I wanted to compare some MQA-encoded files to files made from the same performance but encoded in other formats. Thankfully, the Norwegian company 2L has a collection of files mostly originally recorded in DXD (384kHz/24-bit PCM) and converted to other formats.Here are my impressions of a couple of the MQA conversions.
“Ubi Caritas” is a piano improvisation by pianist Ola Gjeilo on the album Piano Improvisations [24/352.8 FLAC, 2L]. The MQA version sounded quite dynamic, with realistic leading-edge transients, sustain of the notes, and decay. It had a powerful rhythmic flow. This is a good jazz album for people who aren’t big jazz fans.
“Snilla Patea” is a catchy song written by Bjørn Kåre Odde for fiddle and chorus (24/352.8 FLAC, 2L). The composer plays the fiddle part, while the versatile Schola Cantorum chorus sings the choral part. The MQA version of “Snilla Patea” sounded smooth, with no edge on the fiddle, and presented a large soundstage where the performers exhibited startling palpability and presence. Due to the limits of the Bridge II card, the MQA file only unfolded to 176.4kHz rather than to the orignal 384kHz sample rate of the master recording.
I wanted to compare the MQA files to the original DXD recordings, but the Bridge II wouldn’t handle such high sampling rates and produced a loud noise instead of music. However, I had a DSD64 copy of “Ubi Caritas” so I listened to that. It sounded very natural, with a realistic harmonic structure and a sense of upbeat energy. However, it sounded a bit mechanical compared to the MQA version.
PS Audio continues to make its products user-upgradeable. This latest upgrade, which adds MQA unfolding to its acclaimed DirectStream DAC, continues the tradition with a feature requested by many customers. Gotta love that.
Did the upgrade succeed? Yes, within the limits of the Bridge II card. It doesn’t convert the DirectStream DAC to a fully MQA-capable DAC; it only decodes MQA files played over a network. And the Bridge II has limits that prevent full unfolding of the highest-sampling-rate MQA files. So is it worth the price?
Yes, for several reasons: The DirectStream DAC remains one of the best I’ve heard, and PS Audio has pursued a path of significant upgrades that has made its DAC even better. Having an internal file player on the Bridge II reduces clutter on your audio rack. Most importantly, the MQA files I auditioned sounded more natural, higher in detail and lower in time smear. It wasn’t a night-and-day difference—you don’t need to erase all your current digital music files and repurchase them with MQA encoding. But for playing the relatively few MQA downloads currently available, and for streaming the limited number of Tidal Masters albums, PS Audio’s Bridge II card makes a welcome improvement in sound.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Plug-in MQA card for PS Audio DirectStream DAC
Connectivity: Network only
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