Dismiss Notice
We are making some updates and reconfigurations to our server. Apologies for any downtime or slow forum loading now or within the next week or so. Thanks!

Any one with experience of MQA CD

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Whay, Jul 23, 2018.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Joint Attention

    Joint Attention Forum Resident

    Location:
    Gig Harbor, WA
    Exactly why I will never pay for an MQA CD or download. If this is the route the labels want to go for streaming, fine, but I'll just keep buying used CDs if they want to force me to pay for DRM.
     
    Coricama, McLover and tmtomh like this.
  2. tmtomh

    tmtomh Forum Resident

    You make a very good point - and in fact this is part of the fear behind crticisms of MQA. By MQA's own admission, its business model and aspirations are to become a one-stop shop: One file, many formats (CD, streaming, high-res digital file, and so on). Their goal is to eliminate other, more open formats, at least for the high-res market. It's why the major record labels own a reported 21% of MQA: MQA tells consumers that it delivers "true master tape sound," while it tells record labels that MQA enables them to avoid having to "give away the crown jewels," by which they mean the selling the unadulterated, original 24/96 or 24/192 PCM digital masters as they do now.

    So if MQA does become the exclusive format for better mastering, then yes absolutely, it will be worth auditioning MQA CDs - although that would be a sad state of affairs for the reason noted above.

    However, it is very important to note the way that MQA CDs are being rolled out: as Japan-exclusive releases. This means that it is very difficult to know what the mastering is, since it's not a conventional reissue campaign where it's clear whether or not it's a new mastering, and if so, who did it.

    The most likely scenario is that these new MQA CDs are based on the same masterings used previously for Japan SHM-CDs, or Blu-Spec2 CDs, or perhaps for Japan SACDs, both of which came out within the past 10 years. Some of the SHMs and Blu-Specs have unique masterings, and some don't. Similarly, some of the SACDs have unique masterings (some of which are purportedly flat transfers of the master tapes), while others do not.

    The difficulty is that even if every single MQA CD uses one of the above-noted masterings, they might be "audiophile" in their intent and marketing, but they are a decidedly mixed bag in terms of how they sound - especially the SHMs and Blu-Specs.

    One of the cardinal rules that we've learned from these forums is that recent and "audiophile" masterings are not always the best-sounding. So purchasing MQA CDs with the notion that the mastering is likely to be superior, is at best a risky proposition.
     
  3. formu_la

    formu_la A.I.

    Location:
    Toronto, Canada
    Wouldn't playing MQA CD on MQA capable hardware, and the same disc on a non-MQA hardware allow "proper" comparison?
     
  4. Joint Attention

    Joint Attention Forum Resident

    Location:
    Gig Harbor, WA
    No, because the high-frequency information on an MQA CD is "folded" into the existing 16 bits, so if you play it back on a standard CD player, you only get 13 bits of resolution. Not the same as playing a standard redbook CD.
     
    McLover likes this.
  5. JimW

    JimW In the Process of Becoming

    Location:
    Charlottesville VA
    If it's of absolutely zero probative value, I wonder why you liked this post (which seems to show some real probitive value)?

    And while your suggestion of an alternative is interesting, using your criteria it is useless, since "purported to be" doesn't equate with are. We'd still have no confirmed apples-to-apples comparisons. Regardless, that was your suggestion; the poster I was responding to initially offered none- and kept at the useless argument, which was tiring to me, therefore my comment.

    I found his side-track irrelevant; you didn't. I find Agitater's results interesting and informative, if not conclusive; you don't. All well and good. I doubt if any more discussion between us will change our perspectives.

    For context: I see MQA as snake oil and the fact that they aren't giving us mastering info is just more evidence of this. They don't want us to be able to compare apples to apples.
     
