Saturday, 13 October 2018

MUSINGS: On the RMAF 2018 MQA talk, pseudonyms, and the right to anonymity.


“A desire for privacy does not imply shameful secrets; Moglen argues, again and again, that without anonymity in discourse, free speech is impossible, and hence also democracy. The right to speak the truth to power does not shield the speaker from the consequences of doing so; only comparable power or anonymity can do that.”
--- Nick Harkaway, The Blind Giant
Boo!

Well, Halloween's coming up and it looks like we're about to talk about some scary, dramatic stuff involving emotional incontinence and anonymity :-).

As some of you know, last weekend at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2018, Chris Connaker of Computer Audiophile gave a talk on MQA ("The Truth Lies Somewhere in the Middle"). As it turned out, it was scheduled as the last presentation of the show on a Sunday afternoon. Here's a video recording of the event:



Perhaps it's not a surprise to everyone that the room wasn't overflowing with people (I count about 30) given that it's right at the end of the show. Also no surprise if we look at the audience and consider the demographic being represented (at least there were a few women in there, I don't know if any of them spoke up though).

If you watch the video in its entirety, obviously the seminar did not go so well. In retrospect, one can imagine that walking into an event like RMAF with a message that inevitably will contain criticisms of a product that has been promoted widely by the audiophile press, sold to audiophiles as the next great "revolutionary" format to grace one's digital playback system, and in a session where it turned out multiple company representatives and pro-MQA evangelists attended, it was probably a given that there would be some unhappiness!

I see that Chris tried to maintain the humor level. Alas there were constant disruptions. Inability to concede on facts. Claims of "double standard", etc... Let's talk about this video, some of the contents, and some personal thoughts on this whole "being anonymous" issue.

I. On the presentation itself...

As you're probably aware, I wrote the article "MQA: A Review of controversies, concerns, and cautions" for Computer Audiophile back in early March 2018 putting together the pieces I had been interested in, investigated on in this blog, many times with help over the years from other technically/objectively inclined audiophiles. Chris had contacted me given the ruckus over the years about MQA and knowing that he runs a community-oriented site that values member input (I've been a member there since 2010, and if you look at the history, I've not always been in agreement with Chris), I was certainly glad to put together a summary with results and references for people to read further should they want to.

Before that article even went "to press", Chris had sent a copy of the draft to MQA/Bob Stuart to review. Chris was open with me that this was the deal, and I had no qualms about this. Certainly this was honorable and fair. As Chris mentioned in his MQA seminar, I am aware that he called MQA HQ and spoke to Mr. Stuart (and maybe others) right before the article went live. But I do not believe there was ever any written response to refute the claims or alternative graphs/charts/results to show that what was demonstrated in the article was inaccurate. It has now been seven months. I did not receive any comments from MQA on my blog through this time (although back in 2016 I wrote this entry about a message that got sent to spam). I received no private message(s) to suggest I was in error whether from MQA or other concerned audiophiles. I read almost every comment people left on that article (there have been over 800!).

As you can see in the "MQA The Truth lies Somewhere in the Middle" thread on CA, Chris announced it beforehand and discussed his intent. Chris was interested in finding a middle ground in discussions despite a few forum participants thinking that he was perhaps being too "balanced". To be honest, I was thinking he would be a little "soft" as well! After all, when essentially every claim made by MQA has been debunked or found to be inferior to the status quo (ie. hi-res FLAC), if Chris did not express some criticisms, that would simply be uncomfortably charitable and biased towards MQA.

For those who want a closer look, Chris' slide set can be downloaded here. Well, I really have to hand it to Chris, I think he did a great job walking the line with that 34-slide presentation! That was a much bolder and honest discussion which did not skirt around obvious issues than I had anticipated. Claims that I had almost already forgotten about were brought out (oh yeah, there was that "neuroscience research" claim back in the day wasn't there?). We were reminded of the old "MQA Lossless" logo from around 2015-2016. He touched on the complexity of studio productions (8:25 with reference to Brian Lucey and his comments) and how difficult it would be to "fingerprint" the complete studio process...

Unhappy MQA execs and PR people? You betcha. But at this point, how else would any other presenter talk about MQA when presenting the facts!? No way in late 2018 after all that's said and done are we going to go back to last year's MQA presentation by Danny Kaey's style of appealing to the audience to "Let's get behind MQA cuz it's the only train in town!". The MQA contingent might be happy about such a harmless, ambivalent presentation, but Chris would be laughed out of town by the community of audiophiles as a whole if he sent such a ridiculous message!

As we can see from the video, MQA got angry. For a talk that aims to find some kind of middle ground, it's hard when emotions ratchet up. Things started to get ugly by 10:20 when Ken Forsythe (MQA Director of Market Development) asked "Who is Archimago and what's his credentials?" Then he goes into the comment "Well I think that's a double standard, everybody here understands Bob Stuart's credentials or I think they do... In transparency and fairness, you should tell us who he is and what he does."

We'll talk more about who I am later. But is this actually a "double standard"? Remember, the idea of a double standard is when we have a rule being applied to different people when it should be the same. What "rule" or "standard" is unfairly being applied here? Mr. Stuart is trying to sell you something that's supposed to be fantastic. He and his company wants your money. He and his company, plus the mainstream audiophile press, makes and perpetuates claims that they have done something amazingly "revolutionary" even. If we were in a job interview and Chris is trying to hire someone to create some new audio hardware, then by all means, hire Bob Stuart, not Archimago based on credentials. But this is not about applying the same rules to all candidates. It's about whether criticisms charged have merit, especially when the criticisms are being argued on an objective level that can be reproduced by anyone who wants to look - not merely expressing opinions without evidence. Why can't they demonstrate the contrary based on that same level of argument?

