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MQA 3rd unfolding

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by feddar, Oct 18, 2019.
  1. feddar
    I read from https://www.mqa.co.uk/how-it-works:
    MQA Full Decoder
    Products with a full MQA Decoder unfold the file to deliver the highest possible sound quality. At this level of playback you are hearing what the artists created in the studio – with precise file and platform-specific DAC compensation and management. Partners include Bluesound, Brinkmann, dCS, Meridian, Mytek, NAD, LUMIN, Onkyo, Pioneer, TEAC and Technics.

    Smartphones from brands including LG and Essential can also deliver a fully decoded MQA experience.

    But when I look up these products, none mention the 3rd unfolding. When I try to find information about MQA DACs, many recommend Audioquest Dragonfly and other DACs that I know only do the 2nd unfolding. Many even recommend UAPP, which is software and does the 2nd unfolding only.

    My question is: do any DACs actually unfold the 3rd level? Has this been verified by a seeing higher sample rate somewhere?

  2. bigshot
    It's a lossy format. It doesn't have a higher sample rate. Basically, what it does is wrap a proprietary DRM around a good sounding lossy codec and then charges a licensing fee for it. You can get the same thing without the DRM and licensing fee... It's called AAC.
    ssag likes this.
  3. castleofargh Contributor
    as the term unfolding doesn't mean anything and is just a play on word with the all origami marketing, they can describe pretty much any processing as an unfolding step.
    here is probably the most information we're ever going to get:

    first, let's be clear, MQA is X bits of PCM file, then Y bits of one encoding, and then sometimes Z bits of a second encoding. so right there I'd argue that you really can only "unfold" 2 stuff. the fact that things may or may not get complicated and involve more steps is clearly not necessary for the file itself. we're in the digital domain, the right app and the right codecs are all we could ever need to turn this into its final Pokemon form.
    now I do see 2 reasons to involve a physical device in the last steps or what we may decide to call last unfolding, maybe:
    one is BS about DRM and making a magic little light glow. they may have decided to only give the decoding ability as a hardware chip or something like that.
    the second is that the entire process is including Meridian's apodizing filter for the DAC. a process where they oversample X2 the signal and end up applying an antialiazing filter that's not great objectively but that their own internal self paid study has "demonstrated" to be subjectively preferred compared to some irrelevant other option that pretty much nobody uses. that too would require a DAC manufacturer to open his device to Meridian MQA and let them replace their filter with MQA's stuff at least to deal with MQA files. chances are that most of the time this is really all the extra step you get. but maybe with the bigger files(24bit MQA), there is indeed some extra stuff to be decoded only there and to be used as intended instead of just wasting space. I don't really know. and the patent offers a range of possible uses without telling which one will be applied to a given file or when they'll artificially limit the decoding for the lolz.

    so from my point of view and mostly based on memories, there's a chance that the third unfolding is really just the apodizing filter. IDK.
  4. bigshot
    It's the unfolding of the green pieces of paper in your wallet.
  5. jagwap
    That is how patents work these days. It used to be "add as many possible ways to accomplish the new tech, to cover all loop holes". Now in addition it seems to be "add as many spurious methods so as to obscure the real methodology". You can see why someone would want to do that, but it flies in the face of the principal of the patent system, with is to protect while sharing the invention information.

    The more time I spend researching audio, the more I believe time domain information is as crucial as frequency response. But as MQA doesn't explain what they do in this regard, I will stay on the fence: admiring the intention, but not convinced. But I will not stoop as low as to assume it is junk.
  6. jagwap
    The Meridian Explorer 2 does, unsurprisingly. I haven't proved my LG G8 does, but as Meridian "tuned" it, it might.
  7. bigshot
    How about "overpriced ordinary"?
  8. jagwap
    I realise that it isn't free to content providers or manufacturers, but I haven't paid extra for it yet. I had Tidal anyway, and almost half price due to the region I live in. I had an LG phone already, and Meridian did not raise the price of the Explorer when they added MQA. As I got it on Amazon at about 40% off, it could be seen as negative. So just from my perspective, it is not overpriced, as it has been free. Well only financially. I'm not sure how to put a monetary value on the effect of all the trolling it produced in the internet media I frequent.
  9. bigshot
    If everything costs the same, then ordinary is fine. Because ordinary is beyond good enough.
  10. gregorio
    1. Certainly it is, arguably more important because time domain information defines the freq response but as with freq response, there's a point at which any further improvement is inaudible.
    1a. They do say what they do and why, although they don't give details on how. What they do and why is clearly just marketing nonsense.

    2. All we can say is that many of the marketing claims are junk but that doesn't mean that MQA itself is. From what I can tell it isn't junk, it's just as good as everything else ("ordinary" as bigshot puts it) but not "better" as it claims.

    3. You don't really know if you've paid extra for it because their business model means the end consumer pays indirectly and only if it achieves high market penetration will consumers likely also pay directly. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be achieving high market penetration!