    Bubbamike likes this.
  6. PATB

    PATB Forum Resident

    Location:
    SF Bay Area
    I believe you are quoting the wrong posts.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2018
  7. testikoff

    testikoff Seasoned n00b

    Not true with regards to existing Uni Japan's & Warner's MQA-CDs (see post above, too)...
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2018
  8. JimW

    JimW In the Process of Becoming

    Location:
    Charlottesville VA
    It was awkward, in hindsight, but I quoted your post only to show an example of how Agitater's results did in fact have some value. But the post was for tmtomh; I wasn't addressing you, even though I quoted you. Sorry for the confusion.
     
  9. tmtomh

    tmtomh Forum Resident

    This is what happens when folks get more interested in winning an argument than in moving a discussion forward. I didn't click Like on @PATB 's comment because I think MQA CDs can be usefully compared with regular CDs of different mastering; and I also didn't click Like on it because I think MQA CDs have superior mastering.

    Rather, I Liked PATB's comment because I thought it clearly and effectively made the case for why MQA CDs could be good to get: if they do indeed have unique or superior mastering. That comment provided an opportunity to clarify the question of what mastering MQA CDs are most likely to have, and whether or not the MQA badge is likely to be a reliable indicator of superior mastering. In my view it is not likely to be a reliable indicator of good mastering, which is why I agree with @Carl Swanson.

    Again, this is where the drive to win an argument takes the conversation into silly territory. The MQA CD samplers are advertised as containing a 2nd, regular CD with the same songs to be used as a comparison. As reasonable people, we can surmise that the regular CD almost certainly uses the same mastering - but as reasonable people with critical faculties, we also can think that it's not entirely out of the question that the regular CD might have an older mastering on it while the MQA CD has a fresh and perhaps better mastering.

    My point simply was that if one were to get one of these MQA sampler packs, the chances of both discs using the same mastering would be much higher than if one got an MQA CD of a particular album and then put it up against a regular CD of that album that just happened to be lying around in one's collection already.

    Yes, but the difference is that I provided specific reasoning to back up my position, and you have not.

    I absolutely agree with you that MQA don't want us to be able to apples-to-apple comparisons.
     
    Blank Frank and McLover like this.
  10. formu_la

    formu_la A.I.

    Location:
    Toronto, Canada
    Check this out (description of "Velvet Underground " cd):

    Reissue in Hi-Res CD format (UHQCD format x MQA technology). Features the DSD master in 2018, using US original master tapes. The DSD master is available in 352.8kHz/24bit high resolution (perfect for MQA-enabled audio players). Comes with lyrics and a description. Green color label coating. Comes in a slim case packaging. *The disc can also be played on regular CD players in UHQCD 44.1kHz/16bit resolution. However, MQA-enabled hardware/software is necessary to harness the full potential of this Hi-Res CD.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2018
    Larry C. McGinnis III likes this.
  11. JimW

    JimW In the Process of Becoming

    Location:
    Charlottesville VA
    lol This and the post that contained it show plenty of examples of you trying to win the argument imo. I provided plenty of specific reasoning. Do you not understand the difference between providing examples and providing examples that YOU agree with?

    Anyway, you win. Happy? I'm done.
     
  12. vwestlife

    vwestlife Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Jersey, USA
    It would be more valid to record the output of an undecoded/"unfolded" MQA CD onto a standard Red Book CD(-R), and then compare the two.
     
  13. Joint Attention

    Joint Attention Forum Resident

    Location:
    Gig Harbor, WA
    Sure, but part of that 16 bits is the MQA data. It has to be stored somewhere, so not all of that 16 bits is audio.

    And I'm not trying to sell you anything.
     
    Blank Frank and tmtomh like this.
  14. formu_la

    formu_la A.I.

    Location:
    Toronto, Canada
    I know you are not trying to sell me anything, I just doubt you are correct. No way they compromise the red book standard.
     
  15. crispi

    crispi Vinyl Archaeologist

    Location:
    Berlin
    That sounds very conspiratory. That would mean the labels are be able to tell which one of their own masterings sounds better. I don't think that's the case, and the period before MQA existed proves that.
     