The question got raised right as Chris said I wrote the article and showed an image of the frequency anomaly found on Bruno Mars' song "Locked Out of Heaven" as played back "unfolded" by the MQA system:


I trust that most audiophiles can look at that FFT and realize that there's obviously something not right about that graph. Does it matter if my credentials included a PhD in astrophysics, or if I trained as an audio engineer, or if I served burgers at the local McDonald's? When simply by using free tools while streaming Tidal and some basic knowledge of Adobe Audition (or free Audacity for that matter), anyone can find that abnormality?! (As Chris stated, in fact, the issue was already posted on YouTube almost a year before my article. And here I see Chris made a video himself.)

As I recall, it was not the town PhD rocket scientist who called out "the Emperor has no clothes!"

At 11:00, Chris basically said as much - "This can be reproduced by anyone with the requisite skills". But that's of course not good enough for Mr. Forsythe - "I just want to know who he is and what his credentials are for producing this..." Honestly guys, the image above is one of the easiest anomalies to find and I'm sure those guys can just ask Bob Stuart if they really don't know why certain songs demonstrate that behaviour! Måns Rullgård's work exploring MQA's "rendering" function I'm sure took him many hours of combing through the code and creating his decoding tool. Capturing the various impulse responses, dithering, noise shaping likewise was more involved than having a look at Bruno Mars' song.

Maybe there's a point for Mr. Forsythe to suggest "... it would be interesting to know if this is a competitor looking to come up with something smart or clever(er) than what we have, or is this an individual, or is this somebody clever with Photoshop." As has been said many times, I am not a member of the Industry. But even if I were, so what? It doesn't explain or excuse what is found and how the findings contradict claims of "the exact studio sound" - the point that Chris was making when the image was shown.

Then there's the question of "Has anybody else reproduced what he's produced?" (Of course others have... and yet again "Why won't you release his name?"). At 14:20, Forsythe made the "anonymous source" comment. I'm glad someone mentioned that he can just come to the blog here or send me a message on the audio forums I visit if he wants to talk. Bravo to the audience member.

This is important because although I am writing with a pseudonym, I am not all that anonymous! Over the years, a number of collaborators and friends know who I am, including some in the audiophile Industry such as Chris and others in the press. The fact that my pseudonym has stuck I think speaks well of the company I keep :-). I've written almost 300 articles over the years on this blog so I'm not just jumping in, taking a stab at MQA, and then disappearing into the underground as that nebulous "anonymous source"! I first wrote about "Meridian MQA Concerns" in January 2015. I think from my writings, one can tell that there is a "real person" behind the pseudonym with a life outside the audio hobby.

At 15:50 we have MQA CEO Mike Jbara chiming in, claiming that Chris was given "exhaustive" stuff from March 2016, and acknowledging they don't use that MQA Lossless logo "any longer", and that "there's only one component of it that's lossless" (great - so 2 of 3 components must therefore be lossy?). He then plays some kind of weird victim role that people "don't seem to want to be transparent about how they create results" (huh?). "So why aren't we showing Bob's (Stuart) answers to each one of those points on your slide?" Hmmmm, didn't Chris just say that Bob didn't provide a response countering the MQA article posted on CA earlier this year? Has Bob said anything more about the neuroscience claim? Did Bob say anything when Brian Lucey commented on MQA in his interview last year (I somehow don't think documents from 2016 would cover this, Mr. Jbara)? BTW, Mr. Jbara, the comment about bit-depth at 18:00 was not about "MQA-CD". Please, let's not open the MQA-CD Pandora's Box shall we?

And so it continued. (BTW there is an interesting discussion by Jbara at 29:00 where he tries to appeal to artists in some way around the economics. Interesting words but I'm not sure if the thinking was logical... Lemme know in the comments if you heard and understood what he said and if it made sense.)

I have to hand it to Chris for doing his best to keep his cool in the context of this barrage. As you can see, it gets uglier as civility takes a back seat by the time digital rights management (DRM) gets talked about and people start to bang tables (33:30). Why's this guy so angry!?


Of course Chris can't refute the Christoph Engemann presentation. Nor should he go banging tables and telling Christoph "There is/was/never will be DRM!" as the guy above seems to be insisting because he heard it from these "industry leaders" in the room.

The point of the DRM discussion is both real and a hypothetical exercise. Nobody at this point is accusing MQA of copy protection (which typically is the first thing that comes to mind with consumers) currently or necessarily ever. But it is a fact that they have already implemented a control mechanism for playback using cryptographic signatures embedded in the music stream, the DACs that play MQA have incorporated the company's proprietary code in their firmware, and of course any software developed must be licensed. At each level, there is a certain ability to control the way the data is decoded or played depending on the interpretation of the cryptographic signature. MQA could decline hardware and software companies they see as not willing to comply with their rules (remember, there is an inherent "anti-competitive" nature to rights controls). Rights are already "managed" as part of the euphemistic "authentication" mechanism. Honestly, it's fine for a company to do that as part of their business model (I've discussed this before). But the consumer (and industry as a whole) has the right to consider whether this is a desirable "feature" at a time in history when open, high-quality standards are the norm and one doesn't have to hand over control/"authentication" to any corporation - especially since from an audio quality perspective, there's no evidence that we're gaining anything from doing so.

