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MQA: A Review of controversies, concerns, and cautions

amirm

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#2
Thanks. That was a good read. I am not sure I agree with the following though:

"Were there complaints either among the consumers or in professional circles that high-resolution PCM and DSD sounded suboptimal? I think many would answer “no” to each of those questions."​

There are plenty of audiophiles who feel that digital is worse than analog and so for them, there are plenty of complaints about digital not being good enough in all of its forms.

"Certainly, this is a worthwhile goal as an engineering exercise, but there are many ways of achieving this without actually creating a new proprietary data format. For example, we can already achieve bitrates similar to MQA with higher-than-CD quality using “free” and open file formats like FLAC. How about lossless compressed 18-bit 96kHz FLAC as described by Miska? "​

Would be a loser right at the start. As we all know people going after these high rate formats are heavily biased by their specs. DSD512 is better than DSD256 in their mind. In this atmosphere, who would want to peddle an 18 bit format???

"Furthermore, the majority of strong positive testimonies in support of MQA seem to be coming from those who have a relationship with the Industry (either personally or out of mutual financial interests), typically are more committed to subjective-only assessments, or some combination of both."​

Huh? I see plenty of users saying the MQA files sounding better with no industry association. And of course they are subjectivists of which Archimago is not one. So all the "we" parts of the article are non-sequitur. Archimago is not the target audience for this format so his personal misgivings are neither here nor there.

upload_2018-3-2_12-53-58.png


That's right. Patent applications are routinely different than actual implementation. You can't use the patent app as evidence of how MQA works. You need to reverse engineer it and figure it our or get the data from company.

With respect to filter response of Mytek he says this:

"Notice the distortion introduced by the 0dBFS 20kHz tone in the form of multiple distortion peaks with the MQA filter. These are obviously artifacts of the reconstruction filter, likely created by overloading from intersample peaks."​

That is wrong on two fronts. We know from my review of Mytek DAC that it clips on anything at 0 dBFs. So you can't go by anything there as it relates to MQA.

Second, there is no music that has content at 0 dBFS at 20 kHz. You can't evaluate the format using artificial signals that are not real music especially in the case of perceptual coders like MQA.

"Unfortunately, apart from what seems to be limited, mostly closed listening sessions, I don’t know if MQA Ltd. has been “brave” enough to demonstrate A/B comparisons to broad audiences."​

I asked at one of the audio shows and MQA/Meridian people played exactly such a demo. Has Archimago been to an audio show and asked? Or is he going by folklore online?

In February 2017, Linn was bold enough to post that they saw MQA as nothing more than an attempt at a “supply chain monopoly”. The result of which is a “tax” on hardware, software and the media, ultimately passed on to consumers of course. Should this “philosophy” be broadly accepted, and the business model successfully implemented, it would no doubt be good for MQA Ltd.’s financial statements.​

As Meridian competitors, of course Linn folks would be up in arms. So? MP3 and AAC used to require licensing fees to play. Where were the riots on that? If value is provided, folks adopt and pay.

And it is not like there is any threat whatsoever of MQA replacing our in-the-clear formats. To say otherwise is fear mongering. He can't simultaneously say that this is a solution looking for a problem as he says at the start and the complain that it can become so successful as to kill in the clear formats. It is one or the other.

Connecting the dots, we see that Spencer Chrislu (MQA Director of Content Services) acknowledged in August 2016: “If a studio does their archive at 24-bit/192kHz and then uses that same file as something to sell on a hi-rez site, that is basically giving away the crown jewels upon which their entire business is based” (22). What this basically implies is that MQA is a way to defer release of a full resolution “studio master”. An opportunity to sell music lovers a version that must not by definition hold the full value of said “jewels”. And so it goes, perceived opportunities to sell the same music yet again because the precious, awesome-sounding, crown jewels are safe in those concealed music vaults…​

That is a pitch from MQA. It doesn't make it true. Labels for years now have offered in the clear "crown jewels" high-res content. Why? Because they get more royalties for them. They are not pushed by likes of Apple, Amazon and Spotify to provide them at dirt cheap prices. I see no label buying into adopting MQA as to put the genie back into the bottle here. They will offer MQA and charge extra for that too as an additional format if there is demand.

