MQA disappointing

(James Heckman) #1

I appreciated Roon’s incorporating the first MQA unfold, and eagerly looked forward to listening on my high level, highly resolving system. However after four hours of listening to Tidal’s Masters albums, I was very disappointed. Not sure how to describe it, but the music, emotionally, was flat and uncommunicative. Kind of drained my energy and left ME feeling flat. Something was fatally missing. I then switched to regular Tidal (HiFi) streaming and the music immediately sounded much better technically, and incomparably more involving and enjoyable emotionally–quite a difference. This is no final judgment on MQA since it is a “first unfold” (my DAC is not MQA equipped), and is only one four hour listening test. But I’m gonna delete all the Tidal Masters albums I added to my library, and if I do try it again, will be for a single album to see if there’s any change. I obviously don’t think there was any error in my setup causing the MQA disappointment, but if someone can enlighten me otherwise, that would be welcome.
Jim Heckman

(simon arnold) #2

I’ve found it really depends on the source material. I’ve played some that sound worse than the flac or CD equivalent and then some that sound amazing. To me its no different to any other format some amaze whilst others leave you thinking wtf.

(James Heckman) #3

Good point, similar to other comments I’ve heard about MQA. During that listening session there was some variety, and some may have sounded slightly better, but nothing that caught my ear. It was so soul-draining that I involuntarily want to avoid it. But better to hold off judgment and maybe try on occasion. Thanks for the good observation.

(Larry Post) #4

I agree it depends on the master. No need to delete MQA versions from your library, use the new ‘Versions’ view to select the non-MQA as your primary.

I don’t know how resolving my system is but many of the MQA versions feel processed, fake.


Try doing PCM up-sampling and use ‘smooth minimum phase’ filter in the DSP section. Also enable ‘power of 2’ so it takes care of up-sampling 44.1k and 48k multiples. Remember to set to maximum output sample to your DAC inside Roon’s device settings. This ensure it doesn’t use your DAC digital filter and behave like a pass through.

This mimic like a ‘renderer’ and it does make it sound better.


Depending on the type of mastering. There are two types, digital remastered version tends to sound almost the same because the original recordings are already recorded in PCM, so this is converted to MQA.

Another is analog remastered, this one is converted to MQA directly so it should sound very close to the analogue masters.

(crenca) #7

“I don’t know how resolving my system is but many of the MQA versions feel processed, fake.”

Yep, MQA processing adds a touch of digititus. It has an effect that at first grabs your attention and this in part explains why some reviewers are impressed with it under demo conditions. However, given time it sounds processed and fake. It is of course more subtle than consumer grade “X Bass” and the like DSP novelty effects, but it is nonetheless in the same category. When most folks claim they like the MQA version on Tidal when compared to the 16/44, a different/superior master is almost always involved.


My 2 penneth…Listening for differences objectively between formats always leaves me drained. I find that listening to technical differences invariably leaves me confused. And the very fact that I’m listening out for stuff specifically takes away the connection to the music itself. One is just left with comparing facets of noise.

I gave that rabbit hole up years ago. If music draws me in emotionally then it’s great, whatever the system, and if it doesn’t, something’s up. My opinion… move on… plenty more options and ways to listen to music out there.


On some occasions, listening hard has brought to my attention detail and complexity that I wasn’t aware of (on one level), sometimes it’s fun. Don’t let it be homework!

(Chris ) #10

I notice a much bigger soundstage with MQA, even with my Bluesound Pulse 2 and the rendering bug hasn’t been fixed yet.
I could do comparisons via the BluOS app and compare fully rendered MQA but life is too short for this.
Perhaps I’m older, but the sound quality of even a CD stream seems like a miracle we could only dream of back in the 70’s/80’s and MQA for me generally lifts that again.
I expect some types of music may benefit noticeable more than others as with different music we listen for different things. I mostly like and listen to real music where real people play in real space.
If you want to dance to a driving rhythm under the influence of something imbibing, MQA may not be noticed lol :joy:Who knows?

(Henry) #11

I imagine that MQA itself will make precious little difference to the best systems. And I doubt it was ever intended to. MQA cannot lift poor recording and mastering and the very best systems cannot somehow miraculously be improved upon. In my experience a highly resolving system is not an off the shelf affair but something built up over a period of time, a labour of love. To make a change that shifts that balance isn’t always going to be welcome. But again, give it time and see how it changes your listening habits rather than just deleting everything. If after time you still prefer non MQA content then that is perfectly ok! Your system, your rules!


That is also my perception, at least for Tidal Masters. I much prefer upsampling to DSD256.


The effects of up-sampling PCM to DSD actually makes the sound more ‘analog’ sounding. This is characteristic of DSD; the conversion from 1-bit pulse to analog signal in a sigma-delta DAC is surprisingly very ‘analogue’ in nature.


I notice MQA sounds a bit ‘raw’ and ‘organic’ and it is able to conveys more subtle details. When it comes to ‘holographic’ 3D representation of the soundstage, DSD still rules.

MQA still sounds like PCM; a bit harsh at times but lesser due to use of de-blurring filters. In order of SQ; 16/44.1k CD quality > MQA > Hi-Res PCM > DSD.


Would you be so kind as to name several DACs specialized to convert 1-bit signal to analog?

(James Heckman) #16

What a lot of great suggestions and perspectives. Very helpful. Thank you all!
Jim Heckman

(Larry Post) #17

PS Audio DirectStream. Built to convert everything input to 20x DSD to analog.


Virtually all DACs in the market uses SDM with exceptional to multi-bit R2R and FGA. Burr-Brown, ESS, AKM, Cirrus Logic etc.


I have been listening to MQA for over 18 months now. I can’t remember hearing a MQA version sound worse than the normal CD version, occasionally they are virtually the same, and usually a nice improvement. I have less than two dozen downloaded hi-rez versions to compare to MQA and these go either way.


all data ‘sounds’ the same. Isn’t it. It’s between the ears of the beholder.