So what if Forsythe / Jbara / Stuart / et al. say "There's no DRM"? Perhaps they can also define for us what they see as digital rights management before flat-out denying it. Remember, once the control/authentication mechanism is in place, there could be changes to the consumer experience over time. The potential exists that every once awhile the "Terms of Service" might change, implemented with firmware and software updates for example. There's no risk of this if you own a FLAC file and use any of the countless FLAC music players. Christoph's use of the word "trojan" and the importance of considering that potential is IMO wise as a consumer even if one feels that the MQA company has the most noble of intentions.

I think that's enough.. Let's move on from the video itself. Let me talk about something I can address that was posed and insisted upon in this video - the topic of anonymity.

II. On Anonymity...

In his book The Blind Giant (2013), quoted above, in the chapter titled "Work, Play and Sacred Space", the professor of law at Columbia University Eben Moglen comments on the importance of anonymity in public discourse and free speech. While anonymity in news reporting has often been associated with articles where a journalist will quote anonymous sources after having vetted the person as reliable and trustworthy, this is just a piece of the concept of anonymity Moglen is talking about. I am obviously not "Deep Throat", have no trade secrets to share on my blog, nor do I hope to ever need to be in protective custody :-).

Moglen is talking about the right to anonymity in the age of social media and digital identities (part of that triad of the rights to secrecy, autonomy, and anonymity - in other words, the right to privacy).

Freedom to express a difference of opinion is obviously to be expected in any open and honest discussion. I trust that over the years, readers have not found me acting rudely, speaking bizarrely, personally attacking anyone, or creating discord for the sake of anarchy while hiding under the pseudonym. If possible, I like producing and publishing objective results, generally with procedures described and with adequate detail should anyone want to verify the findings. In fact, discussions and opinions formed out of objective, empirical methods IMO are the most meaningful since "hi-fi" consumer products are based on science, technology, and engineering.

But anonymity is not a "free ride". It doesn't mean I have the right to defame MQA, lie about tests I didn't run, or make money off targeting MQA from some rival company. One does not need to be anonymous to lie, cheat, or be unethical. Depending on the prevailing culture, it is possible that those who are anonymous are the only ones who truly can be the most free, honest, and yes, even ethical. Starting off under a pseudonymous handle meant that credibility must be built from nothing. "Archimago" is the contents of this blog and the persona I have chosen to present when I'm online in the audio forums. As you can see, I didn't just pop up out of the blue contributing an article about MQA for Computer Audiophile. Articles on this blog have spanned close to 6 years, and within the articles, readers can get to "know" who I am as an audiophile; the kind of equipment I have, what kind of "sound" I like, what my listening room looks like, some of the music I listen to, and of course my philosophy on the audiophile pursuit. Is this not a complete enough online "identity" as it pertains to my views and contributions to this hobby with MQA as only a part of that broader perspective? I would even argue that readers know more about my stance on audiophilia than that of the majority of audio reviewers out there.

I think the idea of anonymity/pseudonymity might be particularly uncomfortable for the audiophile press. So often, product reviews begin with some kind of bio of the product designer. Why he wants to make a DAC a certain way. How he started up the company 20 years ago. What history he has with previous companies and what reputation he enjoys among the audiophile "intelligentsia". While this might be of interest or even entertaining to read at times (hilarious with cable designers BTW), no man (or woman) is infallible. I can have respect for many in the Industry, but I'm too old to believe or desire to be graced by "heroes". In my opinion, a product should succeed or fail on its merits, not whether it was backed by a "reputable" personality any more than whether it was blessed by the pope and his high priests.

Sure, Bob Stuart has done many good things in his long career, yet this doesn't mean any of us should simply follow his claims for MQA without some critical evaluation (especially when the concerns are this broad!).

So then, in March 2018, a blogger posts a review article on CA having connected with Chris Connaker to verify his identity and discuss a desire to remain anonymous. The article is based on years of previous postings with the article even titled as "a review".  

And the best "Team MQA" could do at Chris' presentation was disrupt, at times insisting that they needed to know who this guy is, as if that in itself will change something, instead of responding to the article with some tangible insights after having 7 months to think about this?!

III. So, who are you???

Do you still need to ask?

Fine, there are legitimate disclosure questions I can answer of course. Let's try a little Q&A...

Q: Do you have any affiliations with the audio Industry, own shares in any company, have investment instruments, or have financial dealings otherwise that could result in personal gain based on your blog material?
A: NO.

Q: Do you have any financial interest in seeing MQA fail?
A: NO. In fact that would actually mean the MQA decoding feature on my Oppo UDP-205 which I paid for becomes useless. :-)

Q: Did you make any money off your MQA article for Computer Audiophile?
A: Yes. I received the usual writer's fee; no different from any other contributor for an article on the front page. I see Chris is looking for writers, go ahead and contribute!

Q: Do you make any money off your blog?
A: Yes. A few dollars here and there in Amazon gift certificates and AdSense payouts for clicks. Varies every month of course depending on traffic. Enough to buy a CD once awhile, maybe a computer peripheral like a replacement hard drive here and there. All of this an insignificant part of the income from the day job.