  16. Joint Attention

    Joint Attention Forum Resident

    Location:
    Gig Harbor, WA
    So where do you suppose the MQA data is encoded then?
     
  17. formu_la

    formu_la A.I.

    Location:
    Toronto, Canada
    I don't know, maybe they have two layers. Of course, if they don't have Compact Disc logo all bets are off. If they do, they must have 16 bits of audio.
    I don't have any yet, but two are en route .
     
  18. Kyhl

    Kyhl On break

    Location:
    Savage
    In the interst of not derailing this thread, you should read up on what MQA is. All that extra information is stored by using a few of the bits in the 16 bit container, leaving a few less bits for audio.
     
    Blank Frank and wgriel like this.
  19. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    Location:
    Toronto
    Asked and answered . . . here are my music listening group's listening notes and conclusions about the following four UHQ/MQA-CD releases. The albums are, in order below, "Moanin'" by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, "Blind Faith" the eponymous album by the early supergroup Blind Faith, "Getz/Gilberto" by the studio trio of Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and "Aja" by Steely Dan.

    Here's the DAC. It's a MyTek Brooklyn DAC+ with fully switchable MQA filter. Note the little, blue MQA indicator light. It was used in all of the listening sessions in a variety of system, and acquitted itself brilliantly. Note that one of many peeves related to MQA DAC implementations is that the MQA filter can't be turned off and is applied to all streams including non-MQA (standard?) CDs. MyTek made its licensing deal with MQA, obviously, but in the process has retained its own superb filters. That's my Benchmark DAC3 HGC (unused in these listening sessions) below the Brooklyn DAC+.

    We used the Brooklyn DAC+ in six different systems (listed at the end of this post). The DAC and the CDs were the two consistent factors from system to system and from listening room to listening room. The six people in the group listened to all of the CDs on all of the systems at least three times. I collected the all the listening notes and eventually selected one song from each album as representative of the album as a whole. The small control button to the immediate right of the Brooklyn's LED screen activates the MQA decoder function, and the large control knob can then be used to turn the MQA filter on or off depending on which CD we were playing. I did not bother wasting anyone's time with listening to regular CDs played with the MQA filter still on. Regular CDs - MQA filter was turned OFF/DSBL; UHQ/MQA CDs - MQA filter was turned ON/ENBL.

    [​IMG]


    Although I've never been a huge fan of Art Blakey, he was a rock solid, innovative and very well-liked jazz drummer. His years with various players in The Jazz Messengers produced a lot of great music. But I've still never been a Blakey fan.

    The regular CD is the Rudy Van Gelder Edition, remastering in 1998 in 24-bit. The UHQ/MQA CD liner and outer jacket did not provide any mastering information in English (but in may be there in Japanese). If anybody on the forum speaks Japanese, I'll be happy to send them clear photos of the liner notes to see if there's any mastering information.

    These notes are in reference to the title track, "Moanin'".

    RVG Edition (1998): The Lee Morgan trumpet entrance and break are lovely. His staccato accents are smooth and crisp. Benny Golson's sax break is lovely, with all the natural note and resonance detail, and the rasp around his mouthpiece. The piano, as recorded originally by RVG, has a nasal timbre that doesn't benefit from this special edition. It's still nasal and doesn't do justice to Bobby Timmons' excellent playing. The piano is also just on the edge of still being in tune. When Timmons starts chording during his solo you can hear the breakup and distortion as the mic(s) overload in places. It's too bad because it detracts from a very, very good solo. With the original LP, if your turntable is not perfectly speed stable the piano on this album can sound really wobbly.

    UHQ/MQA CD edition (no mastering information): Same volume level as the RVG Edition. No difference in the Morgan trumpet solo. Blakey's cymbals are stepping noticeably on Golson's sax break - the cymbals sound natural enough but there's a hissing presence to them that doesn't exist on the LP, original CD release or the RVG Edition. The cymbals interfere with the sax. Nobody liked it. Golson's sax sounded rawer but less natural (all of the guys in the listening sessions go to a lot of live concerts: symphony, jazz, opera and ballet; two of the guys still play piano). Timmons' piano is slightly less nasal in timbre, but is unfortunately also reedier and thinner. The treble distortion on the sforzando chords and accents is still present in full.

