Category Archives: hi-res streaming

Why MQA? It Solves Magic Step #3…

My magic 3 ingredients on any good recording are, in order: #1 – the song, #2 – the take/performance, #3 – the recording. I rank them in this order because if the energy and musicianship are there in any good song (#1 and #2), it will be conveyed to the listener at many / all levels.

But being able to capture that in the right mechanical and physical terms (mics, preamps, recording levels) followed by careful mixing and mastering are surely what produce the finest collections of recorded music (#3). There’s no other way.

I am slowly realizing the emphasis behind MQA’s tag “Take Me There”. There are often very big differences between what an artist / producer intend a final recording to sound like, and what the actual artist and song takes do sound like in the studio or live show. In order to produce the intention of the art direction (which may not require elaborate effects and tricks in the studio, but still require craftsmanship to the highest levels), #1, #2, and #3 above have to be present. There’s no other way.

Capturing great sessions or multi track overdub creations that don’t have all of #3 can still be considered great, despite the lack of full delivery of intention due to limitations on the original source recording. My musical listening history is filled with these less than perfect recordings but simply incredible songs and performances. I probably treasure some of these as the finest in my personal/memory collection.

But until there were DSD conversions from master tape archives, there was, to my ears, no way to deliver a good sounding #3 in a digital format which was initially CD, then even worse MP3/AAC, then HDCD and even HDTracks / ProStudioMasters (which I’ve purchased but rarely play).

There are indeed limits of DSD conversions from tape which include slower time to process, limited catalog availability, more expensive and larger files without streaming to deliver to any large consumer base as well as the additional audio setup to convert DSD back to analog properly. So be it.

DSD is great for what it does and the “right” way in my opinion to convert analog tape masters to digital as intended (!) by Sony and Phillips originally to rescue their aging deteriorating master tape archive vault.

Now with MQA that intention is finally achievable and deliverable in all current modern formats to all listeners without extracting source masters from tape in every case.

It literally undoes the artifacts imposed during step #3 (by decompressing, not compressing, which is the same as removing edges and correcting time coherence) by re-encoding already existing hi-res PCM masters.  It then proceeds to deliver the master CD quality and higher over low bandwidth (approx. CD 1.44mbps) and even on printed standard CDs, with a hi-res component (unfolding) for any compatible setup.

So the intention’s follow through in #3 after capturing a great song, then recording and producing it masterfully, is realized, at least compared to anything we’ve had in the PCM digital domain for audio reproduction to date.

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Tidal MQA Master Streaming

Here are my TIDAL MQA Master albums online so far… more on the way.

“Angelo” (16/44.1), MQA release Jan 6, 2017
https://listen.tidal.com/album/69457307

“Lost in the Green” (16/44.1), MQA release July 1, 2016
https://listen.tidal.com/album/72050409

“Crossing (Remastered)” (16/352.8). MQA release Sept. 1, 2017
https://listen.tidal.com/album/7902261

And here’s a Playlist for them:
https://tidal.com/play…/24705b24-1fb2-4c07-9ce1-0b54a07e6cbd

Happy streaming…

The Mobile HRA Mighty Duo (Safe for Home Use Too!)

XDP-100R and HA-2

Pioneer XDP-100R and OPPO HA-2 linked via USB (DoP). Together they comprise a mighty mobile or home studio duo.

Well I’d say in these modern days of tech not enough things work well together, at least not as expected given the decades of preparation those science/art folks have had to interoperate and optimize efficiencies for best results at lowest cost.

Do I expect too much? Maybe I don’t know. But I know I have been using two perfect examples of that kind of interrelated power with these two devices.

From Pioneer last year came the XDP-100R a High Resolution Audio (HRA) player with its own storage for audio files. The “gotcha have to try that” incentive for me was that this was one of the very first (and still one of the only) portable audio players that supported native DSD (1-bit to analog via DoP, or conversion to PCM up to 192 on the player itself and PCM to 384 via USB) as well as full res MQA decoding (up to 24/384kHz).