Q: What motivates you to write about audio?
A: Mainly because I found the usual audiophile magazines remarkably hollow and devoid of useful content (personal opinion). Forums are useful but some topics demanded articles of their own rather than ending up buried in long threads. I figured I might as well ask some questions, present my take on common issues, and run some measurements myself.

I enjoy meeting the people in this hobby whether in real life or virtually. Writing the articles provided opportunities to learn more about audio tech, and share these ideas. I started this blog about 6 years ago because my kids were getting older, more independent, so I had more time to pick up my hobbies again and write these posts usually in the evenings when the world's quiet and post on weekends after proofreading.

Q: So then, what are your credentials and background?
A: Clearly what the guys on the video are most interested in :-). Let me say this... I studied computer science in my undergrad days. After that I went on to further postgraduate training and my career path remained in the sciences.

I have a professorship position in my university which gives me access to people, research and academic materials. I have papers in the academic literature and book chapters to my name in my CV. My position intersects academia, public services, NGOs, and even some private industry. I teach students, travel internationally to present, engage in administration and program development. None of this involves the audio industry although the technologies I come across in research could be applied in some ways to certain products.

Managing one's "digital identity" is of some interest and significance for me, not because there is anything "shameful" (as per the Harkaway quote), but rather one can and should always be able to execute one's rights.

Hopefully this is adequate self-disclosure and these answers might put into context more of what you see here. Most importantly, I trust there's nothing here in the disclosures that suggests I'm trying to derail MQA based on personal financial gain. As a hobbyist, I see no benefits and I feel that I am free to express that point and show people why...

We live in a world where even the Most Powerful Man on Earth seems to need his ego stroked, and feels he needs to prefix his Twitter account with "@real". A world where it appears many seek to document and advertise their lives on social media. I prefer to see the "Information Superhighway" literally as just that. An efficient mechanism whereby we can share information broadly. Other than word-of-mouth or a link to this blog on forums I contribute to, I don't pay anything or ask others to advertise the contents. There are no "like" buttons here. People are free to come and read and share here as they please (within reason of course). I hope that articles and comments I share in words and intent will stand on their own rather than depend explicitly on the strength of the character behind the claims.

As always, I encourage the readership to empirically test beliefs and impressions themselves to seek out knowledge, present opinions based on demonstrable evidence, and feel free to correct me when I am wrong. Most of all, stay rational. Notice that over the years, the comments have been civil around here! No need to get personal, or angry... As is said in the world of sports "Play the ball not the man." Indeed, show some sportsmanship in intellectual debate.

One last point I want to make about freedom online. As the "real life" guy, I expect no recognition nor any privilege. I want to be able to slip into Rocky Mountain Audio Fest unnoticed as just another audio consumer because that's all I am (or want to be) in this hobby. If my writings can help improve the level of discussion among hobbyists, then great, I have accomplished my intent. I also want to one day "hang up my hat" and "retire" from writing about audio if another hobby comes along, if other priorities take over, or if there's simply nothing more to say. The last thing I want is for my hobby to turn into yet another commitment!

IV. "Listening to the winds of change..."

Permit me to end off with some thoughts about this hobby brought out by this little episode.

I look around the room at that audience in the video.

While Chris isn't particularly "young" (no worries Chris, we're about the same age), although this is only a small sampling of a small venue, I suspect the predominant demographic of "later middle age and older males" at these shows is not a surprise for anyone. So often, the question gets asked - "Where are the Millennials?" But other than Chris himself and what looks like less than a handful of others, I also want to ask "Where are the next generation of 40-somethings?" in this hobby that the Baby Boomers will need to pass the torch on to in the next few years? Are they as numerous as the number of 50-somethings, 60-somethings, or 70-somethings at these hi-fi shows? If so, what exhibits do they visit and where in all of the audiophile world do they find their voice and their values?

I believe significant changes are coming for the audiophile hobby in the not-distant-future. This will not just include what products we support but also how we think. It won't be sudden of course as the thinking of enthusiast hobbyists and consumers take time to evolve. Along the way there will be points of contention - like MQA. How these contentious issues are resolved will produce the social mood, the zeitgeist of the hobby as it flows through the lives of the generations of people who participate.

My feeling is that we are witnessing a "post-High-End audio" trajectory with MQA clearly demonstrating, perhaps like never before, the importance of objective analysis beyond appeals to certain "authorities", many of whom have been feeding audiophiles with myths and fantasies of the pseudoscientific variety for essentially a generation. Guess what? Maybe the upcoming generations of audiophile consumer isn't as uneducated or as docile as might be expected. Maybe the mainstream media isn't as capable in promoting the intended message as the "high-end" audio segment thinks.

Like it or not, "the forums" and communities like those on CA are on the rise. I see this as a healthy development that restores the rights and promotes the interests of consumers. Perhaps this will rhyme with the times in other areas of grassroots advocacy, social change and politics.

Time to end with a dramatic quote on behalf of the would-be hypothetical brotherhood and sisterhood of The Audiophile Consumer and Technical Union...
"I know you're out there. I can feel you now. I know that you're afraid. You're afraid of us. You're afraid of change. I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin..." 
--- Neo, The Matrix
BOO!!!


Happy early Halloween folks. :-)

I'm about to head overseas for work for the next few weeks. I might have an opportunity to post something I'm working on which was intended for this week while over there - depends on time and quality of Internet access. Otherwise, I will catch you all in November...

