MQA: The latest digital audio codec hits Tidal streaming today.
What is it?
From the source: MQA
I have avoided reading much about it, since I first heard word in 2015, as I did not expect to have access to music in the MQA format without a dac to decode it. That changed this morning, when Tidal HIFI subscribers were given the option to stream MQA files with software decoding (via the PC app only) at no additional charge.
I’m going to ignore all the current arguments around MQA, and talk about how it sounds to me now, in my first hours with it. I’ve a few thoughts on what it could mean for music fans and the industry as well.
First, I think this may be a step forward for music fans everywhere. Based on the claims, MQA will create a file small enough for streaming that delivers what the engineers heard when the record was mixed and mastered. All of the original information is retained. The other lossy and lossless formats do not do this, apparently. I don’t have a strong understanding of the tech behind this yet, so cannot comment.
You do need a software (Tidal, for example) or hardware (dac) decoder to take advantage of its potential. Without the decoder ring, the file is still said to sound better than current Redbook (cd quality) files. Awesome. For the listener, this is a win – especially those who are already HIFI subscribers of Tidals music service. Currently, the catalog of MQA recordings is small, though they claim this will quickly increase.
Would I buy a new dac for MQA decoding? No. I enjoy streaming Redbook files via Tidal. It sounds excellent. I like having access to MQA now, and my initial impressions say it is better than Redbook. That said, I’m not currently inspired to invest in it.
I’ve got my Tidal settings using the software decoding. Roon displays the formats correctly. Listening through the Yggdrasil, Bottlehead S.Ex. headamp and Nighthawks.
Alright. These records sound really nice. There’s an openness to them. Stage width and depth are deeper wider. Spatial cues are better defined maybe. Some sound better than I’ve heard them before. That said, I don’t have another copy to listen to for comparison. When queuing them up seconds apart, I can’t hear much difference between the 44/24 and 44/16 versions of Brad Mehldau’s Blues and Ballads. I can switch quickly between the two but, no. It sounds great, but I can’t find differences tonight.