    The overall impression was, and I quote . . . "Sorry, which CD is which again?" It was hard to tell them apart in any meaningful way. Flip a coin to make a choice, but of the six different listeners altogether, four chose the RVG Edition.

    [​IMG]


    Supergroup Blind Faith never amounted to much. The band's one and only album initially did okay for them, but gathered a cult-like following for many, many years (decades) afterward. Three of the tracks are very good - even great by some measures. I was hooked into a radical underground thing when the album was released in '69. The fifteen minute long closing track, "Do What You Like", became an anthem of sorts for the fractured remains of a drug-decimated Digger culture, the politically charged remains of the drug-addled hippie movement, and the fifth estate drug and counterculture advocates who were shifting their academic focus from acid and world peace to things much more difficult to control.

    These notes are in reference to "Do What You Like", the very long, last track on the album.

    CD Release (first edition, 1986), mastered by Dennis M. Drake: Unlike the very average sounding LP that suffered from wild variations in pressing quality, the first CD release (which I still have after all these years) was also never hailed for its stellar sonics, but it was significantly better than the LP thankfully. Steve Winwood played guitar in various spots on various tracks, and also played Hammond organ and an RMI Electra-Piano. Defining the sound of the RMI Electra-Piano is like trying to herd cats - that is to say, difficult. No matter what stop/voicing switches are engaged, the sound varies all on its own in the space of two bars of playing. I understood the attraction of that particular keyboard. It captured the attention of the few creative players who were willing to let the thing create new blends and sounds all on its own. The original CD catches all that nuance quite audibly. Winwood's solo at around 02:20 is woolly on the LP and on this CD, but the organ and keyboard background in the mix also underpins all of the driving rhythms in the tune. Clapton's solo starting at about 03:45 has a recognizable air and reverb that was part of his signature sound at the time. It's a very nice solo that feels live. Grech's bass solo at 05:40 or so is clean, clear and takes you on a spacey sort of ride for a couple of minutes. Baker's drum solo at 08:50 is smooth, well-blended and builds smoothly into a driving, metronomic pounding that is clearly detailed and leads back into the main theme when Clapton and Winwood re-enter. The cymbals are thin, lacking impact and depth. The very long "Do What You Like" background chant is natural sounding and hypnotic.

    UHQ/MQA CD, DSD flat-transferred from analogue master tapes (2013) by Seth Foster at Sterling Sound, NYC: Same volume level as the 1986 version. The file was edited in DSD in 2013 by Manabu Matsumura at Universal Music Studios, Tokyo. Winwood's solo is still woolly. The Ric Grech bass solo sounds slightly more forward in the mix, and steps out of the tune itself in a way that is basically unmusical. Nobody liked it - it sounds almost as though Grech was recorded in a different acoustic environment. The long "Do What You Like" background chant sounds compressed and the voices sound less natural and less present. Ginger Baker's drum long drum solo sounds more lifelike and the cymbals have more crispness and depth.

    The overall impression was . . . inconclusive, except for Baker's drum solo on the one tune. There UHQ/MQA CD didn't offering anything notable enough for anyone to stick a crowbar in their wallet to lever out the (U.S.) twenty-seven bucks needed (plus extremely expensive shipping charges) to order the thing from CDJapan.

    [​IMG]


    The Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto collaboration produced some wonderful music. Stan Getz was at his lyrical best, Gilberto was in perfect form (as was his wife, Astrud Gilberto, singing "Corcovado" and "Girl from Ipanema"), and the original LP was very well produced. I have an original pressing from 1964 that came from a relative's collection, and it still sounds very good. There have been no fewer than forty-three releases of this album since 1964. But the Lasting Impressions Music (LIM) CD release has always sounded best to me. The LP is still great and it is of the time, but the LIM CD version remastered by Takeshi "Hakkaman" Hakamata stands above the rest for its care and attention to the music and its respect for the excellent original mix.

