Best of Tidal MQA


#1

One of the best I’ve heard so far, and I know this is an overexposed chestnut of a recording, is Blue by Joni Mitchell. The HiFi (RBCD) version sounded better than I’d ever heard on my DSJr w/Huron. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the MQA version, but noticed a lot more detail and nuance than before. In particular the amazing sounds from the acoustic stringed instruments and the shimmer of cymbals struck me as more extended, detailed, open, and natural, yet not fatiguing or irritating in any way.

What’s on your playlist?

Chris V


#2
The sound of Blue is unfortunately not very good. It is an early ‘70s solid-state recording with the glare, etc. this implies. The Steve Hoffman DCC gold disk sounds the best I have heard. It is remarkably warm, full of life.

From an interview with Steve Hoffman a number of years ago with The Abso!ute Sound:

"I worked on Joni Mitchell’s Blue, for example. The mastertape and the original LP sound nothing alike. You couldn’t cut what’s on the mastertape onto an LP, her voice is too dynamic. Your stylus at home would have jumped right out of the groove in the old days. To avoid that, the cutting engineer had to compress the dynamic range and change the tonality of the song to get the thing on the album. And No. 1 on Side One would have had a different sound from No.6 on Side One because the closer you get to the center of the record, the harder it is to cut. Even from one song to the next is a whole other thing.

With CDs you don’t have these problems. With CDs, it really boils down to how I want it to sound. Whatever I have to do to achieve that sound, I’ll do. Sometimes it’s taking a mastertape that’s solid state, and playing it back on a tube tape recorder. On the Joni Mitchell, that early Seventies solid-state sound is slightly brittle. Adding just one layer of vacuum tubes in there makes her sound much more lifelike. But in another instance, the mastertape might be too muddy, and I’d do the opposite."


#3

Hence the trend toward “tube-y” plugins for the In-the-Box recorders nowadays.

Speaking of Analog geeks, I was entertained by this today from Reverb.com:

https://youtu.be/cwktqzJntDM

Those of you uninterested in pop/rock can ignore the rest.

A few years back, I had a reel of 1/2" analog 8-track, and a 1/4" 2-track master that I wanted to get archived to digital, and was surprised to find that I had a hard time finding anyone that had a functional reel-to-reel to do the transfer. I eventually found Electrical Audio here in Chicago, owned by Steve Albini, who is in part famous for recording Nirvana’s “In Utero” album.

The guy in the above video transferred my tapes to digital. Nice folks, and a nice studio. Would love to record some drums in the two-story B room.

Sorry Chris - this has nothing to do with MQA : )


#4
Elk said
The sound of Blue is unfortunately not very good. It is an early ‘70s solid-state recording with the glare, etc. this implies. The Steve Hoffman DCC gold disk sounds the best I have heard. It is remarkably warm, full of life.

From an interview with Steve Hoffman a number of years ago with The Abso!ute Sound:

"I worked on Joni Mitchell’s Blue, for example. The mastertape and the original LP sound nothing alike. You couldn’t cut what’s on the mastertape onto an LP, her voice is too dynamic. Your stylus at home would have jumped right out of the groove in the old days. To avoid that, the cutting engineer had to compress the dynamic range and change the tonality of the song to get the thing on the album. And No. 1 on Side One would have had a different sound from No.6 on Side One because the closer you get to the center of the record, the harder it is to cut. Even from one song to the next is a whole other thing.

With CDs you don’t have these problems. With CDs, it really boils down to how I want it to sound. Whatever I have to do to achieve that sound, I’ll do. Sometimes it’s taking a mastertape that’s solid state, and playing it back on a tube tape recorder. On the Joni Mitchell, that early Seventies solid-state sound is slightly brittle. Adding just one layer of vacuum tubes in there makes her sound much more lifelike. But in another instance, the mastertape might be too muddy, and I’d do the opposite."

Wow! What a great quote. Very illuminating and a constant theme I harp on with lovers of vinyl. It's rare that we even compare apples with apples with comparing vinyl to CD. The mastering engineers were hard at work making changes.

Thanks for posting this!


#5

Yes, vinyl and digital are entirely different animals. Vinyl’s limitations are what gives it its characteristic sound.

Another point Steve Hoffman makes is that vinyl’s limitations can keep deaf engineers from going crazy “You cannot boost the treble too much, you cannot boost the bass too much, you cannot make it too loud, etc.”

Of course if you need that treble/bass/overall energy for your recording, vinyl is not the format you should be using. Digital can capture and reproduce sounds that vinyl cannot. But this does not make vinyl bad, just different.


#6
Paul McGowan said

Wow! What a great quote. Very illuminating and a constant theme I harp on with lovers of vinyl. It’s rare that we even compare apples with apples with comparing vinyl to CD. The mastering engineers were hard at work making changes.