Addendum: Just in case people might miss the messianic humor expressed for dramatic effect at the end, remember that the drama began with the hyperbolic "birth of a new world" and revolutionary "paradigm shift" claims about MQA. Were they expecting the "blowback" and counterarguments to be timid when they unabashedly unleashed these claims?

As I said in the concluding remarks to the blind test last year, I think MQA is nothing more than a "tempest in a teapot". After all these years, I believe all we've seen have been relative disinterest in the eyes of the public and a very healthy skepticism among audiophiles. MQA this year has obviously been trying to drum up interest in other ways like "MQA-CD" and the recent "MQA Live".

I see that an audience member took an extended video of the event:



Great to see the post-presentation discussion was captured (start at 41:00 onward). An opportunity to look at what the pro-MQA side thinks and how they speak about it. A few notable claims:

1. "Triangular coding" (I presume he's referring to the wedge-like MQA "information space") is removing inaudible stuff... Maybe. But good for the audio engineer to bring up that it's not necessarily true. Remember, if we are to believe that "hi-res" makes a difference and is audible even though science tells us that >20kHz is inaudible for mere adult humans, is it not also arbitrary for MQA to claim that their "triangular coding" has for sure captured everything that's needed in the ultrasonic spectrum? (Remember, MQA causes a loss of bit-depth so there's no point in arguing on the benefits of high bit-depth for MQA.) It's simply justification for lossy encoding and saying the algorithm is "good enough for hi-res".

2. Jbara (43:30): "They also make this flawed assumption that all A-to-D's and D-to-A's are entirely lossless in their process as well". Someone chimes in the slogan "end-to-end". He claims that there's some kind of special customization between devices... Hmmm, where's the evidence Mr. Jbara? Based on measurements between an inexpensive Dragonfly Black and Mytek Brooklyn, it's hard to imagine there's much special going on here. Likewise, there's no evidence of MQA playback capable of producing some kind of "standard" or "authenticated" sound despite this "analogue to analogue" claim. Show us the evidence.

3. Jbara (44:20): "As a category, D-to-A's are not lossless themselves." What does this mean? Are you just saying that DACs (and ADCs) are simply not perfect and all have varying resolution? If that's all you mean, I don't think anyone disagrees. Care to show and tell rather than just tell us how MQA "fixes" anything here? Only then can we know if you even know what you're talking about.

4. Nice to know that "the labels' relationship with MQA is not exclusive". Yup. They're just testing the waters to see if this will fly. The question is: "what does the sales pitch look like?"

By 47:05 we get into some unhappiness about forums that attack Bob Stuart's integrity... Good job to the fellow at 48:20 for bringing up the psychological strain of the presentation for Chris or anyone in that position. Things then go into whether "honest debate" happens on CA, getting personal, and thread moderation...

51:25 there's talk about the Sound-On-Sound article from August 2016. Go ahead, read it and check out the MQA-sanctioned graphs and press material. Ultimately, it's more of the same claims with yet more words aimed at the fanciful idea that MQA does something remarkable in the time domain because of its filters. Of the MQA press articles, it is one of the more convincing looking ones... But ultimately it does not give us any more insight into what MQA actually does or does not do. Nor demonstrates the veracity of claims being forwarded. I gather Lee Scoggins feels the contents of this article as having enhanced his faith.

At this point, there's really not much left to say if all it does is to "beat a dead horse"... Of course, I thought this way last year around this time. Actually, come to think of it, there are a couple more measurements I could try... :-)

34 comments:

  1. Archi,just want to thank you for seeing that the information re:MQA has been disseminated. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. I am not buying what they are selling, but I am not losing sleep about whether others are, though it does pain me a bit when (if?) someone profits from bad behavior. As Chris went to great pains to point out,it is just audio after all. Enjoy your tunes, Dude.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed Kurt,
      It's audio... Non babies killed, no pets tortured, etc. Thank the Maker that are living in countries and a time in history where human society has developed the system of rights where we can express thoughts in this way.

      Audio is but a microcosm of course. But in these "battles" and arguments we hopefully can appreciate the mechanisms we have to speak truth even if it may be unpopular for certain corporate interests. And the importance of these mechanisms! Imagine if we lived in a society where it's not about MQA, but rather more powerful entities. This of course is happening in many parts of the world still. I know for a fact that this blog and contents like this post would be inaccessible to billions in this world.

      Delete
  2. Jeez, what a mess that video was. Why would a technical illiterate like that Chris Con guy go after technical deficiencies of Master Quality Aliasing in front of the MQA mafia and shill brigade? That was a disaster all the way around.
    The only reason they would want to know who Archimago was, would be to send a legal notice. That's what big money backed shysters do to silence anyone. It's not that you wouldn't be on solid ground legally, it's that they have tons of money to keep the legal BS coming at you for a long time, while you would be forced to spend money to defend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We see this all the time don't we?

      Not saying MQA would do this of course - I trust they have more honour than that. But it is ultimately the most powerful bully tactic in the Western world. Money and power provides an opportunity to silence through supposed means of justice.

      In retrospect, this would certainly have been very interesting if beside Chris was a guy ready to take on the technical side and able to talk about how the graphs were produced, what they meant. Ready to drag up another slide set with things like the impulse responses, data from the McGill study, Mans' explorations into the rendering stage, etc...

      Might end up with the Denver SWAT team being sent out to break up a brawl among otherwise mild-mannered middle age+ "gentlemen" :-).

