Apocalypse now? MQA, Aurender at RMAF 2016


Mytek. Meridian. Bluesound. Brinkmann. Pioneer/Onkyo. Cary Audio. Six digital audio manufacturers to embrace Bob Stuart’s controversial-for-some MQA. Joining them with a big splash at RMAF 2016 were Aurender whose A10 music server/streamer, a model that we first caught at its CES debut, will soon be made MQA capable.

With their new toy, Aurender were conducting A/B demos of MQA content. Yes, A/B demos. For reals. Not with David Bowie’s Blackstar (I wish!) but Adele’s “Hello”. With no hi-res content to unfold, the improvements to inner spaciousness and finer textures within the mix still mirrored my own home-based auditioning of MQA content. That’ll be MQA’s correction to the studio ADC’s ‘temporal smearing’ at work.


But the 250 tracks currently available out there on the Internet do not a revolution make. It takes a nation of millions. On content provision there has been significant progress. The word behind the scenes was that the entire Warners catalogue has been ingested and processed by the MQA algorithm and is now on its way back to the major label for distribution. Negotiations reportedly remain ongoing with Sony, Universal and independent label aggregators but according to Bob Stuart, the outlook for take up by the other majors looks promising.

That brings us to streaming services upon whom MQA’s mass market success undoubtedly depends. The rumours surrounding Tidal’s lever drop were louder than ever before in Denver….but still no word (beyond rumours) on when.

However, Jay-Z’s plaything isn’t the only streaming company to be in talks with Stuart and MQA’s Director of Content Services Spencer Chrislu.

Chrislu and I sat down for a chat about recent events and updates in MQA land:

MQA’s long-term success still remains a way off but after talking with Chrislu and various other industry players at RMAF, including a handful of detractors, I could only conclude that MQA is picking up speed.

Further information: MQA


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
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  1. For more than two years, the magic that MQA promises to bring has been “just around the corner.” Talk about a lesson in how not to market a new product or technology. The excitement has turned to delay after delay and the undue delays have turned to disappointment after disappointment. For myself, I’d rather not hear anything about MQA again until an announcement is released stating that Tidal’s (or comparable streaming service’s) entire catalogue will be MQA-encoded, effective immediately! Then and only then, presuming the improvements it promises are real, will I run out and purchase an MQA-encoded device.

  2. I would be extremely surprised that they’ve managed to transfer Warner’s Music Group catalogue which contains a lot of subsidiaries in such a small time. And if really they have, well shame to Warner Bros who should instead release transfer to digital format the numerous LP that they’ve left in limbo. Talk about a waste of energy and resources.

  3. This has probably been asked before. Do yiou know if there’s there a plan for high resolution downloads with corrected temporal smearing but without the folded lossy thing?

  4. I remember when Quadraphonic was the “next big thing” in Audio. New records, new cartridges more speakers etc etc etc. Back to good old 2 channel. Then 5.1 HTC systems with faux room DSP. More money wasted.Although I may be wrong, but it seems to me that MQA without Hi-Res MQA content is just DSP.

  5. I am so glad I got my DSD and PCM DACs the last year (both missing MQA). MQA killed the Golden Goose. You can definitely tell where people’s bread is buttered. Almost no discussion of the downside to the consumer. Since when did any audiophile want a lossy format? The bandwidth argument is early 2000s.

    • Sorry Graig, but MQA is not lossy in the audible bandwith up to 40 kHz. Only above it they seem to apply a lossy part in their algorithm.
      Much more important is the ability of MQA to reduce the time smear of the A/D process with new but als old recordings. This feature is clearly audible and will assure that streaming with MQA will become effective as soon as all major record companies (Warner, Universal and Sony) will have finalised converting their catalogues.
      I agree with you that the bandwith issue is becoming of lesser importance each month. ..

  6. “Entire Warner catalog has been ingested and processed”. Plus other claims.

    1) The MQA people SPECIFICALLY said initially that they were NOT going to process existing material because ‘authentication’ needs total control from the ADC connected to the microphone in the studio right through to your DAC at home.
    So that’s ‘out of the window’ then.

    2) At first MQA was for achieving at least CD quality when streaming over the same bandwidth that ‘regular’ MP3 (up to 320K) uses. No more than that.
    Now it is claimed it ‘improves’ EVERYTHING, even 24/192.

    JUST HOW MUCH MORE BS (enthusiastically assisted by most printed audio magazines and many audio websites) can we expect from this outfit???

    • It is tough to accept but to me it does indeed clearly improve on 24/192 for me. Most reviewers make it sound that it is a very subtle effect that only high end equipment will reveal.
      Nope it is as clearly heard on my main system as in my vintage system with much higher noise floor.
      The togetherness and musicality is what impress me. I even prefer undecoded MQA than 24/192…
      Free downloads at 2L recording allow you to compare.

    • No BS for me, it clearly does improve on 24/192, I even prefer undecoded MQA to 24/192. The press make it sound that it is for hig end systems but it is not true.
      I van hear the différence as clearly in my vintage hogh noise floor system as in my main rig. Cohesion and musicality are truly there.
      Testing is easing 2L recorded offer free downloads.

  7. IMO if Bob Stuart wanted so much to improve digital audio, why didn’t he license his filter/DSP technology to DAC makers so audiophiles could make their existing files sound better on the fly? I mean if there were only a handful of ADCs used then it should be an easy task to select correct DSP and filters while you listen?