Thanks for posting this!


I thought I would mention–an oft-overlooked point about MQA. A point Bob Stuart has emphasized (including in interviews I’ve done) is that the MQA folks seek the best and “most authentic” masters to encode. He even told me that in general he prefers (flat) masters–i.e., before the mastering engineers have done their job–quieter, less compressed, less tweaked. Some (on this forum) have disputed this–fine. I’m a realist: I know that with tens of thousands of albums to convert, they’re not usually spending hours and hours rooting through the vaults. But I have noticed quite dramatic differences in sound in some cases, MQA versus the CD. (In others, far less.)

Anyone comparing MQA to CD should keep this in mind: Comparing MQA to CD is perhaps not that different from comparing vinyl to CD. You may be comparing apples to oranges.

Some experts have held this out as a criticism–as if MQA had an obligation to release files that mimic recordings that already exist so that they could do a fair comparison. For that, look to 2L, and other small labels doing MQA for new releases. For other things, I’d much rather see them dig out and release better (or at least different)-sounding versions.

I suspect that much of the improvement people hear listening to MQA, is because they are hearing better recordings, not because the format is so much superior.

I would love to see MQA (and, for that matter, everyone else) do more reporting about provenance–specifically, what masters did they use? Not just with MQA but in general, there’s a ton of confusion out there–lots of contradictory information–as I’ve discovered lately in trying to sort out such issues with a couple of different recordings; different people, different liner notes, make contradictory claims. (Pro Studio Masters does a better job describing provenance than other download companies–but take a look at this description from a recent David Oistrakh release on DG: “96 kHz / 24-bit PCM – Deutsche Grammophon Studio Masters. This album contains high-resolution digital transfers of material originating from an analogue master source.” What the heck does that mean?)

So far, all MQA is doing with reporting provenance is a poorly populated blog topic with entries written by Bob himself. So far there are three entries. We know essentially nothing specific about the source of the other thousands of tracks. But we should assume, in general, that the source is significantly different than sources already in our library.

Jim


#7

Thanks, Jim. Excellent information.

JimAustin said I suspect that much of the improvement people hear listening to MQA, is because they are hearing better recordings, not because the format is so much superior.
If this is indeed the case, I I do not claim otherwise, this alone is a superb reason to support MQA.

It is reminiscent of Pono’s claims.

I know that with tens of thousands of albums to convert, they’re not usually spending hours and hours rooting through the vaults. But I have noticed quite dramatic differences in sound in some cases, MQA versus the CD. (In others, far less.)
This is additionally helpful. I, too, cannot imagine they have sufficient resources to truly track down and audition all possible sources of a given recording to find the best (although with some highly popular/seminal pop recordings such as Dark Side of the Moon, etc. they my well do so).

#8

Thanks, Jim and Elk.

I suspect there is little to no “rooting through the vaults” going on. This is not a criticism, simply an opinion based on what I think is a fairly realistic assumption (focus group of one).

It seems to me that with certain exceptions, such as individual “important” or “hifi” albums, small labels, owners of limited catalogs, and so on (vs. conglomerates saying “go for it” - rip it all - thanks for another opportunity to sell this record again, etc.), it is economically not feasable or even possible to seek out and secure every “best” master. And the notion that the MQA algorithm might outperform the mastering engineer’s work on the flat master is certainly subject to scrutiny. Mastering is an artform in itself, and is subject to the gear and tastes of the times in which it is done, for good or ill.

Then, with respect to analog tape, there’s the additional possibility that at the point in the past where a given title was recorded/mastered, that that was “as good as it’s going to get” in terms of the physical condition of the analog master. While one may be able to get the flat master and second guess the original mastering engineer, it is subject to the ravages of time as well.


#9
Elk said

This is additionally helpful. I, too, cannot imagine they have sufficient resources to truly track down and audition all possible sources of a given recording to find the best (although with some highly popular/seminal pop recordings such as Dark Side of the Moon, etc. they my well do so).

I agree with this assessment, while noting that in most cases there's not much to choose or decide. For example, in the case of WMG, there's long been a policy in place (I've been told) for encoding their magnetic tape archive at 24/192. Those, surely, are the source of much of the early MQA from WMG. But there are recordings for which decisions need to be made, and it's clear from listening that there's more going on than the removal of microscale artifacts.

Cheers,

Jim


#10

One more thing worth mentioning: Whichever version they release, it’s the same version whether you have a decoder or not. So even if you don’t invest in MQA, you can still get access to potentially better versions–better not because of encoding but because they’ve chosen better masters. That, anyway, is the line.


