MQA does the decoding implementation have a significant effect on the sound quality or is there little variation

(Jeffrey Giese) #1

I was excited to explore the purported sound quality advantage of mqa. Reviews made me believe the sound, less digital, bigger sound stage etc. would be up my alley. After several months comparing Tidal mqa to Quboz hi rez I prefer the Qubuz implementation. Now I use Tidal to search for Master recording and then play the Qubuz version. My question is does the decoding scheme have a significant effect on the mqa sound quality or are the mqa decoding standards so rigid that there is little variation in sound quality?I have PS Audio Direct Stream sr and jr in my two systems using their bridge inputs and a Roon Nucleus.


OK, flame-retardant suit on before the “Bob Stuart is God-inventor of all things digital” crowd come banging.

There’s one serious study that I know of, and that came to the conclusion that MQA, in itself, was not appreciably different to the test subjects.

Problem is, MQA’d releases are also often remasters, and that’s obviously audible. It’s extremely likely that there’s orders of magnitude more differences between masters than between even wildly varying in quality, but competently designed, dacs. It’s likely that different remasters is what you might be hearing, more than anything else.

It’s also possible that it’s audible on some gear, more than other, and/or that it’s symbiotic, rather than parasitic, with some brands, or that the distortions that might be introduced by the process might sound good with people who like certain types of distortion (and therefore already bought in to other things designed by BS).

This might be of interest as to the differences between marketing and reality as far as MQA is concerned.

(Henry) #3

I think you need to explore exactly what the claim is. I think most of the claims relate to comparisons between the unfolded MQA file and CD quality. Therefore for most I would expect the differences between MQA at 96k and a 96k FLAC file to be small and that tends to be my finding. While some of the anti MQA rhetoric is focussed and well argued, a lot of it isn’t about MQA but the marketing and personalities. I am past all of that. I have a MQA capable DAC and both Qobuz and Tidal. The DAC stays and right now Tidal is winning out over Qobuz as the service I will keep. However the reasons have nothing to do with MQA, but to do with how the network connected DAC works with Roon and which service meets my personal needs best. They should still be the criteria by which we choose our options in my view. If you are disappointed because MQA sounds bad, you are justified in feeling you have been mis-sold. But if you are disappointed because it just doesn’t sound massively better like reviews and marketing suggests, the blame isn’t with the format in my view. It is with marketing consultants and reviewers.


I understood from early on that to benefit from MQA, one needed a "fast"amp to benefit from the improved timing. Meridians upgraded active speakers have high bandwidth amps.

Let your ears decide. Everything there is to be said about MQA has been said dozens of times over. Plenty of discussions going on (to search). It’s a sore topic if you’ve not noticed…

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(Chris ) #5

I am lucky to listen to anything, most of my music sadly, is not MQA. So I listen to CD, High Res (Digital definition) and MQA High Res (Analog Definition). Some MQA may not be considered High Res in the digital definition but is clearly high res in the analog meaning of the term.

My system is designed to get the best from MQA (Meridian DSPSE’s) from the input to the transducers and the benefit is clear for me but it also makes comparison harder as the system does so much to get the best resolution (analog) out of any file I play.

There is more to MQA than a DAC and the whole system should be considered, something Meridian and a few others have been doing for years with Active and DSP speakers.

This doesn’t meant you can’t put together a great separates system as many people do.

(Maxxim M) #6

100% true … Henry

(Anders Vinberg) #7

I have lost interest in MQA for reasons other than sound quality.
I have a Meridian DSP8000SE setup.
But even so, the difference with high res content, downloads or Qobuz, is not significant. Or noticeable.

I’m just plain bored with cork-sniffing, pixel-peeping discussions of technologies.

Given that, the logistics rule MQA out. I have a number of other systems, Chord and Benchmark and BelCanto, and they have been chosen with care, and I’m not going to replace them with others because of MQA. Even if MQA were dramatically better on the Meridian speaker rig, it would do nothing for my superb headphone setup.

So cork-sniffing vs. system flexibility: it’s no contest.

(Sean) #8

Is that supposed to be an anti-corking-sniffing post @AndersVinberg ? I get a different vibe old friend but it’s probably just me… :grin:

(Anders Vinberg) #9

I’m a simple man.
No meanings beneath the surface.

I could expand on cork-sniffing and pixel-peeping, and I probably will.
But it won’t change the meaning.
If you’re subtle you can discern it all already.


I can hear some different between Qobuz Hi-Res and Tidal Master. Assuming if both comes from same source, the only difference is on its tonal quality. In Hi-Res version, it is very revealing; especially the top end, can be ‘bright’ at times, so listening over time, especially on headphones can be quite fatigued. Playing through speakers in my opinion sound great with lot of dynamics and ‘air’ in the top end.

Tidal Master has more ‘weight’ and ‘body’, a bit pumped up at times but still sound very good. Vocals rendering is ‘lush’ and ‘thick’, overall it sound sweet with an ‘analog’ touch. However, at times, it can also a bit ‘loose’ and a bit ‘mushy’ to me.