    These notes are in reference to "Girl from Ipanema", the first track on the album.

    LIM CD release (2009) remastered by Takeshi "Hakkaman" Hakamata: The male vocal by Joao Gilberto is clear and smooth in his signature, mellow tenor, while Astrud's lead vocal is open, full and natural and almost lazy in its intonation. The female vocal is supposed to be languid and sexy and that's exactly what it sounds like on the LP and on this CD. There's plenty of space around her voice, and I think the idea was to record her almost as if she was singing alone in a spotlight. It has always worked for me that way, and it was one of the many reasons that the album became one of the jazz best-sellers of all time. When Getz takes his first solo, the Antonio Carlos Jobim piano recedes smoothly back to let Getz' delicately precise blowing shine. The soundstage is realistically wide, so it's easy to envision the players and singers in the studio in proximity to each other. Getz' sax is resonant and sweet, and you can hear him working his reed and letting his perfect pitch work through the rhythms of the relentlessly pressing bossa nova-like beat.

    UHQ/MQA CD (2018) release: According to my Scosche SPL meter (dbC), peaks were 3 db hotter and the overall level 3 db louder. The soundstage is narrower by all accounts compared to the LIM CD and also compared to the LP and the (2002) SACD and the (2012) Analogue Productions/Harmonia Mundi releases (additional CD versions owned by various members of the listening group). The soundstage also sounded as though all the instruments were lined up side-by-side in a line; not unpleasant but also without the natural feel of all the other versions we heard. There's nothing wrong with the soundstage per se, but it doesn't have the realistic feel of the LIM CD (or any of the others mentioned). Astrud's voice is too crisp, without the languidly sexy feel it needs for the tune to work and for the lyrics to sell. The same goes for Getz' sax because instead of sounding lyrical, it's crisp to the point of being brittle and unpleasant especially during his first solo. It's full enough, but also so crisp that it no longer sounds like a natural sax; it almost sounds like a synth.

    The overall impression was . . . if you're going to remaster one of the best-selling and most atmospheric jazz albums of all time, you better get it right. The MQA gang did not get it right, and if it's not as good as a dozen or more other releases, what's the point? Fail. The (1992) Verve CD and the (1994) Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab both sound better and can be found used for about five bucks apiece. Get one of them if you don't already have this superb jazz CD in your collection.

    [​IMG]


    Even though, in my opinion, Aja was not one of Steely Dan's best albums, it had a lot (and still has a lot) to offer. The production quality of the original (1977) LP was superb, and showed an attention to detail that set a new benchmark for that sort of craftsmanship both in the studio, in the mastering suite and at the pressing plant. The (1984) MCA version on CD and the (1988) Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release on CD were even cleaner. The Aja album doesn't really go anywhere, but as a blues/jazz/soft rock fusion experiment the original LP presented some serious musical contrast to the jazz/rock brilliance of Return to Forever who were surging at the time. 1977 was a very good year for music.

    These notes are in reference to "Josie", the last track on the album.

    MCA Records (1999) Digital Remaster by Roger Nichols on CD: Overall great balance in the mix, but every listener commented that by contemporary standards the entire track seems bass-shy. I agree, and I always wished that Jim Keltner's kick drum had more body and that Chuck Rainey's bass guitar had been given just a bit more clarity and presence in the mix. The drum work is crisp, maintains a vice-like grip on the beat and helps create a drive that is unmistakably Jim Keltner's signature. You can feel the emotional effect of his pickup when he restarts the tune after the pause near the end, one of the unique aspects of "Josie". The natural-sounding horns are a Steely Dan signature too, and provide an important part of the jazz feel that sometimes gets submerged in the mix but which never quite goes away. The guitar solo (by Dean Parks? Larry Carlton?) is slightly recessed but clear and well crafted with excellent detail that provides all of the character of the instrument being played.

