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MQA and DRM


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Hi Guys - The discussion about MQA and DRM seems to ebb and flow. I think it will be best for everyone if we settle on a definition of DRM and then lay out arguments for and against MQA containing DRM.

 

Note 1: MQA Ltd says its product(s) don't contain DRM.

 

Note 2: Some people here on CA have concluded MQA product(s) contain DRM.

 

 

Let's have a real discussion, using facts rather than emotional arguments. Please start with your suggestions of a definition followed by your arguments for and/or against MQA product(s) containing DRM.

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Hi Chris - Any idea where my post went ?

I'd like to bet you did not delete it; still it's gone ...

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I removed it and left a reason why it was removed:

 

peter.png

 

I don't see that note. I saw Peter's original post, then suddenly it was gone without a trace.

 

If you'll be arbitrarily deleting posts that don't fit some arbitrary narrow definition of DRM, this isn't a "discussion" I want to take part in.

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I don't see that note. I saw Peter's original post, then suddenly it was gone without a trace.

 

If you'll be arbitrarily deleting posts that don't fit some arbitrary narrow definition of DRM, this isn't a "discussion" I want to take part in.

 

Your paranoia is hindering your ability have a real conversation. I've run this site for 10 years and didn't know these explanations stopped showing to all users. I put a reason in the post removal form because I want people to see it, not for my own benefit. If I removed posts being sneaky, I'd skip entering a reason.

 

Keeping a thread on track can be a good thing. Peter's post strayed too far from the main topic.

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Your paranoia is hindering your ability have a real conversation. I've run this site for 10 years and didn't know these explanations stopped showing to all users. I put a reason in the post removal form because I want people to see it, not for my own benefit. If I removed posts being sneaky, I'd skip entering a reason.

 

That was meant only to inform, not as an accusation. Clearly you were unaware that others didn't see the note.

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Though it's not touted as a key feature of MQA, mansr has stated there exists the capability in the spec to prevent playback of coded files in the absence of specific hardware (e.g., an MQA-enabled / certified DAC).

 

If this is true (and I have no reason to believe it's not), then MQA (in my opinion) has the potential for DRM in its spec. Whether or not this will or would be widely used is speculation - we know none of the publicly-available files use this capability at this time, since they all play back just fine on existing hardware.

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That was meant only to inform, not as an accusation. Clearly you were unaware that others didn't see the note.

 

(nor did I; please delete again - no problem)

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Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

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If this is true (and I have no reason to believe it's not), then MQA (in my opinion) has the potential for DRM in its spec.

 

Hey, I said that !

oh

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XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

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New attempt :

 

If there was DRM in the current MQA streams, we wouldn't be able to play music from it, while I can. So I say : not. This doesn't mean that it will stay out of it forever. And it is about that.

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XXHighEnd (developer)

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New attempt :

If there was DRM in the current MQA streams, we wouldn't be able to play music from it, while I can. So I say : not. This doesn't mean that it will stay out of it forever. And it is about that.

 

I don't equate DRM with copy protection, but that is the more common "popular" definition. Wikipedia's is a good place to start to get a handle on a definition that is actually useful from the perspective of both the consumer and industry players.

 

I also speak to this in my blog post (reproduced below):

 

 

...This is why MQA = DRM in it's current form (which I put at 1.1 - 1.0 being the original hardware only version). You can not produce a hardware or software decoder TODAY without agreeing to limit the output to the 24/48 (putting aside it is only 'really' 17 bits at most) content. As a consumer, you can only access the "Hi Res" content TODAY unless you agree to the terms and conditions (purchasing a license, etc.) and if you do try to access said content you are in violation of the agreement, IP, patent laws, etc. You, as a consumer are being "managed", by a "digital product" - your "rights" are limited legally and technically - what is this called? That's right, it has a name and it is:

 

DRM ("Digital Rights Management")

 

Now, I know many believe DRM to be something different - they believe DRM = copy protection. This is one form of "digital management" that DRM can take (among many), and it is a specific technical implementation of DRM, but DRM can in no way be reduced to just copy protection, any more than all dogs can be reduced to Chihuahuas.

 

Let's look at the first two sentences of Wikipedia's entry for DRM:

 

Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works. DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies.

 

Notice the generality, the multiplicity, and the emphasis on "proprietary", etc. Copy protection is but one form of DRM, and DRM can not be reduced to copy protection/prevention schemes. It is the larger "Rights Management" of the consumer through "Digital" means, but more than that through legal (i.e. IP, patents, etc.) that is the important take away. DRM turns your software/hardware into a legal mechanism to control your behavior. Open formats and standards have neither the digital implementation and design to do this, and more importantly they do not have the legal status to do this. The Wikipedia entry does not mention "copy protection" until several sentences late when it is listing several ways DRM is implemented as an example.

