MQA - Music Discussion


This thread is to discuss MQA music currently available, listening impressions, and how they were encoded.

Please keep tech. talk (except provenance) out of this discussion! :) This thread is about finding good music sources, listening impressions, and mastering. There is a lot to be said about the algorithms, hype, and politics but please use other threads for that in the Digital section perhaps. :) 

I'll start.  I know right now of only two big labels offering MQA:

2L.no (maybe only test tracks)

and

https://www.highresaudio.com/studio_master.php?fids=153&cr=MQA

as well as at least one indie label. Thanks to Peter Veth over in the DAR thread here:

http://www.digitalaudioreview.net/2016/08/mqa-a-non-hostile-takeover/#comment-135610

I'm particularly interested in talking about works we can find to do A/B comparisons with, as well as any tracks listeners feel are exemplars and say "This is good stuff!"  because so far I've had no luck at all.

As others know, the thing that has so far affected music the most is the mastering choices made by the engineers, as opposed to actual encoding technology, so I welcome details of that along with listening impressions.

Thank you.
erik_squires
Thank you for starting this thread. I am open-minded about MQA yet I totally understand why many audiophiles are skeptical.

In my mind, MQA is like the "Dolby" logo that was found on certain labels of the prerecorded cassette tapes I bought back in the 70's. Those recordings sounded fine - for a cassette - in a non-Dolby player but the sound quality was better when played back in a Dolby equipped cassette player. Some labels offered Dolby, most didn't. The point being that the tape played fine regardless of whether the player was Dolby equipped or not. I vaguely recall the Dolby logo having some small influence over whether I bought the cassette or the LP - which I often would record myself.  

Two download sites offering MQA downloads isn't exactly an auspicious start but I'm hopeful that I won't be completely deaf by the time MQA is ubiquitous. 

@dbtom2 So, let's talk music.

Anyone have tracks they like with MQA?

Best,

Erik
I'm giving the 2L downloads another good listen. Though I don't have an MQA decoder, I am going to compare the hi-res versions with the MQA versions.

Will report back.
The problem I had with 2L was I didn't seem to like the music, regardless of the format. :-) Sorry! :)

I may spring for the BV Social Club, but I want to know the provenance first.

Erik
It seems HD Tracks is starting to trickle MQA in.  I may spring for a 2L Mozart violin album.
Re: HDTracks Mozart Violin Concertoes

What's an MQA remix? But not MQA encoded? Does this mean that MQA was used to mix/master the album but no "origami" is in the download?
One of the cool things about HD Tracks (though I know many always want to beat up on Chesky) is that if you click on "About This Album" it will give you details about that.

They state for this album, that they went back to the original recordings and carefully applied the MQA correction. So, based on my reading, it should be exactly what we are looking for.

Best,

Erik
Okay, this is something I wasn't familiar with. They used MQA to correct for the A/D error in the original. It is offered as a Hi-Res.  Interesting because I expected that recordings sould be offered as MQA but I didn't expect an MQA "remix"



Yes, correcting for errors at input and end part of the cycle is how they claim MQA sounds better They have a "generic" mode when you don’t have access to the original A/D to measure though, so it IS possible to take a Redbook CD track, MQA it and have the MQA light turn on, but in theory it’s not as good as being able to go back to the source knowing the characteristics of the A/D converters.

Where it gets further very difficult is that to do this the most accurate way you should apply MQA fixes to EACH source track, not the 2 channel mix down. You have to correct the multi-track originals, and then remix THAT to get a new 2-channel mix down. So there is no guarantee anymore that the recording master has taken exactly the same settings. This is why I think HDT is calling it a "remix."

So...

Since this is a highly regarded recording (To Die For), I plan to purchase each version and do the comparison. My hearing isn't what it used to be and my system isn't as resolving as I would like but I have been interested in acquiring different versions of the same recording for this very purpose.

44.1/16
192/24
192/24 MQA Remix

But as you say, there's no guarantee the mix down will have te same settings. Your thoughts?

Well, not sure I"d buy EVERY copy, but treat the re-mix as a remix as opposed to an A/B comparison.  If you've ever heard say, the John Coltrane remix, you may have heard how different it sounded from the original CD release, which has nothing to do with sampling rates.

