I gave Meridian’s co-founder Bob Stuart a difficult time a little over two years ago as he first told me about MQA, making it clear that I wasn’t going to tell you, my readers to buy Kind of Blue, again, no matter how compelling the demo he was about to show me would be.
The demo was amazing, and you wouldn’t expect anything less from Bob Stuart, undoubtedly one of high end audio’s most clever guys. Though Stuart is a confessed digital guy, it’s incredible that his latest creation is so analog sounding. A number of early reports on MQA have been less than bombastic, but like so many incredible things, the magic is in the details – in this case the fine details.
What Mr. Stuart has developed is certainly a paradox. As someone raised on fine analog, hearing MQA for the first time comes across as brilliant, but not in a hit your head with a mallet way. Yet the more analog you have heard, the more easily you’ll appreciate what MQA brings to the table. Music rendered via MQA has an ease and smoothness that you would normally associate with the best analog record and tape playback, in terms of musicality, with the dynamic range and speed accuracy you’d expect from digital. Sound like the best of both worlds? Well, it is.
Though Stuart started development work at Meridian, MQA is a separate company. As he mentions, “We had to set it up this way. First, it’s now a full-time job. Second it’s a completely different type of activity and in MQA we genuinely firewall our licensee activities from each other and that includes Meridian”.
It’s important to keep in mind that MQA is not really a new format, per se. Stuart and his staff say that MQA captures subtle timing information that is lost in the digital encoding process by creating a digital footprint of the recording chain of the album being played. In essence, they eliminate the sonic fingerprint of the gear going from the microphone to the DAC. Those worried that the sonic choices made by the artist and engineer to get said sound will be lost, have no fear. As much or little of the recording chain as the artist and/or producer want to leave in the mix can remain. This is why these recordings are referred to a “Master Authenticated.” They are all signed off on by the artist, so you know this is the record that the artist and producer intended you to hear in the first place.
From the mixing console: A chat with 2L’s Morten Lindberg and Bob Stuart:
Morten Lindberg of 2L Recordings in Norway, has created some of the world’s finest recordings before MQA was introduced, and he has been a very early adopter of Bob Stuart’s technology, taking things even further. Both of these gentlemen were kind enough to give me an hour of their time, right on the tail end of the Munich High End show to discuss their relationship and process.