MQA Reacts to Recent Allegations, Says Youtube Video by GoldenSound Is Fundamentally Flawed

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(May 19, 2021) Last month, YouTuber GoldenSound published a scathing assessment of MQA's legitimacy as a studio-quality lossless codec. His video – I Published Music on TIDAL to Test MQA - MQA Review – has collected more than 219,000 views and become a focal point of discussions on audio forums across the net. The video and its blog-style summary posted on several different forums are presented as measured proof that MQA isn't what it claims to be.

At the risk of oversimplifying the creator's methods and conclusions, GoldenSound essentially placed test files (such as an impulse response, white noise, a -60dB dynamic range test sine, etc.) within a basic acoustic track, encoded it using an automatic MQA encoder, and uploaded it to TIDAL. The intent was to compare a test track to a master file, drawing conclusions through a direct 1-to-1 analysis. Results found significant differences, raising serious questions about MQA's techniques and claims, ultimately concluding that MQA is duping consumers.

Click here to watch GoldenSound's full video.

This isn't the first time MQA has taken heat, and it likely won't be last. Discussions involving the company and its technology are complex, well documented, typically far from flattering, and endlessly controversial. Detractors claim MQA is a solution for a non-problem, lossy in nature, and incapable of definitively "sounding better" than other codecs. Additionally, there's a cloud of suspicion that MQA is a digital rights management-like profiteering platform. On the other hand, supporters claim MQA files sound better, and are unabashedly impressed by the technology's advanced billing – they're willing to hold hands with the tech and take a leap of faith. Of course, both camps likely comprise a sliver of music fans worldwide; most are primarily concerned with portability and convenience.

MQA is unapologetically protective of its intellectual property. For those of you wanting the company to pull back the curtain and reveal all, that's likely never going to happen. IP is IP, and MQA isn't interested in revealing the exact ingredients of its secret sauce. From MQA's point of view, its legitimacy and technical approach has been adequately established through white papers and articles in peer-reviewed journals. And the company is quick to tout its approval by the Recording Industry Association of America, support from major labels and top-flight mastering houses, and creator Bob Stuart's legacy of innovation and industry recognition.

Soon after GoldenSound's video went live, I contacted a colleague at a well-known industry manufacturer, looking to gain some insight from that company's team of product engineers. My hope was to lean on wiser eyes and receive an off-the-record analysis backed by experience in the segment. The manufacturer ultimately responded with a friendly pass – which is completely understandable – but it did lead to a healthy dialog with MQA, which was more than happy to chat. I ultimately asked MQA for a plain-speak evaluation of GoldenSound's conclusions and a detailed explanation of how GoldenSound's test track differs from content like techno and electronica.

MQA supplied its response several weeks ago and is currently planning to release much (if not all) of the response through its own media channel. While on par with its published correspondence with GoldenSound prior to his video's launch, I've decided to summarize the company's stance. What you, the reader, do with this information is entirely up to you. It certainly raises serious questions about GoldenSound's methods and results. However, it doesn't provide any sort of proposal as to how independent analyses of the technology can be performed.

At the most basic level, MQA says GoldenSound's methods were biased and designed to discredit the company and Bob Stuart (MQA's creator), making any conclusions tainted. "We welcome honest and healthy debate," stated MQA. "However, we will not enter into discussion with those shown to be part of the toxic trolling of [our] team and technology."

MQA also says GoldenSound falsely portrayed the company's reaction to his test tracks on TIDAL. GoldenSound claims that MQA deleted his uploaded content from TIDAL; however, MQA says that's not the case. "MQA is neither a music copyright holder nor a distributor," the company explained. "We have no rights to remove content from a service, nor do we have access to the audio. Music is delivered to streaming services by the rights-holders (labels and artists), and the supply chain is either direct or via a distributor or aggregator, in accordance with their agreements."

The company adds that GoldenSound falsely suggests that his content was forcibly published in MQA. "The YouTuber noted that his content was only made available in TIDAL Masters in MQA, suggesting that we had suppressed the 44/16b Redbook version from the HiFi tier. As stated above, MQA has absolutely no role in managing the music within a service."

Beyond those targeted responses, the bulk of MQA's plain speak rebuttal suggests that GoldenSound's tests were "fundamentally flawed," leading to conclusions that are "entirely off the mark." The company confirmed that GoldenSound shared his results prior to publishing his video, but says he failed to accept or act upon its response. "Despite providing him with detailed clarifications to each of his allegations in advance of publishing, he decided to proceed with his inaccurate and defamatory video."

