MQA and the Directstream DACs

On another forum one of the members who is a reviewer for a popular online magazine who reviewed and now owns a DSJ started a discussion concerning whether or not certain Tidal albums were perceived to be better in their native format or in MQA. After several pages of discussion where the tide was turning against the propaganda of all MQA is better one of the members challenged the OP as to how could he tell what the MQA file really sounded like if they were all converted to DSD. Strangely enough the forum owner, who is also a PSA dealer posted what I assume is an e-mail response he got from MQA itself when he asked them a similar question. This is supposed to be MQA’s response:

"“MQA decided to open up their end-to-end philosophy a bit and offer 1st unfolds to those manufacturers who do not want to be restrained by MQA hardware certification demands. For this reason some early naysayers like PS Audio joined the MQA bandwagon for marketing reasons, but not whole-heartedly in their approach and implementation…”

I would be curious as to what Ted, Paul and everyone else thinks about the MQA response and what they generally hear when comparing comparable MQA and non-MQA files. I have tried it on five different MQA streamers and DACs including the DSD Sr. so I have already formed by opinion.

I’m not even sure what that means. When we evaluated MQA with their implementation it sounded much worse than the current implementation in the bridge. What else would we do? The DS is a DSD DAC and it can’t be anything else. Perhaps they expected PS Audio to build new PCM based DACs that incorporate MQA hardware?


There was an enormous discussion about MQA in these forums. You could pick up a lot by browsing through that. I think it’s fair to say that a big part of PS Audio’s adoption of MQA 1st unfold in a Bridge update was to respond to customer/market pressure. I mean, it didn’t seem to cost them anything strategic to do so and lots of people wanted it so why not?

But it’s also that case that the DS DAC architecture makes full MQA adoption technically compromising. MQA wants to have some control over the low-pass filter parameters used during upsampling, and to get insight into proprietary details of how those filters are implemented in the DAC. For manufacturers using off-the-shelf chips there’s no downside to that – the chip maker just provides the filter info to MQA. Different story here with the DS.

In my opinion, it’s not correct to say that the conversion to DSD within the DS DAC changes the resulting waveform in ways that undo the MQA effect. Being limited to the first unfold and a fixed filter does limit the degree to which MQA can be evaluated on this DAC though.

Most of the time, on my DS Sr, I prefer the sound of the Tidal Masters MQA (with first unfold performed by Roon and an otherwise bit–perfect playback path) over the Red Book version of the same album. It’s hard to know how much of that is to do with the MQA process vs them being different masters though. If I’m listening really critically I don’t always like what happens to the extreme top end, but overall the MQA gives me a slightly greater sense of ease and openness.

Can I ask a question? Why do people say we only get MQA up to the first unfold with the Bridge? I have seen MQA unfolded to 192/24 on some of the Masters albums on Tidal using the Bridge. That is more than the first, right?

Huh. Well, I’d say it’s because I was wrong. I don’t have a Bridge, so was going on my recollection of the conversations.

Double unfold on the Bridge it is. Thanks for the heads up. I hope I’m not wrong about the filter options though.

MQA changed their tune at least once about what they’d be willing to license. Initially it was all or nothing. I knew they’d caved and allowed first unfold in software. Didn’t catch that they’d licensed some folks to do full decode without filter controls.

I wouldn’t say you are wrong either, things seem pretty up in the air. Could be they are trying to figure out what they can make hardware/software places take till they can’t/won’t support it.

As far as I know, there is no ambiguity. MQA is implemented as designed; but only if you use the Bridge as the input source on the DS Sr. or DS Jr. DACs. See here: Bridge and MQA Discussion Thread. I am a DS Sr./Bridge II owner and MQA works just fine.

(Warning, unsolicited editorial comment to follow: On balance, MQA is a solution in search of a problem. With great recordings, MQA files sound great. But the same is true with other great recordings. YMMV.)


Yup, before you know it the shit hits the fan and you find yourself behind that fan… Hahaha…