Saturday, 14 October 2017

MQA: "Final" thoughts... On Politics & Paradigms.

Cartoon looks about right and reflective of MQA... From article here.
In the last few weeks as I was preparing the series of posts discussing the MQA blind test, I noticed The Absolute Sound (TAS) ramping up the hype again in September with two articles in defense of the value of MQA. Let's use those articles to close off discussions about MQA among other ideas at least for a bit here at The Musings...

Sure, I'll be around to add my two bits and answer questions where I can, but to be honest, I'm a little tired of MQA by this stage and how much of a big deal it isn't, IMO.

First, consider the TAS article "The Politics of MQA" by Andrew Quint. I found the title appropriate but not so much the opening sentence: "The codec known as MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) is clearly in its ascendancy." Are we sure about that?

You see, I agree very much about the title because really it's about politics. It's about influence, control, and money. MQA is a business, it needs to generate revenue, and to do so it must gain adoption of course. In contrast, the average audiophile when presented with another "new format" cares about the utilitarian aspects of what is presented (actual sound quality potential) and value from the purchase if adopted. The frustration I think this new file type brings is a result of this dissociation. The company and mouthpieces insist that they have produced a "technology" of value because it brings the "studio sound" home, that it's "revolutionary", that it embodies a new "paradigm" (more below), and that we will find benefit. It does this with ostensibly something significant - temporal "de-blurring". But for audiophile consumers, it's hard to imagine what the company, advertisers, and promoters are talking about... Where is the "blurring" exactly to begin with? On what scientific basis (for those who wonder about these things)? Even if true that the technique improves temporal accuracy in a certain way, what evidence is there that this really is appreciable to music lovers (ie. where are the comparisons even in audio shows right from the start to show an openness and confidence in what's being sold)? From my perspective, looking at what has transpired as a whole, the sales job, whether from Bob Stuart or the audiophile press, clearly hasn't been engaging in a way I think things need to be in this day of vastly improved communications - especially when dealing with passionate and knowledgeable members of such a small hobby!

Remember that doubts about the claims made in the audiophile world are nothing new! Consider the context of audiophilia as a whole. After years of obviously questionable claims from "experts" in the audiophile media promoting mindless tweaks, crazy cables, and preposterous theories, is it any wonder that there would be "blowback" when consumers yet again are subjected to the aroma of more politics (and the attendant profit motive) rather than what we truly care about? Just some no-nonsense technological advancement which actually makes sense and can be presented without hyperbole.

"Experts in general are viewed with suspicion nowadays." Maybe this is more true these days overall, I don't know, but specifically in the "high end audio" world, why would anyone not question such "authority"? It's hilarious to see the next sentence advocating that readers have a look at Tom Nichols' book The Death of Expertise but conveniently not showing the full title - The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. Are MQA's claims "established knowledge", Mr. Quint? Are those who view MQA critically (presumably including my posts here) trying to dissuade anyone from scientific inquiry, exploration of empirical truths, or in any way undermining decades of engineering and scientific principles; you know... established knowledge?! Which group truly has the weaker critical thinking skills?

Here's another gem: "... the MQA critiques I've seen are conspicuously silent on the extensive psychoacoustic research that underlies the development of the codec..." Here too is another claim that MQA wants us to be impressed by. But it's simply not impressive because even MQA says little about the research they claim to be so influential! (For reference, I've discussed some of this research hereherehere and here over the years. Also, I see that MQA likes to reference a 2013 Oppenheim paper on how "Human Time-Frequency Acuity Beats the Fourier Uncertainty Principle" and yet there's this comment refuting claims worth considering thanks to the National Research Council of Canada.)

Yes, research can refine our understanding of the human hearing and perception organs, but let's not be naïve thinking that any of this research somehow has opened a doorway into remarkable levels of audible resolution. There are no major theories or psychoacoustic breakthroughs that high-fidelity equipment or file formats can suddenly exploit! [Consider over the years all the claims in the bizarro world that companies like Synergistic "Research", Machina Dynamica, Shun Mookcottage industry cables, questionable software, etc... operate in with their claims of sonic improvement based on incomprehensible science.]

The final comment I want to make about this article is this statement in the last paragraph: "Let’s face it: There are some audiophile elitists that are going to resent this challenge to their special status." Huh? Who are the elites in this fairy-tale opposing MQA? Are not those who promote "high end" products, those who have direct access to the manufacturers, those who believe that they are endowed with the gift of "golden ears" and can value the benefits of $10,000+ audio cables (like these "beauties" in your magazine) at least mouthpieces for these elites? In any event, I fail to see how this little codec which appears to make little empirical difference pose any challenge to one's pride in owning a nice, expensive sound system with all its non-utilitarian benefits. As if the megabuck elites would have any trouble coughing up a few thousand to upgrade a DAC should MQA actually take off. Specifically then, about whom are you referring to?!

As I said, I agree that MQA is political. With little to no evidence that it sonically makes a difference whether technically or empirically in listening tests, the only people that would gain from its adoption would be companies with a stake in obtaining influence and financial gain (primarily MQA Ltd.). Music labels would probably also prefer something like this so they don't need to release original "studio master" hi-res files (the "crown jewels" as discussed here) - saved for yet another remaster down the road.

As usual, lots of claims, opinions and allegations, no demonstration of facts from the politicians. Obviously embodied in the emptiness of this article.

Then there's "Let the Revolution Begin" by Robert Harley.

Hmmm, where shall I begin? Let's see, in the last 20 years, I have been an "early adopter" of many new technologies and media formats. I bought the first Creative Labs PC-DVD drive and decoder card on the market in the late 90's, purchased some of the first DVD's when they were still single layer flip disks, got into SACD with a Sony SCD-1 for awhile, bought a few DVD-A's but wasn't enthralled by the experience. I enjoyed both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD and still have an old Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive in storage. By the early 2010's, I started purchasing hi-res audio downloads for select albums that seemed to be of high resolution provenance.

In the last year I've been enjoying my 4K/HDR TV, bought my first UHD Blu-Rays, upgraded to an octa-core CPU, and in the last few weeks bought a new electric vehicle to replace my gas-guzzling car. In each of these recent purchases, I and the family experience obvious benefits... My kids clearly know which version of Planet Earth II they want to watch when given a choice between the 4K/HDR and 1080P, I know what CPU I'd want to use for encoding long videos to HEVC/H.265. It's great to know that I've driven more than a thousand kilometers already without burning any gasoline. Clearly my wife appreciates the new vehicle because we have to fight for the keys to the EV in the morning :-).

Would any of these tangible benefits be evident when it comes to choosing between MQA and another digital audio format at home (hi-res or otherwise, including high bitrate MP3)? Would my kids or wife make a deliberate decision to select an MQA-encoded album over a standard PCM? I can certainly say without reservation that this simply would not happen.