      Delete
  3. Thank you for doing this work. To those who thought the talk didn't go well, I differ. What didn't go well was the audience reaction. Chris, although he was, perhaps, overly yielding of his time, did a great job presenting the facts and responding courteously to accusations from people who had a clear conflict of interest. Shame on the organizers for scheduling this as the last talk! I've been in that position at scientific meetings, and it guarantees a near-empty hall.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. His bumbling incoherence was anything but a "great job". If he had a clue, the moment the MQA mafia asked who Archimago was, he should have said that is an ad hominem logical fallacy to misdirect when the argument aka data cannot be refuted. Of course he wouldn't have a clue about logic since that is an engineering core course, not a business one. Hence he/his site being a promotion for all types of illogical audiophool nonsense. Why has has chosen to single out MQA when he actively promotes audiophool garbage for his own financial interests is a bit of a mystery. But he is technically illiterate and still a very poor choice to argue against it as the video shows. It was a good opportunity to call out the absurdity of MQAliasing and the illogical specious counters of the kool aid brigade there, but he just stumbled forth. The whole thing was a mess.
      About the only good thing were the slides with data showing the charade.

      Delete
    2. What is really a mess are your two comments here. Hard to understand your writing and your statements, maybe for true native speakers, else only question marks about what exactly you mean.

      Delete
    3. I think we can see it both ways...

      Chris I suppose could have had someone with him or invited some more MQA-critical members with him with guns blazing coming out to defend and discuss the objective side. That could have shut down Team MQA. And Chris would have felt way better post-talk.

      But instead what we see playing out allows us to gain even better insight into MQA's methods and mindset. I know that Chris sent an invitation to Ken Forsythe (and probably quickly Jbara knew about it) at least 5 days prior to that presentation. With the time available, the only thing they did was respond in that manner in the video. No rational discussion. An inability to defend criticisms with anything other than ad hominem arguments, speak very poorly of the company and those they've hired to defend their product IMO.

      As much as Chris was unable to explain the technical pieces fully or defend the concerns around rights management (compared to status quo freedoms), this gave Team MQA a chance to show their intellectual and technical expertise... The fact that they did no such thing, instead offering mere words as if this fools anyone is staggering!

      Imagine... If with the time available, they got Bob to give them a couple of slides. Showed an experiment where they were actually able to demonstrate that the "analogue-to-analogue" reflected the "studio sound". Demonstrated why the filters they chose were optimal. Heck, even produced some demo material to be released to silence the critics showing just how awesome MQA sounds. To not do these things when the opportunity was wide open for a massive coup says either...

      They are incompetent sales people.

      and/or

      They got nothin'.

      Looks to me like it's certainly the latter. I'll let you judge whether the former is also true.

      Delete
  4. OK, say they find out that Archimago is, say, a woman named Mary Smith, whose day job is selling real estate. How are they better off than when they didn't know?
    If an objective analysis is put up that criticises (or questions) their claims, it is incumbent on them to reply objectively to that criticism.
    Of course, the rise of the subjective commentary reduces everything to 'this is what I heard and my ears are better (or more respected) than yours', so it is important to know who is making a claim in that world.
    To me, there is a parallel with current politics responding to facts with 'alternate facts'.

    Ian

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, Ian.

      Not all claims are equal. Objective criticisms point a finger to a problem that exists which everyone can appreciate to be true. In this case we can appreciate the anomaly questioning the claim of the "exact studio sound".

      Regardless of how many "golden ears" claim to have heard otherwise, or prefer this kind of sound, the issue stands in question of these claims of a codec that's said to be "better"; or even maintains this supposed studio ideal.

      Delete
  5. Archimago's personal approach to the MQA debate has been beyond reproach. So there is no excuse to play the man, not the ball.

    If the benefits of MQA cannot be debated on their technical merits, then MQA have a problem.

    I'm sure the industry promoters of MQA would prefer everyone in the media were technical illiterates with limited critical thinking abilities, willing to indulge in mutual back scratching.

    Say, for instance, like Rafe Arnott.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah...

      I'd say much (not all) of the audiophile media have credibility issues of their own making.

      Delete
  6. Hi Archi,
    I don't need your name, or even to know you are an academic (though that you are very well educated is quite obvious.) I know who you are from your work and that is quite enough. Many, many thanks for your great contribution to our hobby.

    Suggest you devote a future post to the 3rd edition of Toole's book. I thought it was an ear opener with respect to the devastations of hearing loss as we age. He mentioned pitch shifting as nearby cilia take over from their defunct neighbors. Just read that Keith Richard's guitar plays a C, but he hears a B flat. With asymmetrical hearing loss I hear distortions where others do not. There are many other pieces of wisdom from a lifetime of good work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the tip DrK, I'll look into that 3rd edition. I still have the 2nd edition sitting on my shelves.

      Yeah, there is certainly something to be said about the process of aging and what happens. Audiophiles of course do not want to admit it... It's as if even if one has "golden ears" at 25, that this remains so indefinitely. Obviously not realistic.

      Certainly I believe that we can all enjoy music no matter how old. But when it comes to using our ears as "instruments" of determining the quality of hardware performance, at some point, it has to be just about "enjoying the music"!

      Delete
    2. Enjoy the music - amen. Even at age 75 live music still sounds fantastic. Stereo less so, but still opens a window into the music.

      I believe the 3rd ed of Toole is considerably expanded. If Interlibrary Loan at your library does not work, - it should - it is much cheaper to buy it from the U.K.

