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If MQA is being implemented/encoded across various media platforms, but does it conform to the original red book standard?
The fundamental premise of MQA is to reduce the file size of a high-res file. To date the very best *lossless* way to do this was developed by Michael Gerzon in the 1990s, and his predictive algorithms forms the basis for all lossless compression schemes (eg, FLAC, ALAC, Dolby True-HD, MLP, Shorten, et cetera). Of these FLAC is the most commonly used and is considered the best overall optimization of these. None of them have a distinct advantage in terms of the overall file size after compression.
MQA reduces the files size by using lossy techniques. Specifically the least significant bits in the audio band of a PCM file are replaced by a compressed version of the ultrasonic audio data, resulting in a trade-off between bandwidth and resolution (no free lunch).
When starting with a 24-bit container, this may make sense in some circumstances. For example an original 96/24 file can be "folded" into a 48/24 container. Undecoded playback is at 48/17, while decoded playback is "unfolded" as a 96/17 file. It is up to the customer to decide if this is a step forward or a step backward.
However Redbook CD is limited to 16-bit containers. My understanding is that a decoded MQA CD would yield 88/13 playback, and undecoded would yield 44/13 playback. Again, it is up to the customer to decide if this is a step forward or a step backward.
As always, my posts reflect my personal opinions and not necessarily those of my employer or friends.
Then why are these record companies 'jumping on the bandwagon' when the system (MQA) hamstrings the purity of reproduction by introducing 'side effects'?
> > Then why are these record companies 'jumping on the bandwagon' < <
Good question. There are two things to keep in mind:
1) All of the major record labels are publicly-owned corporations. By US law, the *primary* purpose of a publicly-owned corporation is to "maximize the returns for the shareholders". The end results of this directive has been explored in the documentary "The Corporation" (linked below).
Looking specifically at record labels, their original purpose was to identify, polish, and promote new musical talent that would be bought in large quantities. They used to have things called A&R departments (artists and repertoire) who would scout out new trends and talents. When CD arrived in the early 80's, the record labels learned that by far the most profitable property they own is their back-catalog. All of the costs of scouting, polishing, recording, and promoting were already paid for. Just re-release property they already owned in a new format and it was like printing free money.
Adding to this is the currently unsettled state of the music business (as a business). Vinyl is the only physical format with growing sales, while all other physical formats (and even intangible downloads) are in decline. The only distribution channel that is currently growing over time is streaming, the equivalent of renting music. It's a brave new world, and nobody knows how it will turn out. Given that the back-catalog is still the most valuable property, if you were a record label and an outside party offered a deal to spend large sums of money to promote a new format in exchange for a small piece of the pie, would you say "No"?
2) The second part is hidden in your question - are the "record companies jumping on the bandwagon"? It's far too early to tell. Think back to the "format wars" between SACD and DVD-Audio. Many predicted that SACD would win simply because Sony not only made playback hardware, but also owned a giant record label. But when we stop for a moment and look back, it is clear that Sony Music (owners of the content) dipped a toe in the water by releasing a few SACDs from their library (single-layer only - not backwards compatible), while Sony Electronics (manufacturers of the hardware) primed the pump by subsidizing the production costs of releasing popular titles in the new hybrid format (eg, Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival) which also had a CD layer.
Although that "battle" seemed to last for many years, it only took a few months for a careful observer to make a prediction that SACD would never become a mainstream success (nor would DVD-A). Why? Extremely simple - as noted above, the primary duty of a publicly-held corporation is to maximize profit. When the record labels released discs in the new formats there were only two things that would happen - they would either make money or lose money. If they had made money, they would have instantly released more and more material until the entire back catalog was converted. The fact that there were only a handful of releases in either new format made it clear that both were money-losing propositions. This was exactly the opposite of DVD-Video was introduced. As soon as a title was released, everybody made money and within a few years there were tens of thousands of titles in the new format.
Regarding MQA, there is a spreadsheet available on the internet that appears to be someone's attempt to collate all available MQA titles:
The title of the spreadsheet implies that there are 2,700 titles available, but there are only about 1,700 lines in the spreadsheet, so the 2,700 number is clearly incorrect. It appears to be from a Spanish speaking person, so not likely anyone affiliated with a record label or streaming service. Most of the titles are specifically available at MQA, yet a significant number are blank - not sure what to make of that. Most of the titles also have release dates in the format "DD/MM/YYYY". Except for two releases by The Black Keys dated in May, all others are dated either late January through 13 March. It appears to me that the record labels are dipping their toes in the water and waiting to see the reaction - just as they did with SACD and DVD-Audio.
As always, simply my own opinion and not necessarily that of my employer or yard gnome.
" It appears to me that the record labels are dipping their toes in the water and waiting to see the reaction ".
Quite right. Record companies on the whole do not worry about formats. I can remember someone in the UK record industry commenting on some kind of format war at the time saying that he didn't care and that " If they want it on cabbage leaves then we'll give it to them on cabbage leaves".
"If they want it on cabbage leaves then we'll give it to them on cabbage leaves."
I have to admit that made me chuckle. Usually a comment of that nature is funny as it presents the truth to us in an unexpected way. That comment would serve to illustrate the point that the record labels have zero commitment towards MQA as a format, in and of itself, but rather a commitment to selling product in any way that they can.