As audiophiles, in the last few decades, I think we've seen some genuine "revolutions". From a sound quality perspective, the switch from LP/vinyl/cassette to CD was a big one in the 1980's that got better over time as digital matured (at least with the albums that survived the loudness war). From the perspective of convenience, the CD allowed for high quality car playback, MP3 allowing for thousands of songs in the pocket, computer audio and storage provided high quality home access, and streaming with access to millions of tracks over the cloud are all worthy contenders for at least the adjective "significant", and "evolutionary" if not quite "revolutionary". Since the CD and 16/44 PCM encoding, we have already had our shot with a new encoding "format" paradigm. It is called SACD and DSD, and it's still with us though on life support with few new releases. But we know it was not "revolutionary" in how it impacted sound quality (nor did it add anything to convenience although multi-channel was nice). How could it when 2-channel CD sound quality was already excellent (yes, the Sony and Philips engineers did their homework more than 30 years ago).

DSD with multi-megahertz sampling rate already provided very high frequency response and excellent time domain qualities as per nice looking impulse-response graphs touted by the MQA folks to be important. Yet clearly these were not enough to overcome the barriers to mass adoption in the marketplace. In fact, DSD64 has even better dynamic range and lower noise floor than MQA in the audible spectrum. Sure, we can put some blame on the marketing approach and possibly other poor business decisions made by Sony and partners, but this doesn't excuse the core issue of limited differentiable audibility for human consumption.

MQA as typically found on TIDAL is a 24/44 or 24/48 PCM stream with a lossy-encoded piece embedded in the least significant bits in much the same way as HDCD embedded instructions under the expected noise floor with 16/44 PCM. The other part to this scheme is of course the 16 customized upsampling filters as demonstrated by the AudioQuest Dragonfly Black's measured impulse responses.

In comparison to a jump from 16/44 PCM CD to multi-megahertz sampling rate 1-bit DSD (ie. SACD), how much of a "paradigm shift" is the jump from 24/96 to MQA as described in the previous paragraph? Mr. Harley speaks of the "'crisis' in which a 'battle' (Kuhn’s terms) breaks out between followers of the old and new paradigms" implying that it's happening right here and now. But the "crisis" (let's not be so dramatic - this is more a "disagreement") we're engaged in is not about science and demonstrable sonic enhancement but of politics as alluded to by TAS's own article above!

For Mr. Harley to frame this debate on a grand scale of Kuhn's scientific revolution is laughable and obviously hyperbolic. It damages further a magazine which IMO has little credibility when it comes to being able to show critical thinking and understanding of the technology (remember extremely strange articles like this?). It also exemplifies to the world the madness of audiophilia and the ineptitude of some of the "journalists" in this hobby among other technology-based enthusiast pursuits. These are the esteemed journalists that audiophiles are supposed to respect? This is the level of intellectual discourse we engage in to divine whether a new and "revolutionary" product honestly deserves attention (much less financial support)?

Notice how he spent many paragraphs creating the impression that MQA has embodied amazing breakthroughs in "the new psychoacoustic paradigm". Snapping twigs, cracking leaves, wind, rain, and running water have "no frequencies"! The hearing mechanism has bidirectional neural afferent/efferent pathways! Supposedly MP3 has "failed" in practice!

You see, these are all meaningless at best or erroneous at worst arguments. Yes, there are frequencies to be found when we record a twig snap :-). Nobody denies that humans are remarkably complex and as we understand more about the biological architecture, new neural network pathways will be found. No, MP3 has not "failed". In what universe is this man living in? If I had a role in creating MP3, I'd certainly be proud of the success over these decades! Considering that the vast majority of Internet streaming is still lossy, satellite Sirius XM radio is equivalent to 128-160kbps MP3, the local DJ "spins" MP3's at all the recent dance parties I've been to, and lossy audio continues to advance with codecs like Opus, there's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm obviously not saying that audiophiles should not embrace lossless audio or hi-res, rather, in the vast majority of situations, an MP3 of reasonable bitrate would be more than adequate to successfully encode the sound at a high enough resolution.

None of these arguments can be linked to anything MQA actually does. I need to point out that he is creating "straw men" arguments. Just because nerve fibers go this and that direction doesn't mean MQA makes anything better. Likewise, so what about MP3? The issue is whether MQA actually is better than lossless PCM and hi-res PCM. Ironically it is actually MQA itself that contains lossy elements in the compression algorithm, throwing out parts of the ultrasonic frequency felt to have no useful benefit. (Not that this is unreasonable BTW, just as it's not unreasonable for MP3 to toss out some data also for the sake of compression.)

Here's an interesting quote (bold emphasis mine):
So, here we are in 2017, with our digital-audio systems designed around first-generation paradigms of information theory (Nyquist-Shannon) and psychoacoustics (frequency-based, the ear as a linear and static device). MQA comes along and forges a new path, building on the advances in other fields and developing from first principles an entirely new way of looking at the question of how best to encode, distribute, and decode digitally represented music.
Wow, doesn't that sound just grand?! Let's rewrite that paragraph and create a realistic version of what MQA is:
So, here we are in 2017, with our digital-audio systems designed around tried-and-true paradigms of information theory and psychoacoustics. MQA is forging ahead with its proprietary, partially lossy compressed 24/44 or 24/48 PCM stream with a little bit extra to tell the DAC how it should dither and with which of 16 weak, poorly antialiasing, upsampling filters it should use embedded in the lowest few bits of data. The PCM stream is then typically losslessly compressed using an open-source FLAC encoder for delivery. It can then be streamed by TIDAL or downloaded as a file through typical Internet mechanisms. 
On playback, the audio data is software decoded either on your computer or in your DAC with MQA-compatible firmware back into a reconstituted PCM hi-res stream at 24/88 or 24/96. From there, dither and/or noise shaping can be applied, then the embedded upsampling filter choice is used for final conversion to analogue.
Doesn't sound that grand any more when we describe what it actually does while taking out phrases like "first-generation paradigms", a "new path", "first principles", etc. Calling a spade a spade isn't nearly as romantic nor perpetuates the grandeur.

It's just odd to think that some in the media are so apparently taken with what amounts to faith in a DSP algorithm. And when others come along and try to demonstrate why it may be deserving of criticism, a grand conflict threatening the very foundations of scientific thinking gets invoked! We might as well drag Heaven and Hell, or virtue and sin into this earth-shaking dialogue. Is it any wonder that audiophiles sense this gross dissociation? Is it also not fair to ask why is it that folks who could benefit from industry incentives (not just financial incentives) seem to be so supportive of this "technology"? To not question these so-called "experts" who provide mere opinion would be obviously foolish!

To end off, I think it's important to remember what's happening here with MQA. In an unregulated free enterprise system, the arguments, tests, debates are necessary. The consumer is trying to figure out whether what is being sold to us has merit. In an age of free speech with online forums and blogs, the consumer has a powerful platform to express itself; much different from the landscape of years ago when magazines can print whatever they wanted with consumer discontentment expressed in the short "Letters to the Editor" section. It really doesn't help when the press - especially a publication like this one - appears so grossly one-sided and out of touch. As I have said before, I believe that the press should really be independent and aligned with consumer interests in mind. If in this day and age the audiophile press is nothing more than the advertising arm of an industry, then let's be transparent about that as well.

