MQA - Time for a rethink?

Just to set a context, this is for people who have listened to MQA versions of albums in the last 3 months.
The recent upsurge in the availability of 16/44.1kHz albums from Warner, via Tidal, would have caused the most ardent MQA aficionado a degree of concern. After all, the hope was ‘white glove’, 192kHz or higher versions of the greats.
As they emerged, I got quite bogged down in looking at displays…within Roon, on devices etc. What was happening?
Immediately the ‘naysayers’ were crying ‘desecration’ or ‘contamination’, and to give them their due, I took very seriously the suggestions that Redbook was lessened. And then, when the dust settled, something else emerged.
I am a great believer in naturalistic observations, that are not bound within the confines of experimental models; when something is noted spontaneously, without any expectation bias. This does not mean it cannot be repeated, but the first observation is without an agenda. Many poor scientists hate this, as certain methodologies are held up as a doctrine, not least the statistical modelling that obfuscates fundamental realities.
So why post this?..Well I have many a Tidal playlist, where some tracks are in 16/44.1 MQA, others the pure gold of PCM. But I was starting to notice that I rather liked the MQA tracks more than the PCM ones. Worse, the PCM tracks sounded like, well, MP3 in comparison. It wasn’t just a matter of loudness, but that almost all perceived musical values -‘tunefulness’, ‘pace’ and ‘rhythm’ for starters - sounded, er, better, to me.
Now if the detractors are in any sense right (ignoring the conflicts of interest and bruised egos that underpin much) and the MQA 16/44.1 tracks do have a reduced bit depth and sample rate, how could this be so?
After so much testing, such that others complain, I can only come to the conclusion that viewing MQA through the lens of PCM is as helpful as viewing a cassette tape in terms of vinyl replay. I realise this will sound like nonsense to many, especially to those who hate MQA, and many will hope I am of feeble mind and dubious intentions. But my reality is that I cannot suppress what my senses tell me, and imperfect as MQA is (as with all formats) I find something in their method that is affording me a better, indeed remarkable musical experience, which simply does not makes sense through a PCM lens.
I am happy to be alone in this, but is this experience echoed elsewhere?
Discuss…

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Are you using a full MQA Renderer in your setup as that would go someway to why you find its better? I do find that it does sound more palatable through a full MQA pipe and did not mind it so much when II had Tidal via my MQA dacs but on my Naim system which does not have MQA renderring its just Roons first decode and on the whole is not altogether very nice.

I have the opportunity to access non-MQA (Devialet & Chord) and MQA (Meridian Ultra DAC) systems. I am finding the Roon decode now just as good as with an MQA renderer, which went against my expectations. This is partly why I wonder if an expectation bias has made it harder to evaluate the ups and downs of MQA. Even Bob Stuart first suggested a hardware decode/renderer would be superior, but he hasn’t always been right…

no bias as this is playing blind I would noticeplaying Roon radio on my Naim Atom that music would come on and I would go urggh that sounds off, when i looked at now playing in Roon it was always MQA. I would then replay Qobuz version and it sounded more natural. As a result I ditched Tidal.

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Perhaps the answer boils down to Bob Stuart’s explanation that MQA removes non-sonic bits while retaining the “analog”, sonic ones. And this is why he views the whole “lossless” argument as pointless: because those extra, “lossless-assuring” bits are useless as far as anyone’s ears are concerned.

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Discuss, huh? Well, my first observation is that you felt compelled to write a lot of text about an experience that, as you note, “will sound like nonsense to many.” My guess, though, is that even if MQA is technically inferior to straight 16-bit PCM (due to the tricks it plays), most people can’t hear the difference, just as most people can’t tell the difference between lossless and 320bit MP3.

Why do you hear a difference? Well, it could be that the stuff on Tidal that hasn’t been converted to MQA is just junk, and you’re perceiving that quality difference. They’d have to be the same track in two different formats for your observation to mean much of anything. Is that the case? That would be a very odd playlist, even for Tidal.

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Well, from the moment Tidal replaced 16/44 PCM with 16/44 MQA, I noticed a marked decline in sound quality. It took me a few weeks to make the connection between MQA and degraded SQ, but now I tossed Tidal on the scrap heap and replaced it with Qobuz.

Not going back to Tidal.

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Me, considering the opposite. I am no longer sure I should support both, having spent so much money on Qobuz, notably downloads.

