Clearing up some misconceptions about MQA


Why MQA  What is MQA  33bowls Remastered  The Art of Listening  The Technical details  Clearing up misinfo


MQA is not controversial per se; there is a rather shrill, antagonistic faction of detractors making it seem so. They tend to be either those who have not heard MQA demonstrated in a studio/salon/show, or those who have and feel intimidated or threatened by such a new paradigm, somehow believing it is a threat to their stodgy business models. Classic NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. They seem hell bent on spreading mis information, out and out fabrications, and personal attacks on Bob Stuart, the primary brains behind MQA. There is a relatively small group behind such smear campaigns, who have managed to rile up a small but vocal collection of shills, trolls, concern trolls, sock puppets, fake accounts, similar to the viral dis information campaigns of climate change deniers, anti maskers, moon landing hoaxers, and ironically, flat earthers. Even usually reliable sources, such as Ars Technica, Wikipedia have been inundated and caught up in the spread of mis information about MQA.

Frankly, the inflammatory, volatile, confrontational and ignorant rhetoric of many detractors says more about them than it does about MQA, from passive aggressive concern trolls to out and out bullies.
Those repeating mis-nomers ad nauseum about MQA often sound like incels arguing against tantra.


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In challenging the orthodoxy, MQA seems to have elicited a violent immune response by that same orthodoxy, as the orthodoxy misinterprets challenges to the status quo are a threat to it's very survival. This pattern has been going on for a very long time, the anti Darwinian mindset is fixed, un-adaptable in the face of a shifting, evolving environment. Yesterday's ferocious T-Rex is today's chicken sandwich.

Almost every paradigm shift has faced similar aggressive, highly vocal resistance; and yet, in spite of that, as haters gonna hate, paradigm shifts are gonna paradigm shift.

When electric light bulbs were introduced, the kerosene lamp industry freaked out. When seat belts were mandated, the auto industry fought with lobbyists and an Edward Bernays level of "public relations" derision about those belts, eventually embracing safety features as if they had invented them, and conveniently forgetting what a fuss they had put up at first. The lobbies defending the satus quo of the internal combustion engine have been trash talking about electric cars, until it has become obvious that their old paradigm is outdated and being replaced by electric cars. Remember Steve Ballmer, ex CEO of Microsoft, ironically having made a fortune riding a paradigm shift, thrashing the original iPhone: "It doesn't even have a keyboard!"  Remember Decca Records turning down The Beatles famously saying "the Beatles have no future in show business" ? Remember Giordano Bruno, the Italian philosopher who was burned at the stake by the orthodox Church for the heresy of suggesting that the stars were distant Suns?


For now, I would suggest: enjoy the plethora of recordings available in MQA. Many millions of tracks have been produced, mastered, or remastered in MQA. More every day. Those involved in the recording process know what they are hearing.

Those familiar with the works of Jung and Hillman may recognize the last gasp attempts of the worm refusing to evolve to become the butterfly, and fly free. The worm at first said of the butterfly: Don't bother it's no big deal, it's some fringe idea that almost nobody is doing. Later the worm said: Don't bother, it's no big deal, everybody's doing it. I looked into it, and I like being the worm better.

To those who doubt, or are paranoid about being fooled, or claim it's no big deal, here is the challenge: Do your own recording of real sounds, real instruments, that you are familiar with from scratch in 24/96 or 24/192 or even DXD, and then have it remastered in MQA.

What is unfathomable is the small minded, paranoid ether/or mentality of detractors. The existence of MQA does not threaten the existence of any other format; it has the potential to enhance any existing format.


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Now some mis-nomers being spread by the small but antagonistic group of detractors:


"bandwidth..."

 Even in the 5G era, bandwidth matters. Efficiency is a good thing. Anyone who has been the provider business will agree, it's only naive amateurs who claim (erroneously) that "bandwidth does not matter" and "the only reason for MQA is bandwidth and file size reduction" --- they are categorically wrong on both counts. MQA mastering even provides considerable sonic improvement to early digital redbook 44.1 masters. Video soundtracks in existing 4k formats are limited to 24/48, which MQA can fold neatly into, providing high resolution audio to match the high resolution video.

