MQA, Tidal and Sonos?


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Tidal is now making available a limited selection of MQA streams to its hi-fi subscribers, making it the first major streaming service to do so. Perhaps it's time to revisit the topic of whether Sonos will support MQA?

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This is not intended to be a discussion about Tidal's cash flow. One might assume that other services will experiment with MQA, now that the ball is rolling. I realize Sonos is not big on sound quality innovation, but if MQA proves promising and could see wider adoption in the future, why not consider it? I have no experience with MQA; I'm merely curious about Sonos plans. An earlier discussion on the topic was shut down with the suggestion that it be revived when somebody actually offers MQA streaming. Well, that day has arrived.
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And many others have concluded that higher resolution audio does have benefits. I am in that camp, although I'd be the first to acknowledge that those benefits are more obvious with good headphones and a good DAC and headphone amp. I'd rather not turn this into another one of those discussions. Let's assume that there are those who disagree with you on that topic and might want to explore higher quality sound from their Sonos speakers or Connect. Clearly Sonos must also see some benefit in "chasing the tiny market that is the Hi-Res audio crew," since Sonos is the only platform to offer Deezer's higher-resolution, higher cost streaming service.
I am a member of the club using Tidal for high quality music purposes. And yes MQA is the new hot topic I would like to use on my Sonos systems at home
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Sonos must also see some benefit in "chasing the tiny market that is the Hi-Res audio crew," since Sonos is the only platform to offer Deezer's higher-resolution, higher cost streaming service.
That doesn't follow. Deezer Elite is 'only' Red Book CD quality. Nothing to do with the tiny HiRes market.

By all means buy 'HiRes' releases for any superior mastering, but don't confuse that with a higher sampling rate and/or bit depth that only have relevance to non-humans.


You clearly want to start another "high-resolution music has no benefits discussion." This is not my intent. Not everybody shares your belief, so please proselytize elsewhere. In addition, I said "Deezer higher-resolution", not "high resolution".
You appear to be a reasonably intelligent person
How gracious!

You appear to have made a virtual career out of this forum with 20566 replies, yet you do not have enough respect to allow a discussion to continue without going on and on about the same off-topic assertions.

Much of that post count was accumulated during 5 years of moderating the old forums, a good bit of which was spent discouraging members from tearing chunks out of one another. I'll accordingly ignore the 'not enough respect' gibe. Seen that one before too.

Sonos can answer for themselves -- or not given their traditional reticence -- as to whether they'd consider MQA, but it's hardly 'off-topic' to question the logic of such a strategy.
If you are able to pick out hires from Redbook at an 80% rate when both are from the same master, in a true ABX blind test, then you would be the very first person in history to do so, and therefore a true biological and scientific phenom. I suggest you contact a university or audio manufacturer to duplicate these results and publish them in a suitable scientific journal. It would blow the doors off the audio reproduction community!!!

That being said, I don't know whether I could do that now because my ears have deteriorated considerably in the past couple of years and the differences are subtle.


Awww, shucks. And here I was so hopeful! :8
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Sonos must also see some benefit in "chasing the tiny market that is the Hi-Res audio crew," since Sonos is the only platform to offer Deezer's higher-resolution, higher cost streaming service.
That doesn't follow. Deezer Elite is 'only' Red Book CD quality. Nothing to do with the tiny HiRes market.

By all means buy 'HiRes' releases for any superior mastering, but don't confuse that with a higher sampling rate and/or bit depth that only have relevance to non-humans.


You clearly want to start another "high-resolution music has no benefits discussion." This is not my intent. Not everybody shares your belief, so please proselytize elsewhere. In addition, I said "Deezer higher-resolution", not "high resolution".


Listen (pun intended). Sonos sell an audio product. If they cannot HEAR nor can any laboratories detect any benefits for this thing then what else do you expect? Hi-Res does NOT have any benefit. Well maybe it does but NOT for the listeners!
According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_Quality_Authenticated#Decoders
Commercial MQA-capable playback devices require payment of a royalty to MQA Ltd per unit sold.

Based on information from Auralic, a manufacturer of Audiophile Wireless Audio Streamers, Meridian Audio prohibits digital output of unpacked MQA in any digital format, only allowing the unpacked data to be fed to an on-board MQA-compatible DAC and output in analog form. Some claim this to be a part of DRM process[citation needed], which allows a proper MQA file to be authenticated and the full quality of the signal decoded only on commercially-licensed equipment.

Royalty charge? DRM? Post-decoder digital output prohibited?