Best,


Erik
Any thoughts on the higher resolutions? 

I like your choices. :) Try them! I honestly don't know.  Personally I've been comparing 96/24 to MQA with the idea that it's about the same file size, so let's see which one sound better per gigabyte. :)

But this is not a highly controlled experiment.

Best,'

Erik
I just re-read Paul McGowan's blog post and so far my feelings mirror his. Don't read it if you haven't though, listen for yourself first. :)

Best,

Erik
Right now, MQA is making grandiose claims about improving sound quality. Then when I ask for a demonstration the MQA Apologists start saying it's subtle..... :)

If I have to hunt for the benefits wiht a microsope and tweezers it's DOA for me.

Best,

Erik
What I’m most afraid of is that I may just not like how 2L records classical music, at all. :)  It's far too close to the bridge of the violin for me.

So I wish i had another MQA source.

I may end up going with Buena Vista Social Club if I can get the German site to fully load on my browser.

Erik
2L is the biggest source. The problem is is that there original recordings are so good there is only a very small difference with MQA. Until Tidal starts streaming lots of material in mqa it is a dead medium as far as I am concerned and I have a Meridian explorer 2 with MQA. If you go to the 2L testbench you can download tracks for free and compare different resolutions of the same track with MQA
Alan
AHENDLER, please say it again: what do you mean by "original so good... small difference with MQA"...??
Thanks!!!!!
@ahendler

Hi!

To rephrase what you have heard, it seems that MQA did not add much for you. I did the same thing and I didn’t hear any MQA benefit either, but to be fair, the provenance of those tracks is unknown. How they got to be MQA I’m not sure about.

The Mozart Violin re-mix however should be quite clear.

If you have tracks you really like from the 2L test page please let me know. I’m afraid it all makes me wince. I’m probably alone, but to me the treble seems bright, too close to the violin bridge, and/or congested something my system almost never sounds like.

Best,


Erik
So I've reached out to the local audiophile community that had a chance to listen to MQA in San Rafael, CA and other locations. Besides negative comments on the way the presentations were made the comments on the sound quality have ranged from "I couldn't tell a difference" to "It hurt my head to listen to it"

Still I plan on doing a listener-organized MQA listening event later this year. But it seems the people actually willing to say MQA is all that who aren't industry insiders is quite small.

At least from the samples I have around me, the idea that everyone can hear an improvement in sound quality is unsubstantiated fluff so far.  As I said before, the longer this goes on, the more like "cold fusion power" this seems. If you've ever followed a hoax, you will recognize the patterns.
I am listening and re-listening to the 2L tracks. Both from the 2L testbench and purchased/downloaded from HD Tracks. With and without MQA.

These are enjoyable musical pieces that were recorded, mixed, and mastered with great care. I don't know if I will ever be able to discern the difference MQA makes. Even the standard resolution tracks (44.1/16) are not different - yet, to my ear - to the high-res versions. 

What I can discern - and this is fascinating to me - is the proximity of the recording microphone to the instrument. At certain places on some piano pieces I can hear the piano keys coming to rest after being struck. This is now a distraction and I wish it weren't apparent.

There are so many variables in this hobby. The 2L recordings make me realize that a carefully recorded piece that is well mixed and mastered can be enjoyed in standard 44.1/16 resolution. 

What I want is to hear is some of my crappy 80's cd re-mastered in MQA so I can hear an obvious difference. A not-so-subtle brick slam-dunked to my head. 

I'm sorry, Phil Collins and Talking Heads are lost to us forever.
Hi Erik ,.Check out Yarlung Records technics for recording , I have listened to much of what they offer and it is stupendous,,..All of it  

vinyl , hi res down load and their CDs . Minimalist microphone recording technics put on tape and none of the music is done in a studio ,.i would be surprised if MQA or any other technic could better Yarlung and others using simular methods .
MQA will flop IMO!
Thank you guys, please keep this thread updated! I am eager to go all-digital but for now Vinyl sounds superior to my old ears
I should have posted my experience so far. I compared the 96/24 and MQA tracks for the two songs uner this listing at

www.2L.no/hires

Vivaldi: Recitative and Aria from Cantata RV 679, "Che giova il sospirar, povero core"
Tone Wik & Barokkanerne (period instruments)

I chose 96/24 and MQA because (for each song) they were roughly the same byte size. I used my streamer to let me switch back and forth pretty quickly between tracks.

