How do the Dynamic Duo (DragonFly Red and Audirvana Plus) handle MQA files? Very well! But first we need to clear away some of the rumble, wow, and flutter surrounding MQA. There seems to be a lot of spin, misinformation, and even disinformation. Is journalism dying? Let ua begin with the category of just plain stupid. One engineer said that he could not measure any improvements with MQA so there must not be any. Where have we heard this before. This hearkens back to the days of Stereo Review when Julian Hirsch reported that there were no sonic differences between quality amplifiers Luckily Gordon Holt came to the rescue and Stereophile became a trusted source of audio journalism.
This same engineer said that improvements could have been made to digital sound recordings without going to such elaborate lengths as did Bob Stuart. If it was so easy then why did you not do it? Perhaps you cannot or will not hear any differences with MQA so why would you bother making improvements? Remember: “Perfect sound forever?”
Moving on to the spin. A well-known audio reviewer said that sound engineers do not like what MQA has done to the sound of their master recordings. Well, no one has to buy MQA versions. The fact that some people want to may mean more sales for the recording. But who wants top make money? Duh! And by the way, MQA was invented to improve the quality control of digital recordings, not resurrect old recordings. It should be evident to most listeners who care about the quality of sound that quality control has been lacking in the past. Making an old recording sound better is a hit or miss proposition. There are just too many variables to in the recording process to adjust. It is amazing that MQA has been able to make any of these older recordings sound better. But a lot of people streaming Tidal think MQA has improved the sound. They all may be fooled but they are still willing to pay the higher prices for MQA streaming. Imagine what could be done if the whole recording process was tightly controlled from the beginning.
This sounds to me like disinformation. A quality audio electronics manufacturer has said that, with a higher resolution set of loudspeakers one could hear that MQA is inferior. Let me get this straight, a lower resolution audio system can reveal sonic improvements in the sound but a higher resolution will not. I am afraid it does not work that way. Experience tells us it is the the other way around.
The there is the dig that we do not need any new way to reduce the size of audio files for streaming. Bandwidth is plentiful in today’s internet world. Just pay higher prices for more bandwidth. “Let them eat cake.” We are not all rich. Here is what MQA does for the quality of sound, all the while reducing bandwidth:
Here is what MQA does with the requirement for bandwidth:
It reduces the cost considerably. Why is that not a good thing?
Manufactures are feeling threatened by MQA, apparently. Those who lose sight of bringing young people on board to the benefits and enjoyment of quality sound are going to be a part of a dying industry. It is already happening. Let this be a warning to Apple and audio component manufactures. Audio has been getting better and cost have been lowering. This is not going to stop. Time to figure out new business models
Back to MQA. The files are also hard to come by, but they do fall within the price range of most high-res files. A quick listen to these files streamed by Tidal should be convincing. They blow Apple Music out of the water. i once wrote an open letter to Eddie Cue asking him to make high-res files available along with the AAC mp3’s. The latter is acceptable for portable use, so I thought. On the go, with background noise and mostly casual listening AAC will do fine, so I thought. I was wrong. People want quality on the go.
I do not wish to stream music. I used Apple Music for a while. It was good at showcasing new music releases. It was exceptionally good at helping to build playlists where the music blended well together as in an album format. But it has been eclipsed by Tidal in terms of sonics. No doubt Apple will take steps to improve the sound of Apple Music. It has been forced to do so. But it is no longer at the forefront of either streaming or downloading music for portable devices.
I do not stream my music any more. My legacy recordings are all contained on vinyl. I have downloaded two MQA files, both new recordings, to see how they might stack up to vinyl and other high-res digital formats. The first one, The Quartet Four Season, was produced by an independent label called UNAMAS. I wrote about it briefly in my last blog entry. It was recorded by MQA at 24 bits/192 kHz. As you may realize, the DragonFly Red does not process digital files at this high sampling rate. It only goes to 96 kHz. However, the 192 kHz file is folded into the MQA envelope. it only takes 96 kHz to render it once it has been decoded by Audirvana Plus on the Mac. Is that cool or what?
As I have said before, just a beginning partial decoding by Audirvana Plus made the file sound very good. But a full decoding and rendering revealed a superb piece of music played with exceptional clarity and life. It should make most people stop short and take notice, except the ones that do not hear and do not want to hear.
My second downloaded file is Brahms Cello Sonatas and Hungarian Dances, produced on the ERATO label, owned by Warner Classics. This is also an exceptional recording. The celloist is one of my favorites, Jean-Guilien Queyras. This digital file was recorded at a sampling rate of 96 KHz. Nevertheless, it still sounds outstanding to me. It keeps getting better and sweeter as the DragonFly Red breaks-in. The playing was miked very closely so a great detail is available on the recording.
You may be wondering where the Rock music is. Right now it is on Tidal. How much of it will be available for download in the future is an unknown. That depends on how many people buy download files. All the major record labels are now onboard the MQA train. Will it succeed? The real question is whether or not it will be supported by the public. SACD sounded great but was ultimately not supported. It has become a niche product. The same could happen to MQA. There are powerful forces working against it.
In the meantime I am enjoying the music. The Dynamic Duo does one heck of a job even with iTunes files. Even lossless CD recordings sound better than the original recordings. This should not be possible, you say? Psycho-acoustics my friend, Psycho-acoustics.