Nick, I appreciate the chance to share some of my story about MQA. I'll try to be brief which is sometimes hard for me
My history with hi-res starts late 1999/2000 being introduced to early SACD 2-track master archive workstation prototypes by my good friend Gus Skinas who was with the Sony SACD Project in the US. Hearing DSD was the first time I really was able to warm up to digital recordings, having largely sidestepped the CD boom years as a listener in favor of vinyl and even cassette over CD for what I considered "real" sound reproduction.
Over the following years I was able to self-produce 2 well received hybrid Mch SACDs "The Window" (2003) and "Crossing" (2005). The goal of these projects as well as those on CD before and those hi-res and otherwise to follow was overall the capture the essence of what was usually a very acoustic band (mine) in a live studio environment, without compression, isolation, edits or overdubs.
So I worked on those releases and came to be known by some with a signature for this honest acoustic ambient approach to making records. Hybrid layers of SACDs were good sounding and I liked that as well. But as you probably know SACDs had a tricky time surviving the changing markets over the years, though they have indeed survived which is great.
But in order for me to deliver music to non-audiophile listeners I had some real challenges getting the quality of recording playback I wanted based on what we had done with the studio masters in DSD. I even pioneered DSD downloads online in 2009 with "The Window" and others followed. But again, there were obstacles with the file sizes as well as just gear required by listeners to appreciate the productions.
Enter MQA... when I read about it in late 2015 I was very very interested in what it was saying about reducing the glaring edges to PCM by correcting the time smearing effects of pre- and post-ringing echoes. In early 2016 I was able to download some of the 2L MQA masters knowing them from the SACDs I owned from early exchanges in the mail years prior with Morten Lindberg. What I heard using a Meridian Explorer2 and JRiver was hugely impressive sounding knowing the detail and attention paid by 2L to their productions.
So I listened to more samples at the time and then began trying to contact MQA to see if and how my DSD masters might get converted to DXD and encoded with MQA. It appeared MQA might help break some big barriers I'd had as an artist trying to deliver high fidelity sounding music through more conventional channels, without the overhead of big files to download (still a problem for many in parts of the world or rural areas, including where I live) or even special gear to play the undecoded/unfolded tracks.
Streaming as a future, not to mention smartphone playback was also very interesting to me at the time. The first (streaming) happened within the year with Tidal and 7Digital. The second (smartphone app)looks like it's showing up now on LG and maybe others.
I finally did connect to the right team at MQA who were very amicable to working with me as a partner which we agreed upon around mid-2016. By July or so I started putting my MQA masters on my website and through a special catalog I setup on Bandcamp). This includes very decent sounding full previews which are not MQA authenticated but still good as samples.
The first conversions and MQA encodings I heard of my work convinced me MQA was a very effective approach to delivering excellent sounding PCM over more conventional delivery mechanisms in the current media world.
A surprising side to all that is that MQA sounds to my ears much more effective as improvements on regular CD masters (16/44.1 or 24/44.1), restoring the natural delivery of everything especially voice, and acoustic sounds that have very ambient attacks and decays. What's more, I find that an encoded MQA master (which requires specific ADC info to best produce) sounds very good regardless of whether or not it is decoded or unfolded on the playback side. This allows me, again, to deliver a very good sounding master to anyone who might hear it regardless of whether they know anything about MQA tech or not.
I released perhaps the very first MQA CD on disc in January this year "Two Track Mind" which is a 16/44.1 master of a hi-res PCM recording I did with just 2 mics (guitar and vocal). The MQA master version of this is not on Tidal, but might appear as a "Remastered" title eventually. I'm also working on more MQA CD disc releases as well as hi-res (folded) MQA CD releases at this time.
I don't try to compare DSD and MQA. What I do is try to find the best delivery for my masters in what I consider the highest quality of reproduction for that channel.
I learned a lot about the human ear through reading the various MQA discussions and tech writings. Sensitivity to timing and location are key. In fact, when someone new starts to join any ensemble of mine asks any questions about what I might want them to do musically, I only answer with the strong suggestion to just pay good attention to the band's timing, notes are abstract and totally changeable. I already know they can play the notes
So as an artist critical of the way things sound and trying achieve an honest representation of myself, or a trio, or full band/ensemble playing in a room (I often use mics in the room/ceilings and a live studio mix as the basis for all natural reverb, delay, and soundstage, no added effects needed) I have found MQA to be a great ally in delivering this again over the most conventional PCM distribution channels (streaming, CD, downloads).
Nearly all of my hi-res work was done with musicians standing/seated in either a large semi-circle or even a full circle. My great interest in surround sound was to try to place the listener in the center facing me. Our DSD Mch mixes were primary goals for both early SACDs I did but I continued this approach with later stereo releases as well. Maybe MQA will go ahead with multichannel support at some point, I would pleasantly be not surprised
I've described my impression of MQA's effect on the master in this way to some: It's as if the band is performing on a stage in front of the listener seated center not too far from the stage (say 4th row). It also appears as if the stage itself is elevated from the back such that the angle to the listener is somewhere around 30 degrees. So the singer in the center appears to have somehow moved forward and overall sound of the band is higher literally in the room and separated as it were from itself and the center delivery.
I'm no expert in any way and have only my understanding of the tech and many months of very careful listening to form my personal opinions here, but happy to share them. I'm apolitical as far as technologies. I have preferences of course to help accomplish my intent as an artist (MQA didn't tell me to say that!). What I prefer for my approach to recording and then producing the masters is to use whenever possible DSD as the source recording.
DSD avoids many pitfalls of PCM from the get go. It's been described as an analog approach to digital recording, with the analog (ie, tape) imperfections. I found that to be true in 2000 listening to master tape transfers and then my own test recordings to 2 tracks with 3 mics setup as a Decca tree.
Once a DSD master is achieved, converted to DXD and encoding as MQA makes it a very good candidate for all the places MQA is starting to appear now. DSD downloads are great for those setup in that arena. But there are still many missing these opportunities to hear it in its native format. In my view, DSD and MQA technologies really can support each other to reach new listeners with very high quality playback regardless of what the listener gear is or what the listener knows about the gear.
Thanks for your patience here. It's very exciting times for me to be able to continue efforts in hi-res with these kinds of new doors opening. Setbacks imposed back in 2004 with the first lossy iTunes (I had MP3's online long before that) are suddenly not acceptable to many.
So be it!
PS This year I've been using the Pioneer XDP-100R to achieve full resolution for MQA decoding and unfolding. As I've posted on blogs of my own, it is the most advanced integration of tech for audio I've ever seen or heard, I use it USB connected to my Oppo HA-2 for DSD (DoP) upsampled conversion to analog. Awesome sound in a incredibly mobile battery backed setup.