Honestly the biggest problem was just the treble. Ugh, very hard for me to listen to. It was congested and microphones were placed too close to the sources for me Still, I could hear NO difference at all in the two formats.

So far I agree with Peter McGowan of PS Audio that it’s value, if any, is "meh"

I plan to listen to better tracks, but part of the problem is, the best MQA examples are going to have to be remixes, so it's almost impossible to do an apples to apples comparison and know where changes (if any) are coming from. The reason is that MQA works best when you go back to the multitrack masters, and separately de-blur (and I use the term for lack of knowing if it does anything) each track, then remix.  Well, most engineers don't take such careful notes, or settings that they can precisely reproduce their choices again and again, especially when they are making dozens of changes on the fly in an hour.  It is possible that a mix-down tool could keep track of all this, but I haven't heard of such being used.

Best,

Erik
@dbtom2

Hahaha, it sounds like you and I had the same problems with the 2L recordings. :)

"Distracting" is exactly the word I would have used.  I'm honestly not thrilled at the idea of giving 2L or HighRes Music $50 or $100 for tracks. It feels like I'm going to waste my cash. It's part of why I have been hesitating.

To me, I need MQA to be at least as useful as Dolby A, B or C or dbx was. If it's not that easy to hear and experience the benefits, it's useless. If I have to hunt for the improvements with a microscope and tweezers, it's the same as all the other charlatans.
So over at Darko’s site, I got a tip that the Mozart Violin concerto’s were also not very good.

<< sigh >> I really resent having to buy an album I would not, to see if something is marginally better, so I'm not going to get the Buena Visata Social Club.

Most of the other albums from High Res Audio are not available for purchase in the US. << sigh >> Meridian should have sample tracks for free. Maybe I’ll go back to the 2L.no site and look for better sounding test tracks besides Vivaldi and Mozart.
So on tap for today is:

Britten: Frank Bridge Variations - Romance
TrondheimSolistene

I'll be listening to the MQA version vs. DSD 64 and PCM 96/24

It's a very short (1:37) and simple piece. Not complicated at all. Should be ideal for listening to individual instruments and the acoustic space they are in.

I'll also be switching to my AKG 7... 7... I forgot. I'll post that later.  This way we don't get into arguments about speakers, cables, blah blah.
Ive been sceptical of claims of so called advanced digital audio methods for a long while, MQA is no exception
My scepticism is further reinforced by many worldwide threads usally titled ,..List the best hi res down loads heard with best methods used...Its all over the map and not much has changed today ,Years have past and none of these threads that I followed ended up being very popular with any number of members responding. 

Just like anything within the audio industry as many of us know there are exceptions with a few that know exactly what they are doing which produce consistent exceptional results , 
it all starts with the quality of the recording and there are many exceptional examples over the past 60 years .

A couple of impressive examples of digital play back that I listen to this past weekend is Fims reissue from a few years ago of Albeniz Fruhbeck De Burgos , Suite Espanola XRcd 24 bit , ripped ,and hi res down load including spinning the original Decca Lp . I've had this fabulous Decca vinyl over 40 years and love it everytime I listen to it .
The digital playback equals the outstanding vinyl playback in every way .,I just started down this road so there will be more .

We need more people with this knowledge , skill and good ears in the industry then another down load method option . However that won't happen .
Yarlungs  reel to reel , vinyl , hi res down loads and CDs are another outstanding example along with very few others in the industry we need to support more if we want consistency with quality sound .




@in_shore  A bit off topic though.  I'm trying to focus on MQA and personal listening experiences with the format.


Best,


Erik
Alright avid readers. For those of you who have kept your subscription up-to-date (chuckle) I will be doing a self-made double blind test.  Well, single blind, because I'm only one person.... but I won't know the order I experience the tracks until after I have taken my notes.

