Friday, 3 August 2018

"MQA-CD x UHQCD" Listening Test by Agitater.


[Editor's Note: As you may have read in the last few months, there is a new variety of "MQA-CDs" released into the wild. Here in the West, we have seen the new release by Steve Reich Pulse/Quartet contain MQA encoding (playback FFT commented on here). In Japan, a series of MQA-CDs have made their way into public hands from Warner, called "MQA x UHQCD" (UHQCD stands for Ultimate HiQuality CD) which is basically a combination of MQA encoding + "better material" on what is still basically a standard "compatible" CD with 16/44.1 PCM data at premium prices. I guess this kind of thing still interests Japanese audiophiles!?

Techmoan did a review of these which IMO missed the mark as the reviewer clearly does not understand the limitations of MQA itself and believes it really is a "high resolution format" which is IMO false as previously discussed. He also used a glitching portion of Brothers In Arms as a gauge that the MQA-CD sounds "better" through the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 rather than normal playback (clearly the MQA decoding and filtering changed the output amplitude on the Box - the MQA playback sounded louder).

Techmoan's video did not really compare actual CDs already on sale for years with these new MQA/UHQCDs using higher quality equipment - he just used a computer setup and headphones, obviously having trouble getting things working. To "fix" this situation, here's Agitater and his buddies on Steve Hoffman's Forum! With his permission, I've posted in full his detailed listening sessions conducted with audiophile friends on very high quality systems. Slight editing with headings added for the blog format. A beautiful write-up that just had to be shared and not get lost within a message forum!]

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Asked and answered . . . Here are my music listening group's listening notes and conclusions about the following four UHQ/MQA-CD releases. The albums are, in order below Moanin' by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Blind Faith the eponymous album by the early supergroup Blind Faith, Getz/Gilberto by the studio trio of Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Aja by Steely Dan.

Here's the DAC. It's a MyTek Brooklyn DAC+ with fully switchable MQA filter. Note the little, blue MQA indicator light. It was used in all of the listening sessions in a variety of systems, and acquitted itself brilliantly. Note that one of many peeves related to MQA DAC implementations is that the MQA filter can't be turned off and is applied to all streams including non-MQA (standard?) CDs. MyTek made its licensing deal with MQA, obviously, but in the process has retained its own superb filters. That's my Benchmark DAC3 HGC (unused in these listening sessions) below the Brooklyn DAC+.



We used the Brooklyn DAC+ in six different systems (listed at the end of this post). The DAC and the CDs were the two consistent factors from system to system and from listening room to listening room. The six people in the group listened to all of the CDs on all of the systems at least three times. I collected all the listening notes and eventually selected one song from each album as representative of the album as a whole. The small control button to the immediate right of the Brooklyn's LED screen activates the MQA decoder function, and the large control knob can then be used to turn the MQA filter on or off depending on which CD we were playing. I did not bother wasting anyone's time with listening to regular CDs played with the MQA filter still on. Regular CDs - MQA filter was turned OFF/DSBL; UHQ/MQA CDs - MQA filter was turned ON/ENBL.

I. Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers - Moanin'

Although I've never been a huge fan of Art Blakey, he was a rock solid, innovative and very well-liked jazz drummer. His years with various players in The Jazz Messengers produced a lot of great music. But I've still never been a Blakey fan.

The regular CD is the Rudy Van Gelder Edition, remastering in 1998 in 24-bit. The UHQ/MQA CD liner and outer jacket did not provide any mastering information in English (but in may be there in Japanese). If anybody on the forum speaks Japanese, I'll be happy to send them clear photos of the liner notes to see if there's any mastering information [Ed: feel free to leave a note in the comments also of course if you want to see this].

These notes are in reference to the title track, "Moanin'".


RVG Edition (1998): The Lee Morgan trumpet entrance and break are lovely. His staccato accents are smooth and crisp. Benny Golson's sax break is lovely, with all the natural note and resonance detail, and the rasp around his mouthpiece. The piano, as recorded originally by RVG, has a nasal timbre that doesn't benefit from this special edition. It's still nasal and doesn't do justice to Bobby Timmons' excellent playing. The piano is also just on the edge of still being in tune. When Timmons starts chording during his solo you can hear the breakup and distortion as the mic(s) overload in places. It's too bad because it detracts from a very, very good solo. With the original LP, if your turntable is not perfectly speed stable the piano on this album can sound really wobbly.

