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Rt66indierock

MQA is Vaporware

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On 12/29/2017 at 4:00 PM, Rt66indierock said:

 

There was an update to the A-10 on December 14. My sonic evaluation was with the latest update.

 

No telling I haven't talked with Andrew about it.

 

Why can't both TAS and Stereophile be wrong?

 

The Aurender Conductor software update of mid-December (2.9.1) has a "switch" to disable the upsampling filter that's required to correctly render MQA  content. Below is what the option in the Aurender settings looks like.

 

Aurender told me that they did listening tests and felt that the filter benefited all content—having it did not represent a mistake or, to use their word when I last communicated with the company, a "shortcoming". As I see it, the idea that MQA-decoded files were given an artificial advantage because they were compared to non-MQA files that had been sullied by the application of the upsampling filter doesn't hold up. It's farfetched to believe that Aurender would intentionally degrade the sound of non-MQA content to give MQA a leg up—they know that the great bulk of listening that an A10 owner will be doing will be to non-MQA files.

 

Still, in response to the concerns raised by JA's reports and others, the  2.9.1 Conductor software update allows the upsampling filter to be defeated. I think this was a sensible decision. The A10's MQA-decoding capability is really not a critical feature of this excellent product and won't be a make-or-break factor in a consumer's decision to purchase one.

 

Thank you for the chance to comment on this confusing issue.

 

Andrew Quint

Senior Writer

The Absolute Sound

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Agreed. I do think Aurender did the right thing in their software update. An expensive component, especially one in this category of products, ought to offer as much flexibility to the listener as possible and, to their credit, the company recognized this.

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I feel you've missed my point, Steve.

 

Most of the listening people will be doing with an A10 will be to non-MQA-encoded files. Why would Aurender degrade the sonic quality of their player, intentionally or not? The  company did extensive listening and concluded that the upsampling improved the sound of non-MQA codecs. Obviously, you didn't have the opportunity to listen to the A10 with and without the filter in-line. How can you be so sure that it's effect was negative? Especially, as you've said, you formed your opinion about the Aurender after the briefest of auditions.

 

Andrew Quint

 

 

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13 minutes ago, Rt66indierock said:

 

This is all about reviewers and editors deciding what you should like instead of us deciding.

 

Now I'm confused. "Reviewers and editors" didn't decide on (initially) applying the upsampling filter to non-MQA content in the A10, Aurender did. They thought better of it, no doubt in part because of the response from forums like this and, of course, JA - a reviewer and an editor.

 

You can't blame everything on us.B|

 

Andrew Quint

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By way of noting some positive news for MQA, I saw that that IRiver, the large Korean manufacturer of digital players that owns Astell&Kern will be taking up the technology. So the commercial progress for MQA continues incrementally. If you choose to look at it that way.

 

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5 minutes ago, Dr Tone said:

 

So the user has to manually switch the filtering between non-mqa and mqa albums and/or tracks?

 

Maybe that’s the elegant, MQA supporters talk about? 

Elegant, it ain't. But I maintain that MQA will not be of critical importance to the majority of A10 purchasers—the product has so much else going for it, no matter how you feel about MQA. They'll either leave the filter off all the time or—if they conclude, as Aurender maintains, that the filter helps non-MQA content—leave it on.

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1 minute ago, Dr Tone said:

 

Now you are saying the opposite of @ARQuint

 

I apologize for the confusion because russellbobby's description is absolutely correct. What I meant to convey is that with the switch "off" the filter's engaged only for MQA, when it's "on", the upsampling is applied to all files. (Hope that's right—I no longer have the A10 here!)

