The MQA revolution: brother, you have to wait (and see)


The next big thing™? Back in 2011 it was DSD; the (alleged) holy grail of hi-res digital playback. Content would come “eventually” (we were told). Who were we to disbelieve those who brokered deals with studios and music execs behind close doors? Our responsibility as consumers was to be ready with a DSD compliant D/A converter for when the tap was turned on.

The big mags got behind the new format and helped stoke consumer demand. Demand that caused DAC manufacturers to add DSD circuitry to their next decoder – some against their initial will – lest they lose a sale. California’s Schiit Audio introduced the US$149 DSD-only Loki for anyone who wanted to add DSD playability to an existing digital front end.

Hardware compliance raced ahead but content provision failed to keep up. In 2016, the DSD catalogue has barely grown beyond 2012 levels. The most mainstream facing of download stores, Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds, offers just shy of 600 titles.

Elsewhere, DSD downloads remain a cottage industry within the audiophile niche. Native DSDers are served by labels like Morten Lindberg’s 2L Recordings and Cookie Marenco’s Blue Coast.


Make no mistake though – we now live in a cloud streaming world. Tidal, Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music are on the up whilst download and CD sales crawl south. None of these streaming companies will be adding DSD to their libraries anytime soon – the files are simply too large to stream. DSD is a bandwidth and download quota killer.

DSD failed not because it didn’t offer ‘better sound’ or because the necessary decoding hardware didn’t proliferate but because the music – especially more mainstream content – remains M.I.A..

DSD-as-next-big-thing RIP – lest we forget.

In 2016, the next big thing™ is Bob Stuart and Peter Craven’s MQA; another (alleged) holy grail of digital playback – but not just hi-res. MQA’s promise is essentially threefold: 1) end-to-end security of file contents with decoder authentication; 2) hi-res streaming through audio origami; 3) a deblurring algorithm that improves the sound of existing digital audio content without going back to the master tapes.

MQA (the company) showed at CES 2016 with an abundance of would be MQA-compliant hardware on its display table. Most prominent of all was Mytek Digital’s Michal Jurewicz who could be seen conducting the same proof of concept Tidal hi-res streaming demo with his all-new Brooklyn DAC. A demo that I’d been privy to a few months earlier at Denver’s RMAF.

Whilst I played catch up on the specifics of MQA’s promises and plans – What was it? How did it work? What could it do for listeners? – Stereophile and (especially) The Absolute Sound rang the bell for the format’s superiority.

Remembering DSD, would potential consumers react with cautious optimism – once bitten, twice shy? Not a chance. Message boards lit up.


As is common when new audio tech is announced, first-hand experience is in short supply and so impatience fuels speculation, facts be damned. In sweeping up some of the misinformation propagating via his own Computer Audiophile forum, Chris Connaker sought proper answers from the horse’s mouth.

Connaker made arrangements for forum members to submit their MQA-related questions to mainman Bob Stuart directly. Stuart would then answer them all in time and Connaker would publish the results. Click here to read a fine job by all concerned. Put the kettle on though – you’ll be there a while.

That’s the theory. What about the reality?

Stuart’s end-to-end process relies on studio and music label adoption at one end and hardware compliance (mostly) at the other.

Arriving in my inbox last week came three MQA-related press releases.

The first two formally announced what had been touted at their respective launches. That the Onkyo DP-X1 (covered here) and the Pioneer XDP-100R (covered here) portable audio players would soon see a firmware update enabling MQA playback.

“Onkyo is proud to announce support for MQA on our “DP-X1” digital audio player. Announced at IFA in September 2015, the “DP-X1” is the world’s first MQA enabled portable digital audio player*1. The free update will be available worldwide on April 12th. Please visit Google PlayTM to get the latest “Music” app and enjoy MQA.”

“Pioneer is proud to announce support for MQA on our XDP-100R digital audio player. Announced at IFA in September 2015, the Pioneer XDP-100R is the world’s first MQA enabled portable digital audio player. The free update will be available worldwide on April 12th. Please visit Google PlayTM to get the latest “Music” app and enjoy MQA.”

MQA DAP population = two.

The third press release came from Michal Jurewicz: “Mytek Digital has announced the release of the MQA™ firmware update which now enables the new Brooklyn DAC/Headphone/ Preamplifier to decode all MQA files in addition to all other formats, including PCM 384k/32bit, DSD256 and analog phono playback.”

“After Meridian, Mytek is the second MQA licensee to release the firmware update with the MQA technology. MQA is a revolutionary end-to-end technology that captures and delivers master quality audio in a file that’s small enough to stream or download. And because it’s fully authenticated, the listener can be sure they are hearing exactly what the artist recorded and approved in the studio.”

MQA DAC population = two.


Here we must remember that an MQA-capable DAC is NOT required for basic playback of an MQA file.

According to Stuart, those without an MQA DAC should still find that MQA-encoded or MQA-processed source material sounds better than its Redbook counterpart.

“You can take an MQA-encoded file, play it anywhere, and it will sound better than CD”, he said (according to this Stereophile piece).

The Mytek Brooklyn and Meridian Explorer2 are only required to unfold the hi-res portion of a file and/or to authenticate its contents. An LED lights blue when it sees studio MQA-encoded material (‘MQA Studio’), green when it sees content de-blurred by the MQA algorithm as being “identical to that of the source material.”

I have no doubt we’ll see more MQA-equipped converters come to market in 2016 but as of right now there are three: Meridian’s Prime and Explorer2 plus the Mytek Brooklyn. Three. 3. Well, three if We shouldn’t concern ourselves with this quite yet though. Limited hardware options aren’t an issue when there’s little to no content with which to feed ’em.

Where are we at with MQA content supply?

Standing out in Connaker’s MQ&A was this question lead-in: “I believe that MQA is the last format standing between real evolution in digital audio and Redbook-mp3 total domination in the long term.”

Stuart is “inclined to agree”.

The implication lurking in the shadows of this assertion is that lossy audio is set to swamp the music industry. Why? File size still matters to end users. MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis’ psycho-acoustic compression might be irrelevant to now dirt cheap data storage devices but it remains VERY relevant to smartphone streamers hamstrung by single-digit download quotas. How many lossless albums can be streamed from Tidal Hifi with an allowance of 6Gb? 12? 15? 20 tops.

