DSD vs. PCM vs. MQA - Group listening experiment

Hi everyone,

So I just re-discovered the 2L website which has free samples of high resolution music.

I thought it would be worthwhile to ask the fans about the tracks here, specifically if there are any you feel are really good exemplars of why encoding scheme X is better or different than Y.

I just downloaded a bunch of Vivaldi and will share my own observations (and lack thereof) here.

As for me, file size matters so I'm going to try to stick to relatively similar file sizes when possible.


Couple of notes. MQA should sound it's best when the ADC is known and adjusted for. DSD should be at it's best when there has been no modifications to the original, which is nearly impossible due to post processing needing to occur in the PCM or analog worlds.

Or so these are the claims I have heard.
So far I've been listening to a Vivaldi Contata, about 70 Megs at 24/96 in FLAC and 44.1/24 MQA FLAC.

I hear no difference, though my DAC indicates the MQA file is playing at 24/352.8kHz.

However, though I hear no difference, the MQA recording makes my ears hot, and uncomfortable. More on this later.
Does anyone know what type of dac was used to compare these group listening experiments with??

Cheers George
Shouldn't the MQA file be 24/44 or 24/48?

Sorry, the idea was that we would all listen at home with whatever we have.  The "group" part was that we can use the same library of files.

@ahendler Nominal 44khz is really 44.1kHz, so same deal. :)


If that's the case, then the PCM for it to sound it's best should only be listened to via a dac that is Multibit conversion.
Not one that is a DSD dac with/or Delta Sigma, Bitstream, Single Bit, Saber, or Wolfson sd DAC convertors.

From MoJo Music: and others have said the same.
" When a PCM file is played on a DSD or Bit Stream converter, the DAC chip has to convert the PCM to DSD in real time. This is one of the major reasons people claim DSD sounds better than PCM, when in fact, it is just that the chip in most modern single-bit DACs do a poor job of decoding PCM."

Cheers George

I only posted what was sopposedly for an ideal file, not an ideal dac.  Fery few multi-bit dac's left really.  I'm interested in what DAC's users have, and if they can find some files that they feel are absolute demonstrators of a particular format's virtues.

Or at least, on their DAC shows a noticeable difference. :)  Of course we can't have perfect.  99% of DSD recordings are DSD to PCM to DSD to begin with. 80% of modern DAC's are bitstream anyway. So no matter how we go we aren't going to get whatever the theoretical ideal is.


Fery few multi-bit dac's left really.
  Not really they are more than ever now, as in the hi-end they're realizing now that to do PCM conversion right it has to be done with Multibit.
Hi-End ones like MSB's flagships, Total Dac, Metrum, Schiit (has upgrades to multibit) Aquahifi and many many more.
Here is the latest from Aqua.

Cheers George
BTW here are a users findings of the Schiit dacs with Multibit upgrades doing pcm conversions.

So saying that it's really impossible to compare DSD, and PCM as they both need different dacs to get their best. 

Cheers George

The title of this thread is :-

" DSD vs. PCM vs. MQA - Group listening experiment"

OP - " I only posted what was supposedly for an ideal file, not an ideal dac. "

If someones wishes to talk about dac types, please start a new thread.

When will this hijacking ever stop? - and it’s always about the same thing.
jon when are you going to stop trying to be a forum cop??

The OP asks in his title
" DSD vs. PCM vs. MQA  Group listening experiment "

I say it can be done with any validity because one dac can't do all at their best!!!
So it can't be a valid comparison. 
Cheers George 
"....forum cop."
Hmm...the irony of it all, judging from history, that is. 

I have said this before and I will say it again, you need professional help. 
Look at the title, "DSD vs. PCM vs. MQA" it can't be done fairly without compromises using the same dac.
Maybe it's you that needs knowledge or professional help, as one of your statements suggests, "The ripped cd file sounds better than the cd spinning in the super heavy transport of my old Esoteric K-01."  

Cheers George

OP - " I only posted what was supposedly for an ideal file, not an ideal dac. "

+1, Erik.
Maybe it’s you that needs knowledge or professional help, as one of your statements suggests, "The ripped cd file sounds better than the cd spinning in the super heavy transport of my old Esoteric K-01."