The OPPO HA-2 (now supplanted by the HA-2SE) is a “simple” headphone amplifier (analog circuitry) as well as a supreme native DSD DAC as well as PCM — both convert to analog and presented to either a headphone jack (with amplification) or a line out jack (for home stereo/studio use). In addition it is a lithium battery pack capable of charging other devices (like a Pioneer XDP-100R or iPhone/Android smartphone).

I’m working with DSD as a recording media for my music over 15 years now and MQA as a mastering with authentication PCM encoding for over 1 year. To me these don’t compete!  I am not surrounded by people of that same persuasion but then again, I’m not sure that matters to me either.

There’s a lot more to this story of the Mighty Duo…

Given that these 2 devices work independently of each other and the XDP-100R is a standalone player with a headphone/line out jack and 161 position volume control, it is not that obvious why I might want to pair them together.

Granted the HA-2 needs a player attached as its role is to do digital to analog conversion (DAC) and amplify the resulting signal as needed.

However in addition to the fact that the XDP-100R decodes MQA as studio authenticated masters up to the maximum resolution of masters out there today (24/384kHz), it can also upsample the resulting PCM to DSD and pass it on to the HA-2 via DoP!

The result for me (MQA decoded then upsampled to DSD at 5.6mHz Real Precision and sent to HA-2 for 1-bit conversion to analog) is absolutely some of the best sound quality I have ever heard.

I typically listen to these devices using OPPO PM-1 (open planar magnetic) though also PM-3 (closed planar magnetic) as well as earbuds (typically travel with Zipbuds Pro at about $25 on Amazon – amazing!).

If I play DSD tracks on the XDP-100R they get sent as-is to the HA-2 for 1-bit conversion and off to the headphones/stereo. Again both components doing exactly what they were made to do and doing it expertly well. This is really what I consider the best sound possible: A native DSD master played from the linked XDP + HA-2, as DSD via DoP, with no conversion except to analog out the headphone jack on the HA-2.

Well made recordings as native DSD masters (not upsampled to DSD but recorded/mastered as DSD or transferred from analog tape masters) will translate perfectly well as needed to any other media format.

To me PCM with MQA  encoding is a perfect media format for today’s media environment as it delivers hi-res up to 24/384k (19mbps) in right around 1.5 mbps streams or audio files in a lossless FLAC or ALAC format at 24/48k or 24/44.1k folded MQA. That’s smaller than 1/10th the size of the hi-res file or stream it becomes when it plays! The MQA DAC unfolds the hi-res on playback after the file or stream is downloaded or received.

Dare I say that when MQA decoding can be done from a Smartphone app, the cell network bandwidth required to stream MQA masters at 24/96 to your phone will not be a problem…even if you are not on an unlimited plan. If you are on an unlimited plan most of those get restricted around 22GB anyway.

So the differences between 1.5 mbps and say 5mbps for hi-res audio streaming have big effects on what someone might do with great quality music playing anywhere they go. Remember MQA in a FLAC format is not just smaller (about 1/5th the size of a 24/96 WAV/AIF file or DSD64 file for that matter) it is time corrected as well, so it sounds much better than the original PCM master did.

The same master images can also be delivered on standard CD discs which again on playback or when ripped can be MQA decoded to full high resolution. These are then 16-bit depth with the same excellent sound quality to my ears as others. They can play on any CD player and to be honest sound very very good with no MQA decoding or unfolding at all. Pretty nifty.  These stream at well under 1mbps!

Back to the Mighty Duo…

What is unusual about this combo of devices  is that the XDP-100R as a audio player, is able to play and decode the MQA audio file and then upsample and convert it to DSD and pass it on (DoP) to a DSD DAC to be played as an analog signal.

This dual function is not possible with the typical MQA/DSD DAC such as the very capable Mytek Brooklyn.  It (the typical MQA/DSD DAC) is not an audio player, it only can decode MQA and convert to analog or it can convert DSD to analog to play. It can’t do both functions (decode MQA and then convert to DSD) in series as the XDP-100R does before handing it to a DAC to play as an audio signal.

Nor can any other strict DAC that I’m aware of (though I’m sure they could if minds were put to it).

