Is MQA DRM?

I asked Bob Stuart, Creator of MQA, this very question when I reviewed MQA in May 2016. Here's Bob's answer:
"MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."
I spoke to Bob Stuart earlier today about this subject, something none of the people cooking up conspiracy theories seem inclined to do, and here's what he said:
"There is no DRM."

and...

"Everything that looks like security is authentication."

If we look at how we can listen to MQA-encoded files today, we have the following options:
  1. Stream via Tidal
  2. Purchase MQA-encoded downloads
Based on a few facts including MQA does not send any data back 'home', anyone can play an MQA file on their existing DAC, and there are no rights being managed, I have a difficult time stamping "DRM" on MQA.

Some people believe this document from MQA partner utimaco from May 2017 tells a different story.

Here's the supposed smoking gun from the utimaco PDF:

The technical solution: Digital signatures for proof of integrity.
Utimaco provides a FIPS - certified hardware security module (HSM) that generates and stores cryptographic keys, and generates secure digital signatures that authenticate the audio data. Using the custom capabilities of the CryptoServer SDK, MQA implemented an advanced signature scheme that provides an audit trail guaranteeing the provenance of each piece of music. The decoder uses these signat ures to authenticate and verify the integrity of each piece of music as it is played.
Again, this document is talking about authentication not digital rights management. At least that's the way I read it. I have yet to read, although I admit I do not have the time nor the patience to wade through the nonsense-ripe forum posts on this subject, a convincing argument that contradicts this point of view.

But I have a confession to make—I am not a conspiracy theory kinda guy, I do not enjoy participating on forums where false narratives nonetheless become "the truth" (in my experience that would be most forums), where anonymous commenters feel it's appropriate to discuss other people's personal lives, their family, and their motives. Call me old fashioned.

Here's a related question to ponder:

Have you stopped beating your wife?"
;-)

COMMENTS
Bob Karp's picture

Thanks Michael. I *have* read quite a bit of the forum nonsense, as well as many of the available technical articles. I confess, I *like* MQA, and I don't have a problem with the "original master digital file" not being provided to me ... IF what IS provided to me actually sounds as good, or (controversy) better! And, despite continued stunning advances in cost/capacity/performance of digital technology, I really don't desire to possess MASSIVE digital files when there is a way to get sound that is essentially as good with VASTLY smaller files.

I also don't have a problem with those who provide good service/products being fairly rewarded for their work. The negotiations over MQA licensing have undoubtedly been fierce, but the widespread adoption we are now seeing tells me that the business partners are happy, and I don't feel that the consumer is being screwed (yes, I know, the nay-sayers will tell me that I'll eat these words). Anyhow, that is just me. Others feel differently, but the discussion needs to be *informed*. Much of what I read on the forums is uninformed venting - but there is a LOT of it. Under such conditions, nonsense can start to be regarded as reality - in audio as in life (or, dare I say, politics).

bobflood's picture

but I think that many take the fact that both unfolds happen under license so you will not get the full MQA hi-res experience without paying someone (or several someones) a fee as operative DRM. Combine this with the belief that a MQA file when not unfolded sounds worse than a straight Red Book CD file (which may or may not be true)and you have the setup for a perfect storm of speculation and criticism.

But, none of this matters one wit. No matter how much a few hundred people on various forums exercise their fingers, the studios and other content owners and rights holders must be paid and the full resolution masters must be protected. Decisions will be made accordingly and the public at large will either accept or reject.

In the end none of this may matter much at all if we lose even CD quality FLAC streaming which is a real possibility if it is not possible to provide it at a profit. Sooner or later the streaming industry will shake out and there is no guarantee that the survivors will any interest in any of this.

DH's picture

Bob Stuart tries to make it sound like DRM is about copy protection most of the time. That is only one aspect.

He is correct in that AT PRESENT no DRM has been implemented.

But read the patents. There is substantial infrastructure there for DRM - controlling who can play back the file and how, and for relaying info back.

Sorry, I don't believe in coincidence, the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, or free lunches.

The DRM capability is there for a reason. It will be used in the future in order to monetize MQA. Why do you think the labels are all on board? Alturism?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If you focus on that concept, I think you'll find answers to many of your questions.

The cool thing about that is you don't have to add special conspiracy sauce!

DH's picture

https://www.google.com/patents/US20160005411

"Using such techniques allows control over the level of degradation of the signal and also flexibility in the type information of information embedded. Some methods require a song key, which is employed in one or both of the degrading and embedding steps and for creating a token. These methods may further require a user key, which is used to encrypt the song key before creating the token."

See what I mean? This is DRM infrastructure, even if Bob says it isn't.

Clear potential hear to control what level of DEGREDATION of the file users receive. It isn't difficult to imagine this being used to enable users of non-MQA DACs a degraded sounding file, in order to "encourage" getting on board with an MQA DAC.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
This is a PERFECT example of one of the many false narratives I referred to. I thank you for that.

Back in reality, I find this particular bit of soothsaying to be a very good indication of how the people cooking it up think. That's about it.

