res file on a good system (or headphones), it is quite easy to hear the whispered overdub as a distinctly separate element in the mix. I cannot say the same for the MQA version. To my ears the "whisper overdub" was markedly more difficult to discern. Please try it for yourself and let me know what you think.
As always, my posts here are strictly my own opinions and not those of my employer, family, friends, neighbors, pets, or enemies.
As an aside, numerous albums that were recorded during the 80's and early 90's and mixed in digital were 16 bit, and were remastered in 24 bit, U2's Achtung Baby comes to mind, so does Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball. Most recently, Springsteen's 80s/90s albums including The River.
Some mastering engineers have even used DACs with 18 bit, 192 Khz resolution to capture tapes before mastering, as Bernie Grundman did for the Eagles catalog.
A consumer's DAC will indeed see 24 bits, but 8 of those bits are strictly padding.
MQA also pads the bits for extra headroom I guess.
Qobuz now offers, unaltered, full resolution 24 bit streaming for $350 per year, approx $20 a month. 65,000 albums, many in 24/192, the majority in 24/96.
No "bandwith" issues, no altered files, no proprietary DSP.
bye bye MQA.
And often below. Genius. Thanks for presenting this. Is there another source for this calculation, for one to corroborate?
"... only a very few individuals understand as yet that personal salvation is a contradiction in terms."
> > Is there another source for this calculation, for one to corroborate? < <
Sure. Please refer to the slides presented to Stereophile in their first article on MQA:
More difficult to find is the presentation Bob Stuart made to the Japanese Audio Society. It contains the slides from the Stereophile article, plus at least one additional one, reproduced here:
This shows the spectrum after the first MQA "fold", from 192kHz to 96kHz. The quad-rate information in region "C" uses lossy compression to store that information in the area with purple squares designated by the arrow labeled "Encapsulation". (Presumably "encapsulation" sounds better to the customer than does "lossy compression".) The grey area directly above is reserved for the double-rate information and is clearly labeled "96k/17.2b".
When the second fold to 48kHz occurs, the quad-rate information is shifted from the dual-rate region to the single-rate (baseband) region, still leaving only 17.2 bits of resolution in the baseband audio. These other slides are shown in the Stereophile link noted above.
Please note that these graphs were all made with a string quartet playing a composition by Ravel. Now we turn to an article by James Boyk, noted pianist and professor at Caltech. His article "There's Life Above 20kHz" is linked in the URL below. Scroll past the 3/4 mark on the page to Table 1 and we can see that a violin has a maximum of 0.04% of its power in the band beyond 20kHz. While he doesn't specifically measure either viola or cello, we can be confident that they don't have *more* energy past 20kHz than a violin. In contrast cymbals have 40% (!) of their total acoustical power above 20kHz. For power this ratio of 1000:1 represents a 30dB difference.
The normally accepted calculation between bits and dB is 6dB per bit. Therefore program material that had a lot of cymbals (almost all modern pop, rock, jazz, plus much orchestral music) would require as much as 5 more bits of uncompressed space in the 24-bit FLAC container.
NB: In my previous post I subtracted 6 bits from the 17.2 bit resolution available with a string quartet to reach a possible minimum resolution of 11.2 bits. This was a typo and should have been 5 bits and 12.2 bits respectively. And as I am writing this, I also now realize that the energy above 20 kHz will be compressed (dual-rate information losslessly, and quad-rate information using lossy techniques). Therefore there may not be a full 5 bit reduction is dynamic range when MQA encoding is applied to music with lots of high-frequency energy (eg, cymbals). But when already reducing 24-bit data to a maximum resolution of 17.2 bits, there isn't much room for further reduction before the decoded MQA file cannot even achieve CD-standard 16-bit resolution.
The fact that MQA specifically chose a musical example with what is likely the least amount of high-frequency energy *possible* is interesting (to say the least). Unfortunately it is extremely difficult to cipher exactly how much resolution is lost for each specific MQA-encoded track. That would require special MQA-encoded test discs and the like.