We expect that the MQA/Meridian company will spend money on partnerships, buying advertising space, and whatever forms of influence it feels it needs (politics). If there is truly merit, MQA could reap rewards... If not, they've wasted a lot of money and time on a potentially risky direction which could have been engaged productively in many other ways to build the company and its products. Through all of this, the pressure remains on them to deliver.

I suspect we'll know how this goes by next year. Is MQA truly "clearly in its ascendancy", TAS?

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For those who want to hear it directly from Bob Stuart - here's the man himself in a recent interview:



BTW: An interesting figure he mentioned is that MQA audio is "typically 15.85 bits" and "up to 17 bits" of resolution (31:05). He still claims that undecoded MQA is better sounding than CD because "de-blur" has been done to a certain extent already (30:18).

Here's the "MQA talk" given by Danny Kaey of Positive Feedback at last week's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 streamed by Chris Connaker (Computer Audiophile):



Overall not exactly a satisfying discussion about MQA at all. MQA is barely mentioned after the first few minutes. He's instead meandering into a rather low-level and unfocused rambling about all kinds of stuff ("let's pivot the conversation") of varying significance to hi-fi. Ultimately, the guy is saying "Technology moves on... Let's get behind MQA cuz it's the only train in town!" without any good reasons provided whatsoever. As usual, he only sees good in the sound of MQA (19:35); no apparent ability to show balance nor acknowledge criticisms.

He also claims that a guy from the 1950's showing up in a modern audio show would not be surprised by what he experiences (31:00), implying little change in the hobby over >50 years. What's this dude talking about?! What about ubiquitous stereo material and even multi-channel, all that digital tech from CD onward, computer audio hardware & software, room correction DSP, speaker designs of overall better quality than the 50's, thousands of albums on a NAS, streaming audio, mobile players, generations of headphone refinement, wireless connectivity? Honestly, a guy from the 1950's would be amazed by the upgrade in fidelity, convenience, and often reasonable price tags (as well as audacious price tags) he would find. And that's just on the equipment side - imagine all the different genres of music, unique sounds, studio effects he would have to catch up on! Increase in audio fidelity might not be as impressive as the jump from B&W TV to a 4K/HDR massive flat-panel, but let's not be so devaluing of audio technology's evolution over the decades!

It's hilarious seeing that back-and-forth "yes / no" exchange on whether music producers/musicians/conductors could insist on how music is heard like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino insisting on the cinematic experience (32:30). It's one thing for a movie director to say that theaters have to meet certain criteria of video resolution and audio capability (there are all kinds of standards in place from THX to IMAX for decades), but who can insist, much less enforce, how one must listen to music a certain way at home or what equipment you use!? What a joke... The audience is right - NO. I'd be happy if a favored artist even had the power to request that their album not be overly dynamically compressed when being mastered.

There's more I can point out, but at the end of the day, clearly the audience members "get it". Have a look near the end of the talk at 1:04:30. The audience member is correct to imply that failure to expand hi-fi isn't just because of marketing, or just because the hi-fi industry "doesn't know how to say it well" in their advertising. You must have something of substance to sell when pushing the technology. Yes, Blu-Ray sells, and 4K sells. This is simply because these technologies have resulted in perceptible change compared to what came before in many situations. You cannot extract money from the consumer when they cannot differentiate a substantial improvement between CD and hi-res under most circumstances especially with yet another remaster of decades old material or new albums of poorly recorded/mixed/mastered quality; that's really all there is to it. I've said this since the beginning when discussing my "expectations" of Hi-Res Audio (and related discussion on value of Hi-Res Audio) which of course applies to MQA.

Considering that in recent years, we have already witnessed the demise of Neil Young's Pono, how many more Hi-Res Audio-based schemes must meet their wasteful end before the hi-fi industry moves on to something more worthwhile? If we were to write a book about 2-channel hi-res audio "formats", perhaps the first few chapters could be devoted to hardware playback of SACD and DVD-Audio. Somewhere in the middle would be the rise of computer audio, file-based media, and services like HDtracks and Qobuz. The last chapters of this 2-channel Hi-Res story might end up starting with the passionate madness of Neil Young, and perhaps mercifully ending in the calculated genius of Bob Stuart.

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Well folks, I think I'm "good" with talking about MQA for a bit. That was certainly longer than I had initially intended! Unless there are truly new developments with this codec, I'll just linger. :-)

For the pop/rock lovers, I've been enjoying The Lemon Twigs' latest EP Brothers of Destruction. Also, Cécile McLorin Salvant's latest Dreams and Daggers [Live At The Village Vanguard] 2 CD set (DR11) sounds great if you like live jazz vocals. The new Avishai Cohen album 1970 was also a fun listen last night with some friends; essentially pop with a Middle Eastern world music flair (DR9 - a bit volume compressed, don't bother with the 24-bit version).

A few nights ago, I decided to spend an evening just listening to multi-channel music and was reminded of how amazing the 2015 multi-channel Blu-Ray version of Roger Waters' Amused To Death is (a very natural evolution for an album that helped demonstrate the abilities of Q-Sound back in the early 90's). Excellent sound engineering, deep ideas, and the spatial canvas of surround sound... Wish more albums were like this!

I'll be out of the country again for a bit. Will see if I have some material to post over the next few weeks.

Until next time, enjoy the music everyone...

47 comments:

  1. Hello Archimago

    Nicely written and cogently argued, as usual.

    I'm ringing in fairly early to what I'm sure will be a lengthy thread because about four hours ago, I received a text message from Rt66indierock asking if my "ears [were] burning?" I knew what that meant and asked where the conflagration would be found. I should note that Steve (Rt66indierock) and I met and talked a couple of times at RMAF and chatted for an additional half hour by phone earlier this week. I respect him as an intelligent (if stubborn) advocate for his position, and I learned plenty.

    I really don't feel it's fair to maintain that TAS is "ramping up the hype again" when it comes to MQA, as if the magazine was part of a coordinated promotional campaign. Both my editorial and Robert Harley's piece are responses to the vitriol that's been coming from those who feel MQA is ruining their lives, or at least polluting the sanctity of their worldview. This is clearly a hot button issue that really sets some people off. I've been writing for TAS for 22 years, until fairly recently mostly about music, musicians, recordings, and recording professionals. When one of those articles makes it up on line, it's unusual for there to be more than a few comments; in fact, if it's a record/CD review, zero comments is more like it. Last time I looked my piece had 150 comments and Robert's had 154. So, the topic has been politicized in the way that climate change or vaccine/autism connections have been politicized. There's been a lot more heat than light generated—but that's not the doing of the main audio magazines.