MQA could produce de-blurred DXD files, at 352.8 or 384 Khz sampling rate, and stop prior to the folding stage, that would be both compatible with "hi-res" playback, and recognized as MQA when played back, authenticated and rendered via MQA decoders. Those would keep the bit prefect crowd happy, at a cost of roughly an order of magnitude larger file size. However, they are audibly indistinguishable from, and measurably equivalent to folded and decoded MQA files at 44.1/48 Khz. Less than 4 microseconds aperture uncertainty, and no ringing or time smear, same as 2 meters of air. So, stop complaining, guys.


"lossy format"  or "it's compressed" See the tech link, repeated here.

Let's clear one mis conception up. Confusing data with information, and referring to MQA a "lossy" or "compressed" format is naive at best, and often deliberately disingenuous. The question is more appropriately: is any format audibly transparent?

As much as lossy/lossless appears to be a concrete left brain term with accompanying clear definition; ironically in the real world, it is a nebulous, abstract term that evokes strong, irrational emotional reactions with accompanying endless circular arguments, frequently over misunderstood or deliberately twisted semantics.

With MQA, the PCM baseband is backwards compatible (which is categorically bit for bit lossless, as backwards compatible within existing PCM standards); in addition the ultrasonic information is coded and buried in the dither when folded to baseband. Unlike MP3, AAC, DTS, the actual lossy formats which greatly increase noise modulation while discarding audio information to save bandwidth and file size, MQA keeps noise modulation to a minimum and does not throw away audio information.

Repeat: MQA does NOT throw away any audio information.

Information versus data: What is perceptually significant in the ultrasonic spectrum is not a crude stair-step approximation with time smear, which traditional nyquist PCM including so called hi-res gives when close to the nyquist frequency; rather what is important, the perceptually significant information, is the slope and timing of the small "squiggles" in that ultrasonic spectrum, that correlate with larger signals in the (consciously) audible baseband spectrum.

This encoded ultrasonic information is buried in the backwards compatible baseband PCM as sonically benign dither using spread spectrum techniques to keep noise modulation to an absolute minimum.

There is a misconception that confuses, or does not understand the distinctions between downsampling and MQA folding; and upsampling and MQA unfolding.


"it alters the master(s)."

That statement is disingenuous at best, as MQA leaves the original PCM master intact and accessible, while de blurring inherent time smear errors inherent in all nyquist PCM masters; by removing PCM sampling artifacts; the "altered" sound is closer to the live microphone feed. MQA remastering of existing PCM digital masters does not delete the original files in a quest to take over the world. Stop being so paranoid, guys.


"the average person can't hear the difference."   See the Art of Listening link

Would a Formula One design team rely on the ability or lack of ability of an average NASCAR fan to test drive that Formula One Car when optimizing for performance?

Likewise, obtaining the cleanest, most transparent, the "best" sound at the source is really a good idea, which is what MQA does indeed do.


"I heard a MQA recording that I did not like as much as the CD"

I cleaned the windows and I don't like what I see outside, so I'm going to blame the clean window, and go back to dirty windows.

As we are a couple generations into the nyquist PCM digital era, many systems have been voiced to compensate for digititis aka nyquist digital glare aka head drill resulting from the inherent time smear or blur; as have ears and brains become accustomed to that as the new normal. A direct microphone feed, good analog, and MQA do not have that artifact. Analogous to someone who is accustomed to the sugar fat and salt rush of a processed junk food diet complaining that real food tastes bland.


"flac versus MQA"

Either naive or deliberately misleading. That is like comparing the jar to the honey in the jar. Regardless of the nomenclature, flac, when set to bit perfect, acts as a container for PCM or MQA files.

Specifically, there is a video, promoted by a number of fake social media accounts, that is a sensationalist click bait hit piece on MQA; full of techncal errors and mis interpretations. 


