Bluesound 2, Tidal, MQA, and non-MQA DAC--for Dummies?


If this inquiry has been directly addressed elsewhere without talk about making the components work, whether MQA is better or DOA or crap or a sign of the imminent death of music as an artistic expression, and tech beyond lizard brain understanding, can someone point me there?  Seems there are enough users of similar setups that maybe I'm not the only one who wonders....

Recently acquired a Bluesound 2 and have had Tidal Hifi.  MQA was just a potential bonus.  So, listening to MQA from Tidal Hifi through a Bluesound 2 into a non-MQA DAC.  Right now, the Doors.  Maybe it is a function of a recent remaster, but it sounds great and some songs better than the same ripped from older CDs to the Vault 2.  Curious, looked at the DAC.  I believe it is hitting the DAC at 24/96.

Wading through over-my-head tech talk, debate about MQA, and talk about simply how to get MQA, seems it is something like this:

--MQA is supposed to provide some eq'ing and other magic to address some nasties inherent in the stream/conversion from the masters to the actual media and also functions as some sort of super-flac type thing to get hi-res in a smaller package but requires some various amount of "unfolding" to ultimately get to 24/192 or even potentially higher.  That "unfolding" is supposed to be done in a manner that doesn't add other nasties.  But, there is a software and a hardware method to making it work.

--The Bluesound is supposed to be able to do the full "unfolding" on its own (don't know whether it's hardware/software or some combination), if using the internal DAC and running its analog out.

--BUT, if using an external, non-MQA DAC, the Bluesound can somehow do just one "unfold" before the signal is output digitally...so something like MQA-lite.

--If using an MQA-DAC, the Bluesound can output the coded MQA signal digitally to the MQA-DAC, so that DAC can do the full "unfolding."

--BUT, again, going higher than "MQA-lite" otherwise requires that the original MQA file have additional "folds," which may or may not be the case.


I don't know any of that is correct or even makes sense. It's just what I think I read.  But, I am really curious about what is actually happening--in terms a dummy can understand.

Is this real 24/96?  Or some weird hybrid bastardization to pump up the number to fool ignorant audiophiles and sell/re-sell Tidal and music folks already have or had on vinyl, tape, cd, and/or alternate hi-res.

In the end, I guess it doesn't matter except for determining whether there is optimization to be had or yet another upgrade path to potentially follow.  The ears are judging, and, so far, some indeed sound better, even with MQA-lite....



stfoth
  I am not to sure of how MQA works either, but it's a suite of technologies, not just one thing, and bit rates are not as relevant as with other technologies.
@stfoth, 

This article may help you understand the intricacies of MQA files, 

http://www.digitalaudioreview.net/2016/06/sweet-news-mqa-comes-to-bluesound/

Personally, I am enjoying my Tidal HI-FI MQA streaming through my non-MQA compatible DAC, at least for now :-) 
Thanks, lalitk.  Helpful, it explains, I suppose, what the DAC is saying, but I have to admit that I still don't quite understand it all. 
@stfoth, 

No worries. May be you're reading too much into it. In your setup, you have couple of ways to enjoy MQA files, 

1. Listen to MQA files from the analog (RCA) output of Vault 2 to your Preamp or Amp and let the internal DAC do all the decoding. 

2. If you want to use an external DAC, then you should buy MQA compatiable DAC and use S/PDIF output of Vault 2 to your DAC. 

There are very few outboard DAC's that are currently capable of decoding MQA files ~ Meridien Ultra, Mytek Brooklyn & Manhattan and PS Audio DirectStream. 

If I may suggest that you let the dust settle on MQA and wait until we have more choices on DAC's competing for our hard earned money :-)

PS: PM me if you have questions about your setup. 
lalitk:  thanks.  that much I understand, i think.  it's this middle-ground with the Bluesound with MQA Tidal to a non-mqa DAC and, quite frankly, what MQA is ultimately supposed to do.

i'm enjoying the Tidal MQA into the non-MQA DAC, though.  Some things sound better.  Some, I can't really tell a difference.  But, I haven't yet heard anything Tidal MQA that sounds noticeably worse.  Unless I'm missing something from Tidal Masters, the selection is disappointingly light, though.