Thanks Bill for your support; I’d expect nothing less than this type of response. I compared the Tidal MQA with both the Qobuz Redbook equivalents, assuming no-one could afford exclusive superior remastering for MQA conversion alone, and in some cases a digital download of the same album from Qobuz. I can only assume you did the same?
I really appreciate your question ‘Why do you hear a difference?’…You completely confirm that if someone doesn’t have an explanation, they cannot believe something is possible.
But the clincher - and shame on you - is that you don’t even know that you can have a Tidal playlist with both MQA and non-MQA tracks. That is what I am up against…ignorance.

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And during any of that period, did you undertake any testing? Please do give examples of what was so poor against its Qobuz sibling. The more detail the better. It will allow others to repeat your testing, almost like science.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s a tiny little bit of EQ’ing here and there in the secret sauce conversion…

I have been using Tidal HiFi for about a month. I have two MQA capable DACs but inexpensive ones (iFi Hip DAC and iFi Zen DAC). I will admit I liked MQA and preferred when I looked up to see what was playing (or LED color on my DAC is purple) to see that it was MQA.

Did I hear an amazing sound difference? No. But I’ll admit I liked it for whatever reason.

I then discovered that Roon can’t do MQA gapless… either at all or when going through an iFi DAC.

So then I turned off MQA and got full crossfade/gapless working… and now, I’m using Roon upsampling to DSD256 because… well, why not try it out. Just playing around with stuff and while I’m by no means an “anti-MQA” guy… I don’t miss it.

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You could be right, but the perception of tunefulness, as if Tiefenbrun would have approved, and pace, is that in the realm of EQ? If only?

Roon can’t do MQA gapless? Something’s wrong there…you should check that out.

I think it’s an iFi issue… same results on both… MP3, FLAC, DSD, etc all work fine… I think the "MQA authentication or rendering (first fold) causes a .5 second gap.

I detect some ingrained skepticism about my openmindedness, there.

Why would I? I don’t care about what MQA sounds like.

Apparently you can’t understand what I wrote – is that right? I was trying to come up with an explanation as to why you might have heard a difference, an explanation that tried to respect your ability to accurately report a real perceived difference. As part of a discussion, I advanced that explanation. No need to get all chippy about it.

Do you now not want a discussion?

Actually, again you don’t understand. What I was thinking would be unusual would be a Tidal playlist that had first an MQA version of a track, then a non-MQA version of the same track. Which is what you’d need, to compare the two tracks, without introducing other variables, like different streaming services. Is that what you had?

Well, I don’t disagree. But we may have different ideas about where said ignorance lies.

Really, I think these discussions would go further if we approached them with the idea that the other party is open-minded and bears no ill will.

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No science, just those perceived musical values you profess to perceive as better with MQA in your opening post sound I perceive as flat, dull and lifeless with 16/44 MQA.

I stress “perceived” here, though my perception was not triggered by Tidal’s sneaky format changeover. I only noticed that familiar music sounded “off” to me for some time and only after a few weeks I noticed that I had been listening to MQA versions of 16/44 tracks.

Switching to Qobuz PCM tracks brought back the “life, musicality and refinement” to my perception of the music.

I have no idea whether this is due to actual, measurable differences or whether this is purely in my head and I don’t really care. It works for me and I’m not going back to MQA because I prefer what I hear now.

It also saves me money because I don’t need an MQA DAC, though that’s just icing on the cake.

I’m also not trying to convince anyone that my experience is gospel. Anyone’s mileage may vary.

You posted your experience, I posted mine. They differ. That’s all there is to it.

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I’d say that PRAT is between the listener’s ears. If what you’re hearing isn’t, given that this doesn’t involve weird amplifier responses, it should be relatively trivial to diff at DAC output for someone with a good ADC.

Push comes to shove, I seem to remember some dude posting a youtube video of that in the analog domain, down to reasonably credible numbers.

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So, to get back to the discussion, what DAC are you using? [Edit: Ah, I see you described them in a subsequent post.] Which filters? Does your DAC route non-MQA through the MQA filters as well as MQA content?

Do you count your MQA experiences described in the opening post as “naturalistic observations” “noted spontaneously, without any expectation bias” and “without an agenda”? Do you consider yourself aware of “fundamental realities” that are not apparent to “poor scientists”?

AJ

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