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Schiitting on MQA

  • PREVIOUSLY ON MQA: a new file format that promises something for everyone but for which we would do well to wait until a sizeable catalogue arrives – 1000s not 10s – before getting all fired up about its potential to revolutionise the listening experience / music industry.

    However, one Stateside publication has been quick off the mark to heap extensive and effusive praise on Bob Stuart and Peter Craven’s new digital audio format. “MQA revolutionises hi-res audio!” says the front cover. Too soon? Looking at the four DACs and two DAPs that ‘do’ MQA and a smattering of audiophile-centric downloads, I think it might be a case of premature enthusiasm. Liking what you hear is one thing but being certain of the future? I’m not so sure. That’s just me though.

    It would appear that for others, promise of ‘The future’ is a powerful motivator. The word from more than one DAC company this month is that many audiophiles have begun phoning their respective headquarters, frothing at the mouth for MQA compatibility already despite their favourite artists/albums remaining unavailable in the new format. Do these guys not remember DSD?

    Behind the scenes, a handful of DAC manufacturers are becoming increasingly restless that any premature press hype buzz coverage is effectively coercing them into including MQA compatibility in future products. It would seem that if it isn’t offered, catalogue be damned, a sale is lost. Who said the audiophile world was “all about the music”?

    Several manufacturers have emailed DAR with these concerns but getting them to go on record hasn’t been easy. Rocking the boat, bucking the trend, going against the grain – or whatever – apparently isn’t their style.

    Until now…

    Never ones to shy away from an opinion, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat, founders of California’s Schiit Audio, this morning issued a press release announcing something they are NOT going to do: offer MQA support in any of their D/A converters.

    An unusual statement of intent demands an unusual approach from this commentator – to replicate said press release in its entirety. Copy, meet paste.

    Before that, note that Stoddard and Moffat’s refusal of MQA isn’t a technical argument but one borne of market place and marketing logistics. “This decision is based on market factors, rather than any technical or sonic objections,” says Stoddard.

    First, a pre-amble:

    “Premature? Rash? Ill-informed? Contrary? Odd? Yes, perhaps it’s all of these things. But we thought it best to clarify our position on the proposed format, as a service to our customers or potential customers. They should be made aware of our decision, so they can choose another manufacturer who intends to support MQA, if they find the format valuable.”

    And here’s the meat:

    Schiit Audio announced that they would not be supporting MQA, a proprietary audio format claiming “studio quality sound you can stream or download.”

    Schiit Audio feels that it is important to support its customers—and potential customers—by clarifying the company’s position on MQA, so that they may choose another DAC provider that
    backs the format, if they feel it is important to them.

    “Although there are still many questions to be answered about MQA, we feel we know enough to make a decision,” said Jason Stoddard, Schiit’s Co-Founder.

    Stoddard outlined the primary reasons:

    1. We believe that supporting MQA means handing over the entire recording industry to an external standards organization. MQA wants:

    • Licensing fees from the recording studios

    • Licensing fees from the digital audio product manufacturers

    • Hardware or software access/insight into the DAC or player

    • Subscription fees from every listener via Tidal, and/or royalties from purchases of re-releases by the recording industry

    2. Our experience with standards-driven industries is sub-par. Consider the surround market. Companies making surround processors now have to support a dizzying array of different standards, none of which is a market differentiator, and the exclusion of any single standard can mean commercial failure. The result is a market in which competition is stifled and consumers are confused.

    3. We don’t believe MQA is a differentiator for high-end DACs if it is available on phones. Consider SRS, the Sound Retrieval System, as an instructive example. Before being acquired by DTS, it claimed to be on “over a billion devices.” However, there is little evidence any consumers considered SRS a must-have, differentiating technology.

    4. We consider MQA to be yet another “format distraction” that makes high-end audio more confusing and insular. This is a reflection of our position in the market—nearly 1/3 of our revenue is from $99 and under products, and we have one of the youngest customer bases in the industry. It is our experience that when someone starts getting into great audio, they just want a product that will make their current music sound better, rather than one that requires additional investment in streaming subscriptions or new releases.

    5. We feel that, even from a market perspective, many questions need to be answered. When will we see MQA on Tidal? At what cost? What percentage of the library will be MQA? How many releases should we expect to see from Warner in the next 12 months? What will be the cost? Again, a historic example may be cautionary. Consider Sony and DSD. DSD is a Sony technology that they promoted, and yet they released very few recordings in DSD.

    Mike Moffat concurred, saying, “In addition to the market questions outlined by my partner, there are many performance questions (about MQA) that cause great concern. Actual decoded bit depth for both MQA and non-MQA DACs, claims of ‘lossless,’ the need for MQA to tweak their decode algorithm for a specific DAC (and their ability to perform this optimization on-schedule for a DAC manufacturer who might be, well, a little smaller than HTC,) the impact on the DAC manufacturer’s own proprietary technology and product development, and the impact on the DAC manufacturer’s own competitiveness.”

    Moffat further opined that Schiit Audio considers the further development of in support of the primary 16/44.1 PCM format to be of the most value to its customers, citing extremely strong
    sales of Schiit Audio’s multibit DAC products, and the positive reception to its “DACs for the
    music you have, not the music you have to buy,” message.

    Asked if there was any chance Schiit Audio might support MQA if it became the dominant
    format in the market, Moffat answered, “If it becomes the dominant audio technology, or even a very popular second-place format, we would have to evaluate it in the same way we evaluate other lossy compression standards, such as home theater surround formats, Bluetooth codecs, and MP3 variants.” [Our emphasis].