UHQ/MQA CD edition (no mastering information): Same volume level as the RVG Edition. No difference in the Morgan trumpet solo. Blakey's cymbals are stepping noticeably on Golson's sax break - the cymbals sound natural enough but there's a hissing presence to them that doesn't exist on the LP, original CD release or the RVG Edition. The cymbals interfere with the sax. Nobody liked it. Golson's sax sounded rawer but less natural (all of the guys in the listening sessions go to a lot of live concerts: symphony, jazz, opera and ballet; two of the guys still play piano). Timmons' piano is slightly less nasal in timbre, but is unfortunately also reedier and thinner. The treble distortion on the sforzando chords and accents is still present in full.

The overall impression was, and I quote... "Sorry, which CD is which again?" It was hard to tell them apart in any meaningful way. Flip a coin to make a choice, but of the six different listeners altogether, four chose the RVG Edition.

II. Blind Faith - Blind Faith

Supergroup Blind Faith never amounted to much. The band's one and only album initially did okay for them, but gathered a cult-like following for many, many years (decades) afterward. Three of the tracks are very good - even great by some measures. I was hooked into a radical underground thing when the album was released in '69. The fifteen minute long closing track, "Do What You Like", became an anthem of sorts for the fractured remains of a drug-decimated Digger culture, the politically charged remains of the drug-addled hippie movement, and the fifth estate drug and counterculture advocates who were shifting their academic focus from acid and world peace to things much more difficult to control.


These notes are in reference to "Do What You Like", the very long, last track on the album.
CD Release (first edition, 1986), mastered by Dennis M. Drake: Unlike the very average sounding LP that suffered from wild variations in pressing quality, the first CD release (which I still have after all these years) was also never hailed for its stellar sonics, but it was significantly better than the LP thankfully. Steve Winwood played guitar in various spots on various tracks, and also played Hammond organ and an RMI Electra-Piano. Defining the sound of the RMI Electra-Piano is like trying to herd cats - that is to say, difficult. No matter what stop/voicing switches are engaged, the sound varies all on its own in the space of two bars of playing. I understood the attraction of that particular keyboard. It captured the attention of the few creative players who were willing to let the thing create new blends and sounds all on its own. The original CD catches all that nuance quite audibly. Winwood's solo at around 02:20 is woolly on the LP and on this CD, but the organ and keyboard background in the mix also underpins all of the driving rhythms in the tune. Clapton's solo starting at about 03:45 has a recognizable air and reverb that was part of his signature sound at the time. It's a very nice solo that feels live. Grech's bass solo at 05:40 or so is clean, clear and takes you on a spacey sort of ride for a couple of minutes. Baker's drum solo at 08:50 is smooth, well-blended and builds smoothly into a driving, metronomic pounding that is clearly detailed and leads back into the main theme when Clapton and Winwood re-enter. The cymbals are thin, lacking impact and depth. The very long "Do What You Like" background chant is natural sounding and hypnotic.

UHQ/MQA CD, DSD flat-transferred from analogue master tapes (2013) by Seth Foster at Sterling Sound, NYC: Same volume level as the 1986 version. The file was edited in DSD in 2013 by Manabu Matsumura at Universal Music Studios, Tokyo. Winwood's solo is still woolly. The Ric Grech bass solo sounds slightly more forward in the mix, and steps out of the tune itself in a way that is basically unmusical. Nobody liked it - it sounds almost as though Grech was recorded in a different acoustic environment. The long "Do What You Like" background chant sounds compressed and the voices sound less natural and less present. Ginger Baker's drum long drum solo sounds more lifelike and the cymbals have more crispness and depth.

The overall impression was . . . inconclusive, except for Baker's drum solo on the one tune. There UHQ/MQA CD didn't offering anything notable enough for anyone to stick a crowbar in their wallet to lever out the (U.S.) twenty-seven bucks needed (plus extremely expensive shipping charges) to order the thing from CDJapan.

III. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto - Getz/Gilberto

The Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto collaboration produced some wonderful music. Stan Getz was at his lyrical best, Gilberto was in perfect form (as was his wife, Astrud Gilberto, singing "Corcovado" and "Girl from Ipanema"), and the original LP was very well produced. I have an original pressing from 1964 that came from a relative's collection, and it still sounds very good. There have been no fewer than forty-three releases of this album since 1964. But the Lasting Impressions Music (LIM) CD release has always sounded best to me. The LP is still great and it is of the time, but the LIM CD version remastered by Takeshi "Hakkaman" Hakamata stands above the rest for its care and attention to the music and its respect for the excellent original mix.


These notes are in reference to "Girl from Ipanema", the first track on the album.

LIM CD release (2009) remastered by Takeshi "Hakkaman" Hakamata: The male vocal by Joao Gilberto is clear and smooth in his signature, mellow tenor, while Astrud's lead vocal is open, full and natural and almost lazy in its intonation. The female vocal is supposed to be languid and sexy and that's exactly what it sounds like on the LP and on this CD. There's plenty of space around her voice, and I think the idea was to record her almost as if she was singing alone in a spotlight. It has always worked for me that way, and it was one of the many reasons that the album became one of the jazz best-sellers of all time. When Getz takes his first solo, the Antonio Carlos Jobim piano recedes smoothly back to let Getz' delicately precise blowing shine. The soundstage is realistically wide, so it's easy to envision the players and singers in the studio in proximity to each other. Getz' sax is resonant and sweet, and you can hear him working his reed and letting his perfect pitch work through the rhythms of the relentlessly pressing bossa nova-like beat.

UHQ/MQA CD (2018) release: According to my Scosche SPL meter (dbC), peaks were 3 db hotter and the overall level 3 db louder. The soundstage is narrower by all accounts compared to the LIM CD and also compared to the LP and the (2002) SACD and the (2012) Analogue Productions/Harmonia Mundi releases (additional CD versions owned by various members of the listening group). The soundstage also sounded as though all the instruments were lined up side-by-side in a line; not unpleasant but also without the natural feel of all the other versions we heard. There's nothing wrong with the soundstage per se, but it doesn't have the realistic feel of the LIM CD (or any of the others mentioned). Astrud's voice is too crisp, without the languidly sexy feel it needs for the tune to work and for the lyrics to sell. The same goes for Getz's sax because instead of sounding lyrical, it's crisp to the point of being brittle and unpleasant especially during his first solo. It's full enough, but also so crisp that it no longer sounds like a natural sax; it almost sounds like a synth.

The overall impression was . . . if you're going to remaster one of the best-selling and most atmospheric jazz albums of all time, you better get it right. The MQA gang did not get it right, and if it's not as good as a dozen or more other releases, what's the point? Fail. The (1992) Verve CD and the (1994) Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab both sound better and can be found used for about five bucks apiece. Get one of them if you don't already have this superb jazz CD in your collection.

IV. Steely Dan - Aja

Even though, in my opinion, Aja was not one of Steely Dan's best albums, it had a lot (and still has a lot) to offer. The production quality of the original (1977) LP was superb, and showed an attention to detail that set a new benchmark for that sort of craftsmanship both in the studio, in the mastering suite and at the pressing plant. The (1984) MCA version on CD and the (1988) Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release on CD were even cleaner. The Aja album doesn't really go anywhere, but as a blues/jazz/soft rock fusion experiment the original LP presented some serious musical contrast to the jazz/rock brilliance of Return to Forever who were surging at the time. 1977 was a very good year for music.


These notes are in reference to "Josie", the last track on the album.