But, absolutely agree.  Waiting for the dust to settle.  MQA was really just a bonus since I already had Tidal Hifi and got a Bluesound.  THIS, from a fella with maybe 100 SACDs and SACD player that probably cost much more than that media.

stfoth, nice write up just one correction:

"...if using the internal DAC and running its analog out."

I asked this very specific question from the Bluesound helpdesk and their response was MQA is also supported through the coax digital output not just the analog. So using an MQA enabled external DAC is simply passing through the output from Node2. By the way, I have a similar set up with an outboard DAC and its very easy to do an A/B comparison between the analog output and the digital (via external DAC) by switching between the two inputs from the preamp. You may or may not hear much difference depending on the quality of the outboard DAC.  

@kalali, 

A bit of clarification and not to confuse matters further,  I have read in the article below that using COAX output may not be beneficial. Now i don't own bluesound so I am not a subject matter expert, 

"However, listeners who wish to bypass the Node 2’s internal DAC in favour of their own decoder will connect an external box to one of the Bluesound’s S/PDIF outputs.

In this scenario, the MQA software within the Node 2 will unpack any hi-res content and send the entire, unfolded file to the external D/A converter over S/PDIF. How much hi-res unfolding takes place will depend on the maximum sample rate handling of the Node 2’s coaxial and Toslink outputs.

Now comes a slight catch: the MQA software inside the Node 2 isn’t ‘externally DAC aware’; it knows not which DAC has been connected to its rear panel and therefore cannot apply its custom, pre-corrective filter. 

This leaves Bluesound users looking for the complete MQA fix to answer this question: does an uptick in sound quality brought by MQA’s pre-corrective DAC filter offset the sound quality foregone by not deploying one’s (presumably superior) external D/A converter?"

here is the link to the article, 

http://www.digitalaudioreview.net/2016/06/sweet-news-mqa-comes-to-bluesound/
@kalali.  Thanks.  We keep seeing each other, so I think we're at a similar stage with this Bluesound/Tidal/MQA/DAC thing.  What external DAC did you end up going with?  Which do you prefer--"full" MQA out of the Bluesound or semi-MQA with the DAC (assuming you went with a non-MQA separate DAC)?


@lalitk. Thanks.  I saw this article--a little out of context, but seems to be a follow-up to the link you posted.  Thought it was helpful, too.

http://www.digitalaudioreview.net/2017/05/mqa-bowie-headphones/


I was half-considering an upgrade to the DAC in the "primary" system.  It's the DAC portion of a Cary 306PV SACD.  It sounds good to me, but, after just acquiring a Denafrips Ares for a different setup, was considering going with R2R in the primary--maybe a Holo, Yggy, or up the Denafrips line.  BUT, maybe will wait until the MQA thing settles a bit and figure out whether a better streamer would be, alternatively or in combination, worthwhile before pulling the trigger there.
lalitk, thanks. I think that article is somewhat outdated. You may not be able to check this if you no longer have a Node2 but they have since added a specific option, via software upgrade, in the BlueOs mobile app Settings where one can select the type of external DAC that is connected to the Node2. You can now select yes or no if the external DAC is MQA enabled.
stfoth, my budget was somewhat limited so I bought a Cambridge Audio DACmagic Plus, mostly to improve the SQ of my of ancient JVC CDP. I wanted something with two coax inputs - to also plug in Node2, so that by itself narrowed my options a little bit. I keep switching between the Node2 analog -> preamp and Node2 coax -> DAC -> preamp and to be honest, at least in my system, I can't say which one I like better. The analog route "seems" a little warmer but the coax appears to have a tad more detail. I have also tried the Node2 analog -> amp direct route and while it initially sounded more lively it was a little too bright, particularly on complex musical content. Hope this helped.
https://support.bluesound.com/hc/en-us/articles/115006191908-Why-Isn-t-My-External-DAC-Playing-MQA-

seems that is to fully bypass any MQA stuff in the Bluesound so an outboard MQA DAC can do it all.  but, doesn't that re-raise a question of whether this "rendering" is conversely done in the Bluesound when using a non-MQA DAC and checking the "No" on the Bluesound?  Thought that was the MQA piece that would be missing--"apply its custom, pre-corrective filter."

