Tidal + MQA = Hi-Res Streaming in 2016?

What Hi-Fi? has reported that Tidal hi-res streaming using MQA is a done deal in their post "Tidal to launch hi-res audio streaming in 2016". AudioStream confirmed with Tidal's strategic partnership manager Pål Bråtelund that this is certainly the plan, and in the works, but the real deal is "not confirmed". Another part of the plan, and one I hope will come true (like a dream), is the new Tidal Hi-Res/MQA service won't cost you any more than the current Tidal HiFi price of $19.99/month. Yeow!

Of course you'll need an MQA-enabled decoder on your end but there are a few showing up on the market already including Meridian's MQA-enabled Explorer2, the soon to be released Mytek Brooklyn DAC, and more coming from Pioneer and others.

What's the big deal about MQA? Three things in a nutshell:

  1. The MQA process entails applying a filter that corrects for artifacts caused by the A/D and D/A process. This deblurring/apodizing filter removes pre-ringing, something that does not exist in the real world, so your music sounds better.
  2. All PCM resolutions are "folded up" into at most a 24-bit/48kHz container, greatly reducing bandwidth requirements (1-1.2 Mbps for high resolution, 5-600 Kbps for Redbook). Remember that Pål demoed this process at RMAF 2015 by successfully streaming a 24-bit/352.8kHz file over the Marriott's crappy wi-fi network.
  3. You get the original recorded quality for digital recordings.
By (hopefully) offering hi-res MQA streaming for the same $19.99/mo as Tidal HiFi subscriber's currently pay, coupled with delivering the original resolution, all of the nonsense surrounding hi-res is effectively deflated. It just doesn't matter, especially seeing as if you don't care about hi-res streaming for whatever reason and don't want to switch to an MQA enabled DAC, you'll simply get what you already have from Tidal HiFi - CD-quality streaming.

I'll keep my fingers crossed.

COMMENTS
BradleyP's picture

If this stuff really, really works and is more than a subtlety, and if MQA items in TIDAL aren't a rarity, then it looks like Meridian's investment is about to pay off. I almost feel sorry for the folks who have put $100k into a digital front end, only to have it become obsolete in one fell swoop. Still, I will believe it when I see it...and hear it. MQA will have to be the best digital anyone has ever heard by a significant margin to cut through all the noise (and snake oil) in the market.

crenca's picture

Now, I recognize that sometimes things are what they seem, but sometimes if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I am most incredulous about #1. What you are describing is a digital filter, which are a necessary part of the process of A/D and D/A conversion (because of the math - all over my head). Has Meridian discovered some computational algorithm heretofore not discovered? Very doubtful. Could they simply be implementing a particular and tweaked digital filter and claiming that it is "superior" to all others? Very likely, and like any other product claim the proof will be in the puddin (the actual measurements and listening).

#2 Will also have to be independently verified - are their mathematical and SQ claims (i.e. the fact that they can "ignore" certain parts of the captured digital information arithmetically with no detriment to the sound whatsoever) actually true? Again, the math is over my head but it could all simply be based on certain assumptions that (like the claim that 16/44 is enough) will probably prove to be a point of debate.

Based on the actual answers to the above, #3 may or may not be true.

Even if in the best case scenario and MQA delivers the goods, I find it quite remarkable that Tidal is jumping on board with both feet and abandoning their "hi-fi" 16/44 flac service (if I understand the "What Hi-Fi" article correctly). I already have a nice audio chain with several perfectly good functioning DAC's - I am not interested in another device (another DAC, or another device inserted in the chain such as some converter), even if it claims to not distort the sound (which has proven to be dubious in every other case). I would like to watch MQA from a safe distance for a bit, and see if it actually lives up to even a portion of it's billing. Then I would consider it.

I see myself searching for another lossless streaming service (or going without) in my near future...

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...you really have no idea what you're talking about and people like Bob Stuart do.

Do some research.

And Tidal is not abandoning anything. If you read what I wrote, you'd have understood that.

It just doesn't matter, especially seeing as if you don't care about hi-res streaming for whatever reason and don't want to switch to an MQA enabled DAC, you'll simply get what you already have from Tidal HiFi - CD-quality streaming.
crenca's picture

As the "What Hi-Fi" article explicitly states that "Tidal will upgrade its CD-quality library to hi-res files first". So, at the very least, the 16/44 flac is being replaced with MQA. So, that means the glowing promise of a small, lossless yet compressed file that contains more than one resolution yet plays on all current hardware (sounds too good to be true) HAS to work.

I suppose as long as I get the exact same 16/44 bit stream I get now, and not something that claims to be lossless but actually alters the music as delivered via a regular 16/44 file I will be a happy Tidal customer.

TJ's picture

Do you know of any MQA encoded demo files or audio streams that we can listen to now? The reason I ask is that I bought an Explorer2 this summer. What a surprisingly good DAC, hope you get a chance to review one soon.

soundman45's picture

They can call it anything they want. It's compression, a non proven codec that sells an interface. It's called consumer audio.

crenca's picture

This is supposed to be the compression to end all compression, and the greatest thing since 16/44 which everyone knows was the last word on digitized audio... :)

Archimago's picture

Remember guys that MQA looks like it's being delivered as a 24/48 file format.