These tonality qualities are attributed to the different digital filters they used; Hi-Res recording tends to use linear phase sharp cut filter resulted in very details and fast dynamic sound while a MQA uses a variant of minimum phase slow roll off filter results in more relax, ‘analog’ sound. In both cases depending what you like, both sound wonderful.

(James) #11

Regarding the original question - if you’re asking whether your hardware setup makes a difference when listening to MQA, the answer is yes. It’s poorly documented, but in order to really hear what MQA is capable of, you do need quite specific requirements in terms of the whole signal chain - not just digital, but analogue electronics and speakers/drivers (particularly tweeters).

The only system I’ve personally heard which was designed from the ground up to play back MQA to its full potential was a Meridian 808.6 driving DSP5200SE and DSP7200SE. This was done with both my own material and files with the same master in both MQA, Red Book and Hi-Res. On that system, the difference was pronounced and I would say MQA delivered on its promise and was startlingly real sounding. In fact I wrote afterwards that, on good recordings, hi-fi terminology was meaningless, the only worthwhile comparison was real instruments in real spaces.

Listening at home with an 818v3 (also a full MQA decoder) but through DSP7200.2 which are basically the same speakers but without the amplifiers and drivers designed for MQA, I’d say MQA is very nice and I still usually prefer it for being more real sounding, but it’s not the startling difference to the other formats which you can hear through a system designed from the ground up to make the most of what it sets out to achieve.

If you’re genuinely interested, why not arrange a demo with your local Meridian dealer? Take along some files you know to be from the same master (Meridian dealers were also given some of these and they are also available freely from 2L recordings here). That way your ears can decide rather than either reviews or armchair experts. After that, you can decide whether it’s worth changing your system to optimise MQA playback or not…

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(Chris ) #12

I agree, my Meridian 218/5200SE speaker system are a revelation in any format but MQA is just so real and spacious in the recordings I have heard.
Saying that, my Bluesound Pulse 2 is another extra ordinary piece of Hi Fi delivering great MQA, but again, the whole thing, Amps Speakers DSP, has been designed and specified with MQA in mind.
There is a theme there I think.

(crenca) #13

So you prefer the standard PCM (i.e, “the recording”) over and above a facsimile (i.e. MQA’s lossy reduction-with-added-IMD of that same PCM recording). Unsurprising, given what we know MQA actually does to the recording. Still the effect is subtle - subtle enough that audiophiles hear all sorts of things from it.

With any playback chain not designed to optimize MQA distortions is simply going to be more “flexible” as @AndersVinberg puts it with PCM, that is “the recording”.

(Anders Vinberg) #14

Please don’t refer to me or quote me in support of your views on MQA, I disagree with them.

(paul woodhouse) #15

I am very impressed with MQA streaming vs 192/24 HDD vs cd flac streaming on Tidal on my system.

For me the increased tightness and rhythm in the lower octaves is the most important benefit. Everything else is less muddy.

So yes on my system it does have a significant effect on sound quality.

Perhaps I am unusual, but while I enjoy sitting in the sweat spot, most of the time I’m not there.

I am waiting to listen to MQA 192/24 with interest.

My system is an old NAD C 390DD amplifier with a bluos digital module, which is an MQA decoder, into Martin Logan Ethos speakers. (Small electrostatics with a digitally driven base cone speaker).

My subjective thoughts are that poorly recorded records sound poor.
Well recorded records sound much better. MQA or not.
And in my system MQA tidal streaming out performs 192/24 records from the HDD.

I am using Tidal as my streaming provider.
Playback however is either via the bluos app controlled via the iPad or via ROON using a network attached laptop and NAS in a different office and controlled via the iPad.
ROON provides a huge dataset and is a delight. I cannot speak more highly of it.
Bluos sounds slightly better.
Occasionally I will find a track using ROON but will control the stream using the bluos app.
I do have JRiver. It is on a different computer with an AES input into the amplifier with a reclocking thing. But I haven’t bothered using recently as the BluOs/ROON/Tidal iPad is so straightforward (easy) and sounds so good.

Thus pinpoint sound staging and imaging are good on my system. However MQA really makes a difference to the lower note “snap”.
This really makes the music come to life.


Always remember MQA is always converted from original PCM master. Think of MQA another layer of ‘DSP’ added in. Sounding better is very subjective depending which you like. If you analog guy, tendency you will like MQA but if you like dynamic and fast sounding then PCM is your likely pick. There’s another category not related to PCM, called DSD. In my opinion, this is best format for audio reproduction.

(crenca) #17

This is always true. Like MusicFidelity says, MQA is another DSP layer. Probably from the extra IM distortion is adds, certain recordings can sound “snappy” or grainy. I prefer to describe this sound as “digititus” as over the long haul it is an artificality, that and the extra loudness most MQA processed files have which is just outright cheating…

(Jeremy) #18

I have a PS DSD Sr. My system is highly phase accurate. I hear phase distortion whenever I listen to MQA.

Phase distortion changes the relationship between high frequencies (which are delayed) vs low frequencies. Phase distortion changes the timbre of the combined sound and will blurr imaging.

Here in this video Brian May illustrates phase distortion by swapping phase on one of his combined guitar pickups. The sound is what we call “phasey”.