MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) - Better Sound or DRM?

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by dalethorn, Mar 3, 2018.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Updated - see next post.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2018
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Today I collected my MQA research into a small PDF file at the link below. Summarizing, I didn't find any negative issues in careful comparisons of two albums, in PCM and MQA'd masterings.

    Should there be an example of alleged sonic degradation in an MQA mastering, I'd like to download the PCM and MQA'd files from the usual high-res sites and compare them myself. Suggestions are welcome, especially when they point out particularly egregious differences.

    http://dalethorn.com/Audio_MQA_Notes.pdf
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    And now for the thorough test with the Macbook, Meridian Explorer-2 (full decoder and renderer) and the generic non-MQA Vox player. This was a real headbanger since the DAC didn't always reset the lights reliably when changing the MIDI settings, but after a number of restarts I believe I have a replicateable test result.

    High-res 24/96 from HDTracks lit the lights as follows (Vox says 24/96):
    MIDI == 44.1: One white light.
    MIDI == 48.0: One white light.
    MIDI == 88.2: Two white lights.
    MIDI == 96.0: Two white lights.

    High-res MQA ("Studio") lit the lights as follows (Vox says 24/48):
    MIDI == 44.1: One white light.
    MIDI == 48.0: One blue and one white light.
    MIDI == 88.2: Two white lights.
    MIDI == 96.0: Two white lights.

    MQA from CD lit the lights as follows (Vox says 16/44):
    MIDI == 44.1: One green and one white light.
    MIDI == 48.0: One white light.
    MIDI == 88.2: Two white lights.
    MIDI == 96.0: Two white lights.

    MP3s (converted from non-MQA high-res files, or MQA files; Vox says MP3):
    MIDI == 44.1: One white light.
    MIDI == 48.0: One white light.
    MIDI == 88.2: Two white lights.
    MIDI == 96.0: Two white lights.

    So the MQA indications I got were:
    Green plus white (two lights == high res) on the "unsigned" MQA from a CD, with MIDI set to 44.1
    Blue plus white (two lights == high res) on the "signed" or "Studio" MQA, with MIDI set to 48.0

    The DAC seems to treat everything else as low (one light) or high-res (two lights) regardless of file format, but according to the MIDI setting. Which is why I asked in several places whether an MQA music player can force the MIDI to the correct values, in order to get a reliable indication on the lights.

    If these tests don't work out for other DACs or music players or operating systems or whatnot, I would not be surprised.
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Apple is selling the album "Radka Toneff - Fairytales - Original Master Edition (MQA)" in the iTunes store in the U.S. now, exactly as shown for the original MQA album available from high-res stores and streaming sites. Apple also sells the older edition in the iTunes store. But the MQA album is not actually MQA'd. Here is what I found so far:

    1) The iTunes "MQA" files (AAC, file extension '.m4a') have a much higher playback bitrate than any of the other iTunes files I have in my collection - several hundred of them. All previous iTunes files that I know of are 256 kbps variable bit rate, and these "MQA" tracks go as high as 461 kbps variable bit rate.

    2) I converted the .m4a "MQA" tracks to FLAC, as I did with the older edition iTunes tracks, and the "MQA" edition FLACs' total size is 165.5 mb, compared to 123 mb for the older FLACs.

    3) I played the .m4a "MQA" tracks as well as their FLAC conversions I made with Foobar2000, on my Mac's VOX music player using the Meridian Explorer-2 DAC, making sure to try all of the bitrates provided by the Mac's MIDI settings, and never could get a green or blue light on the DAC as I get with the Steve Reich Pulse album (I have the Pulse album in 16/44 MQA as well as high-res MQA and high-res non-MQA).

    4) The iTunes "MQA" tracks are 16/44 as seen by the VOX player, as are the Reich/Pulse MQA tracks I ripped from the CD I purchased. Those Reich tracks do produce the correct light on my DAC, but these iTunes tracks do not.

    In summary, Apple is presenting the new "Radka Toneff - Fairytales - Original Master Edition (MQA)" album in the iTunes store exactly the same as reviewed by major audio magazines and exactly as sold at the usual high-res download sites, albeit the iTunes version does not appear to actually be MQA'd. That presentation seems wrong to me, however the iTunes "MQA" files are of higher resolution than any other iTunes files I'm aware of, and they sound very good - audiophile quality or very nearly so.
     
  5. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Today I updated my MQA observations PDF to include (finally!) a simple example of the current DRM, and probable DRM via proprietary music player software.

    http://dalethorn.com/Audio_MQA_Notes.pdf
     
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