It's unfortunate that MQA seems to have deliberately obfuscated the true costs of their encoding/decoding process, and only focused on the benefits. I suppose that is only natural for anybody trying to sell a something, but when it comes to physics there is simply no free lunch. In other words, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. All engineering is made of a series of compromises. If streaming bandwidth is a critical issue, then in some cases reduction of file size may be worth the cost of reduced resolution. However true high-res 96/24 FLAC files are only about 20% larger than MQA files. Even 192/24 FLAC files are about half the size of streaming video files. Most audiophiles have sufficient internet bandwidth to easily stream true hi-res audio files.
For whatever reason, MQA has chosen to only provide full (192kHz) MQA decoding via hardware. This requires the customer to purchase a new DAC for full decoding. Clearly it is possible to perform the decoding in software, as there are at least two software apps that will fully decode 96kHz files and (I believe) partially decode 192kHz files (to 96kHz).
The ultimate choice is up to each consumer. Is it worth purchasing a new DAC in order to play a few hundred titles that are realistically available from only one streaming service? To answer that question would require a crystal ball. While I have no doubt that it is possible for an MQA file to sound better than a Redbook file (44/16), my experience is that the orginal hi-res file sounds better still. How long before there is a streaming service that offers streaming of true high-res files?
Or before there is a streaming service that uses OraStream's adaptive technology? (If there is sufficient bandwidth at the playback device, OraStream will stream full 192/24 resolution - about 3500kb/s in FLAC. If there isn't enough bandwidth it automatically and seamlessly scales back to 96/24 - about 1800kb/s in FLAC. If less than that is available it scales back to 48/24 - about 1200kB/s in FLAC. The process continues all the way down to bitrates comparable to that used by YouTube, allowing for uninterrupted music playback even when using wireless services. By comparison MQA requires a constant 1500kb/s in FLAC.
Hope this helps. As always the opinions in my posts are my personal ones and do not reflect those of my employers, co-workers, friends, family, or enemies.
Charles--not a "gotcha" question, I assure you. It's quite sincer, and I suspect you'll approve of the spirit of the question (actually, questions):
Have you listened? What do you think?
I hope you're doing well.
> > Have you listened? < <
Yes, please refer to some listening comments in this post:
> > What do you think? < <
My most recent technical analysis (with minor corrections from previous posts being noted in the paragraph beginning with "NB") is in this post:
In that post you say that the loss of resolution is "(to my ears, at least) audible." Also--I THINK this is your own observation--"When listening to the full high-res file on a good system (or headphones), it is quite easy to hear the whispered overdub as a distinctly separate element in the mix. I cannot say the same for the MQA version. To my ears the "whisper overdub" was markedly more difficult to discern. Please try it for yourself and let me know what you think"--again, loss of resolution. Very specific and helpful. I'm traveling now--away from most of my files--but will do this test when I get home.
Others have claimed to hear "artifacts" in MQA; I'm thinking of recording engineer Brian Lucey--but he's not specific. What else do you hear, other than the loss of resolution? Anything good?
Again, I'm not being confrontational. I'm trying to learn.
> > Others have claimed to hear "artifacts" in MQA; I'm thinking of recording engineer Brian Lucey--but he's not specific. What else do you hear, other than the loss of resolution? Anything good? < <
The only fair way to do a true apples-to-apples comparison test is with a unit that performs MQA decoding. Then one can send it either MQA-processed files for decoding or the straight hi-res files from which the MQA files were derived. That way there are only two variables in the experiment - the first is the digital filter used during the MQA encoding and the second is the digital reconstruction filter used in the DAC. I have performed such listening tests with both a Meridian Explorer2 and a Mytek Brooklyn.
It is essentially impossible to know what the sonic impact of the digital filter used while encoding MQA. However it is much easier to understand the sonic impact of the digital filter used in the playback DAC. When playing an MQA file we know from the MQA patent that the digital filter is a very gentle affair with a very slow rolloff. A 192kHz file is down -3dB at ~38kHz and -10dB at ~50kHz (roughly an octave below the Nyquist frequency limit of 96kHz). When playing non-MQA files in those two DACs the digital filter built into the DAC chips are used. The Mytek Brooklyn uses the exact same ESS DAC chip as both the Pono Player and the Ayre Codex. While both of those devices bypass the internal digital filter and instead use a custom digital filter developed by Ayre, I am also familiar with the sound of the stock digital filter in that chip. This allows me to get at least a rough idea of the differences produced by the playback digital filter.
