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Tidal now displays “MASTER” - does SONOS now support MQA?

  • 16 April 2020
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I just noticed that Tidal displays “MASTER” now on MQA tracks where before it would kick down to “HIFI” - has SONAS started supporting MQA?  
 

my understanding before was that even if you were playing the master quality music, it would downgrade to hifi and this was reflected in the display.  What changed?  Audio Quality or just the display?

i have two gen 2 Play 5s with the sub in my office.  I enjoy the sound 😁

 

Thank you for any input!!!

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Best answer by ratty 16 April 2020, 09:11

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The new SONOS S2 update only supports 24-bit audio for local FLAC/ALAC files - no support for 24-bit streaming like TIDAL HD service etc.

 

It’s like they want me to go to B&O.

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I believe it is a bug in the iOS App. If you use Airplay instead of direct cast/control, it will say HiFi.

Side note/question, because I dont see many active Tidal/Sonos users in this community, could you try my most recent question I posted about and see if it replicates? It would be a huge help.

https://en.community.sonos.com/music-services-and-sources-228994/control-sonos-directly-from-the-tidal-app-issues-6841012?postid=16430090#post16430090

Actually, it looks like S2 has implemented something similar to Spotify Connect or Chromecast. This is NOT Airplay, it looks legit and it is possible that the MQA stream is being used - however, to no benefit in terms of sound quality if no unfold/rendering is taking place. If there is an MQA unfold happening, an external SPDIF DAC connected to one of the digital outputs (eg the Port’s) would tell you whether there is higher resolution being outputted.

 

If you select the SONOS speaker in the TIDAL app, it starts playing, and if you then kill the TIDAL app, it keeps playing, indicating the SONOS zone is receiving the stream directly from TIDAL - same as Spotify Connect or Chromecast. 

 

If you look at the Qobuz app for example, this is not yet implemented so I don’t see that SONOS speaker in the list of output devices.

Actually, it looks like S2 has implemented something similar to Spotify Connect or Chromecast. This is NOT Airplay, it looks legit and it is possible that the MQA stream is being used - however, to no benefit in terms of sound quality if no unfold/rendering is taking place. If there is an MQA unfold happening, an external SPDIF DAC connected to one of the digital outputs (eg the Port’s) would tell you whether there is higher resolution being outputted.

An external DAC would show 24-bits anyway, though it might show 16-bit when the volume is set to Fixed and the original content is 16-bit. It depends whether the DAC spots the empty lowest byte.

In the case of online content Sonos is not supporting 24-bit at this point, so it would be truncated to 16-bit.

Sonos does not include an MQA decoder, and I very much doubt they ever will.

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Actually, it looks like S2 has implemented something similar to Spotify Connect or Chromecast. This is NOT Airplay, it looks legit and it is possible that the MQA stream is being used - however, to no benefit in terms of sound quality if no unfold/rendering is taking place. If there is an MQA unfold happening, an external SPDIF DAC connected to one of the digital outputs (eg the Port’s) would tell you whether there is higher resolution being outputted.

An external DAC would show 24-bits anyway, though it might show 16-bit when the volume is set to Fixed and the original content is 16-bit. It depends whether the DAC spots the empty lowest byte.

In the case of online content Sonos is not supporting 24-bit at this point, so it would be truncated to 16-bit.

Sonos does not include an MQA decoder, and I very much doubt they ever will.

I meant the sample frequency, which in many high res MQA albums is 88 or 96 if there’s an unfold. If there’s no unfold, then we are not getting anything from MQA other than the logo. This would essentially amount, as you say, to truncating the 44/24 or 48/24 MQA streams to 44/16 or 48/16, thereby losing all of the MQA information anyway. 

 

BTW, the unfolded MQA stream to 88 or 96 KHz really doesn’t have more than 16 bit depth. So if it were to unfold and truncate giving you 16bit and either 88 or 96 KHz out of the SPDIF out, that would be better than not unfolding.