Stuart continues:CD was the most successful format for mass music because the catalogue became huge, everybody understood how to buy, play and store it.”

For those already in possession of the necessary hardware, 2L Recording’s test bench is one source of content for a DIY A/B comparo. Lindberg’s productions aren’t to my tastes and possibly aren’t to yours either. But they’re there if you want ‘em.


Those wanting to skip the nerd games and get straight to purchasing are directed by MQA’s website to one of four download stores.

Predictably, 2L offers its entire catalogue as MQA-encoded files; 130ish titles. Over at Onkyo Music we count 12 MQA albums. Yours for 16GBP a pop. Over at 7Digital, a single MQA album by one Amy Duncan (who?). At Technics Tracks we’re offered 15 x MQA albums for credit card purchase.

Slim pickings by anyone’s standards. Not to mention that each and every download for sale is music of a more traditional audiophile persuasion. For the mainstream music fan there’s zilch, nada, nothing.

We’ve been here before haven’t we? Announcements pertaining to more mainstream content are reportedly “coming very soon”. In other words, TBA.

Even if we assume right now that MQA offers an audible improvement over standard PCM, the availability of more contemporary music (pop even) will prevent it from going the way of the DSD dodo.

Another Bob Stuart quote: The history of recorded music shows that when the release form is accessible, it is more successful. The music market was never built on audiophiles.” [My emphasis].

Besides, MQA doesn’t enjoy the advantage of illicit SACD rips that kept DSD fanciers from complaining of content shortage whilst official channels got their ducks in a row. Neither can one up-sample to MQA as is possible with DSD via apps like HQPlayer.

Even if they do come through with the MQA goods, online vendors will have a hard time convincing people living beyond the audiophile biosphere that downloads represent value for money. (Presumably) a single-digit percentage improvement in SQ for the same dollars as a month’s Tidal Hifi or Deezer Elite is a tough sell.

Therein lies the source of some irony. Fundamental to MQA’s success will be streaming service adoption. We’ve already seen a Tidal demo but we know not if/when the Norwegians will flip the switch on MQA streaming, how much it will cost us or how many titles will be made available. Another TBA.

If you’re already asking “Does it do MQA?” of your next DAC purchase, I’d ask you consider how much MQA content you currently have access to? No point future-proofing for a future that isn’t 100% guaranteed to arrive.

We look to the past in order to make better educated guesses about what the future might bring. We do this so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over. Let us learn from getting too het up too soon about DSD and cool our collective jets on what MQA might bring to the table down the line.

Right now, the MQA ecosystem is painfully small. Three DACs, two DAPs and a few hundred albums does not a revolution make – not yet. Bob Stuart and Peter Craven’s audio tech dream won’t become reality until we see MQA titles swarm in their thousands (nay, millions).

In Connaker’s FAQ, Bob Stuart says, “We agree that a good supply of music is important for us and for all those interested in high-quality sound. The music business is large and somewhat incoherent. We have rapidly increasing interest in MQA within small, medium and large labels and among the recording and mastering communities. Every label will make their own decision. The real key is establishing distribution for streaming, download and physical and supporting each method as it evolves.”

On streaming service integration our Stuart is similarly vague, “We are in discussion with a number of streaming services. However it is up to them to make their own announcements.”

MQA is still in its infancy with much work to do. Should we therefore not keep our enthusiasm/derision in our collective pocket until this bleeding edge tech sorts out its music supply lines?

As we saw with DSD, a delivery format’s success rises and falls on content provision.

Further information: MQA | Mytek Digital | Onkyo | Pioneer

UPDATE 21st April: Michael Lavorgna of Stereophile and AudioStream has picked up on what I’m throwing down here – he questions the need to be ready to be ready.


EDIT 19th April: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote to Bob Stuart that in fact originated with a Computer Audiophile Q&A-er and to which Stuart agreed.

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. I agree with you John, that the birth of MQA is a long run. Over here in Europe, both Tidal and Bluesound’s market share is increasing. If Bluesound keeps it’s promise, all their hardware, including the BlueOS module for NAD DAC systems will be upgraded free of charge with MQA decoding software as well as DSD over Dop capability. So untill then, it’s a promise of which it is quite uncertain what it will deliver the 2L catalogue is not a bookmark or reference which will convince us what MQA is capable of. I am much more interested in (for example) MFSL or other re-mastering record labels, who have acccess to record labels and select the best albums ever produced. I am very keen to find out what the MQA deblurring part of it’s algorithm will do. If it is indeed possible to compensate errors made during A/D processing, it will mean an important step forward in the preservation and presentation of our musical past. This aspect cannot be compared to DSD or other HD formats. For me, this is the most intriguing part of MQA, which I hope will surprise us all. For this reason the 2L bench is a wrong reference I would say, but maybe I am expecting too much..?

  2. Well put, John. Anyone remember HDCD, the ‘original’ proprietary encode/decode process? It too went the way of the dodo. As did DVD-A whilst DVD-V cleaned up big time. Better sound that’s hitching a ride without being associated to music the masses want to listen to will stand there at the dark lonely audiophile highway for a loooong time -:)

  3. Wrote this on Facebook, posting here too:

    I’ve heard MQA now using my Onkyo DP-X1 digital audio player, one especially powerful record from Pål Bratelund’s wife (he posted a link on FB for free).

    MQA is breathtaking.

    HOWEVER, just like DSD, almost none of my genres of music exist in DSD or MQA, and there is hardly anything worth me buying in either format.
    Indeed, my older hybrid SACD’s that, with the help of a friends’ PS3, ripped into ISO, then converted into 2ch DSD via PC Sonore software, sound incredible! Yet those DSD’s cannot be purchased digitally. (SACD albums are: Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ 30th Anniversary, Floyd’s ‘Wish You were Here’, and Nine Inch Nails ‘The Downward Spiral’).
    That’s the issue unto itself. The DSD music locked in SACD’s above are well lauded for quality but you must go through archaic methods to get the digital streams. They should be released digitally, and I find the two Pink Floyd album’s in DSD better sounding than the new remastered 24 bit digital files (though I do also enjoy the new mixing of the recent remasters).

    And I’ve not even started to talk about MQA music currently available.