Click here to read MQA's original, full response sent to GoldenSound.

According to MQA, GoldenSound's approach was doomed to fail because it didn't fulfill basic requirements. "The YouTuber ignored our guidance around a central flaw in his test, which is the fact that the encoder he used is designed for musical content and will, by design, fail when attempting to feed it test signals."

GoldenSound's use of non-musical content, says MQA, directly contributed to issues on the output end. "The encoder he had access to runs in an automatic mode and depends on the individual to confirm satisfaction with the resulting audio file. By feeding this particular encoder with a mixture of music and test signals, the encoder detected overloads, technical errors, unusual noise in the recordings, and issued numerous warnings and error messages. The encoder knows when it is being driven outside of its performance envelope, and he disregarded the warnings. Ironically, the only accurate result from his flawed test is a confirmation that our tool behaved precisely as it was designed to when being used incorrectly."

MQA says the automatic encoder objected to 11 of the 14 files GoldenSound submitted, with the remaining three files receiving the following warnings in log returns:
  • Audio invalid ‐ Excessive alias
  • Audio invalid ‐ Input audio is predominantly 16 bits while file container is 24 bits Input audio appears to have been wrapped
  • Input audio contains a band edge
  • Encode may not have worked as desired and may require further QC
MQA says the automatic encoder GoldenSound used is designed to expect a range of peak spectral levels found in music across the spectrum of low to high frequencies. If those parameters aren't satisfied, then output will be tainted. The company says different classes of MQA encoders exist for various applications. "Extensive tools and facilities are available to mastering engineers and labels. Even more facilities to control the debarring and encapsulation processes are used for 'white-glove' projects."

After digesting MQA's plain speak response, I asked the company to explain how GoldenSound's use of test signals differs from techno or electronica (music that can sound like it has test signals). Bob Stuart replied with a five-page technical explanation, beginning with a dissection of GoldenSound's audio file and reiterating that MQA's automatic encoder is designed for music content. Stuart says GoldenSound's file (as posted on his download link) features test signals that were "interleaved" with music segments and "included to 'trick' the encoder into treating it as music." He continued by explaining the file's signal was out of gamut in several places, contained significant "washboard" distortion, and its segment's noise floors alternated between 24, 22, 12, and 6-bit levels.

Stuart says spectral levels of music (including techno, rock, pop, jazz, metal, and classical genres) mimic each other, with the bulk of energy appearing below 12kHz, quickly tapering off after that. In other words, lower frequencies are higher in level than high frequencies, and this holds true independent of genre.

Stuart also asserts that individual music recordings have a unique peak spectrum and noise floor, which can be identified and enclosed within a triangle on a diagram that plots decibels versus linear frequency. MQA uses these principles to identify musical information, encoding it with a very high level of precision. "The benefit of the MQA approach is we can use a novel sampling method with much lower temporal smearing that matches the actual signal character."

GoldenSound's tracks, according to Stuart, failed to approximate real-world music's spectral levels, nor did they have a consistent noise floor. The 44.1 kHz composite file contains "very high levels that, at 22 kHz, exceed music content by 30dB." The 88.2 kHz composite file is more problematic, exceeding musical content by 50dB at 44 kHz and 60dB in the ultrasonics. Stuart continued by saying the bulk of its power resides dangerously above 20 kHz. "Such extreme ultrasonic energy would readily damage tweeters or amplifiers," explained Stuart. "Professional mastering engineers are extremely careful to avoid any high-frequency whistle or interference above 20 kHz."

Long story short, Stuart maintains that GoldenSound's files contained unsafe ultrasonic signals that were identified and flagged with error messages. GoldenSound, he says, ignored these errors, which "simply does not happen in the normal professional supply chain where the MQA encoder analysis is monitored and highly valued [as an] forensic quality assurance check." The result essentially approximates a garbage-in/garbage-out scenario. Stuart says the files could have been encoded as MQA using a 'white glove' encoder.

Stuart's response, of course, includes quite a few complexities that are difficult to generalize. I'm told it will be released on his blog, Bob Talks, soon.

Taking MQA's explanation at face value, many of the issues revealed by GoldenSound result directly from content that failed to satisfy basic principles expected by MQA's automatic encoding technology. Assuming this is true, a scientific approach suggests that GoldenSound's tests need to be repeated with files that fit within MQA's encoding parameters.

