Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by LeeS, Jan 9, 2018.
Thank you for posting the link. Good article. I look forward to your future pieces.
Thank you. I am working now on the technical article but that will take a while as I have more interviews to conduct and reviews to write.
Let me clarify. What I understand is that all digital versions that a label offers can be done by one MQA mastering. However, that does not prevent boutiques like AP or Mofi from offering a non-MQA version. This doesn't affect the LP version and may not affect the CD version.
The rest of your statement is up for debate. There is no evidence that MQA releases are using DRM. There is some debate at how lossy it is with people arguing on both sides that it is either hirez or not hirez. MQA team claims it can be converted to the original PCM file. I believe MQA has a mathematical proof that shows the unfolding gets back to the original file. The final resolution is based on the resolution of the existing master is what I am told.
So could record labels potentially use MQA files as the source for vinyl?
I know that part of the MQA intellectual capital has been to build digital filters to correct known distortions in ADCs and DACs. I understand that these filters correct for imbalances in addition to the timing distortions. As I understand it, the idea is that by correcting some the recording gear errors, it gets the recording back to a more realistic depiction on what went down in the studio.
To your point about provenance of hirez files being iffy, this may represent a solution in that MQA becomes a standard and the authentication just means the team has adhered to that standard in producing that file. Given all the variables that I have personally witnessed that go into a recording's sound, it's not a complete solution but in my view, if it gets rid of the timing distortions, our ears will be very happy.
Spence will soon encode some files I recorded with my buddy Nick of acoustic instruments and I will have A/B files of the tracks with and without MQA. I will listen to these on several DACs (DirectStream and Rossini for starters) and post some impressions.
I think it would be useful only if the source was digital. For all others, I would prefer analog tape!
I'm not sure how to respond to your comment except to suggest that, historically, companies that have foisted demonstrably phony products, services and consultations on consumers are always initially met with approbation or at least some degree of acceptance. I accepted the statements by Bob Stuart and his MQA group that came out of Meridian to form the separate MQA company. I tried MQA - paid for files from 2L and a couple of other sources - and I begged, borrowed and purchased MQA DACs and DAC/streamers in order to jump in with a full complement of hardware to fully unfold/unpack/de-origami/de-whatever MQA files and streams.
Nothing much at all.
So I dragooned some willing (and some unwilling) friends, relatives and friends of friends into listening sessions because that's what I do. Any excuse to get together for a music listening evening replete with comestibles, Scotch and good music.
Nothing much at all again, aside from a number of weekends in a row of enjoyable get-togethers. They weren't hearing the touted benefits of MQA-processed music files either.
Maybe you've come somewhat late to this thread or perhaps just come late to the MQA fuss in general. If so, consider that this tempestuous fuss about MQA has been going on for three years. In all that time, the only raves about MQA have come from some of the audio writers who've been regaled with carefully setup MQA demos. If you're familiar with the sorts of Marketing Psyche 101 basics that are the foundation of most audio product demos by manufacturers (at shows, exhibitions and at special presentations), and if you're familiar with how the people in charge of such demos create the files that are going to be used, then you also know that little or nothing of what you hear in such sessions is ever reproducible at home (i.e., in the real world of music listening at home).
I could get into a couple of well-documented promises by MQA to process certain files produced by a couple of different engineers over the past couple of years, all of which files have disappeared into MQA's maw, MQA then eventually not responding to the engineers' followups about when the files will be processed. After more than a year, in one case, the musician/engineer just gave up. Still no files, apparently. But, bless their nerdy little heads, maybe the MQA mavens have just been too busy, n'est ce pas? No need for any of the people, whom MQA told to send in files and then ignored, to get testy about it. Or me.
And that - all of it taken together - amounts to a monumental pile of easily falsifiable B.S. eructed by MQA. I might consider being kinder, except I smell a corporate scam being foisted on streaming music subscribers and high-res file purchasers. That's the opinion I've formed based on the evidence I've extracted from blind listening sessions, using a lot of different MQA files and streams (comparing them to their identical non-MQA counterparts), the industry examples described above, and from the results of wider example distribution and listening responses organized by people such as @Archimago. In some cases, MQA-processed files sound worse than their non-MQA originals. In some cases there are differences without improvements. In most cases, there aren't any audible differences and therefore no benefits or detriments of any kind from the processing effort. In a few cases, some people hear an improvement that they can only describe in ephemeral terms, e.g., "It had more air" or "It seemed as though I could hear the ride cymbal more clearly in the bridge" or "I thought there was greater clarity of emotion" and other absolutely untestable assertions.