 

Now, I understand that many consumers are "ok" with all sorts of DRM as long as it is not the dreaded "copy protection", but remember others are not and DRM is not such a limited concept - never has been and never will. Not only is MQA DRM in its current form, it actually is a good example of it...

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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If there was DRM in the current MQA streams, we wouldn't be able to play music from it, while I can. So I say : not. This doesn't mean that it will stay out of it forever. And it is about that.

 

Do notice that there's two parts involved :

1. The music data itself (the stream);

2. The playback software (or the firmware of the playback hardware if you like - AKA MQA DAC).

 

Both sides are under control of the providers. This is the music labels on one hand and MQA and their software/firmware on the other. I reckon that both can be "updated" and it should be in synchronization. Thus, add DRM also means add decoding in the ever approved MQA software. Not approved means : you're out as playback provider (say like I am one). This is done with the press of a button. And how does that happen ? easy ... Tidal who controls that part.

 

I quoted myself, above, because I could be wrong with my statement that no DRM is in there currently. It just could and all is decoded for free at this moment.

 

So ... now this post can be deleted at will because only half of it is fact. And if this is not appreciated then I can't imagine what is.

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XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

Phasure Mach III Audio PC with Linear PSU (manufacturer)

Orelino & Orelo MKII Speakers (designer/supplier)

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Though it's not touted as a key feature of MQA, mansr has stated there exists the capability in the spec to prevent playback of coded files in the absence of specific hardware (e.g., an MQA-enabled / certified DAC).

 

If this is true (and I have no reason to believe it's not), then MQA (in my opinion) has the potential for DRM in its spec. Whether or not this will or would be widely used is speculation - we know none of the publicly-available files use this capability at this time, since they all play back just fine on existing hardware.

 

Well in essence isn't this already implemented? The unfolding and authentication is coded and encrypted. Only MQA certified items can decrypt it, including software like Tidal. I don't know any non certified device or software able to decrypt and playback correctly the encoded parts.

 

One reason this could be done is to guarantee quality of output from MQA certified or provided decoders. If the standard was open, like MP3, look at the many versions and quality differences of MP3 players and encoders that were available. It would completely ruin what MQA was trying to achieve if anyone could encode or decode a file with arbitrary quality measures in the encode/decode chain. If probably requires encryption to maintain authentic hardware, software, and media to guarantee end to end quality. Otherwise it'll be the Wild West out there proliferating the market with fake/altered music, poor quality "MQA" players, ruining what MQA was trying to achieve.

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...It would completely ruin what MQA was trying to achieve if anyone could encode or decode a file with arbitrary quality measures in the encode/decode chain. If probably requires encryption to maintain authentic hardware, software, and media to guarantee end to end quality. Otherwise it'll be the Wild West out there proliferating the market with fake/altered music, poor quality "MQA" players, ruining what MQA was trying to achieve.

 

OR...it would allow others to "build a better mouse trap" and actually improve upon the design and implementation of an "end to end" format that guarantees an improved listener experience AND a even get something for the industry and artists.

 

It really comes down to open markets - do you want a one size fits all monopoly or do you want some chaos, some "wild west" where consumers can choose something better (or worse)?

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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I don't equate DRM with copy protection, but that is the more common "popular" definition. Wikipedia's is a good place to start to get a handle on a definition that is actually useful from the perspective of both the consumer and industry players.

 

I also speak to this in my blog post (reproduced below):

 

 

...This is why MQA = DRM in it's current form (which I put at 1.1 - 1.0 being the original hardware only version). You can not produce a hardware or software decoder TODAY without agreeing to limit the output to the 24/48 (putting aside it is only 'really' 17 bits at most) content. As a consumer, you can only access the "Hi Res" content TODAY unless you agree to the terms and conditions (purchasing a license, etc.) and if you do try to access said content you are in violation of the agreement, IP, patent laws, etc. You, as a consumer are being "managed", by a "digital product" - your "rights" are limited legally and technically - what is this called? That's right, it has a name and it is:

 

DRM ("Digital Rights Management")

 

Now, I know many believe DRM to be something different - they believe DRM = copy protection. This is one form of "digital management" that DRM can take (among many), and it is a specific technical implementation of DRM, but DRM can in no way be reduced to just copy protection, any more than all dogs can be reduced to Chihuahuas.

 

Let's look at the first two sentences of Wikipedia's entry for DRM:

 

Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works. DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies.

 

Notice the generality, the multiplicity, and the emphasis on "proprietary", etc. Copy protection is but one form of DRM, and DRM can not be reduced to copy protection/prevention schemes. It is the larger "Rights Management" of the consumer through "Digital" means, but more than that through legal (i.e. IP, patents, etc.) that is the important take away. DRM turns your software/hardware into a legal mechanism to control your behavior. Open formats and standards have neither the digital implementation and design to do this, and more importantly they do not have the legal status to do this. The Wikipedia entry does not mention "copy protection" until several sentences late when it is listing several ways DRM is implemented as an example.