  11. ruthieandjohn
    Am I right in understanding that the purpose of MQA is to place a high resolution bit rate into the confines of a CD standard bit rate stream, right?

    If so, then am I correct that you can achieve results that are no worse if you simply accept the higher bit rate and use the original high resolution signal? There is no sonic advantage added by MQA, is there (except perhaps a distortion, like that of tubes, that some ears may find more pleasing)?
  12. bigshot
    MQA is like lossy. It's audible transparency, just in a smaller package. The thing is, AAC is audible transparency in an even smaller package, and AAC isn't burdened with proprietary DRM and limited source and playback options. MQA is basically making things harder on yourself for no reason, but that is something audiophiles do all the time.
  13. castleofargh Contributor
    it's complicated, or very simple depending on what you believe. MQA is a mess in part because they wanted it to do several things in one proprietary chain. at some point MQA wished to even have its hands in the recording process. and if you get a DAC with the apodizing thingy, then even the reconstruction of the signal is made à la MQA. and in the plan to take over the world, the encoding itself was really just a technical detail and could have been handled in many other ways(some clearly more efficient in term of compression).
    I mention all this because part of their claims is that we notice and dislike ringing from the band limiting, and they seem to consider that it's audible and bad anywhere. meaning they think a 44.1kHz file is audibly inferior to anything with a higher sample rate, and anything with a filter that reduces ringing is superior to something that mostly sticks to what math says is correct. as MQA makes files that can look like say 44 or 48kHz PCM while actually being at a higher sample rate once converted, this too can in a way be looked at as a way to make the sound audibly nicer.
    now, I personally have a terrible time trying to tell the difference between DACs(volume matched), even between stuff that acts as kind of pure linear phase VS one minimum phase(when many DACs will pick something nice in between for reasons). when I do hear a difference, the output so far always had a fairly significant frequency response difference and I have no reason to assume that what I'm detecting isn't that change in signature. so for a guy like me, the big main MQA idea is irrelevant as I apparently don't hear it and when I do hear something it's usually not because the sample rate is higher and the filter rings more or less. that leaves me with the compression itself, which to make it very simple(too simple?) is a normal .wav let's say 12/48 instead of 16/48 or 24/48. and 12 or 13bits is typically enough not to get background noise, plus the extraction of MQA involves dither, making that background noise even less noticeable. but as our audio gears want 16 or 24bit containers for PCM(I don't really know why), they now have free bits at the bottom of each sample, and so they put some encoded data down there. mainly with the purpose of doubling the sample rate once completely extracted. if they have enough storage down there, they can stock enough information for an almost lossless file at double the sample rate. but still effectively 12 or 13bit so you can debate the actual increase in resolution or the compression efficiency.
    in the end they put a lower bit depth higher sample rate file inside a box that says "higher bit depth lower sample rate". that's the concrete result of MQA compression itself.

    so if you're like me, you have zero interest in ever getting involved with this again and hope it dies soon. but you can find testimonies about the obvious "night and day" improvement with MQA, from people who's confidence can usually only be matched by their laziness in setting controls in a listening test. in their favor, with MQA being as opaque as possible, we usually have no clue if a MQA album is the same master or not. so to try and answer your question, I don't know if MQA makes the sound nicer or not, or what that specific nicer could even sound like. some people seem to find some MQA release better and some worse. some people claim that everything is clearly better even when they only use the software extraction that misses out on 3/4th of the supposed no ringing high sample benefits. some say they don't hear a thing or clearly notice a different master. who's correct, who's full of crap? IDK for sure.
    but if you do worry about ringing from the filter, if you're on the team that finds the time domain more important than the frequency domain, despite how they really are 2 sides of the same coin, then you will favor anything with a higher sample rate and won't care much for bit depth. and one of the solutions for that could be MQA. or hires flac files. or DSD, the ultimate declaration that one doesn't give a crap about bit depth for encoding.
    NickMimi likes this.
  14. hiilari
    Hi, greetings from Finland,

    If listening to Tidal on a Windows PC there's the unfolding at the app option, or passthrough in case external hardward does the MQA unfolding. What's the difference between the two? To me Tidal masters sounds great, and I'm considering upgrading my DAC to RME ADI2 that has every cupholder....but no MQA. Please advise.
  15. iridium7777
    there is no 3rd unfold, the subject line of this thread is incorrect.

    there are only 2 possible unfolds, one comes from SW and one comes from the HW.

    for example, if you have neither SW or HW decoder you'll be playing a track at 24/44 or 24/48.

    with 1st unfold by SW (such as the tidal app itself, or audirvana) you'll get 24/88 or 24/96 as an output.

    mate that to an MQA capable DAC and you're able to get to 24/176 or 24/192, assuming the resolution is there.

    mating something like Dragonfly to Tidal/Audirvana gets you essentially nothing because the DF is capped at 96, so all of the unfolding is already done by SW.

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