Sunday, October 1, 2017

Blind test results on MQA?

I've been trying to make sense of the MQA development but have yet to hear for myself what's really on offer here. Clearly the early press enthusiasm captured attention but most reports are from people who don't get a really good chance to hear the same recording in competing formats. Yes, there are arguments about the lossy nature which give one pause, though how ironic that the old 'your gear/ears are not sophisticated enough to hear the difference' argument is now reversed with a 'the listener's brain perceives the lossy as lossless' argument of MQA.

Leaving aside the concerns we all have with yet another format, the vague 'wrapper' language of Meridian, and the prospect of yet another push from record companies to buy the same old shit again (oh no, not another set of  the 'best-sounding' Beatles, pleeeeze!!!), I do wonder where this is all going.  A few dissenting voices are now finding their way into the mags (see e.g., Positive Feedback's Interview with Andreas  Koch) but for me, the most interesting piece so far comes from blogger Archimago who took it upon himself to run a blind test with volunteers around the globe. It's a three part article and you should read them all. Am sure the criticisms of method will come but the basic facts reveal that few people report hearing a positive difference of MQA over more standard high resolution files.

What's most interesting in the reported data set is that he didn't just ask people to pick a best sounding version, they were also asked to report how confident they were in their distinctions. I really welcome this as we know that while most of us can tell the difference between a boom box and a decent domestic stereo system blindly, it's less clear-cut for any two reasonably full-range set ups.  In general, Archimago reports that perceived differences were non-significant, and where people did report them, they typically said it was subtle.

Only a very small proportion of listeners (under 10%) reported the differences were easy to decipher. Fine says you, audiophiles are only a small proportion of listeners anyway. True that, but most of these respondents were audiophiles anyway. Further, of those few who claimed the differences were easy to hear, half of them seemed to prefer the non-MQA version!  Cue the attacks....

7 comments:

Gene Brewer said...

The problem for professional reviewers is that they have promoted various formats as "The best" over every decade for the last forty years. First it was quadrophonic, then it was CD, then it was HDCD, then it was XRCD, then it was anything except MP3 and lossless, then it was SACD, then 24/96 and now we are back at a hue and cry for lossy MQA. Enough already. Consumers including audiophiles have format fatigue. Just give me Spotify for popular music, Roon for my digital collection and a turntable for LP. Spare me the constant churning of my content.

mike manley said...

Even if MQA is no better than standard hi-resolution files, isn't the smaller file size still a major advantage, especially for streaming? It's the streaming arena where I feel MQA offers the biggest advancement, if claims are true.

Måns Rullgård said...

At quality comparable to what MQA delivers (96 kHz, 18-bit), standard FLAC compresses significantly better. The alleged advantages of MQA for streaming simply do not exist.

Anonymous said...

"Smaller file size" is a canard, as should be obvious to anyone who notes that Netflix and Amazon successfully stream 1080p video at 5-6Mbps (3X MQA bandwidth) and are beginning to stream 4K at about 25Mbps.

Bandwidth for 24/96 FLAC: 2.3Mbps
Global average bandwidth: 7.2Mbps
USA average: 18.7Mbps (about #10 in the world, in terms of speed)

Anonymous said...

MQA is ENC so FTN.

It is the land grab of music. A lie made to garnish the money of all to satisfy the ego of the few. No one I have met and spoken to in the frAudio industry will undergo a genuine double-blind test of MQA. Their ego is a stake and they are unwilling to risk that level of exposure, let alone embarrassment. They will just call any that disagree with them and their unproven golden ears, "deaf".

Bandwidth is not the problem here. Lying, egotistical so-called journalists (more copy typists, really) are. They are the Pharisees and we, the plebeians. The great unwashed. Philistines the lot of us.

By the way, ENC stands for Emperor's New Clothes. And FTN? F___ That Noise. MQA stands for nothing except separating you from your money. Me? I ain't gonna buy the White Album again.

Ammar Jadusingh said...

"An astonishingly short two years after writing that, I can report that digital audio has taken a significant step forward in its inexorable march toward superiority over analog. The development to which I refer is called High Definition (HDCD)."

" But, as you might also expect, the 24/192 two-channel (DVD-A) tracks sounded by far the best, and quite significantly so. Everything at 48kHz and below sounded pleasant if not terribly detailed, but when shifting into high gear at 88.2kHz, the resolution became transparent enough to hear the warts in the recording, and even perhaps the limitations of the hardware. And it sounded more liquid, as did all the high-resolution formats."

"Every Stereophile writer who has auditioned DSD under critical conditions—Robert Harley, Peter van Willenswaard, Jonathan Scull, and me—has found it both very much better than 16/44k1 CD and much closer to the analog experience."

"As compelling as the untreated hi-res file sounded, I literally laughed at the difference when the MQA version began. Not only did it feel as though a veil had been lifted, with far more color to the sound, but instruments also possessed more body. With more meat on dem bones, I also noticed less of a digital edge on the violin. I've heard Hahn in concert several times, and this was the closest to real I've ever heard her violin sound on recording."

Menno van Oosten said...

In short: No.
Bandwidth is generally no issue anymore. If one can stream tv, high res audio is no problem either.