    UHQ/MQA CD, (2018) DSD flat-transferred from analogue master tapes by Seth Foster at Sterling Sound, NYC. Edited in DSD by Manabu Matsumura at Universal Music Studios, Tokyo: Same volume as the MCA 1984, 1999 and the MoFi 1988 releases. Overall the same great balance in the mix, but everybody commented that this version is also just as bass-shy as the 'conventional' versions. The guitar solo is still slightly recessed but also still clear and well crafted just like the previous releases. Basically, "Josie" and all the other tracks sound identical in every respect to the conventional CD releases.

    The overall impression was . . . what's the *$%!@#* point? All this fuss over UHQ/MQA CD just to get . . . the same thing we've already got multiple times over? By my count, there are twenty-five separate releases of Aja, all of which are precisely as good, some of which have extra liner notes and photos and technical information too, and all of them available for less money than the UHQ/MQA CD version. Fail.

    [​IMG]

    The bottom line during a three week period needed to do eight listening sessions was that a bunch of guys whose music listening and appreciation experience I respect began questioning my sanity. "Why bother with this?", they began asking, "when it's obvious that these releases for the Japan audiophile market are just another example of pointlessly pricey audiophilia that has no real reason to exist?" Good question.

    Note the comments I included above about the LP versions of these albums. Those comments are also culled from the listening group. The original Moanin', Getz/Gilberto, and Aja LPs are fine examples of just how good these things could be for projects in which producers really cracked the whip or engineers were in the groove and when musicians and the man in the booth were tuned in to each other. The CD releases already on the market have been criticized by all manner of audiophiles and technophiles intent on making CD a pariah. The fact remains that all of the CD versions we used for the comparison sessions are terrific - musical, musical, musical. The MQA versions fall short not because they're bad, but because they're merely almost the same (with the exception of the Getz/Gilberto MQA CD which is obviously audibly worse).

    The audio systems consisted of:

    MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
    Yamaha A-S2100
    Kudos Cardea Super 10 speakers

    MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
    Audio Research (ARC) REF 3 preamp
    Jeff Rowland 625 S2 power amp
    Ethera Vitae speakers
    REL subwoofer

    MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
    Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary integrated amp
    Harbeth Monitor 40.2 speakers

    MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
    Naim Supernait 2 (with HiCap power supply) integrated amp
    Audio Note AN-E/SPe SE speakers

    MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
    T+A P3000 HV preamp
    T+A A3000 HV amp
    B & W 805 D3 speakers

    That's it.
     
  20. JimW

    JimW In the Process of Becoming

    Location:
    Charlottesville VA
    Really appreciate all the effort you and your friends put into the auditions and you put into the write-up. It may not be completely conclusive, but it certainly shows no support for MQA claims and provides some support for detractors.

    Regardless of any possible differences in mixes/mastering, I think it's fair to conclude that for these specific CD's, MQA is not worth the cost. Certainly can't generalize to all MQA-CD's, but this is a solid beginning and more reports on other MQA's will give us more info.

    Thanks for sharing.
     
  21. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Great post agitator! And thanks for doing the entire forum such a large favor!
     
    billnunan and arisinwind like this.
  22. Brother_Rael

    Brother_Rael Forum Resident

    Location:
    Scottish Borders
    Temporal bollocks if you ask me...
     
  23. formu_la

    formu_la A.I.

    Location:
    Toronto, Canada
    I have, and you should read about the red book standard.
     
    ZenArcher likes this.
  24. Claude Benshaul

    Claude Benshaul Forum Resident

    Thank you for sharing and for the effort.

    To he OP: The answer to your question which opened this discussion is that given the current releases and state of technology, there doesn't seems to be much point in investing in MQA CD.
     
  25. Whay

    Whay Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Yemen
    Thanks for the answer Agitater. Really helpful.
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page

molar-endocrine