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MQA: A Canvas of The Future

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by Eric Franklin Shook

Sometimes paranoia is having all the facts.

In the hierarchy of arts, writers are classed a smidge below clowns and a little above trained seals. So ready your skepticism as this is my attempt at writing about something I have never been willingly interested in; digital streaming. Ugh.

Call me a luddite, or call me ironically old-fashioned for preferring physical formats. I like their staying power. I like their reliability over those times when I’ve had hard drives fail, internet drop-outs, or a favorite internet radio station go belly up (see Viva-Radio, East Village Radio, Dynamic Range Radio). For my needs, if you have the player, and have the physical format — you have the music. Nothing grinds my gears like a dodgy wi-fi signal, a commercial interruption, or an incoming phone call bringing a halt to my joy. Playback systems complicated by technological impotence, unwanted sales pitches for insurance, or telemarketers; I can’t think of things worse to invade my well adapted listening habits. My listening routines: are rarely passive, always involving, and always cardinal to sustaining my chosen mood. On to the suspected witchcraft that is MQA.

Mike Twomey of Big Kids Toys AV in nearby Greensboro, North Carolina invited me to his most recent class on Digital Streaming via MQA, which would be hosted by Meridian’s own MQA specialist, and regional sales manager Adam Hauser. I was immediately not interested, but I accepted without hesitancy as Mr. Twomey is one of the good guys, trustworthy, and when he’s enthused about something, I feel the need to get enthused as well. I was assured that I was in for some cruel tutelage that day. Boy, was I wrong.

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We began the day with cold sudsy greetings between familiar friends and dedicated customers; all one and the same. Gathered in in tight for a quick presentation on the history of Meridian, or as I like to call it, “How Meridian Technology Was Already a Part of Your Everyday Media”– Adam Hauser took the reigns well.

My key takeaway points from his further proselytism:

  • MQA is a lossy format, but that’s not the point, it’s about timing. Taking a “studio to user” approach to maintain perfect clocking and jitter reduction or in this case elimination.
  • Yes, MQA is digital origami in a sense that priority distributed resolution based on complexity is used to maintain translation of the source material, regardless of sample rate standards employed in MQA vs typical PCM oversampling.
  • MQA increases streaming efficiency by the boatload. Taxing infrastructure and distribution networks both local and global to a minimum while delivering all of the resolution desired once “unfolded” (aka: decoded).

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Listening to several tracks in (a/b/a exhibition) it became clear to me that what I was hearing was very similar to the uncongested sound of multiple tracks, independent from clustering in the mix. Instruments seemed to have an individual nature in their presentation and volume that definitely lead me closer to fooled in the realms of “is this real?” As Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson would say about audible illusions, it’s all “brain failures”, and to me a welcomed lie. Fool me, please sir, fool me.

MQA is the proposed advancement in digital formats we’ve been waiting for since the ‘90s. MQA will sound different. Mostly due to the way it’s sampled; with less smear, less ringing and digital artifacts. If it’s not one, it’s a zero. That feature alone, saves gobs of room in the encoding process, while providing a dead quiet and dark background upon which the music will stand tall. Seemingly louder, but probably not. Could this be the perfect canvas needed to finally put an end to the loudness wars? I think so.

That above impression being said, I would say it’s safe to say that MQA can and probably will be better than the original releases of many titles that suffered impairments offered by recording equipment of the early days and later day digital distribution process, all of this to the health of audible realism. This is what digital was always meant to be if it was going to compete with analog in any serious fashion.

Standard MQA recordings (green dot) for the most part will be indistinguishable from their fellow hi-res brethren as it’s concerned to mastering (which is a feat considering the condensed delivery system), but whereas MQA Studio recordings (blue dot) become really exciting is the point where the re-mastered or “correctly mastered“ recordings become the best version available on the market. Needless to say I’m a fan.

Now Meridian just has to carefully place MQA in the market without crashing and burning like so many formats that have come before it. I hope they stick the landing.

Get your Occasional now

3 Comments on MQA: A Canvas of The Future

  1. Chris Hermansen // March 9, 2017 at 10:10 PM //

    Sound quality and technical coolness and that stuff – kudos. Closed proprietary format requiring licensed decoder to fully enjoy – bad. Not being able to unpack once and for all – double bad. Delivering in a FLAC container – a slap in the face to the fine people who provided FLAC as an open format.

  2. Are you ready to rebuy your library? And your digital gear. And tell your favourite recording studio to do the same, if they want in on the MQA train?

  3. Thom Osburn // March 5, 2017 at 10:22 AM //

    I heard an MQA demo from Tidal via the Bluesound DAC ($500) at Atlanta’s Hifi Buys and on all but two albums the sound was impressive.
    The two problem albums were (1st title) not recorded that well in the 1st place and (2nd title) wretchedly mastered. But this was two albums out of over 60 tested.

    I am a vinyl die-hard but the SQ that day was undeniable.

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