As always these posts reflect only my personal opinion, and not necessarily those of my employer or grocer.
The only thing MQA has in common with redbook encoding is that both are based on PCM. Redbook is 16-bit linear PCM at a 44.1kHz native sample rate, while MQA can be utilized to code at a number of different bit depths and sample rates. Further, MQA captures two octaves (up to 96kHz) of ultrasonic bandwidth and cleverly folds/hides it in the audio band. Redbook of course, doesn't capture any content above 22kHz. Despite these differences, MQA still can be transcoded to fit in to a redbook compatible 'container' where the extra ultrasonic bandwidth simply appears as additional low level noise unless decoded.
In my assessment, the primary performance benefit of MQA is that provides a time-domain optimized digital audio channel encoding/decoding specification and requirement. Key to this optimization is the capture of enough ultrasonic bandwidth to allow room for time-domain optimized anti-alias and anti-image filters to properly operate. MQA's strategy here is based their belief that a significant cause of unsatisfying digital sound is due to the common ignoring of the time-domain with digital audio.
Redbook, for example, is a frequncy-domain optimized standard. High Rez PCM (such as DVD Audio) can also provide an time-domain optimized audio channel, however, there's no industry standard encoding/decoding chain requirement. This lack of an industry-wide time-domain optimized standard is a large part of what MQA is attempting to provide.
A good question but , taken literally, it cannot conform to the redbook standard as that does not relate to any media platform other than CD and , insofar as the data aspects are concerend is limited to 16/44.1( redbook covers many other aspects including disc dimensions, player output voltage etc.)
Is it compatible with 16 bit systems though? Apparently, yes, as Bob Stuart has said that use with 16 bit systems is feasible and a small Japanese label has produced an MQA encoded CD. Again that cannot conform to redbook standard but may be, in some way, compatible. I do not know how one is supposed to play it though, at least in a standard redbook standard CD player as any information beyond 16/44.1 will not be decoded even if it can be read (if). I can only imagine the use of such a CD as a source within a computer audio system . And of course the data file could be downloaded to such a system (the label does provide a download) so its entire purpose defeats me.
So redbook standard per se? No, although the non MQA data could be playable and may sound better due the the "deblurring" process. MQA decoded - no , not redbook and not 16/44.1 either as the sample rate would be higher than 44.1. So even if it could be decoded the playback system will need to handle sample rates higher than those specified in the redbook standard.
Of course, so far in practice and overlooking that quirky Japanese CD, MQA seems mainly to be available within a 24 bit " wrapper".
Chesky records is coming out with an MQA CD
Only if you want to decode the MQA info. Otherwise it will play like a standar cd
In the true sense of the red book standard I understand 'no', but the reason I asked the question (playing the devil's advocate), if encoding with MQA can be/ deemed similar in practice as HDCD why do it when we already have media that can handle higher bit rates and if encoded properly (ie effective usage of space available) you can store high resolution files (higher word lengths/DSD bit rate etc) why create MQA?... 'cash cow'?!
MQA would have been more suitable as being part of a codec for digital radio... DAB/DAB+ ! Instead of the lossy codec entrenched in those systems. Here in Australia various radio stations run self promotion of the transmission type you can receive their signal. Now they advertise 'digital quality' as the big plus for acquiring a digital radio capable of receiving that transmission. Initially they advertised DAB+ broadcasts as 'CD quality'... which in reality it is not.
I must admit I do not fully understand the technological aspects of the implementation of MQA, but something inside me is telling me 'cash cow'! and with the take up by various music conglomerates of the 'process' and having to pay licence fees, the result will be that we the consumer will be paying more for nothing as they pass on the cost of those licencing fees. Ultimately these costs would accelerate the demise of any physical media..... CD/SACD/DVD-A (which is virtually gone anyway but was mismanaged by the consortium that oversaw it's implementation to which Meridian was a consortium member).
I think that your doubts as to the actual purpose of MQA are the same as I expressed here or on PC Audio a few months ago.
In my more skeptical moments I too think " cash cow". However I think that what has happened is that whilst MQA was developing and marketing its big idea the world has moved on.
MQA was announced just under 3 years ago. However there must have been a long period of development in the years before to produce a workable product.
If we go back then , say, for six years, the technical environment for internet music services was quite different for many people. In Meridian's (i.e. MQA's) home environment of the UK many people still only had dial up internet services and even those with broadband had comparatively slow lines with capped data. In those days a system of squashing lots of data into a small space must have appeared very attractive.
Since then the provision of high speed data to homes in the developed world has improved significantly and techniques for more efficent use of bandwidth have also shown considerable gains. Thus what was a good idea 6 years ago now looks to have little purpose except, perhaps, for developing countries. Metaphorically, the tide seems to have gone out.
Irrespective of the number of MQA equipped bits of hardware announced recently, MQA's main problem seems to me to be the fact that it has almost no distribution channels. Tidal and a handful of boutique record lables providing MQA downloads do not make a succesful media platform.
To my knowledge, it's similar to HDCD..... It should sound fine without decoding, but better with decoding.
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