    Some takeaways to cool your MQA fire:

    1. MQA is – in part – a lossy compression system.
    2. Whilst MQA (the company) promise better sound once existing content is processed by MQA and played back through your existing DAC, an MQA-certified DAC will be required to unfold the hi-res portion (should it exist) of an MQA file. In other words, you’ll need a new DAC to really go MQA. But…
    3. MQA won’t make a lesser DAC (Meridian Explorer2) sound as good as a better DAC (like the Aqua La Scala).
    4. Therefore, if you want better digital audio quality, why not just buy that better DAC? As Schiit stated and direct experience tells us, Redbook can sound very good indeed.
    5. Recording and mastering decisions made in the studio impact sound quality far more than any codec used to carry the music over a streaming service or as a download.
    6. As alluded to by Michael Lavorgna in his MQA listening tests over at AudioStream, if you don’t want to buy a better DAC but want a fresh flavour, consider up-sampling your existing PCM to DSD using HQPlayer or Audirvana+.
    7. If you wish to listen to MQA for yourself, know the catalogue is excruciatingly small right now. The cost of entry is low: the MQA-capable Meridian Explorer2 sells for US$299.

    MQA (the company) tell me that my own supply of MQA content is imminent. We will see. If my GMail inbox is anything to by, I suspect Schiit’s announcement won’t be the last relating to MQA; both against and for.

    And isn’t the lynchpin of good journalism when covering more controversial subjects not to blindly subscribe to one position without first seeking out any opposing points of view and presenting them all to readers? Schiit’s is one such opposing PoV. However, it is only that – and a long way from calling for a boycott of MQA.

    Further information: MQA | Schiit Audio

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Well, it is about darn time. I have been just a little perplexed by the “MQA is our gold at the end of the rainbow” attitude by so many (though Linn Audio mentioned a few “cons” a few months ago at CES) in the industry.

      They bring up so many very good questions and “cons” it really does deserve to be read no once, but three times at least…

    2. Oh, I want to add a big “hear hear” to:

      “…And isn’t the lynchpin of good journalism when covering more controversial subjects not to blindly subscribe to one position without first seeking out any opposing points of view and presenting them all to readers?”

      If you put a click box on your site to “buy me a pint” I promise to click it a couple of times… 😉

    3. DRM seems to be an obsession with some readers – they seem to want everything for nix, but then that’s how they’ve been educated in the government run schools.

      But Schiit’s position is spot on. I’ve got the Meridian Explorer 2 with MQA, and so far I have not really been able to hear any real difference between MQA, Redbook or Hi Res. At least not in the case of music I listen to.

      I’m on a nominal 10Mb/min internet connection and listening to MP3 @ 96 is spotty. I get better more consistent music via FM than broadband streaming, so Tidaling is not on my agenda, as Hi Fi on that service is very inconsistent in my particular situation. And Tidal doesn’t really supply the music I listen to in any case.

      And that’s the point – listening to the music or the equipment? And if you can’t hear the difference, which generally I can’t, and that might be related to the music I listen to, more than anything else, then MQA is a distraction.

      But licensing MQA etc – how does MQA get their investment returned? Or do we expect the likes of the Bob Stuarts of our world to entertain us with wonderful music for nix?

    4. I have serious concerns about the claimed benefits of MQA. First, it’s a lossy compression claiming to lose nothing during conversion. Highly unlikely. Second, it addresses specifically timing errors, suggesting that good DAC designers are incapable of reconstructing correct timing relationships of bitstream. I believe this hypothesis on which MQA is based is specious.

      Shiit might be correct. MQA is likely a marketing and revenue-generating scheme that has many benefits to resellers and other providers of data, and might be, should be, of little interest to high end aficionados…and of lesser interest to capable DEC designers.

    5. “MQA is – in part – a lossy compression system.” Jussi Laako of HQ Player fame did a fabulous job of explaining this on various fora.

      Boom. Done.

    6. another format to sell the same stuff to the same people, how many times can you reheat the stuff?

    7. Basically MQA is a proprietary hi-res lossy audio format. I visited the MQA room at CES this year and while I heard nothing special from their Meridian demo system, they wouldn’t do any A/B comparisons of MQA and FLAC or DSD content. They also didn’t volunteer the “Lossy” aspect. It all felt very scammy to me.

      • Yup – you’ve hit on two VERY important issues there: 1) very, very few people have been privy to A/B sessions and 2) some of the encoding (“encapsulation”) process is indeed lossy.

    8. is clear that thanks to everybody’s scepticism, MQA is being promoted effectively.. Surprisingly most opinions are made by persons who have never been able to judge it by themselves. Let’s all wait, listen and you will see..

      • I did and I heard nothing that would motivate me to replace my current DAC or even seek out an MQA DAC if I were replacing my DAC for any other reason. If they allowed the streamer / server / renderer to unpack the Hi-res file and send that to my existing DAC then I might buy an MQA album and try it at home.

        • In June, bluesound will release it’s free MQA upgrade for their streamers and DAC and Tidal will start streaming MQA files. Untill then I have only witnessed some 2L recordings which did not appeal to me. Robert Harley’s impressions on a large library of music is quite convincing though. So let’s wait and listen.

          • Tidal will start streaming MQA in June? Careful now Peter – you’ll get A LOT people hot to trot with that kind of info. Info that I think needs qualifying with a source, don’t you think? Care to spill?

    9. As of now there are no firm dates for either Warner or Tidal to release content so there is nothing to boycott. And let’s be honest if it is an audiophile format then it is effectively boycotted by market size.

      What is controversial about MQA? Another way to get me to rebuy music I own? Yawn that happens every few years and fails. Promises of better sound, isn’t that every product announcement? Hype without a complete product to use? No different than a new video card that won’t run your favorite games without soon to be released updates. MQA cost money to develop and they can only recoup the investment by unit sales and licensing fees? This is just basic economics.

    10. John, your coverage of MQA to date has shown an “anti” bias. I don’t think you can claim to have been objective, when you belittle claims by other writers who are pumped about the technology. And just like other publications and writers, your biases towards and against various technologies and preferred manufacturers are on display, even if you’re blind to them.

      The fall from the high moral ground can be steep. I know this, I have fallen before.

