MQA and DSD – why we don't currently use them

There is a lot of debate about the pros and cons of MQA and DSD. At Quiescent we have been following developments with these two 'formats' but have decided, at this time, that neither are suitable to include in our product strategy. Here is an outline of our reasoning.

MQA was actually developed by its inventors to solve one problem; that is to stream high resolution files over the low bandwidth connections. The original files are compressed and sent over to the streamer which then unfolds the signal to the original high-resolution file. By MQA’s own admission, however, the unfolding produces a digital stream which is nearly the same as the original. It remains to be seen whether the adoption of MQA will be successful. As telecoms companies continue to build out high-end infrastructures, most of the developed countries will not need to be concerned with getting high-resolution files across the Internet.  MQA’s assertion is that original back-catalogue music will sound better with MQA that original Redbook. This, of course, cannot be true as most back catalogue music is already well-served by Redbook which has far more ability to store the information than the original master tapes.

In conclusion, we have not adopted MQA as it is expensive and locks us into difficult obsolescence issues (there's actually special hardware required). We also see little benefit for our customers. We listened to MQA versions of the same media as Redbook and, in some cases, we could not tell the difference, and in quite a few cases the MQA versions sounded worse.

And then there's DSD. Most replay solutions available today use software conversion algorithms that are highly disruptive to performance and all DACs that we have reviewed that notionally convert DSD, actually convert it into PCM inside the chip. You only have to search the Internet to see how many people have experimented with DSD to PCM conversion, using software, that have been left disappointed with the quality of the result! DSD replay may be more promising in the future, but if it arrives full of processing algorithms, as is the norm these days, then it is always likely to sound, well – processed.

Steve Elford