Berkeley Audio Design and MQA?

Why did they espouse MQA, knowing, as we all do now, the inherent flaws and falsehoods?


Like everything else in life some folks have integrity and some don’t.  Sometimes people suck.

Some people actually like MQA. The OP apparently isn't one of them and neither am I. So what?

I'm disappointed that a company like Berkely,

Espousing dedication to fidelity, wouldn't have known and spoken of the false claims of MQA. My gut tells me they must have known; so shame on them.


Why do you create so many anti MQA posts?

Do you know you don’t have to buy MQA devices?

You have created many posts about things you don’t like, why are you not happy?


MQA ..very much like both the A2D and the DAC ( in many cases plural ) used to create / mix / deliver the modern music we all enjoy… ( or not ) ALL have issues… attempting to fix those issues - often directly liked to the various filters ESSENTIAL to ALL digital IS / WAS a noble pursuit…

Did you ask the very accomplished people at Berkeley ?

I own a  DAC still in production some ten years in… @erik_squires .. i view this as good compared to the seemingly endless parade of dac de jour round here….

@ptss When you demo’d multiple MQA recordings vs th 16/44 versions did they all sound better/worse/the same to you?

What a format sounds like (assuming it is not grossly reducing data… like MP3 is very large the result of the hardware that is used to interpret it. MQA was a great idea, with lots of things going for it that was too late to market. It can sound great, and would have been a great if introduced 10 years ago. 

Top level companies need to embrace new standards in  technology. I have heard MQA on a Berkeley Reference Alpha 3 in my system. It sounded great. I did not do a detailed comparison. But I seriously doubt there was much if any difference in the sound quality with a red book file. 

I don’t see any reason to fault Berkeley. If you use Tidal, that was what much of their library was in.

Those of us who have heard and compared more than a few A2D converters… would deeply understand the improvement genesis behind the MQA idea….

If you do not enjoy MQA then do not pay the extra fee that Tidal charges for its recordings, pretty simple, why diss Berkeley just because they are giving the customers that DO want MQA options, you can still buy the same DAC by them and still benefit from their quality of product without listening to any MQA recordings 🤷🏻‍♂️. It seems in these times someone has to biotch about something or another, life is hard enough, enjoy your music 🎶✌️

@pizzano plus one ...


We'd be lucky to discern an audible difference between any digital format

PS - The only discernible difference I have heard from MQA was the forced use of an apodizing digital filter.  Personally prefer others, but if I think about the sound quality, I think most of what I'm hearing is the filter choice. As I've said before, in a modern 5G/500 MBit / 2 Terabyte storage world I have no idea what MQA is doing in the 21st century besides charging a license fee.

MQA I thought is no longer being made they went bankrupt and was not better In many others opinions and many companies refused to pay the $$ licensing.


MQA I thought is no longer being made they went bankrupt ...

MQA was acquired by Lenbrook, which also owns NAD and Bluesaound. Story here.

The only place I’ve heard MQA is on Radio Paradise and to be honest, I really didn’t hear a difference. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s the Node N130 that’s unpacking it, I don’t know.

I own a Berkeley Alpha Reference Series 2 MQA DAC along with the Alpha USB. I think it's a little wierd to go after Berkeley when there are so many DAC maunfacturers who have incorporated MQA into their hardware but I'm going to do my best to answer your question. I've gleaned the following information from product reviews and interviews with Pflaumer and Johnson who formed Pacific Microsonics in the mid 1990's.

Michael "Pflash" Pflaumer designed the Berkeley DACs. He is best known for constructing the HDCD encode-decode process for Redbook CDs along with Keith Johnson. I have a fairly extensive collection of HDCDs and I have compared many of them to their standard counterparts. I like the feature and I go out of my way to buy the HDCD version when available. Some of the titles sound much better than their standard versions but I've never had an HDCD disc that sounded worse. Keith Johnson's recordings which are HDCD only are some of the best sounding audiophile recordings in my collection. I've owned players that had the HDCD feature since the format came out.