    And yet, there is an actual difference between DSD and MQA; distribution and business models.

    When DSD was on the scene the business model was hardware and, as John would say, FOMO.
    Most hardware companies wanted to tick box being DSD compliant, and that is still the order of the day.
    Music was hardly there for genres outside of classical, folk, acoustical guitar and jazz. New DSD recordings are being made but again for only a small subset of genre’s. Schiit Audio’s policy of not being buzzword compliant (love their CanJam banners!) is particularly telling. DSD is currently only available on audiophile dowload websites, or SACD to DSD torrents (illegal channels in other words. DSD downloads can be found this way too unfortunately).
    Worst, DSD is not backwards compatible and needs hardware/software that can decode it (including DoP).

    Whereas MQA is doing the opposite. Sure some hardware partners exist but it’s not a feature just to add, work needs to be done via manufacturer and MQA creators.
    No here Meridian and MQA creators were thinking of music distribution, and this is a fundamental difference. To allow MQA for the masses, and let the technology catch up in devices. Supply the music that’s backwards compatible to older hardware (a huge advantage over DSD), and when you do have tech that understands MQA, you’ll get the higher quality streams. The Tidal partnership is huge if it goes through.

    The problems are again what genres of music does MQA cater for, what music is being turned or created into MQA, and further customer education.

    On the 7th of this month Computer Audiophile published a massive document regarding MQA. Though it’s heavy the gist is the creators don’t want another DSD me too arena or their trade secrets leaked, so are being coy. Once music distributions go wide and global we’ll get more info I think.

    I’m not a DSD or MQA fanboy but I don’t dismiss either of them. I have heard and have great records of each, and sonically both are amazeballs, but they are far too few, and the measures to get each format currently isn’t great.
    I think MQA is fascinating in both technology and especially business model, because if music is the primary attention first, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll all benefit for the right reasons: high quality music available for everyone in myriads of genres.
    That’s the point, right?

    • Have you ever tried upsampling those Pink Floyd albums to 2x or 4x DSD ‘off-the-fly’ and listen to these DSD files? It does seem to do the trick within PSaudio directstream DAC. I have no experience with this method myself, but this is a form of soundshaping which is pleasant to the ear and (potentially) our DAC’s as well. I woul not be surprised if those SACD records out there of ALL digitally recorded albums are upsampled DSD masters…Only when the original analog masters are available for direct DSD or DXD mastering, then the end result will be something different (and superior) to 16/44 wave albums

  4. MQA will rise or fall based on streaming adoption.

    As far as DSD – you forgot classical music, where about a 1000 titles recorded in DSD are available. Classical is a niche market, but probably enough to keep DSD alive. For those that like it, it’s great.

    I personally listen to all my music upsampled to 2X DSD. I think it sounds best that way on my DAC (ESS chip). I believe that will also remain an audiophile niche, whether music is released in the format or not. In the same vein, not converters like the Direct Stream and a few others, which use DSD technology. Another sign the format won’t die away entirely.

  5. John,

    Your recent video interview with Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard of Schiit Audio nailed the reality of MQA- stillborn. Another format whose praises are being sung by a couple of magazines (gotta keep gear sales going), but whose tech specs remain hidden, and for which no playback material will ever really exist.

    In the interim, real innovators like Mike Moffat (the guy who invented the stand-alone DAC), develop multi-bit DAC’s that reveal the excellent sonics of existing media like the lowly old Redbook CD. I am glad you give these fellows, and other real innovators, the recognition they deserve.

    “When you get confused, listen to the music play…”

  6. MQA may be good for streaming but right now I don’t want to do streaming. I prefer collecting music instead. I’m afraid MQA will be sold to the industry while the jury is still out regarding sound quality and all of a sudden we’re stuck with MQA processed music for all formats. While we read about is carefully staged demos, mostly without even A/B comparisons, most of us haven’t heard MQA at all. I’d like to hear comparisons with music we listen to every day.

    I’m wondering what if any difference will be heard compared to hi-res sample rates or DSD? To me it seems to be described as (supposedly) lossless analog using lossy digital processing. It would be interesting to compare high sample rate PCM with the only difference being authenticated end-to-end de-blurring.

  7. I think MQA has some communication issues. Thanks for linking the Computer Audiophile article. I read most of it (skimmed some parts).

    The concerning thing is that existing 44.1/16 files can be deblurred and marketed as MQA files. Doesn’t this defeat the whole purpose of MQA (as a philosophy)?

    To me, the 44.1/16 on a CD is effectively the master, applying a filter over it doesn’t suddenly make it the master.

    I would feel much more comfortable if MQA was only used for approved ADCs and then only decoded on approved DACs. In that case I would feel more comfortable that what I am hearing is as close to analogue as possible.

    The problem with MQA is that with an MQA file I have no idea whether it was recorded with an MQA compliant ADC, whether it was recorded hi-res, whether it is simply an 44.1/16 file with a filter applied over it. This to me defeats the whole purpose of MQA which is to provide confidence of the provenance of the file, when you could simply be buying what can now be played in Tidal with a filter over it.

    So I think they have some big communications issues here, and I think they should draw a line and not filter existing 44.1/16 files.

    On another note, Bob Stuart mentions in the Q&A that undecoded MQA files (i.e. the 44.1/16 part) should sound similar to the original 192/24 file. I downloaded 2L’s Mozart track in DXD and MQA and played them through Audirvana+ (the MQA is played undecoded). Through my laptop speakers (which are very detailed) they sound quite different. The MQA sounds a little fuller, perhaps a bit more prominent in the lower midrange. The DXD has a lot more detail and dynamics, to my ear it sounds considerably better. Keep in mind that the laptop (12″ MacBook) only supports 48/24 to its speakers. So Audirvana+ downsampling to 48/24 is considerably better than MQA’s downsampling to 44/16. This may not be a surprise, but keep in mind that Bob Stuart said that the undecoded MQA will sound similar to the 192/24.

  8. John,

    There’s no need to keep criticising or bemoaning the lack of native DSD music content. Internal conversion to DSD occurs within most DAC chips anyways (save for the R2R NOS ones), so DSD playback capability being made available to consumers is nothing special, and is independent of the lack of available native DSD recordings.