In addition to the noticeable loss of audible resolution in specific instances (presumably because MQA reduces the bit depth from 24 to a maximum of 17.2), in my experience I could generally hear other differences that were neither "good" nor "bad". Many tracks seemed to have a bass emphasis that was not present in the original high-res file. Whether that is good or bad is a matter of opinion, but it was definitely a (noticeable) change from the original file. I have no definitive understanding of why this would be so, as MQA claims that no EQ is performed and I have no reason to doubt them.
The bottom line is that the digital reconstruction filter used in a DAC will impact the sonic performance of that unit (along with many scores of other variables). It does not surprise me that many listeners prefer the sound of MQA's slow-rolloff digital filter over the digital filter built into the DAC chip of those units. Many other manufacturers have arrived at the same conclusion, starting with Wadia Digital in the late 1980s and following through with Pioneer's "Legato Link" from the early '90s, Ayre beginning with their first digital product, the D-1 DVD/CD player introduced in 1998, and now many other manufacturers (most often using slow-rolloff options available in DAC chips from ESS, Burr-Brown, AKM, and Wolfson).
The improved sound quality of Ayre's custom digital filter is available with any source. *Every* slow-rolloff filter will provide some degree of "de-blurring" (to use MQA's terminology) as the amplitude of the "ringing" introduced by the A/D converter's anti-aliasing filter is reduced. If the slow rolloff is combined with the so-called "apodizing" technique (whereby the ringing introduced by the anti-aliasing filter in the A/D converter is removed by using a lower cutoff frequency in the DAC's reconstruction filter), this so-called "de-blurring" can be taken to any level desired.
Whether it is worth purchasing new hardware to decode a proprietary format that currently is essentially only available from one source is a question that only the purchaser can answer.
As always, this post represents solely my own opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer or my bartender.
Charles, very interesting. A poster on another forum had AMAZINGLY similar listening impressions to yours. (SUBJECTIVE listening comments in your post)
"I heard a very hi-end demonstration of MQA about a month or so ago in NYC. Peter McGrath did the demo with his own recordings (24/96) that had been MQA processed. We had a chance to hear the original and then the MQA version. The setup was as follows: Wilson Audio Alexx speakers, top-of-the-line VTL preamp and amp. and Meridian DAC (of course). The music wasn't what I usually listen to, however, the difference was very clear to everyone in the room (including Michael Fremer, who was seated next to me). I expected to hear equivalence (i.e. that MQA had done no harm), however, there was clearly a difference. The MQA sounded somewhat brighter and had more presence! It reminded me at the time of the "loudness button" and old amps that I had 30 years ago (I had not seen the May 2017 Stereophile at the time of the demonstration).
I managed to corner one of the MQA guys who accompanied Peter and after some prodding by me he explained that they do DSP of the signal as part of the MQA encoding to "make it sound better". While he did not go into any great detail, he indicated that things are done to try to reduce pre and post ringing that are present in almost all digital audio signals. I can only speculate that this involves some kind of digital filtering of the original signal.
Based on this one demonstration I certainly would not advocate for spending time and money on MQA (and risking falling into the clutches of Meridian). Since my preferred digital is SACD I do not see any need for MQA and I certainly do not want anyone using DSP on my digital data streams to make them "sound better"
If I had been able to vote I would have voted for the following:
I won't use it as it doesn't offer me anything I don't already have
I think we have sufficient formats to manage high quality audio already
I think Meridian are focusing more on creating a revenue stream."
Thanks Charles--interesting. I'll add only that, as you know since you've clearly read the patents--some/much of what MQA does is done on the transmission side; coding and decoding work together. My impression from reading the patent--I still lack the expertise to read it well--is that this offers advantages over controlling only the receiving side; is there perhaps an analogy to vinyl/RIAA here?
