MQA: The Future of Digital Music?
If you’re a music and/or tech nerd (me), you may already be aware of the new digital format that experienced a limited release this month, and, is currently occupying many of the denizens of online audio forums. MQA. If that’s not you, then this is for you…
What is it? Look here.
MQA is the latest digital audio codec/process to enter the mainstream. Based on MQA’s claim, they can deliver studio master quality audio to streaming devices everywhere. And, it’s backwards compatible. Depending on your systems software (like Tidal’s desktop app and soon Roon) and/or hardware (one of a few MQA ready dac’s available now) capabilities, you’ll hear one of 3 versions of the MQA file. They’ve encoded (they call it origami) the files in a way that allows for 3 steps of ‘unfolding’ the data for playback. Each of these layers provides an increase to sound quality. Because it’s backwards compatible, you can play the files without needing any of the associated software/hardware. This ‘folded’ file is said to sonically match (or best) the Redbook/cd quality files.
One codex to rule them all. Or, will MQA go the way of Betamax?
Ok, so why should you care? If you’re one who’s currently using Spotify or Pandora, and are only concerned with anytime access to your tunes and less about how they sound – how does this affect you? It may not. Hang in with me a bit longer…
I have watched some of the hifi forums, and there are quite a few folks who’re seemingly eager to see the new kid fail. I suppose they’ve their reasons. It’s a distrust of the industry, for some. Others appear to be entrenched with, and heavily invested in other hi-res formats that may rival MQA’s sound quality. There are even a few – I suspect – who believe that truly exquisite playback should be out of reach for all except those willing to scale the heights of hifi’s peaks.
There are others, though, that are riding the sunny side of the wheel.
I am currently concerned with one thing. Does it work? Is MQA a better sounding, scale-able digital format that will provide more of us the opportunity for great sound?
I hope so. Yes.
MQA does sound better when compared to the same records in cd quality format played via the Tidal desktop app. The app only decodes the first layer of the MQA file, yet the records I chose sound better. Sound quality will vary from record to record – just like any other delivery format, the quality of the original recording and mastering have a tremendous impact on the end product. I have yet to hear any MQA files through an MQA ready dac – I suspect it’s good. We’ll see.
MQA could give more people the chance to experience great sound. That is great news for both the audio industry and musicians alike. For $20/month subscribers can stream MQA and cd quality files via the Tidal desktop app without any additional hardware purchase. Unless you want more from your music, of course. Up to you.
There’s another significant benefit here, for musicians. They spend years sometimes, and large amounts of money to ensure their records sound the best that they can make them, all the while knowing very few will ever hear it they way they did in the studio. This is an opportunity to close the gap a bit.
MQA has some way to go yet. Getting the industry to adopt the new format and hardware, and getting the record labels to make their catalogs available is crucial for its success. The average listeners will come for the music first. Maybe then they’ll dive into better sound. This needs to happen – for all concerned. Yes, there’s potential here.
MQA could be a step in the right direction. What do you think?