DH's picture

No, not at all. It's a perfect example of you not dealing with facts. Whatever my suspicions about the future of MQA is not relevant to the fact that it has DRM aspects built in.

Also consider that these two features are part of the code:

Full encryption of the MQA stream, making it unplayable without a decoder.
Scrambling of the decoded stream, making it unplayable without a renderer.

Do you still think there's no aspects of DRM there?
Why are these things built into the code if the is no consideration of using them in the future?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
You and I appear to have a different definition of what a fact is.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
The email address you provided in your AS profile does not work. Please add a working email to your account asap so I can contact you via email.

Thanks

Fokus's picture

MQA denies me the right to inspect the full contents of the file.

MQA denies me the right to process the full contents of the file on any machine I see fit.

Clearly, MQA is managing my rights.

And that is not even mentioning the mechanism for controlled degradation of the sound that is built into the format.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Do you also consider DSD a form of DRM?
Fokus's picture

I can freely convert between DSD and PCM.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...on any DAC. If you want to play back a DSD file in its native format you need a DSD DAC.
Fokus's picture

Read again.

I want to be able to inspect a file. I can inspect DSD. I cannot inspect MQA.

I want to be able to process a file. I can convert DSD to whatever I want (DXD, 96k) and do with it whatever I want. I cannot do that with MQA.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
As I've been saying for years, MQA's value proposition is in streaming, not downloads. If we look at how people listen to music today, this makes sense since streaming is the predominant form of music consumption and every indication suggests this trend will continue. Well, except for vinyl ;-)

Your MQA objection is rooted in the notion that non-MQA hi-rez content will be unavailable at some point in time. While this is certainly within the realm of possibilities, if you fit into the 'audiophile' demographic, I'd suggest you have nothing to worry about ;-)

monkeybrsin's picture

"We all know that the Theosophical Society was founded in the 19th century to oppose materialism and egoism. After more than one hundred years of existence and activity, it seems that its task and role are needed more than ever. The human society with more powerful appealing forms and effective organization often misuses technological progress for the intensive exploitation of human desires and fears. Unrestrained materialism, based on generalized greed, in covenant with religious dogmatism fed by ignorance and mental laziness, seems to hold the monopoly of dictating the behavior of many human beings." ( https://www.theosophyforward.com/articles/the-society/1139-the-future-of... )

Fokus's picture

Streaming is inherently end-to-end and thus totally owned by the service, so for what I care it can use whatever technology it wants, including the bitstream written on a roll of toilet paper that is teleported into the listener's space. But to make this work the access to the end point should be easy and cheap. The contrary of MQA's approach.

As for the future: do you really think that the purveyors of the next big audio paradigm (not my words) will be content with just conquering the audiophile streaming market, strike that, niche?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...MQA streaming has come at no cost to existing Tidal HiFi subscribers. Like me. I'd call that cheaper than cheap ;-)
geoffrey's picture

"I am not a conspiracy theory kinda guy, I do not enjoy participating on forums where false narratives nonetheless become "the truth" (in my experience that would be most forums), where anonymous commenters feel it's appropriate to discuss other people's personal lives, their family, and their motives. Call me old fashioned."

Civility very under rated. NYT's has strong editor for their user comments. Sad it is required, but without some censorship we get reader comments so prevalent to Washington Post. Tongue-in-cheek I've been thinking, "Deport the Tea/Freedom Party not the Dreamers for better America!" Conspiracy theorists, nationalism, lack of critical thinking and on and on. Our non-book reading, TV addicted, tweet tweet Prez wants a national military parade. Sure lets spend another chunk of debt to join those paragons of virtue Russia and China in displays of military power. From college teaching four decades, seen many college degrees more meaningless than ever. We are passing many students through college as we are through high school who have no right to receive a diploma. It is a numbers game.

Absolute Zero's picture

They are two different things. MQA is Digital Rights Management in a nutshell as only licensed players can uncompress and play the full bit rate MQA file.

This is the same play as the HDCP consortium: If the 1080i/p signal from a BR player is going on say R/G/B, or S-Video then the ICT is applied and you get a 480 push.

You aren't prevented from copying it but you are prevented from getting the native content.

SACD would be an example copy protection.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...via Tidal and/or hardware provides up to 24/96 playback to any DAC.
Absolute Zero's picture

24/96 is certainly better than 480 push comparatively speaking. But MQA is still a lossy format from all the reading.

If there was a studio master available directly rendered in 24/96 I wonder how it would line up.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...MQA is lossy has nothing to do with DRM.

As a Tidal Hi-Fi subscriber, for years, MQA content simply showed up and I can play it back, up to 24/96, at no additional cost. Or I can play back the CD-quality version, which has not been touched by MQA.

As such, I don't feel my rights have been managed one bit.

If I follow your logic, I could make the argument that streaming is itself DRM as you have to pay for better quality. If we want to say that Spotify is using DRM to control your rights by making you pay for better quality streaming, I would argue that you are stretching the definition of DRM to the point of breaking it.

