The Art of Listening

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

We don't consciously hear tones above 15-20kHz, however we do sense time differentials of single digit microseconds, which does require a system with bandwidth above 20kHz, sufficiently small aperture uncertainty, and sufficiently quick settling time.
Critical listening skills are learnable, in which one learns to trust all of one's senses, and articulate those senses in the sonic realm.

A recently discovered phenomena, loosely analogous to glasses blocking out UV and the iris not contracting sufficiently in sunlight: the ear/brain is not just a passive pair of microphones. This dynamic aspect of hearing appears to have been useful to our physical ancestors having a wide range of hearing, predators sensing prey food or prey sensing predators and not becoming food, the small snap of a twig being stepped on, against a background of thunder for instance. It also is what facilitates brain entrainment  from anything rhythmic as the hippocampus "decodes" the envelope of sound from both ears: traditional shamanic drumming, pounding deep house mixes at raves and festivals, binaural beats, the slow subharmonics of singing bowls, the liquid quality of piano strings resonating with each other, the nuances of jazz bass. The ear/brain is in a feedback loop, responding to the slope of events, which tightens and loosens muscles around the eardrum in anticipation of high amplitude events.

The initial low amplitude short time frame aka high frequency aspects of sound, with a steep slope is present in real life as an "early warning system" to the ears, and Nyquist, Brickwall filtering messes up that ability to sense those transients, which is part of the digital glare, listening fatigue. The ear/brain literally does not know when to tighten up the eardrums with such an artifice. This is an important facet of how MQA sounds and feels, the ultrasonic component, uniquely reproduced by MQA without time smear, allows our ears and brain to respond naturally, unlike with the blurred edges of nyquist PCM filters.

MQA captures, folds, and encodes those small squiggles with sufficiently accurate time resolution to provide the ear/brain with the correct physical response, just as in real life. MQA does this closer to the ideal "air" than even traditional nyquist high sample rate sampling, with lower time smear. Analog to analog. 

Traditional PCM nyquist aka brickwall sampling including both 44.1 kHz redbook CD and higher bit rates 2,4,8x at 24 bit, ignore time domain accuracy and mis-presume based on outdated hearing models.

Listen.  Feel.

More words on listening:

There is a distinction between consciously heard, and viscerally sensed; both are valid and necessary for the transparent listening experience. Again: Critical listening skills are learnable, in which one learns to trust all of one's senses, and articulate those senses in the sonic realm. A Japanese word: Ongaku which loosely translates as soul or essence of sound and music is a similar concept.

Allow me to mansplain through metaphor with a leading question.

Are you a knuckle dragging cretin, or do you stand, move, walk upright?

For the latter, the body is orchestrating 200 muscles, tendons, joints; all without your conscious intervention. Similar for touch typing on a qwerty keyboard, or driving a stick shift transmission, or sight reading music, or f*.....I mean mating and breeding. You are not conscious of every micro movement of each muscle, tendon and joint when standing, but you are standing. That's visceral.

For baseband audio, up to around 20 kHz or so, most can consciously sense a steady state tone. For what is called the ultrasonic spectrum or band, above 20 kHz, visceral sensing takes over. For the ultrasonic band, it's the very low amplitude facets of the sound we sense more than hear, correlated with the baseband, for which the slope and timing of those low amplitude ultrasonic facets are key. Again, viscerally sensed rather than consciously heard.

So, we have baseband and ultrasonic.

The traditional nyquist PCM redbook CD standard, 44.1/48 at 16 bits with non standardized, undefined brickwall filtering, only covers the baseband facet of the audio signal, and barely at that, with time smear (blurring) well into the range of audible, and loss of resolution from mismatched encode/decode filters, also known as anti-aliasing and reconstruction filters.

The ultrasonic band, which is chopped off in traditional nyquist PCM by the brickwall filtering, while appearing on a linear scale as wide bandwidth, is actually only a couple of octaves at very low amplitude; hence lends to efficient coding to be buried inaudibly in the baseband dither; what is called audio origami by MQA.

High Resolution digital, sampling at 2x 4x or 8x the redbook standard rate with 24 bits available, only partially, incrementally resolves the time smear issue, and does not address the need for encode and decode filters to be conjugate matched for true high resolution playback; while resulting in considerably larger file size and streaming bandwidth. There are a lot of empty bits representing the ultrasonic spectrum, with just a few actually carrying perceptually significant information.

Unused "bins", empty bits devoid of data in sampling space are inefficient, as unfortunately in PCM do not lend to ALAC, flac, or MLP packing any more efficiently than full data. All those blank bits don't compress well in prior schemes. MQA addresses that among other issues, in being efficient with packing information, not just data.

At the low end of the baseband, the infrasonic band, there is a moving window of perception, the time frame of which correlates with the frequency at which our senses, both visual and audio, transition from discrete events through vibrating, to solid. This time/frequency correlates with the EEG alpha band, and the fundamental frequency of the Schumann resonance, which is just how things evolved and emerged on the planet, not some woo woo space cadet stuff. But that's another metaphorical mansplain.


Rapid "blind" a/b/x testing is not a valid mode, neither critical listening nor "scientific." There is a baseline skew towards mediocrity, wherein the ear/brain gets stressed and fatigued, and soon all cats are grey in the dark as the listener uses the wrong part of their brain. Take the time to really get to know music you enjoy, all the twists and turns, the dynamics, the phrasing, the feeling, on a system you are also familiar with. After days or weeks, then change one component. You will be able to discern differentials that are lost in rapid back and forth switching. Some distinctions are blatant with unfamiliar music on an unfamiliar system, such as the salon demos that Sunil of Sunny's Audio Video does to demonstrate the sonic benefits of MQA. But most of the time, be with the familiar, get to really know your music and system. You will enjoy your music more that way. Rest assured you are not imagining things. Don't be paranoid. 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.