    If you have a sufficiently powerful computer, the fun combination of Roon + HQPlayer allows you to upsample everything in your collection, including redbook cd and Tidal streams, to high DSD levels for output in real-time to your DSD capable DAC. The Computer Audiophile forums have many threads related to this. Offline software upsampling to DSD also offers similar possibilities.

    So for those who want to make the effort and their DAC allows it, their DSD music possibilities extend to include almost all available digital music.

    I have no interest in discussing the technical details of all of this, but I did want to highlight this as an option for those who wanted to try out DSD playback on their DAC, but were not very excited about the type of music and limited titles available as native DSD recordings.

    • Hey Brad – I guess what irks me about DSD is not (just) the wafer thing catalogue but the disproportionate amount of hype it enjoyed from certain quarters as ‘the next big thing’ and long before any signs of broader catalogue arriving (that might substantiate such claims). As for DSD being implemented regardless, I still recall chatting to at least four manufacturer’s at the Newport Beach show in 2012 who said the hype surrounding DSD was forcing their hand to include decoding capabilities in their next DAC or lose sales.

      Even in 2016 I still hear promises that “the catalogue will come”. But here we are in a world where streaming is king and I just don’t see DSD uptake moving beyond a hardcore niche within the audiophile community.

      Ditto DSD upsampling via HQPlayer, which I mentioned it in the article text. Perhaps you missed it?

      Even now it seems a large section of the audiophile community is easily whipped into a steerable frenzy. Kinda reminds me of this:

      • I don’t disagree with anything you say here – the hifi industry did completely overhype DSD as a product to consumers without first offering anything that could be used by an average enthusiast. Predictable behaviour of a fragile industry.

        At least the hardcore enthusiasts have found a way to unlock the DSD potential of their DAC’s together with HQPlayer and their music libraries. Adding Roon to this party brings more possibilities including streaming.

        Putting aside all the audiophile hype, and given the ever-increasing power of our smartphones and tablets, is it not such a jump to imagine the same possibilities coming personal audio at some stage. Certainly this would help to bring DSD to more average enthusiasts.

        The DAC then becomes a very “basic” device, since all technical filtering and modulation functions would be first done in software on your computer or phone. Hardware is simplified, maybe prices go down, even more average enthusiasts get to benefit.

      • I use HQP to upsample to DSD. That said, I think DSD will remain a niche for the audiophile and classical listener.

        I’m not really sure what’s wrong with that. Even if you go back to the 50s and 60s there were regular “audiophile” brands like Dynaco and more elite brands like Macintosh. Elite brands manage to survive among the very well heeled, and aren’t intended to be for regular folks with normal budgets.

        Classical lovers are a disproportionately large segment of the audiophile community relative to their numbers in the general population (about 1-7%, in the general population, depending on what country you live in). They tend to also have more money than the average listener, so that disproportionately large segment of the audiophile community will keep DSD alive for recording (classical) and playback (upsampling), along with an additional segment of audiophiles that simply like DSD playback, no matter what the source – even PCM.

        I’m not really sure why that’s an issue. Does anyone think a DAC like the PS Audio Direct Stream is intended for the masses? Or even your average audiophile? Not at $6000 US a pop, it isn’t. But very good “chip” based DACs are available for a fraction of that price, so the whole argument seems like a non-issue to me.

        I think DSD recording will survive for the well heeled minorityh, just like hi-end audio devices have for much of the history of modern playback technology. For much of that history, the high-end was made up almost exclusively of jazz and classical listeners – who were always a minority.

        MQA is a different duck altogether. We don’t know if back catalog will be reprocessed in MQA, and if it is, will the non MQA versions disappear?

        What will MQA’d files sound like played back on non MQA equipment? Better or worse than a standard 16/44.1 version of the same recording? Lots of claims and counter – claims being made but we still don’t know.

        The intent of MQA is clearly to be incorporated into streaming and into modestly priced playback equipment – even phones. If it succeeds in doing this – and I think we will know in a year or two – it may well become the standard.

        At that point audiophiles will have some decisions to make. You are right John, not yet. But maybe someone who’s thinking of putting out very big bucks on a DAC should think about buying one that’s upgradeable – b/c if MQA succeeds, the resale value of non-upgradeable DACs may not be that great…..

        • Nothing wrong with doing anything if it makes you happy, HQplayer and DSD up-sampling included. But a hardcore bunch of devotees is many light years away from amassing sufficient to even dream of seeing broader market interest. Ditto classical listeners. Nothing wrong with them either.

          I’m talking about the dressing up of DSD as the next big thing…which then failed to materialise for anyone not really into classical or other types of audiophile-aimed fare. In other words, a niche is a wonderful thing but, by definition, the next BIG thing it will never be. And think about this: if DSD titles had proliferated as we were promised there’d be FAR less of a need to pull on HQplayer’s upsampling function.

          PS Audio aren’t proclaiming their DS DAC to be the future of audio (although they did make some whacky noises about ‘rescuing Redbook’). Chord and Rob Watts tried to make a mainstreamer out of the Chord Mojo but its form factor kept the masses at bay – it’s selling VERY well by all accounts though. But go look at the front page of a certain US mag this month and see MQA heralded as the new king.

          As you say, classical listeners make up a single digit percentage of all audiophiles. Ditto jazz. Therefore the remainder we must assume listen to a broader range of music to whom the DSD library doesn’t cater (beyond in-house upsampling). An assumption that certainly jives with the audiophiles I know here in Sydney. They’re into all sorts of cool stuff!

          This site’s aim is to discuss better sound with people who listen to more contemporary music, whose collections move beyond the usual audiophile titles and include rock, pop, electronic etc. That’s what I’m into. Alex covers metal (heavy) and Srajan’s tastes lean toward (what some people call) world music.

          • Hi John,

            You make the point that you review equipment with contemporary music and let other reviewers handle the more traditional audiophile content.

            In the past few months I’ve had a bit of resurged interest in classical and this is primarily due to the availability of DSD128 content. I’ve always had some appreciation of classical but it was fairly limited. I’ve found with certain pieces that I can barely listen to in lower PCM bit rates, I thoroughly enjoy in DSD128. Classical may be the genre most sensitive to the quality of recording. And I wonder, at least for myself, whether 50% of the enjoyment of classical is the accurate reproduction of the instrument?

