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MQA is Vaporware

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I think the reason MQA is finding it quite difficult to find a niche is that they're already a niche in a niche:

 

The "bigger" niche: Those who want to stream high quality audio (above typical lossy codecs MP3, AAC, Ogg, etc.)

 

The niche in that niche: Those who want to stream at resolutions higher than Redbook.

 

MQA seems to be selling this to record companies as some kind of DRM. From an interview with Spencer Chrislu:

 

It's important, though, to protect the interests of studios. 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.

 

I think Mr. Chrislu is misinformed about HDTracks pricing model. :-)

 

Back to the "vaporware" topic, the one thing that MQA doesn't adequately address is their mobile story. As a Tidal HiFi subscriber, I also am able to stream on my mobile phone. So far, MQA has been steadfast that decoding must happen in hardware (hardware that MQA licenses of course). This is not to say there aren't at least some sample implementations of mobile MQA. I have an Onkyo DP-X1 that claims to have an MQA decoder. I downloaded a sample MQA file from 2L and the equivalent PCM file. I liked the PCM file better. YMMV of course.

 

Until MQA can be decoded in pure software, there is no real mobile story. And until MQA does have a solid mobile strategy, it's DOA.

 

And let's not forget that Tidal (for example) still can't make a profit. And it's part of that "bigger" niche. So far, MQA's primary "success" is the number of words that Stereophile has produced with glowing, gushing reviews. Classic vaporware.

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Not for me I can divide the number of tracks 30,000 by the average number of tracks on a CD 12 and get 2,500 albums. Still vaporware sorry. It is better than nothing but not by much.

 

And a good question for you how many MQA enabled DACs were sold in the US in 2016?

 

With software decoding now in the mix, this particular issue goes away.

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Yes and no. No - according to the marketing hype (i.e. Bob), you need the hardware (you can't be using a "legacy DAC") to get the full effect of MQA because software decoding does not get you everything MQA does. Yes - since it is not REALLY about SQ anyways, a software decoding solution gets you enough MQA that most consumers will be able to "hear" the effect and be convinced that is all worth it and everyone will get what they are looking for - more $sales$...

 

Did not know this, thanks.

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Yes, here is my review-

 

MQA is 100% worth every single cent I paid for it and then some, bargain of the cemtury :)

 

MQA with Tidal desktop top app software decoding is the Shiny Object of the Week. Of those 190 or so MQA albums on Tidal, perhaps 50% are recorded/produced in a way that could be considered "audiophile" quality. But no one would pay $20 more per month for what's currently there (maybe you would?). And some of those titles are quite harsh by any standard. I lasted about 5 seconds on that Fitz and the Tantrums album. No amount of MQA magic can rescue that amount of peak limiting.

 

190 albums is at best an introduction to the format. Yes, I like the sound of some of the titles. But the lack of a price increase for this introductory MQA rollout does not justify this level of sycophancy IMHO.

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According to Tidal - "We have music over 30,000 tracks from Warner Music Group, our TIDAL artist owners and key independent labels."

 

So Tidal only has 2500 more albums to upload :-)

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Different strokes I guess, check out Private Dancer in MQA or The Doors and see what you think

I have several HDTracks hirez Doors titles. The MQA equivalent versions are not an improvement to me, but I can't say it was significantly worse.

 

This is what I tested on:

 

Mac Mini 7,1 (El Cap) -> Uptone Regen -> Schiit Gumby -> Schiit Lyr 2 (LISST) -> HD600 cans

 

I started a thread over in the DAC section about Meridian Explorer 2 reliability. Before I completely pass judgment on MQA, I'm thinking I should give hardware decoding a listen. But there seems to be many people who are having various problems with that DAC.

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Aah yes, the old conspiracy theory popping up again. I studied journalism myself (it's my original profession) and I do believe that the general audio journalists have enough self critique and moral insight to know the difference between what does and doesn't sound good, especially at a well regarded magazine as Stereophile.

 

When I read reviews or critiques of audio gear, I always apply this scale:

 

On one end, zealously pro-consumer and always suspicious of the ultimate motivations and trustworthiness of gear makers. On the other, utterly sycophantic of audio gear manufacturers in a way that would always accept the word of the manufacturers over independent scientists or engineers. The "ideal" reviewer is completely neutral (right in the center of these extremes).

 

I've never, ever, ever, read anything in Stereophile that wasn't on the pro-vendor side of this scale. Stereophile has a cozy relationship with vendors, period.

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Again a very suggestive reaction IMO. To go into the question behind what you are suggesting here:

 

This response indicates a profound lack of knowledge how proper journalism in the free world is organized. To be able to properly distinct ad revenue and the related business interest from editorial content both areas are strictly segregated and editors and ad sales people therefore report into completely separate lines of management. It's a popular misunderstanding that ad sales defines what is written in the editorial section. In practice it's bs.

 

Are you able to apply this, i.e. "proper journalism in the free world" to Stereophile itself based on first hand knowledge, or are you speculating?

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But it's fine to me if you like slashing MQA and all of the audio press more than listening to music.

 

I expect the Meridian Explorer 2 that I ordered to show up tomorrow. I wouldn't call that "slashing" exactly. And I'm quite familiar with the pejorative "some people would rather complain than listen" mantra that exists in some quarters of audiophilia. The Hoffman forum (for example) lives on that snobbish garbage.

 

I don't need MQA. I'm investigating because it may be forced down my (and others') throats by streaming services in the future.

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Yes, apparently they are still in the middle of uploading. A few days ago I think about 200 albums were available.

 

Did you already receive your MQA DAC?

 

I will have it later today. Perhaps a nit, but the CES announcement said nothing like, "30,000 tracks, but be patient, it will take some time to upload". The CES announcement said unambiguously that 30,000 MQA tracks are now available on Tidal.