So what I’ve found is 2 devices of very similar dimensions and weight that can inter-operate such that the resulting sound is as good or better than most pro setups out there.

By maxing out the storage support for media on the XDP-100R by buying and inserting 2 SD Micro chips at 200GB each, I arrived at a full 432GB storage that I can carry around on a device as big as a slightly fat smartphone. If I wanted to add 200GB, 400GB, … etc. I could just buy other SD Micros to swap as needed. Unlimited storage in other words with no USB drives to carry around, and certainly not a laptop.

The total package (XDP-100R and HA-2) with extra RAM, water resistant case for both devices ($10) and all cables and still easily fits with notepad in my day pack all cost me well under $1000 US, closer to $800 really. That also includes about $150 of the extra memory (400GB) which is of course optional. The XDP comes with 32GB and you could add any additional amount of storage via SD Micro chips as you wished.

Hard to believe but I found the XDP-100R for a very low price special. It was last year’s model, as the newer XDP-300R has 2 Sabre chips (left and right channel) as well as a separate balanced headphone jack. Not sure what retail prices and specials are today but suggested retail is probably somewhere in the $500-600 range which means you can find it for less.

I think the OPPO HA-2SE followup to my HA-2 is still retailing at $199. I didn’t check.

I shouldn’t go into some of the other enormous capabilities of the XDP-100R but suffice to say it is a full blown Android palm computer. It hosts and runs any Google Play app. I regularly use email (BlueMail), Dropbox, Skype, some internet browsing and a few other apps. The only thing it isn’t is a cell phone and a camera. It stores and plays (on a very nice display) pretty much any video format as well.

There is a TIDAL app for streaming MQA if you buy the account. The number of MQA (Warner and perhaps UMG now) masters released on TIDAL for streaming at this point is in the thousands including Zeppelin, Doors, Petty, Talking Heads, Costello, Black Sabbath, CSNY, Neil Young and many many other pop/rock legends.

Playing DSD and having it sound par excellence is easily achieved here.

Playing Studio Authenticated MQA on audio files or streaming is easily achieved here.

What I’ve found and written about elsewhere is that there are some huge gains to my ears in sound quality improvements when MQA Masters at the CD Red Book resolution (16/44.1) are upsampled to 2.8 or 5.6mHz DSD and played via a DSD DAC like the OPPO HA-2.  Other DACs supporting DoP (DSD over PCM) should work with the XDP’s in the same way.

The reason I think the MQA gains in reducing edgy, compressed CD-like sounding masters are greatest at this low resolution are due to the steepness of the brickwall filters used to cutoff frequencies above 20kHz. The backlash of this industry common way of filtering PCM is that it introduces large pre- and post-ringing echos on the digital signal.

This ringing also referred to as time smearing or blurring effect lessens with the increased resolution of the master recording (88.2k or 96k, 176.4k or 192k, 352.8 or 384k). DSD also measures very low in this ringing effect right out of the box.

MQA practically removes these echoes in its careful PCM technology and so the image you hear as a result is much more natural sounding and easier to listen to for longer periods of time.  Instruments and voices are much more naturally located in space (left to right, up and down) as well as less confusion in our brain as to what is going on with these echos we’re hearing before the note or pulse actually gets to us. The ear is much more sensitive to location than it is to pitch! Thank you Darwin.

What’s commonly referred to as ear fatigue then gets reduced greatly and you can continue to hear the music without having to give your ears breaks.

Upsampling to DSD is now also a common feature on audio players both software and hardware. Doing this with a decoded MQA digital signal is something I’ve found to be nothing short of magical in terms of what you end up hearing from the DSD DAC as an analog signal (ie, music).

So Mobile and Home HRA has made some mighty gains in what it can do for all listeners at prices that really most if not all listeners can afford if they are looking for audio gear to feed their music habits.

– DE

Streaming Hi-Res… “Crossing”

Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time…

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/davidelias24

David-Elias-Crossing-1400px-MQA

…is present high fidelity recordings of my stuff to as many people as possible. In the past this has been done using special gear which used to be a lot more expensive than it is today but still requires quite a bit of knowledge and interest in buying and setting up hi-res fidelity.