 

Now, I understand that many consumers are "ok" with all sorts of DRM as long as it is not the dreaded "copy protection", but remember others are not and DRM is not such a limited concept - never has been and never will. Not only is MQA DRM in its current form, it actually is a good example of it...

Hi crenca - Your post is what I had in mind when starting the thread. You selected a starting definition and reasoned your arguments based on the definition. Thank you.

 

I'd love to dig a bit deeper into your reasoning, specifically with this statement:

 

"As a consumer, you can only access the "Hi Res" content TODAY unless you agree to the terms and conditions (purchasing a license, etc.) and if you do try to access said content you are in violation of the agreement, IP, patent laws, etc. You, as a consumer are being "managed", by a "digital product" - your "rights" are limited legally and technically - what is this called? That's right, it has a name and it is: DRM ("Digital Rights Management")"

 

 

I believe it's true today that you can only "access" all music sold through an implicit agreement to the terms and conditions. If you purchase and download high resolution FLAC, your rights are already severely limited / managed. You can't play the music publicly without further compensation to the rights holders, you can't legally bequeath your digital music collection because it doesn't belong to you, you only purchased a limited lifetime license. Yes, you purchased a license implicitly. To use your words, you as a consumer are being managed.

 

What are your thoughts?

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Well in essence isn't this already implemented? The unfolding and authentication is coded and encrypted. Only MQA certified items can decrypt it, including software like Tidal. I don't know any non certified device or software able to decrypt and playback correctly the encoded parts.

 

One reason this could be done is to guarantee quality of output from MQA certified or provided decoders. If the standard was open, like MP3, look at the many versions and quality differences of MP3 players and encoders that were available. It would completely ruin what MQA was trying to achieve if anyone could encode or decode a file with arbitrary quality measures in the encode/decode chain. If probably requires encryption to maintain authentic hardware, software, and media to guarantee end to end quality. Otherwise it'll be the Wild West out there proliferating the market with fake/altered music, poor quality "MQA" players, ruining what MQA was trying to achieve.

 

OR...it would allow others to "build a better mouse trap" and actually improve upon the design and implementation of an "end to end" format that guarantees an improved listener experience AND a even get something for the industry and artists.

 

It really comes down to open markets - do you want a one size fits all monopoly or do you want some chaos, some "wild west" where consumers can choose something better (or worse)?

 

In a way it's like Apple and Android. Closed versus open. Both are very popular and have pros and cons.

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Sounds false to equate this to DRM if the only impact of "turning on" the switch in MQA is to make it not play on a DAC without MQA... there is no

"do you own this" validation here.

 

Whats described so far could be used to force us to retire non MQA DAC's if MQA gains wide usage.

Regards,

Dave

 

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Though it's not touted as a key feature of MQA, mansr has stated there exists the capability in the spec to prevent playback of coded files in the absence of specific hardware (e.g., an MQA-enabled / certified DAC).

 

If this is true (and I have no reason to believe it's not), then MQA (in my opinion) has the potential for DRM in its spec. Whether or not this will or would be widely used is speculation - we know none of the publicly-available files use this capability at this time, since they all play back just fine on existing hardware.

 

Here's how it works. An MQA file contains, in one of the lower bits, a data stream consisting of a various different elements. One of these elements is a specific bit sequence that identifies the audio stream a MQA. Others indicate the original sample rate and which reconstruction filters to use. Optionally present are setup parameters (key, IV) for the Salsa20 cipher. If these elements are provided, they are used to decrypt 6 of the top 8 bits of the input. The two very topmost bits are not included in this; I don't know why. None of the MQA files available today use this feature. I'm not yet sure if it is possible to create such a file for demonstration purposes without access to private keys held by MQA.

 

Furthermore, the output of the "MQA core" decoder also includes a data stream identifying it to a downstream renderer. If a specific flag is set here, it indicates that the audio bits have been shuffled (rather trivially) and the renderer needs to undo this first thing it does. A test file using this feature should be fairly easy to produce as there is no authentication at this stage.

 

If these features are enabled in an MQA file, it cannot be legitimately played back without MQA-certified hardware. A software decoder is not enough. Needless to say, any kind of DSP (room correction etc.) is completely out of the question unless integrated in the MQA-aware equipment.

 

Like all forms of DRM, this is of course mere security by obscurity, in reality about as secure as writing the combination on a post-it note next to the lock.

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I believe it's true today that you can only "access" all music sold through an implicit agreement to the terms and conditions. If you purchase and download high resolution FLAC, your rights are already severely limited / managed. You can't play the music publicly without further compensation to the rights holders, you can't legally bequeath your digital music collection because it doesn't belong to you, you only purchased a limited lifetime license. Yes, you purchased a license implicitly. To use your words, you as a consumer are being managed.