      • Enthusiasm for hearing something wonderful doesn’t trouble me one bit. Wild proclamations about the future *do*, especially when the past tells us that new formats rarely (almost never) realise their long-term ambitions: DVD-A, SACD, DSD – all dead. Hi-res PCM downloads? Wafer thin market that will only get smaller because downloads.

        CD succeeded because the music catalogue grew rapidly and drove sales. Vinyl continues to enjoy success because again the music is THERE. Almost every new release gets pressed to wax.

        And yet: 1) as of right now there is next to NO music available in MQA and 2) we’ve been here before (with DSD) – rabid enthusiasm for the future despite a nano-sized catalogue.

        These two points tell us that maybe we should NOT get drunk on the future possibilities until they arrive, or become imminent, and the specifics of the what, the when and the how much begin to form. Right now we know nothing about these things. So yes, the ‘anti’ vibe you’re picking up isn’t directed at MQA itself, it’s about not getting ahead of ourselves (because we’ve been here before).

        Besides, I didn’t claim to be objective. As you say, inherent biases are almost unavoidable; that’s part of being human. Instead, I asserted the need to cover more than one point of view wrt MQA.

        MQA is a multi-faceted technology and can be approached from many different angles from “What a great way to make hi-res streaming happen!” to “Did we not learn from DSD about getting too hot too soon about new, superior sounding format when there are only 1000 titles available worldwide?”.

        My first piece this year on MQA was of a slightly optimistic bent. I spent a good deal of time talking to the MQA team at CES and reported on their tech’s details and possibilities. My second one was “wait n see” – where’s the music, guys? This one is “now just hang on a minute” – a manufacturer saying that they won’t be supporting the format and also detailing a few other issues that need addressing before we might ask for MQA in our next DAC.

        I think that presents a whole range of possible positions on MQA instead of a singular stance.

        In other words, the MQA story is so much more than “How does it sound?” but that’s precisely what I’ll be tackling next.

      • Mike: personally, I appreciate a journalist who approaches a subject matter with some cynicism. It’s a journalists job to as questions. John stands out to me as one of the best audio journalists in the game because he will call bullshit when he sees it.

        You bring up the matter of bias. Are those journalists who are “pumped” for new technology not themselves displaying their bias towards the cult of the new?

        Read the last paragraph of the article. On any given day of the week, I would take that thoughtfulness over a hyperbolic TAS blurb.

        • Appreciate your kind words here, Clasm but a small point of order if I may: I’m not calling bullshit – I think that’s too strong a term in the context of MQA as it stands right now – but yes, I am asking questions and considering positions, some that even oppose the love-in going on elsewhere on the ‘net.

    11. Playback is supposed to be half the MQA story. It would be nice to dissect the ADC and DAC components of MQA. Hopefully the industry doesn´t throw the baby out with the bath water. Maybe we could have the remastering side done, but available in good old PCM. Which raises another format question: Does a DSD recording-playback chain suffer what MQA is supposed to fix?

    12. I am just beyond newbie-level knowledge, but I did try to carefully read Mr. Harley’s feature article. He is a respected figure in the industry with years of review experience, but he is just one person. He certainly is excited about this technology! I considered that he has experienced many advancements and latest trends, so has some perspective. One underlying theme that was valuable for me was his excellent description of all of the attributes of better sound that we should listen for, his words for problem vs improved vs ideal. Difficult to put descriptions of nuances of sound into words, but this was a mini education for me on “how” to listen.

      My approach to equipment is value. I think we are really really close to being able to offer a simple, very high sound quality introduction to the mp3 / ipod ear buds/Beats generation for a few hundred dollars. Tidal, a $99 Dragonfly and a $200 pair of Grados from your phone is simple and attainable for the kids and the quality is a tremendous improvement.

      From this perspective, IF MQA provides improvement in sound quality and is offered across a large selection of music, great. If the kids make the leap and spend $300-$400 on a dac and MQA really does add another incremental improvement, it would be great if the dac includes or can get a firmware update. A little wait-and-see is warranted, but I see the industry constantly stumble on cost, connectivity, compatibility when they are so close to being able to offer entry experience to a huge new market.

      • As mentioned in your final para, too many ‘IFs’ to know with any degree of certainty how this will play out.

    13. I concur with point no.5 made by Darko in his “takeaways to cool your MQA fire”
      It’s always about the recording, regardless of the format. Not to be confused with some sudo hi res which adds volume to mimic a better recording. To me, I don’t care if it’s CD, vinyl, 24 bit or tape ( ok ok I’m going to exclude 8 track) the reproduction magic is made in the studio by the engineer.

    14. I guess I’d also be upset about MQA if I made my living selling audio equipment, but not for any of the reasons mentioned above. I wonder how many potential purchases are being put off right now as consumers wait to see what is going to happen with respect to MQA content. Who wants to feel like a chump for buying a nice DAC (or DAC/amp) now only to see MQA turn Tidal into the greatest thing since sliced bread a year from now, and especially if you can live with your current set-up for another year. [Of course, MQA could just as easily commercially fizzle out despite being great, or MQA could turn out to be less than great.] Uncertainty causes people to put off decisions. That cant be helping Schiit et al.’s cash flow.

      I think that the Schiit statement above is an attempt to eliminate that uncertainty in the Schiit context. “If you plan to buy Schiit, don’t put of your purchase because you think we may be adding MQA in a few months … we wont be.”

      • Ending uncertainty – yes.

        Is Tidal not already the best thing since sliced bread? Besides, if/when they turn on hi-res streaming using MQA as the delivery mechanism, how many titles do you think we’ll see? Perhaps looking around at what presently exists on the hi-res download market might point the why to the “what?” and “how many?”.

        • You got me – Tidal is pretty @$% great. I have about 2000 FLAC albums (16/44 and hi-res when available), yet I frequently find myself on Tidal because there is so much more out there.