Passing judgment without having listened to and compared both set-ups in the same system in the same room(mine, that is)......

Hmmm.....I guess someone just has to be right all the time.
Now, that would most certainly be a call for professional help.
DSD vs. PCM vs. MQA - Group "listening" experiment

"Listening" is the word that should ring a bell???
Hi Erik,

Coming back to the title of the thread, I have listened to PCM vs MQA files from the 2L website via the mqa-capable Meridian 808v6 player in my home system.

I found that the 808v6 renders the PCM version beautifully, and there is an incremental improvement with the MQA version. Having said that, I couldn’t compare DSD vs PCM or MQA versions of the same files as the Meridian does not do DSD.

But comparing PCM vs DSD via my non-MQA Esoteric N-05 dac, I preferred PCM. Needless to say, I can’t listen to MQA via the Esoteric.

That said, comparing the PCM versions through the Meridian 808v6 and Esoteric N-05, I preferred the Esoteric. The Meridian foreshortens soundstage depth, bringing me to rows 1-3 while the Esoteric places me at rows 7-9 which I find much more pleasant and natural. Meridian’s Explorer 2 does the same thing according to a Stereophile report while RH of TAS observes the same thing in his review of the 808v6. Also, the highs are airier via the Esoteric.

The only way to compare DSD vs PCM vs MQA, would be via Meridian’ s new Ultradac which does all 3. Now, that’s progress. I have not brought home the Ultradac simply because of its prohibitive cost.

Best regards.

The latest Mytek's can of course, play all three formats, but I have not yet been able to listen to DSD directly.  Too much computer configuration for me right now.

I guess when you boil it down I'm curious if there's really a compelling story to go with format x or y and whether we could find it among these free to download files.

Lots of claims,. and misinformation, circulates about any given format.

Besides file size compression, I have yet to experience a reason to go with MQA for instance.  To spend 1 Gbyte to store a single song in DSD format is also very pricey.  YMMV, of course. :)  But here we have a treasure trove of files in different formats. Are there champions here who would wave the flag for their preference?



I'm curious if there's really a compelling story to go with format x or y and whether we could find it among these free to download files. 

None, really.
Only 7 hardware manufacturers have signed up so far :-


Not much to wonder why. Main reasons are :-

1. Licensing fees from recording studios, artists and hardware manufacturers
2. Stringent hardware/software requirements for manufacturers
3. Lack of content (Warner Music has no time frame for launch since announcement of joint venture with Meridian)
4. MQA foreshortens soundstage depth which they attribute to the temporal
deblurring process(see Stereophile report on Meridian Explorer 2 and TAS report on Meridian 808v6); if temporal deblurring does this to all MQA files, audiophiles may not be interested
5. Hires MQA files cost more than pcm/dsd hires files
6. MQA redbook files cost more and take up more data space than regular redbook files.

Looks like a long journey ahead for MQA.

The comments section is interesting as always.

The difference is definitely there but it is a different type of difference, sort of like the difference between 2 dac's.
It's either choose between MQA vs non-MQA file or between MQA dac vs non-MQA dac.
It all depends on what type of sound one likes in his system.

I think this post hits the mark better, might as well just flip a coin. 

Far too little, A little too late.

A 4 out of 7 hit rate, by a pro golden ear even

Cheers George

Yep, I wrote a similar point several weeks ago on an earlier Stereophile posting, before they had any real explanations.

Bandwidth and disk space is much cheaper than it was. I could see it having a benefit to the service providers though. Being able to keep smaller files, and pay less for their ISP to stream out thousands of files at a time is a good thing.

But the reality is my current DAC is damn good without MQA. So was my previous DAC. :-) MQA is going to have to be really great to be meaningful.

I was chagrined at PS Audio’s blog about it. Seems like Meridian didn’t put together a very convincing, or good looking, presentation for them.


However, though I hear no difference, the MQA recording makes my ears hot, and
uncomfortable. More on this later.


It was really odd.  I mean my ear lobes literally felt hot.  Like they'd been exposed to too much sun. :)  I've not tried to reproduce it, it may have had more to do with the recording than MQA.


Very interesting.....

If you didn’t sound so serious, I would have thought you were punking us. :)
But it does sound real and at the same time, surreal.......


That was your "temporal" lobes getting a workout.