DH's picture

It actually doesn't provide a real 24 bit stream. MQA files are at most 17 bit. Bob has admitted this. The bit depth above 17 bits is fake.
.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...what you hear?
DH's picture

And what I heard is that sometimes MQA sounds worse than non MQA. I see no reason to be excited about a closed, proprietary format with possible DRM restrictions built in, that doesn't sound better than what already exists. In addition it limits the application of DSP and DRC. I see no good reason for it other than to be used to get more money out of us and to justify limiting access to non MQA files.
It's already been shown that the so called authentication is often meaningless, and that calling some of the MQA versions "masters" is also often a sham.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Joel from Roon has explained the reason for the DRM in the patent application - it was considered early on but abandoned.

Your listening experience does not match my own. I just got in the dCS Rossini which now decodes MQA so I will be talking about listening to MQA in that review.

The authentication has not been shown to be "often meaningless." This is yet another forum narrative rum amok. The confusion being a lack of understanding of the MQA encode process, coupled with the meaning of authentication within that process.

But I'll make your argument for you - no one, including me, the people at MQA, the people at the record labels, streaming services, the manufacturers who have adopted MQA, the people who have heard it and prefer it, the people who have written about it and had a positive impression of the sound quality, know what they are talking about or they are lying. Only anonymous people on a few forums know the truth.

DH's picture

I didn't say anyone other than Bob Stuart has lied (or he has at least not told the full truth, when it is inconvenient for him).

There have been people involved in the process who have reported that at least some of the "authentication" at labels is being done by bureaucrats who had nothing to do with the making of the original "authenticated" master. And reports by people involved in making some of those same records that the MQA doesn't sound like the master they made. Are you accusing them of lying?

Joel from Roon also wrote that their are other DRM elements in the MQA code, and agreed with the fact that these could be activated in the future - encryption and decryption keys and the like.

Again not accusing anyone who likes MQA of lying about what they are hearing. I do find it curious that many writers seem not to be able to find a single MQA track that doesn't sound improved; and write as if every MQA track they hear is much better than non-MQA versions. Doesn't lead me to believe I'm getting a report about MQA that's based on a fair evaluation.

The fact that lots of experienced listeners don't have that response The The fact that lots of experienced listeners have tried to fairly judge MQA (even doing blind comparisons) and not liked the results should at least raise a few questions in peoples' minds about why their experience is different from many of these extremely enthusiastic industry people.

The audio industry and press has steered the public wrong before. And at least some of the people you refer to (when you incorrectly accuse me of saying they are lying about it) have a real economic incentive to push MQA. Some of what they write about it seems to be little other than reprints of MQA marketing material. That doesn't mean they are lying about it, but it does make me think that maybe they aren't exactly performing an objective evaluation of it.

As I noted, I bought an MQA DAC as soon as I could and have given it a fair shot. Should I buy into it just because industry persons such as yourself tell me to?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I cannot speak for everyone who has ever written about MQA. My review is what I have to say about the sound of MQA. Even though it was written some time ago, I stand by every word.

But I find your comment interesting in that you take issue with me misrepresenting what you said when this is exactly what people on CA do when they fabricate things about what I've written. I would guess that since I do this for a living, you and others feel I am therefore fair game for abuse, lies, and so on. Again, just read any CA post with my name in it.

For the record, I do not agree with that, that I'm a target for nonsense because I do this for a living, and I will not tolerate that behavior here on AudioStream. This simple and completely reasonable stance is something some people cannot abide by.

I've enjoyed our exchange but we obviously see things very differently. Perhaps if I knew who you were and what your experience is, I'd be better able to understand your points. As it stands, you sound to me as if you are reading from the CA forum fiction script.

Cheers

monkeybrsin's picture

"Anekāntavāda (Sanskrit: अनेकान्तवाद, "many-sidedness") refers to the Jain doctrine about metaphysical truths that emerged in ancient India.[1] It states that the ultimate truth and reality is complex and has multiple aspects." ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anekantavada )

"Tolerance of other people, as also the unfavorable circumstances, can come from acceptance. When we decide to accept people as we find them, we get an opportunity to cultivate the virtue of Adaptability. In a subtle way our likes and dislikes work havoc, reminding us that we must learn to adjust with those we like , as also, those we do not like. We always want things to go our way. Resignation consists in understanding that Law rules in everything and every circumstance, and that nothing can come to us, whether good or evil, of which we are ourselves not the cause.

Religious tolerance can result when one strives to acquire breadth and depth of mind, giving up parochial views. However, tolerance does not mean indiscriminate acceptance of everything and everyone. The feeling of intolerance often arises because of the tone of assertiveness and dogmatism. Anekantvada is one of the most important and fundamental doctrines of Jainism. It refers to the principle of pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints, the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth.