 

What are your thoughts?

 

All this is very true. In fact, simply by being born into a society I am managed in all sorts of ways - I am a "citizen" of a very strong and powerful control scheme (government) that can take away all my freedom and even my life (execution) if I don't behave in the prescribed ways. Thus, the "libertarian" argument has limitations and is at the end of the day a mere idealism - there is not pure "open market".

 

However, in the context of this discussion we are talking about something much narrower. While it is true that all the legal proscriptions you list apply to our music, they are not "digital" proscriptions. In other words, they do not limit my "digital musical ecosystem" in a direct way through a digital implementation. Within the context of my digital world, I am free to manipulate, exam, copy, and hear the music/software/hardware in any way I wish. True, I can't profit from it, but I can otherwise do with it as I want within my own little domain.

 

Where the legal proscriptions you describe are all in a sense "on the outside", I can still do as I wish in my own bedroom. DRM (and MQA) invites others into my bedroom to wag their finger and say (more accurately, to control) you can't do this, you can't do that - you can't even see MQA's face (peer into the technical "black box") because MQA hides it behind IP.

 

DRM (and MQA) also keeps other potential innovators out of my bedroom - I can't invite in who I want because MQA does not "play" with others except on it's own terms - which is not "play" at all but rather control. DRM is as much about controlling the market (other suppliers) as it is about controlling the consumer.

 

We could have a discussion about the current state of copyright (for example, has it leaned too far a certain direction - not being about to pass on digital files to heirs for example) but DRM/MQA takes it to a whole-nother-level... ;)

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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Here's how it works. An MQA file contains, in one of the lower bits, a data stream consisting of a various different elements. One of these elements is a specific bit sequence that identifies the audio stream a MQA. Others indicate the original sample rate and which reconstruction filters to use. Optionally present are setup parameters (key, IV) for the Salsa20 cipher. If these elements are provided, they are used to decrypt 6 of the top 8 bits of the input. The two very topmost bits are not included in this; I don't know why. None of the MQA files available today use this feature. I'm not yet sure if it is possible to create such a file for demonstration purposes without access to private keys held by MQA.

 

Furthermore, the output of the "MQA core" decoder also includes a data stream identifying it to a downstream renderer. If a specific flag is set here, it indicates that the audio bits have been shuffled (rather trivially) and the renderer needs to undo this first thing it does. A test file using this feature should be fairly easy to produce as there is no authentication at this stage.

 

If these features are enabled in an MQA file, it cannot be legitimately played back without MQA-certified hardware. A software decoder is not enough. Needless to say, any kind of DSP (room correction etc.) is completely out of the question unless integrated in the MQA-aware equipment.

 

Like all forms of DRM, this is of course mere security by obscurity, in reality about as secure as writing the combination on a post-it note next to the lock.

Based on this are you saying that MQA has no DRM, but someday could have DRM? I'm just trying to figure out what your position is.

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In a way it's like Apple and Android. Closed versus open. Both are very popular and have pros and cons.

 

This is true - a tightly controlled (anything - including societies) have both pros and cons. One aspect of brutal dictatorships is the fact that they often have little violent crime. I am not being sarcastic here - this is a VERY REAL "pro" of a tightly controlled society.

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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Sounds false to equate this to DRM if the only impact of "turning on" the switch in MQA is to make it not play on a DAC without MQA... there is no

"do you own this" validation here.

 

Whats described so far could be used to force us to retire non MQA DAC's if MQA gains wide usage.

 

If you don't think obsoleting $billions worth of equipment for no good reason isn't bad enough, consider the vastly higher barrier to entry for a new DAC manufacturer this poses. Smaller companies could easily find themselves excluded entirely. Such a choke on innovation can only be detrimental to the consumer.

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Sorry, but we need to be more specific when we talk about “MQA and DRM”. The phrase needs to be qualified.

 

Using lay language, I find it useful to distinguish 2 parts in a MQA-encoded content (i.e. music file):

 

(a) The higher-res part (that requires an MQA-compatible DAC and devices);

 

(b) The lower CD-quality part (that does not MQA-compatible DAC).

 

If the consumer does not need special tools (hardware/software/crypto-keys etc.) to playback (b) within MQA-encoded content, then clearly that portion is not DRM-enabled.

 

But if in order to get (a) the consumer must employ special tools, then it’s fair to say that MQA in DRM-enabled.

 

So to be fair to Meridian and proponents of MQA, we in the CA community need to be more specific when we talk about “MQA and DRM”.

Let every eye ear negotiate for itself and trust no agent. (Shakespeare)

The things that we love tell us what we are. (Aquinas)

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