If you send an MQA-bitstream directly to a non-MQA DAC, it will incorrectly consider the MQA data to be regular audio data.
The dude who wrote the following below is very knowledgeable and I look out for his commentary.
As was noted below, only a partial unfold can be done unless you have a MQA DAC. The Bluesound Node 2i is one such DAC, however once you pass it off to a DAC that doesn't support MQA I think you lose the full unfold.
However it works (or doesn't) at the end of the day, how does it sound?
I have two Bluesound Node 2 devices. I run one through my Auralic Vega (no MQA) and the other through my Mytek Liberty (MQA enabled). Being a better DAC, the Vega sounds better with MQA files even if all the MWA magic hasn't been done to them. For my computer system, I use Tidal's desktop app which does a partial unfold and a MHDT Labs Orchid which is a R2R DAC (no MQA) and it also sounds better than the Bluesound/Mytek combination with MQA files. I have used both the Orchid and the Liberty in that system and prefer the sound of the Orchid (not just with MQA) over the Liberty. I also have a Sony Sony TA-ZH1ES headphone amp (no MQA) that I have used in that system and when used as a DAC, it also sounds better than the Liberty.
I would worry more about the overall sound quality of the DAC than whether it does MQA or not. Perhaps those with super high end systems and golden ears might prefer the sound of MQA, but I have not found that not having that last unfold seems to make a lot of difference. A lot of the Tidal Master files do sound really good, but so do hi-res files on Qobuz.
I would worry more about the overall sound quality of the DAC than whether it does MQA or not. ...I have not found that not having that last unfold seems to make a lot of difference. A lot of the Tidal Master files do sound really good, but so do hi-res files on Qobuz.
+1 re @big_greg 's comment above. Focus on the sound quality of the DAC and how it fits within your system and delivers on your musical preferences and goals.
I was at a show in LA that did a head to head-to-head comparison with MQA and non-MQA. This system was using a T+A HV 3100 integrated + external T+A HV power supply. It was driving Wilson Alexa 2 (I think). The MQA dac was an expensive one which I do not recall. The system was driven by ROON + Tidal. The computer was setup and controlled by the guys from ROON. There were T+A guys, ROON guys, and maybe MQA guys in that nice hotel room.
During the shootout I heard some subtle difference in the MQA sound. I am not sure if it was better but there was something there. Now I ain’t no audiophile so this subtle difference had much lower importance to me than maybe someone else. The folks in the room seemed to like the MQA a little more. I found the difference in sound between MQA and non-MQA much less than what the improvements I hear on my mid-fi system when I switch from CD to SACD. On my mid-fi system I really cannot hear any difference between MQA and non-MQA.
I should add that my ears were a little fried during the MQA shootout because I had just come from another room that was small and was blasting away.