  8. Arnolfini/Arnolf,

    I’m not saying it doesn’t work.
    I’m saying they keep moving the goalposts, which to me smells of BS.

    1) Initially it was to make low res (thus ‘low cost’ low transmission bandwidth) streaming sound as good as 44.1/16. And that’s ALL IT WAS. A method of overcoming low bandwidth limitations and nothing more.
    Now they claim it makes EVERYTHING better.
    2) Also they initially said it was ‘lossless’.
    Now they have publicly admitted it isn’t.
    3) First they said they were NOT going to ‘MQA encode’ existing material as ‘MQA accreditation’ requires the ENTIRE process from the ADCs attached to the studio microphones to your DAC to be under ‘MQA control’ and (obviously) it CANNOT be with already existing material which must be at least 99.99999% of the Warner catalog.
    Now they claim that they have ‘MQA encoded’ the ENTIRE Warner catalog which is a direct opposition to what they say immediately above.
    4) They have now suddenly started to talk about ‘time smearing’ which they never mentioned before.

    On another ‘MQA’ thread here I stated that I had downloaded a couple of 2L samples, one of which is an MQA version of a 2L master I already have and am familiar with, and with a ‘regular’ non-MQA DAC, (initially a dCS Debussy followed by a dCS Rossini) I could detect no difference. So I stated “So at least an MQA encoded file does not appear to impact the sound when played though a regular DAC”.
    BTW: I have no connection with dCS other than as a satisfied user. They have not as far as I know taken any ‘public position’ on MQA but knowing how their DACs work they will be able to implement MQA at zero or low cost should they think it worthwhile. So I am not coming from a position of “I don’t want my DACs outdated by MQA”.

    • I think time smearing correction has always been talked about and is the key feature. Pretty much everything else is for compressing the file size for streaming. However, I agree that it’s evolved into processing existing files. I was under the impression that the only way to do it properly was by going back to the analog tape and remaster again. They made it sound like the process had to be authenticated from the studio to DAC. Now all of a sudden they can transcode anything.

      I think it’s virtually impossible to verify authenticity and transcode the entire library of a major label in such a short time. Seems like they pulled a bait and switch. What I’m afraid of is that once they convert everything from the major labels, it’s gonna be MQA or nothing, whether we like it or not.

      • Larry,
        Purely a personal opinion, but I think MQA will be dead and buried in a year or two whether it works or not.
        UNLESS the industry thinks it is a way to sell us the same stuff over again, as they have unsuccessfully tried before.
        Unsuccessfully ? Yes. Being an ‘audiophile’ (as I presume we all are or we would not be here) is a VERY fringe activity. I suspect around 99% of people are perfectly happy with MP3 and do not even know about, let alone buy, the same music again just because it is ‘improved’ in some way. The failure of SACDs demonstrates this, despite the ‘audiophile world’ attempt to revive it as DSD. I’m in the UK and in the heyday of ‘record stores’ INCLUDING the CD period, I NEVER noticed an SACD, not a single one, being sold in the two huge record stores, both operated by the ‘majors’ in the 400,000 population town I lived in. Though I admit I did not specifically look for them even though I owned a DVD/CD/SACD player.

        DRM? I think there is a bit of paranoia about this. I do not personally believe that is the main motive though I could of course be wrong.
        I don’t usually use Windows Media Player but unlike many ‘specialist’ rippers such as EAC or the one in JRiver it rips ‘protected’ material perfectly. You have to tell it once and once only that all your material is owned by you and will be used purely for your personal purposes and off it goes, producing rips accurately as any other ripper in its ‘correcting’ mode. So Microsoft is obviously not part of the ‘overall DRM plot’ that is rumoured to exist with or without MQA.

        Does MQA actually work? Who cares? As others have said, it’s just another sticker on the front of the box. There’s not enough room for any more on my now rarely used ‘hardware’ player 🙂

  9. @ Mark Powell: check dCS website
    dCS is currently working with MQA to enable MQA support in Rossini, Vivaldi and future dCS products. This is scheduled for 2016 and we expect to announce more details in the Summer. The current situation is that our development team have prototyped an MQA solution inside a dCS DAC but this “software only” mode of enabling MQA has hit some challenges. We are working with the MQA development team to identify solutions to these technical challenges and this work may result in us changing our architecture from software only to a hybrid software and hardware solution.

    @ all: Also MSB Technolgies jumps the MQA bandwagon: http://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/rmaf-mqa.786/

    @ all:
    – The entire Warner Music catalog has been converted to MQA (yea, the whole thing)
    – If everything goes according to current plans/contract negotiations, the other Big Two label’s (Sony and Universal) catalogs will be converted to MQA by next Spring
    – Tidal, as well as other streaming services who shall remain nameless at this point, will be streaming MQA content. When? I don’t know.
    – MQA offered A/B comparisons
    Read more at http://www.audiostream.com/content/what-mqa#UbpXmjPsG89VsyKI.99

    @ all: ECM albums and > 200 other audiophile albums in Authenticated MQA quality can be purchased at: https://www.highresaudio.com/studio_master.php?fids=153&cr=MQA

    I notice as well that it is bad for the Audio business that MQA is making potential buyers ‘nervous’ and might postpoine investments.. Hopefully TIDAL and QOBUZ will start stream in MQA soon.

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