    It's also not fair to conflate the intellectual rigor seen with some of the kooks along for the ride in this hobby with that of the best journalists, people like the editors of the two leading print magazines for audiophiles. Robert and John are definitely not your magic dot types and it's disingenuous to lump their work of the last 30 years in with "obviously questionable claims from 'experts' in the audiophile media promoting mindless tweaks, crazy cables, and preposterous theories." These guys are experts in the sense that Nichols means and they've been disrespected in the manner Nichols is talking about. Even if they are coming down on the side of a new/controversial technology (and I'm not so sure that MQA is viewed as the kooky/dishonest enterprise among rank-and-file audiophiles that you believe it to be), they are still experts. Harley and Atkinson's expertise is not defined by their position on MQA, no matter if you feel they are right or wrong and, last weekend in Denver, I definitely got a sense that many well-informed enthusiasts felt they were being treated poorly by a small number of loud, rude individuals out in the blogosphere.

    As far as psychoacoustic research goes: fine, lets argue the points in a measured fashion. To name some of the more out-there corners of the industry (like Shun Mook or Synergistic) is adding a straw dog element to the discussion that can distract intelligent observers from having an important discussion about the capacities of human hearing and their relevance to the recording arts.

    Lastly, please understand what "elitist" in the final paragraph of the editorial means. There are plenty of "elitists" that are readers of TAS, I am sure—but being one is not defined by the cost of your interconnects. It's defined by an often mean-spirited inflexibility when it comes to the opinions that upset your applecart. It's this panicy flailing-about caused by an idea that's outside of convention that Robert is addressing when he refers to the Kuhn book.

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    1. Hello Andrew,

      Thank you for the comments and I certainly appreciate you taking the time to discuss these matters. Indeed as you noted in the responses to your editorial, MQA has struck an extreme chord in the audiophile community, which IMO is understandable based on the claims being made and the obvious questions raised.

      I appreciate that your article and Mr. Harley's came out at the same time and that this is not a coordinated effort. That's fine. However, I'm also not sure if it would be accurate to characterize MQA as "ruining lives" or that there is any "sanctity" of worldviews being damaged. Yes, tempers can become inflamed, and arguments get overly heated on-line, but I'm not seeing severe hostility such that anyone would be fearful of their lives!

      Let me ask you this, Andrew... I'm curious as to what "vitriol" you felt was so unfair that you needed to write the editorial in support of MQA? As you said, for 22 years you've been writing about musicians, albums, music, etc. I've read some of your articles and appreciate many of them.

      Ultimately, I do not understand based on technical grounds what is so remarkable or valuable in MQA that's worth strongly defending. I'm not sure I see MQA as "dishonest". I simply see it as a business trying to make money. I agree that it offers file size compression, and I have shown that the sound quality is equivalent to hi-res PCM. But I do fail to see evidence of claimed sonic superiority. Does this automatically mean I think they're "dishonest"? No. Because these things are complex.

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    2. Now let's talk about the bigger issue of the audiophile press beyond MQA. The "straw dog" as you put it in regards to the connection between the press and questionable products.

      First, I have respect for John Atkinson. I haven't searched through my >200 blog posts but I don't believe I've been flippant or dismissive of what he does in Stereophile. I certainly appreciate him maintaining objective testing in the magazine and have praised him for that. In fact, his exposé of MQA back in late 2014 was one of the best brief technical introductions that I found intriguing. I certainly do not envy either John or Robert for the difficult positions they have as editors straddling the needs of the industry and the interests of consumers. However, I think you can also appreciate the deep disappointment many in the audiophile community must be feeling when you see the battles raging. Clearly, a significant proportion of audiophiles feel that this hobby has become a laughing stock of technologically/engineering based pursuits. What other hobby has people like James Randi offering challenges with a monetary prize for a blind test? What other hobby with the core utilitarian goal being of an engineering nature have widespread claims in the official press agreeing with scientifically improbable outcomes on a routine basis and willing to extol the virtues of very expensive products? (Audibility of $$$ ethernet cables come to mind.)

      Even if you say that Robert and John are "not your magic dot types" compared to the likes of Shun Mook or Synergistic, have they ever come out and said they didn't believe the claims of many/most of these kinds of products? In response to years of criticism by many audiophiles, where are the investigations into concerns raised especially over the years as costs of items escalate along with ridiculous claims passed over by the magazine editors and writers? "Errors of omission" can be just as bad and as I noted above, makes the audiophile hobby look ridiculous in the eyes of the public when mainstream audiophile publications cannot take a stand on some of the most questionable claims or products!

      As for elitism. Fine, I guess you're referring to some kind of stubbornness or close-mindedness instead of the usual definition of entitlement or superiority. I don't know who's in a state of panic or who's "flailing-about" here... Genuine concern should bring with it some level of emotional response in any event.

      It is unfortunate that some feel badly treated by rude comments made on the "more objective" side of debates. Having participated on many forum discussions over the years, I know that it goes both ways. I agree, it does not have to be that way.

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    3. Robert and John are definitely not your magic dot types " Well, Robert has written pseudoscientific nonsense about the 'sound' of cables being dependent on the directional properties of copper crystals. He's written this ignorant nonsense about how FLAC works: ""...Claiming a sonic difference exists between two 'identical' bitstreams may appear to be the height of audiophile lunacy, but there's a rational explanation for why FLAC files sounds (sic) inferior: The file must be decompressed on the fly during playback, a process that many computer-audio experts believe degrades fidelity." He's a clown at best and a shyster at worst.

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    4. Hello again, Archimago

      A few more comments in response to your post above, if you'll permit.

      I apologize for attempting to add a little mirth. By noting that this debate has been "ruining lives" and has "questioned the sanctity" of some "worldviews" I meant to underscore that the level of outrage about MQA is a bit out of proportion. From reading your blog, I've developed the impression that your regular work is connected to health care or pharmaceuticals. Me too. And I think we share a sense of proportionality, even though we are both pretty passionate about the point of intersection of art and technology that is high end audio.

      Elitism? Not a comment by you, of course, and not on your blog—but rather one made in response to Robert Harley's "paradigm shift" piece on our site. Robert had listed his qualifications, beginning with his degree in audio engineering. The sneering response from an online assassin:

      "A degree in recording engineering is generally considered to be superfluous to the requirements of the job - a bit like a degree in car mechanics. It doesn't mean much in areas higher math are a baseline requirement."

      Note that training in electrical engineering is equated to training in auto mechanics. I wonder how all those well-trained mechanics that got vocational training (with a degree!) would feel about that comment. Talk about "elitism"!

      James Randi is an interesting person to bring up in this context. My good friend and fellow TAS (music) writer Art Lintgen can identify LPs by the groove patterns he sees when holding the disc up to the light. I've seen him do it many times and he did on TV in Great Britain with no less than Georg Solti picking the records. Randi came by Art's office one day 20 years ago with a box of records to "debunk" Art's ability and left convinced that Art wasn't tricking anyone. Randi also very much misrepresented what happened when Michael Fremer agreed to a challenge to identify cables blind (https://www.analogplanet.com/content/im-appalled-way-you-treat-your-readership). I'm not sure that Randi is the best arbiter of what represents hucksterism in high end audio. Do you truly doubt that Fremer can tell Monster cable from some megabucks brand? That's a bet I'd like to take.

