River - MQA vs. Red book master : the lost instrument!

I was really shocked today when listening to “River” by Natalie Merchant (album Tigerlily)
While I was listening to the 44/16 version I switched to the MQA version…
Please listen to the first 25 seconds of both encodings. They sound so much different on my system that I wonder if my DAC (Devialet) is going nuts. In the MQA version an instrument is gone from the tune. I just hear the vapour of the sound without any texture.
If you experience the same let ask to Roon where they think the problem stands.
I’ve listened to it using the Tidal app on my laptop USB connected to an MQA capable DAC (iFi xDSD) and the Master was dull as well. From the Tidal app I don’t know how I can choose to liste to the 44/16 in place of the master.
So, two totally different paths giving dull sound from the MQA version.
May be that’s the way it should sound but I would be surprised.
Thanks for your returns.

I also found the MQA version of that album to be, frankly, dreadful compared to my CD rip - can’t remember the details offhand but it certainly stood out to me at the time (as it happens I was blind to the fact it was MQA at the time so no bias there). I wonder if it’s a different master?

Listened now, you’re right, MQA is flat and totally lacking dynamics. The texture in her voice is all gone. I’m not even listening on decent equipment, I’m using the Tidal app on my Pixel phone (does first level MQA unfold) over bluetooth to my Sony wh-1000xm2 headphones. It has to be different mastering.

It must be a different mix as the one on Qobus is the same, the 44.1 has drums at the start the other dont and sounds overall dull.

I have the 24/96 download and the regular CD. I also have the MFSL CD. These have different mixes. The opening minutes of San Andreas Fault show that perfectly. There is a strummed electric guitar in the left channel on the 24/96 that isn’t present on the CD or the MFSL

The MQA version on Tidal is terrible. Really quiet, with no dynamics at all. So bad that I thought it must be an error.

I think there’s a thread on Steve Hoffman about the differing mixes.

I too think this is down to completely different mixes and nothing to do with MQA per say.

I have 3 versions of this album available to me:

  • CD quality version - Tidal
  • MQA - Tidal
  • hi-res download (24bit, 96kHz) purchased from Qobuz

On my system (Linn Klimax DS/1 - not MQA capable but using the Roon 1st unfold), there is a noticeable difference between the Tidal CD and Tidal MQA versions. In the first 30 seconds or so of “The River”, there is a pronounced drumbeat on the CD version and a prominent guitar that is still there but very much subdued on the MQA version.

However, this appears to be a completely different mix (rather than down to the effects of MQA), because the hi-res download I obtained from Qobuz has a virtually identical mix to that of the Tidal MQA version.

In this instance I prefer the mix of the Tidal CD quality version to either of the ‘hi-res’ versions, although the all round general sound quality (lack of harshness) of the hi-res versions is a little better. I also think that whilst the Qobuz and Tidal MQA versions are virtually identical, I do think that the download from Qobuz is (very) slightly and very subtly the better in this instance. This may be down to the fact that my Linn streamer does not support MQA. I’ll try the comparison on my MQA capable Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC a little later on when I have time.

I have just replicated the results of the above test on my other system which comprises a sonore microRendu with an MQA capable Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC.

Results are identical to the test using my Linn Klimax system. I think the sound quality of both the MQA and Qobuz hi-res versions is a little better than that of the CD quality version, although I much prefer the mix of the CD version.

Despite being able to carry out the full MQA unfold on the Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC, I still think that the download I obtained from Qobuz sounds subtly better in this instance than the Tidal MQA version. However, I certainly don’t agree with other opinions that the Tidal MQA version is terrible nor that it sounds ‘dull’.

I propose you to compare the difference again listening to Talk Talk’s Color Of Spring.
Again the MQA version sounds terrible compared to the 16/44 or the DSD I have.
I wonder how good or bad is the Tidal version.