Posted by Charles Hansen (M) on May 28, 2017 at 12:17:48
> > is there perhaps an analogy to vinyl/RIAA here? < <
I don't see how there could be. Pre-emphasis and subsequent de-emphasis is virtually mandatory for phonograph because of the underlying physics of the transducers. The Redbook CD specification also allows for pre-emphasis/de-emphasis, and it provides a slight advantage (about 1.5 bits extra resolution in the top octave) due to the typical spectral content of music. It seems that it's more trouble than it's worth, as only a handful of very early CDs employed pre-emphasis.
MQA is claiming to do something completely different - specifically, "correct" for "timing errors" created during the original A/D conversion process (so-called "de-blurring"). These "timing errors" are actually artifacts of the steep anti-aliasing filters with sharp "knees" at the corner frequency. The only thing that can be done to "correct" these "timing errors" ("de-blur") is to filter out the "ringing" created by the filter and *hope* that the new filter doesn't create worse artifacts. There are *many, many* digital filters that reduce the artifacts created on the A/D side, the first being from Wadia in the late 1980s. MQA is far from breaking any new ground in this area.
A fundamentally better approach would be to use an A/D converter that does *not* create artifacts during conversion. All DSD A/D converters are free from this problem, as they do not require any anti-aliasing filters at all. However DSD creates a new problem in that it is impossible to process the signal (change volume levels, mix, EQ, and so forth) without first converting to PCM. Conversion to PCM is done with anti-aliasing filters, so the problem springs back to life (think Whack-a-Mole here). Plus each conversion back to DSD adds additional noise.
I believe the best solution is to use true high-res PCM (trivially easy to post-process), but use digital filters on both ends (anti-aliasing for A/D and reconstruction for D/A) that don't introduce sonic degradation. The Ayre QA-9 ADC does exactly that (for dual- and quad-rates only - the single rate minimizes the artifacts but cannot eliminate them). Many companies have created DACs with special filters designed to minimize playback artifacts and also reduce the artifacts from the A/D converter (beginning with Wadia in the late 1980s). There are many companies that have followed the path that Wadia created, or in a few cases pushed that envelope even further.
As always, my postings reflect only my personal opinions and not necessarily those of my employer or son's pet snake.
Charles, thanks very much for this. MQA claims an end-to-end (which I take to mean encompassing the ADC and the DAC) "impulse response" with a main lobe of duration ~ 6 samples, with "ringing" limited to just one negative-going overshoot (ok, undershoot) "lobe" with no more than 10% of the total area (is that with linear or log scales? I don't remember). As far as I know they've released no evidence that they're actually achieving this (I asked for it once more than a year ago; go the typical audiophile "trust your ears" response, which I think I've heard elsewhere ;-) ), so feel free to comment on this aspect of things. But the main question:
When you say the QA/B-9 combo does NO damage at dual or quad (I assume that's 88/2/96 or 176.4/192?), what do you mean exactly? To adopt the MQA vocabulary, I would take to mean that an impulse equivalent to one sample wide (say, 5 microseconds at 192) would, after ADC/DAC, still have a width of 5 microseconds--is that what you're saying the QA/B chain can achieve? (I realize I so far haven't mentioned the question of the POSITION of the impulse in time--phase if you will--which could have uncertainty even if the width is preserved.)
I'm simply trying to understand what you mean when you say the QA/B chain does no damage, and how to relate that to MQA's claims.
I hope this line of inquiry makes sense.
When an impulse passes through any band-limited system, analog or digital (which therefore includes every non-imaginary system), the impulse will be necessarily spread over time. MQA's marketing material shows how air acts as a low-pass filter - the farther the signal travels through the air, the more it is stretched in time. This is equivalent to saying "the farther the signal travels through air, the more the high frequencies are attenuated", yes?
Conversely a wider bandwidth system can pass an impulse with less spreading of impulses. With digital systems, the upper bandwidth is set by the sampling rate. With analog systems the upper limit is the concatenation of the responses of all of the stages in the chain, starting with the recording microphone and ending with the playback loudspeaker. In general analog systems have a wider bandwidth that does single-rate digital - otherwise there would be no need for an anti-aliasing filter in an A/D converter.
The Ayre QA-9 offers several different anti-aliasing filters. The one used in the "Listen" mode at 192kHz has *perfect* response in the time domain - zero overshoot, zero undershoot, and zero ringing. However it is down about -0.5dB at 20 kHz. The primary filter used for MQA playback performs very similarly to that used in the Ayre QA-9. However they set a target of no more than -0.1dB droop at 20kHz. This requires a second digital filter which boosts the treble to compensate for the droop of their primary time-perfect filter.