Pacific Microsonics (PM) who invented HDCD also made A/D converters for the recording industry. Their converters were consided the best available. One of the reasons that HDCD sounds so good is because the digital file was created with a superior converter. Digital hardware was far from mature in the 90's and Pflaumer's converters were the choice of many top musicians and recording studios. A bunch of bands and musicians went out of their way to have their master tapes redegitized and rereleased using the PM converters and the HDCD codec. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Joni Mitchell, Roxy Music, Van Halen, the list goes on and on. Whatever you think of HDCD, there were a lot of top acts that saw the benefit in it. It's been my opinion for a long time that the superior sound of HDCD is due to the better sound of PM's converters as well as the HDCD codec,

When Pfaumer designed the Bekeley Reference Series 2 he wanted to incorporate MQA because there was a demand for it. Tidal was growing fast and it had a generally positive buzz. Pfaumer tested the format and found that the code he was given by MQA was not up to his standard. His answer was to rewrite the MQA code from scratch. AFAIK he is the only designer to ever do this. In the process of writing the MQA code Pfaumer discovered some tricks that improved the coding of his regular DAC software so he incorporated that as well. The main point I want to make is that Pfaumer is probably the most qualified individual on the planet to design a DAC with MQA. He understands the benefits of an encode-decode system for improving CD playback. You are projecting your hatred of MQA onto Pflaumer (and the rest of us) and assuming that he doesn't like the process. I think your basic premise is wrong.

Regarding MQA, I'm not a supporter but I'm not a hater either. I subscribe to Qobuz because I have a fast internet connection and I would prefer to stream the full resolution files. However, even with a fast fiber connection I still get glitches when streaming a 192 file. I understand the basic reason for MQA because high res files take a lot of bandwidth.

When I got the Reference Series 2 I wanted to try the MQA feature and I was in the market for a CD transport. I bought a TEAC VRDS 701 which has the capability to play MQA CDs. The TEAC does the first unfold and the Berkeley DAC does the rest. I bought a bunch of MQA CDs to try them out. These are catalog titles for which I have the regular CD or SACD version. In some cases the MQA version is much better. The Doobie Brothers catalog is available in CD MQA format and these discs sound much better than their CD counterparts. I would even use the term "revelatory." In the case of Takin' It To The Streets" for which I have the SACD, the MQA version beats that one too. I suspect it is the remastering rather than the MQA encoding but the difference is easily heard. In other cases the MQA version is about the same as the original. Anita Baker; "Rapture" sounds very similar between the original CD and the MQA version. The MQA version certainly doesn't sound worse.

I can't help myself from closing with an editorial comment. It's kind of sad that there are people who seem to stay awake nights hating on various aspects of our hobby. If you don't like it then don't buy it or listen to it. And please, don't ascribe stupidity or nefarious motivations onto someone else who you know nothing about. In other words, get a life.

Some people swore by MQA, as evidenced by the many arguments about it on Facebook, and manufacturers really have to provide what people want.  I'm reminded of Jason Stoddard from Schiit who said that balanced connections don't really provide any benefits over unbalanced at the cable lengths found in most audio systems.  When asked why then did he provide them on his products he said "Because people wanted them."

@8th-note ah…. you are Sir… the finest recent example of WHY i still spend time here - bravo :-) Clearly a voice i shall pay more, much more attention to going forward.

Best to you in music and in life !


For those seeking to possibly discern sonic differences in formats, my strong suggestion is a visit to the Grammy winning 2L Recordings ( The Nordic Sound ) free downloads bench……

Interesting responses. I don't "hate" Berkeley. Just disappointed.

I'll certainly "get over it :) " I did not think my post would be considered extreme. Just a little disappointed - no "hate" , not even dislike.  Disappointed,  just a little :). Just to sell dacs is my favorite answer :)  :)  We  certainly have some sensitive people here. Some bristling, itching to fight. Not me. But; I think all those working towards a " corrupt" format (pardon the pun) should be ashamed. They wanted to " control" our access and artists distribution of music. I am happy their greedy venture failed. P.S I am in a business where ethics are Paramount; and I like that :) Cheers to old fashioned honesty ...