Bias means prejudice. But bias is also mental inclination or leaning, or one fixed way of looking at and understanding things. Even in everyday affairs it would be a good practice to endeavor to see things from another person’s view point. We not only need to listen, carefully and sympathetically, to another person, but if need be, get into another’s shoes. A well-balanced mind is practical, logical as well as mystical." ( https://www.theosophyforward.com/articles/theosophy/1697-in-the-light-of... )

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I missed this on my first read: "Should I buy into it just because industry persons such as yourself tell me to?"

I've never told anyone to buy into MQA. If you read my review, you'll see that. If you read anything else I've written, like this, or look to see what I own (and highly recommend), I do not 'buy into MQA' myself. If you look at the DACs I recommend as "Favorites" you'll see that MQA plays no part in my selection (some have added MQA since I put them on the list).

Here's what I said in my review, "When Tidal begins to stream MQA, remember they demoed their MQA capabilities at RMAF 2015, and if the number of titles number in the thousands and tick up each month, it will then be time for me to take a more serious look at MQA-enabled DACs: Music availability being the overarching determination of whether or not a new audio codec is worth investing in, for me."

You may be wondering where people get the idea that I'm "Pro MQA". Mainly from the CA forums where some people believe one can only be for or against. Then you have people who pull a one sentence quote from a show report and pretend it represents my complete take on MQA. As far as I'm concerned this is all nonsense, but it has become "true" to some CA regulars.

DH's picture

It affects the credibility of Bob Stuart and his team, who have been repeatedly shown to be misleading the public and writers such as yourself sbout what MQA is.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I might agree with you. But I don't ;-)
bubblewrap's picture

...that digital audio that isn't encrypted now can be encrypted in future, or "degraded", and there's nothing to stop such features being turned on at some future unspecified time - possibly when MQA chips are being fitted as the audio 'gateway' in most audio devices.

But if that is the strategy then a few audiophiles' objections aren't going to stop it. The imaginary 'better quality' thing is creating the initial demand for getting the MQA logo and light onto audio devices, regardless.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I heard the sky is falling.
NeilB's picture

This seems like a very lengthy, complicated conversation about something that frankly just isn't that complicated. I first got into DSD because of a desire to encode my vinyl. So I got a Sony PS-HX500 turntable (found for $260 new) and "ripped" all my vinyl - which is a lot. My first "encounter" with MQA is from the MQA files included in the Black Sabbath "Ten Year War" vinyl box set. I wanted to be able to hear those and gauge for myself what all the fuss was about so I ponied up for an Ifi Nano iDSD Black Label DAC (found for $170 new) so I can play the MQA files back properly. People you either want the ability to play back a given music file format or not. If you don't then don't spend the $ on the hardware/software that will allow you to do so and if you do then do spend the $ on the hardware/software that will allow you to do so. Sheesh!

Steven Plaskin's picture

I am deeply disturbed by the destructive anger that is being encouraged at another site dedicated to our hobby. Most audiophiles I know couldn’t give two shits about MQA. But the vitriol and devise behavior being propagated displays to me some serious issues that need to be addressed - and they are not audio issues.

Here is a direct quote about what I am referring to:

Lavorgna is a jerk

Make an 'objective' comment you are sneered at as a "mere cloth-eared engineer".
Make two and you're off.

And his lackey, the snake-oil freak Steve Plaskin, is even worse, though at least he is reasonably polite about it.

What normal thinking adult would want to be part of this?

When it was brought up that AudioStream turns out more equipment reviews, the owner of the site questioned AudioStream’s quality of writing. Just compare Chris Connaker’s review of the SOtM sMS-200 with mine. Reach your own conclusions.

There is a true disconnect from reality occurring that in the end, will only hurt our hobby.

DH's picture

You are correct. But the context is that ML was banned from CA because of HIS language and behavior there, including the use of profanity related to someone's mother.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
There appears to be another narrative around my use of profanity in a PM to a CA member. My intention in sending that message was twofold:

1. to be as offensive as possible using the least amount of words (4)
2. in doing so to communicate to CA my complete and utter disregard for the forum

I immediately followed up my first PM with another suggesting that if the first message was not offensive, for the recipient to please think of something that was. This was not done out of anger, it was completely calculated. Note that I know Chris publishes private messages since he's done exactly that to me in the past.

To my mind, I have succeeded on both counts. While I do not plan to repeat this performance, those 4 words loose their bite after the first time, the only impact has been increased traffic to my site from CA.

Cheers

Steven Plaskin's picture

And this language was sent in a private message. If Chris did not want Michael to post on his site, he could have told Michael in a private message. Chris decided that punishing Michael would further his economic goals. Naturally, I cannot know what Chris is thinking, but his behavior and tolerance of abusive posts suggests what I am referring to.

DH's picture

I'm not defending some of the language used at CA. But some of MLs public posts were also not what I'd expect of a professional.

Chris doesn't allow the private messaging function at his site to be exploited for abuse.

I think that's exactly how it should be. I'm not really sure why you are excusing that kind of behavior.
ML isn't the first to be banned from the site for that type of stuff.

Steven Plaskin's picture
This isn’t really about Michael’s “street language”. I think you know what I’m referring to.
christopher3393's picture

I'm wondering what you are referring to? I've followed this site since its beginning and have been a CA member for 7 years, and I'm not sure I get it. I don't think this is about profit motive as you have suggested.