"We must then finally discuss the issue of Digital Rights Management (DRM). I know, MQA does not prevent one from copying the FLAC-compressed file. I acknowledge that MQA does not “phone home” to confirm access in order to play back. But let’s think about the definition of DRM broadly as defined in the Oxford dictionary (good enough definition as any)"​

This is a bunch of horse hockey. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. No such thing is in MQA. I can download any MQA file and give it to a million people and they can all play it without paying for it. I can back it up on as many copies as I like. And can put it on as many computers or players as I like. So none of the things people fear about DRM exists here.

What MQA is doing is hardware authentication as a way to make money. Otherwise Chinese would copy the stuff and never pay. This is not DRM. This is authentication.

Every new SD card you buy has authentication logic the same way. They added it after chinese companies cloned the SD card controller and didn't pay royalties to SD card association. Which one of you will stop buying SD cards now that you know it has this kind of "DRM?"

Every Blu-ray player has DRM and far worse authentication. Netflix streaming has authentication. So does Amazon, spotify, etc.

"The concept of embedded keys and having provisions for variable audio quality is not foreign to Meridian’s way of thinking considering their patent in 2014 (26) aiming to provide “conditional access to a lossless presentation” and “control over the level of degradation of the signal”. Even though the mechanisms described in the patent are currently not implemented in MQA, there is nothing to say they cannot be built within the infrastructure being created. Remember, in time, if MQA were to be successful, there would be increasing control over authorized playback software and device firmware across the product lines of various manufacturers. Since these are all reprogrammable software algorithms, currently absent “features” could be incorporated."​

Bunch of unfounded speculation. What if one day Apple requires your social security number before you can use your iPhone? They can do that, right? But will they? Of course not. Everyone knows that DRM protected music was tried and it was removed. It is so easy to capture the stream and put it online that protecting music is a lost cause now. The music industry is simply not focused on it anymore. The above is just FUD and has no place in an objective discussion of a technology.

"Finally, suppose MQA enjoys a period of relative success and one buys a library of encoded albums. What happens if MQA for some reason goes out of business?"​

As absolute proof that there is no DRM here, if they go out of business, your content will keep playing forever. And on unlimited number of devices. Its baseband format plays as it is on any device anyway with or without MQA so you will never be without your music. Sure, you can't buy new hardware that decodes it much like we have with HDCD, DVD-A and to some extent, SACD. So what?

"Ultimately, remember that the music industry can be wrong, audiophile magazines can be wrong, as an individual, I can be wrong (and my wife says I often am!). But the consumer is always right – which is exactly why “we” call the shots. Let’s see how this goes..."​

Yes "we" call the shots but we better fully understand something before taking a strong position against it. I am not here to defend MQA. But I just can't sit still while hysteria is created against it by folks who should know better.

I see MQA as a new offering with tiny amount of success. It has not impacted my life one bit with respect to my consumption of other formats. Precisely because they charge a licensing fee, it means that it will NOT have widespread usage and as such, it cannot and will not replace current offers of high-resolution and lossless CD formats. Trying to develop warring camps based on thin amount of technical knowledge is not going to amount to a useful use of our time.
 

dallasjustice

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#3
@amirm have you considered doing your linearity bit depth test on an MQA output vs. lossless PCM equivalents? From the “shot heard ‘round the world” archimago makes a complelling case that MQA significantly reduces bit depth.

Btw, I think Archi is a closet libertarian. I love a good conspiracy theory!
 

dallasjustice

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#4
In the not too distant future, all music consumed will be deployed by only a handful. Based on history, we’ve seen studios sell consumers the same music in multiple formats, bit depths and sampling rates. They get us coming and going, as my mother would say. I don’t think it would be paranoid to expect the same future behavior. MQA could just be another way to do it.
 

dallasjustice

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#5
Factual take aways from Archimago’s MQA paper:

1. MQA offers no proven benefit to the consumer.
2. MQA actually costs the consumer additional funds to enjoy the same music they already own.