MCA Records (1999) Digital Remaster by Roger Nichols on CD: Overall great balance in the mix, but every listener commented that by contemporary standards the entire track seems bass-shy. I agree, and I always wished that Jim Keltner's kick drum had more body and that Chuck Rainey's bass guitar had been given just a bit more clarity and presence in the mix. The drum work is crisp, maintains a vice-like grip on the beat and helps create a drive that is unmistakably Jim Keltner's signature. You can feel the emotional effect of his pickup when he restarts the tune after the pause near the end, one of the unique aspects of "Josie". The natural-sounding horns are a Steely Dan signature too, and provide an important part of the jazz feel that sometimes gets submerged in the mix but which never quite goes away. The guitar solo (by Dean Parks? Larry Carlton?) is slightly recessed but clear and well crafted with excellent detail that provides all of the character of the instrument being played.

UHQ/MQA CD, (2018) DSD flat-transferred from analogue master tapes by Seth Foster at Sterling Sound, NYC. Edited in DSD by Manabu Matsumura at Universal Music Studios, Tokyo: Same volume as the MCA 1984, 1999 and the MoFi 1988 releases. Overall the same great balance in the mix, but everybody commented that this version is also just as bass-shy as the 'conventional' versions. The guitar solo is still slightly recessed but also still clear and well crafted just like the previous releases. Basically, "Josie" and all the other tracks sound identical in every respect to the conventional CD releases.

The overall impression was . . . what's the *$%!@#* point? All this fuss over UHQ/MQA CD just to get . . . the same thing we've already got multiple times over? By my count, there are twenty-five separate releases of Aja, all of which are precisely as good, some of which have extra liner notes and photos and technical information too, and all of them available for less money than the UHQ/MQA CD version. Fail.

V. Conclusion

The bottom line during a three week period needed to do eight listening sessions was that a bunch of guys whose music listening and appreciation experience I respect began questioning my sanity. "Why bother with this?", they began asking, "when it's obvious that these releases for the Japan audiophile market are just another example of pointlessly pricey audiophilia that has no real reason to exist?" Good question.

Note the comments I included above about the LP versions of these albums. Those comments are also culled from the listening group. The original Moanin', Getz/Gilberto, and Aja LPs are fine examples of just how good these things could be for projects in which producers really cracked the whip or engineers were in the groove and when musicians and the man in the booth were tuned in to each other. The CD releases already on the market have been criticized by all manner of audiophiles and technophiles intent on making CD a pariah. The fact remains that all of the CD versions we used for the comparison sessions are terrific - musical, musical, musical. The MQA versions fall short not because they're bad, but because they're merely almost the same (with the exception of the Getz/Gilberto MQA CD which is obviously audibly worse).

The audio systems consisted of:

MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
Marantz SA-14S1 SACD player
Yamaha A-S2100
Kudos Cardea Super 10 speakers

MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
Audio Research (ARC) CD3 MKII
Audio Research (ARC) REF 3 preamp
Jeff Rowland 625 S2 power amp
Ethera Vitae speakers
REL subwoofer

MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
Ayre Acoustics CX-7e CD player
Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary integrated amp
Harbeth Monitor 40.2 speakers

MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
Simaudio Moon Evolution CD player
Naim Supernait 2 (with HiCap power supply) integrated amp
Audio Note AN-E/SPe SE speakers

MyTek Brooklyn DAC+
Oppo UPD-205 disc player
T+A P3000 HV preamp
T+A A3000 HV amp
B & W 805 D3 speakers

That's it.

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Archimago's note... In closing...
As I said, beautiful write-up and work, Agitater et al. out in Toronto. This is the kind of background research, writing, and critical listening review we rarely see; the kind of sleuthing audiophiles should be involved in given the love of music and high quality sound systems at our disposal. No question IMO this kind of examination of products needs to be done given the hype out there around MQA-CDs (and UHQCD) as some kind of "new physical audio format" (as per Techmoan). Again, a real shame that the audiophile press doesn't seem to engage in actual critical listening, nor ever seem to offer any open criticism of an encoding system known to have clear technical limitations and which many of us have now heard and found either to have no benefit overall or worsens the sound.