If I tell you to listen for the plucked violins in the twelfth bar of the allegro because if you listen for them them you'll hear what MQA processing has so beautifully done for their clarity, then brother that's exactly what you're going to hear. The ears are dumb data collectors - nothing more. It's the brain that processes data collected by ears. We hear with our brains. If I tell your brain to listen for the plucked violins in the twelfth bar of the allegro, that's exactly what you're going to focus on even if I steal your bike beforehand. You can't avoid it. MQA is presented, thus far, very much like that in demos and exhibitions. Force a blind listening test though, using comparative files, and nobody in my experience can pick out the allegedly better MQA files any more often than they can by flipping a coin to choose instead.
Being nice to people (i.e., MQA) who don't respond to pleasantly asked, legitimate questions, or who respond with nothing but marketing pap and a pat on the head and allusions to such things as "If you can't hear it there must be something wrong with your hearing or your system or maybe you're just a natural-born hater" is a recipe for being sucker punched in the wallet. Be nice all you want. I was done with that sort of thing a while ago where MQA is concerned.
I smell higher streaming costs right around the corner because of MQA licensing fees, among other reasons. TIDAL is paying MQA fees, the labels who are cooperating to process massive music libraries are paying MQA fees, the actual cost of processing itself in terms of engineering and mastering labor and studio time, and so on. Be nice to the MQA people? Why? I can't hear anything they're doing in any significant way, but I'm shortly going to be paying for it anyway.
I want to continue using TIDAL HiFi. I hope there will be continued access to its massive (and regularly expanding) HiFi library. Its size is astonishing. It offers more in CD-quality (16/44 files that stream as 1411 Kbps FLAC) than I could ever hope to source and buy locally in ten lifetimes. I don't want that library to disappear by replacement with MQA streams at higher cost. Nor do I want to be in a situation in which MQA processed files are incompletely unpacking for normally excellent CD-quality playback because I don't own an MQA-blessed DAC or because my DAC maker decides he doesn't want to pay ducats to Bob Stuart anymore. That, by the way, in one of the possible next steps in all of this if enough labels, music streaming companies and DAC makers buy into MQA. As we 'speak' here on SHF, you can be sure the MQA people are either engaging with the DAC chip makers or have already done so. Bob Stuart wants to own the music world as far as MQA licensing. If it was any good or if its benefits were readily audible, he might have some sort of vaguely supportable case. But it's not any good; it's just a licensing fee grab in return for another round of file processing. That's a streaming and file download future akin to the movie Demolition Man in which one person dictates every definition and all of the acceptable language and all of the acceptable food and all of the acceptable restaurants and so on: "After the franchise wars, John Spartan, all restaurants are Taco Bell."
You should read at least part of the patent, Lee. The only case where the original PCM file can be recovered is if the original file is the same or lower resolution than the MQA file, i.e. if the MQA "container" is 24/48 (which is the highest being used currently, although the patent allows for 24/96 containers as well), then the only time it can be truly lossless is if the original file is 24/48 or 24/44.1. If the original file is anything higher than 24/48, the original can not be recovered. It is true that there is very little data lost from a 24/96 file in a 24/48 "container" (and probably nothing audible in any way), but it is not mathematically lossless.
An interesting sidelight is that in most cases, a FLAC compression (truly lossless) of a 24/96 file is only about 5-10 % larger than the corresponding MQA file, making many people wonder "why MQA"
Of course we all prefer analog, but for vinyl pressed from a digital source, which is most, I was asking if folks thought labels might switch from traditional hi-res files to MQA. That is, if an objective of MQA is to have one digital file to rule them all, so to speak, then might it be possible that it could be used as a source for vinyl?
"MQA could apply advances in digital filters as well."
Better than master quality authenticated?
"MQA intellectual capital"
So there are known distortions in all DACs?
I need to look into that one and find out more. Curious as to why the DAC manufacturers haven't addressed that issue.
I will raise your MQA, Blecch! And put some Paul W. Klipsch into this discussion. The Yellow Button about the Output of the Bull applies, which I hope amplifies your thoughts. Along with this other PWK quote, "Ho, Hum, Another Major Breakthrough". The MQA, Ltd emperor has no clothes. Volume and level match Hi Rez FLAC and MQA, and A/B compare them. Put up or MQA, Ltd, SHUT UP! Let your ears decide. I bet the FLAC is as good under comparison. I tell it like it is, NO sacred cows!
I think you need to be more realistic. The major labels have not signed agreements to provide their back catalog in FLAC but they have signed agreements to provide their back catalog in MQA. You may disagree with the choice but the labels have already bet on MQA.