Objectively speaking, MQA is currently a market option that consumers can circumvent by sourcing music from alternative services. This doesn't help enthusiasts who want to use TIDAL while avoiding MQA, nor does it satisfy detractors that fear MQA is actively inserting itself as an alternative form of digital rights management. The solution appears to be an open-source or standardized approach, which hardly seems viable given MQA's interest in protecting its proprietary technology. Of course, fans of MQA encoded tracks are free to continue enjoying their music – when it comes to audio, perceptual happiness is the ultimate judge.
 
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Sonnie

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Very interesting... thanks for digging into it more and sharing both sides. MQA still does nothing for me, so I don't care if I have it or not, and actually don't need it. I did express to Tidal that if they allow a lesser expensive version of Tidal at some point in time, I might consider subscribing again.
 

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Just for illustration, here's a graphic supplied by Bob Stuart showing the peak spectral highs for most all kinds of music, along with those found within the file uploaded to YouTube.


42221



Basically, MQA is built to expect something along the brown line. He's saying the file didn't even come close to satisfying that, which resulted in error messages and garbage output.

As we've all discussed, this is something you need to take at face value, and that's one of the problems with closed IP technology.
 
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At the end of the day it seems the youtuber denigrated his own brand instead of the MQA brand. Thanks for taking the time to get the rebuttal from MQA and publishing it. :)
 

Mike-48

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I think it's still not been demonstrated with open science that MQA offers anything to the consumer other than pleasant, if probably lossy, DSP. It clearly does have value for MQA Ltd as a revenue extractor, and perhaps for labels as copy protection for original-format material.

Leaving that aside, I think the main issue relevant to AVNirvana readers (and others who use DSP in audio or home-theater systems) is that MQA prevents output of a decoded plain PCM signal to which DSP can be applied. If I have to choose between MQA's poorly documented DSP and DSP that I apply myself to solve identifiable problems, I'll toss out MQA any day.

(After all, I just won a UMIK-2 on AVNirvana and plan to use it to apply DSP.)
 
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Botnick will know these tracks inside out being The Doors' longtime engineer, so it is of particular interest that he chose to use the MQA master file for all formats: vinyl and CD, as well as streaming on TIDAL.

Bruce Botnick told StereoNET:

"One of the great pleasures of MQA, beyond its ability to give the listener high-resolution sound, is having a true centre come out of two loudspeakers or earphones. The deblurring process corrects the image shift in such a way that, when listening to a playback, it's easy to imagine that there is a discrete centre loudspeaker. MQA, for me, is quite an emotional experience."
 

Todd Anderson

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I'm curious, to hear some opinions about the GoldenSound video. What was your impression of the video when you first viewed it? What's your impression now?

For me, it had the appearance of cold hard fact, though the creator made a few comments in his blog-style summary post that left me wondering if there were flaws to his approach. Now, after talking to MQA, I think there's enough doubt to taint the results of the video. I wouldn't go as far as to say they should be ignored (yet), but they need to be verified. IMO, there are enough questions that the video should probably be taken down until results can be replicated with test files that satisfy expectations of the automatic encoder. It could be that replication would produce results that mirror the video... but, MQA is saying they won't. So, time to look for ways to verify.
 

lamode

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MQA is a fraud which provides no benefit to the consumer but plenty of headaches. Luckily it seems the writing is on the wall. Good riddance.
 
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I prefer the videos by the actual engineers who are doing the mixes. I posted the comment from the Door's engineer Bruce Botnick. He didn't HAVE to remix the new vinyl format from the MQA mix, he had the original master tapes. He CHOSE to use the MQA mix and I don't believe he did it so the new vinyl issues would sound worse than the originals right? Bob Ludwig has TWELVE Grammy's and I think he brings slightly more credibility than the other video and here is his opinion:
 

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My opinion--

I think there is a dispute. There is no reason to give MQA the benefit of the doubt in it. They have a financial interest, and they have never demonstrated that MQA is lossless, or is anything other than DSP some find pleasant. They have never published clear, open science about their process. Instead, they shout down their critics. Have you seen the video of their heckling of Chris Connaker when he gave a talk about MQA?

Even leaving that aside, MQA is an answer without a question, and as I said in my previous post, it is a serious obstacle to some really interesting developments in audio, i.e., anything that involves DSP. Progress is not being made with yet another proprietary, lossy, codec; but I would argue that it is being made by vendors like Anthem, Dirac, miniDSP, NAD, Dutch & Dutch, and Kii, and all of those are imperiled by MQA.

