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CES 2017: MQA announces TIDAL Masters, and more

Discussion in 'Head-Fi Network & Industry News' started by joe, Jan 5, 2017.
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  1. headfry
    Thanks for trying that - good to know that -on my Mac they don't play through Tidal - really enjoying Audirvana anyway.

    Are you familiar with Close to The Edge and The Yes Album? Two superb ones for Yes fans - highly recommended!
  2. headfry
    Do they play fine using Tidal software decoding - as opposed to straight through to the Explorer?
  3. TadMorose
    Yes, but my favourite Yes albums are Fragile and 90125.

    Hmm, I just tried it without the DAC. At first the albums wouldn't play. It was just buffering, but eventually they started playing. It took a good couple of minutes until the music began. So looks like something is not right. I've read other people complaining about buffering in this very thread over the past few months.

    Now, since I helped you a bit, maybe you can help me too. Are you familiar with Uriah Heep albums, specifically Demons and Wizards?

    There is a Master version that is on TIDAL. The first 9 tracks are shown as 2017 Remastered. I believe they are MQA 24/88 or 24/96, as my DAC shows two lights, with the first one being blue (for MQA). The rest of the tracks are shown as Alternative Version. They are MQA 24/44 or 24/48, but they sound much better than the remastered ones. Clearer, more detailed, better instrument separation. 

    Would you mind trying it on your system and let me know what you think? First play track 8 Paradise (2017 Remastered) and then track 13, which is the Alternate Version of the same song.

  4. Left Channel
    Thank you! That's a fair comparison, and not on the unofficial spreadsheet. It does sound very nice. Unfortunately at 1x 24/96 (or 17/88.2 or whatever) I'm not hearing a big difference between the Master and HiFi versions. In fact the difference is so slight, I can't be sure I'm not imagining it without doing a blind listening test.

    Maybe it's my ears? Or my system?
    Tidal app on Win10 i7 → UpTone Audio USB REGEN → Schiit Audio Modi 2U DAC → Schiit Audio Magni 2U headphone amp → Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 250 Ω or Sony MDR-Z7.

    I'd hate to spend money on an MQA DAC, only to discover I can't hear a difference with that either. And in general I'm puzzled over whether all or most of the benefit is from MQA specifically, or from any careful re-digitizing from an original master.

    Someone else directed me to the jazz album "Bags & Trane" on Tidal, which also wasn't on the spreadsheet. That MQA/Master does sound fantastic — like wow fantastic — and was likely produced from the 1961 original. Unfortunately there's nothing to compare it with, as the HiFi versions on Tidal are based on a 1988 CD with additional tracks, different track lengths, and very different mixing. The MQA version sounds clear, pure, and separated the way they used to do it back in the day. The HiFi versions sound muddy at best and fatiguing at worst, although when I use my flattest headphones I can see how they might have intended to make that mix more stimulating on cheaper systems at the time. We've come a long way, baby. But this alone doesn't tell me anything about MQA, just about better production values in general. Still searching...

  5. headfry
    Your perceptions of "Bags And Train" are similar
    to mine of the improvements of the Masters in general.
    I don't think I'd recommend investing in an MQA DAC right now -
    as time moves on there will likely be more MQA DAC choices, plus some more time
    and albums for the format to prove successful or not...and your DAC is very good!