For those of you technically inclined, the result from Agitater and friends is of no surprise! Remember that MQA-CD is simply 16/44.1 PCM that might be mastered differently to change the sound which is why it's so important examining which mastering was used as Agitater did. However, since the data must include the MQA control stream somewhere (MQA identification, crypto signature, instructions for dithering/noise shaping/filter selection), this means that one of those 16 bits will be used to contain MQA data instead of your usual music data, making the resolution at best 15-bits. And since there are no lower 8 bits like in "hi-res" MQA at 24/44.1 or 24/48 to unfold the ultrasonic octave, the only pseudo content above 22.01kHz is the result of the leaky filters used by MQA (not even a lossy reconstruction). There is absolutely no justification for calling these MQA-CDs "high resolution" at all! If anything, technically, they rob resolution from standard CD!

Enough said, I think... Back to my previously scheduled vacation. As I said last time... Next time, let's listen to some jitter effects ;-).

32 comments:

  1. Heh. I almost sent you a link to the TechMoan review. Not because it was good, he got seriously schooled in the comments, but because it showed how the "everyman" <strikethrough> is duped </strikethrough> um... I mean, perceives MQA marketing. :)

    Then I figured, meh, same-old, same-old, spare Arch the noise.

    I do like a good internet fisking, so thanks for the reprint. I definitely would have never seen it on a forum.

    Been enjoying the music. And the summer. BR.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. tfw click "Read more" and no fisking :)

      I kid, I kid. It was a thorough, honest review. No purple prose. No veils lifted, dropped, bought, sold, processed, or processed for someone else to buy or sell, or repaired. :)

      Delete
    2. Hey there Allan,
      Hope you're enjoying the nice warm weather along the coast!

      Yeah... Same old. Good to know that the commenters to the Techmoan video is setting the record straight :-).

      Delete
  2. Here's my take on the UHQCD format on its own:
    https://www.computeraudiophile.com/forums/topic/46313-uhqcd/

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    1. Great work, Mans. That was super interesting. Folks, be sure to stay with it for his second set of graphs on page 2 -- 1 ns jitter.

      Delete
    2. Yup, as usual, impressive work from Måns.

      Good to know that the UHQCD system does result in better quality signal. Of course, this isn't going to change the sound quality any nor likely improve accuracy of the data read even on an old generation CD player. Hopefully the different material can also improve life expectancy of those disks!

      Delete
    3. Although the UHQCD signal is measurably different in the early processing stages, I'm hesitant to call it better. There is no indication that the final error rate is lower than with normal CDs, for which it is already essentially zero.

      Delete
  3. MQA-CDs "just another example of pointlessly pricey audiophilia that has no real reason to exist?"
    Well, if you think about it, they do give audiophiles something to write/talk/argue about. What would we do if every recording was perfectly produced and recorded, and every piece of equipment was capable of reproducing the engagement and emotional impact of a live performance? Heck, we'd probably have to discuss THE MUSIC!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. ARRRRGGGGGG!!!

      Yes, the horror of talking about THE MUSIC! That would certainly be no fun at all :-).

      I think guys by nature are gladiatorial so talking about purely subjective things like art work itself isn't as satisfying. I mean, really, "Beatles vs. Stones" albums... No fun for the tech geek at least ;-(.

      Delete
  4. I wish MQA would die.....

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  5. I think that MQA is unlikely to die until the labels, distributors and streaming services fully play through the licensing scheme, the backstory (some sort of retail HiFi upsell, some sort of DRM, some sort of weird play for end-user ears that they already own, etc.?), and the financial model. Right now, license fees are being paid to MQA by the streaming services, the labels, and a bunch of DAC makers. Don’t hold your breath, but it’s also possible that one of the DAC chipset fabs is working on a test version of MQA-on-a-chip (having paid a license fee for the use of the proprietary firmware code). I personally don’t think MQA will show up on a major DAC chipset anytime soon but I’m not surprised at anything the industry cobbles together no matter how technically goofy it happens to be.

    In any event, the hardware industry thrives on profit margins just like every other industry. The streaming business (Spotify, TIDAL, Qobuz, etc.) has yet to make a penny of profit, although Spotify is getting close. So the streaming business model (where MQA has the biggest library footprint, i.e., TIDAL HiFi Masters) consists of endless rounds of financing, over-the-counter share offers, and all with the promise that profits and big returns are just over the next hill. Problem is, extra license fees for ‘technology’ that requires work to implement but doesn’t influence a tilt toward profit or better margins may not elicit from the license fee payers the sort of patience that I think Bob Stuart and company need in order for MQA to become a sustainable business. Good for us; bad for Stuart and MQA.

