Lossless MQA streaming from Tidal to Moon

Core Machine (Operating system/System info/Roon build number)

Windows 10Pro / Roon 1.7 Build 511 64-bit / Moon 280D

Hi all. I solved this issue for myself and I’m posting it in case others are having similar issues. In short, I noticed that the sound quality of MQA 96kHz 24-bit Tidal Master tracks was not as good when played through Roon (as compared to playing it directly on the Moon MiND / 280D). Looking at the “Signal Path” I realized that it wasn’t “Lossless”. But if you turn OFF the MQA support (on the Moon Device settings page within the Roon App), then the MQA unfolding happens before the signal is sent to the Moon unit. The “Signal Path” increases from “Enhanced” to “Lossless”. And the sound is MUCH better (particularly the separation of instrumental voices and the high frequency components). I’m not entirely sure, but the sound might be better this way than it is when you have the Moon unit unfold the MQA.

Here are some screen shots:

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That is pretty standard for MQA, Roon classes MQA Full Decoder as enhanced same as my DragonFly and Ifi DACS. It’s not doing anything to the signal. MQA rendering is not lossless as it’s applying filters that Roon knows nothing about.

However by turning MQA off on the Moon your not getting the full MQA only Roons core decode. You should normally get Roon to act as core decoder and set the streamer to be renderer only. Or you might prefer to let the streamer do the core and final rendering this way you disable Roons core decoding and enable the streamer to be decoder and renderer.

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Hi @ALN1,

I can confirm that a signal path of “Enhanced” is to be expected when having the DAC perform the MQA unfolding.

What you have shown in the above screenshots are the location where the MQA unfolding occurs, in the Lossless one you are using Roon to perform the first unfold, while in the Enhanced one, the unfolding is done on the DAC.

Roon can only perform the first MQA unfold, since your Moon DAC is a Full Decoder, it is able to perform the 2nd MQA unfold as well, which doesn’t happen when you have MQA support turned off. If you prefer Roon to perform the initial MQA unfold and have the DAC perform the second unfold, you can set it to Render Only mode as @CrystalGipsy suggested.

Thank you @CrystalGipsy and @noris for your replies. So I understand the difference between the decoding (1st unfold) and the rendering (2nd and 3rd unfold) from the following two pages:

There are two things that don’t make sense to me.
1- Tidal -> Moon (with Moon doing MQA decoding and rendering) should sound EXACTLY like Tidal>Roon>Moon (with Roon default Moon device setup indicating that Moon would do decoding and rendering). But it doesn’t. Routing via Roon the sound is ever so slightly more muddy.

2- Using only the Tidal>Roon>Moon setup, there are three relevant Moon device options for MQA.

  1. None: Roon will decode and Moon will do nothing
  2. Render: Roon decodes and Moon renders.
  3. Decode & Render: Roon does nothing and Moon decodes and renders.

“1” sounds fantastic. “2” sounds equal or possibly a bit better. Might actually sound better than the direct Tidal>Moon setup noted earlier. But “3” is the one that (as noted above) that sounds just a little muddy.

Anyhow, I am happy with the result and was just sharing my experience. But if anyone has anything to add, I’d love to know if there is something I’m missing.

With the MQA Core decoding done by Roon, the processing load on your DAC is lower than having the DAC does Full Decoding.

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Hi @ALN1,

Thanks for sharing your observations. As Peter noted, the processing is heavier on the DAC when it’s set to perform decoding and rendering, so this might be the discrepancy here.

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So, dear engineers at Roon, question remains, why is the signal path with MQA “enhanced” and not “lossless” as MQA is a way of unfolding data and not manipulating the signal like DSP is?

Because it is not lossless. But, it sounds just as good, so it doesn’t matter.

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Sometimes yes, but not always a given . I find mqa hit and miss, just like Qobuz hires can be and standard redbook. Really depends on where they are starting from as to how the end product sounds.

MQA Core decoder is designated by Roon Labs as lossless.
MQA Renderer is designated by Roon Labs as enhanced.

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becaus mqa is NOT losless. Otherwise you can also show mp3 as lossless, it is also not manipulating the signal like DSP is.

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