This second filter introduces some "time blur", which is seen as the one negative-going undershoot you noted in your post. The concatenation of the two filters used by MQA yields a time response more like that of Ayre's "Listen" filter used at the 44kHz sample rate. This is inevitable, as there is no such thing as a "free lunch". It's simply a variation on the old story, "Price, performance, features - pick two." In the case of digital it becomes "Time response, frequency response, file size - pick two."
If one can tolerate the file size of quad-rate sampling, the errors in both time and frequency response are so small as to be negligible. With single-rate sampling, the file size is smaller but one has to choose between audible problems with either the time response or the frequency response. As Wadia showed us in the late 1980s, humans are more sensitive to time-domain errors than frequency-domain errors. Ayre has followed this path beginning with our first digital product nearly 20 years ago, and now MQA apparently concurs with this position. Hope this helps.
As always posts here are my own opinions and not necessarily those of my employer or slaves.
Many answers in link below-
John Atkinson, Stereiohile:
"I tried a variety of sample rates with these LP rips: 44.1kHz was very good, but didn't capture the essence of the original LPs' sounds; 96kHz was better; but there was no doubt that with a 192kHz sample rate I could not distinguish between the LP and the digital rip. And believe me, I tried."
.."there was no doubt that with a 192kHz sample rate I could not distinguish between the LP and the digital rip. And believe me, I tried."
So please, PLEASE tell my why need MQA again?
Charles, thanks again for addressing what so few seem to understand, and it is no wonder, with the confusing marketing MQA employs.
Yes, absolutely, they claim to correct errors at the time of digital capture by the original ADC.
But as you mentioned in previous posts, and as I know very well a project may have used MULTIPLE ADC's during the production. Then different ones during mixing and the same applies for mastering.
One thing I would like to point out with DSD, but specifically when remastering classic analog recordings:
There is a very good way to do it with NO additional DSD processing.
And that is do all your EQ and compression settinsg, and what ever
else in ANALOG, then capture that to DSD. Done. Essentially you are
taking a "DSD photo" of what is coming off the mastering chain.
That is how Mobile Fidelity and other audiophile labels are doing for their SACDs, and they sound spectacular to me.
The Pyrmaix workstation can edit and master in DSD, however some manipulations require conversion to so called "DXD" first.
Here is a thought, it may be crazy, but since your QA-9 is designed as you say, it would be VERY interesting to do some digital archiving with it and and then compare it an "MQA" processed version. The results would be very revealing, in a number of ways.
> > it would be VERY interesting to do some digital archiving with it and and then compare it an "MQA" processed version. The results would be very revealing, in a number of ways. < <
It seems to me that there is a big long chain that starts with the microphone in the recording venue and ends with the speakers in your listening venue. Improving anything at all along the chain improves the sound. Using a better sounding A/D converter would improve the sound for all customers, regardless of their playback system.
Unfortunately there don't seem to be as many "audiophiles" on the recording side as on the playback side. It isn't that easy to compare most pro equipment. Microphones are typically selected for known results ("desired colorations") in specific circumstances. Most gear isn't even compared - can you imagine trying to compare the sound quality of two different 128-channel mixing consoles? Occasionally a studio will re-wire everything with some "audiophile" cabling, but I'm unsure as to how they select which cable to use. It seems that endorsements from highly visible engineers count for as much as anything in the "pro" world.
Every time I have seen a "pro" audio guy evaluate gear, they will set it up in their system so that they can do rapid A/B switching. I have never seen anyone listen for more than 5 or 10 seconds before switching. This is very unfortunate as that type of listening test is extremely sensitive for only one subjective experience - frequency response. It is an exquisitely sensitive way to tell if two DUTs have different frequency responses. It is far, far less sensitive to other "audiophile" parameters such as imaging, soundstage depth, resolution, coherency, and so forth. And it is essentially useless for letting one know which DUT creates a greater sense of emotional connection with the recording artist.