    We don’t know what the real end game is, and I’m just guessing about all of the foregoing. One thing we know for sure though - MQA isn’t about better sound quality.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thanks again for the write-up and note Agitater.

      Yeah, who knows how this is going to play out. At the end of the day it is about money. At some point sooner than later, I think they are going to realize that the capital investment just isn't going to cut it for the streaming services (is there any evidence that MQA resulted in worthwhile bump in listenership for Tidal), DAC makers (any evidence that cell phone users care?) or music labels (good luck with these MQA-CD's Warner).

      I wouldn't hold my breath of course cuz companies could throw money at goofy schemes for awhile even if the end is inevitable rather than just cut their losses. I think the consumer is already ahead of the curve and at least in the audiophile world, many already question the value and the hype ain't gonna work in the face of the information out there IMO.

      Keep up the good work and enjoy the music :-)!

      Delete
    2. For Bob Stuart the end game is recovering years of losses. About 50 million pounds from 2001 to 2017. For the labels the end game is DRM. For the audio press it is a new format to promote.

      Agitater thanks for a technically accurate review. Another piece showing information asymmetry. There is a group out there that knows more than press and the high end industry.

      Delete
    3. Ouch...

      Recovering £50M is gonna be tough with MQA. I find it interesting that MQA/Bob Stuart has gone silent over the last number of months now - even the shills have gone silent. Stereophile and TAS don't bring up MQA as much either.

      Either there's not much gas left in the proverbial tank or the strategy now is just to sneak into the supply chain quietly. I suspect it's the former. The latter would be really bad news for the consumer who desires good quality sound.

      In other news... Rick Astley's new DR6 album Beautiful Life is now available on MQA (booyah!) as per the handful or so of albums showing up on the MQA Facebook page. Clearly the album was in need of "hi-res" :-).

      Delete
    4. So you are telling me you find no meaningful difference between the single Empty Heart (non-MQA version) and the same track located on the album Beautiful Life (MQA version)?

      Delete
  6. The CDDA format is always vulnerable due to the absence of en error resilient file system as specified in the Rainbow Books. I purchased some "24K Gold" and "Super Alloy" CDs in the 90s, but now it is 2018 and who still uses a traditional CDDA player as the ONLY way to listen to music? I like physical media for various reasons but just put some lossless audio files in discs and sell them. Apart from the file system most lossless audio formats also support built-in checksum. Relying on physical quality of storage media for "better" playback quality is so prehistoric. MQA and all kinds of lossy codecs are completely pointless for physical delivery as there is no limitation in bandwidth.

    I am not saying that the CDDA format is completely unreliable and outdated but the combination of UHQCD + MQA is a completely stupid way to advertise data integrity and pseudo hi-res.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yup Dtmer...

      While spinning disks are anachronistic these days, at least if the material costs add something (like a few milligrams of gold :-), there's something collectable about that.

      Pseudo-hi-res is something altogether worthless and deserves to be terminated with extreme prejudice...

      Delete
  7. Hi Archimago!

    The more i read about audiophile gear, the more i get sick of it. In the past i considered myself as an audiophile, but today, i'm not feeling myself an audiophile. I can't cope with the quantity of junk that is avaiable in the market! On top of that, every magazine or website that i used as a reference is turning into a mere marketing tool, with lots of obvious ads disguised as articles or reviews (the last one that comes to my mind is Inner Fidelity after Tyll left).

    I'm not an audiophile anymore. I love MUSIC, and my equipment exist only to serve the purpose of giving me the pleasure that music can give us. No more snake oil, no more expensive equipment, only the necessary equipment.

    I'm so upset by all this junk, that i wish that all the audiophile industry just die (an it is dying, it only exists in a very niche group). We always have the professional market to suit our needs.

    Anyway, that's just my opinion.

    Best regards!!

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    Replies
    1. Hey VK, long time no see...