Today that has improved because they are ways to stream hi-res that don’t require any special hardware at all. I’ve been an MQA partner (artist/content) for over a year now and released a lot of 24-bit downloads of my work.

Now for the first time I have a streaming 16-bit CD version of the hi-res that will soon be on TIDAL and 7Digital/Onkyo as well as Deezer as remastered MQA. This was folded from the 16/352.8kHz DXD remaster.

On TIDAL’s HiFi subscription ($19.99/mo) you can hear full MQA masters and other 24/96 masters from thousands of titles coming from Warner. This includes the likes of Tom Petty, Costello, Black Sabbath, JT, Joni, CSNY, Talking Heads, Emmylou, Albert King, Alice Cooper, Bowie, America, The Who, The Doors, The Band…you get the idea.

With the 16-bit streaming version of hi-res MQA I can print the CDs that will sound just as good. Anyone with MQA decoding at their end will hear the full resolution on these hi-res albums as they get released.

For now, you can try streaming the whole album at the link! It’s not lossless MQA streaming from CDBaby like it is on TIDAL but maybe that’s the point cause it still sounds good.

Aloha!

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Hi-Res DSD MQA Integration To The Max…

I’ve been integrating audio components since…. …. …. never mind….. I’ve been integrating hi-res (HRA, hi-rez, high resolution) audio into my different playback systems since 2000….

I’ve never seen or heard a more advanced integrated Digital Audio Playback (DAP) device than the Pioneer XDP-100R I recently (finally) ordered.

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On the lower left is the Pioneer XDP-100R, last year’s model. There is now an XDP-300R. When the 100R came on market sometime over a year ago it listed and retailed for right around $699. Since then I found one for $299 new and have it with me pretty much all the time. 

I was very interested in it from the start because it was the only device I knew that play both MQA and DSD masters in a seamless fashion. 

The other device in the photo to the right is my trusted and beloved OPPO HA-2 (since replaced by the HA-2SE at OPPO, still retails for $299). The HA-2 provides the hefty headphone amp, native DSD conversion to analog playback as delivered from XDP, and lots of extra battery to run or charge the XDP from.

I can travel anywhere with *just* the XDP but there are sound reproduction results with the combination of those 2 devices that are very very very hard to beat especially (and almost exclusively today) if you want to hear and travel and hook your home system up to play both native DSD and MQA up to 384k unfolded. 

It delivers native or upsampled 5.6mHz DSD (for PCM tracks including decided MQA) with a quality of sound reproduction I believe is very hard to beat no matter what you use.

~~~~~ THE SHORT VERSION ~~~~~

I’ve written some audiophile friends about the new setup I have. It is portable, it is long term with battery twice over (really more). It perfectly delivers MQA as well as native DSD analog to any output recipient gear you have (headphones, Bluetooth, Line Out to stereo/studio). It has aeons (days, months, years?) of storage onboard for music or video.  

It doesn’t need a computer to play anything. It *is* a computer.

How does it do this? Here’s my answer:

– It’s an Android PDA (personal digital assistant) and digital player running Android 5.1.1 from Google.  This makes it a very usable and convenient multipurpose tablet that fits in your palm and can host all the Google Play apps you might throw at it. 

I’m using Bluemail and Skype mostly cause I don’t want to burden or clutter it (yet). What I’m saying is it can be your browser, email box, music (and video, hint hint), YouTube player, any media streaming or stored onboard all in one. 

It can’t be your cell phone though you can Skype with calls in and out for $6.99/mo. I’ve used Skype to call out to any cell or Skype or landline number for $2.99/mo. for a very long time when I don’t have cell service (which happens a lot on The Big Island).

By relieving my iPhone of the responsibility of being my portable music player (using the same HA-2 via DoP and the Onkyo HF player app) it freed up all the iPhone  storage (a very conservative 32GB total in comparison to XDP’s whopping 432GB) for photos and videos I take with the phone.  Good trade!

– It is an exceptional MQA decoder providing full resolution unfolding Other popular lower cost MQA DACs I’ve had and used like the Meridian Explorer2 are limited to 192k. None of these support DSD either. 

The TIDAL software player alone with no external DAC just gets you to 96K (one unfold) as will presumably other software MQA players.

– It is 100% DoP (DSD over PCM) compatible that allows it to deliver native DSD to an upstream device (in my case the OPPO HA-2) via a short USB wire (see photo).

– It upsamples PCM to DSD up to 5.6 (11.2mbps stereo) with real precision (no rounding errors) and sends this as DoP to the HA-2 as well….

– It hosts the TIDAL app for streaming MQA etc…

– It has a lot of battery depending what resolution you are playing and how much Android app you use concurrently — but — I back this up with the HA-2 which is also a battery charger good for at least 1x XDP charges.

– It has up to 432GB of storage (!) using 2 SD micro flash slots up to 200GB each on top of its internal 32GB memory for the OS, apps, and music etc.  The SD micro flash cards are of course unlimited in number if that’s not enough for you.  They fit on a thumbnail literally to carry.

– It weights about 7oz.  The HA-2 is a bit heavier (battery!).  All fit in the add-on XDP hard zippered case I got that fits anywhere with cables, Zipbuds PRO (check those out online Amazon for around $25 — and their  brand new “26” AptX wireless creation I got through Kickstarter) and other various audio detritus.

