Maybe you do not want to spend your money on an expensive external DAC that is MQA compatible. Maybe you do not want to subscribe to Tidal. Maybe just want to try MQA by downloading a piece of music to see what all the fuss may be about. And maybe you just want to use Apple AirPlay to stream your MQA, without having to plug your MacBook Pro into your AudioEngine 2A+’s. In other words, you are lazy and you do not want to spend any money.
What file should you download? Well the selection is limited. It would be nice to have a non-MQA file of the same piece of music for comparisons. That would be difficult. But we need careful A/B comparisons, right. Nah. Let us just see if MQA can stand out enough on its own under less than ideal conditions. Not very scientific, perhaps, but surely we should be able to detect the quality of sound of our downloaded file, at least at a rudimentary level.
The file I decided on for download came from HIGHRESAUDIO is the well regarded Quartet Four Seasons arrangement of Vivaldi’s Four Season, recorded in Japan by an outstanding mastering engineer Mick Sawaguchi. He used special microphone arrangements to capture the hall sound as well as the close intimacy of great musicians playing harmoniously together. I wanted to hear the hall sound and the separation of instruments.
What did I hear? I heard a great performance of a well-recorded piece of music by an exceptional mastering engineer. But what about the overall sound? The sound was very engaging. It was very articulate, but not fatiguing in any way. Was it like the sound of vinyl? No. It was different. It was clean and clear. It sounded like digital, but very good digital – very enjoyable digital. I did not know that listening to a digital recordings could bring this much joy.
I suspect the MQA is not totally dependent on high sampling rates to sound good. The file I downloaded was recorded in 24 bits with a 192 kHz sampling rate. Of course it was cut down to a much lower rate of 48 kHz by Audivrana Plus without the benefit of an external MQA compatible DAC. AirPlay cut it down further to about 44 kHz. Nonetheless, I believe MQA was still working some of its magic.
Your experience may be different. Maybe you are already streaming Tidal. But maybe you just want to put your toes in the water to see if it is all that refreshing?. Might be worth a try. It only cost me $24 and no effort at all. I did have to go to the Audirvana Plus preference page to let it know that it could be listening to MQA. (If you do not have Audirvana Plus by now then you are missing out on a whole new experience with iTunes. Your ripped CD’s and downloaded iTunes files will thank you for coming to their rescue.)
Back to MQA – is it too good to be true? There will be varying opinions, but the only opinions that really matter are the potential customers of MQA. No one is forcing anyone to use MQA. Time will tells us of its ultimate fate. In the meantime, I must say that I like what I hear.
Here is a little technical detail on The Quartet Four Seasons. It is a brilliant and beautiful recording.
I have discovered that, by using the app AirFoil for streaming to my Apple Airport Express instead of Apple AirPlay, the sound is significantly improved. I have been unable to get detailed specs on AirFoil to see why this is. Any one who has any experience on this matter please share with our readers.