[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!]
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.
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.
II. Blind Faith - Blind Faith
III. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto - Getz/Gilberto
IV. Steely Dan - Aja
Marantz SA-14S1 SACD player
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
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
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 ;-).