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<< Yet, on the other hand and in a perverted sense, I'm sort of thankful for MQA's introduction.  Which includes its shoot for moon performance claims that we will finally hear exactly what the engineers heard in the studio when the little green light turns on, the over-the-top sell-out endorsements by highly questionable industry leaders, etc.  I'm thankful because the industry has been heading in the wrong direction for decades partially because many including these same "leaders" have backslidden to the point where listening skills for many no longer matter in this supposedly audio-only industry and in its stead measurements and price have become the new holy grail.  In other words, many have already abandomed their "untrustworthy" ears and now rely solely on their "trustoworthy" eyes (and wallets) for sonic performance.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that high-end audio remains very much near its infancy from a performance perspective because of all this. >>

 

As a new CA member (Welcome!), shtf and may not yet be fluent in the anti-MQA catechism but the above is an argument that's not frequently deployed by those opposed to the technology. Early on in this debate, you had strong pro-MQA partisans like Robert Harley and John Atkinson saying, in effect, "If you haven't heard it, you don't have an opinion." On the other hand, you have folks like Fokus, who has recently posted "Given the sort of threat MQA poses, how it sounds is of little importance" - a position that plenty of the most vocal MQA opponents have unequivocally agreed with. In my opinion, both positions are unnecessarily polarizing. Audiophiles need to seriously consider the questions raised by Archimago in the level-headed summary published here but they also need to personally undertake the sort of comparative listening that has been the basis of high end audio's "subjective" approach for half a century.

 

Archimago did the best he could with an MQA vs non-MQA exercise that got 83 CA participants - and showed no clear preference for MQA. His conclusion was fair: that, based on a relatively small sample (of subjects, it could be argued, didn't want to hear a difference) MQA encoded files were not wildly superior to the unfiltered ones, but that the process wasn't destructive either - the study "implied a level of transparency."

 

This really isn't profoundly different from my own at-home experience during the few months I had an Aurender in my system: I preferred slightly the MQA-encoded files. I, too, have had issues with the demos done at shows and at dealers. Now that Roon allows MQA decoding and more DAC chipsets will have MQA capability,  motivated audiophiles will be able to do the sort of familiar-environment comparisons that we're used to doing when we bring home a new amplifier, cartridge, or loudspeaker. One's ears should indeed remain "trustworthy" and individuals can make their own judgements about MQA without undue influence of the loudest voices on both sides.

 

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1 hour ago, Rt66indierock said:

And tell me who angered by these comments and  enlighten me on who being defamed?

 

Well, I think it's pretty obvious that Stuart, Atkinson, and Harley are the ones being defamed.

Conspiracy theories are a phenomenon that I find interesting, and shtf's posting was a pretty classic example. In a 2014 book, two political scientists, Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent defined a conspiracy theory as describing  "(1) a group (2) acting in secret (3) to alter institutions, usurp power, hide truth, or gain utility (4) at the expense of the common good" and shtf's "opinion" as to how MQA came to be certainly meets those criteria. It's an excellent example of what's been called a "shallow" theory. The question asked is Cui bono? (Who benefits?) The theorist reaches the conclusion that the group of people having something to gain from MQA—BS, JA, and RH—must be secretly involved in a vast and nefarious plot.

 

Shtf made up his theory out of thin air—I think we know that he has no hard evidence for what he suggests actually happened—but the internet is a funny thing. The theory will be repeated and can potentially gain acceptance as fact. Certainly, this has happened with other more substantive issues, like Obama's birthplace or the 1969 moon landing. Hey, this is only audio. But audio's important to me, as I know it is to you. I have stated on several occasions that I feel the substantive points made regarding MQA in the thread that you started, and elsewhere, are valid and important—I have "listened and learned," as another CA partisan recommended. Over-the-top theories, such as the one offered here are understandable: They represent the level of frustration and loss of control that some audiophiles are feeling. But, ultimately, they undermine the more solidly reasoned arguments against MQA and should be identified as fringe thinking.

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11 hours ago, Brinkman Ship said:

That is exactly what many have been saying all along.....!!!!!!...that a TINY group of writers for TAS/Stereophile and some stray bloggers think MQA is SOTA digital sound..and yet virtually ZERO hobbyists feel the same way. 

 

It's not fair to insist that all positivity regarding MQA comes from the press. Archimago's "Internet Blind Test" demonstrated that half of the CA members who participated had a preference for MQA-encoded files when the comparator was a high-resolution PCM file. That preference was usually slight and, of course, didn't begin to approach statistical significance when the entire group was considered. But audiophiles are used to putting a value on small perceived differences that can be considerable. What makes perfectionist audio such a great hobby is that there are so many possibilities when it comes to achieving a musically satisfying end. That variability is informed by ones prior experience with live music and recordings, as well as the fact that different people hear (and listen) differently. So those who conclude that MQA-encoded music sounds "better" shouldn't be hostilely dismissed as lousy listeners or as having a nefarious agenda.