      In terms of vitriol, for an example we don't need to look any further than the post above. (I sure hope this isn't the Steve I met at RMAF last weekend.) Referring to Robert Harley he says:

      "He's a clown at best and a shyster at worst."

      Do you have any responsibility to moderate comments like that?

      Lastly this, a conclusion there wasn't space for with my original post. You, Archimago, may be viewed as a "tireless" MQA opponent and I as a "tireless" MQA apologist/dupe/shill (or whatever insult the next troll up to bat comes up with.) But I think we're both getting tired at this point. I'm bowing out as an active participant for now but will continue to regularly check in on your blog on this and other topics (there are other topics in audio, right?) Thanks again for the chance to respond to your comments.

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    5. Hello Andrew,
      Thanks again for your post and clarifying the position.

      To be honest, although I obviously have not read every piece of commentary on MQA out there, I'm just not seeing the outrage against MQA as somehow terribly out of proportion! From my perspective over the years, audio forums have been mean-spirited and I certainly remember back in the day being an "objectivist" on many forums receiving all kinds of unkind comments or uncalled for banning even when I'm not the one who emotionally "lost it". I certainly do not want things to be mean-spirited, but there is also a limit to censorship as well. Perhaps the worldview is changing as rationality is increasing and questionable technologies like MQA are seriously being debated and criticized. This IMO is not a bad thing although obviously there are limits to the harshness of comments publicly acceptable. I see recently for example that Michael Lavorgna had to be restricted at Computer Audiophile for some extremely rude remarks which I have never seen the likes of in these parts at least. Steven's comments about Mr. Harley is clearly mild in comparison and if Mr. Harley has expressed belief in things like unidirectional conductor crystals, then maybe that's something he has to address to win back Steven's faith... I trust this should not be hard to address and nothing here is unpardonable!

      While I can appreciate what MQA is doing and trying technically, at the end of the day, I just think it is useless and a waste of effort for something that is being misrepresented by the company as "revolutionary" in their advertising and this is exacerbated by comments like Mr. Harley's equating it as a scientific "paradigm shift". If the tables were turned, would you also not feel some genuine sense of indignation if you also see objective results time and again even with blind tests demonstrating the inaccuracy of such claims? While I prefer to debate with objective data and tests, Linn thinks of it as a money grab to control the supply chain (isn't that what the business and stakeholders would love?), others are concerned about expanding DRM (possible). And taken together some do call this a "scam". While I do not use such words as I cannot be sure of intent, it doesn't take much imagination to derive where that sentiment might come from and people do have the right to express these beliefs just as much as Mr. Harley might over-reach with "paradigm shift".

      As for James Randi, well, as a hobby we do not need that kind of exposure or challenge. The fact that we do is a problem in itself. I can't speak about your friend and reading the contents of an LP by sight... But I do doubt Mike Fremer's ability to hear differences between normal lengths of Monster vs. megabuck brands of cables assuming that the cables aren't fooling around significantly with the LCR parameters. A blind test can certainly be arranged I suspect among folks here and on the various forums - I vaguely remember Agitater on Steve Hoffman Forum suggesting something like this in Toronto :-).

      You are correct that my day job is in the medical field. And perhaps we do share that sense of proportionality in being reasonably balanced. For the purpose of this blog, my desire is to see true *value* being provided with new technologies in the hobby. While the "high end" might see the hobby as an intersection of science and art, I'm for "high fidelity" which is much more science than art - let the music as art be a manifestation of accurate, uncolored sonic reproduction. And MQA as a file type IMO lives squarely in the "science" domain.

      As such, I see myself as more a tireless advocate for high fidelity... The majority of my posts are obviously not about MQA directly even though once awhile there are bursts as in recently times.

      Thanks for your comments... See you around.

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    6. Agree with your comments Arch. I too don't think of Atkinson and Harley as charlatans but they are heavily compromised. I lost respect for Atkinson back in the 80s when he, and other Stereophile staff failed the Carver Challenge (see the link below). Initially he was gracious about it but later changed his tune to one usually employed in the psuedosciences, ie double blind tests are flawed and after time spent with subjective listening, he can now hear the difference between the amps. The reality of course is that he was in an impossible position. How could he and Stereophile go out and tell consumers that a $700 amp can be made to sound identical to a $20k amp while keeping his advertisers.

      Unfortunately most of the good review publications have now disappeared. There just isn't enough of a subscription market to keep them alive without advertising/industry dollars. One of the last of the good publications, The Audio Critic closed due to the retirement of the late Peter Aczel. If anyone wanted to look at a good review publication, some of their back issues are available free of charge at the link below.

      Btw, if you want a chuckle, have a read of Michael Fremer's letter to the editor and Aczel's reply in issue 21.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Carver

      http://www.biline.ca/audio_critic/audio_critic_down.htm

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    7. Thanks for the note Prep 74,

      I believe you are correct about the nature of publications. This is why I do feel for Atkinson whom I can respect in that he has maintained an element of objectivity within a "high end" culture where subjectivity seems to have ruled the land for decades. Of course, this does not excuse things like the Carver Challenge, but the dude has to pay the bills over the decades as the media in general has been in decline.

      This of course leaves us with perhaps the highly likely uncomfortable truth. Ultimately, for small hobbies like "high end" audiophilia, the media is "compromised" due to the necessity to keep the boat afloat financially. As much as anyone insists on a "Chinese wall" between the editorial and advertising departments, is it truly possible (as per your example of the Carver challenge)? Perhaps impossible to not be psychologically influenced at least in some level.

      Thanks for pointing out that Michael Fremer "Letter to the Editor" in Aczel's (RIP) Audio Critic magazine issue 21 (1994). LOL. Too bad the "homo incident" was at a time before ubiquitous smartphones and video... Would have made a great YouTube video of a digital vs. analogue audiophile brawl high-noon in CES at the Velodyne enhibit :-).

      I find Mr. Aczel's response regarding his 1980 statement decrying the "digital epidemic" interesting. Not often that we see a response admitting one's mistaken attributions, and admission of being "dead wrong". There is certainly no shame in changing one's opinion and this could be redeeming.

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    8. Thanks for the exchange Archimago & Andrew

      I think the consumer reaction against MQA has really caught the traditional audiophile trade publication and general promotion machine off guard. Many reasons for this, but one is that theirs is a world that is insulated from the larger digital and electronics world. What they still don't understand is that MQA, unlike the "art and wine" world of Audiophiledom in general and dubious tweaks in particular, relies on very well known and understood EE principals. Yes yes, there is a "craft" to implementation in electronics but math is math, and digital is first and foremost software and math. I almost feel for Andrew, in that he and all the other "sounds like" opinion makers are truly out of their element in digital in general and MQA in particular.