The words 'Sonos', 'barge pole' and 'not touch' come to mind, notwithstanding their stated lack of belief in HiRes on science grounds.
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Sonos must also see some benefit in "chasing the tiny market that is the Hi-Res audio crew," since Sonos is the only platform to offer Deezer's higher-resolution, higher cost streaming service.
That doesn't follow. Deezer Elite is 'only' Red Book CD quality. Nothing to do with the tiny HiRes market.

By all means buy 'HiRes' releases for any superior mastering, but don't confuse that with a higher sampling rate and/or bit depth that only have relevance to non-humans.


You clearly want to start another "high-resolution music has no benefits discussion." This is not my intent. Not everybody shares your belief, so please proselytize elsewhere. In addition, I said "Deezer higher-resolution", not "high resolution".


Listen (pun intended). Sonos sell an audio product. If they cannot HEAR nor can any laboratories detect any benefits for this thing then what else do you expect? Hi-Res does NOT have any benefit. Well maybe it does but NOT for the listeners!


That is your opinion, and perhaps that of Sonos. However, as we might speculate, Sonos could have other reasons for having that opinion. Perhaps their speakers are or are not up to the task of conveying the nuances of high-resolution audio. I don't know. Until or unless Sonos experiments with MQA, nobody will be able to judge whether it has an impact on Sonos equipment. Not you, not I. However, I am prepared to keep an open mind. You are already involved in another (current) discussion where you insist on informing the world that high-res has no benefit. And I can see from a quick search that you've been trying to tell us this for some some time. As you are well aware, this is a common discussion theme in audio forums, with believers on both sides. However, this was not intended to be a high-res vs. low-res discussion. So, respectfully, why don't you confine your opinions to a relevant discussion and let the rest of us continue, unfettered by your constant berating of high-res. We are allowed to believe that it has sonic benefits, and that MQA may have benefits. On the other hand, your comments about royalties, etc., are at least reasonable, although I would rather hear it from Meridian see "(citation needed)". Who is to say that they won't allow software unpacking in the future, if Auralic is correct? Who is to say that Aurelic is correct?
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Toolio...

I think one of the items to consider... aside from the question as to wether or not someone can hear a difference, is the practical legalities and cost structures that surround the use of some of the 'new' formats...

Ratty' comments above seem accurate...

Expecting Sonos to update all their players with abilities to decode an audio format with limited distribution where there is an expectation that every audio device enabled would require a royalty payment to enable it and then the potential restrictions on post decoding use... well, I think the business model puts this to rest before the audiophile discussion gets started.

Add to this the amount of open source work that is done in this space by audiophile/technophile geeks and I think we will see other alternatives that eliminate middle-men type organizations trying to make a buck on the control of a format.

Just a thought.
Terms like "believe" and "faith" are frequently used by the audiophile faithful. It's a religion to them. Very much like a certain odious politician, they have little use for facts. They think that their opinions are equivalent to facts. Wrong!
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I suppose "faith" would be used by the "faithful," wouldn't it? My facts are this. My Sonos equipment is for everyday, walkaround listening. For serious listening, I tend to gravitate toward my collection of headphones and DACS. Or better speakers (I spend my time in two countries; one of my homes has a much better speaker setup than the other and different headphones/DACs.) I can definitely hear the difference between redbook and 24/96 on a good headphone setup. I cannot hear the difference between 24/96 and 24/192, although I respect others' right to hear that difference. So while my Sonos gear isn't highest on the audio quality list (although I do think the Play 5 is very good for what it is) I see no harm whatsover in wondering whether MQA could make a decent Play 5 or Connect-powered system sound better.
Honestly, I have no idea because I have no experience with MQA on speakers, although one of my DACs handles MQA. Unfortunately, it is in the country in which I am not at the moment, so I'll have to wait to play around with Tidal MQA on headphones.
Nobody has presented any "facts" here about MQA and Sonos sound quality because nobody has any--with the possible exception of Sonos, who won't be saying anything. There have been some valid comments about royalties, other issues, and possible future alternatives to MQA. That's the kind of discussion I was hoping to start.
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I accept that you can't hear the difference; you'll have to accept that I and others can.
Forgive me if that comes across as a bit of the standard "emperor's new clothes" elitism which seems to be a hallmark of the subjectivist faction. The published results of a scientifically controlled test in which a representative sample of listeners can consistently differentiate would be helpful input to the debate.