      Delete
  7. "I gather Lee Scoggins feels the contents of this article as having enhanced his faith."

    Gah, *that* guy. There's not a scrap of audio nonsense that Scoggins hasn't embraced wholeheartedly, in all the years I've been seeing his blather on sites like Steve Hoffman's, avsscience, et al. His classic golden-eared audiophile mindset is completely impervious to arguments from technical evidence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find the mentality fascinating...

      At some point, there's no reason to continue arguing. The apparent inability to grasp the arguments and discuss at the same level makes it impossible to reach consensus with some folks. Hence the inevitable question of whether some are paid or supported to maintain a positive message about MQA...

      Of course, ultimately, if a man is certain that he subjectively "hears" what he hears and cannot be convinced otherwise by the experience of others or objective arguments, what else is there to say?

      My hope is that audiophilia does not end up with this brand of hobbyists. It's more in line with cults and matters of faith...

      Delete
    2. Audiophilia in its extreme forms is only for hobbyists. But it makes big sense to support and expand good audio for the majority of public. And I am not sure if streaming music contributes to this.

      Delete
    3. I mean online streaming - buying music online and downloading is OK.

      Delete
  8. I am 43, I've been an audiophile since I was 5 years old :)

    I don't care for MQA. I find the whole subject boring, it's a complete and immediate turn-off for me. There's just no way the audio industry can sell it to me. It's such an obvious scam.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too. The moment I saw their webpage in early 2016, two seconds later all BS alarms triggered in my brain.
      It's however strange how much fighting does it take to bring their empty claims to end.

      Delete
  9. Hi Arch

    I was glad to see MQA employees at the presentation, however it was a shame that they decided to bully Chris during the presentation. That behaviour was condescending and outright rude. Had they been on the receiving end of that behaviour they would have asked security to remove the person doing it due to being disruptive.

    I would have been more open minded, if I had seen them taking notes, then revisiting slides at the end of the presentation to delve deeper.

    Their behaviour reminded me of a losing battle.

    I do on the other hand understand that when you are batting for your own side you will be competetive in your defence/attack, but these are grown adults and could be sporting and polite.

    The MQA need people like Chris on their side, I think he walked out of the room at the end in disgust at the way he had been treated, not necessarily the points used for argument.

    Regardless of all the debate, MQA does offer people in low bandwidth areas great quality streaming. Having heard MQA it sounds great, but as many have said, nothing more than we have already. Although I would agree with Chris who mentioned how impressed he was with the Frank Sinatra recording he was pictured listening to, MQA can do the business under the right circumstances.

    If that is the way senior executives want to behave in a public forum, I am not interested, these guys have put me off MQA for ever, due to their behaviour, I wasn't buying into MQA anyway, but will now ignore the product regardless of improvements they bring in the future.

    At this point I will also agree with Chris, MQA has the right to sell it's product and do so they way they do, as it is legal to make the claims they do. (Let's not go down that rabbit hole, but they are legally allowed to advertise they way they do). And I have no problem, as it is with everyone, I can choose not to buy their product.

    Finally, the one area that did get to me and call them hypocrites, is DRM. They are not implementing in the way most of us understand it, they cannot expect me to believe they will never implement it, they may have to, to protect their product. (I also have no problem with that). But they are doing it already in another guise. You cannot playback MQA files without having permission, which you have to pay for. (not that that bothers me) The guy who was slapping the table in front of me had me rolling around the floor. As far as I can tell, no MQA licensed product, you don't play MQA. I haven't tried copying one of their files but if I can, still need MQA product to play it.

    I still believe that MQA really only benefits older recordings, anything recorded recently is unlikely to benefit, though if poorly produced could benefit. Internet is bandwidth limited in large areas still, so their compression technique still has value to some, but like anything that will change.

    I hope Chris is not too disheartened by the experience, it takes quite a bit of preparation to handle the way the MQA guys approached the presentation. MQA need people onside, that was not the way to do it. And also to do it to someone who has the very people who are the type to sell MQA to, as his audience on the internet.

    Long live .WAV files, the whole thing, all of it, and it can be downloaded, regardless of your bandwidth, might take a while depnding on the size of the file. In the meantime you can stream cd quality from other sites than Tidal, can you tell the difference?????????? :-)

    Thanks

    Gordon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the detailed note Gordon.

      Great to get your perspective as someone "live" in the room. Obviously not the same thing for those of us watching the live stream on YouTube!

      Delete
  10. Archimago, you brought up a big, separate topic with "Where are the Millennials?" and "Where is the next generation of 40-somethings?".

    The way I see it, time and money for hobbies and entertainment is a zero-sum game. In the past few decades, an onslaught of new entertainment options (home theater, computer gaming, the Internet, social media, on-demand video, etc) siphoned away time, money and audience that might have potentially gone towards audio. I recall the 1990's when many audio shops shifted to home theater as their main business. For people now in their 40's and younger, the expansion of entertainment options particularly coincides with when they might have picked up audio as a hobby.

    So it doesn't surprise me that there might be a pronounced drop-off of interest in audio, starting with people in their 40's. People who do get into the hobby are passionate about it and there will always be a community and market, but I still expect the numbers to continue to shrink over time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point.

      The traditional "hi fi" with big speakers, turntables, large amps, even if spiced up with "warm" tubes can only garner so much attention and demand so much space these days... I agree - there is a dilution of attention, time, and money among the possibilities for our avocation.