I don't think there's much mystery about the sound quality of MQA. They always start with a high-resolution digital file. Then three processes are applied. One is to reduce the bit depth to ~17 bits with noise-shaped dither. This can never improve the perceived resolution. (NB: Various noise-shaping curves can introduce various sonic signatures. I am told that Sony/Philips listened to many choices before selecting the 7th-order filter used for DSD, and many have noted a similarity in the high-frequency characteristics of all DSD recordings, where the highs tend to sound soft, delicate, and airy, regardless of the program material - I remember having phono cartridges with similar colorations.)
The second process compresses quad-rate audio with lossy techniques, discarding further information. The third process is to add a (digital) filter to filter out some of the artifacts of the original A/D converter. This is also removing information contained in the original file. (It is easy enough to do this without the need for a proprietary system, as first demonstrated by Wadia in the late 1980s.) What sort of differences would you expect to hear from the type of processing that MQA performs?
As always, my posts are strictly my personal opinions and not necessarily those of my employer or voice coach.
"What sort of differences would you expect to hear from the type of processing that MQA performs?"
As you note, all of this can be done without a proprietary "format", god knows I use term oh so loosely, fees, and the need for new software and hard ware.
The extra information is appreciated - thanks for writing it.
We don't half make our hobby complicated by entertaining this type of clever-but-pointless activity. Would much prefer producers to, say, scale back on heavy dynamic compression, as evidenced by the overuse of 'loudness' techniques.
"... only a very few individuals understand as yet that personal salvation is a contradiction in terms."
What we don't need is a step backwards.
-is a totally necessary reduction in file size
-requires dedicated hardware and softare
thanks but no thanks.
Thank you Charles for posting and clarifying. There is nothing to add because this is precise and easy to understand.
So many have a very vague understanding of how the MQA stream is decoded, and I believe this is by design.
MQA reminds of derivative on Wall Street. For a period of time there people making boat loads of money even though they had absolutely no idea what these financial weapons of mass destruction actually were, nor could they explain them, nor could Congress regulate because they refuse to admit they it was way over their heads.
The CEO's of all the major investment banks admitted they had utterly no idea what these securities were but they rubber stamped them because the money was rolling in.
As you pointed out, Wall Street deliberately obfuscated what they were doing with their sub-prime mortgage lending. If you have seen the excellent film "The Big Short", you will know that this deception could not have taken place without the active collusion of the bond ratings firms, who were supposed to provided oversight.
If using this debacle as an analogy for MQA, do you think there may be a correspondence between the bond ratings firms and the audiophile press?
Ding ding ding!!!! The man gets a prize! :)
yes, Charles that is exactly what I am suggesting.
The fact is like lemming investors who get led off a cliff time and
time again, audiophiles, and especially those who read the magazines and blogs, have short memories.
They did this with DSD. Do you remember Lavorgna betting the farm that Sony and others would "open the vault" on DSD downloads so you need to run out and by that "DSD Ready" DAC asap. How did that turn out?
Now, if you have been able to rip your SACDs to a hard drive or listen exclusively to classical and some jazz, you did ok via the Acoustic Sounds downloads.
At least DSD was a REAL format, you could even buy a portable DSD recorder. MQA is a fabrication, and the press made a calculating
decision to jump on board with the hope of creating a new market. New markets equal new ad revenue. Ad revenue is good. Both major mags are manufacturer centric for the most part. That is how it goes.
The bloggers, Darko, etc, have jumped on board, because, try being the odd man out, and see how many review samples you get, how many press invites you get, and see how welcomed you are in rooms at CES or Munich.
In the end MQA will collapse under it's own weight. Just like what is happening somewhere else.
The wall street guys destroyed human lives. I don't think MQA will do that. The comparison is asinine and juvenile
I suppose if we want to be pedantic, even the Wall Street debacle did not "destroy human lives" - that act would require killing a person. While I am certain that MQA will never kill a person, I'm unsure if even the Wall Street debacle did that either.
Nevertheless Mr. Garvey's comparison may be apt in other regards. I suspect everyone will have their own opinion as to the appropriateness of the comparison. Speaking of which, all postings here reflect strictly my own opinions, and not necessarily that of my employer, associates, family, or friends.