      I think this is one trajectory of the audiophile in this hobby. When young, we admired the sound achieved from great looking and sounding high end gear. As we get older, have more disposable income, we gradually acquire and spend time with the gear. At times impressed with certain purchases, other times disappointed by the experience at the poor value compared to what we have been lead to believe. At the same time over the last few decades, excellent sounding gear got cheaper and more ubiquitous.

      We've hit the point now where inexpensive gear sounds just as good as the high-end stuff. Furthermore the Information Superhighway has provided us with all kinds of awareness about the goods such that we are no longer dependent on the audiophile press's "Ministry of Truth". This of course includes more objective perspectives that were not given adequate coverage in the mainstream press over the years.

      When "high fidelity" no longer requires megabucks to obtain, what else is there for the "high end" industry driven by profit to do but double down with subjective flowery language to impress and "jawbone" the consumer, push non-credible schemes like MQA, and do everything they can to push back against objectivism which threatens the power of the "Ministry of Truth" and those who feel they have an inherent ability (right?) to wield influence?

      Instances like MQA have provided an obvious peek behind the curtains at the Wizards in the audiophile press at work and reminds us clearly of whom most of these Wizards work for.

      Yes, the professional market can supply us excellent quality gear. However, there is something still to be said about the "fit and finish" meant for consumer needs. I personally have no issue with good quality workmanship and brands fulfilling the various tiers of luxury. What's bad is when the press and companies take liberty with gross exaggeration, lies, and snake oil fraud.

      If many audiophiles like yourself have a sickening sense of disgust at the Industry, clearly something is very wrong and unhealthy. While we can at some level understand that companies are there to make money and advertising is prone to exaggeration, IMO the press in principle was supposed to be independent and show journalistic integrity. Failure on that level I believe has undermined the health of the Industry and faith in the checks and balances. The elephant in the room is not hard to see... And the average consumer who's not wow'ed by the eye-candy and obsessional tendencies of the audiophile geek intuitively will walk away the moment they're faced with a salesperson talking about US$1000 interconnect cables as if that somehow represented "value".

      Delete
    2. Yea, i'm kind of quiet in my corner in the last months, but rest assured that i'm always here every week ;)

      The reason of my silence is clear: everytime i see things like this MQA-CD i begin to grumble :P And i don't wan't to sound like an cranky old man (i'm just 34 years old :P too soon for that).

      But anyway...

      I've began my audiophile journey in my 16's. Everything was amazing, and, as you can expect from an adolescent, i wasn't very wise, believing in various types of snake oil (even the use of "high end" fuses to improve sound quality - thank God i haven't spent a single penny in that junk!).
      But the years have past, and i walk away from that audiophile journey... it was not worth it anymore. As you say, "clearly something is very wrong and unhealthy". I couldn't agree more! The industry is shooting itself in the foot.

      Today i wander around some hand picked sites only, like yours, because, as i said before, i can't cope with that much snake oil. And the list of the sites is getting smaller every year. Inner Fidelity was the last one to be scratched from my list. Even the excellent site of Dr. AIX was scratched from my list after i read about that Yarra gimmick, being described as "magical" (here we go with the audiophile jargon!!).

      This industry is doomed!

      Best regads!

      Delete
    3. From what I can tell, the Yarra "gimmick" does what they say it does. I certainly don't see any claims of physically impossible feats. Mark Waldrep is still one of the good guys.

      Delete
    4. VK, you've become a cranky old man at 34 ;-). Indeed the loss of Tyll from InnerFidelity is a big blow to the Stereophile online family and mourned.

      IMO everything turns in time and so too an over-reliance on pure subjectivism and clearly evident magical pseudoscience in the Industry. Look at the age of the typical audiophile magazine writer. That age group and its influences will wane not long from now. I'm not sure Gen X and Millennial audio lovers and future audio industry writers will be cut from the same cloth :-). I'm pretty sure they won't follow in these footsteps.

      Agree with Måns here...