            There are plenty of new DACs that support higher DSD rates, DSD128, DSD256, DSD512. You’ve mention previously that you don’t review those aspects because other sites do that. But if we take the Chord Mojo as an example, I’d like to know of one review site that has reviewed the Mojo with Classical DSD128? The point is that most people interested in DSD will also have some interest in Classical, and hence will also have a strong interest in DSD128. And the recordings seem to be coming in thick and fast from new players with new interpretations, not necessarily the 50th remastering of a 30 year old recording (which is more contemporary?).

            I say all this to counter the point that you make that you are reviewing the DACs differently. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, I enjoy your reviews (and they are unique and valuable), but I can find plenty of other reviews that review 44.1 music, yet I can’t find any reviews of Classical DSD128. So I don’t think you should be making that point.

          • I’m not so much saying that I’m reviewing DACs ‘differently’ because of what other mags do, just that I don’t cater to the classical loving crowd at all and that if your interests reside in an very specific area, in this case classical DSD128, then you’d be better off served by another website. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

            If they’re not doing that, especially reviewers for whom regular visits to this or that classical concert hall feature heavily or those who talk about a recording being faithful to the live event, then you’d be better off knocking on their door rather than mine, don’t ya think? Go seek out the writers who beat the drum hard for DSD; the one’s whose listening experience with DSD (you’d assume) is far greater than mine. I’ve listened to two R.E.M. albums and a Steely Dan.

            Like many readers who suggest I do this and do that, the motivation is personal. They usually want info that relates directly to their very own pursuits. I’m into rock and roll, pop, electronica, AOR, prog, etc. – genres that pull from mainstream music – the breadth of appeal comes built in. The music that *I like* forms horse that pulls my own review cart. I’m not interested in trying a new horse just to fill a wafer thin niche within the review content space.

          • Sorry John, I probably didn’t get my point across clearly. I don’t want you to review classical DSD128! I’m just saying there is a strong feeling in your posts that there is huge hype-based pushed to DSD and you are resisting that. But I don’t see it. Google “Chord Mojo Review”, your’s is the fourth link, What Hi-Fi and Hi Fi World are above you. Find me a review that is pushing DSD.

            To me DSD is the David facing the Goliath, not the other way around (as an industry outsider and consumer). But your articles/posts often make it sound as if DSD is the Goliath. And then to suggest readers go elsewhere, when there actually isn’t an elsewhere is a bit misleading. That’s all, I don’t want you to start reviewing DSD or other genres if you don’t want to.

          • Gotcha. The DSD pushing started in earnest some 5 or 6 years ago – you’ll need to go back through the archives to find it but check out the latest cover of TAS: “Better than hi-res! MQA Revolutionizes Digital Audio”.


            Robert Harley must know things about MQA’s imminent market penetration that I’m not yet privy to.

            The Goliath isn’t DSD or MQA per se. It’s unsubstantiated hyperbole; specifically the urgent solicitations for consumers to ready themselves with hardware for content that will arrive down the line. It happened with DSD: manufacturers and consumers bought into a format *ahead of* content arrival…which, classical aside, didn’t come. The strong possibility of history repeating itself with MQA is what I’m pushing back against here.

            My advice to consumers is this: if MQA music that you like starts to spill in earnest, consider buying an MQA DAC but until it does, hold ya fire.

          • What’s wrong with the launch of a product which obviously is capable to enhance current flac streams into HD quality? Do we all have to wait untill the internet will offer us quad DSD streams and feel un-offended since DSD is the best…? I really cannot understand some of the statements and pure envy of a well designed and intelligent codec which is unique in its capability to repair ADC errors made during the production of some of the best albums in history during the 70’s 80’s and so on untill even today. No other codec offers this, neither does quad DSD, so why is this aspect being neglected so harsh in your articles and posts by others?
            For anyone intersted in the very extensive review by Bob Harley from TAS, herewith the link to the complete article:

          • Nothing wrong with a launch…but has MQA *really* launched? Or is it more like the next Star Wars movie? We’ve seen the trailer but it’s a long way from completion.

            I therefore see it as my responsibility not to get carried away by promises of greatness and then pass that over-excitement onto readers. We can only judge MQA based on what we see in the here and now – ESPECIALLY in the light of DSD’s unfulfilled catalogue promises.

            Others work differently. I’m enthusiastic about MQA’s potential but potential isn’t enough to get me drunk. I want to see music flow into my glass before I start gulping it down.

            I know Michael Lavorgna also (generally) shares my point of view. See his excellent follow up post here:

            That said, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the existence of audiophiles whose tech lust overrides their love of music.

  9. Anybody know when FM radio stations will be encoding their broadcasts in Dolby? Asking for a (friend) aka a Marantz 2325 decoder. #ripdolbyfm

  10. Some thoughts:

    The big ‘DSD revolution’ was hype from day one and has imploded as it was inevitable it would.

    In the long run streaming is going to do a lot of damage to the music industry.

    We need a real high-end format that is widely available. And we have one… 45 RPM vinyl. I wish the music industry would get behind it.

  11. I am sick and tired of new formats. I acquired a swack of dsd files and have steadily been buying pcm files. I have all the legacy hi-rez audiophile standards and in the past year and a half bought what I hoped would be my ultimate dac (chord hugo). Not a snowballs chance in hell that i’m going to re-acquire titles I already have or have to buy a new dac for some johnny come lately new format. I am a tail end baby boomer and recently did an early retirement. I’m happy with my system and if anything would sell the more expensive components to buy newer less expensive stuff as technology improves. i think that demographics are working against new formats unless they can promise the resurrection of John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix playing in my living room. Even then, people acquiring more equipment seem to be of a dying demographic. Most of the younger people i know don’t really care about sound quality that much. If it works in their iphone with earbuds they are happy. my 22 year old son looks with mild amusement at my audio tinkering and doesn’t seem to want to catch the itch. we are living in an age of negative interest rates and people who ever want to retire will need every cent to fund with a non-existent income stream. doesn’t bode well for the pricing of this new format

  12. A comment from an emailer who wished to remain anonymous:

    “I hope we also understand the DRM implications of MQA. I know, there are plenty from Meridian and MQA that pooh, pooh the digital right management aspect as “nonsense” but take a look at the facts.