"The wall street guys destroyed human lives. I don't think MQA will do that."
This is true.
"The comparison is asinine and juvenile."
Strictly in your opinion.
Me again. That's because we are both in the same time zone. I hope someone else contributes.
Anyway the answer is - you can't do it.
1. Play the MQA file from Tidal on your computer upstairs using the desktop Tidal app to decode the MQA file ( the first fold). Then send the decoded file via Bluetooth to your amp's DAC downstairs.
This will not work because the decoded MQA file will have a data rate greater then the maximum limit of Bluetooth (inc.aptx) which is the same as CD i.e. 16/44.1.
2. Send the raw undecoded MQA file via Bluetooth to some kind of device that is connected to your amp and has an MQA decoding ability. Now you can send the raw MQA file because the Tidal app has a "Pass Through" option so that a full MQA equipped external DAC can do the job. However this won't work for you because MQA cannot survive passing through another codec ( which is what Bluetooth is).
3. Although there are streamers that have Tidal inbuilt ( like the Oppo Sonica), at the current time they are unable to access the Master (MQA) options which Tidal advise is only available through the desktop app.
Thanks Par. So just for the record how does the average Joe Public play these MQA files from Tidal? It seems a selling point that is only available to the audiophile clever or patient enough to figure it all out.
Yes computer audio does tend to be somewhat complex if you want it to work properly and to exploit its capabilities. However I doubt that Joe Public knows or cares about MQA.
I have been thinking about a solution for you. You appear to have the room downstairs for a network streamer. Why not use that space for a small pc laptop, say 13 or even 10 inch? They are very small and thin these days and basic spec ones (all you need) are relativley cheap. You can load Tidal desktop on this and connect it directly to your amp's DAC via a USB/SPdif converter. Not only would you then have Tidal Masters but it could also be the hub of a music storage system with a media player such as Jriver MC installed with a small external drive if you want to go this way. There is one matter to settle though and that is the data processing capabilities of your amp's DAC. Aside from the fact that it is based around a 24 bit Wolfson chip I can find out no more. The digital connectivity specs of the amp could mean that it is limited. I would suggest that you try to find out if it will support 24/192 minimum as if not you will need to consider an outboard DAC if you want to follow a true hi-rez route.
However please remember that MQA is very much a novelty and may well not survive the market. It was announced 3 years ago and has since lost its major harware partner ( Pioneer) and the support of its major download partner (Highresaudio). It is currently effectively limited to Tidal and to recordings from Warner (though there is a deal with UMG as yet to produce anything). Other support is limited to a handful of obscure music producers and a limited supply of hardware from mainly boutique manufacturers.
As far as Tidal is concerned your desire to get the Master tracks relates currently to only 700 albums available of which many will probably hold no interest for you. At present about 60 are added each month.
I have written on these boards recently (hi-rez forum I think) that the roll out of MQA does not show the impetus I expect from a succesful medium and that it may just fade away (like 3D TV). I will be at the huge audio trade fair/show in Munich next week and will look out for any news relating to MQA.
Let me know how you go forward.
as far as MQA dying I can only hope you are correct.
Seem to me a weak and over clever attempt at kick-starting starting another Cash Cow like the Holy Red Book (which besides the oodles and ooldes of $$$ was damn near totally disposable to boot! ... ignoring all the plastic and electronics waste, bien entendu )
Well I don't think many believe there will be another have them re-purchase their entire collections again to be played back on disposable junk bonanza, but realistically as long people pay for the new thing all will be fine.
I suspect the MQA crowd did dare believe, and were pushing their solution as the vehicle with the promise be that next big thing/steal.
Remember the software decoding in Tidal will only give up to 24/96. So if the dac does 24/96 you are good To get 24/192 you need a dac with built in MQA decoding
Thanks all particularly Par for your dedication to my cause. T0 answer your question Par here are the specs for digital connectivity with the CA CXA60. There is 1 usb which I use for the BT100
TOSLINK optical: 16-24 bit, 32-192kHz (using high quality TOSLINK optical cable) S/PDIF coaxial: Linear PCM 16-24 bit, 32-192kHz
BT100 Bluetooth receiver: A2DP plus aptX
The URL is a link to CXA60 tech spec pdf file.
