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๐ŸŸข What are MQA-CDs?

 


MQA-CDs are Special CDs with the proprietary a Master Quality Authenticated audio (MQA), an audio codec intended for high fidelity digital audio, internet streaming and file download. Owned by British-based, MQA Inc., founded by Bob Stuart. MQA is a lossless music encoding format (using the FLAC container) that promises to "unlock every detail of the original master recording" and  ensures the best possible audio experience from the studio master.



The format is like Super Audio CD and MP3, a compressed file with high quality studio sound. The unique compression technique is called the "Origami Process", a folding technique. "The information is packaged efficiently to retain all the detail from the studio recording. Devices and apps with MQA decoding capability can fully "unfold" the MQA file and reveal the original master resolution. They will also authenticate the fire to guarantee that it is the definitive master recording from the audio."


We're not sure if MQA is stereo only or capable of surround sound. We could not find any information on it. Assuming it's stereo only.

 




These MQA-CDs are targeted toward people who love physical media and it's currently selling only in Japan and the UK. Physical media is still a big thing here in Japan, where you can still find successful music stores. Of course younger kids prefer digital or streamed content, there are plenty of people in their 30s or older who have never moved on from CDs, Cassettes, or even mini-discs

An MQA CD is a Red Book CD and is 100% compatible with any existing CD player, making it more attractive to consumers who still loves normal CDs. (A similar strategy from SACD) The audio on the disc is MQA-encoded, and will play back the normal PCM audio happily without a decoder. In this case, the sound quality of MQA is slightly better than a typical CD, because the audio is already de-blurred in the studio. However. if the bitstream is passed to an MQA decoder, it is unfolded to 176kHz (in this case) and rendered to the DAC at 24-bit. They're mostly in green discs.


The question is, is it better than normal CDs, Super Audio CDs or Blu-ray?


According to UNAMAS Piazzolla Septet, Tokyo-based label's CEO, Mick Sawaguchi

"MQA coding enables us to preserve the original master sound quality with thorough timing de-blurring and very small data size. Advantages of MQA-CD are:

• No additional cost for users

• Can be played back by conventional CD-players with higher quality sound.

• With an MQA decoder, listeners can get a master quality hi-rez from CD. No special knowledge of PC, network, or software operation skill is necessary. MQA is a remarkable innovation of CD media."




Interestingly, the MQA full decoders are analog out only. Not digital. For devices that do have digital output, they are not permitted to out the 2nd or 3rd MQA unfold via digital.

If you want to listen to the MQA files on your portable device it requires a proprietary Tidal player with  USB DACs and headphones. 

Some are skeptical and say the CD versions of the MQA-CD releases has been purposely mastered in poor quality to trick people to switch to the MQA format. We can't confirm if that is true or not, but it wouldn't surprise us.

Some say this is just a gimmick and a cash grab.

Most MQA-CDs, the players, and the decoders are very expensive than normal ones, but if you an Oppo Blu-ray player, they're compatible with MQA-CDs. Just be sure to check the latest firmware.

MQA titles range from $15 to $40 and players/decoders are hundreds to thousand dollars.



A Youtuber, Currawong, with over 15 years of  audio experience, commented

"MQA is not "high res", this is false. An MQA CD can only have 13-bit resolution , as MQA uses 3 bits for storing the "folded" data and other information. So essentially you lose 3 potentially audible bits of data in exchange for a bunch of noise picked up by the electronics which is otherwise inaudible."

Another Youtber, Avinide, an indie electric music artist, replied. 

"It technically is. When decoded, you get 24/96 or even higher parameters. I've analyzed it while doing a research of Tidal's Master quality (which also uses MQA). You definitely get some data above 22 kHz (tested on a spectogram). The problem is, that you can't magically compress ~6100 kbps of data (PCM 24 bit 96 kHz) into 1411 kbps (PCM 16 bit 44.1 kHz) without losing anything in that process. Even FLACs (with 24/96 music) don't get that low bitrates.

MQA can be Hi-Res, however it is not lossless, so the whole point of "Master Quality" is gone.

Won't even mention the fact that in order to decode it, you need paid software/special DACs with built in decoders (which are ridiculously expensive due to MQA licensing fees).

Also, fun fact, most of Tidal's "Master Quality" songs have been RESAMPLED to achieve higher frequencies."


Pure Audio Blu-ray has released with MQA files for file transfer to your computer using M-Shuffle via local WI-FI. Disc can't be directly played on a MQA enabled device. 


It's an interesting concept but MQA is basically just another lossy compression standard and basically if EA published music on its own platform. It's very expensive too, 

A bad thing about MQA is that it's a proprietary format and closed-source. Thus people can't make their own MQA files and can't encode the format ourselves in any device. It must have an device the natively read them with an analog input. 

You know what this whole thing reminds me of? It reminds me of when Kodak decided to 'revolutionise photography' in the 90s with Advanced Photo System (APS).


On May 2021,UK Retro gamer/Youtuber, Daniel Learmouth said.

"You know what this whole thing reminds me of? It reminds me of when Kodak decided to 'revolutionise photography' in the 90s with Advanced Photo System (APS).

APS was marketed as opening up photography to the average consumer, but it had a ton of issues that limited its shelf life, such as cameras utilising a smaller film size than the 35mm standard at the time, resulting in images having less definition to them, the 'Wide' and 'Panorama' options on each camera cropping the image from the top and bottom, rather than actually being wide or panoramic, film cartridges having to be processed and the film developed in very expensive machinery that only certain licensed stores had access to, the fact that 35mm cameras were becoming just as - if not more - compact, readily available, and cheaper, and Kodak's ardent refusal to even think about digital camera technology, among a plethora of other things.

The difference is APS - although it still exists as a ghost haunting photography in the form of the APS-C sensor a lot of cheaper DSLR and mirrorless cameras use (like my Sony a6400) - served as a major blow to Kodak as a corporation. Kodak were already struggling in the 90s, but APS's abject failure at revolutionising an increasingly niche market in favour of the next big advancement has ended them, as they filed for bankruptcy just a few years after announcing it would stop producing APS cameras.

MQA, however, sounds to me like something that's gaining traction because it sounds like something a lot of the big record companies want: some sort of complex security feature, irrespective of the damage it would cause to the listening experience compared to a proper Hi-Res FLAC file...and because it has actual industry support, it'll keep going, because record companies are some of the biggest dinosaurs of corporations on the planet, begrudgingly accepting streaming as a primary content delivery method, and finding ways in which it can inhibit people's ability to enjoy what they bought. It sucks.

EDIT: I realised that it wasn't the sensor that was smaller; it was the film. Too much digital camera terminology in my head as of recent..."


Here's legitimate review video from Goldensound on Youtube, analyzing and debunking stuff of MQA.

youtube.com/watch?v=pRjsu9-Vznc


Here's the official website of MQA:  mqa.co.uk


Japanese site:  mqa.jp


Article by John Doe. 

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