    MQA delivers a CD quality version (just slightly lossy) that all players can play and all DACs can decode. But want a high res version of that same track? It’s locked up tighter than Fort Knox unless you have a MQA applicable DAC – and then – you can only listen to the high resolution version in analog. You cannot save it, you cannot have access to the high res version.

    Sound familiar?

    You bet. It’s identical to SACD in terms of DRM. SACD locked tight the high resolution DSD files and only made them available to CD players with internal DACs like the Oppo – and a few Sony authorized decoders. Want to hear the DSD locked away in the SACD YOU paid for? You’ll not hear it on the DAC of your choice. No, it’ll be on a $350 Oppo, and under $1,000 receiver or an off the charts DCS DAC.

    Let’s hope MQA does not become the standard for all streaming, lest the end to people like me that treasure their high resolution music libraries. Let’s not allow another SACD debacle.”

    • Please read question and answer 79 in the vey extensive computeraudiophile document regarding DRM. MQA is the opposite an does NOT contain a DRM

      • That is very true, but what I think that what the anonymous emailer and John are getting at is that MQA could be seen to follow the premise of DRM without using DRM tech.

        That premise is: you cannot access either part of or all of this digital content unless you have the correct hardware or software.

        MQA has a big advantage that you can listen to it on almost any DAC, but you will not have full access to its embedded high resolution streams unless you have MQA hardware/software.

        However, I would agree that adding MQA alongside DRM is a stretch to far.
        DRM is a horrible system, too much to go into depth on here, and MQA might seem like it follows it’s path but doesn’t restrict a user anywhere near as true DRM might do (DRM nerfs content to oblivion if you try to use it on anything but specified devices and users; zero backwards/forwards/anything compatibility).

        So, MQA has no DRM per se, but does limit it’s greater potential that can be alluded to as DRM.

        The issue I have is if we indeed do start, incorrectly, thinking of MQA as DRM, then that can also be, incorrectly, applied elsewhere.
        That’s worrying in itself.

        • “So, MQA has no DRM per se, but does limit it’s greater potential that can be alluded to as DRM.”

          No reason to grant narrow definitions (in this case of what the terms “Digital Rights Management”) mean to those who are trying to foist a format with DRM onto you. DRM is not any specific technical implementation, but rather:

          “That premise is: you cannot access either part of or all of this digital content unless you have the correct hardware or software.”

          So, just as you say, the end user (who in this case is a “licensee” of software and content, not the owner though he does not know this because he failed to read the fine print of the intellectual property laws) is being “managed” digitally to ensure the “rights” of the actual owner of the music (really, software) he paid for and thinks (rather foolishly) that he “owns” it and has real “rights” to it.

          In other words MQA is DRM all day long every day and Bob’s denials do not withstand even a cursory investigation…

    • Just to add, you can rip SACD to DSD via an unorthodox method:

      – Get a 1st gen PS3 with SACD capabilities
      – Using guides from the net, rip SACD into an ISO disc image file
      – Get a computer (Windows based)
      – Get the ISOtoDSD Sonore software
      – Sonore can read the SACD ISO and you can select to rip the DSD streams in either multichannel or stereo (depending on original SACD layers), and in what DSD container (always pick DSF).
      – Execute the program and you’ll have DSD files, rudimentary tagged from the internal SACD streams by the SACD publisher.

      Now it’s possible to listen to SACD via bit perfect rip into DSD on any DSD capable DAC (including DoP).

      Yeah…easy…my ARSE >_<

      It's annoying that this is one of the vanishingly few ways of getting at the SACD streams digitally. Sony et all need to find a better solution…

  13. Thank you John for this insightful commentary. I have been perplexed by and frustrated with the “Audiophile Press” (really, the two zine’s you mention) willingness to beat the drum for MQA and to discuss it in a manner that would lead readers to believe it is all upside with no downside. I have mostly focused on the digital format/IP/legal side of things (aka “DRM”, or as you put it “end-to-end security of file contents with decoder authentication” – DRM is such a dirty word 😉 ) but there are other important aspects as well as you point out, such as availability of recordings….

  14. Jolon said “To me, the 44.1/16 on a CD is effectively the master, applying a filter over it doesn’t suddenly make it the master”.

    My understanding is that it is not a filter that is put over the existing cd quality recording, but goes further by identifying the ADC used in the original recording and corrects for the imperfections introduced by that specific ADC. This correction brings the cd quality much closer to the original by taking away the time domain smearing introduced by the original ADC. This can be applied to cd quality recordings or preferably higher bitrate recordings. Therefore MQA can be applied to cd quality recordings and improve them considerably when played back through MQA enabled DACs.

    I’ve heard MQA and it is a big step closer to hearing live music compared to any other past Improvements such as high bitrate vs cd quality etc.

    • I am very happy to learn from your personal impression that MQA is a game changer with regard to it’s ability to correct for past ADC errors and what impact this seems to have on past recordings Let’s hope many recording engineers and record labels will acknowledge this as well and will unleash the technology to the vast music libraries out there!

  15. Hey John I appreciate your words here… It does boil down to content but I do think the trend so far is troubling.

    MQA, is leaning too heavily towards hardware licensing over content/ label licensing. As per the photo in your article of the MQA display from CES, the list of “backers” is largely made up of hardware makers… DCS, Berkeley, Arcam, Auralic, Mytek, Pioneer, Onkyo etc…. but no Island/Def Jam, Warner Bros, Capitol, Columbia, RCA, Atlantic or… SONY.

    Sony has to be accounted for. They just do….. Too big a player to ignore. Their names are on the winning side of virtually every major format improvement of the last 30 years…. CD & Bluray being most prominent.

    They have a multi billion dollar global hardware distribution network, and are a global music label hegemon on the content side… They own RCA, Capitol, Arista, Epic, and Columbia among many others and own licensing to ALOT of music in the crucial “Current” music category…. They may not own licensing to ‘Kind of Blue” but have Elle King, Alicia Keys, Cage the Elephant, Justin Timberlake, Kings of Leon and hundreds upon hundreds more.