Cheers George
@georgelofi Well, I'm pretty sure my karma is such that I'll die of some mental disorder, but I turned the music off before they were affected. :)

@jon2020 Like I said, the oddest thing. I've experienced this once before, but I think I attributed it to the speakers. This was a long time ago.  I should have given them a chance with different material. At the time I didn't think it was weird, but thought everyone must experience it too.... so I didn't make a note of it.

This time it happened with me in my living room, so I know it's not the speakers, unless the speaker's high bandwidth made something of the recording come through.

In any case, I'm saddened that I really don't seem to like the recordings over at 2L as much as I had hoped.

I'm going to download some DSD from Blue Coast Records to give my ears a thorough spa treatment. :)


To me DSD sucks, just SACD without the copyright.

Give me good uncompressed PCM (Redbook, DXD or DVD-A) converted with a well implemented Multibit dac with a well thought out I/V stage.

Cheers George
@georgelofi  Well, yeah, I expect it to sound the same becuase it IS the same. :)

It's not that SACD has a copyright so much as there are no ripping drives that would allow most of us to store from them.

In any event, I like the few SACD recordings I've heard, but I'm not moved to declare it a superior format.  All things considered, I'd rather have the smaller file size of PCM.



First I would like to say I am an audio distributor but I do not have any affiliation with Blue Coast Records. My system consist of high efficient speakers that are very revealing. We have done direct comparisons between DSD and 44.1-24/192. In my reference system, DSD was more holographic. The difference were not night and day but for me and my audio friends, we all preferred DSD when compared to all other formats. We did not compare MQA. It does take a very revealing system to understand what DSD is doing but when you get it right, it is stunning!



We have done direct comparisons between DSD and 44.1-24/192. In my reference system, DSD was more holographic. The difference were not night and day but for me and my audio friends, we all preferred DSD when compared to all other formats. We did not compare MQA. It does take a very revealing system to understand what DSD is doing but when you get it right, it is stunning!

I agree. I compared dsd vs hires pcm of the same files from the 2L website and dsd sounds superior to the hires pcm version.

Dsd done right is spectacular. That said, dsd isn’t always done as right as by 2L or Blue Coast.

Anyway, 2L does very right by hires pcm on its own too. I just downloaded the album Mozart/Grieg Vol 1 by Dena Piano Duo in 96/24 (dsd format not available) and the sound is to die for.
Thanks @jon2020 I'll keep that recording in mind. I've not really liked anything I've listed to from 2L so far. I just got a 60 CD "living stereo" collection so I think I'm going to be listening to Redbook for a while. Fortunately the Mytek Brooklyn plays them very well too.


SACD of things like the Stones, Doors, Carly Simon, Carole King, Fleetwood Mac and the like is so much better than redbook or even hi-res downloads it’s not funny. It’s awesome and I’m greatful whenever a new SACD is released, something far too rare.

On a great SACD player like EMM, Esoteric, or Playback Designs, it’s astounding, especially through headphones. The vocals and texture and imaging and transparent bass are a glorious thing to behold, natural as can be.

No matter how well a non-DSD recording is mastered, it does not compare to a true SACD to my ears.
@rgs92 do you mean to say you are able to hear a difference in a BLIND test between PCM and DSD? If yes, that has never been known to have been achieved, nor is that documented by an applicable and recognized scientific study. 
this is a great topic. i hope many contribute. 
@gdhal You are right, but I personally seem to slightly like DSD better so far. No idea why.  not sure I'd pay for the extra hard disk space for it yet.

What I do know is that I've never heard a difference between PCM and MQA encoded PCM.

From "Real HD Audio" 
"DXD is the recommended recording format “when setting up systems for the absolute highest sound quality”. It turns out that DSD AD conversion is just not up to the task because of the lack of tools and the high noise levels that are generated.
So what the Sony and Phillips folks are actually saying is that HD PCM at 352.8 or 384 kHz and 24 or 32-bit word is the “best” system for capturing audio."
Cheers George
I could be absolutely blind. Any glare that is in vocals from PCM that keeps me from turning it up is GONE. The bass is solid as a rock, much more solid  than PCM. I have many things that are unlistenable in the first 5 seconds on PCM that are fine and wonderful on SACD. SACD makes all the difference. That's why I buy these discs whenever something I like is released. This has been since 1999 and the players have gotten even better.
Cheers also.
The proof as always, is in the listening.

