Meridian recently announced a new ‘format’ that promises high resolution sound quality with sub CD bit rates, a system that could make it possible to stream 24/192 to a mobile device. MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated and involves encoding at the mastering stage and decoding at playback in order to deliver the full effect. Importantly however an MQA file can be played back with a conventional PCM DAC and is still said to offer a sonic benefit. MQA files can be encapsulated within existing formats such as FLAC and WAV but take up considerably less space than PCM music usually does. It has been suggested that a 24/192 track could be reduced to a tenth of its normal size using MQA.
The details of how this is done have not been officially released (outside of an AES paper called A Hierarchical Approach to Archiving and Distribution) but the gist of MQA would seem to be that it concentrates on timing rather than frequency. Focussing on the factors that we perceive as being important rather than those which conventional encoding methods preserve.
Reports from the first demonstrations of MQA were very positive and I’m kicking myself for not making it to the event. The key of course is persuading the music business to take the technology seriously, there is a danger that it will seem like another HDCD, a format that did little to improve sound quality or music sales. But if MQA can really deliver high res sound quality in a compact carrier that should give both music and audio industries a shot in the arm and potentially put high sound quality back on the music buyer’s map.
This is what Bob Stuart (above) said at the UK launch: “Music lovers need no longer be shortchanged; finally we can all hear exactly what the musicians recorded. MQA gives a clear, accurate and authentic path from the recording studio all the way to any listening environment – at home, in the car or on the go. And we didn’t sacrifice convenience… this is really about the future of recorded music. Music is important to us all. When the sound is authentic it is more involving, we understand it better and enjoy it longer. MQA is already receiving broad support from the music industry, artists, recording and mastering engineers and record labels.”
Thus far the only decoding device available is the Meridian Explorer2 USB DAC and headphone amplifier (top). This £199 converter weighs a mere 50 grammes and uses positive integer upsampling to deliver up to 192kHz from any signal, it also employs apodising technology.