Thanks for the lowdown on the MQA. So my question is what is the best way for me to play the finest quality music from Tidal Masters or Qobuz etc. without buying records; which by the way is my next imminent purchase! I have an old laptop I can use and I'll try that sing the 15-day free Tidal trial. Thanks again
Do try the Qobuz free trial too. Aside from not having MQA it strikes me as more sophisticated than Tidal which I find seems to be primarily aimed at 16 - 24 year olds somehow. Nothing wrong in that but not for me. The Qobuz desktop player offers amazing sound and is Japan Audio Society certified.
I'm just using an old Macbook as the streaming device. Since the computer is connected to the system using a Dragonfly dac, I needed to find a way to remote control it, and I use VNC on my iPad to give me remote desktop capability. So basically desktop Tidal is running on the macbook, out via USB to the dragonfly and out via a headphone to RCA cable to my system. The wireless part is all over high-capacity wifi, no bluetooth. That would be the internet streaming connection and the remote desktop. Unfortunately my macbook goes to sleep when I shut it, so I have to keep it open. I'll have to see how to set this up so I don't have the screen within view.
With the desktop app, I let Tidal do the first unfold to 24/96, which goes out to the dragonfly. Audioquest is promising a firmware upgrade to the DAC to allow it to do MQA directly. Some say it will still only do the first unfold, which I get from the desktop anyway, and my iPhone is not capable of streaming MQA so I can't use it there either.
Zac,can you set the screen to go to sleep while the rest of the Macbook is on?
With my laptop, I set the screen to go to sleep in 1 minute, and the PC to never.
That's an interesting setup. However the OP has a mac computer in one part of his house which he is unable to connect with a wire to his audio system situated elsewhere. Although he could indeed control his mac via his tablet using VNC he will still have his connectivity problem.
Incidentally I tried controlling my PC playing Qobuz via a VNC installation on my Android tablet. A complete shambles as the VNC control interface for an Android touch screen requires the use of a VNC cursor which is pulled on to the screen by swiping down from the top. Unfortunately that is the identical action as Android uses to display messages...you can imagine the result. Also if you wanted to use the cursor to play e.g. a track at the bottom of the screen then as it is dragged there it passes over all the other tracks and tries to open them too.
Yes the Dragonfly MQA update will only service the first fold. In fact the Dragonfly could handle nothing more as the DAC has a maximum data processing capability of 24/96.
This now seems to be the Network player for Qobuz
with Acram Solo being the other; I'm opting for the former unless advised against it. Hopefully I can make my purchase unless the Yamaha WXC-50 is not the best idea? The option for multi room also seems appealing.
The Arcam and the Yamaha are different types of product. The Yamaha is a streamer box only and connects to your existing amp. The Arcam is a full streamer/amplifier and would replace your existing Cambridge amp. The difference is reflected in price too, approx 300 v. 1000 gbp.
I can't vouch for the performance of either having experienced neither.
Alas I have my decision. One last thing how does the Yamaha compare to the Oppo Sonics in it's duties and capabilities? I'll be very shortly badgering audiophiles in the phono and vinyl section. I think this year's holiday will be on a tight budget but I'm trying not to go too silly with hi-fi but what pleasure it is listening to the finished product; sound.
The Oppo Sonica is another type of product again. It is a DAC with network playing attributes. It does not offer support for Qobuz, Tidal or other streaming services which therefore have to be acquired through another device connected to it ( hard wire or wifi, Apple airplay or Bluetooth although for hi-rez we have already discussed the limitation of the latter).
As you already have a well specified DAC in your amplifier you might consider what Sonica offers to be redundant in your system aside from its multi-room aspect ( though I am unsure if this is only available via the matching powered speaker) . However the Oppo also offers DSD capability which may or may not interest you. Purchased downloads only for this format of which the choice is comparatively limited especially if you disregard upsamples from lower resolution sources.
As The Oppo is an outboard DAC with its own power supply this is reflected in the cost of around 2.5 times that of the Yamaha.
You could well meet me again on Vinyl depending whether I can contribute to your query! Sorry :-)
Post a Message!
This post is made possible by the generous support of people like you and our sponsors: