MQA - One Filter to Rule them All?


Hi Everyone,

Just thought I'd start another flame....er, discussion. I've been reading some about MQA.  It has several components, but I want to focus on one in particular. The digital filter compensation.

The other two parts are compression and authentication.

We don't have a lot of DAC's to listen to with MQA right now, but here's my understanding.

By measuring time or amplitude errors in ADC's AND DAC's MQA seeks to correct the behavior, making the entire A/D --> D/A chain closer to ideal. It's pretty ambitious. What I'm wondering is, assuming this is real and not snake oil, does this mean all MQA DAC's will begin to sound alike? Will otherwise mediocre DAC's step up, and great DAC's not have that much to contribute anymore?

If so, maybe this will usher in another great era of tone controls being built into our preamps or DAC's instead of having to make tonal changes via cables and tweaks.

What say you? Assuming MQA is not snake oil, (could be, haven't heard it) doesn't it mean all DAC's will sound the same?

Best,


Erik
erik_squires
Does anything in audio sound alike?   
I have heard MQA with a Meridian Explorer2 and I like it. I believe the quality of the dac will still be important. Since when they encode an album with MQA they do not know which dac it will be played on they will use a generic catch all process. This says that different dacs with MQA will still sound different
Alan
http://schiit.com/news/news/why-we-wont-be-supporting-mqa
@ahender you are not alone, however I think there's a bit of a mistake there in terms of the generic process.

It's a 2 part process.  During encoding they attempt to remove any effects from the ADC but after this it's expected that the MQA decoding process takes into account the DAC and attempts to compensate for it.  It's most certainly NOT generic. The DAC must be measured, corrected and submitted to Meridian for certification. 

Meridian _do_ have a generic ADC compensator however, for encoding previously recorded high resolution sources when the correct filters are not known. I think that's maybe what you were thinking of. 

Best,


Erik 
@kijanki Great, thanks! :)

Interesting reading. 99% of that writing has nothing to do with sound quality but marketting and branding concerns, which are very very real. I do worry it’s just a way of taking money out of the market, like GMO corn seeds.

If I read it correctly for Schiit it boils down to being some one new to pay money to, in addition to questions about how well they would be treated as a minor (in volume) manufacturer.

I think Schiit is playing it safe. MQA is brand new and by 2017 could be useless. If Tidal goes down, or worse, gets bought by Apple, it may be all over.  One other point is differentiation.  MQA could very well be the opposite of this, if all DAC's will be forced to sound much more similar than before. The value proposition is going to have to be high, because honestly I don't think most people will fully understand what's going on with it besides compression. 

There’s also the possibility that the algorithms will be analyzed and, using that knowledge, better, open source solutions will be able to leap frog over them. It’s a very dynamic situation.

Best,


Erik

Given the amount of time that's passed, it's interesting that so few hardware partners seem to have come out with MQA compliant equipment. If you do a search here on Audiogon for "MQA", you get the same 3-6 listings (from the same seller) for the Mytek Brooklyn.

Besides that, there's the Meridian Explorer and a couple of portable players plus the Mytek Manhattan II. Anything else?

CV

@cvalle as far as I know you are mostly correct, however, I have a personal connection ( cough cough cough, bs) with Berkeley Audio Design and they have stated they hope to release MQA compatability this year (not bs).

If Tidal support is real, AND the benefits are real, it will be like selling a good pie. You don’t have to sell it, the wafting smell will sell itself. Otherwise, it will be like Windows 10, which requires Microsoft to take over your computer, possibly illegally, and push an update you didn’t want.

You are right, of course, all of the current models of the Mytek DAC’s have MQA support, including the Brooklyn which I’m listening to right now. The older, Stereo 192 DSD does not, but it’s also insanely cheap via the website right now, $1,000 as a discontinued product.

Best,


Erik

You are right, of course, all of the current models of the Mytek DAC’s have MQA support,
interesting. So, Mytek did submit their designs to Meridian & get their seal of approval for MQA. Do you know if Mytek is paying royalty fees to Meridian for this? It'll probably show up in it's price...

i'm sure that you'll get a MQA-supported Berkeley DAC when it releases. It will interesting for you to update us w.r.t. its sound vs. the Mytek Brooklyn sound & let us know if these 2 DACs sound identical (as you had suggested in your above posts).... 

Hi @bombaywalla

Haha, I don’t have that kind of cash flow, and I’m not the biggest BAD fanboy. I like them a lot, but overall I think I prefer warmer sound.

According to what I read online, yes, Mytek did in fact submit the DAC’s for approval, or measurement or whatever. I’m not sure how it works, or what exactly they must measure. It sounds like a pain in the butt honestly. I doubt every applicant has the same or appropriate measurement devices, so this must mean that Mytek has to submit the DAC somehow, get Meridian to measure it, and provide refreshed code or coefficients, have those implemented, and re-measure. What a mess.

As I understand it, they measure the behavior of the entire DAC, not just the chip. It would be really convenient if it was just per chip so there’s just one set of adjustments for a BB 20459 (or whatever). This is one reason why I read Schiit is not on the bandwagon (among others). Perhaps in the future as they get more experience this is how things will go, so it will make it a lot easier for small-volume makers to get pre-approved decoding.

It may even be possible MQA decoding will be build into streamers, so you can configure your steamer and say "My DAC uses an AKxxxx chip" and voila. Then you could be all Schiit happy and have MQA. On the other hand, once the type of benefit is known (if any), maybe an open-source DAC adapter will be written which can provide at least the proper de-coding adjustment.  That is, if Meridian is measuring something like a pre-ringing filter, adjusting for that in the stream could be done by others without stealing their code, just the idea.

After the Alpha with MQA comes out maybe i’ll find a fellow San Francisco Bay audiophile to bring it and compare though. Right now I am just hoping for construction to finish so I can finish breaking in the Brooklyn. :)

Best,


Erik
Post removed 
I believe Meridian has a $399 MQA Dac and a $22,000 MQA player.  I doubt they sound the same.
@tomcy6 I wonder. ;)  Im far too jaded to believe in price being completely tied to performance.

Good to know about a bargain player. 

thanks!!
Any electronic device still needs passive components (LRC). That means lots of room for quality or lack thereof. So yes, there will still be an opportunity for costlier units to sound better.

I'm with Schiit. We don't need another format, especially one controlled by one commercial company. We don't need another codec that will alter recordings so that they can be decoded in full resolution only by a proprietary decoder.
@mike_in_nc

Good points.  I'm still waiting to see if there will be an open-source alternative. To my knowledge, you cannot patent or copyright decoding, or a format. You can patent your specific code, but you cannot, for instance, prevent some one from writing a Zip, Jpeg,  MPEG or MP3 decoder. I may be wrong on this, please don't take this as sound legal advice.

It's quite possible that if the benefits of MQA are real, we'll see just such things. If nothing else, the promise of compressing my current music collection to half it's size and being able to take it along on my portable is a very nice thing.



According to what I read online, yes, Mytek did in fact submit the DAC’s for approval, or measurement or whatever. I’m not sure how it works, or what exactly they must measure. It sounds like a pain in the butt honestly. I doubt every applicant has the same or appropriate measurement devices, so this must mean that Mytek has to submit the DAC somehow, get Meridian to measure it, and provide refreshed code or coefficients, have those implemented, and re-measure. What a mess.
I'm not sure how this measurement thing goes back-forth between the OEM & Meridian but it certainly has the connotation of "one filter to rule them all" & I am certain that no OEM wants to be under Meridian's thumb no matter how brilliant their idea. It certainly exudes the feeling of Meridian is in judgement's chair while all the other "lowly" OEMs submit their designs to Meridian for (the master's) approval. This can be demeaning - which is the vibe I got off Schitt's website (I'm not going to manuf my devices & have Meridian tell me what I can & cannot do!)
But there are many smaller OEMs that could benefit from this in that they could use MQA-compatibility as a marketing tool to get better sales. We've seen this before - a smaller OEM latches onto a larger OEM's bandwagon & rides the tide with them.

It may even be possible MQA decoding will be build into streamers, so you can configure your steamer and say "My DAC uses an AKxxxx chip" and voila. Then you could be all Schiit happy and have MQA. On the other hand, once the type of benefit is known (if any), maybe an open-source DAC adapter will be written which can provide at least the proper de-coding adjustment.  That is, if Meridian is measuring something like a pre-ringing filter, adjusting for that in the stream could be done by others without stealing their code, just the idea.
Now this would be the way to go, if Meridian was going to be smart about it. Make it available for free (pretty much like Android OS. I realize that Android OS is not totally free but they give you enough incentive to use such that Android phone far outnumber iOS phones) & encourage as many people to adopt it as possible. If the OEM wants to be MQA-compatible then they download & implement Meridian's software & pay them the royalty fees; otherwise not. This way Meridian is not checking everybody's DAC designs. Can you imagine how large this overhead is going to be for Meridian?? Can they even afford it?

After the Alpha with MQA comes out maybe i’ll find a fellow San Francisco Bay audiophile to bring it and compare though.
yeah, curious minds want to know the outcome..... ;-)

Right now I am just hoping for construction to finish so I can finish breaking in the Brooklyn. :)
indeed it's good to keep things simple & 1st things, first.....

@erik_squires

I consider HDCD a cautionary tale. It received similar over-the-top press when it was introduced. However, Pacific Microsonics now is out of business (bought by Microsoft), and there are no HDCD hardware decoders available. I believe those were always in a DAC chip, and since DAC quality has improved since the HDCD days, even using NOS HDCD DAC chips (if available) in current products would be a poor idea.

A non-proprietary software decoder does exist and is built into (e.g.) JRiver Media Center. It is not a success. From discussions on the JRiver forums, it's clear that no one knows how to use the public-domain decoder to figure out which HDCD features are needed on any particular recording.

Smaller storage requirements are always nice (one reason I wish some real research on DSD would be done, so we'd know how to get the good parts of DSD sound from a reasonably efficient format). Still, storage is getting smaller and cheaper, and to my ears, high-rate mp3 is indistinguishable from lossless encoding, except on a high-quality audio system in a quiet location.

Have I stated enough heresies for one morning?

@mike_in_nc

No heresies.  I remember HDCD, there was also a Windows decoder, which I once thought about reverse engineering and converting to Java, or C for Linux but lost interest. :) It actually decompiled fairly nicely.  I believe Microsoft ended up with the HDCD license (lots of good it did them) and that's how the decoder came about.

I don't remember over-the-top reviews. Where there any?

I'm not sure what the lesson is except that you can only tell a fad in retrospect. :) The same could be said for SACD and yet the format remains.

MQA does have the undeniably useful feature of compression, even if we ignore all the sonic claims. I think that one way or another, their view on how to compress audio will remain relevant for years to come. Whether it lives on in a proprietary format or in open source formats remains to be seen.  Technology, specifically bandwidth and storage, may have moved onto the point that it has become irrelevant.  20 years ago, MQA compression would have been a godsend and could have saved high end music from the MP3 era. 

Best,


Erik

@erik_squires

My memory is that Stereophile was extremely enthusiastic about HDCD at the time. Their online archive doesn't go back far enough for me to see if my memory is right.

Meridian also introduced MLP, Meridian Lossless Packing, which became an optional standard for DVD-audio. I would prefer that new codecs be lossless and reversible.

OK, I just gave up on MQA. Stereophile's latest article starts with such shameless hyperbole that it's gone off into the land of cold-fusion, dark energy reactors, and healing cancer with magnets.

It's not like I didn't know Stereophile has to make a buck to stay in business, but this level of bs is higher than my waders. I can't be polite and smile anymore.

Now I'm going to go try to do some DSD streaming and see if I find a compelling reason to eat up all my hard disk space with DSD downloads.

Best,

Erik
I didn't think that Stereophile's latest was nearly as orgasmic sounding about MQA as Robert Harley at TAS.  If MQA bombs, Harley really ought to leave the business after such shameless shilling.
  My take on MQA is that it is a high Res format that allows for more compression than other high Res formats, which rely on tremendous amounts of over sampling , and therefore take up more data space.  Streaming companies will love it because they will save bandwidth.  
  Casual listeners don't care about better sound.  Those of us who do care won't be able to hear any superiority from other high resolution formats because the differences will be minor, subjective, and system dependent, like many other Audio Tweaks.  Manufacturers will ( are) chafing and being under Meridian's Thumb and will subvert the implementation .  It will join SACD as barely hanging on by a thread in the market place, until some wizard behind the booth attempts to get us to repurchase our collections with the latest 'breakthrough '
Stereophile, in my opinion, gives pretty negative spin on MQA: they just  ask polite Q and let the guy do the talking. The answers smell bull to high heavens! Thanks for the tip, I will try to read TAS take on this, i cancelled TAS subscription a year or two ago.