      One good thing MQA has done is prompt a consumer debate around whether Audiophiledom is truly like "art and wine" and if it is, is it this way out of necessity or has the culture/hobby simply gone in this direction for reasons that are changing and changeable. Does Audiophiledom have to be so radically subjectivised (and thus a prime target for voodoo salesman such as Bob Stuart), or can their be a balance - something akin to the older idea of "High Fidelity" which necessarily implied a non subjective thing "out their" in which to be fidelius to.

      When I look at the younger "personal audio" audiophile I don't see in him or her nearly as much willingness to go along with the present culture of the "audio savant" designer/manufacturer/trade publication writer whose reputation is more important than an objective measurement or sound, repeatable design principals. This kind of audiophile wants to see real $value$ and less bling. He or she is much more likely to understand the digital ecosystem, and what a DRM/proprietary format means to that ecosystem. This person is an enigma to the world Andrew spends most of his time and thus he misinterprets this persons viewpoint on MQA as something "political" or socially constructed.

      Traditional audiophiledom still has much life in it, and "high end" is where most manufactures want to play simply because it is probably easier to sell one $2k magical digital cable than it is to sell a hundred well built and in spec ones. That said, I sense the march of time and progress and the real opportunity for sites like this to be part of the coming "High Fidelity" revolution...

      Delete
    9. Hey there f48f...

      Thanks for your comments. Certainly hitting on many important themes and expanding on the "art and wine" sentiments of the "high end" where justifications are made for the subjective "art" side of hardware being perhaps a reasonable part of the price tag asked of the consumer.

      I can certainly appreciate fine art and the importance of art in life. Obviously music lovers find this natural otherwise we would not invest our time and money into this pursuit!

      Over time, the science and engineering side IMO has become so mature that audible difference have become so minute as to be indistinguishable. Sure, there could be brilliant designs and "new" ways of getting things done, but now days, off the shelf DACs and power amplifier modules have gotten to the point where in the utilitarian aspects of sound quality, size, efficiency, and features, the price of entry has become so reasonable that one questions the "need" to have any special "savant" designer work on yet another high priced 50lb amplifier! Sure, we can spend more if the material is excellent, if it's hand-built, etc... But we must of course realize that these qualities in themselves do not result in necessarily better sound quality nor reliability.

      While I can appreciate the beauty of some of the audio products from an industrial design perspective, for me personally, it's one of these "non-utilitarian" functions and typically not that important to me... I don't buy amps, DACs, speakers to be "furniture", nor do I need these things to adorn my home like jewelry :-). Is this a result of my *culture* rather than "politics" of my generation (I'd be one of the early Gen-X'er)? We will see!

      Finally, I also do not see audio hardware like "fine art". If I were to invest in art, an important factor in that is expectation of price appreciation. The subjective value of those items is understood as having artistic merit, reputation of the artist, and thus correlated to price. As a group, I have not see vintage audio hardware appreciate to a large degree in price. Some items (like vintage tube amps) might be sought after by a relative few based on sentimental value. Might as well put it into actual artwork, or better to even sit in objects of investment grade value like precious metals or real estate rather than $100,000 speakers, etc. Nothing wrong with $100,000 speakers, amplifiers, etc. but again, that aspect of *value* is just something that each of us will need to sort out for ourselves...

      Back to MQA then. I think you're right, it has provided us an opportunity to explore something that is presented to us as having a utilitarian value of improved sound quality. It is being sold to us as having the stamp of approval of a respected name in audio - Bob Stuart. For some this might be enough. But when judged based on objective metrics, selling based on reputation IMO is clearly not enough. Just as it wasn't enough using an artistic spokesperson like Neil Young (and his buddies) a few short years ago!

      Delete
  2. Another nicely written piece. Although I did not participate this time, in your "testing" I hear no difference in quality with MQA. It's all about the mastering in my opinion. And as you mentioned in your blog, Sony and Phillips did their homework years ago with the redbook standard.

    Always enjoy a weekly read on your blog! Please keep it up.

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    1. Hey Gadget,
      Thanks man. Next time don't miss out on the testing, dude :-).

      Delete
  3. Thanks for your series of articles and the work you put into them.

    I too am also tiring of the MQA discussion, it is like the bad rash that won't go away! :)

    MQA reminds me of the push to redesign the milk carton here in the US by Walmart and Costco about 10 years ago. Two large industry retailers (music companies) with some dairies (hardware companies) had come up with a "better design" for the simple milk carton (music files) that had all kinds of advantages, so they said. It would revolutionize the delivery of milk, be more environmental and consumer friendly and cheaper! Consumers had to be given in store demonstrations on how to use the damn thing and eventually rejected it as complicated, unnecessary, and unwanted. Maybe MQA should look to that tale as a guide, that no matter what the "experts" on either side of the argument say it is the consumer who has the ultimate decision in the matter and will decide the ultimate fate of MQA. And when I say consumer I mean the vast population outside of the audiophile world. Stop with the audiophile conceit this is any kind of meaningful market beyond the small, and getting smaller I would imagine, little audiophile bubble.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/30/business/30milk.html

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    1. Hi Jim,
      Thanks for the link. Ahhhh, no wonder when I head to Washington State to visit the local Costco, I see those strange milk containers! I remember more than a year back buying one of those and thinking what a hassle it was to pour compared to the usual spout or plastic milk containers.

      Interesting analogy!

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  4. Excellent article as usual...there is not that much ADC supporting MQA encoding.
    Only Mytek seems to offer an ADC that could handle MQA encoding.
    Lately I tested this player (yep an another one...), that sonically sound very detailled and articulated compare to the usual suspects.
    Give it a try...Windows only, not very friendly but the results are comvincing.
    https://sourceforge.net/p/playpcmwin/wiki/PlayPcmWinEn/

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    Replies
    1. Interesting, Blogue. Another software player for audiophiles, eh?

      Well... Time permitting it might be fun to run tests with this and the other Japanese audiophile player - Bug Head Emperor!
      http://oryaaaaa.world.coocan.jp/bughead/'

      Obviously, given what we know about computer data communications and asynchronous USB DAC technology which most of us utilize, we really do need to be suspicious of claims :-).


      Delete
    2. Playpcmwin give excellent results even with low cost dac.
      The files are played trough RAM (as many others) but it seems there is a way to packed then correctly.

      Delete
  5. I've recently been using the 1by1 player - it has no special audio features, but I find it a pleasure to use.
    http://mpesch3.de1.cc/1by1.html

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    Replies
    1. Interesting Tony... Another small audio player. Looks like a clean layout.

      Delete
  6. You nailed it again.
    MQA obviously is getting hysterical.
    They have nothing to offer, but need to sell.
    That's why all these hype articles pop up.
    That's why all these shills and sock puppets appear in "make-believe" forums like Steve Hoffman and praise and preach.