"It's only 17 bits resolution"

Technical nit picking for pedantic exercise, the concern of MQA "only" giving circa 17 bits of resolution when based on experience with traditional nyquist PCM, going from 16 to 24 bits usually sounds better. It is not the vertical, amplitude resolution per se, it's more finely defined stair-stepped approximations of filters closer to the nyquist cutoff. MQA, with matched conjugate filters that do not ring, and not relying on the ripple effect of time smear to reconstruct the frequency domain, is able to sound so good with 17 bits resolution, a significantly larger improvement in sonics over 24 bit nyquist PCM than 24 bit nyquist PCM is over 16 bit nyquist PCM.

Just about any real world recording does not contain amplitude information below 17 bits, there is a thermal noise floor. Unless one is standing outside listening live near a thunderstorm, or right next to an airport runway, which is beyond the dynamic range ears or recording equipment can realistically capture, 17 bits is all there is. It's just noise below that, and correctly done dither, which MQA does, is important for good sonics. All else is pedantic.

Again, it is true, in the old paradigm of nyquist PCM, that going from 16 to 24 bits usually results in better sonics. However, that is the old paradigm of ringing, time smeared nyquist steep brickwall filters, and what one was hearing was not greater amplitude resolution, but more finely defined stairstep approximations of the filter functions. MQA does not rely on the ripple effect of steep filters, and provides significantly better sonics at 17 bit resolution than the old nyquist PCM systems did at 24 bits. Now you know why.


"it just adds distortion"

A rather naive story based on a misunderstanding of basic concepts, band limited frequencies; or a deliberate misconstrue of the ultrasonic components of any wide band musical recording, that MQA accurately reproduces with sufficient time resolution.


"it has DRM and is going to lock down all your music."

Just not so. There is no provision to scramble or lock an MQA file.


"it's secretive"

No, it's not. Maybe such claims are based on a lack of understanding of a new paradigm. Detailed descriptions of the process are described here and elsewhere. Some specifics are proprietary, as with any endeavour. Most will politely describe what their products or processes do, but not specifics of how they do it. While you are at it, contact Halcro, Mark Levinson, Spectral Audio, Constellation Audio, Lavardin, and demand they share schematics, boms, along with explanations of both for current production models. When, not if, but when they refuse, publicly berate them for being secretive and even accuse them of being scams.


"it's irrelevant with the availability of hi-res digital audio files" or "it solves problems that no longer exist"

Similar dismissals are often said about paradigm shifts by those who do not understand what they are casually dismissing.

MQA is a systemic approach that does way more than just fold high bit rate audio files down to baseband.

MQA is the only digital audio system or format that can reproduce audio with 4 microseconds aperture uncertainty, which is what current neurobiology indicates is the time resolution of the ear/brain. That is as transparent as about 2 meters (6 feet for the USA) of air. No other system or format even comes close. If digital audio was tested with the same scrutiny that is placed on analog components, only MQA would pass the test.


"how is that even possible?" and  "it has no reason to exist"

Your'e telling me a 5 ton heavier than air contraption can fly? How is that even possible? Besides, it has no reason to exist when this is the golden age of utility airships and luxury dirigibles.


"It's snake oil/hoax/scam" 

This is a common troll fallback, a paranoid conspiracy projection akin to Apollo Moon landing deniers. Tell that to the Royal Society of Engineering, or Bob Ludwig, or Jim Anderson, or Peter McGrath, or George Massenberg, or Morten Lindberg, or ESS Tech, or Deutch Grammaphone, or ECM or 2L, or WEA records or…

Which is more plausable?

A: All of us who appreciate MQA are under some hypnotic spell by a master mesmerizer across the pond...

Or

B: MQA is an elegant breakthrough, a paradigm shift that greatly improves digital audio quality.

You get to decide.



Trust your senses.


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Deep Gratitude to countless generations of Artisans
who listened to the Grand Muse; who practiced,
even mastered the Art of expressing the resonance
and coherence of the Universal Aum;
who crafted these and other Singing Bowls.


Your memory lives on.