          As far as MQA goes, if we can sequence and analyze an entire human genome in 24 hours with today’s computers, the MQA people should be able to figure out a way to quickly obtain the necessary info about the A/D converters used for each recording and crank out the MQA versions. Time will tell. [PS – thanks for a very informative web site.]

          • Yes..! I cannot agree with you more. The beauty of the MQA dsp software lies in the correction of ADC error made during the recording and mastering processes in the past. This is of much higher relevance than it’s unfolding capabilities I would say.

        • Tidal would be if it wasn’t losing money. The economics of streaming are brutal.

            • I could write a story for any American financial publication saying that all streaming services are losing money. Will I no. Do I have sources? Yes I do. Will I tell you my sources? No you are an audio journalist and this is finance and accounting. There are many finance journalists that have this information. Fortune and Bloomberg are doing an excellent job of reporting on the business of streaming, I’m leaving it in their hands.

            • I’m audio journalist and this is an audio website…BUT you deemed it fit to share your ‘financial’ tidbit on an audio site but won’t share your source/s for that same reason.

    15. Wow, ground breaking: An audio retailer that panders to a consumer group anchored in the past, denounces a future-forward technology with very obvious sonic and transport advantages. What an age to be alive!

      • It’s “future-forward” if limited bandwidth issues and the real costs in a world of limited spectrum available for streaming content; and creating controls and licensing fees along with the prevention of copying, are your main concerns. For those reasons, among others such as the astonishing oxymoron “LOSSLESS COMPRESSION,” MQA is “future-forward.”

        MQA is lossless compression in the same sense as MP3 is lossless compression and a recently emptied bottle of Bourbon will smell just as good as if it were full. And that is the reason it is actually “backward-compatible,” to sell you what you already own, now repackaged for streaming and a revenue stream, to prevent you from copying it, or to make getting higher resolution versions of the same pointless if you can’t hear it anyway. Most importantly, to make oodles of money for those on board (meaning the music industry) and to lock-in a rock-steady standard AND revenue stream for “future-proofing” what will no longer become, eventually, backward-compatible.

        In other words, using your words, the “future-forward” technology that MQA appears to represent will look mostly backward for content and will make all other technology stand still forever into the future by locking in another standard that we need like one more Barack Obama term and another war. The last time a standard similar to MQA appeared that was also seen as “future-forward” was called RED BOOK – invented almost a half century ago. The continuation of more such “future forward” thinking will lock us permanently in the technologies of the past…going forward while looking backward from a future place in time, that is.

        Not only do I have several bottles of snake oil for sale my friend, but also several bridges that cross the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Would you be interested in one?

      • So, these so-called “very obvious sonic and transport advantages”. Mind pointing out to me some hard evidence of these advantages existing? Do you have an MQA setup at home?

        And it’s amusing that of all the companies in the business, you try calling out Schiit as a company “anchored in the past”. Really? The audio company that probably has one of the youngest customer bases in the industry? The company that, instead of selling overpriced audio jewellery to old men, is selling affordable headphone amplifiers to people to university students? Does that really sound like the old guard to you?

        For a comment that is just dripping in smug sarcasm, you sure have a bad opinion.

      • Have u heard those “obvious sonic…advantages” in an a/b comparison to the “anchored in the past” formats of dsd and vinyl?

    16. Just like Schiit, my company manufactures NOS R-2R DACs.

      IMO, MQA is a wonderful format to compress HD music to save massive bandwidth for streaming HD, but it is far from a viable commercial format. All you’ll get is the same catalogue of the most popular <10% of all audiophile recordings as every other HD format before it gave us.

      Over 80% of all music recorded in the history of time, from Edison cylinder phonograph to direct DSD, is and only will be available in PCM formats for quite some time.

      I want to thank John for shouting from the rooftops: "THE EMPEROR IS NAKED!"

      • Hey Benjamin – sorry, I’m not shouting that at all. I’m simply directing people toward the many, many issues that currently surround MQA. In other words, my viewpoint is multi-dimensional.

    17. I agree with Mike and Jason. MQA hasn’t existed long enough for everyone to judge how good or bad it is. About time those in the industry spoke up. I hope it’s not too late. Charlie Hansen made an interesting post about MQA on Stereophile too.

      I’d like to get back to buying discs with artwork. Wasn’t too long ago the music industry was making money that way. Doubtful if I’ll ever stream Hi-res.

    18. Maxpower-

      Your comment is misleading- Schiit didn’t denounce MQA technology, they criticized the context of MQA at this point as a whole- the Re. a “future-forward technology with very obvious sonic and transport advantages. As Darko accurately noted, “… note that Stoddard and Moffat’s refusal of MQA isn’t a technical argument but one borne of market place and marketing logistics.” This decision is based on market factors, rather than any technical or sonic objections,” says Stoddard.
      It’s also definitely not ground-breaking to criticize audio designers and manufacturers without properly analyzing their statements.
      Anyway, the history of audio has demonstrated that “very obvious sonic and transport advantages” mean little to all but audio fanatics if a format does not become practical, e.g., develop into a broad catalog of titles. It’s the larger context that matter to the bulk of people out there.
      Hovercrafts and private submersibles may offer obvious transport advantages over boats, depending upon where you want to go and how you want to get there, but their technology doesn’t seem to have taken the world by storm, either.

    19. DARKO refers to” the absolute sound magazine” May June issue 263 which is pushing hard for MQA for what ever reason . But to be fair the editor of this magazine is highly regarded and heard some music in MQA but as you can imagine equipment used amounts to 50-60 thousand U$ ! But even he mention it will be only successful if enough music title will be available .Is it better ? We don’t know because only a few samples exist and aim sure they taken great care that they sound good .. But if and that is a big if they produce many more will they all sound great ? For me it is simple aim an old audiophile and went through Cassette Reel to Reel ,LP, DAT,Mini Disc you named gave them all away and finally CD in which I have over 1200 !
      Learning the hard way I stick with CD’s and a few good High resolution down loads .It is obvious that the high resolution recording has minus points to >DSD and very high resolution music produces more noise !
      Best bet for me CD it is proven and as DARKO mention if properly recorded they can sound great .I did some blind testing between CD ,high resolution files and the difference most of the time is minimal .Perhaps with very expensive equipment it could be a more sonic difference but again every record is different !