What debate?
There should be no debate here. I asked a question about Sonos and MQA and now you think this is a debate about whether I or others can hear the difference in sound quality at different resolutions? Keep that "debate" elsewhere and leave this discussion on-topic. How many times, and in now many places, do you want to have the same discussion? It is ongoing in other threads in this community.
I have participated in dozens, if not hundreds of threads about the high-resolution issue in audio forums over the years. I am not going to do so here because some participants are hell-bent on hijacking yet another discussion. Had this been my intention, I would have asked a different question.
You appear to be a reasonably intelligent person, therefore I can only assume that you are aware that your request strays far from the original intent of this topic. However, I must tip my hat to your turn of phrase: "the standard "emperor's new clothes" elitism which seems to be a hallmark of the subjectivist faction." Where I see black and white boxes that produce sound, other see a "subjectivist faction" lol.
You appear to have made a virtual career out of this forum with 20566 replies, yet you do not have enough respect to allow a discussion to continue without going on and on about the same off-topic assertions. If you can't hear the difference, you can't hear the difference. Nobody is berating you for that. It is, however, unfortunate.
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Toolio. To use MQA the device needs an MQA compatible DAC. Sonos speakers don't have this DAC. Ergo. End of discussion.
At the moment, yes, and that's a good point. But that doesn't mean the situation won't change. I am far from an expert on MQA, but it was my impression from discussions elsewhere that MQA stream "unpacking" can be also done at the software level. Whether that will be sanctioned by MQA developers is another issue. And whether Sonos could, or would, produce firmware to accomplish that task is another. Also, as pointed out above, that could lead to royalty requests.
From an interview with the MQA honcho:

We already have software decoders for a number of hardware, portable and mobile platforms. In these three cases the decoder has the benefit of precise knowledge of the DAC and associated hardware.
See A42, there is no inherent quality difference between MQA decoders unless they are operating in designated power-saving modes. However, it is inevitable that a properly designed hardware product, incorporating the decoder and DAC will give the better result. The performance level that MQA enables, allows hardware makers an even better environment on which to stretch their skills. For the audiophile, this should be very exciting.
We do anticipate a program to enable such applications, but the requirement for tight DAC coupling and the obligation to match the previewed audio (in the studio) means that several combinations and options are still being explored with both DAC makers and creators of software players. We will make announcements in due course.


You may discuss this until you turn purple but the salient fact is Sonos speakers can't decode MQA. Ergo they will not decode MQA now or in the future because Sonos maintains compatibility between ALL its range which ALL use the same software. How about grouping an MQA compliant speaker with your other speakers...ain't gonna work.
24bit 96khz simply sounds better.

There isn't even one single variable level matched double blind test that establishes this. I am sorry to use that many adjectives for a test, but a test of that rigour is needed to eliminate the three reasons for things sounding better:
1. Mastering quality
2. Louder - even as small as 0.2dB louder - sounds better
3. All the biases that humans are hard wired with, notably Expectation Bias and Confirmation Bias.
But if these three things are not eliminated, it is very easy for 24/96 to sound better. But so can and does my Sonos kit. It just needs the same master, and knowledge of how 2 and 3 operate in the human hearing system/brain.
24bit 96khz simply sounds better. The higher sample rate fixes the timing to something closer that the human ear and brain process sound. Compare 16bit/44.1 to 24/96 and you can hear a difference. Other things to consider, the price point between SONOS and Bluesound hi-res players are not that much more.


"Fixes the timing to something closer that the human ear and brain process sound"? Sorry, but this is the biggest load of utter BS I've ever heard. Care to cite any actual scientific literature which says this? Any biological text? Any physiological study? Anything from evolutionary neuroscience which explains exactly how/why the higher sample rate more exactly mimics the way the brain processes sound?

Man, I thought I'd heard all the propaganda in the world when it comes to hi-res, but it turns out I haven't even scratched the surface. The ability of the snake oil industry to spout sheer and utter nonsense apparently has no limits.

Ask yourself, would you prefer to watch HD tv in 720p, 1080p or 4K ?? The current platform of SONOS puts us at the lowest end of hi-fi (CD quality)

Again, nonsense. Comparisons like these between video resolutions and audio resolutions show a less than bare-bones knowledge of the math, physics, and physiology involved. Increasing the sample rate of audio does not increase the "slices" or "pixels" of audio sampled. It can only increase the highest frequency contained in the samples. All it accomplishes is the ability to play back sound that is not audible to the human ear. A more proper comparison with video would be to say Hi-res audio is like a TV that shows ultraviolet light as well as the visual spectrum. But nobody is going to use that comparison because a TV reproducing ultraviolet light that no one can see is absurd (as is reproducing audio frequencies above 22 KHz that no one can hear).