Steven Plaskin's picture

Chris has allowed Plissken among others, to dump on me with regularity these days. Like our President, Chris doesn’t want to upset his base.

Unlike Chris, I don’t depend on AudioStream for a living. I take positions in my reviews; something that others are unwilling to do for the risk of economic blowback. I’m not against CA, but if you want to see what is going on, go to the Network forum at CA and do a search with “Plaskin”. Do the same with their General forum.

Steven Plaskin's picture

As for people getting banned at AudioStream, these were people that weren't happy just expressing their opinions, they demanded that their views be embraced.

I have a question for Plissken:

Why don't you ask Chris why he runs ads from Wireworld quoting my take on their Ethernet cable? Why don't you share your potty mouth with him as the target?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...we have another forum fiction narrative of whopping proportions.

People get banned here for abusive, insulting, and offensive language. Period. It just so happens some of the people who believe they know "the answer" tend to abusive, insulting, and offensive. Just look at what they say on CA.

I'm also learning, from the boys on CA, that I've banned waaaay more people than I've actually banned in our 6+ years. I'm certain that this fiction will soon reach the point where it will be said that I've banned everyone ;-)

DH's picture

I don't think ML being banned had anything to do with economics. Having ML there definitely brought more clicks.
Like I said, Chris has repeatedly banned people who abuse the private messaging system of the site.
He's also warned other posters to watch their language and tone and has banned some of them for repeated offenses.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The supposed CA motto that reads something like - do not attack the person, attack the idea - is not applied to everyone. Chris allows those of us in the profession to be personally stacked all the time.

Take Ethernet cables (please ;-). There's some person on CA who's still talking about my Ethernet cable reviews and how they make me a liar and all kinds of other not-very-pleasant things. This is on a site run by a guy who uses AudioQuest Ethernet cables who has said they made his system sound better. So you might think Chris would speak up about his positive experience with AQ Ethernet cables but no dice.

Some of us don't mind dealing with controversial topics. I've been covering MQA pretty much from day 1 because it is my job to do so. It sure would be easier in terms of the nonsense quotient I have to deal with to simply let other people cover controversial topics. Then, after a few years of sidelining, come out with a position informed by the work of others, including the work of value to be found on forums (it's there all right, but you have wade through a lot of pulp to find it).

texanalog's picture

In two separate posts, you stated the following:

"The supposed CA motto that reads something like - do not attack the person, attack the idea - is not applied to everyone. Chris allows those of us in the profession to be personally stacked all the time."

and

"Chris allows abusive, offensive, and insulting language directed at people who do this for a living on his site - every day. To my mind, this is not the way a professional moderates a forum."

You state that on CA Chris allows "those of us in the profession" to be personally attacked all the time and every day allows abusive, offensive, and insulting language directed at "people who do this for a living".

Are you suggesting/implying that BECAUSE you are one of the people "in the profession" "who do this for a living", that Chris allowed personal attacks, abusive, offensive, and insulting language when directed at you?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If you want to attribute a particular motive to those facts, have at it.
texanalog's picture

I'm just a bystander trying to figure out what is going on between you and Chris and CA. Seeing that you brought up motive, perhaps you would like to attribute one to those facts.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...between Chris and I, as far as I know. I'm talking about what goes on on CA and the culture of false narratives. Just read the forums to get an idea of what I'm talking about. To narrow things down, search on my name, or Steve Plaskin, or Jim Austin, or Herb Reichert, or John Atkinson to get a taste. Or, to make things even simpler, search on the word "whore" on CA.

I'm not a fan of guessing at other people's motives as it typically reveals more about the thought process of the person guessing than it does about the other person's motives.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

John has never said or written what's in the quotation marks. "firedog", who has been posting here as "DH", is suggesting there's some other meaning to quotation marks and attribution. Really.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...insulting language directed at people who do this for a living on his site - every day. To my mind, this is not the way a professional moderates a forum.
bobflood's picture

It would be really helpful if we all took a step back and realize that we are arguing about stuff that 99.999 percent of the population could care less about. The other thing we all need to do is develop a thicker skin and lastly it would be a good idea not to continually reopen the wounds.

If we want a civil community it is incumbent on all of us to make it so.

The only solution left if we cannot voluntarily agree to do this is to shut off all commentary as some of the sites in the news business have been forced to do. It would be a shame on all of us if it comes to that but in the end it may be necessary.

I would be saddened if it was necessary so let all of us try harder to prevent that from being the solution.

enjoythemusic's picture

"...we are arguing about stuff that 99.999 percent of the population could care less about."

Exactly. To date the music industry has failed on a massive scale to build excitement on higher sound quality available today. Will this change in 2018? 2019? Ever?

Here's a task for everyone reading this, if you dare.

Next time your out at the mall or somewhere there's a good 'mix' of people:

1. Ask them if they care about the higher sound quality for their music.

2. Ask them if they have a home stereo system (sound bars don't count)
2a. If no home audio system, what headphones, player, or ??? do they use.

