The audiophile MQA format really doesn't have DRM, but that doesn't mean it's not on the toxic rainbow of locked tech


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/12/20/taste-the-toxic-rainbow.html


#2

MQA is just a shittier partially lossy version of FLAC. It has no discernible benefit over FLAC and prevents DACs from doing their own filtering. You don’t own the audio and you don’t own the decoder, so you can’t really use it beyond just accepting whatever experience the producer of the MQA file decided to give you.

If you want lossless just use FLAC. If you need the bitsavings of lossy, use something free like Vorbis, or Opus.


#3

A reminder:: Humans can’t hear the difference in audio encoded at higher sampling rates than CDs. The only benefit would be reduced artifacts when processing… but listeners should not be processing audio, it would only be valuable to those using it in samples, and only under exceedingly unusual circumstances.


#4

Reminds me of chefs who say I shouldn’t salt their creation. But it’s mine I’m going to do what I want with it, even if I “shouldn’t”. Listening enjoyment and taste are both subjective. So I’m not really buying into the idea that one must only listen to things exactly as a calibrated system says I should, not that there’s anything wrong with doing that if you want to.

On the other hand, I do understand that there is a difference in simple rates and bit depths that may be needed for aquisition versus end consumer playback. But I also never thoughtt 4K HDR would ever be a consumer format for video. So I’m frequently wrong about how much fidelity consumers need


#5

MQA’s got very good marketing, unfortunately, and many audiophiles will jump like lemmings on any new and shiny snake oil.


#6

Whilst it may lack some of the controls that DRM systems typically implement, it does smell a lot like DRM:

  • The audio files are signed, and can only be produced by (today) software in the MQA lab, or (future, apparently) hardware devices with embedded keys.
  • These encoders produce a chain-of-trust (or custody if you prefer) that is used to authenticate the producing devices.
  • MQA players must authenticate music as genuine and either refuse to play them, or downgrade playback quality for unauthenticated files.

The lack of public information makes it problematic to call definitively, though perhaps I’ve missed some details published somewhere (honestly, I don’t have much brain-space for this sort of nonsense product). If the (non-core) data is encrypted we probably need to call it DRM, and it will fall afoul of the DMCA, however if it’s just encoded using a proprietary algo, it’s not quite DRM, it just sucks.

Of course, we shouldn’t pay any attention to this format anyway, as it’s silly audiophile snake-oil designed to sell licenses, and open formats/encoders exist for encoding lossless audio at reasonable file sizes, and fantastic open lossy formats exist for saving space. High resolution lossy encoding simply makes no sense in any case.


#7

That to my mind definitely is DRM. And, I would think, more than enough to invoke anti-circumvention legal protection.


#8

When I say processing audio, I’m referring to filters used in digital audio workstations.

I can’t even think of any consumer gear that processes signals in a way that the sampling rate would be a factor. Reverb and graphic equalizers, although typically inappropriately used, would not gain anything from an increase in sample rate.


#9

Sounds pointless. FLAC fo ev.


#10

It’s complicated - I would presume that if the format is not encrypted and merely signed, reverse-engineered encoders and decoders would be fair game (patents notwithstanding), if they exclude the signing/authentication components. Of course, this makes such encoders useless if you want to play the resulting files on a licensed player, but as mentioned earlier, the whole endeavour is just rent-seeking without technical legitimacy or functional advantage over superior open formats.


#11

Oh yay. Another proprietary format war. What is this, the 90’s?


#12

Came here to say exactly this; FLAC has existed for years and the only real downside is file size…but that becomes less and less of a problem every year. And if you don’t mind lossy encoding, then MP3 is just fine.


#13

After the coronal mass ejection, none of this will matter.


#14

Indeed, room correction is processing and It is not unreasonable to do. Moreover DACs do processing in the form of the brick wall filter. Higher bandwidth is a trade off that makes sense for some listeners.


#15

I don’t understand how these products still exists. Given the many lessons which have been dealt to consumers, you would think they would simply reject anything which confined their use of the purchase?

“No buyers” can be a powerful influence. Focuses the mind.


#16

Yep, see DIVX (among many others).


#17

And MP3 doesn’t neccisarily need to be lossy in a way you can hear it. The particular encoding settings are important on what the damn things sound like. From the early days of MP3 where trash settings were used to keep file size down, we’ve largely moved to MP3s where you can’t hear the difference. Higher quality than CD, which is about the limit of our ability to distinguish.

You don’t neccisarily want to be mixing audio from MP3s. So flacc, aiff and other lossless formats have their purpose (@cosmotic . Anyone doing remixing, laying that shit into video generally playing around with audio in any creative capacity.

And proprietary formats are completely useless for that. Take .aiff, Apple’s proprietary lossless format. Its deeply tied into their creative software. If you aren’t on an Apple machine with Apple software. You’re often kind of SOL when you run into an .aiff. Until you can convert it over into something else. Its annoying but its not so locked down as to be useless. MQA sounds like it is.


#18

The format the article speaks about is not for music producers, the format is for consumers, as far as I can tell.

AIFF is similar to WAV; both are container formats and both typically (but not always) contain uncompressed PCM data. Neither are proprietary. Specs are available and both formats (WAV typically on Windows and AIFF typically on Mac) can be utilized on basically any operating system. Free, cross platform applications like audacity support PCM data stored within AIFF.


#19

Fortunately, the MQA format as it currently stands is encoded into the least significant bits of a standard PCM stream delivered through FLAC or any other lossless codec. The stream thus remains playable on any conventional DAC by design. Any attempt to use (the current form of) MQA as DRM would only be able to limit playback on hardware which intentionally conforms to MQA’s spec, and normal DACs which do not would be unaffected.

The downside is that you end up with an effective bit depth of 13 bits when playing back MQA encoded content on conventional equipment, so your noise floor is somewhat higher than standard 16 bit CD audio. Oh well.

The folks pushing this snake oil actually have the audacity to claim that MQA content played without an MQA decoder will somehow sound BETTER than normal 16 bit PCM, which is hilarious.


#20

but ONLY if you have the right cables! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: a lot of snake oil in the audio industry.