    20. Oooooo… Some audiophiles are soooooo open-minded their brain falls out. Right after their wallet does. You’d think that MQA was the Golden Fleece but it’s the pathetic sheeple that will be shorn of their money.

      “Just wait until you hear MQA!”, they cry. That’s the point. We shouldn’t hear anything at all, except the music.

      The superlatives will flow like lava from Vesuvius –

      “Transparencies so transparent, I could hear right through them!”

      “It was as if Yoko was here with me, screaming her head off!! Wow!”

      “Oh. My. GAWD! My 15 X 20 listening room expanded to 17.57543 X 23.789045858686! MQA has made a believer of me!”

      “Normally my rig positions me in seat number 37 but with MQA I’ve been moved up to seat number 14! Thanks, MQA!!”
      Try listening to music, not equipment. Better still, try living outside your head. Once more, with feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeling…I am not going to buy the White Album, again. MQA = FTN.

    21. My main concern for MQA is that it seems more restrictive and proprietary, with no quality gain (coming from a guy who does prefer DSD). Inherently lossy, manufacturers need to pay a hefty fine just to license it, it sounds akin to licensing fees enforced by Apple on their proprietary hardware and software. I always question something that gives less freedom to customers and forcing them to conform (looking at Apple and M-Audio for years concerning this)

      Kudos to Schiit for not supporting MQA due to market factors, like their decision to pull their Loki DSD device. Not everyone has $15,000+ budgets for audio (or even $500+), and not all music lovers need to play every format on the horizon. My personal setup does have a Schiit Asgard 2 paired with a NuPrime uDSD, since I wanted an affordable DSD-capable DAC. As the Schiit guys have said, if you want full MQA in your playback system, get another DAC to do that.

      But Moffat’s statement on whether it becomes the dominant format, then they would have to re-evaluate their stance on the format. If every major record label changed to only releasing in MQA-encoded format, and where the overwheming majority of the music catalogue is in MQA, then Schiit and other manufacturers would have to then “Adopt or Die” in lieu of the market choice (anyone remember HD-DVD?).

      Let’s just see if MQA will take off further than the expections.

    22. To me, MQA smells an awful lot like HYPE, and a way for Meridian to get some sweet sweet cash, even if you never actually buy a piece of Meridian hardware. PCM? FLAC? Open standards? Bah. Where’s the MONEY Lebowski? We can’t make money on open standards!

      If Meridian were offering this up as a way to surpass standard PCM out of the kindness of their hearts, free of charge, then great. But they aren’t. As far as I can tell, it does two things. 1. It provides a way to stream higher than 16/44 without requiring an enormous data pipe for truly lossless HD PCM. Ok great. Doesn’t matter to me, but if you want to be able to use Tidal in 24/96, whatever.

      And 2. A MQA encoded album sounds better on a DAC with MQA support because timing/ringing/whatever. Uh huh. Sure it does. Put it up against a DAC with a first rate apodising/minimum phase filter in an *honest,* perfectly level matched A/B comparison and see how that goes.

      As far as I’m concerned, if you want to make PCM sound better, improve/better isolate your USB input. Replace your $5 off the shelf delta-sigma DAC chip with either a resistor ladder implementation, or a FPGA. Replace cheap op-amps in your output stage with either TOTL op-amps or discrete components. Improve your power supply. All of that stuff matters a lot more than whatever MQA claims to do, and it will apply to ALL recordings in ALL supported formats. Every single recording you own can benefit from a better DAC design.

      Worst of all, I suspect that lower cost DACs that must add support for MQA will actually sound WORSE than before, in much the same way that A/V surround receivers have steadily gotten worse over the years. Once upon a time, you needed a Dolby Pro-Logic/Dolby Digital badge on the front, and that was it. Then you needed DTS. Then you needed iLink. Then you needed HDMI support. Then you needed Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD. Then you needed Pro-Logic Z height channels. And don’t forget THX! And Audyssey Multi-EQ! Gotta have those badges!

      The more badges on the front panel of a receiver, the worse it’s likely to sound, because all of that licensing cost has to come from somewhere, and manufacturers take it out of preamp and amp components and power supplies. So you end up with a receiver that supports 11 channels and every surround format under the sun, and sounds like garbage.

      • “Put it up against a DAC with a first rate apodising/minimum phase filter in an *honest,* perfectly level matched A/B comparison and see how that goes”

        Yes, and be honest about levels (some have reported that their MQA files have certain frequencies EQ’d) when MQA is applied, and be really really honest about…oh wait, probably will never happen as such a real A/B is hard to do and the major audiophile mags appear to be putting all their energy into promotion of MQA – though in their defense Meridian is baiting them with specially designed “demos” and what not…

    23. MQA is actually a different delivery format that takes less bandwidth than existing technology.

      I’ve listened to MQA and the other equivalents, including the hi-res versions, and I’ve difficulty hearing much of a difference. But this is not the issue because streaming a DSD file over the internet is possible but touch much bandwidth is used that it’s pointless.

      Eneter MQA which, for arguments sake, reduces a 24/192 file into 1/3 the normal size not by losing any information, but by packaging it differently. This smaller file size is easily streamed. At the other end you do need an MQA decoder to recreate the 24/192 which then goes through the DAC.

      And if you don’t have an MQA decoder? Because of the apodising filter used in the analog to digital conversion, and a few other processing techniques, the small size PCM file will play OK through a standard DAC and perhaps sound better because timing errors were minimised in the AD process.