That one recording engineer likes it is not of much interest to me, especially when you can find -- easily -- many respected manufacturers, engineers, and musicians who say it is an alteration to their music.
 
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Paul Kane

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I'm curious, to hear some opinions about the GoldenSound video. What was your impression of the video when you first viewed it? What's your impression now?

For me, it had the appearance of cold hard fact, though the creator made a few comments in his blog-style summary post that left me wondering if there were flaws to his approach. Now, after talking to MQA, I think there's enough doubt to taint the results of the video. I wouldn't go as far as to say they should be ignored (yet), but they need to be verified. IMO, there are enough questions that the video should probably be taken down until results can be replicated with test files that satisfy expectations of the automatic encoder. It could be that replication would produce results that mirror the video... but, MQA is saying they won't. So, time to look for ways to verify.
I can understand Bob's claims that MQA encoder has problems digesting test signals. It may not be designed to handle such extreme cases. But, the best way to counter objections is to provide some examples of properly MQA-encoded material that can be compared to the hi-res originals. What I don't understand is the steadfast refusal to let anyone not bound by NDA to compare MQA-encoded content to the original sources. This doesn't reveal IP and can demonstrate MQA superiority to the "masses". Of course, refusing to allow a direct comparison can only serve to raise more suspicions and speculations.
 

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I can understand Bob's claims that MQA encoder has problems digesting test signals. It may not be designed to handle such extreme cases. But, the best way to counter objections is to provide some examples of properly MQA-encoded material that can be compared to the hi-res originals. What I don't understand is the steadfast refusal to let anyone not bound by NDA to compare MQA-encoded content to the original sources. This doesn't reveal IP and can demonstrate MQA superiority to the "masses". Of course, refusing to allow a direct comparison can only serve to raise more suspicions and speculations.
I agree, Paul. So, the track violated encoder principles... logic would say the rebuttal response would include a pathway to show everyone what investigators are looking to achieve. That can be done without revealing IP, I'd assume?
 

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I'm curious, to hear some opinions about the GoldenSound video. What was your impression of the video when you first viewed it? What's your impression now?

For me, it had the appearance of cold hard fact, though the creator made a few comments in his blog-style summary post that left me wondering if there were flaws to his approach. Now, after talking to MQA, I think there's enough doubt to taint the results of the video. I wouldn't go as far as to say they should be ignored (yet), but they need to be verified. IMO, there are enough questions that the video should probably be taken down until results can be replicated with test files that satisfy expectations of the automatic encoder. It could be that replication would produce results that mirror the video... but, MQA is saying they won't. So, time to look for ways to verify.
While there may be doubts in some parts of the process of GoldenSound's testing methodology, there is enough information for the inquisitive to find and review even more in-depth articles regarding MQA and its use by Tidal...

I don't agree @Todd Anderson that the video should be taken down by anyone other than the author, if they were so inclined... It seems that if there is much untruth and/or slander that MQA would seek legal recourse, which I doubt they will, as it would open a Big Can Of Worms in Legal Discovery...

It would also be interesting to understand more about the relationship Neil Young had with Bob Stuart in the Pono days and what exactly Neil has to say about what he thought MQA/Tidal did with/to his catalogue and why he pulled it from Tidal and eventually went with Qobuz and possibly others...

There seems to be much obfuscation afoot with many leading equipment manufactures, engineers, musicians, and content delivery services both for and against MQA... We live in interesting times...

By the way, there are some comparison examples of several high rez formats, including MQA, at http://www.2l.no/hires/
 
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Todd Anderson

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While there may be doubts in some parts of the process of GoldenSound's testing methodology, there is enough information for the inquisitive to find and review even more in-depth articles regarding MQA and its use by Tidal...

I don't agree @Todd Anderson that the video should be taken down by anyone other than the author, if they were so inclined... It seems that if there is much untruth and/or slander that MQA would seek legal recourse, which I doubt they will, as it would open a Big Can Of Worms in Legal Discovery...

It would also be interesting to understand more about the relationship Neil Young had with Bob Stuart in the Pono days and what exactly Neil has to say about what he thought MQA/Tidal did with/to his catalogue and why he pulled it from Tidal and eventually went with Qobuz and possibly others...