Ugh.
@kalali,  

Thanks for clarifying. As I said before, I am happy with marginal improvements I hear with Tidal MQA recordings through my non-MQA ARC DAC9. 

I believe next 6-9 months should decide the fate of MQA. 
In my experience, for a given content, the differences between MQA and non-MQA versions are fairly subtle and furthermore in some cases a regular version of one content may sound better than an MQA version of another content. I suspect the SQ of the ARC DAC9 is at such a high level that the difference between MQA and non-MQA content would probably be difficult to hear. It probably sounds excellent regardless.
I don't think this has been mentioned, but there is a third way to get MQA streamed.  That's to use the Tidal desktop app and stream that to your DAC, probably via USB. 
stfoth,

Please don't take this the wrong way but using a low cost DAC such as the Bluesound Node 2 may be the weak link in the chain and no matter what resolution of source you play, you may only notice marginal differences. I know this as I purchased a Meridian Explorer 2 MQA DAC thinking the quality of TIDAL MQA tracks could be experienced even from a low cost DAC. The Meridian Exploerer 2 DAC allows a complete MQA unfold including the Studio Authentication light being lit. However, it's difficult to tell the sound quality difference between MQA & Redbook tracks. I was reminded of the old saying, 'you get what you pay for'.

Switching to my primary DAC which is a Lumin S1 Streamer/DAC. The sound quality is pretty obvious. Since my Lumin S1 is not an MQA DAC, TIDAL software only unfolds tracks to the 1st level - 48kHz/24 bit. However even at 48kHz/24 bit, all TIDAL MQA tracks I've listened to are noticeably better than their Redbook versions. 

Again, I think the quality of the DAC has a lot to do with it.
cycles2--not at all. I appreciate any advice and most sincere criticism. So far, I’ve only used the Bluesound DAC temporarily and for a limited amount of comparison. It’s better than I expected it to be. The vault 2 is going into a Cary 200ts. When I figure out where the Node 2 is going to end up, it will be either a Denafrips Ares or the Cary 306PV SACD DAC. The MQA appears to be hitting the DAC out of the Bluesound at 24/96, 24/88.2, and some at 24/44.1 or 48k. So far, some sound clearly better than redbook, some the same, and some just slightly different. I haven’t yet heard any that are worse in any obvious sense.

Like most of the other folks who have commented, seems the increased performance of the external DAC outweighs whatever last bit of MQA the Bluesound would otherwise do.

I’m kind of trying to make sense of what is actually happening with Tidal, MQA, and the gear.

Started this thing not all that long ago with some Sonos Connects as a relatively inexpensive and idiot-proof way to see if this streaming thing was for me. It is, and Bluesound was the next upgrade from the Sonos--still had to be idiot-proof and usable without a traditional computer. Probably will wait for some better indication of what’s going to happen with MQA before "investing" significantly more in a streamer or another DAC or combo.

How do you like the Lumin?
The Lumin S1 is a terrific sounding DAC and plays any resolution I throw at it without pauses, clicks or pops. The native iPad app is great and the TIDAL integration is the most seamless I've experienced, so there's little need for a 3rd party app like Roon unless you want Roon's DSP feature.

You're probably wise to wait to see where MQA settles before investing in your next digital front end.

Many believe we'll see software based MQA decoders such as Roon that may lessen the need for an MQA enabled DAC. Software decoding can only perform the first unfold to 88.2kHz or 96kHz / 24 bit, but many say the 1st MQA unfold is the most important sonic-ally as the next unfolds are just upsampling.  