      It also dependent on the music one listens to. Orchestral and live recordings of jazz quartets etc in acoustic spaces will sound better than before because the ‘air’ or ambience and low level signals are retrieved out of the necessary digital jitter that is needed to make the DACS work.

      Electronic music, or music created at a computer etc in which the hi fi itself becomes the musical instrument may not sound any different, if at all. All depends on the recording environment and what the recording engineers decide to capture.

      But the main feature of MQA is its ability to encapsulate hi-res in a smaller package, and when extracted will not sound or should not sound any different to a hi res file o0f the same music. I guess that in terms of popular music that is presented when you open your Tidal application will not sound any different under MQA processing compared to Hi res. But there is a significant difference between MQA and MP3 and its very audible.

      All of the classical music that is streamed is sent as MP3 or AAC as lossy files. MQA streaming delivery will improve that sound significantly. Whether the classical inventory will be converted to MQA is another matter.

      So summing up, MQA is about packaging hi res in a smaller size for streaming. It is not about sounding better than existing Hi Res stuff, though depending on the original master, MQA processing may well improve the sound if its recorded in an acoustical space. If its all electronic, then no, MQA won’t make any difference except by enabling the streaming service to maybe stream the music more efficiently.

      It’s all about efficient streaming of hi fi. At present its all about streaming lo and mid fi.

      • Actually it IS about sounding better than the hi-res stuff – an angle I’m currently investigating.

      • @ Louis Hissink: “It also dependent on the music one listens to. Orchestral and live recordings of jazz quartets etc in acoustic spaces will sound better than before because the ‘air’ or ambience and low level signals are retrieved out of the necessary digital jitter that is needed to make the DACS work.”

        Really?!? This sounds more like marketing guff than someone’s reasoned opinion. In fact it smells slightly worse than that. I’m old enough to remember the fantastically orchestrated (and successful) birth of CD so nothing the music industry does to try and regain the control it once held over recorded music would surprise me.


        “Eneter [sic] MQA which, for arguments sake, reduces a 24/192 file into 1/3 the normal size not by losing any information, but by packaging it differently.”

        So which is it, slightly lossy or lossless?

        • Really? I was at the retail coal face when CD came out.

          It’s lossless – no data is lost, just that the ~1% that is ‘stored’ in the noise floor area has to be extracted using MQA. Otherwise the MQA file is equivalent to a 16/44.1 CD file and these can sound superb or lousy.

          • Actually, it is lossy. The frequencies over 30 or 40 khz (can’t remember the number Meridian admits to off the top of my head) is compressed with a *lossy* algorithm (before they are stored below the noise floor). The details (how, how much, etc.) are not admitted to. Now, whether compressing these ultra high frequencies with a lossy technique matters is of course debatable, but you can not call MQA a “lossless” format…

    24. Wow, high anxiety on threads all over the place because Schiit isn’t supporting a new format? What’s new about that?

      Anyone terrified of being “left behind” can just buy a Meridian Explorer for $299 and be ready.

      For me, I’ll just pour another pint of Sphagnum P.I., sit back, and keep smiling to the sound of Yggy’s Redbook delivery.

    25. How credible is Robert Harley with his statements in his review in TAS of May 2016 where he writes: MQA eliminates the flatness of conventional digital’ and ‘MQA is the most signifcant audio technology of my lifetime’. Is there so much doubt amongst us that mr. Harley is wrong, biased, prejudiced or simply just ‘paid-off’ by his friend Bob Stuart..? If we cannot believe the world ‘s most famous audio journalist anymore, then I do understand all the scepticism against MQA…but to my believe, the new format will realize a real breakthrough in unlocking and cleaning of our jittered and ADC distorted recordings from the past in a clever and beautiful manner. We have nowadays an overkill of computer headroom and by using the MQA dsp technology, it is possible to actually correct and compensate for those errors in 16/44 studio recordings from the 80’s untill recently. Ok, it will probably not outperform DSD recordings, but DSD upsampling methods are unable to achieve what MQA does. The over exposed debate around DAC performances in terms of jitter presence is of low importance compared to the much more audible ringing effect which occurs during the analog to dgital conversion and backwards. MQA has a unique solution to this problem and therefore it cannot be compared to other formats. I just hope that besides The Warner group and the RIAA committee, other large recording companies will embrace MQA and wiith that, finally truly audiophile and ringing effect compensated re-issues of musical masterpieces will become available soon.

    26. WTF, “the world’s most famous audio journalist”? Want more BS PHD (Bull Shit Piled High and Deep)? “…the new format will realize a real breakthrough in unlocking and cleaning of our jittered and ADC distorted recordings from the past in a clever and beautiful manner.”

      Want Obamaesque “Hope”?

      “I just hope that besides The Warner group and the RIAA committee, other large recording companies will embrace MQA and wiith that, finally truly audiophile and ringing effect compensated re-issues of musical masterpieces will become available soon (sic).”

      Herr Veth, surely you jest? So you’re telling us you can actually hear “un-cleaned” (my term) jitter from ADC distorted recordings now? With your own ears? In a double blind test? You’re either from a bat, from Krypton or a tailor working hard to sell this magnificent suit called MQA. Hope? Hope for what, to have a catalog of music re-re-released under the MQA banner so we can buy again what we already have but now as “truly audiophile and ringing effect compensated re-issues”.

      WTF. This is why no one takes “audiophiles” seriously. BS PHD. They are nothing less than modern day religious scribes (and being an audiophile is their brand of faith)who strain at a bit while swallowing dross like MQA and then regurgitating it over and over until it becomes rote for such as they.

      They would keep others from just enjoying the music and instead directing them to become critical listeners because of a supposed missing bit or a distorted ADC or (*GASP*) zip cord for speaker wire instead of overpriced over-clad 4 gauge welding grade wire.

      I shake the dust of this from my feet. I listen to music, not equipment.

