MQA Just Ruined My Stereo

    Issue 42

    [Please note: this piece was originally run in Copper #6,  when distribution of MQA and MQA-encoded files was still very limited. Seth wrote in anticipation of things to come, and was looking forward to not just the effect of the process, but its disruptive effect upon the field, as well. —Ed.]

    Not just broken, but broken into a thousand worthless pieces.

    Sure, it still works, but reading these articles about MQA makes it sound worse. Far worse.

    MQA, we’re promised, will remove digital artifacts, open up the soundstage and clear away the veils. It isn’t just a dramatic step forward for digital—it leaves analog in the dust.

    Of course, the very existence of MQA means that the music I’m listening to right now is rife with digital artifacts, closed in and veiled. This music, the music that was so majestic and real just two days ago, has been muddied and rusted by a few articles in a high end magazine.

    If you ever needed proof that this is all in our heads, there it is.

    MQA sounds like a sort of artless April Fool joke. Not only is the music better, better in every single way, but it streams, quickly and easily, without regard for bandwidth. I’m never going to need to buy another piece of music, in fact, I won’t be able to buy high fidelity music, because all the good stuff will only be streamed. All I can listen to for the cost of one vinyl record a month.

    Here we are then, on the precipice of wonder, in the magical moment where hope has to be so much better than reality ever could be. So why does it feel so unsettling?

    Isn’t this what we’ve been working for generations? Perfect sound, and not only that, but every record ever recorded! They drive a truck to your house…

    The challenge that I’ve got, and that you may have as well, is that every change comes at a cost, even the change to perfection. Change means giving up the things we liked in order to have things we might love.

    I’ve been buying music for forty years, and I’m not going to be able to have that pleasure again, not if I also want perfect music.

    And the act of looking through the music I already own, being prompted by proximity and juxtaposition–that goes away once I’m streaming all the time. No need to spend any time at all imagining what a better cartridge might contribute, or whether or not that record, that physical totem, is clean enough, static released enough, flat enough…

    But most of all, as far as I can tell, this is the end of the road.

    It can’t get better after this.

    The original master, from the vault, straight to me.

    Sure, there will be revisions to the software, incremental improvements. But they won’t be giant leaps, and they’re likely to not be announced. They certainly won’t require a wholesale shift in our habits.

    And you know what, now that I think about it?

    I can’t wait.

    (Originally published in Copper #6)

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