3. Ask them if they know what FLAC is.

4. Ask if they know what AAC is.

5. Ask if they know what MP3 is.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'm not so sure about this approach. None of this stuff prevents me from having conversations about music where I come away having learned something regardless of what people listen through.

For me, and as your site says, if people enjoy listening to music, and contrary to audiophile mythology music is as important for 'young people' today as it was for us when we were 'young people', who cares about what they know about file formats and headphone brands?

Cheers

enjoythemusic's picture

As you say, "music is as important for 'young people' today as it was for us when we were 'young people'". Personally like to gain a better understanding of the current 'overall scene' to then gauge the desire and direction of.... (this is all oversimplified, sorry, no time to write a longer post).

Anywho...

All these (possibly justifiable) debates before XYZ123ABC has even had a chance to propagate widely (to be inherent within hardware and streaming services), combined with a lack of any true promotion of said XYZ123ABC is part of an awkward stage of growth? Guess i envisioned something else looong ago, a smoother sailing as it were.

The good news, companies like Beats, Bose, etc succeed no matter what you-know-who thinks about their products :)

OT
So, how does the music industry create a natural and authentic yearning for XYZ123ABC? Build desire, then offer a solution (h/t Steve Jobs). So far, has anyone seen any real, widescale desire-building? Right now we're all kinda Beta testers of XYZ123ABC.

Note: Maybe the music industry is still waiting for more hardware and software to then promote Hi-Res Audio / Hi-Res Music in a truly meaningful way widescale?

But hey, at least reading the debates keeps it in the 'news' for audiophiles. Maybe not the type of thing i feel is productive positively, but then again WTF do i know? These debates obviously brings click-throughs to websites.

"There is no such thing as bad publicity" (attrib. P.T. Barnum).

CG's picture

Perhaps the way the music business has changed, in regard to developing talent and recording, will obsolete "high fidelity" as we know it. Contemporary recordings, really recordings of contemporary music, are not aimed toward "you are there" reproduction.

Times change.

Here's a point of view from a guy who has had some success and has been around for a while:

http://www.vulture.com/2018/02/quincy-jones-in-conversation.html

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I have tons of new music that is recording really well.

If we limit the discussion of contemporary music to "pop", we 'may' be able to make a general statement about recording quality but...someone just played me a new Justin Timberlake song in the barn through the dCS Rossini and it sounded amazing. "You are there" even ;-)

Now I will keep quiet and read your link.

CG's picture

I will keep quiet until you read the link... ;-)

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Mr. Jones speaks my language ;-)

Clearly he is in a position to know from whence he speaks. I will say I also appreciate Kendrick Lamar. But...he does appear to be focused on pop music.

CG's picture

I'm pleased you liked it.

CG's picture

I really should have limited my comment to contemporary pop music, as you said. But, that's what attracts most younger people and always has. Obviously, that's the big revenue producer, too.

After much thought, my opinion on MQA has finally evolved to this:

I've wondered over and over as to why record companies would want to jump on board. What's in it for them?

My conclusion is that this is really not deviating from their game plan of the past couple decades. Re-release existing music recordings in new formats and/or new mixes. The same people will buy the music all over again. No artist development and investment required. Minimum risk. Good business.

Certainly, there's advantages for using MQA or something like it when streaming, especially wirelessly. I get that. For focused listening, well, the jury's out on that, at least for me.

FWIW, what helped shape my opinion was this article:

https://thetrichordist.com/2012/06/18/letter-to-emily-white-at-npr-all-s...

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...is the record labels no longer have the control they once had over what music people listen to. Streaming allows for exploration, sharing, and discovery outside of the old label/radio structure so the field of play is much more diverse which makes it more difficult to have consistent huge hit$ that pay the bills and phat paychecks.

In my experience younger people, let's say under 30, do not buy music (downloads or physical media). They stream (YouTube, Spotify, etc,). Certainly every indicator suggests this is the way forward.

That being said, I see MQA as a streaming solution in terms of the music business fit. Sure, audiophiles re-buy music in new formats but outside of us, and I'm not really a fan of the re-buy, there's no real market for selling old/new albums. imo, of course.

CG's picture

Yeah, you really have to look at the 50,000 foot view, as they say. And, that's not us weebly audiophiles.

If you exclude the companies that are part of much larger conglomerates (Mark Levinson as one example), most audio companies are the stereotypical (!) small business with a handful of employees and revenues that aren't quite at the precipice of a large IPO leading to listing on the NYSE.

The thing is, the record companies are not only victims of the situation, but a big part of the cause. So, now they have to live with that. As do we.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I do not see the record companies as victims in the least. They've willingly devalued the quality of their 'product' and made it free. Oops.
CG's picture

I dunno.

Companies, like countries, are comprised of people. People self-inflict damage all the time.