There seems to be much obfuscation afoot with many leading equipment manufactures, engineers, musicians, and content delivery services both for and against MQA... We live in interesting times...

By the way, there are some comparison examples of several high rez formats, including MQA, at http://www.2l.no/hires/
Great points. And I agree 100%, if that video were taken down, it should only be done by the creator. It’s his content, he should be in control.
 

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"the encoder he used is designed for musical content and will, by design, fail when attempting to feed it test signals"

LOL......
MQA is claiming that the "automatic" encoder the youtuber used is programmed to expect sounds (music or not) that fall within specific peak spectral levels from low to high frequencies. The test file didn't come close to satisfying that, hence the reason it issued the warnings/errors. MQA says that the file could be encoded, but requires the use of encoding software that's not offered as part of their automatic encoder.

Take that for what you will.
 
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What I find interesting is that MQA seems to be polarizing. I hate DSD because the music I like is generally not available in that format, it's expensive and it increases the cost of DAC;s whether or not you will ever use it. I would NEVER try and convince a DSD fan that they are wrong, that it sucks, it's scam, tell them to boycott, etc.
Here some guy with a youtube channel starts to get a boycott of Tidal going? Seriously? His arguments should stand on their own and he shouldn't have to be a shill/troll whatever. If I post about MQA I typically link to the guys that mixed the track, if they don't know what it should sound like nobody else does either :).
 

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Just listen to Morten Lindberg TWENTY EIGHT Grammy nominations, how wrong is this guy gonna be? Not!
In all seriously, how many Grammy wins? Isn't this the guy that runs the web site I linked to in the above comment #14? Seems like lots of skin in the game...
 
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ddude003

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One win I'm happy to say:
Good for him... Curious as to what format it was produced and mastered in... Does MQA do any Surround formats? And given the statement of the MQA Encoder only working correctly on music data, what would MQA do to a movie soundtrack... Music, dialogue and sound fx...

I still wonder what Jack Dorsey and Square, Inc. will bring to the table for Tidal... Content is king and distribution is the power behind the throne...
 
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ddude003

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Todd Anderson

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Good for him... Curious as to what format it was produced and mastered in... Does MQA do any Surround formats? And given the statement of the MQA Encoder only working correctly on music data, what would MQA do to a movie soundtrack... Music, dialogue and sound fx...

I still wonder what Jack Dorsey and Square, Inc. will bring to the table for Tidal... Content is king and distribution is the power behind the throne...
They're saying the automatic encoder is designed to encode music... but other versions of their encoding software could be used to encode things like the test signals (or, theoretically, movies).

There's definitely an element of controlling content... that's where open IP makes everyone more comfortable. It's a mess, alright.
 

ddude003

Active Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
613
Location
Somewhere Northeast of Kansas City Missouri
My AV System  
Preamp, Processor or Receiver
PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium TubePre (2 channel+sub)
Main Amp
McIntosh MC152 SS Amp (2 channel)
Additional Amp
Yamaha RX-A850 Pro (the other 5 channels lol)
Computer Audio
MacBook Pro, Custom i7 7700k De-lid build & Audirvana+
DAC
Chord Qutest
Universal / Blu-ray / CD Player
LG Blue-Ray
Front Speakers
Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL
Center Channel Speaker
Martin Logan Motion C2
Surround Speakers
Martin Logan Motion 4
Surround Back Speakers
Martin Logan Motion 4 (yes, another set of these)
Subwoofers
Martin Logan Dynamo 700
Other Speakers or Equipment
Cifte 12AU7 NOS & Genalex Gold Lion Tubes in Pre
Video Display Device
Sony TV KDL50W700B
Remote Control
Lumin iApp...
Streaming Equipment
LuminU1 Mini Streamer/Transport
Streaming Subscriptions
Roon & QoBuz Studio Premier, Amazon Prime & Netflix
Other Equipment
ThrowRug, SaddleBlankets, WideBand & BaseTraps...
Spotify, Apple and Amazon hold the top market share for Streaming Music Content... Together Tidal and Quboz hold less than 10%... There are moves by Spotify, Apple and Amazon into HigherRez... Is there anything MQA brings to Spotify, Apple or Amazon in the HigherRez department? I don't think so... It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out...

Now if Jack could get every Twitter user to use Tidal, that could be something!!! As always, there are a bunch of M&A opportunities in this domain... Players are gonna play... Remember there are 6 companies/conglomerates that own almost all media content...
 
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