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16 minutes ago, crenca said:

 

All this has already been addressed:

 

https://www.computeraudiophile.com/forums/topic/30381-mqa-is-vaporware/?page=334

 

 

 

 

Well, perhaps by you. But if we are talking about the relevance of SQ to a consideration of MQA, in recent days many CA posters have been ringing in on the issue. For those on either side of the issue or those who are undecided, this is clearly a metric that's worthy of discussion.

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15 minutes ago, adamdea said:
 
 
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An exact 50:50 coin toss even within the group of listeners who thought they heard significant differences to a moderate or obvious degree. Again, there is no preference towards MQA Core or just standard hi-res PCM playback. "

 

Seriously have you thought this through, Mr Quint?

 

I have. The fact that half preferred PCM and half preferred MQA is interesting but not the point at all. People have different tastes / value systems when it comes to reproduced sound. The point is that these people heard a difference and then decided which version they liked better—Archimago required that they do so.

 

Imagine this hypothetical scenario. You need to replace a failing power amplifier and have a budget of $5000. Your dealer lets you take home, for the weekend, two solid state products, "A" and "B", that have a similar design and power ratings. "A" costs $4000 and "B" costs $5000. You listen to both for the weekend with familiar recordings, taking copious notes, and conclude that you prefer "B" for its smoother top end, better spatiality and superior bass clarity. You're then provided with the information that in a blinded trial with 100 experienced audiophiles, all heard a difference between the two amps—but 50 preferred "A" and 50 preferred "B". Would that information effect your decision regarding which product to buy? Would you choose to save $1000 because of the results of the trial?

 

I also want to emphasize that my own modest preference for MQA-encoded files comes not from demos at shows but from my experience of reviewing the Aurender A10 when I had a couple of months to make my own comparisons of streamed MQA Tidal files with files of the same resolution downloaded from HDtracks.

 

Andrew Quint

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1 hour ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

Hi Andrew - Your comments are much more about shooting the messenger @crenca than telling anyone about the benefits of MQA. If he focussed on things other than how "music actually sounds" that doesn't matter to me in the least. Many others here focus on how it sounds. Combine the two and we have a pretty broad view of MQA. 

 

Your last paragraph is quite Presidential. You are turning things 180 degrees the wrong way. The only reason people around here bring up all the negative aspects of MQA is because, to use your words, "this hobby is about maximizing musical enjoyment outside the context of live performance." MQA for may people is the antithesis of perfectionist audio. This is evidenced by so many overwhelming points. We went from your magazine pushing straight wire with gain to audio origami. You guys have a lot to lose, so it doesn't surprise me that there's no mea culpa but rather a doubling down on the original message like we see in politics today. You guys have been duped. It happens to everyone and it isn't a crime. The cover up is always worse than the crime.

 

I was thinking the other day about what Mike Jbara said during my RMAF presentation when he claimed that MQA was going to help artists get paid and that it was needed or people would turn to other careers. Think about that. Who is MQA really for? It's for the record labels. In addition, telling consumers that artists will be better compensated because of MQA is such a joke. Sure, public companies are going to take any "extra" profits and give them to artists when they have never done that in their history. Plus, I'm not sure many consumers want to fill in the monetary gap created by record labels. In other words, record labels pay artists next to nothing, so consumers should make up for that by buying into a proprietary format rather than just have labels pay artists what they should. Again, MQA isn't for consumers. Please try to get ahold of the materials MQA uses to sell its products to the labels. Anti consumer doesn't even begin to touch on it. 

 

Your last statement about "...who could drive people away from this 98% generous and welcoming community" is also turning things 180 degrees. I'm sure you realize that HiFi has been dying for decades. Stratospheric prices, many more competing interests for peoples' time and money, and a touch of snake oil all contribute. So, when a newcomer is fed pages of BS about MQA being the second coming of digital, then purchases an MQA DAC to hear this second coming. What do you think happens when it sounds worse or he can't tell the difference? That's a much bigger turn off and much larger factor in turning people away from this hobby. 

