We've recently spent time in Music Room One auditioning MQA through a small test board supplied to us for testing by MQA. Our results have been unexpected.
MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated and is the brainchild of Bob Stuart, founder of Meridian. I've sat on a number of panel with Bob and find him to be extremely kind and knowledgable. A real asset to high end audio.
You've read about MQA, and who hasn't? I've attended two demonstrations of MQA, and both times was pleasantly impressed with what I heard. Blown away, no. Impressed, yes. But those demonstrations were closely scripted and performed on equipment I am unfamiliar with at a tradeshow. Other reporters have been gobsmacked by how good the differences are when attending these demonstrations. That's not been my experience, but then I never attended the same demos they have reported upon.
Much has been written about MQA so I won't waste your time repeating descriptions of it. What is most interesting to me is its claim that high resolution audio can be streamed with little more bandwidth than a CD - thus making services like TIDAL capable of upping their game to send us high resolution audio without choking the pipes coming into our homes.
The small sample board we were sent has a cheesy little DAC on it with a pair of RCA connectors to feed a preamp. Input is through USB. Not my first choice to audition a new technology, but it's what they supplied. In later experiments we will try getting an actual digital signal out and into a DirectStream. This experiment was a simple one: digital in through USB, audio out and into a preamp.
We downloaded a track of music from the 2L website, which always has excellent selections from which to choose from. The selection was Mozart and a nice recording at that. 2L supplied both an unencoded 192/24 WAV file and the same, but encoded with the MQA process. Expectations were high since we've heard how much better the MQA file should sound, better than even the original! I've seen pictures on the MQA website of people crying after listening - so much better the process is supposed to be. Imagine my surprise when it was worse than the original.
Worse is a bit harsh. Better, it was not; might be a nicer way to put it.
In fact, I was actually impressed how close the two were. After all, this is a pretty amazing process that allows streaming services to send high resolution audio without degradation - no small feat.
If all the hype and hoopla had merely stated the end results were indistinguishable from the original, I might be jumping up and down with how close they got it. Few systems have the resolving power of Music Room One and the fact they got close after folding the music into a smaller file size is quite an achievement.
But tears in my eyes?
Either the test board we were sent is flawed, or others that have openly wept with excitement heard something I have not, or this reporter is just confused and misguided. I do not claim to have the answer, I'm just reporting the facts as I hear them.
As Dragnet's Detective Joe Friday might have said, "nothin' but the facts, ma'am, just the facts."