    I don’t see Meridian forcing Sony to distribute its vast catalog of music through their proprietary container. I doubt anyone outside of the little audiophile bubble even thinks hi rez streaming even matters ( I don’t really ) but even if Tidal does want to move forward (which I think between lawsuits and questions swirling about their business practices, Tidal has a lot of issues they are dealing with and rolling out a new format at a higher price bracket might not be a pressing issue.

    To me, right now…. It looks like the same mistake over. A small devoted niche chasing or being herded down a street lined with shiny $3500 aluminum boxes and barely a song to play on them.

    Not to say they won’t overcome the challenges… But in that extraordinarily long Q&A session Bob Stuart spent all of single paragraph addressing the issue of record labels and his response was largely lip service stating the obvious…. But he waxed poetically about the sonic merits and technical minutia of MQA without end…. From a business model viewpoint, it doesn’t inspire confidence.

  16. One of the most vexing of issues with MQA, at least from the view of a manufacturer, must be their stated Raison D’être requiring the decoding firmware to reside in the DAC; never outside it.

    If you think about it, the logical place to decode MQA would be in the computer–or a server–where streaming media comes from. MQA officials refuse to even consider allowing streaming devices to license the decoding and here’s their stated reason: they don’t know what DAC it will be played into. And why should that matter? MQA is an end-to-end process where the “deficiencies” of both the A/D and D/A converters are taken into account to equal a perfect transfer.

    MQA honchos clearly believe they have more knowledge on how to design and build the perfect ADC/DAC and filter sets than any one else in the world (though no evidence can be found they have ever done so). Their attitude suggests all DAC designers must be bumbling along in the dark, poking at filters and decoding algorithms like blind men trying to decode what’s in the room. And their proof? Must be contained in their past efforts at Meridian and their hardware. Ever hear one? To many their hardware sounds as cold and analytical as gynecologists in the exam room. So if they can’t manage to make their own hardware trounce everyone else, that’s a big set of balls suggesting they can succeed where they have never before. Why would they make such outrageous claims and who would buy into them? Perhaps they are up to something else? Let’s play detective and see where it leads us.

    Bob Stuart owns Meridian, a company that has never managed to turn a profit in as many years as it’s been around. A financial failure. Tough to keep it going solely on the merits of its hardware sales when it’s bleeding money. He and his math wizard friend Peter Craven figure they’ll try another approach to making money, licensing. No hardware costs, just costly permission slips with annual fees rolling in. Like Ray Dolby, who built a fortune on selling slips of paper to manufacturers. If you can’t make it as a manufacturer, why not come up with a technology angle you can get other manufacturers, the ones making money, to pay you?

    You already understand how to compress data because the two of you tried this scheme once before, Meridian Lossless Packing, or MLP. MLP was the darling of DVD-A and Dolby TrueHD, used in Blu-ray and HD DVD, but unfortunately, DVD-A went away. The Dolby people give you next to nothing for licensing, so, back to square one. You’ve learned your lesson well. You can’t rely upon a capture format because that changes: CD, DAT, DVD, SACD, BluRay… who knows what’s next? And then you realize the future isn’t in physical media, it is in streaming–and streaming has no physical restraints other than bandwidth.

    You create a clever method of encoding and decoding and pitch it to content providers and labels, like Sony. Sony laughs in your face–there are plenty other compression schemes available and, besides, bandwidth’s only getting cheaper–and you realize you’re in a pickle. What do you do? After all, it is only another compression algorithm – and not all that unique. Then, in a flash of brilliance, you figure it out. If you can manage to convince enough people what you have is not just a compression method, but something that actually makes everything better – a lot better – then you know a whole group of obsessive individuals who will have to have it. And if you can rouse enough support, every DAC manufacturer in the world will be forced to implement it and pay you a license fee – even if there’s very little content! You’ll insist there be a light on the front panel telling people when to expect something better, and causing them anxiety when it is not lit. Perhaps this will force the hand of content suppliers, but if not, you’re still getting paid by the hapless DAC providers. A win win.

    But how? How can a compression scheme make something better? You’re smart enough to know it cannot unless… you add something that purports to go beyond simple compression. Yes, and you name the process “Authentication” which implies without out it there’s nothing but fake – and imperfect fake at that.


  17. The comments I’m reading here make me very sad. Nigel’s comments above are perhaps the most cynical thing I’ve read this year, but the “Trojan horse” conspiracy theories propagating elsewhere on the web come close. I don’t know Bob Stuart personally, and I don’t own (nor can I afford) any of his Meridian components, but I have been following his work and that of his collaborators for perhaps 25 years. These people are first and foremost audio enthusiasts, and that is what drives them to apply their considerable technical skills to this field. To read Bob Stuart’s past writings is to understand that he has been thinking deeply and creatively about audio reproduction for a very long time, and with the assistance of some of the finest minds in the industry. I use the term “industry” quite loosely here, because many of these people are academics, not high-salaried corporate types. True, they may hope to benefit financially some day, but if that were their main motivation they’d be much better off selling overpriced magic cables than propagating improved audio standards.

    The main reason for the end-to-end authentication features of MQA, is to insure the integrity of a matched process that must have its final step at the listening end. That brings with it some slight leverage in content protection, but the care taken to assure backwards compatibility means that the average 17-year-old file ripper can continue violating copyrights with abandon. Only people to whom audio quality really matters will have to pay for it. This is far from some giant DRM conspiracy. If anything, it’s a pragmatic balancing act to appease both casual users and content providers. For, make no mistake, unless the later agree to show up and play, MQA will fail commercially, as surely as did DVD-A and Pure Audio Blu-ray.

    “MQA honchos clearly believe they have more knowledge on how to design and build the perfect ADC/DAC and filter sets than any one else in the world (though no evidence can be found they have ever done so).”

    This statement is not only an ad hominem slur, it is demonstrably false. Read the literature: Peter Craven’s work on apodising filters is a key aspect of this technology, and choosing the correct apodising filter requires knowledge of both the upstream ADC and the downstream DAC. What matters is knowing the characteristics of their decimation and anti-alias filters.

    “How can a compression scheme make something better?”