      • It’s simply progress..not a pissing contest. I believe mr Harley’s review is objective, especially since he tested the MQA cleaning process with his own recordings.

        • Guys – just a heads up *before* this goes south. Debate is welcome here but let’s please keep this line of discourse on the right side of friendly.

        • HI Peter
          What I question is that we have bad and good recordings and I wonder if MQA will not face the same problems ?

          • Hi Roland, I am unable to answer your question. Bad recording is not pure and only related to the use of ‘older’ 16 bit- 44.1 kHz Analog-digital converter technology.. The recording engineer can make many errors during the recording process, which are of larger influence than the ADC converter used at the time. But what MQA is able to do is to correct for the steep cut-off ‘ brickwall’ filter influences and the pre- and post echo effects which are a result of these filters. The human ear is able to hear this time-smearing effects up to10 microseconds level. The MQA algorithm is reducing these errors by a factor of 10 and this is a truly unique feature, which not any other codec is able to do. Nowadays recording studios apply 24/96 pcm technology and these effects are less audible than with older 16/44 recordings. Some studios record using native DSD and this format has NO ringing effects, which might explain the reason why it seems to sound better than PCM recodings…Please take a look at this video, it explains a lot.

    27. Another attempt to part me from my money. It would be amazing if the industry allows this extortion but you never know. The amazing part is that we are getting nothing in return but another crappy lossy format.

    28. It would seem silly to rush into providing hardware for a format that barely exists. I am still waiting for flying cars…

      • Hi Chris You hit the nail ! Stick to my CD’s plenty albums to choose from ! If MQA will take off which seems obvious because of streaming advantages , it will take quite a while until there is enough albums on the market before you would invest in a new DAC !

    29. Some things to consider before flipping over MQA.

      “… technology at the heart of DVD-Audio …”

      Bob’s passion for music has played a major role in his strong desire to ensure that the quality of an original recording remains unaltered from the recording to listening at home. This desire led to the development of Meridian Lossless Packing, the technology at the heart of DVD-Audio and part of the Blu-Ray Disc specification, and lies behind Meridian’s developments in the realm of streaming and advanced digital playback systems that feature lossless playback and resolution enhancement technologies.

      –Meridian website

      [DVD-Audio is now defunct, possibly one of the greatest flops in audio history. Bob Stuart’s technology was, apparently, at the heart of it.]

      “… a singular indivudual …”

      “J. Robert Stuart is a singular individual in high-end audio as well as in audio science. He brings to high-end product design the insight gained from a formal education in psychoacoustics along with decades of original research in that field.”

      Robert Harley, TAS 2009

      “… one of this exalted and mighty handful …”

      “There are many colorful characters, many high-profile movers and shakers, in high-end audio, but there are only a few whose influence extends far beyond the promotion of their own brands. One of this exalted and mighty handful is Robert Stuart, chairman and technical director of the UK’s Meridian Audio.”

      Steve Harris, Stereophile 2006

    30. If Philips/Sony couldn’t get DSD SACD to become as massive as CD, tiny companies like this have no chance, why bother, and it’s just another way to sell the same recording to the same dopes again. DSD is just fine for the ultimate recording fidelity. And the patents are probably off on that so it’s easily incorporated into everything. Looks like Philips sold it all to Sony now. Even though Philips pioneered it…

    31. I have the Schitt Gungnir then bought the Meridian Explorer 2. To me this was an upgrade in itself. I don’t need anymore than that. The MQA part is just a bonus.

    32. Inspired by this MQA ‘debate’ I just found a passage in an article ‘DSD Vs PCM from the Head Engineer at Phillips’ from 2005, which explains something more about PCM brickwall filtering and the necessity to avoid it and how it can be repaired. Now 11 years later, MQA seems to do this job..

      2. The echos due to equiripple filters cannot be removed except by employing surgical precision on a case-by-case basis (like I’m doing to solve this problem on a TI SRC4192 – putting a DSP before and after the chip to compensate for the echos in the int and dec filters. In short, equiripple filters must be avoided at all cost.

    33. phiLips has one “L”, it’s not oil or milk of magnesia at least ya put teh ‘ where it belongs

    34. For those interested I would like to share this find as well:

      “Early digital audio conversion systems required very high-order analog filters to provide anti-alias filtering in the A/D conversion and reconstruction filtering in the D/A conversion processes. A characteristic of these high-order analog filters was a substantial amount of phase shift within the audio band. Not only were these filters difficult to manufacture, the excessive phase shift was considered to be one of the primary sources of the poor sound quality associated with early digital audio systems.”

      ” In addition to the audibility of signal latency in live sound applications, there is a growing body of research that indicates that the audibility of pre-echoes is a primary source of the sonic differences between the lower sample rates, 44.1 and 48 kHz, and the higher sample rates of 96 and 192 kHz. However, minimizing pre-echoes creates an unacceptable cost structure and filter latency while minimizing filter delay creates unsuitable response in other filter response parameters ”

      More information available on this paper:

      Craven, Peter G. “Controlled Pre-response Anti-Alias Filters for use at 96kHz and 192kHz” AES 114th
      Convention, March 22-25, 2003. Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Preprint 5822

      Guess who invented MQA…..?

      Mr Peter Craven and Bob Stuart ! For sure no amateurs or slick sales persons, but true pioneers who know what they talk about. It shows that with nowadays processing power-on-a-chip and intelligent DSP software it IS possible to repair the A/D damage made in the past..!

    35. If the audible benefits of a new system are controversial? Forget it.

      It has to be something Joe Sixpack can hear and say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s better’ or it’s not worth bothering with.

      At least that’s my thought on all these new formats. I’ll probably be buying vinyl and 16/44 cd’s until I die. I don’t see anything coming along to change that.

    36. Hmmmm…I hafta “be nice” eh? MQA…Obviously where it is concerned (and more often than not, many other subjective points of view in audio) there’s a fine line between the truth and the BS. All too often “audiophiles” simply whip out a straw and snort away leaving only their subjective POV.