    But, still, they don't get through into mainstream press.

    MQA is a conversation piece for "audiophiles" like pono or HDCD and will vanish like these.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Tim,

      With each passing day, month, year, the need to turn a profit on this is strong, I suspect. No doubt there must be pressures to get the job done with expectations not just for themselves but for the partners.

      Considering that Tidal is really the only significant source for MQA consumption, I still wonder what kind of #'s we're seeing with subscription and whether MQA provided much of a draw since they started streaming in January. Was there much growth in the Tidal HiFi subscription base?

      Delete
    2. Hello Archimago,

      I feel that "Hi-Res" downloads or streaming by itself is a niche market. If I had to pay prices like on the "Hi-Res" download sites, I would rather like to have a physical product.
      On the other hand, if I don't care for a physical product, I feel the MP3s from Amazon or other sites, for less than a Euro per song, are good enough.
      So, I think, practically all downloads are MP3s. Uncompressed is a niche, because only a few people appreciate the superior sound quality of uncompressed - however, in most cases 256 or 320 MP3 is sonically transparent to uncompressed CD.
      Within that niche, "H-Res" is even a smaller niche, and within that niche in the niche, there is MQA in a niche.
      I guess, that's why they get so hysterical.
      They know, their business model is bad.

      MP3 was a good business model.
      Dolby Dgital Surround, dts, were good business models upon introduction into the market, via DVD.
      Because, they provided feasibility of new audio technology:
      MP3: Music over the net.
      DD, dts: Surround sound in your home (on DVD, for example).
      MQA: Digital Rights Management (yes, the consumers love that!)

      Delete
    3. Absolutely Tim. Well reasoned.

      By right, MQA should be a niche product. I suspect though that Meridian/MQA/music labels have strong aspirations. It is without doubt a sort of "weak" DRM at this point that's mostly an annoyance. But in time, there is certainly potential for it to impose a stronger form of control. This is the "other side of the coin" for their claim of it being "Authenticated".

      Ultimately MONEY TALKS. In my "What is the Value of HRA?" post in 2015:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2015/01/musings-what-is-value-of-high.html

      I spoke about how I might (and have) bought hi-res only if the price is right. In my opinion, if a CD is $10, I *might* be willing to spend $13 for the hi-res PCM download assuming the piece of music can benefit (NOT most rock and most certainly not pop stuff like P!ink, Bruno Mars, Beyoncé).

      At this point knowing what I know, what I've heard, having discussed the technicals with folks like Mans, reviewed the blind test results... I can say that for myself the value of an MQA-encoded album is more like between an MP3 download and an actual CD! With the hassles this things adds and the lack of evidence (and in fact, potential technical degradation), there's no way I would even spend $10 on an MQA download. I would experience much less hassles, enjoy actual ownership, and achieve essentially the same sound from a CD I can rip and store for backup.

      The business model is catered on themselves and perhaps appeasing the music labels (as DRM). It's not consumer centered. I appreciate that businesses are interested in their bottom line, but when it's IMO at the expense of consumer interests, then clearly as others have said, this is solving a "problem" the consumers did not ask for!

      Delete
  7. From the extremely strange TAS article you referenced: "All we can say is that the effect on DAC performance [of boxes of BBs placed on high priced audio components] produces authentic goosebumps of pleasure." Why no photos of those "authentic goosebumps"? That would have been at least as strong evidence as to their conclusions as the other testing procedures outlined in that article! Always enjoy your critiques, thank you.

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    1. Hey Martin,

      :-)

      Those articles by Zeilig and Clawson which included a series on computer audio I think in 2014 were a hoot. Total mish mash of assertions, opinions, delusional insinuations, loose associations dressed up in supposed scientific methodology!

      Really frightening that TAS would print something like these in all seriousness and speaks to the poor credibility of the editorial process that they would pass muster. Embarrassing. At least the article should have included something to the effect of a disclaimer to suggest that the TAS editorial board may not have been unanimous in accepting the articles claims/conclusions!

      Delete
    2. I am in awe of your output... you have a full time job, yet this blog seems like a full time job to me!! I love it, a revelation after reading the usual hifi magazines. I first found you via your review of the Google chromecast audio, a wonderful device, but almost certainly not to be found in the pages of audiophile magazines!

      Delete
    3. Yes they are a hoot, I find the kooky TAS articles hilarious. Sorry for the multiplicity of replies

      Delete
    4. Greetings Martin,
      It has been fun putting this blog together over the last 5 years.

      Yeah, life is busy with the job, family, extracurricular activities :-). Something I realized after reading the usual on-line audiophile sites over the years is basically that so much of what is written contains little actual *content* that can be generalized over the years. Subjective opinions and listening only goes so far with IMO little enduring value. This is why I try to aim for topics that can be useful not just for today but hopefully going forward.

      IMO the only way to do this is through exploring objective measures, demonstrations when possible, getting the readership involved in some blind testing if possible... And general debate like this!

      Compared to most blogs, I've only posted 250 items over the years here! My hope though is that the material is denser and articles more complete so as to provide a useful resource to audiophiles in a way that's not afraid to ask questions or that may be counter to the current audiophile system of beliefs. Even when the day comes when my life becomes too busy to work as much on the blog, or I move on to other pursuits :-).

      Delete
    5. Yes, Archimago,
      your articles contain a lot of real content.
      The denisty of information and facts is much higher than in "audiophile" websites.
      Practically nearly all "audiophile" magazines, online or print, don't do any critical objective testing.
      But simply, every new piece of gear is "excellent". Embedded in lengthy "feel-good" bla-bla about "listening" to some records, namedropping included.
      The usual "audiophile" forums on the other hand, follow suit, and discourage objective listening testing (e.g., blind tests) by forum rules.

      Delete
    6. The invention of MQA seems to me to be simply adding confusion to a market already well served by audio codecs, lossy and lossless. I was astounded to hear Bob Stuart in the youtube interview you linked to claim that MQA is lossless, and in the same breath say that they are only including the "necessary" audio information, based on their review of the neuroscience. That is grossly misleading, to say the least, is it not? If his issue is really with the current state of A/D converters, they should have invented a better chip. It seemed that the interviewer was a little annoyed with the slippery nature of Stuart's answers to his questions.

      Delete
  8. Re: Harley and copper, read it and weep, or laugh

    http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/cable-and-interconnect-construction/

    Excerpt:
    "Another term associated with copper is LC, or Linear Crystal, which describes the copper’s structure. Drawn copper has a grain structure that can be thought of as tiny discontinuities in the copper. The signal can be adversely affected by traversing these grains; the grain boundary can act as a tiny circuit, with capacitance, inductance, and a diode effect. Standard copper has about 1500 grains per foot; LC copper has about 70 grains per foot. Fig. 1 shows the grain structure in copper having 400 grains per foot (illustration on the right). Note that the copper isn’t isotropic; it looks decidedly different in one direction than the other. All copper made into thin wires exhibits the chevron structure shown in the illustration of Fig.1. This chevron structure may explain why some cables sound different when reversed."