#11

Interesting. I ask about what people are listening to on Tidal w/MQA, and out of 9 posts, there are 0 recommendations. There is a lot of discussion that mirrors what’s been in other forums for months, but not a single “here’s something I found that is really good”. There may be some truth to the general perception of what audiophiles really are into. confused


#12

The MQA albums that I listen to most often are Green Day’s “American Idiot” and “Ono Dos Tres”. I also find any of the MQA Grateful Dead studio LPs to sound really good. Same with Jethro Tull’s " Stand Up" and " Aqualung “. Also Neko Case’s " Truckdriver Gladiator Mule” box set.

Although my favorite two albums soundwise on Tidal are not MQA. They are Richard Thompson’s " Acoustic Classics" and Ben Webster’s “Gentle Ben”. Joe Jackson’s " Mike’s Murder" is a rare find that is well recorded too.

A few days ago I compared Beck’s " Sea Change" in MQA played through Tidal’s player partially unfolded to a DSD file ripped from an Oppo converted to 24/176 through JRiver as my DAC in my main system does not do DSD. I preferred the converted DSD file.

I think Tidal’s desktop player kind of sucks. I have been working with their tech support as I was having problems with some MQA albums like, “American Idiot” skipping tracks. They solved that, but if I want to queue up a bunch of albums they have to be either all MQAs or 16/44 files, as it won’t go from MQA to 16/44. It hangs up, and the pause/play icon just spins. I have to hit the forward icon to get it going again. Also you can’t add to the queue once you start playing, as it will insert it after whatever track is playing, rather than be added to the bottom.

I think your assumption might be backwards, at least in my case, I choose my music by what I want to hear, only using Tidal if I don’t have the CD, or the file in JRiver. I prefer my 24/96 needle drops of non MQA albums, to Tidal’s 16/44 files of most of their albums. I don’t play anything just because it sounds good, it has to be something I want to listen to. And while I have found all the MQAs of the Doors to have excellent sound, I think it is a little odd that they all have a similar sound, considering they were recorded at different times, most likely in different studios. There is a pleasantness to them, that makes me think there is some eqing or something going on.

And someone pointed out a while back, the first Pretenders LP is a corrupted file in MQA, the 16/44 sounds much better.

One more edit: for excellent MQA try Eric Bibb’s “Migration Blues”.


#13

I’m a little late for this discussion which ls short though very interesting and informative, for anyone’s interest and I’m sure many are aware of Mark Walberg of AIX Records and host of RealHD-Audio.com has some hefty criticism of MQA including so labled HI-RES Audio in general,…

I have no remarks on this subject as I have never listened to a down load through my system nor anywhere else , currently I have enough music to choose from on vinyl and cd however I have little interest right now re-buying my favourite music again though I will try to keep myself informed about this subject and with my new Direct Stream Memory Player I’ll look into listening to HI-Res via the flash drive input of my DMP,.


#14

Bluenose, anything other than music recs on Tidal, should go here:

http://www.psaudio.com/forum/directstream-all-about-it/mqa-controversy/page-40/

As to good sounding MQA on Tidal, the Jeff Tweedy solo file is very good.


#15

The Norah Jones albums presented in MQA sound particularly good to me.


#16

By the way, his name is Mark Waldrep, not Walberg. Here’s a link to his video, where he “debunks” the notion of high-res audio, and completely discounts DSD. Not sure, what to make of the various claims here. He has a PhD in audio engineering and has worked in recording/mastering for decades.

He actually likes the MQA format. His point is that we can only get the digital version to sound as good as the original master, not better. In his opinion, only music recorded today with truly “high-resolution” all digital path should deserve the label of high-resolution.

https://youtu.be/Z5S_DI99wd8


#17

Many including myself think Mark, despite his education, is just on a personal mission that does not match what I see as reality. I invited him to Music Room One and he came, heard and acknowledged the difference in high Rez audio and DSD and then said it must be something else. Denial. Too bad.


#18

Mark Waldrep has been at AXPONA several times. A couple of years ago he was doing his usual demo and I was pretty impressed with the sound. He had a special two hour presentation after the show closed where he was going to talk a little more and play a lot more music, sounded like a good time to me (I was essentially unfamiliar with him at this point). Well, he spent two hours taking about himself and how he does things, not a note of music. What a waste! He is a proponent of what a friend of mine used to call “verbal masturbation”, sorry for the possibly bad visual. I was going to purchase a disc from him but most or all were in Bluray format which at the time I could not play. Thought about it again last year now that I have a DMP, but thought “Nah”.


#19

A/B Kaleo album: “No Good” Rock done well. “Glass House” great drums

Tidal Masters 2L Highlights Vol 1: Easy listening

Tidal Masters 2L Highlights Vol 2: Easy listening

North Country II Ola Gjeilo: Turn the lights out for best listening


#20

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