As I mentioned above, currently TIDAL is unfolding MQA tracks to my Lumin at 48kHz/24 bit and they sound significantly better than Redbook, so if I'm able to get software to unfold to 88.2kHz / 96kHz / 24 bit I'd be very happy as I can stop purchasing hi-rez albums from HDTracks.

Roon was discussing this approach on their forum as of January but it seems to be stalled with little progress.  
Cycles 2 your comment about listening to MQA through the lower end Meridian Explorer is interesting.  In the original TAS article where RH  prosyltizes for MQA he primarily focuses on Meridians $20,000 + DAC but also has a brief mention of the Explorer, to the effect of "I think I can hear a difference with the Explorer".
   My comment would be that anything should sound good through a $20000 front end.  
   I did a one week Tidal trial using My Bluesound Node 2.  I played a few traks that I had stored on Bluesound and then listened to the MQA version, both using
the Node 2 DAC, and the difference was barely perceptible.  When I replayed the tracks from the Bluesound into my regular DAC, the Bryston BDA 3, that was clearly the winner
@stfoth, 

I have read your comments about how you started and that's exactly how I begin my journey into digital streaming as well. In fact, I still own my SONOS Connect. 

If you ever think of upgrading your streamer, I wholeheartedly recommend Aurender N100H or N10. Both of these are superb sounding streamers and iPad app interface is the very best in the business. 

"....anything should sound good through a $20000 front end."

The Aurender, Lumina, and Bryston units are all significantly more expensive than a Node2 and are expected to provide better quality sound. The incremental enhancements that MQA provides using a moderately priced (MQA enabled) gear can not compete with the better sound quality that is delivered by a gear costing an order of magnitude more, MQA or not. Same argument applies when comparing to Redbook content.

@lalitk 

I used to own the Aurender N100H and I agree that it's a great music server and likely contributes a small amount to the sound quality of a digital front end. But the DAC is where the biggest gains in SQ take place. IMO the Aurender A10 is the current giant killer digital front end to consider in the $5,500 neighborhood.   

For $5,500 you get an Aurender server (streamer) and an Aurender DAC in a single chassis, saving on a power cord and interconnects. I believe the internal connection of the A10 server to the A10 DAC is I2S which is superior to USB. USB is also an input option on the A10 if needed. You also get 4TB of internal storage which is plenty of space to get started. An external NAS can be added if more than 4TB is needed. BTW, the A10 is already MQA hardware certified, which is how this discussion got started.

You get balanced or unbalanced (single ended) analog outputs so you can use the A10 as a preamp and go direct to your amp(s), assuming you don't have a turntable or CD player in your system. 

I'm not affiliated with Aurender, but I believe the A10 makes a lot of sense for someone looking for a server & DAC that is MQA hardware certified. It's a no-brainer if you also need a pre-amp and don't have a TT or CD player in your system. On top of all that Aurender is famous for world class build quality and customer support.
@cycles2 . I guess I could just look it up, but figured could just ask, insofar as it may further the discussion. Does the A10 function through wifi (like a bluesound or sonos) or does it need a hard connection to the router? Does it also function as a standalone DAC?

thanks!

@kalali. The Cambridge Audio DACmagic Plus has been reported to offer a lot of bang for the buck and to be a pretty good DAC. It sounds like you are finding that, while a bit different, it’s not significantly better than the bluesound’s DAC, which would speak very positively for the bluesound, imo.
@stfoth,

According to the diagram on the Aurender website (http://www.aurender.com/page/a10), I would say the A10 needs to be hard wire connected via a CAT5 cable to the router for Internet connectivity to TIDAL or to connect to an optional external NAS. 

Perhaps someone with more knowledge on the Aurender A10 could keep me honest here.
@stfoth,

Yes, the Aurender A10 Music Server needs to be connected to your Network Router as per their instructions "Gigabit Ethernet port = To connect to home networks and Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. The Ethernet cable should be connected to the network router BEFORE TURNING on the Aurender".