    This is typical of Harley's constant stream of pseudoscience.


    And btw, 'audio engineer' does not necessarily mean 'electrical engineer' -- and in my experience of them, some 'audio engineers' (recording engineers) have claimed some very foolish and ignorant things indeed about audio. Is Harley for a fact an degreed EE?


    As for Fremer, another joker in the audiohile pack, I would be happy to take the bet that he couldn't tell (grossly overpriced) Monster from (obscenely overpriced) 'high end' cables in a fair, aka double blind, test. Ans as per Randi, fair also means one where the cables' standard measured characteristics didn't predict audible difference. (That proviso is necessary because there *are* bizarre 'hi end' cable products that could purposely degrade the sound in order to give them 'a sound' -- and Fremer is 'street' enough to know and exploit that)

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    1. I read the kooky articles in TAS just for the entertainment value!

      Delete
    2. Years ago Peter Aczel started a fund drive to send Harley to EE school. I think he got about $50. Harley claims now he has a degree in something, and has even taught. Who knows? Maybe it was all some audiophile Make-A-Wish thing. ("Class? This is Professor Harley! And what do we say when we meet someone new, children?"

      Fremer, OTOH, is simply a nasty, obnoxious person. Ignorant and vindictive, he nonetheless has parlayed audio quackery into some sort of living, proof indeed there is no justice at all in this world.

      Sigh.

      Delete
    3. I enjoy Fremer, his tour of his audio room at his house on Youtube recently was easily the most entertaining of the crib tours so far on Stereophile youtube channel

      Delete
    4. Funny stuff Jeff. Raised $50 for Mr. Harley to go to EE school? I didn't know about this.

      Oh... Fremer... Yeah... Some entertainment value I suppose, but that persona is problematic. I recently read that he provided testimony at the Michael Jackson vs. Quincy Jones legal case but his testimony was excluded by the judge. Strange that he would be asked to be an expert witness (the article noted that he had never even met Jackson and doesn't know Jones). How odd... Maybe one could call him up to testify about turntables and record pressings, but I'm not sure he would be an authority about the "spirit" of Michael Jackson's music :-).

      http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop/7866137/quincy-jones-trial-michael-jackson-pitbull-bad-version

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  9. And if I may...way down in comments in that absurd TAS copper cable article, comes a claim by a reader, that gets right to the nub of what TAS-style audiophilia *get wrong*:

    "As an audiophile, I realize that EVERYTHING makes a difference (whether the difference is "good" or "bad" becomes a matter of objectivity in some cases, subjective preference or collateral circumstances"

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thanks Steven for the link and discussion.

      I'm getting too old to weep over articles like these, so I choose to laugh about the claimed significant effects of these qualities he speaks of in the crystal structure :-).

      Yes, AE is not EE and I as well have heard of strange claims from the AE crowd. At least most of the ones I come across seem pretty reasonable and level headed.

      Fremer... Yeah, most of these guys are smart enough to know where their limitations lie I think which is why they avoid blind testing even though they'll talk big as if they aced a bunch back in the day.

      I would happily take the bet that he would not be able to identify 2 cables in a blind test of similar LCR characteristics regardless of cost.

      Delete
  10. Hi Archimago,
    would you consider audiophool world of products to be suffering from planned obsolescence? Because from what I observed, it does, albeit in its own peculiar yet predictable way - the new device always sound better. But then, there are also vintage lovers.

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    Replies
    1. There's no contradiction there. Without new products, there would be no old ones for the vintage lovers.

      Delete
  11. As a pro audio manufacturer for 25 years, what worries me is how marketing based "consumer physics" is now being applied to pro audio. There are a few old boys like me in the industry who essentially have perfected audio transmission and reproduction. We know the limitations, and they certainly aren't solved by hi res, or new codecs. We know how studio techniques "create" music, not reply systems. If properly engineered, for consumers, everything is now down loudspeakers, and has been for a while.
    While I can understand the need for humans to feel in control, and alter their environment, MQA is different. It is an industry attempting to bend production techniques, essentially for monopoly profit, and it worries me. We've just gone through 20 years of loudness wars, dictated by marketing, and I don't want to go through another set of format wars based on poor evidential science. I admire Bob Stewart, and briefly worked for him, but at a recent AES he admitted that he had not performed scientific listening tests on MQA. This is not the basis of starting a new production format.

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    1. Thank you Unknown,
      I appreciate the comment and you feedback from a seasoned voice.

      I see that Mr. Stuart spoke at the AES as recent as this past Friday in NYC (with Bob Ludwig and Ian Shepherd). I hope that was recorded. Was it at that event that you spoke to him? On another forum there was also this AES "brief" mentioned:
      https://secure.aes.org/forum/pubs/ebriefs/?elib=19340

      It looks like this is *just a proposal* with no actual research done yet! As far as I know, the only numbers I see coming from a blind test are the ones presented here.

      Indeed, it would be very disturbing to hear that an industry would get behind a product that is not actually tested. In that light, I would also say that it would be very unethical for a company to represent itself as capable of delivering all these superlatives of "everything" heard in the studio, or "a new paradigm", etc... if actual scientific studies have not been conducted!

      Delete
    2. Sorry about the unknown tag, I couldn't figure out quickly how to get my own name to appear. I got the MQA news second hand via another engineer. If you can PM me, I can give you more details.
      I'm not sure this will get industry acceptance, but anything can happen in todays wonderful world where we have to keep on re-inventing wheels to sell more carts...

      Delete
    3. Hello unknown / Crispin,

      I appreciate your sentence, "If properly engineered, for consumers, everything is now down loudspeakers, and has been for a while."

      Exactly, that's what I feel, too. With CD, digital transmission and hard disk recording, most of the consumer gear is at a level where sound quality is only limited by the speakers or headphones.
      Now, how to sell new music gear...?
      1st) Create new formats, like surround.
      But, after 5.1 surround, how many would like to upgrade to 7.1 or 11.2 surround...?
      2nd) "Consumer physics", and the believe, that "EVERYTHING" makes a sonic difference.

      And, the last also creaps into pro audio.

      Delete
    4. Thanks Crispin,
      I've heard that Bruno Putzeys has been vocal as well and actually brought up concerns at that AES session on Friday! Since I'll be heading off overseas soon, please get in touch with me on Computer Audiophile via PM. Will be great to chat...

      Delete
    5. Thanks for the note Tim.

      Yup. It's about the speakers and expanding immersion, potentially with multichannel but even that has a limit!

      As I wrote above, if a CD is worth $10, I would not even spend that 10 bucks on an MQA album download!

      Delete
    6. Congrats Archimago - from the text of the brief it seems somebody is copying your MQA-blind-listening test ;)

      Delete
  12. Fyi
    https://www.linn.co.uk/blog/mqa-is-bad-for-music

    It's from a Meridian competitor, but does highlight some recording industry concerns.

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