      Silly “audiophiles”.

    37. First, that’s a brilliant headline.

      Second, I’m stuck in a cynical mode about this being another avenue for people to purchase the music they’ve potentially purchased before.

      In video, repurchasing a Blu-ray disc movie previously owned on DVD delivered a dramatic, inarguable increase in quality, with a few exceptions. I would like to see an audio technology that offers this type of improvement versus incremental.

      • In a streaming world, I don’t think MQA will be trying as hard to get people to buy downloads as they will to get streaming services to adopt the format. That way, MQA will hopefully arrive to the consumer’s streaming device invisibly and at no extra charge.

        • Okay, in a model of increased quality without increased cost, I will certainly welcome MQA and maintain a healthy note of skepticism for good measure.

          • Of course it’s increased cost: it’s 1/3 larger than even a normal Redbook file, which most streaming providers still don’t want to stream. I think you folks have no clue what bandwidth costs at that scale.

            That’s why, outside of weirdo audiophile services, it ain’t gonna happen.

    38. I don’t care if MQA works or not, if it succeeds or fails. I’m simply not going to repurchase any of the music I already own. With that said, I find it very entertaining that there is such passionate debate over something nobody has heard.

      • Indeed. I’ve now heard it and will be penning a piece this week. I’m not sure why people are so worried about having to re-purchase music when it’s a streaming world that we now live in? A single monthly fee to access a gargantuan library for less than the cost of a download still bends my mind.

        • I’m less than a year into 100% streaming so I think you’re right about the future but some of use took longer to migrate than others.

        • If existing files can be de-blurred then why would there not be a way to put the hi-res files which you already own through the MQA decode process to de-blur them? There’s no need to do the audio lossy origami thing on hi-res file which aren’t streamed.

          If the improvement is worthwhile then I imagine there will other DSP software or DACs which can do the job without MQA. Perhaps there will be hackers trying to reverse engineer the MQA process minus the lossy part?

          • That’s a salient point. As far as I understand it, the de-blurring was the company’s initial focus in showing studio engineers how MQA can make their digital files close to ‘the mic feed’. Origami came later. As we know, the latter is crucial to get this into streaming services. Imagine the hate if MQA could only be *downloaded* and not streamed (like DSD)! Oh maaaaan.

        • I agree completely that MQA is betting that their bread will be buttered via streaming. I’m not a streamer (yet). I’m just addicted to the physical format.

    39. I already “stream” Pandora One and SiriusXM and I still purchase albums and CDs. I have not bought a download in over a year, especially from iTunes. I like having a physical copy in my hands and before my eyes. I like reading liner notes and (sometimes) lyrics. Today I bought The Civil Wars CD “Barton Hollow” and “Chicago’s Greatest Hits, 69′ – ’74” on vinyl. Last week I purchased Dylan’s new album on vinyl. I have a 400 disc BluRay changer and a Pioneer Laser Disc (!) player and a 300 Disc Sony CD player and a 6 disc Onkyo Changer. I also have a Mac Mini and three (3!) Windows laptops all with lots of music I purchased on them.

      I have five internet radios in my home and an Onkyo AV Receiver that has internet radio capabilities. I will be buying another Grace Digital Radio/Internet streamer (a walnut finish Encore) as these are great bargains that deliver music with nary a technical problem except I only wish Logitech would start making their Squeezbox again or at least offer SiriusXM support for them. It too is a great bargain of a “streamer”.

      None of them support MQA. BFD.

      And I agree with Bob. Well said, sir.

    40. The Schiit dudes are 100% on the money! Kudos to them for not embarking on the good ship lollysuck that is MQA! Kudos also to Paul McGowan of PS Audio for not accepting to be plucked sideways! (You’ll get the presse release soon…).

      Fuck MQA. Johnny expects, and hopes that MQA will soon be in the graveyard of FAILED audio formats along with SACD, DVD-Audio and DSD. BECAUSE YES DSD worshippers, the format is dead, fucked, buried, then fucked again, then thrown in a ditch.

      Deal with it!

      Next time, Johnny tells everyone how he really feels about the current state of audiophilia.

    41. Funny thing. No one at this point knows if MQA is that magic bullet.
      We know it is a standard we will be locked into permanently that may prevent future advances in the audio arts.
      Funny that few people see it for what it probably is.
      A revenue stream for its creators and servicers and just another convincing way to sell a new brand of snake oil. Yes, possibly it will sound better; possibly better DACs will sound better.
      Funny no one talks about the artists…the content creators being screwed out of what is due them by the industry selling content.
      It’s a funny world, isn’t it?

    42. Just found some hope again – especially interesting for non audiophiles…. posted by Akimo:

      “This thread is mostly focused on issues with the communication and rollout of MQA, but I wanted to post a positive note to add a drop of hope:
      A number of us have heard the MQA demo, and it’s not an incremental improvement, it’s a multiple order of magnitude leap into far greater realism and engagement. I come from a family of symphony musicians (absolutely no talent myself) and couldn’t believe how much more real the MQA demo was than any recorded music I’d ever heard before.
      It’s driving us all crazy right now, but o’mama it’s gonna be worth the wait. A year from now, we’ll all be listening to MQA recordings with our jaws on the floor, pissed off that our favorite album won’t be released for another month.”

    43. This smells like HDCP to me and the nightmare and obsolescence issues it has causes on the A/V side.

    44. Anyone who is familiar with Schiit’s attitude to DSD wont be surprised by this. Personally, unlesss they can magically transform the 24/96 remixed version of Darkness on the Edge of Town from 2014 into the magic that leapt out from the original vinyl release in ’78, I’m not interested in either format, but acronyms seem to sell a lot of DACs …..

    Night Phonehawk: Quest of Audio

    Gordon Rankin on why USB audio quality varies