My Aurender N10 is connected to my Airport Extreme Router.  The Aurender Apple iPad App is used to control my Aurender N10 and needs to be connected to your Wi-Fi Network.   My iPad was NOT able to connect so I added the Apple AirPort Extender that extends the Wi-Fi signal to my living room.  This works perfectly.  

I am streaming Tidal and using the100 Mbps down / 5 Mbps from my ISP.   I suggest you listen to Tidal and see how it working in your configuration.  Some fine tuning may be required.  

Tidal service on the Aurender includes a tab labeled Masters where approximately 500+ MQA coded albums are available.  The Aurender A10 Music Server including its built in DAC is recommended.  

  

I forgot to mention above that the Aurender A10 Music Server / DAC ($5,500) is MQA-enabled.   

Outputs includes single-ended RCA and balanced XLRs, but you can bypass the A10's analog stage (why would you?) and send its bits to your DAC via USB.

Read more at https://www.audiostream.com/content/aurender-a10-server-mqa#mJQB7SgTTLzhWQGu.99
@hgeifman .  That sounds interesting, and I'm sure sounds excellent over a Vault 2.  I labeled this "for Dummies," and that was not intended to be a self-deprecating joke, unfortunately.  That big of an upgrade would "need" to go to the primary system, but an Ethernet connection is pretty much a deal-killer, there.  Whatever goes there has to function by wifi, and be idiot proof for a computer illiterate (see generally, starting with sonos and then going with bluesound as the upgrade).  The Vault 2 requires a hard connection and is in the office where the router is.

As stupid as it probably objectively is, I'm using whatever router Comcast has been renting to me.  I don't even know if what I'm about to say will make sense, but, here goes (please don't laugh):

Is there a device that functions something like a wifi extender but with an Ethernet connection for other devices (like, say, an Aurender) with sufficient speed and reliability to stream the Tidal MQA files or, if possible, hi-res from a NAS?

@stfoth, The Aurender A10 manual states the NAS can be connected to your router as per the following:

http://www.aurender.com/page/a10

I am having troubling understanding your above question.  The Aurender A10 requires a "wired" Ethernet connection to your Comcast router and the NAS can be connected to your router.  The Aurender CAT 6 Ethernet cable in my living room is connected to a Luxul switch box in my family room and then goes to my home office.  All these Ethernet cables are under my house.  This works fine and I have no problems streaming Tidal.

There might be, but I am not aware of, a Wi-Fi extender with an Ethernet connection.  As I understand it, the Aurender A10 is streaming lots of data from the Internet and requires a direct Ethernet connection.  

I have no experience with the Comcast provided router.  I suggest you use it and see what happens.  I am using my own Apple Airport Extreme Router.   My previous Linksys router could NOT handle the traffic created when streaming from Tidal (signal drops).  I later discovered there was a packet handling issue with these Linksys routers that was being worked on but no fix available.  I hope this helps.  If not, please rephrase the question.  
@stfoth, 

Yes, you can hard wired Vault 2 or Aurender by creating a dedicated wired network. You can buy a pair of Apple AirPort Extreme, connecting first APE to your modem and 2nd APE to your Vault 2 using a pair of CAT7 Ethernet cables. 

I realize this is an expensive solution, but this works flawlessly and recommended by Aurender. I am sure there may be other options which may be less expensive.  BTW, I tried those Ethernet over power solution which did not worked in my setup. 

I do back up @cycles2 recommendation of A10. It's a excellent streamer/DAC/preamp. I did not suggest that earlier as I suspect OP loves his non-MQA DAC. 

Thank you, both.  Here's how computer illiterate and out of touch I am and probably why the HelpDesk folks probably cringe when I have to call:  I guess this mysterious device I was thinking of to make something like an Aurender work without running a cable from it through the walls upstairs to the router in the office might simply called a wireless bridge, which, I think, is what lalitk is describing.

--Replace the probably crappy Comcast router with something better.