 

Read all the mainstream tech press. What do they say about lossless audio? That only audiophiles can tell the difference if listening on a good system.Talk about high resolution and those publications with tens of millions of readers per month start to chuckle. Now add in MQA and it's a soup sandwich. We have a large tech audience here on AS from Silicon Valley and elsewhere. When they read both sides of MQA they find it refreshing. They don't need to be protected by anyone saying, stop the negative MQA bashing because it will turn people away. Real information keeps people coming back. Sure, giving people a dream and increasing their hopes of a second coming of digital also draws people in but in the long run it turns people away more than anything. 

 

I find that people like to read all sides of the story. This includes those at the far ends of the continuum because it helps put the whole story together. 

 

 

 

 

 

Good points, and valid questions, Jud, firedog, and Chris. Myself, I lived with an MQA-capable player (an Aurender) for a couple of months and concluded that I heard a minimal improvement with full decoding. Nothing to make me want to rush out and acquire the technology. My understanding of the McGill study, where blinded listeners judged the "clarity" of MQA-processed vs. unprocessed files, was that the subjects couldn't tell a difference, which probably isn't inconsistent with my experience.

 

Currently, as I listen to a lot of classical, I stream mostly primephonic (no MQA content) with some Tidal for other genres (no MQA decoder at my end)—and I don't feel I'm missing anything. But I'm as skeptical of those who are certain that MQA degrades Redbook sound as I am of those who maintain it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.

 

So, you're right, I do find crenca to be an off-putting "messenger" for one extreme position regarding a subject that should generate a respectful dialogue among sound-conscious music-lovers. Why must every appearance of Lee Scoggins occasion insults and unsupported accusations regarding his motives, and even efforts to embarrass him at his work? Isn't it conceivable that the guy just likes the way MQA sounds? And, to read this forum, you'd think Stereophile and TAS are plugging MQA at every turn, when it actually comes up only episodically. Crenca, I sense hates the magazines on general principles—every equipment review, every music review, every interview, every opinion piece is contemptable. He should note that Audiophile Style has a lot more in common with TAS than with some agitprop blog.

 

We are on the same team. Don't call me a shill and I won't push the button….

 

Andrew Quint

 

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2 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

Are you aware of 2L's claims about only distributing MQA content to these services?

 

Just found out about it here within the past day or so. I haven't listened to any 2L material as yet via primephonic.

I  finished writing an article about primephonic a couple of weeks ago. I interviewed the CEO, Thomas Stephens, and my impression was that primephonic had no idea which files  were 24-bit and which were Redbook (they aren't identified one way or the other)—much less which have been MQA'd.

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1 hour ago, crenca said:

 

Very interesting ARQuint.  Now, you were interviewing the CEO who in all likelihood does not really understand what bit level or sampling rate means.  Behind the scenes he has (hopefully) a CTO and staff that does know the difference, how to verify what they actually are streaming, etc.

 

Here is some text from their homepage:

 

"Lossless 24bit FLAC streaming" (if you sign up for "Platinum")

 

and

 

"Our audio player streams music at the highest quality possible. If an album is available in 24-bit, that’s what you get. If your connection ever drops or slows down, we dynamically adapt the audio to make sure the music never stops..."

 

 

 

Here's something that I believe crenca and I can agree on, that being the need for transparency with streaming services.

 

Before I spoke with the primephonic CEO, I'd lived with the platform for several weeks, read everything on the website, and corresponded with the public relations person several times. She asked that I send a list of my questions for Thomas Steffens (misspelled it previously), which I was happy to do. These included a specific question about how consumers could identify HD content, information that wasn't displayed as it is with Tidal. I could only make that determination by watching the screen on my DAC's front panel as the music played. Despite presenting the issue ahead of time, neither the PR person or the CEO could give me any sense of how many of the one million files were 16-bit and how many were 24-bit. And I'm not surprised. This isn't a large operation (and most of the employees aren't technically oriented, as opposed to music or marketing oriented) and I'm guessing large numbers of files come to them from labels that are then channeled into the library without close examination. I assume this is how Quboz ended up surprised that they were streaming MQA.

 

If 2L wants to provide MQA-encoded files because they feel they are suitable sonically, that's their right. But everyone should know what he or she is streaming, in terms of both bit rate and MQA status.

 

 

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