Why is everyone so down on MQA?

Ok. MQA is a little bit complicated to understand without doing a little research. First of all: MQA is not technically a lossy format. The way it works is very unique. The original master tape (Holy grail of SQ) is folded or compressed into a smaller format. It is later unfolded through a process I don’t claim to understand. The fully processed final version is lossless! It is the song version from the original master tape. FYI, original master tapes are usually the best sounding, they are also the truest version of any song- they are painstakingly produced along with the artist in the studio during the recording process. Ask anyone, they are the real deal. For some reason most people hate the sound quality! One caveat, the folding/unfolding process is usually carried out at one time by a dac. But some dacs only compress and do not unfold….I think Meridian should explain dac/ streamer compatibility issue. When your hardware supports the single step the sound quality is pretty amazing. They should have explained in more detail what the format is all about.


Personally, I do not really care if the MQA concept is good or not, I just want to have the best listening experience possible. 

Therefore, here's my thoughts on MQA (I have a non-MQA Border Patrol Se-i Dac and my Zen Stream / S Booster combo is doing the first unfolding) as I compare both for the last month : 

MQA Tidal files seems more 'dense', details are a bit more 'in your face'.

Red Book Tidal : More air between instruments and perhaps more natural.

At first glance / for the first few minutes, the MQA sound is more attractive, more spectacular but after some time, I think I prefer the Red book files (more realistic / natural to my years). 

I do not know if I would conclude the same with a MQA Dac but I think I will drop HI-Fi+ as most of the time, I prefer Red book files. Of course, YMMV.

PS : Qobuz is not available in Canada




Reasons for me:

1. Even Spotify Premium sounds better to my ears.

2. Qobuz definitely sounds better.

3. MQA is a proprietary format that would be a tax on the music industry if its creators had managed to get it established as a standard.

4. I think its original reason for existence of being able to compress files so they can be send with less internet bandwidth is generally not a viable pain point anymore.

My observations on MQA:

1. I’ve heard it thru a couple of different DACs.  Until I heard it thru a dCS Bartok, I didn’t think MQA amounted to much.  I generally preferred high bit rate PCM on Qobuz.  But the Bartok changed my mind.  I now generally prefer the MQA versions on Tidal. I asked my dealer about this, and he said that dCS got the source code to the MQA encoders and analyzed it to produce their implementation.  They even sent fixes back to MQA for bugs they found.  Whatever they did, it works for my ears.  I’m sure there are other excellent MQA implementations out there, but dCS is the one I know.

2.  I had the chance to ask Peter McGrath, a well regarded recoding engineer who now works for Wilson Audio, what he thought about MQA.  He response was unequivocally positive, a definite improvement over PCM, not to mention analog.  

3. Reading the responses on Audiogon, I’m guessing that I am in the minority.  The technical aspects of MQA are beyond me, but I’m going to trust my ears.

Speaking of a solution in search of a problem, one oddball thing that has gotten much better over the past 15 years is Redbook playback.  The truly great DACs have narrowed the field a great deal between Redbook and 96/24 or better.   If yo have a DAC that only plays hi rez well switch.

This also means, again, MQA isn't that great if your DAC is already really good at low res.

Personally, I love MQA. My system is about as revealing as any out there, and there is such a clear and obvious difference between MQA and standard 44.1 that I’m surprised by the debate. No debate in this house. I use the Aurender W20Se and Berkeley Ref Alpha 3. Sure, most of the time my high res files may be a little more nuanced but compared to standard, MQA is preferred 8/10 times.