~~~~~ CONCLUSION ~~~~~

What I get from these two devices working together is unlimited headroom for amplification (HA-2 provides necessary oompff even though XDP supports up to 16-300oHm headphones) with the most sophisticated PCM sound ever experienced in my humble opinion. It plays native DSD beautifully as well!

The synergy of MQA decoding with DSD upsampling delivered through an analog 1-bit perfect conversion by OPPO’s HA-2 is a level of Sound Quality on the otherwise edgy compressed qualities of PCM I’ve never come close to experiencing. 

I’m saying MQA sounds great but MQA upsampled to DSD sounds better.

The 2 together fit in my jean jack inside pocket.

The XDP can play everything on its on however the DSD in that case is its PCM converted counterpart, the same as all non-native DSD media players and DACs including Korg’s AudioGate, JRiver and the like. These all also support DoP to connect a “real” DSD DAC to like OPPO, Mytek and many many more.

If you are asking: How can I play the full studio authenticated MQA as well as Native DSD from one setup both in my home and on the go and have all the battery and power for rock n’ roll that I need as well as the convenience of a full Android/Google tablet in my hand traveling around, then look no further…..

Onkyo has very a very similar nearly identical product in collaboration called the DP-X1.  There is also an Onkyo Music app that allows you to buy MQA and other downloads online.

Good stuff. Low Price (I got 2 x 200GB San Disk SD flashes for a total of $150 online btw). Very Amazing Sound.

Did I say it plays your videos stored as well in all the popular formats with 720p resolution. I really like its video quality too.

Aloha!

– DE

….integration….the secret sauce for MQA and all PCM is hi-res DSD upsampling. XDP can do this with HA-2 attached and the result is not like any CD you ever heard.

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The MQA Revolution – Once in a lifetime?

“MQA is a revolution that comes along once in a lifetime.” – Robert Hartley, TAS, July 2015

http://www.theabsolutesound.com/art…/beyond-high-resolution/

Since CES 2017 a week ago a lot of people have become a lot more curious about MQA.

I started reading a lot of detail about MQA in the latter part of 2015. I started listening to it in Feb. 2016 with a Meridian Explorer2 MQA DAC.

I became an MQA Ltd. content/artist partner a few months after that and released my first MQA titles as DXD (24/352.8) encoded with MQA and folded to 24/44.1 in June 2016.

I now have at least 20 CD to hi-res MQA master titles, mostly albums online at http://davidelias-mqa.com for preview and download. MQA sound quality has allowed me to release many things I’ve had in my back catalog as wonderfully natural sounding acoustic recordings. So yes, the way they were intended.

It was the PCM solution to good sound I had been looking for with a very tiny footprint to boot for downloading and hopefully streaming someday (like today). It didn’t replace DSD for me, it fixed PCM.