--Get an AirPort Extreme that connects through wifi.  Plug the Aurender or any other network device without built-in wifi into the Airport Extreme with the Ethernet cable.

--Rock on...and realize that, for years, this writer has unnecessarily limited himself to stuff with built-in wifi or, on devices without, forgoing functionality.

I'm depressed, now.  Thank you.
@sfoth,

You can use a network extender to extend your network to another location in your home such as the location of your stereo system. This assumes you have good WiFi coverage by your stereo system. The rear of the network extender usually has 4 Ethernet ports which can be used to connect to your music server, computer or a network switch in case you need to connect more than 4 network devices. This usually works well enough for Internet bandwidth especially if you only have a single story home. 

Alternatively, depending on the location of your Comcast router and stereo, you may be able to run a CAT5 cable outside your home to connect your Comcast router to a network extender via hard wire instead of WiFi.  You'll typically get better Internet bandwidth this way. 
@stfoth, 

I know how overwhelming and confusing these computer / wifi set can be....but once setup properly, the payoffs ensures worry free operation. 

Since my modem is located on 2nd floor and 2-ch setup on 3rd floor, here is how I setup my components, 

2nd Floor: AT&T modem - CAT7 - AirPort Extreme 
3rd Floor: AirPort Extreme - CAT7 - Aurender - AES/EBU cable - DAC - XLR Cable (Analog out) - Preamp. 

Hope this helps! 
@lalitk.  Thanks!  I guess one last stupid question.  The Airport Extreme on the second floor works through wifi to the Airport Extreme on the third floor, i.e. without running any cable from the second floor to the third?
Correct! 
It's a miracle I've survived this long in this modern world.  I had no idea.

This discussion might change my life, at least a little, and, more importantly, might open the door to audio options I had dismissed for not being "able" to run Ethernet cables throughout the house.
A non-audio oriented friend recommended Netgear Orbi.  Something about Apple maybe stopping the Airport.
@stfoth

I hired an electrician to run my CAT6 Ethernet from my living room to my home office under my house.  I do not how your house is configured but you could ask for recommendations.  

The Apple Store and Best Buy have the Apple Airport Extreme router on their web sites:

https://www.apple.com/shop/product/ME918LL/A/airport-extreme?afid=p238%7CsVepplfIz-dm_mtid_1870765e3...
@stfoth, 

I would encourage you to try Orbi. It's ranked pretty high in customer satisfaction. You can order a pair from Amazon to try it out. The good thing about Amazon is their return policy is pretty generous and hassle free. If it doesn't work in your home, Amazon offers free returns. 

https://www.amazon.com/NETGEAR-Orbi-Home-WiFi-System/dp/B01K4CZOBS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=150207...
@hgeifman .  Thanks.  I'm on a slab and have textured walls and stucco.  Easily could turn into problem, depending on what it will take.  Had bad run of crappy contractors, too.  But, the electrician was ok.  Might go ahead and have him come out to see what he can do with that and a couple of 20 amp dedicateds.

@lalitk. Might try the Orbi or Google competitor, anyway.  Sounds awesome even without a non-wifi streamer.  It's Bluesound, for now.

How about a good streamer, with built-in wifi, separate power supply, MQA, r2r and HDCD and dsd DAC, HDMI and coax inputs, integrated Tidal, fully balanced with solid state drive under five figures.  Gotta be a market for that?
I am not trying to confuse anyone in this discussion but I want to add this. I have had three airport extremes which have proved to be prone to failure. Of all my Apple products, and I do really like my Macbook Pros, Iphones and my one Ipad ...the extremes have each failed after 1 year of usage. I have had Netgear routers now and they seem to work well for me. I would go with Netgear if you do not run cable. My two cents FWIW.
BTW I am using a Bluesound Node 2 and have ran Toslink optical out to two different DACs. No matter what I try, the MQA file sounds better if I let the Bluesound do the work alone. The DAC and MQA process in the Node 2 sounds very good to me.