      While I have not experienced the Yarra system, the multispeaker array can certainly create compelling 3D illusions. In fact, in a limited way, the tiny 4-speaker system in the Huawei MateBook X Pro I spoke about a couple weeks ago with the Dolby "Atmos" surround processing does create quite an interesting experience.

      Personally, I feel the future of audio (including music) is still to go beyond the 2-channel stereo sound. Sure, multichannel may have "failed" beyond home theater applications with multiple speakers due to practical space limitations. However, I am excited that companies are trying to simulate the same experience in smaller boxes like Yarra or the upcoming "headphone holography" of Creative's Super X-Fi. By creating a convenient way for the consumer to experience what would essentially be multichannel content, I hope this would spur on more multichannel content creation. This would be good for us with hi-fi multichannel set-ups at home...

      I've always hoped that the audiophile world including the press should be championing for this 3D immersive experience, rather than stuck in the old limited 2.0 "stereo". Who knows. Maybe in 10 years if we are to thumb through an audiophile magazine, there will be all kinds of interesting reviews on everything from lower end multispeaker arrays to larger, fuller sound sound bars, to full on high-end multichannel systems as we escape from the boredom of useless "technologies" like this MQA-CD...

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    5. I think that the best path for home audio is multi-ch too. The only problem i see with Yarra marketing, is that old audiophile jargon, with some people in the marketing video of the product even saying that are thinking in replacing their high end speakers with the tiny Yarra soundbar. Exaggerated statement at least. Try Bruckner's 4th Symphony with high end speakers and then with Yarra. I really don't think the soundbar can survive. Because... physics...

      Anyway, i'm looking foward to technologies that expand the soundfield. I'm just a little suspicious about bold claims.

      Best regards!

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    6. Yeah, admittedly I have not seen the promo material, but certainly agree that while it's nice for products like Yarra to reach out and expand the spatial dimensions, it's important not to over-reach.

      Full frequency and dynamic range. Low distortions. All will certainly require a respect for fundamental physical principles.

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    7. A little hyperbole is to be expected. As long as it's founded in reality, I don't have a problem with it.

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  8. How do you like the Benchmark DAC3 HGC? Does it sound as good as the Brooklyn in non-MQA content?

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    1. To my ears, the Benchmark DAC3 HGC is one of the best all-round DACs I’ve ever heard. It’s absolutely silent in operation, switches sources silently, and the analog output is completely free and open. It’s as transparent to the source (in my main, LFD-based system) as any DAC I’ve previously auditioned or owned. I thought that my North Star Design Supremo was perfectly balanced and transparent, but to my ears the DAC3 is better. I set aside a Naim DAC V1, a Weiss 501 and a Hugo TT in favor of the DAC3. Basically, I think the DAC3 is a home run for Benchmark.

      Compared to integrated DACs, the DAC3 holds its own when compared to the stellar DAC in the Lumin T1, and also sounds as good or better to my ears than the wonderful DAC implementation in the Oppo UDP205.

      About the only DAC I’ve ever owned that exceeds the Benchmark’s remarkable performance is the late, lamented (24/192) Arcam FMJ D33 - one of the best DACs ever made at any price, IMO. All that said, in a well-conceived two-channel system, the differences between many of these DACs are quite small. But the Benchmark is my favorite right now, followed by the Arcam D33, followed by the DAC in my Lumin T1 streamer.

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    2. . . . and I never answered the question. The MyTek Brooklyn DAC+ is also a wonderful DAC, as well as being a lot of fun to use. Tons of information is available through the front OLED panel and through the control app. The Brooklyn DAC+ is as good as the Oppo 205’s DAC, that is to say its analog output is as transparent to the source as the 205. My prefernces still stand, but it somebody told me that I could only ever use the Brooklyn DAC+ for the next two years I’d just smile, say thank you and thoroughly enjoy the music! I think that there are no bad choices among any of the DACs I’ve mentioned.

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    3. Thank you for reply, I ordered a BenchMark DAC 3 and I will have it tomorrow! Can't wait and thank u for this blog with all the great work you do for us all.

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    4. You’re welcome. It’s Archimago’s blog though. I’m just an occasional kibitzer. 😉

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    5. Agitater is totally welcome to kibitz any time :-).

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