Is MQA Going to Go the Way of HDCD?

To Doug Schneider,

I’ve been following the discussions [about MQA] on SoundStage! Hi-Fi , and reading about it in Positive Feedback and Stereophile. I’m assuming you’re still waiting on MQA to follow up. I did read some very interesting questions about MQA on the Benchmark website. It appears, in their view, that a benign DSP processor, for example, such as a digital volume control, immediately defeats the MQA decoding -- and that’s not good. I do hope this does prove to be a step forward and not another dead encoding scheme. Remember HDCD?


It’s funny you bring HDCD up. I remember it well and think that MQA is currently destined for the same fate. To me, the main reason it will probably go that way is the company’s apparent resistance to embrace the concept of proper A/B demos to actually prove their encoding system improves the sound, which is one of their claims (and the only claim that interests me, since, as I explained in my MQA article in April, constant improvements in networks are making the compression aspects of MQA more and more irrelevant by the day). I even offered to send them various recordings made over the last 35 years by one of Canada’s most-respected recording and mastering engineers so that we could hear it here for ourselves -- but they never took me up on it. Pity.

Nevertheless, they’ve done little things here and there, such as a private listening session for Brent Butterworth at T.H.E. Show Newport 2016, which he wrote about on SoundStage! Global in an article called “I Finally Got a Decent MQA Demo!” The problem is, he could hardly hear any differences at all, even through headphones. I also noticed that Stereophile’s John Atkinson recently wrote about his experiences with MQA recordings, which you can read about on their website. He wrote that he thought he could hear improvements with his own recordings that had been MQA encoded, which is promising, because I believe John to have good ears; however, when he did something close to a blind test, he found he could only correctly identify the MQA and non-MQA recordings four out of seven times, which didn’t impress me, because it’s just over half. Anyone who has studied statistics knows that if you only have two choices, you can get the correct answer 50% of the time by just guessing. Obviously, more comparisons need to be done. Still, if these kinds of sonic results are what the company wants to hang their hat on, I believe they have a long, tough road ahead to convince anyone that what they’re doing is worthwhile. It might also explain why they are so hesitant about doing A/B comparisons in the first place. . . . Doug Schneider