You could make an entire career out of just chronicling the bad decisions people make.

devidasa's picture

Thank you showing that someone can be an audiophile without being irrational. Luckily imo, the anti-MQA cult represent a teeny tiny minuscule percentage of the music loving population. Personally I'm celebrating the introduction of high quality sound being offered to the masses.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I see you are "firedog" on CA. Interesting.

Here's a recent post of yours from CA:

His answer (to me): 1) You don't understand the meaning of "authentication" as MQA defines it.

2) It doesn't matter if it is only 17 bits, as you can't hear it. In other words (my interpretation based on what he writes) MQA processing makes the music sound better - what it does to the file, therefore, doesn't matter.

Your "interpretation" is nonsense and I thank you once again for proving one of my main points - CA, and most forums, are filled with nonsense.

I never said anything about hearing or not hearing 17-bit resolution. You made that up. But this can be an interesting topic of discussion. For example, you may want to ask Jussi how he can convert hi-rez into an 18-bit container and still "preserve everything (all frequency harmonics and all dynamics)."

I also have to wonder why you would choose to "translate" things I say instead of quoting me over on CA? Here's my guess - you are perpetuating a false narrative.

So "DH" / "firedog", you are becoming the poster child of my main point re. forums and nonsense. Congratulations!

Ali's picture

Hi Michael, I like you and need you please to give us an article/review about comparison between MQA decoding by software(Tidal) vs MQA decoding by hardware ASAP sir! And I mean not in theory, that we already now, but in real world by listening to both.

rt66indierock's picture

Let’s try a hypothetical. Let’s say I’m sitting in Oceanside California and I decide to make a DAC with a cloned MQA decoder and sold the DAC as MQA compatible. Or I created a software patch to work around the serial number in an MQA file. If MQA Limited or any other party who has standing wants to stop me they would have to convince a Federal District Court Judge in California that I had circumvented the access controls and technical protection measures to prevail. Access controls and technical protection measures are digital rights management.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If your hypothetical you believes that it's OK to do something which infringes on intellectual property, then I'd say DRM is just what's needed for people like your hypothetical you.

I should have added - how does this affect the consumer?

CG's picture

I don't think that reverse engineering is against any rules, unless it's done through illegal means. Breaking and entering and bribery being examples of illegal means. Look it up.

There's a really long history of the legal aspect of this that apparently is still murky today. You can only patent actual inventions, not abstract ideas. You can only copyright certain expressions of your thought, not the underlying thought.

Think about ROM-BIOS clones for personal computers. Or, more close to our interest here, the LAME encoder/decoder. Both of those are functional replacements for existing software. Not copies or reissues of proprietary code.

Note: I are NOT an attorney. So, take what was drilled into me as a potential inventor as hearsay, not legal advice.

This all raises an interesting point. Perhaps there is a form of DRM built into MQA just so it's much harder for somebody to reverse engineer the function. And, maybe there's some idea that this also provides legal protection as well. I have no idea, of course.

As for the consumer... Here's one good example. Imagine that you really want to listen to MQA streams. But, just as much, you also want to use digital equalization of your system. Right now, these are incompatible desires. Some enterprising guy might be able to figure out just what the essential function of MQA processing is and write some software that decodes the MQA stream but still allows for equalization. That sounds like a consumer benefit to me.

Besides, at least according to me, there's only two real potential advantages to MQA for consumers.

One is that the MQA folks might have access to better mixes of recordings that might sound better. Or, at least, offer a different take on the music. That's all for the good.

The other is that they've chosen to implement filtering that may sound better than the one that is built into your present DAC. But, it's their filter selection, not yours. You might like something entirely different.

Don't forget, the trade-offs in the design of MP3 compression were based on what certain listeners thought were "ok" for them. Most people reading this web site generally agree that everything else being equal, MP3 compressed recordings don't sound as good as the uncompressed files they are derived from. MP3 is a compromise. Maybe that's ok, maybe it's not. To each their own.

The point is just that - to each their own. Some people might find other filter approaches to be preferable to the MQA filters. With MQA, there's no choice. Choice is usually considered to be good by consumers. If you don't the late Charley Hansen's preferred filter in the Ayre DACs, you might like the filters Robert Watts chose for his Chord designs. Here your choice is MQA's or MQA's. I think that is called a Hobson's choice.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I don't even play one on TV ;-)

Choice. The idea that MQA is the only choice is one possible outcome. How likely is it? That's up for debate. When would a complete MQA takeover happen? That's anyone's guess.

Today, you can choose not to deal with MQA. If you enjoy hi-rez streaming and live in the US, Qobuz will be offering their non-MQA hi-rez service come Spring. Obviously people living where Qobuz is available already have this choice.

For downloads, non-MQA hi-rez is available today as it has always been. Warner said they plan to continue providing hi-rez (non-MQA).

Back to intellectual property, if someone reverse engineered Ayre's filter, put it their DAC, and sold it, are you saying that's legal? I have no idea but it sounds ...wrong ;-)

CG's picture

Good points.

I was only highlighting some of the possibilities.

As for the filter... The answer is yes, it's legal. Unless you broke into Ayre's office and stole the code or just copied whatever image is in their FPGA. Reverse engineering is not only legal, but a part of the accepted invention process.