While a lot has been written about MQA in the past 18 months, I’ve found much of it to be highly politicized and not even always reported correctly.

I find that this article written by Robert Hartley a year an a half ago still serves as one of the best concise (not complete as he states) summaries of what is behind MQA sonically, not politically.

Hearing MQA is still what many have yet to do. But this article helps clearly explain “what” it is, not “why” it is.

I’m no expert no doubt but here’s something I can wholly suggest reading if you are seeking a better understanding of the MQA machinery finally at work in the market today.

If you are on TIDAL’s free trial or paid subscription and want to hear 2 excellent acoustic albums that have been with me my whole life, try James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”. This was 1970 if I remember right.

These two albums in my history with popular music were the very sparks of what went on to define what became the “singer-songwriter” genre some 25 years later.

JT’s master on TIDAL unfolds streaming to 24/192 with an MQA DAC (TIDAL player in passthrough mode) and sounds fantastic. Again if I remember right, “Blue” unfolds to 24/96. Just a truly amazing singer and her guitar or piano or dulcimer.

Aloha!

Try TIDAL’s offer for 90 days – Hi-Res, MQA Masters streaming to your desktop

Want to try MQA Masters for 90-days? TIDAL has a free subscription trial (you have to cancel to avoid paying after 90 days). Once I signed up I went to the Account and upgraded the subscription to the “HiFi” version. It says $19.99/mo but under the trial it didn’t charge me for the upgrade.  I then actually cancelled the subscription so it wouldn’t charge PayPal after 90 days. I can always sign up later again and start paying :)

http://tidal.com/us/lemonade-offer

de-tidalsetup000

[NOTE: If that 90-day offer special for Beyonce goes away here is there standard trial signup page for 30-days trial: http://tidal.com/us/try-now-b  — Select the trial for the HiFi-Masters program on the right. ]

Then download the TIDAL player from here — you need the desktop app to stream MQA masters (it says the Chrome browser will do it as well but I didn’t try that).
http://tidal.com/us/download

Choose the browser app (leftmost) to allow Master MQA playback from your computer.

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Once you are in the player you can find MQA under “What’s New” then scroll a page down and you’ll see “Masters” (I highlighted in yellow) in the center of the screen. Choose it to get to the MQA mastered titles. Then you can choose “Show All” to view all the albums available. I have quickly picked over 500 titles (choosing entire albums) and 36 hours of music to try this.

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If you have an MQA DAC (Meridian, Mytek,…) you can choose “Masters” again in the lower right corner of the player to popup the setup. You can pick your MQA DAC if it sees the driver. If not, you can use the TIDAL app to decode MQA within its limits whatever they are.

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In order to use my Meridian Explorer2 I also had to hover over the driver name then pick the Gear icon setup that allowed me to set the player in “Passthrough” mode which means it hands the audio to my MQA DAC for decoding. I prefer this because it supports up to 24/192k which I see for example on James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim” album playback. Amazing! Also choose the “Exclusive Mode” option too as a suggestion.

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I bought that LP when I was little more than 10 years old. I still listen to it a lot. Wore out a number of vinyl copies over the years. CD versions of this are never good at all, but the MQA playback at 24/192 streaming from TIDAL (all 3 LEDs and Blue Light) is incredibly good!

I added titles in my playlist from Joni, Jethro Tull, Sabbath, The Dead, Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, The Band, Jackson Browne…many others. They have some great stuff up there already. I then added Mott The Hoople, Todd Rundgren, Bowie, Dwight Yoakam, Mudcrutch, Mark Knopfler, CSN, Doors.  All albums, not songs. I’ve heard some of these CDs with distaste for decades! They sound great through the lossless streaming on TIDAL. What more can I say.

I have a slow Internet sometimes and buffering (stutter) has been a bit of a problem but when the skies are clear, the sound streams fine. This is a great way to try MQA masters lossless quality online without buying any new gear as the TIDAL player will decode the MQA for you. There may be advantages to having your own DAC at some point but not required… Enjoy!

Aloha! – DE