 

As for ever including an unfold/rendering of MQA, I am with you that it is unlikely as they would have to pay royalties to Mr Stuart.

BTW, the unfolded MQA stream to 88 or 96 KHz really doesn’t have more than 16 bit depth. So if it were to unfold and truncate giving you 16bit and either 88 or 96 KHz out of the SPDIF out, that would be better than not unfolding.

Lossy ultrasonics which cats can hear, and which can trigger intermodulation products in the audible spectrum in downstream equipment? That doesn’t sound ‘better’ in my book. Nor the fact that if played without a decoder the resolution is evidently limited to 13 bits. 

You might want to read up on the opinions of respected individuals in the HiFi industry who’ve shunned MQA. 

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BTW, the unfolded MQA stream to 88 or 96 KHz really doesn’t have more than 16 bit depth. So if it were to unfold and truncate giving you 16bit and either 88 or 96 KHz out of the SPDIF out, that would be better than not unfolding.

Lossy ultrasonics which cats can hear, and which can trigger intermodulation products in the audible spectrum in downstream equipment? That doesn’t sound ‘better’ in my book. Nor the fact that if played without a decoder the resolution is evidently limited to 13 bits. 

You might want to read up on the opinions of respected individuals in the HiFi industry who’ve shunned MQA. 

Couple of things:

1- I am not a fan of MQA, I don’t see the point other than a money grab

2- What you are talking about is not as you portray to be honest: The filter is a minimum phase filter which yes lets more high frequencies through, but can sound better and more natural in many circumstances - this has nothing to do with MQA per-se

3- In the standard MQA encoding (ie 24bit/44KHz or 24bit/48KHz) the redbook component is untouched, so this should sound as good as CD if not decoded - the 8 LSB bits amount to noise below the 16bit DR. MQA CDs are a different scam, there I agree with you. But why not simply use hi-res??? Argument was bandwidth when streaming, which is of course a moot point these days

4- What I find most disturbing about the scheme is statements like “as the artist intended” which are patently false - in fact this is why recording engineers DON’T like MQA: the encoding changes the sound of what they produced!

 

Having said all of the above, I don’t think the “sound quality” is bad at all, but most of the improvements in my experience come from careful remastering rather than anything MQA-related. A few examples are Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse - the best sounding versions of some of those albums are the MQA versions, almost surely because they went back to the master and did the job carefully. Again, nothing MQA-specific about that.

 

For the record, when I listen to MQA files I use a dCS Rossini DAC, Kondo Ongaku amp, and Avantgarde speakers. I do not think you can possibly distinguish MQA from just about any other CD or better format on a SONOS system.

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Agree with Miguelito!

In real life you will probably not notice any difference.  I ‘m having a hard time to hear the difference between Spotify and Tidal when playing music on a Play1.
But now when Sonos have support for 24-bits flac/alac Tidal could do the MQA decoding within the app and then send It as a 24-bit stream to Sonos.
So I actually think it is on Tidal to make the MQA decoding rather than Sonos (this is whats is happening today on a IOS device when you use Tidal).

 

BTW: Does anyone know if Roon is decoding the MQA stream to 24-bit on Sonos S2. I ended my subscription on Roon and can not test this.

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Replying to myself, it seems like Roon is not supporting Sonos S2 yet. https://community.roonlabs.com/t/hi-res-with-sonos-s2/109799

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Agree with Miguelito!

In real life you will probably not notice any difference.  I ‘m having a hard time to hear the difference between Spotify and Tidal when playing music on a Play1.
But now when Sonos have support for 24-bits flac/alac Tidal could do the MQA decoding within the app and then send It as a 24-bit stream to Sonos.
So I actually think it is on Tidal to make the MQA decoding rather than Sonos (this is whats is happening today on a IOS device when you use Tidal).

 

BTW: Does anyone know if Roon is decoding the MQA stream to 24-bit on Sonos S2. I ended my subscription on Roon and can not test this.