It is fair to criticize MQA.
 

RayDunzl

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#6

Blumlein 88

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#7
My biggest complaint, of many about MQA, is MQA interferes with using DSP for playback. Room correction and such aren't possible unless one is willing to convert from MQA to analog and convert back to digital and back to analog after the DSP.
 

dallasjustice

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#9
My biggest complaint, of many about MQA, is MQA interferes with using DSP for playback. Room correction and such aren't possible unless one is willing to convert from MQA to analog and convert back to digital and back to analog after the DSP.
It’s just a matter of time before someone offers a stand-alone DSP box with MQA authentication. You could buy that and get your DSP and your MQA. What are you complaining about? :)
 

RayDunzl

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#10
My biggest complaint
That was one of the first things I noticed - no "MQA to Decoded Bits" adapter. Just whole DACs.

It’s just a matter of time before someone offers a stand-alone DSP box with MQA authentication.
I don't think I'll be buying one of those, either.

---

Having been party to casual listening where (as I later discovered) both MQA and non-MQA were played, nothing perked my ears.
 

amirm

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#12
@amirm have you considered doing your linearity bit depth test on an MQA output vs. lossless PCM equivalents? From the “shot heard ‘round the world” archimago makes a complelling case that MQA significantly reduces bit depth.
I don't have MQA encoded test files. Is he saying that happens regardless of whether you have or have not MQA content?
 

amirm

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#13
My biggest complaint, of many about MQA, is MQA interferes with using DSP for playback. Room correction and such aren't possible unless one is willing to convert from MQA to analog and convert back to digital and back to analog after the DSP.
This is the biggest deal. Yet is not even on radar of people complaining as evidenced by absence of it from Archimago's missive.
 

dallasjustice

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#14
I don't have MQA encoded test files. Is he saying that happens regardless of whether you have or have not MQA content?
That wasn’t clear to me either. He may just be saying the MQA filter reduces the bit depth for nonMQA files. But I still think it would be interesting to test both PCM and MQA files at the analog output of a DAC.

I think the best case scenario for MQA now is that it doesn’t do any harm to the signal. My worry is that MQA encoded streaming doesn’t offer the option for redbook PCM. In that case, a nonMQA DAC may produce an inferior result.
 

amirm

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#15
That wasn’t clear to me either. He may just be saying the MQA filter reduces the bit depth for nonMQA files. But I still think it would be interesting to test both PCM and MQA files at the analog output of a DAC.
The only MQA content I have is music which doesn't lend itself to resolution testing without statistical analysis. I will test my AudioQuest Dragonfly Black but not sure how conclusive that is without MQA content.
 

Blumlein 88

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#16
That wasn’t clear to me either. He may just be saying the MQA filter reduces the bit depth for nonMQA files. But I still think it would be interesting to test both PCM and MQA files at the analog output of a DAC.

I think the best case scenario for MQA now is that it doesn’t do any harm to the signal. My worry is that MQA encoded streaming doesn’t offer the option for redbook PCM. In that case, a nonMQA DAC may produce an inferior result.
If I understand mansr and others, it reduces bit depth on non-decoded MQA files. I don't think it reduces bit depth from non-MQA files, but in the way it is implemented most MQA DACs will have the MQA filter which has some aliasing involved. This will lead to low level aliasing that need to be there with another DAC using another filter.
 

amirm

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#18
Why not? 2L has free downloads of files in multiple formats, including MQA. http://www.2l.no/hires/index.html
I am not asking for test music Kal. I am asking about instrumentation files I use for my measurements. FOr linearity tests for example I need a level sweep file where the level keeps going down in fixed increments. Does 2L have anything like that?
 

dallasjustice

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#19
How are MQA files created? Is there an MQA encoder? If so, we could encode any test signal we want.
 

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