The big question in my mind is not MQA but DSD.  I own a Berkeley Audio DAC Reference Series 2 and there is a lamentable absence of support for DSD.  The Berkeley people deliberately chose not to support it based on purity.  IOW supporting DSD would compromise the quality of PCM.  

Doesn’t supporting MQA pose the same problem?

I love MQA, it makes me happy.  Even my cat frolics while we listen with joy.  I dare you to come over and tell me it doesn’t sound amazing.  Your critical thoughts on MQA are fine, but in reality, it sounds really good.  Maybe not at your house, but at mine, it’s awesome.  We can stream all different file types and what we quickly learn is that it varies from recording to recording.  Making blanket statements is silly.

So Audiogon this thread going to get shut down like the thread that warned us against Alien Audio Academy??  


I enjoyed your post.  A voice of reason :-)

I have a berkeley Alpha DAC 3 and it is a fantastic product for anyone seeking a great price to performance ratio (in the high end category).  The guys at Berkeley are some of the best minds in the industry.  Grammy award winning minds!  There are many great DACS out there and I think Berkeley is one of the best and I have had at least 8 different high end DACS so I speak from experience.

I have found Berkeley to be a stand up company.



On the dac end of things, MQA is simply the unfolding of their compression technique in order to feed its reconstructed pcm signal to a given dac’s pre-existing pcm dac. My dac has it however I have never “heard” a MQA track. I can understand a dac manufacturer including it for those customers who might want to utilize it. Its smart business to include features some customers might want. While I cant quite figure why you might be so offended but I guess you have a low threshold?

@ghasley. Not offended. Disappointed. I get business. But, just tell it like it is. "Studio sound forever" ? Hogwash. It's the developers I was offended by. Disappointed by those who new better; who should have said "this compression scheme is not all it claims; however, we will produce it for now and see where it goes." At this time customers want it so we will provide it as an optional way to listen. We'll be monitoring feedback and keep an open mind."  FWIW 

@ptss did you make a purchase based on someone else’s words or are you just bothered by someone else’s words. I don’t know anyone who did make a purchase based on MQA being present although I’m certain there is a long line of Meridien owners who may have thought it was a thing.

Perhaps the single thing MQA was doing, which Pono also did (I miss that player) was to authenticate bit streams. If Qobuz is meddling around with the bits somehow by using lossy compression, or some processing we are not expecting we have no way of telling if we are listening to the released recording or someone’s doctored version of it.

Kind of like cryogenically treated cables. No way for me to tell either way.


We already have technology that can do this and you don't need to pay a third part to use it - cryptographic hashes.

@yage - That's kind of a straw man. Yes, we could do it, but no one is doing it so it's not really the point.

The point is,  I wish some one WOULD do it cheaply.


What makes you think that Qobuz is meddling around with lossy compression? Do you have any evidence of this? Qobuz is very clear that they are using FLAC to compress the data stream. Why would they do anything more than use FLAC? Their entire raison d'etre is to stream non-lossy CD quality files. I can't imagine that they would risk their reputation by trying to squeeze out a few less gigabytes of bandwidth using some sort of lossy compression. If they were doing that they absolutely would have been busted by now.

I have compared at least half a dozen Qobuz streams to the corresponding CD, where I was sure they were the same version, They all sound identical. If Qobuz is messing around with the file, I sure can't hear it.

I've also read several forum and reddit threads about Qobuz streaming quality and the most credible people, such as recording engineers who have looked carefully at the Qobuz files, say that they appear to be identical to their CD counterparts. Qobuz streams at about 900 KBps which is normal for a FLAC file.

Qubuz sneaking in a lossy compression scheme would be like Mobile Fidelity having a digital step in their "One Step" vinyl record process. I don't know how much damage that did to MoFi but I'll bet it was a lesson to everyone else in the industry. Your dirty little secrets will always get out.

What makes you think that Qobuz is meddling around with lossy compression? Do you have any evidence of this?


My statement was purely a hypothetical to illustrate why authenticated music files is a valuable feature. @8th-note

I picked Qobuz purely as an example, but it holds.  If Qobuz or Tidal or anyone else does any sort of manipulation of the original source files I would have no way of knowing. 



+1 I have compared red book CDs with Qobuz FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and they sound identical.