As far as I can tell, the maximum resolution SONOS S2 is supporting is 48KHz/24bit. However, in MQA there is no information past 16 bit. For example, a 48KHz/24bit file has 16 bits of true data, and the extra 8 bits are used to reconstruct information up to 96KHz (this is done in the first unfold).

 

So the extra resolution which S2 is claiming to have, namely 24 bits instead of 16 bits, is not useful for MQA.

As far as I can tell, the maximum resolution SONOS S2 is supporting is 48KHz/24bit. However, in MQA there is no information past 16 bit. For example, a 48KHz/24bit file has 16 bits of true data, and the extra 8 bits are used to reconstruct information up to 96KHz (this is done in the first unfold).

Actually playback on non-MQA devices is effectively limited to 13-bit, though it’s claimed that additional processing in some way compensates...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_Quality_Authenticated#Codec_description

 

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Replying to myself, it seems like Roon is not supporting Sonos S2 yet. https://community.roonlabs.com/t/hi-res-with-sonos-s2/109799

I’m not sure SONOS S2 supports anything higher than 24bit/48KHz:

 

https://support.sonos.com/s/article/79?language=en_US

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As far as I can tell, the maximum resolution SONOS S2 is supporting is 48KHz/24bit. However, in MQA there is no information past 16 bit. For example, a 48KHz/24bit file has 16 bits of true data, and the extra 8 bits are used to reconstruct information up to 96KHz (this is done in the first unfold).

Actually playback on non-MQA devices is effectively limited to 13-bit, though it’s claimed that additional processing in some way compensates...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_Quality_Authenticated#Codec_description

There is some confusion here… 

 

There is the “standard” MQA, which is either 24bit/44KHz or 24bit/48KHz. The vast majority of MQA files, certainly any file I have seen on TIDAL Masters, is of this type. In this file type, the top 16 bits are true to source, and the remaining 8 bits encode the necessary info to unfold (lossy) information to reconstruct information up to 88KHz (if original is 44KHz) or 96KHz (if original is 48KHz).

 

Then there is the “major scam” which is MQA CD. This is a 16bit/44KHz stream that can be written to standard CD format, and in this case there is 13 bits of true data and 3 bits of MQA encoding.

 

Having said all of this, I don’t see how TIDAL can do any better with MQA in the case of SONOS: The only improvement is resolution on S2 is in the 24bit depth at 44KHz or 48KHz, which an MQA stream does not have:

https://support.sonos.com/s/article/79?language=en_US

I concur with the observation about MQA CD.

Nevertheless with the full 24-bit version various commentators, some referencing the patents and, if I recall, some based on actual tests, have noted that the ‘baseband’ content does suffer some loss of resolution from the original 16-bits.

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I concur with the observation about MQA CD.

Nevertheless with the full 24-bit version various commentators, some referencing the patents and, if I recall, some based on actual tests, have noted that the ‘baseband’ content does suffer some loss of resolution from the original 16-bits.

That’s possible.

 

However, I will say that I own a BUNCH of SONOS speakers, ports, and amps. One of the amps is connected to fairly nice Klipsch speakers + sub. I don’t think the resolution of SONOS systems is good enough to be able to distinguish any resolution higher than CD or thereabouts.

I don’t think the resolution of SONOS systems is good enough to be able to distinguish any resolution higher than CD or thereabouts.

Nor are humans. The latest interesting study which evidently confirms this is being conducted by Mark Waldrep. Go here for his “HD-Audio Challenge II” posts. And Waldrep is the founder of AIX Records, a specialist in high resolution recordings. 

From https://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=6928

After the first HD-Audio Challenge seem to indicate that people even trained listeners with above average systems — couldn’t pick out an HD file from a Redbook CD, I began to have serious doubts about my previously held position. The hundreds of people that have participated in the second round of the HD-Audio Survey, have confirmed the results of the previous project. It is no longer possible to claim that “hi-res audio” is an important next step in the evolution of audio. HD-Audio is completely unnecessary for the reproduction of hi-fidelity. It is a very good thing to record using 96/24 PCM audio but for the distribution of music, it’s nothing more than a sales slogan.