The way it works is like this:

I will listen to the same track in 4 different formats:

CD
96/24
DSD
MQA

I will click on shuffle, so while I am listening I will have no idea which order they play in.  I will also hide my DAC display and any other visual cues.

I will jot down listening notes, and impressions for each.  Afterwards I will examine the play log to determine the sequence the files were played in.

Britten is all I have to go on that isn't otherwise painful to listen to. I encourage anyone else to go to 2L.no/hires/ and find their own sets of tracks.

Complaining without contributing is NOT allowed. :) If you think the tests should use other tracks, then go get them yourself first and listen, or point me to free sources.

Excellent idea.

Does your player allow for volume normalization? Are you able to measure the SPL of each version to see if different mixes/masters have different levels? 

I wrote earlier about there being so many variables in audio. SPL gives me the most trouble when doing an AB test. 

 
Hi dbtom,

I could do something to equalize the volumes, but I don’t wan to.

I’ve just done an A/B comparison between the 44.1 and MQA tracks. What differences are there are, to my ear more indicative of different re-mastering than MQA itself.

In particular, there are some obvious level changes happening in the first 30 seconds of the piece and they don’t seem to be matching across versions.

Also, the double bass has a larger piece to play in the MQA version. I don’t think this is from an MQA superiority so much as deliberate mixing choices. I think the bass sounds a little smoother and decays more slowly as a result. I think most would call this a "fuller" sound. It's nothing to be impressed by in comparison to PCM or DSD however. It's just a mixing choice.

In each of these two tracks the level changes are pretty horrible. It’s like listening to some guy at the stereo shop who is constantly changing  the volume.

Call me cynical, but I thought the MQA version was kind of pumped up for maximum dynamic range effect, and it was pretty nice, but again, past the "wow" moment, it's just volume.

If MQA does anything positive at all, I could not tell from these tracks.

I am however becoming less and less impressed with the recordings from 2L.

In terms of sonic quality, if I had to vote, I’d put DSD 64 as the best of the three formats I spent listening to. I didn’t A/B it so much as I seemed to prefer listening to it.

Best,


Erik
I feel I'm done for now by the way. I've heard it, I'm not impressed by it. I won't hunt around for benefits like looking for Bigfoot. If anyone has specific free tracks they can point me to to compare, please let me know.
Thanks Eric. I will keep plugging away. Working on improving my listening skills.

But the bottom line is that you're right. We need more recordings to compare. 

@dbtom2

Let me know if you find anything you think is really good. That you have to develop listening skills kind of kills it for me. I mean, Dolby A,B and C you did not need listening skills to appreciate! Maybe whether C was actually better, but on a cassette it was always better than not, and you could hear it with Walkmans!

<< sigh >>

Sorry.  I'm just frustrated because I really think the frequency folding is pretty neat. However, I literally can not tell it's better than CD. I think in "Listening to MQA" JA says this in another manner. "It's at least as good as CD".


Actually, I think I"ll just add Dolby B to CD sound! I've got to patent that....
@erik_squires 

The thing - for me - is concentration. I get lost in the music, partly because the quality of the recording is pretty good and partly because I like the music. So I am trying to improve that part of my listening skillset.

As a palate cleanser :)  I queued up Born To Run yesterday and listened to a 16/44.1 version versus an upsampled 24/88.2 version I made. The high res version was definitely a cleaner, less congested sound to my ears. Since it's an old analog recording, I would love to hear it remastered in MQA. Maybe lose some dynamic compression. Not a true high-res in the Dr Aix sense but definitely a recording that could use some new love. 



@dbtom2

I hear you. I think too many of us forget how to listen to music after a while, and we engage more in shopping than music. :)

Best,


Erik
What is MQA???
A method of compressing and authenticating music using a lossy algorithm created by Bob Stuart and Meridian, replete with unproven claims of actually making music sound better.

Requires a DAC with MQA decoding to "take full advantage" of the encoding process.

You can read the early press release here:

https://www.meridian-audio.com/news-events/meridian-audio-launches-mqa-master-quality-authenticated/

Best,

Erik