    As I’ve just indicated, MQA is more than a compression scheme. But its way of achieving bit rate compression is very interesting, based as it is in perceptual information theory and non-Nyquist sampling theory. I’ve commented on this elsewhere, and haven’t time to give a full explanation here. But working through the footnoted literature in Bob Stuart’s recent AES presentations will lead the mathematically-inclined reader down some interesting pathways where few practicing audio engineers have tread. For other readers, I offer the following pithy summary of the key philosophies behind MQA encoding. (This is not sanctioned by MQA, with whom I have no connection whatsoever.)

    1. Fletcher and Munson were onto something and so was Shannon. Honor their memories by encoding those things that people can actually hear. (Bit rate is not a measure of quality: What matters is the information in the bits.)
    2. Where doubt exists, err on the side of more bits; where no doubt exists, out with the knives! (Critical band masking theory is always in doubt: That way lies madness and lossy compression!)
    3. Dither must always be done, but dither must never be heard.
    4. We need not assume a waveform is perfectly band-limited to reproduce it perfectly with finite-rate sampling. (Speak to me not of Nyquist; Nyquist is dead!)
    5. Nothing in nature has pre-ringing. Pre-ringing in audio indicates a defective recording+playback channel and should be fixed before someone hears it. (The artist or her designee should sign off on the fix. If someone else did it, warn the listener.)
    6. Humans can screw anything up, but media companies can screw it all up, and in mass. Always verify bit integrity at the far end.

    I don’t know if MQA will be a commercial success. I certainly hope so, because I desperately want to release the music I record in a format that’s both audibly impeccable and accessible to ordinary listeners. But even if it fails in the marketplace, I think MQA will force a lot of audio professionals to rethink some long-held assumptions and realize that “more” is not necessarily “better”.

    • Much appreciated David. I agree that there is too much hostility towards MQA and it’s coming mostly from persons who did not even listen to it.. I wonder what their motivation is..fear, envy?

      Let’s just listen what MQA achieves, especially with older recordings. Then fully understand how it works and test what influence it has on the impulse performance of a MQA certified DAC.

      There are many questions still to be answered. One of them is if the MQA DSP is capable to intrinsically upgrade each MQA certified DAC when playing non- MQA files. Theoretically this should be achievable, but I do not know or understand this and do not receive answers from the MQA team until now.

      • I doubt MQA can make non MQA material sound better since MQA is an end-to-end process where specific information to be corrected has to be known before hand. Engaging MQA correction blindly could be more damaging than not doing it. Thus I imagine the MQA process would not engage unless it’s an MQA encoded file.

        • Indeed, in its most perfect form, MQA is end-to-end and one of the parameters which are corrected for is the behavior if the anti-aliasing effect of the DAC itself. So why wouldn’t it be possible to use this DAC correction feature all the time..? It is all a matter of DSP and with the proper data instruction sets, it should be a matter of choice how it will be aplied. Either in a form of the complete interference spectrum of all components together, or in the ‘second best’ mode and simple form, where it does not compensate for past time-smearing errors (simply because they are not present and carried wthin the datastream) but yes, it will compensate for present time-smearing errors of the DAC. Since the MQA dsp knows its signature and gas instructions how to compensate these digitally, it should to my belief be an option… I do hope someone at the MQA team will reply to this suggestion sooner or later..

          • I think the DAC correction is set according to the file being played. How can it know how to set the filter if it hasn’t been fingerprinted etc.?

            Would be cool if there was a hack which allows users to fingerprint their existing files and turn them into MQA files for playback. 🙂

          • The time behaviour of the DAC is a constant factor. In fact each DAC is allready equipped with anti-alising filtering, but is not as perfectly functioning as new types like Meridian’s patented apodizing filter for example. The MQA Digital Signal Processing technique seems to be able to reduce the time-smearing by a factor of 10, which is large enough to become inaudible. We will have to wait untill MQA themselves will explain how their DSP is functioning and if there are technical reasons not to apply MQA on non-MQA files.

  18. When am I going to be able to download or stream at least a few Mqa files that I am familiar with.
    Manhattan transfer, TLC, Holly Cole, ANYTHING???
    2lL, 7 digital music are something I don’t give a crap about.
    This Mqa noise started in 2014 and is more noisey in 2016 since CSA
    I don’t care if it is 44 or 356 or the wasapi is the driver, just why isn’t there ANY music from anyone besides the unfamiliar “music” after 6 months of hype/bs since the ces 2016 push?
    Hd Tracks, Pono, etc are pushing new hi Rez releases every week, why not at least “one” a week since ces.

    Your help would be appreciated!

  19. Thanks for the reply John.
    If I’m reading your link correctly, the bottom line on Mqa is “don’t hold your breath”.
    It just doesn’t make sense as to why non audiophiles or even the artists wouldn’t want better (and almost as convenient)SQ than MP3 or “supposedly” 16/44 . Nobody HAS to buy anything more than they have to listen to Mqa!
    I’m not sure where the powers that be heads are stuck on this one.

    Thinking Mqa was coming out tomorrow, I did buy a couple things, meridian explorer 2 and roon. I didn’t know my system could sound that good and it sounded pretty good before! I can even walk 35 feet away in a long open room from the main listening position with furniture and room dividers in the way to the kitchen and say, “Man that thing sounds good”. I couldn’t say that before the E2 and roon.

    I would love to hear mainstream Mqa, but with or without Mqa I am keeping both purchases.
    Again, with or without Mqa, I would just like to the “powers” to either put up or shut up!

    Thanks for listening to my rants John


    • I think “don’t hold your breath” is too strong. My message in that post was “let’s wait for the music to arrive – and in large enough numbers – BEFORE we start making wild proclamations about the future of hi-res audio”.

  20. Funny how the 21st brought us Zero improvements in audio quality.

    For over 50 years FM Radio sounded better then any MP3 file … still does if the source media is good. Myself I refuse to go backwards when listening to music, even background listening.

    I recently experienced a 3 month trial of Tidal through my MuSo, even off axis, the music bloomed into the room. Very, very nice! (Something FM radio did for me the past 50 years) However the endless file freezing killed the music enjoyment of Tidal. Switching to Spotify Premium fixed the stream freezing but the sound quality is inferior. My wife says it sounds like the music is stuck inside the speaker.

    MQA … who cares … I mean really who cares!

    While LP quality is apparently asking to much, this chintzy modern world can’t even give us CD quality streaming & downloads.

    The future sucks!