You would do well to read Monty's page before speaking with such authority again:

https://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

Excellent way to explain this; worth keeping in mind. Actually it can be effectively used even where the video comparison has not been brought up.


Not really my analogy. Monty used it first. But yes, it is both accurate and useful (except for those who choose to ignore it).
The market that Sonos is interested in doesn't care about Hi Res. Those people that want it, ought to go elsewhere and most do. The target market is more interested in features like voice control, home automation integration, and using streaming services via native apps, while taking existing features for granted. Hi Res is a has been; touted in product marketing only because the hardware is cheap to make now, but not supported by content availability. And it is touted by those that are unable to match Sonos on the other useful things it does better than most out there.

Thankfully Sonos also cares enough about delivering sound of a quality such that I don't need to go elsewhere to get it, while also ticking the features boxes that matter to me, which do not include voice, by the way; whenever that comes it will be just a nice to have addition. And I do not know a product at its price point - or even at a few points above - that does all that it does, as well as it does.
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Only someone with ears like Dr Spock or a bat with an ear trumpet can tell the difference between 320kbs and hi-res. Audiophiles just want to brag and justify expensive equipment. Countless tests have proved they can't tell the difference. The rest of us get on with enjoying the music and Sonos rocks.
I'll assume you meant Mr. Spock, and somewhat famous for his pointed ears. Dr. Spock was a pediatrician, and didn't have much to do with aural issues.

There's a general consensus that lossy compression is not that hard to discern

I agree the choice isn't apples and oranges, but I have to say I go against the consensus. I can't hear any difference between my CDs ripped in Apple lossless/AIFF and those from the same quality recordings bought on iTunes, in 256 kbps AAC. On both play 1 units+Sub as well as on Connect Amp driving HiFi speakers. Perhaps my ears aren't good enough, perhaps it is because I am not listening just to identify differences anymore. Whatever the reason, the outcome is very liberating and now also good on the bank balance since Apple Music provides me with the same sound quality.
Tidal hasn't gone belly up yet? They've been bleeding cash since they started, never attracted enough subscribers to be cashflow positive. Sonos user base on Tidal? Can't be significant enough for Sonos to want to reengineer everything for something as dubious as MQA.
(Sonos streaming users) ≫ (Sonos lossless streaming users) ≫ (Sonos TIDAL users) ≫ (Sonos TIDAL users to whom MQA matters)

In short the proportion of Sonos' customer base affected must be miniscule so, IMO, they wouldn't touch MQA even if it wasn't proprietary.

Besides Sonos have said "There are arguments you could make about deeper bit depth, but we are unable to make a meaningful argument on sample rate." MQA is primarily about sample rate.
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This is not intended to be a discussion about Tidal's cash flow. One might assume that other services will experiment with MQA, now that the ball is rolling. I realize Sonos is not big on sound quality innovation, but if MQA proves promising and could see wider adoption in the future, why not consider it? I have no experience with MQA; I'm merely curious about Sonos plans. An earlier discussion on the topic was shut down with the suggestion that it be revived when somebody actually offers MQA streaming. Well, that day has arrived.

Not really sure why you felt it necessary to state "I realize Sonos is not big on sound quality innovation". We know where Sonos are with Hi-Res audio - They have done the technical literature reviews and there own analysis and concluded, as have most others, that there simply is NO qualitative benefit to the listener by using such technology. So, if you ask me, the innovation is realising the state of the art and not following the latest and greatest fad.

Now, obviously, if the landscape changes and new codecs suddenly offer demonstrable audio quality benefits you can be sure that Sonos will be there - Actually, I also think they would be there if a significant part of the market went that way even if there were no demonstrable benefit - they haven't got to be where they are by being Luddites.

And you must know, by now, that Sonos are highly unlikely to detail their plans on this or anything else for that matter.

And for what it's worth. If Tidal are chasing the tiny market that is the Hi-Res audio crew then they are, in my opinion, struggling. Why would THOSE folks think Sonos speakers are high end enough for them?
Sonos must also see some benefit in "chasing the tiny market that is the Hi-Res audio crew," since Sonos is the only platform to offer Deezer's higher-resolution, higher cost streaming service.
That doesn't follow. Deezer Elite is 'only' Red Book CD quality. Nothing to do with the tiny HiRes market.

By all means buy 'HiRes' releases for any superior mastering, but don't confuse that with a higher sampling rate and/or bit depth that only have relevance to non-humans.