To a first approximation - and only a first approximation - you can pretty much replicate the Ayre filter response by using SoX or a number of other editing programs. (The Ayre hardware is *very* difficult to clone in software...) One of the primary SoX contributors has done some playing and was able to replicate the MQA filter response, too. He documented this somewhere on the interweb thingy, but to be honest, I don't recall where.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I do not want to see MQA become the only option for the reasons you've brought up and more.

For filters, I've found that I prefer none in my DAC ;-)

Ugh. As you point out, there's more to an Ayre DAC, or any DAC, than the filter. For MQA, there's more to it than the decode code but offering people the ability to use DSP with MQA is certainly a good thing.

There's some good information on MQA from people like Jussi Lasko of HQPlayer on CA (user name: Miska). As I mentioned in my review of MQA and the T+A DAC8, HQPlayer certainly offers the ability to improve digital playback with no strings attached.

CG's picture

Having high frequency alias signals might actually be a desirable audio characteristic for some (most?) people. These appear at exactly the same time as other high frequency signals, so perhaps the brain interprets them as additional musical and/or "venue" information. Maybe not having a filter is really a feature, not a bug.

It's like SET based amplification. It appears to me that the types of distortion displayed in SETs is kind of similar in pattern to the way our hearing systems distort as sounds get louder, from what I've read. That suggests that with SETs you get that loudness feeling before your ears start distorting themselves. Not entirely a bad idea. (I think Gordon Rankin may have written a paper about this some time back. Darned if I can find a link to it...)

Of course, in both of these examples, you can do something very similar with other types of digital filters and other types of electronics if you choose to.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
;-)
Timcognito's picture

As an inventor on 120+ medical device patents, not a lawyer, I have been cautioned and know that it is illegal to just build and test any patented device without substantially changing or augmenting it in the process, even to privately examine its performance characteristics for research(during its patent term of course, 20 years)

rt66indierock's picture

My point is if MQA Ltd is not protecting its digital rights then the courts in the United States aren’t going to either. If Bob says there is no DRM then I can clone it. As a practical matter I think I can get to the same result with existing technology and information from companies and people on the West Coast. So can a lot of other people. That we haven’t says we think there are better solutions.

How does the consumer benefit from cloning MQA? By companies not having to allocate scarce R&D resources to MQA, not paying licensing fees and royalties and not allocate engineering time and additional parts costs to a separate path MQA authentication takes or running everything through the same path and risk non MQA files sound quality being degraded.

There is no conspiracy about MQA Ltd and DRM. We looked at publically available financial statements audited by BDO. According to the MQA Ltd. Group Strategic Report for the year ended December 31, 2016 the revenue model is based in part on digital asset management supply chain services.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...the fact that AudioQuest and dCS, just to name two at opposite ends of $pectrum, offer MQA as a free upgrade?

And how do you explain how Tidal offers MQA at no additional cost to HiFi subscribers?

Of course these are just a few examples which can be dismissed for one reason or another (I'm sure the forums will). My point is - with all the talk of MQA's potential negative impact, so far it has been an additional feature at no cost.

Let me also say, since the forums believe you are either for or against MQA with no room for intelligent discussion, I do not want to see MQA become the only choice. Again, when this question was put to Warner by me, they said they will continue to provide hi-rez. And they have. The fact that Qobuz offers non-MQA hi-rez streaming is another indication of the continued availability of hi-rez.

And....if we look at music distribution/consumption trends, every indication points to streaming as the chosen form for the distribution of digital music.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...who is "we"? Are you part of a company, organization, or some other entity with ties to the industry? If so, please add your affiliation in your signature line.

If not, please explain who "we" is and why it's worth mentioning.

CG's picture

BTW, this has gotten way, way off topic. Fini!

NeilB's picture
Michael Lavorgna's picture
Well written, well researched, and thought-provoking.
NeilB's picture

respectful discourse. As I stated in my only other post my 1st "encounter" with MQA is from the MQA files included in the Black Sabbath "Ten Year War" vinyl box set. Well that arrives today so I'll have a chance to listen to the MQA files via an ifi Nano iDSD Black Label DAC. Finally! I get to hear first hand what all the kerfuffle is about. Please be clear - what I was after when I purchased the box set was the 8 LP's - not the MQA files. That they just landed in my lap is happenstance. Here we go! Let the games begin!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If so, I'm very jealous ;-)

Respectful discourse allows for a sharing of ideas, which really is the point of discourse ;-)

Enjoy!

NeilB's picture

It's that crazy, crucifix shaped USB stick. I'm a homer for old, classic heavy metal what can I say. Honestly though I plan to give these music MQA files a completely thorough, discriminating listen. If Amazon UK hadn't had the thing for US $187 at the time I never would've bought it in the first place, but that's a killer price which unfortunately has subsequently gone back up. I'll take the time to post my impressions after having had a chance to digest all those righteous old tunes............. Peace!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Looking forward to your impressions.
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