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...and our own Chris have in any way hedged or otherwise qualified their otherwise positive reviews of the SQ of MQA - the rest have been no holds barred promotion machines

 

At the risk of being accused of sycophancy myself, I will say that Chris appears to try really hard to walk that line between pro-consumer and pro-vendor.

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Or he tries really hard to appear to walk that line. He's been just a little too dismissive of people's concerns and simultaneously a little too trusting of the official line from Stuart and his PR department.

 

I think we live in an era of "access journalism" and Chris has to appear to be "friendly" to the PR campaign. I stand by my original statement. I've never seen him dismiss out of hand concerns about the DRM aspects of MQA.

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This has me thinking about the music market. They want closed format/DRM because they look at $video$ and tell themselves "That's our model!". Ironically, they over weigh "piracy" and under weigh consumer behavior (who are now more interested in their screens than their music) as the source of their problems (large drop in $sales$).

 

Bandcamp says that the majority (I have 70% in my head) of their customers download the mp3 instead of the 16/44, even though the latter is the same price. Thus, the industry understands perfectly well that it is not about sound quality and thus a closed format/DRM (MQA or something like it) market has no cost to them. Bill saw that a balkinized web would cost him real $. They might be right about the music market in that a closed market does NOT cost the $...depressing to think about

 

The "elephant in the room" is the target demographic for HiFi. Your Bandcamp observation nails it. There aren't enough new audiophiles to replace the ones we're losing. Tidal (to the best of my knowledge) is not currently profitable. There's your best indicator of how successful MQA will ultimately be. Or for that matter, HDTracks or audiophile Redbook remasters. Mofi and Audio Fidelity are all but extinct.

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That's a valid concern. But it's hard to predict already now how valid exactly it is..

 

For now I would be very surprised if a record company would make such a decision. Maybe as a sort of MQA try-out/promotion. But we've seen that before and in the end music will likely be distributed in multiple formats, because that way the company will simply make more money.

 

+1

 

The current MQA promotional rollout is likely not increasing demand for Tidal HiFi subscriptions, at least appreciably. But Meridian sold at least one new DAC because of it. :-)

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There are over 500 albums featured on the front page, under the "Masters" section. But for every one of those, there are several more available in Master quality that are not featured - I've found lots of them myself.

 

Their announcement was that they were "live" with 30k tracks, and I see no reason to doubt that.

 

Ok, the "MASTERS" section is not definitive. Thanks for this. I will look further. I'm not a fan at all of that Tidal desktop app. I wish Roon would hurry up with 1.3.

 

EDIT: Wow! Almost everything I've been waiting for is there. You just have to wade through all the different versions of the same title. Tidal needs to put a little icon on the MQA versions or something. Thanks again!

Edited by SamuelTCogley

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Over at Audiostream, Jim Collinson from Linn has posted a very well thought out comment on all the downsides to MQA. Here's an excerpt:

 

MQA is an attempt to not simply sell the same content again at a higher margin, or to maintain audio quality in streaming ecosystems: it is an outright land grab. It’s an attempt to control and extract revenue from every part of the supply chain, and not just over content that they hold the rights for. It really is quite extraordinary.

 

I encourage everyone interested in MQA to read the whole thing.

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Another excellent point he makes:

 

"It also doesn’t require to much imagination to envisage a situation where, in the name of thwarting piracy, music players will only play MQA streams. Or perhaps they’ll insert ads before non-MQA content. None of this is proposed by the company, and in fact we are assured that they have no plans to do this. Perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt? But once the supply chain is dominated, the technology certainly gives them a way to achieve it, and shareholders want returns..."

 

Yet, there will be those that will simply dismiss him as someone who is somehow in a business conflict with MQA - no doubt over licensing costs or something similar. They will continue to cling to the fantasy that MQA is just a "product among products" and that is more or less equal to any other product - that it deserves a "fair shot" and that those of us who point out the fundamental difference between MQA and other products (such as PCM, or speakers, or cables) harbor some kind of irrational ill-will towards it. Remember consumer, "buyer beware".

 

Also, not the Michael's reaction - he can't get himself to admit of even the smallest "con" to MQA. Stereophile really truly has drank the cool aid...

 

Sterophile is to varying degrees always more pro-vendor than pro-consumer. That's certainly the filter I use when reading anything from their media brands.

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...because you were making things up and representing them as fact.

 

A few corrections - AudioStream is not Stereophile. I am the editor of the former, JA the latter. There is no overlap so "Stereophile" has nothing to do with what goes on on AudioStream.

 

This post of yours, "crenca", is a perfect example of your "style" - purposeful misrepresentation, misinformation, and simply being flat out wrong.

 

How wonderful. No doubt you will avoid any substantive discussion on the pros/cons of MQA. You will not engage in a back and forth regarding this alleged firewall that exists between Stereophile and Audiostream (they appear to be part of the same media brand according to the collection of logos at the bottom of each web page). You will not break down any of the alleged "misrepresentation" or "misinformation", you'll just throw out the words and run back to the safety of your censored comments section.

 

But most importantly, you have dismissed well thought out and quite valid concerns about the future of recorded digital music as a "Linn advertisement".

 

I have only one question: Why are the egos so eggshell fragile when it comes to elite audio gear reviewers such as yourself?

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Here's a novel idea - try asking a meaningful question.

 

Let's start here:

 

Please break down, in detail, the alleged "misrepresentation" and "misinformation". And don't run away. There will be follow up questions.

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Here's "crenca": "...where they had some radiologist claiming..."

 

Here are the credentials of the person in question: Daniel P. Melby, MD, Cardiac Electrophysiology, Medical Director, Electrophysiology Lab, Minneapolis Heart Institute

 

This is your smoking gun? The dude's not a radiologist?

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