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HighResAudio.com calls for a deeper technical analysis of MQA

  • Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin. The afternoon was apparently warm for mid-February but not quite warm enough for an outdoor sit-down. Joining me for coffee inside Newton Bar was one Lothar Kerestedjian. Kerestedjian had once been personal assistant to a member of INXS and had the stories to prove it.

    Having since relocated to Hamburg and with two decades in audio/video technology development under his belt, Kerestedjian now runs HighResAudio.com – a music download service for the cash-rich/time-poor consumer.

    Over a cappuccino, Kerestedjian explained how every title sold via his website is first analysed to verify its high-res content; that it isn’t up-sampled from Redbook or even “Mastered for iTunes”, which, according to Kerestedjian happens more often than he’d like. Such files are sent back to the record label with a ‘please explain’ attached. If one thing was clear from our conversation, our man from Hamburg is BIG on quality control.

    I then asked Kerestedjian if he was excited to be offering MQA-encoded titles for download, especially those of greater interest to the average DAR reader? He paused before taking our conversation off the record.

    A happy camper Kerestedjian was not. On the day after Valentine’s Day, Kerestedjian was no longer in love with Bob Stuart and Peter Craven’s music technology. His primary concern was one of quality control. The MQA incoming files couldn’t be analysed by a third party – their hi-res content remained unverifiable. The labels had to be trusted not to provide up-sampled content as hi-res masters. Kerestedjian’s pre-MQA experience said otherwise. (Was he aware that the MQA encoder is designed to automatically detect upsampled content?). Kerestedjian’s secondary concern: a perceived lack of promotional support from the MQA mothership.

    Kerestedjian’s dissatisfaction manifested officially a week later via a Facebook post (since deleted):

    “Breaking News: HIGHRESAUDIO to stop offering MQA. Proprietary system solutions and licensing models aren’t what customers want. MQA is NOT lossless, the original signal is never recovered, estimate to recover at most 17bits (reduces the sampling rate), reduces the frequency range, SNR reduced by 3bit, aliasing with artifacts at 18kHz. MQA encoding filters manipulate drastically the original source. No analysis tools are available to verify the encoded MQA content. Therefore no quality control is possible. highresaudio.com stands for offering purity, original mastering source, none manipulated, tweaked or up-sampled content and codecs that are widely supported and offer use of freedom. We hope that MQA will adjust all the above issues. We are truly disappointed, the way MQA has progressed in the past year. We have been mislead and blinded by trust and promises.”

    As the conspiracy theories and accusations of ‘Fake News’ gained steam over at Computer Audiophile, an email exchange with Kerestedjian brought some sober clarification to the still unfolding situation: only some MQA titles would come off the site.

    “I [want to] sell only genuine authenticated MQAs. Meaning, only if I know the origin of the master and we can verify and encode the content in-house.” That was 23rd February.

    Today, an email from Kerestedjian outlines further his dissatisfaction with MQA, this time on the record and with technical paper in tow.

    “I hope my email finds you well. Please find attached [link below – Ed] our technical document which analyzes MQA deeply and reveals many facts (at least what was possible) that MQA is a “lossy” format and procedure. Dipl.-Ing. Stephan Hotto of XiVero GmbH is responsible for the evaluation and is, of course, available for questions and answers.”

    “I have asked MQA weeks ago to correct the marketing communication towards the end user and media. As long as MQA is not prepared to straighten the facts, we will not offer MQA any more. The customer needs to know what he pays for, and we have to be able to check technically what we offer and sell to our customers. We are in a very sensible and delicate niche music market. Over the past seven years we have established a very good market position, created a new business for the music industry and artists and customers that cherish the best audible sound reproduction. We moved the music and HiFi-industry into a new business domain, with very little support from anyone. Our USP is that we guarantee (and this is not just said and done) our customers, nothing but the true, native and original source. We can analysis and verify any other audio codec (with MusicScope even DSD and DXD). For MQA is nothing available to assure that the customer is getting our „promise“.”

    “Selling HighRes Audio files requires so much dedicated and detailed work prior in selling (download / streaming) the music. This time needs to be invested by qualified audio engineers and a team that understands the total reproduction path. An extensive quality control is therefore a „must-have“ and needs to be in place to fulfill the „promise“.”

    “If these parameters are right, then we can provide our customers with honest facts to purchase MQA, and then we will continue to only offer “Authenticated MQA” again. Since the beginning of 2016 we have offered native Studio Masters with MQA encoding, where we can trace and verify the origin of the source. Meaning, the Mastering Studios that use MQA in their production workflow and process are personally signed off.”

    “No matter whether downloading or streaming. The perception and expectations of the customer is different. We can not sell and promote HighRes unless HighRes is supplied! For our customers, quality, trust and reliability are the top priorities.”

    “Am I now the bad guy? No, I would like that we continue to offer in the niche, customer native and original high-resolution music. There are plenty of new and established customers that are looking for high-resolution albums every day. The HighResAudio market would have grown rapidly and successfully, if the awareness among the responsible people in the music industry were familiar with our target group. Since 2010, we have been a single player on a broad front. Our mission: to offer music lovers, artists, hi-fi enthusiasts and manufacturers of audio devices to offer a new perspective in the digital age for the perfect music reproduction for a unique listening experience.”

    “Last but not least: we offer MQA since April 2016 with approx. 250 selected attractive audiophile recordings. But MQA does not reach more than 1% of the total turnover – also not with the back-catalogue of 300 albums from Warner Music in January and February 2017 on board.”

    Stephan Hotto’s “Hypothesis Paper to support a deeper Technical Analysis of MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) by MQA Limited” can be found here.

    Via email Kerestedjian adds, “I’m not against MQA. I will support the format, as long as we can communicate facts and figures.”

    Further information: HighResAudio.com

    Written by John Darko

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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