MQA audio: What is it? How can you get it?

Music streaming services and products are now the principle medium through which many of us listen to music. Most, such because the market-leading Spotify and Apple Music, be offering standard, lossy compression track streams, whether 256kbps or 320kbps, AAC, MP3 or Ogg Vorbis. Some, reminiscent of Tidal, Amazon Music HD, Qobuz and Deezer, additionally offer higher, CD-quality streams. Spotify is set to join that crop later this yr with its Spotify HiFi tier, too.

But what about hi-res audio (wherein we mean above CD high quality)? The first carrier to offer hi-res streaming was Qobuz, adopted by Tidal and, more recently, Amazon. Our favourite music streaming service, Tidal introduced its now-established Tidal Masters hi-res library 4 years in the past, and it uses MQA era to make it imaginable.

So what is MQA audio? How has it helped hi-res streaming turn into a reality? And what other song listening experiences is it in the back of?

What is MQA?

MQA objectives to “essentially trade the best way all of us revel in music”. It’s a technique of digitally shooting and storing unique grasp recordings as information that are small and convenient enough to obtain or flow, without the sonic sacrifices traditionally associated with compressed information.

MQA claims its tracks use a similar bandwidth to that required for CD-quality streams. So if you’re in a position to move Tidal’s hi-fi tier with relative ease then the new Tidal Masters tier the use of MQA shouldn’t be a problem.

How can you concentrate to MQA?

Rather than being a brand new file type to sit down along FLAC, WAV et al, MQA files can as an alternative be packaged inside any lossless container corresponding to FLAC, WAV or Apple Lossless. You will need well suited hardware, equivalent to a music streamer or portable music player, or instrument such as the Tidal desktop app, to decode the MQA recordsdata.

And this is no pie-in-the-sky promise; the hardware is to be had. And, now we are some years into its life, there may be quite a lot of it. 

The Pioneer XDP-100R and Onkyo DP-X1 have been a few of the first MQA-compatible moveable audio avid gamers, and that is the reason since been expanded to incorporate more than a few players from Pioneer, Onkyo, Astell & Kern and Sony – together with the Award-winning Sony NW-A55L and Astell & Kern A&norma SR25.

The LG V30 turned into the first globally available smartphone with MQA in 2017, and the format has since found its approach onto its LG ThinQ successors, in addition to the Essential phone.

As for hi-fi kit, MQA compatibility is handiest going one way – up. MQA-supporting products come with desktop and USB DACs corresponding to AudioQuest's DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red and Cambridge Audio's DacMagic 200M; track streamers like NAD C 658 and Technics SL-G700; and hi-fi methods including Dali Oberon 1 C and KEF LS50 Wireless II. Meridian, iFi, Arcam, Bluesound, dCS, Moon through Simaudio, Mark Levinson and Audiolab are also among MQA's product partners.

Where can you find MQA tune?

If you shouldn't have any of the above hardware, then you can still play Tidal's "millions" of Masters tracks throughout the Tidal desktop, Android and iOS apps, which can decode and play them via your, say, telephone or Macbook.

These apps can whole the primary 'spread' of MQA report decoding, outputting streams to a maximum of 24-bit/96kHz. However, the one way to entirely unpackage an MQA document for playback, and due to this fact give you a more accurate illustration of the record, is via pairing the app with a MQA-compatible product (as listed above) that takes the deciphering process away from the device (the Tidal app).

Tidal HiFi subscribers can now easily 'cast' MQA Tidal Masters from the app to well matched equipment that can decode them due to a brand new feature known as Tidal Connect. Essentially Spotify Connect for Tidal, it permits the native Tidal app to be a controller for connected units – like Chromecast can, best Connect helps Tidal's MQA and Dolby Atmos Music catalogue. Unsurprisingly, many MQA-supporting hi-fi manufacturers are supporting Tidal Connect.

With primary song labels reminiscent of Universal, Warner Bros and Sony Music offering song in MQA, we would not be stunned if extra song streaming products and services got in at the action too. Deezer introduced a partnership with MQA again in September 2017, but all has long gone quiet on that entrance since.

Actual MQA track files are available to obtain from the likes of Highresaudio, Onkyo Music (powered by 7digital), and 2L, in addition to e-onkyo music, Kripton HQM's store and groovers (Japan). And if you're looking to play such purchased information via a PC or computer, devoted desktop music player tool, similar to Audirvana and Roon, also enhance MQA. While extra area of interest, bodily MQA-CDs are also a thing.

What about MQA Live?

MQA has additionally been experimenting with “original quality” real-time live performance streams with its MQA Live technology, which it has demonstrated at more than a few industry displays in recent times.

The level of Live is to create a virtual gig enjoy, permitting people to listen to their favourite bands’ reside performances in the event that they can’t attend the development themselves.

To do that, MQA has made a live encoder field that connects to a venue’s audio machine and is ready to ship what is being performed to the chosen delivery platform of the venue. MQA claims the encoding procedure “preserves audio quality and addresses bandwidth issues”.

In 2020, MQA channelled this revel in into a new structure – The Masters Sessions – thru a partnership with considered one of its hardware partners, Bluesound. These refined audio soirees contain live concert events, streamed in MQA studio high quality, to over 140 esteemed audio dealerships around the globe, performed thru each and every broker's Bluesound MQA-enabled audio avid gamers. These sellers have incorporated eight Sevenoaks Sound and Vision shops, in Bristol, Chelsea, Sevenoaks, Reading, Oxford, Solihull, Cambridge and Manchester. The initiative is still younger – just a few sessions were hosted to this point – but there are more to come!

In toughen of the United Kingdom artists that were set to play at SXSW in March but couldn't on account of the Coronavirus pandemic, MQA partnered with the British Music Embassy and us (!) to live circulation mini concert events on the What Hi-Fi? YouTube channel the use of MQA tech.

Will Apple strengthen MQA?

While we’ve been ready to get native hi-res audio strengthen on Android units from Samsung, Sony and LG, the Apple iPhone has most effective been ready to correctly play hi-res music by the use of a third-party app and transportable DAC.

Rumours have long since instructed Apple is planning to deliver hi-res audio through Apple Music, however we aren't protecting our breath. Instead, now we have established an efficient (if no longer specifically elegant) workaround on how to play hi-res music on your iPhone.

Could Apple one day use MQA and deliver hi-res track? It seems not likely within the close to long term, however, as is going the expression, by no means say by no means.

One thing's evidently, for somebody with an passion in audio high quality, MQA is a generation that calls for to be heard. Want to know extra? Head over to the MQA website online here.

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