Tidal’s MQA has garnered its fair share of controversy since its introduction. Their service can give you CD-quality lossless audio with no problem, but its masters are a different story. While other popular music streaming services like Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Qobuz offer hi-res, Tidal’s answer has been MQA for sample rates and bit depths beyond Redbook CD. A lot of audiophiles have questioned Tidal’s MQA format, claiming that it’s not actually lossless. Some have even gone further to call MQA a scam. Now it looks like Tidal might be moving past MQA, and adapting hi-res FLAC as their competitors use. This information came from Tidal CEO Jesse Dorogusker himself when he conducted a Reddit AMA earlier this week. Let’s dive into why Tidal might be having a change of heart regarding MQA, and what that might mean for their current subscribers.
The Issue With MQA
A very easy way to rile up audiophiles is to talk about MQA. If you’ve never heard of MQA before, it’s a CODEC that stands for Master Quality Authenticated. The idea is that this format would be able to grant you unaltered audio straight from the artist to your ears. It is marketed as the purest translation of the original recording. You might have seen the MQA logo printed on various devices like DACs, amps, and dongles. This is one of the issues some take with MQA. In order to get true MQA as advertised, you must have a proper decoder, which is just more money that you’ll need to spend. However, these devices have gotten quite inexpensive recently, with the $59 iFi Go Link as an example.
MQA’s harshest critics will claim that the format is nothing but a ripoff and that the streaming quality is no better than lossy. Other services that use hi-res FLAC give you a more universal sound quality, and MQA just can’t match it. Everyone has different ears, but many have made direct comparisons between MQA and FLAC, and have mostly favored FLAC although there are some who can’t tell the difference. It’s really up to the listener to make that decision, but with Dorogusker’s recent statements, and the news that the company in charge of MQA is going bankrupt, it doesn’t look good for its credibility.
The Future Of Hi-Res On Tidal
MQA will still probably remain a part of Tidal in some fashion, even as the company that runs the format files for bankruptcy. Their library of MQA content has gotten massive and getting rid of the format altogether would take away a big selling factor for a lot of devices. Tidal can do right by adding FLAC hi-res while keeping MQA as it is, letting the debate between which is the better format soldier on. The real question is if Tidal will offer hi-res at no additional charge like Apple and Amazon do. Tidal already prices its HiFiPlus tier at $19.99, which is higher than both services and if they were to add hi-res FLAC, then it would also probably fit in that bracket.