    The consensus of many- and of mine- is that the SQ benefits of Tidal- decoded MQA is very similar to that of conventional hires - but in a much smaller, easier to stream file - if true this is enough vindication of the format for me, as no one is releasing an SQ-competitive format as of yet -
    if this is what it takes to hear much better mastered albums then I look forward to more selection coming!
  6. Share2Care
    Why run away Mr. Toad?!
  7. rkw
    I think I've found a workaround to the MQA tracks/albums that don't play (spinner goes forever).
    I mostly listen to classical music, and I came across many albums and tracks that won't start up. If an album doesn't start from the beginning, some (but not all) tracks within the album might still play. However, I noticed that if I start playing a "good" track, it will continue to the next track, even if that track wouldn't start when I tried to start it directly. So it seems to be a software bug where a track won't start up directly, but it's in the play queue, the previous track playing will cause the next track to be properly buffered and queued up.
    If you encounter an MQA track or album that won't start up, try this:
    • Start playing any track (doesn't have to be an MQA track).
    • While the track is playing, go to the MQA track or album you want to play
    • Click on the 3 dots option icon and select "Play Next"
    • When the current track finishes playing, it will continue to the MQA track/album and begin playing properly
    This has worked in every case I've tried.
  8. Brahmsian
    Good rundown. But Tidal now seems to be marking the Tidal Masters with an M logo. What's odd is that when I play them I'm still showing HIFI. That's in the lower right directly to the left of the volume control. The only indication it's a Master is that M logo (it's an M in a square) up top in the tittle section.
  9. rkw
    They show MASTER for me when I play. You need to install and run the Tidal app on Mac or PC. A web browser or mobile app will only play as HIFI.
  10. Brahmsian
    Thanks. I was using Chrome. I just downloaded the Tidal app, and now it shows as Master. I have to say the recordings I was listening to already sounded great on HIFI, and they sound at least as good as Master. I highly recommend Tidal.
  11. rkw
    For MQA to succeed, Master needs to sound noticeably better than HIFI. Otherwise there would be no point in MQA encoding and it will become a failed format.
  12. mike138
    I signed up with Tidal to check out MQA> Can't really say that I can hear any great improvement in quality. However, I've stuck with Tidal because their Hifi catalog is ridiculous to begin with.
  13. manpowre
    It sounds different on appropriate equipment, I hear a noticeable difference for sure. Also I suspect some people forget to change their windows driver settings to 24/96 listening to Master version of the albums in Windows. Also some of the Master albums Ive heard, and measured with ADC is louder, up to 3-5db sometimes. 
  14. Brahmsian
    I'm listening straight from my MacBook w/out an external DAC. Moreover, my good headphones broke. Right now I'm listening with Sennheiser HD 280 and PX 100-II, neither of which are hi-res phones. I'm pretty much over both of these phones and looking for something much better (looking at Oppo, Bowers & Wilkins and STAX SRS-3100 system, although I don't think you can stream with the latter). By the way, does anybody know what the optimum Audio MIDI format setting should be for Tidal Masters on a Mac? I have it at 24/96.
  15. Brahmsian
    The following is from the comprehensive Q&A with Bob Stuart. Understanding what he's saying here strikes me as essential for understanding MQA.
    "Q36. Is MQA really lossless? (bonus question)
    A36. This question often seems to assume that lossless is always best but in fact all "lossless" does is to take some bits and to reproduce those same bits at another time or place. It that's all you wanted to do, FLAC would be fine and there would be no need for MQA.
    The team behind MQA understand not only lossless compression but also lossless processing and data burying. As explained earlier, there is a fundamental difficulty if we focus solely on strict lossless delivery. It is understood that a digital distribution system (including MQA) can be lossless in distribution. The problem is that the result is not delivered today; current DACs do not have lossless behaviour in the digital domain and all behave differently. Also the replay chain has several (sometimes unintended) places where losslessness breaks down. This is covered in our papers.
    So MQA is set up to deliver a ‘closer-to-lossless’ digital path up to the DAC modulator with the goal of approaching analogue-to-analogue ‘lossless’ within appropriate thermal limits, including protecting the signals above ‘acoustic absolute zero.’
    MQA does not have the capability to defeat information theory.
    More important is to capture and protect (in a lossless manner) all the information in the file that relates to the music content. This means capturing safely at least everything in the triangle on the Origami diagrams; this is then conveyed and protected without loss. This triangle is important for defending the content but also to achieve the low-blur hierarchical sampling chain.
    Furthermore, the system path from analogue to analogue is more precise because of the other parts of the technology. Lossless deals with data in the digital domain. The biggest problem, in our experience, is getting it from analogue and back to analogue with the least audible damage. Unless you understand this perspective MQA looks strange.
    The problem that MQA is addressing is how to transport an analogue signal to another time or place. It is the analogue signal from the mixing desk that the producer heard and that is the signal that you want to reproduce at your loudspeaker.
    Many recording and mastering engineers have testified that MQA improves very considerably on the conventional methods, recreating the sound they actually hear or remember from the original session or, in the case of archive material, the sound from an analogue tape recorder.
    Q37. Lossless:
    • Is MQA lossless in the sense of the data? Not is it audibly lossless, does it have the ability to
      unpack the exact data that was recorded at higher sample rates?
    • Clarification on "lossless" please. Clearly frequencies >24kHz are not losslessly compressed in the usual way we think of "lossless", right?
    • MQA has the ability to unpack exactly (bit-for-bit) the data that was previewed with our plug-in tools in the studio. This is true for the maximum quality fed to a reference DAC as well as each of the other renderings that may happen, such as in mobile phones.
    • It is incorrect and a serious misunderstanding to assert ‘Clearly frequencies >24kHz are not ...’.
      As described elsewhere, there are two types of Origami fold and the frequencies where they are used depend on the ratio of the original sample rate to the transport rate. When the packing is folding a ‘kernel’, the process is losslessly reversible for the encapsulated audio and even at the lowest transmission rate, for content 2x or higher, the octave 24–48 kHz (or 22-44 in base 44.1) is a lossless process for the encapsulated audio. The lossless compressor used is proprietary and optimised for ultrasonic components; the folds use lossless processing. However, there is a great deal of intricacy here.
    We don’t advise asserting: ‘MQA does this one thing’ based on examining a few files. MQA is complex and the mastering engineer and encoder between them have 6 million million combinations to choose from. We will talk about this more on our blog."
    SpiderNhan likes this.
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