FLAC is dead in terms of label interest.
I think the labels make too much money on the boutique masterings or "special collections" as they sometimes call them. I doubt they would give that up. These labels tend to be highly leveraged businesses due to past buyouts. My bet is that they still allow AP/MFSL to press LPs and SACDs, HDTtracks to sell hirez, CD plants to make a few discs, and MQA to do streaming. They need the money to service their debt.
Very unlikely MQA will end the party of audiophile remasterings.
I’m not entirely sure what you mean by this. FLAC is free and open source, and every official (legal) download retailer offers their downloads that are 16/44.1 or better in FLAC. This includes some downloads directly from record label sites (Rhino at least, probably others). And unless the worst comes to pass and the only way hi-res is offered is MQA, PCM hi-res will almost certainly continue to be offered as FLAC.
Exactly . . . and ProStudio Masters, 2L, Acoustic Sounds, HD Tracks, etc., etc., all of which offer FLAC.
I'm not counting on the labels continuing to offer FLAC after their catalogs have been converted to MQA.
The labels motivation for MQA is the lossy file combined with DRM. The lossy file differentiates their copy-writted catalog from what the consumer can own. Allowing them to resell their catalogs over and over. Plus the DRM. MQA is a dream come true to the labels. It will be a quagmire for the consumer that has grown accustomed to having access to lossless mastered files and the ability to manipulate them as they see fit. That control by the consumer is slowly being wrestled away.
The first step will be streaming, for which there is no need for MQA. MQA delivers 16-18 bits of resolution from a 24/96 file. Better compression can be had with FLAC. If streaming bandwidth were an issue they would have started streaming in FLAC. There is nothing to solve with bandwidth. It's a red herring.
As a comparison, Nflx has no issues streaming 4k video with audio, which uses 10 times more bandwidth than streaming CD audio.
The next step will be to source Hi-Rez download purchases from MQA masters so they can include DRM.
My interest in MQA was in their filters. I had hopes that maybe their filters were better. If they work I'll be, "Shut up and take my money!" (insert Fry pic meme here).
If it is proved that their filters are nothing special or actually a detriment then all audio consumers will lose in the end after MQA becomes the standard because there will be no choices where the consumer can escape the proprietary ecosystem that they are building.
Are you going to interview knowledgable people with regards to the technical aspects digital audio and how MQA fits in or just more people with something to gain from MQA's success?
It's only a technical article if you are going to ask the hard questions and get into the details of what MQA is and how it's created rendered. Somehow I don't think you'll ask the right questions and the article will be filled with the usual buzz words and 100ft overview.
Which is a real problem. Bob Stuart (BS are his initials) has already indicated that the 2L content was converted to MQA a second time because they found a better way to do the "deblurring". With any lossy content any time the process is improved, the content could be sold again. Big money to be made by the labels and providers.
Get your wallets ready for the even better MQA versions to come out over the years to come even though the source master PCM doesn't change.
A lot of the reason, is many see Hig Res audio itself as something that promised a lot and that in home use, was never conclusively determined to be something that could even be identified when compared to 16/44.1 sound.
Different mastering's used for High Res, complicated the issue even more.
In other words, it it ended up being filed as one of a dozen audiophile "arguments" that tends to mean, any real world difference are so slight as to be nearly meaningless in actual practice.
Not saying there is no reason for High Res, but enough time has passed, that with still no consensus, usually means something has failed.
It's dead in terms of zero label interest in wanting to convert the catalog into hirez FLAC.
Reading this (and I agree, btw), its funny to think that the music industry is still worried about solutions to piracy. I don't understand why in 2018 they're worried Chinese pirates are going to use master-quality digital files to make albums to sell illegally. Who would buy it? The same tiny niche that buys high res downloads? Are the people who buy bootleg CDs on street corners just more discerning them I'm giving them credit for?
The only other explanation behind embracing MQA is they think suddenly everybody is going to become an audiophile, and sales increase as average customers oooh and ahhh over the big differences in MQA, just like they did over SACD? It's just impossible for me to think this. They're not that dumb.
Yes. I will interview a wide variety of people on the MQA format, those that like it and those that don't.
Pretty much my sentiments as well Kyhl. Well put. Not knowing the mastering chain for these is my big concern. A member awhile back posted a link with an interview from I believe a Sony exec talking about the (overly) compressed mastering for Adele's latest. Something in the context of a less compressed, better sounding master was done, but he had stated something in the line of 'Why would we want make available the Golden Goose?'
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