Well, since Malaysia is in a nation-wide lockdown again due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, I have been locked up at home and started fiddling around with the laptop and listening to Tidal…and I have discovered something strange about Tidal’s MQA files.
There are various ‘Master’ versions of an album and there are differences in the sonics.
I was comparing the Tidal Master version of James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James album with HDtracks’ 24/192 version yesterday when I discovered something weird.
The title track on the Tidal Master version has the channels reversed when compared with the HDtracks’ hi-res version. The Tidal Master version has the violin on the left channel and the piano on the right while it is the reverse on the HDtracks version. For some strange reason, the other tracks in the album were not affected.
I was trying to figure out what was going on since yesterday and today I decided to do a search on Tidal for ‘Sweet Baby James’ and — lo and behold — there are in fact three Master versions of the James Taylor album.
This is where it gets even more interesting, but before I elaborate, let me reveal the system that I used — an Acer Aspire 5 laptop (with Intel Core i5-8265U chip), a Shunyata Sigma USB cable with iFi iSilencer+ and iFi iPurifier3, iFi ZEN DAC V2 (which is a full MQA decoder) and a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones.
The iFi ZEN DAC V2 will light up green when it plays an MQA file and blue when it is an MQA Studio file.
These are the peculiar things that I discovered:
- One Sweet Baby James Master track which had the iFi ZEN DAC V2 lighting up green (MQA) is louder than the other tracks of the same song in the other two Master albums. It has the violin on the left channel and piano on the right channel. In fact all the tracks on this Master album sounded louder than the tracks in the other two Master albums.
- The second Master file has the iFi ZEN DAC V2 lighting up blue (MQA Studio) and it has the violin on the right channel and the piano on the left channel. This version sounds smoother and fuller than the MQA version mentioned above.
- The third version, which is a 2019 Remaster, also lights up the blue light (MQA Studio) and it has the violin on the left channel and piano on the right channel. It also sounds smoother and fuller than the MQA version.
I honestly do not know what is going on.