Sales slogan, snake oil.  Tomayto, tomahto.

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I concur with the observation about MQA CD.

Nevertheless with the full 24-bit version various commentators, some referencing the patents and, if I recall, some based on actual tests, have noted that the ‘baseband’ content does suffer some loss of resolution from the original 16-bits.

That’s possible.

 

However, I will say that I own a BUNCH of SONOS speakers, ports, and amps. One of the amps is connected to fairly nice Klipsch speakers + sub. I don’t think the resolution of SONOS systems is good enough to be able to distinguish any resolution higher than CD or thereabouts.

 

I really like the Sonos “ecosystem” and therefore I have hoked-up my connect to an external DAC. It’s a bit unfortunate that Sonos don’t put more effort in to the high-end market.

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Finally I found the solution for Hi-res and MQA streaming compatibility. 

https://www.bluesound.com

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No it does not. You need a Hi-fi system for that. 

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Sonos can only handle up to 16/44.1 or cd quality, so Tidal masters/MQA files will be converted down.

That said, I don’t really consider Sonos to be audiophile quality. They’re nice and all but there are far better options (although maybe not for wireless speakers) if you really care about high quality audio.

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I’m pretty confused at what a Sonos Port running Qobuz or Tidal can support.   

 

If i read the statements in the posts above, it sounds like Sonos S2 playing off a locally stored FLAC file can play 24bit/48kHz, but playing from a streaming service like Qobuz or Tidal, it is limited to 16bit/44kHz???    And no MQA period.   

 

Is the answer different if the DAC in the Sonos Port is bypassed and goes straight over digital coax to a better DAC?

 

Now that Spotify is announcing “HiFi” we’ll have to wait and see what format that will support, and whether Sonos will include it in a software update….   

 

In the meantime, it appears that Bluesound 2i supports all of it, without limitation, including up to 24bit / 196 and MQA.   

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I’m pretty confused at what a Sonos Port running Qobuz or Tidal can support.   

 

If i read the statements in the posts above, it sounds like Sonos S2 playing off a locally stored FLAC file can play 24bit/48kHz, but playing from a streaming service like Qobuz or Tidal, it is limited to 16bit/44kHz???    And no MQA period.   

 

Is the answer different if the DAC in the Sonos Port is bypassed and goes straight over digital coax to a better DAC?

 

Now that Spotify is announcing “HiFi” we’ll have to wait and see what format that will support, and whether Sonos will include it in a software update….   

 

In the meantime, it appears that Bluesound 2i supports all of it, without limitation, including up to 24bit / 196 and MQA.   

 

Indeed, if you want no limitations Bluesound is a way to go. You won't have to worries about the future as they are real hi-fi speakers. The ones you buy today will still work tomorrow vs Sonos...

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It’s conceivable that Sonos is taking delivery of a 24/48 stream from Tidal. After all, Sonos will play 24/48 files from a local library. However as of now the 24-bit file is apparently truncated to 16-bit. Maybe with the coming S2 developments Sonos will choose to handle the full 24-bit PCM depth.  

Nevertheless Sonos doesn’t support the MQA encoding and, given historical comments that “the math isn’t there” for higher sample rates, it seems unlikely that they would license a proprietary MQA decoder to unpack ultrasonics from the lowest bits, particularly when it’s generally accepted that these could actually degrade the sound.

FYI https://www.stereophile.com/content/mqa-tested-part-2-fold

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If i read the statements in the posts above, it sounds like Sonos S2 playing off a locally stored FLAC file can play 24bit/48kHz, but playing from a streaming service like Qobuz or Tidal, it is limited to 16bit/44kHz???    And no MQA period.   

 

 

I tried to play a flac file in 44/24 on a connect with S2 to an external DAC, but only got 44/16.  However, it has been a while since I tested this.

 

Referencing Stereophile in regards to the veracity of High Res audio is like referencing PT Barnum on the veracity of the Cardiff GIant.  They are both in on the hoax.