Bob Stuart, creator of MQA and co-founder of Meridian Audio, has been awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering Prince Philip Medal for “his exceptional contribution to audio engineering which has changed the way we listen to music and experience films.” This makes Stuart the first audio engineer to receive the award in its 20-year history.
Previous recipients of the Prince Philip Medal include inventor of the turbojet engine, Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE CB FREng FRS; geothermal power innovator, Lucien Bronicki; and the electrical engineer who revolutionised fibre optics, Dr Charles Kao CBE FRS FREng.
Commissioned by HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh KG KT, Senior Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Prince Philip Medal is awarded periodically to an engineer of any nationality who has made “exceptional contributions to engineering through practice, management or education.”
“Audio engineering sits at an intersection between analogue and digital engineering, music and the human listener,” says Stuart in acceptance of his award. “My passion to enable great sound recording and playback has required a multi-disciplinary approach, but that quest to preserve and share music perfomances is very satisfying and important. I am honoured and humbled to receive this award from the Royal Academy of Engineering.”
“Bob Stuart is a connoisseur of both engineering and music and that is what sets him apart,” comments multi-Grammy Award winning Mastering Engineer, Bob Ludwig. “He is like a mastering engineer. He knows what music is supposed to sound like, so he isn’t blinded by theory or technology. If something does not sound right to his ear, he will quickly reject it and explore a more musical way of accomplishing his goals. The invention of MQA improved the sound clarity that was blurred by digital components and as a musician, I am so delighted for my ears to be the recipient of Bob’s creation and to use it in my work.”
Adds Grammy-winning Producer and Engineer, Morten Lindberg: “With the invention and development of MQA, Bob has provided audio engineers and music producers all over the world with a mindset and tools to work with digital audio in an holistic perspective. His interdisciplinary research combining neuroscience, psychology, and advanced physics with audio engineering now makes it possible for music production to maintain true analogue qualities in the digital domain. Bob is the kind of person who goes beyond the call of professional duty and ‘becomes’ his work.”
“For decades,” continues George Massenburg, Producer, Inventor, and Teacher, “research in modern digital audio has been confused by outdated foundational precepts, misled by chimerical goals or commercial pressure and hampered by ever-so-slowly evolving knowledge in the fields of science and hearing perception. Bob Stuart has risen above these challenges time and time again. Only the accomplished researcher whose heart and soul has been captivated by the sublime experience of superb, transparent music recording and reproduction could achieve so well what Bob has accomplished for so many years.
“Our job as producers,” he concludes, “is to connect an artist’s vision and intent with listeners; the ability to share our work has been deeply compromised in the last 30 years, with a seemingly endless ‘lowering of the bar; of audio quality. Thus, I’m deeply impressed by the performance and technology of MQA — its faithful rendering of nuance, complexity, sound stage and detail, lifts the veil. Knowing that my work can again be heard by an enthusiastic audience gives me a reason to go back into the studio. I feel strongly that Bob’s work in MQA will have a tremendous impact on the music industry.”
In 2012, Stuart decided to focus exclusively on developing technology that would be both better and more efficient at preserving realistic and natural sound when capturing, recording, distributing and playing back digital audio. After working closely with the recording community for a few years, he launched MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) in December 2014. MQA is designed to “capture every element and nuance of sound” and to be faithful in “reproducing the micro-dynamic and temporal details which preserve spatial information,” thus ensuring a “more realistic and enjoyable result for the listener.”
Unlike lossy coding, which discards up to 90% of audible information, and unlike conventional digital, which is inefficient for high resolution recordings, MQA uses a unique folding technique that efficiently packs complete information into the recording, say the company. This small file can then be streamed efficiently with or without video and enables a new generation of highest-quality recording to be enjoyed in all modern listening scenarios.
Devices or apps with MQA decoding capability can fully ‘unfold’ the information to reveal the original master resolution; they will also authenticate the file to guarantee that it is the definitive master recording from the label.
Supported by highly respected record producers and mastering engineers, MQA’s technology has also been adopted by artists and record labels, including Sony Music, Warner Music, Universal Music and Merlin (on behalf of independent labels), are all licensed partners.
The technology also has wider applications, as recently demonstrated in productions within the areas of broadcasting, livestreaming, and video-on-demand.
Stuart studied electronic engineering and acoustics at the University of Birmingham and operations research at Imperial College, London. In 1972 while working at Cambridgeshire start-up Lecson Audio, he met industrial designer Allen Boothroyd. The duo’s debut design, the Lecson AC1/AP1, won the Design Council Award, the first of a record three Design Council Awards for the two, which kicked off the beginning of their 40-year partnership.
In 1977, Stuart co-founded Meridian Audio and served as CTO until early 2015. In the 1990s he led the team that pioneered lossless compression for audio and introduced it to the industry. In 2000, Meridian’s MLP lossless encoding was adopted as the standard for DVD-Audio and subsequently in 2005 for Blu-ray, when it was acquired by Dolby Laboratories. Innovations in product design included the world’s first consumer digital and DSP loudspeakers and audiophile CD players. Stuart and Meridian Audio were also behind the sound systems for the McLaren P1 supercar, for many models of Jaguar Land Rover, as well as a collaboration with Ferrari, the F80 all-in-one digital audio system.
A lifelong student, researcher, and teacher Stuart has published several important papers on audio engineering. He is a Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society and has served on technical committeees in the USA, Japan and UK. He currently serves as Chairman and CTO of MQA Ltd.