If we can hear a difference in our system and with our ears, we choose the format that we enjoy. If not, we move on.

Setting all theory aside, let’s just enjoy the music.
This is the only fundamental that matters above all else in this very pleasureable hobby of ours.

It is nearly impossible to do pure DSD without either analog tools or PCM in the loop.  However, I like what I've heard from the boutique providers such as Blue Coast.

And yes, I understand DSD still has noise issues compared to PCM.


It is nearly impossible to do pure DSD without either analog tools or PCM in the loop.

It has been said that recording direct to a dsd master bypasses all the analog and/or pcm processes.

Anyway, noise issue aside, some dsd versions of the same file sound better and some worse than the hires pcm versions.
@jon2020 Yeah, but we never want that. :)

Well, almost never.  Most recordings we hear are from multi-track masters with quite a bit of post-recording work. At the very least you want some control over the dynamic range of the performance. This makes true direct to DSD recordings exceedingly rare.  Go to Blue Coast Records and read the provenance of their recordings if you want a really good view as to how much goes into even "simple" production.


Just been there before your post and found out that they transfer from 1/2" tape masters. :)

On the home page, it also says, "We specialize in recording direct to DSD and tape to capture the natural acoustic sounds of our artists."

On one new DSD256 release :-
"Provenance: Recorded to 2" Analog Tape or DSD64 and mixed through analog console to DSD256.
All conversions were made from the DSD256 original source mixes. After several blindfold tests, it is our opinion that the DSF256 files sound the best, followed by DSF128. The best PCM sound is the WAV192. The difference is minimal. We suggest you purchase files for your best performing home DAC. The DAC will make more difference than the file type. Some DACs are not compatible with DSD256."

2 note-worthy points :-
1. The difference is minimal
2. The DAC will make more difference than the file type
(with regard to DSD in this context, lest someone pops his head up to.....)
reads like an appropriate article. this may have been posted previously elsewhere in the forum



I've read much of that before elsewhere. It seems pretty consistent. :)

I wonder sometimes if some sorts of noise actually make things sound better for us. Like the way dither increases dynamic range.

Like I said, I like DSD, but I'm not sure I want to buy that much storage.


You can rip SACDs with Oppos and Cambridge audio players and Pioneer too. Go to computeraudiophile forum and see it explained in a big thread there!
PCM vs DSD....


...not saying I fully agree with respect to SQ.
Ok Everyone, got my "flack jacket" on....

I am really smitten by MQA, streamed from my Windows10 Tidal app.

I have enjoyed a PS Audio DirectStream DAC now for 2 1/2 years.  When Tidal started streaming MQA from Warner Music, I bought a Meridian Explorer2 DAC ($199 on Amazon) to see what all the fuss was.  I found some of the older titles sounded a little better, but some of the more recent ones knocked my socks and shoes off!

When I read that Universal Music signed up to do MQA, I purchased a Mytek Brooklyn (MQA) DAC, and now use it for MQA and the DirectStream DAC for everything else, as the DAC chipset in the Brooklyn is good, but no match for the DirectStream DAC with "regular" AIFF & FLAC files.

From what I've experienced, many of the titles I'm really familiar with seemed to have been "re-mixed", as well as re-mastered.  I listen to just about everything but country & rap (yes I tried, I did make it thru three songs on Jay-Z's "American Gangster" album!), and enjoy classical music and, unfortunately the MQA classics from Warner are not the best sound quality, one of Universal Music's labels is DG, so hopefully the future holds better sounding classical music on Tidal.

Many DAC manufacturers have held off jumping on the MQA bandwagon.  I presume that now with Warner, Universal & Tidal (about 2/3 of the music business) has signed up to do MQA, that either DAC manufacturers will adapt their hardware to do "end-to-end" MQA decoding, or that some DAC chipset company like ESS will add that to future chipset offerings.
No worries.

My only thing is, I think we’re hearing better re-mastering, not a better technology. << shrug >>

The one place I was able to directly compare MQA to non MQA tracks, 2L I heard no such dramatic differences.

However, recent MQA remasters at Tidal sound pretty good.