      Delete
    2. small or better said flat speakers are one of the big problem of current audio. I know that is is hard to make notebooks and tvs without them, but personally I really dislike their sound - not because it this that bad, actually sometimes it can be pleasant, but it is completely different form the reality.

      Delete
  11. "Where are the Millennials?"

    Generally, they (we) don't care "that" much.
    When I heard the difference between the crackling old cheap vinyl system and cassette tapes I had at home, to the classic CD, or more precisely, 44.1/16 quality digital audio, a certain "fidelity standard" was set in my mind.

    From that time onward, my suspicions have been confirmed: if you have a properly mastered CD source material, or a properly encoded 320kbps mp3 version of it, to hear a meaningful subjective sound improvement that the "hd" and lossless formats give, you really need some serious audio equipment, and even then there are no guarantees (as the source has to be recorded with top notch equipment).

    Now, let's go back to the era of CD and early digital audio "consumer gear".
    Remember the sound cards you had to buy to even enable your pc to have sound? We all had some form of a ESS or Creative Labs card inside. Then the on-board sound cards started to appear. The audio quality difference was quite noticeable by almost anyone. Cue to today.
    The on-board sound is, to the average user, above and beyond any quality that he/she expects or needs. In regard to that, mostly a few expensive pc audiophile and professional cards are left to buy in the market.

    So is the situation with audio products in general. Mobile phone + cheap earbuds, cheap compact home systems, even the sound that the modern flat TV produces is, according to 2015 Antega US study, enough for 75% of the population. The article argues that 25% of people that care for higher fidelity is a significant number for the industry, but that number is irrelevant if you ask me.
    The real question I would ask those 25% is how many of them do not only care for better sound, but are also willing to spend $$ for even a good set of headphones, yet alone for a decent system?

    And this brings us back to hi-res audio. Yes, people are drawn to stuff that has "better numbers / stats / reputation". You'll easily find statements on forums where people claim to "hear" differences with this and that format, bus as discussed at more places: different doesn't necessarily mean "better" (as is especially valid for audiophile equipment). When you have invested in a decent DAC/amp/speaker system, only then there is point in hi-res audio, presuming that one has the physical hearing capabilities to benefit from it.
    To this date, I have not seen blind A/B tests where people can with confidence point out what source is 44.1/16 vs DSD or similar.

    And finally, it all comes down to the financial aspect.
    The quality of MQA (or the lack of it) doesn't matter in the business world. But the DRM does. The promised ability to extract more money form consumers sounds good to any manager. So in a world where we have flac, dsd, dxd, etc we have been given something that is unnecessary, but it's not the first nor the last thing that greedy corps push for profit.

    As technology moves forward, the "cheap" systems, car stereos, home theatres, mobile phones, portable speakers... sound good enough for an even bigger and bigger percentage of population. Is this correlated with the type of pop music people like / is pushed on us by the media?

    As rkw said above, people will rather splurge money on big flat TV's, better cars, fancy cell phones or other tangible stuff that will satisfy their current desires or enable them to boost their perceived status.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well said, Millennial :-).

      The "inconvenient truth" to all the manufacturers aiming to milk "hi-res" is the simple fact that it's not all that audible - if at all.

      Good to see recently that Mark Waldrep admitted that even with his high quality recordings, the data doesn't support the idea of significant differentiation. And that's even with real digital high resolution! Imagine all the analogue-sourced pseudo hi-res...

      IMO, it's really quite a "no go" right from the start for the vast majority. Apart from the small number of audiophiles I don't think there is really a market for "hi res" albums.

      Delete
    2. but on the other hand .... if the audio industry moves to 24/48 instead of 16/44.1, the overall quality would increase. so I think it is not neccesarily about milking more from hires, but to move the standards up to new (and possibly final) level.
      But that level is for sure not MQA, in that I fully agree.

      Delete
  12. I lament the loss of decency in the world today. It seems most prevalent in those who believe they have a sense of entitlement.

    Well done to Chris for being thoroughly decent throughout.

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  13. Man how I wish I had been in the room to remind Jbara that if he'd gotten more than a Bachelor's degree he might have some experience with how peer review works.

    ReplyDelete
  14. The sight of that Khruschevian dude pounding the table -- haha, too much!

    What an excellent piece of writing, Archimago, on the strange, pathetic juncture where a beautiful hobby finds itself. My admiration for Chris Connaker has only grown, too. I like people who walk into lion's dens with rigorous logic and manage to keep their sense of humor (to say nothing of their very head).

    No, the twilight of the rear guard -- those raging Lavorgnas, say, and these caterwauling Meridian subalterns -- isn't a very pretty sight. It's the flailing of people who sense the pink slips of irrelevance being prepared (and in some cases, actually handed out). An angry connoisseurship in its last stages, yelling at the Internet to get off its grass...

    I was also impressed by the way you expanded your argument to include a mediation on larger matters such as intellectual honesty and of course privacy. Neither gets much love in the commoditized discourse of a hobby run (and run over) by business. Bravo!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hey Arch sorry I haven't been keeping up lately. All I can say is wow on that video! The pseudonym Archimago has has over 6 years of experience in writing about and testing of audio equipment as documented by your blogspot. Regardless of who you might be, Archimago the online persona has enough documented qualifications to demonstrate the necessary credentials to question the MQA technology. Attacking you personally is just deflection.

    And it is very easy to find out who you are and I'm 100% certain they already know the answer.

    Wow...

    ReplyDelete