Even without the folding technique, this should sound pretty damn good already! Without an MQA decoder DAC, the best you get is 16/48 quality assuming we still get full 16-bits unaltered... But you'd be streaming 24/48 worth of data.

Bit for bit streamed, Meridian will have to show that their encoding technique beats 24/48 quality which IMO is already "hi-res", not just that it sounds "better" than a typical 16/44 stream. I don't know if they've demoed A/B comparisons between lossless 16/44 vs. MQA yet even. We'll see!

crenca's picture

This is sort of the crux for me - if my standard 16/44 is being replaced with something, what is it being replaced with? IF I get the same (bit for bit) then it does not matter, and after the "first adopters" convince me that I might even like the extra resolution and the compression algorithm is truly loss-less and the investment in new software/hardware has value, then so be it.

Apparently, Tidal is "replacing" it's 16/44 Flac service with MQA. Frankly, if I had another option I would already be switching - I don't want to be an MQA first adopter...

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...is the process of converting hi-res originals to 16/44.1 more transparent than MQA.
Ampalang's picture

"How do I play MQA?

MQA can be decoded to give authentic studio-quality sound with either hardware or software. We’ll be announcing partners very soon.

Ultimately, it means MQA can be played on any audio device, whether that’s inside your home, your car, from your phone or anywhere else you might be – perfectly fitting into the way you listen to your music today."

Sounds to me that you can do this with software to.

Ampalang's picture

And i also hope the get rid of that distorting watermark they have added...

http://www.mattmontag.com/music/universals-audible-watermark

Tapetech's picture

Ampalang you have made my day! I'M NOT CRAZY! This is the EXACT distortion I have been hearing on Tidal since day one and it's been driving me crazy since no one talks or complains about it on Hi-Fi forums. I've posted about this problem on all of the major forums (including this one) and all I got was CRICKETS or a reply that I had 320kb/s selected by mistake or that some of the tracks on Tidal ARE 320kb/s (which is true, but that's NOT what I was hearing). This distortion is worse than any distortion generated by 320kb/s encoding. I can go to the Tidal preferences page and switch over to 320 quality. In this mode, I can still easily hear the difference between a track with "watermark distortion" and one that doesn't have the watermark distortion. It isn't a sample rate problem. I have only said on the forums that it SOUNDS LIKE a 64kb/s quality and that is true. The exact same recording on iTunes actually sounds better! Here is a track that I have been using for an example. There are many thousands of tracks on Tidal that sound like this.

tidal.com/track/8334755

The CD of this recording does not sound like this at all. It's not "just a bad recording". It's a shimmering or modulation of the highs. It's an unacceptable, annoying distortion.

As I've said all along, it's by no means all Tidal tracks. I listen mostly to classical on Tidal and when I first subscribed (on the first day it was available), about 20% of Tidal classical tracks had watermark distortion. Now it seems to be about 10% and getting less as time goes on. Maybe Tidal knows about it and is trying to fix it. Or not. Who knows since they have not addressed the problem publicly.

There is no excuse for such a gross technical problem. I've complained to Tidal and got no response. After all, they advertise that they "care about quality". At the very least, they should admit to the problem OR prominently tag albums that have watermark distortion with a disclaimer.

I'm still a huge fan of Tidal and hope it becomes a big sucess (and stays in business!). Lossless streaming is a fantastic idea and I really enjoy using Tidal when the the tracks TRULY ARE "HiFi". A significant percentage of them are not, though, and it needs to be fixed or at least addressed officially by Tidal.

http://mattmontag.com/audio-listening-test/

Use link above to hear watermark distortion demonstrations. I have noticed that this distortion is more apparent when using headphones (rather than speakers). So for headphone users like me, it could be more of a problem. Also, the type of music seems to maake a big difference as to how audible it is. On rock albums with watermark distortion, the "quality degradation" is less apparent to me. For classical music, for some reason, it seems to stick out more.

As to the actual percentage of Tidal tracks that have watermark distortion, I have no idea. I only know my percentage and it's too high.

DH's picture

1. An MQA stream that encounters a non-MQA setup plays back anyway, just not in hi-res. So if you are a Tidal CD quality subscriber, you will still get what you paid for. You just won't get the hi-res.

2. My understanding is that you don't have to have MQA hardware to playback the hi-res MQA streams - but if you dont have it, you need MQA software for playback. If that's true, then we all could benefit from the hi-res streaming of Tidal MQA.

If #2 isn't true, Michael or someone else let me know.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Roon is working with MQA but I have not heard any solid dates re. availability.
drblank's picture

will have some FAQ's about what you have to have in terms of DAC/Software, etc. to listen in MQA mode.

Most DAC's aren't MQA capable, only a VERY small handful, I'm hoping that the Amara's, Pure Music, Audirvana's of the world will have MQA software so we can listen in MQA without having the hardware.

ktracho's picture

From a conversation I had earlier this year with the Meridian person who did the MQA demo at a Meridian dealer in Mountain View, CA, the problem with decoding MQA in software is that it has to make some assumptions about the hardware that's doing the D/A conversion, so the result will not be as good as decoding MQA in hardware. The problem of doing MQA encoding after the fact (i.e., applying MQA encoding to a digital master) is more tractable because only a few different A/D converters account for the vast majority of recordings.

Doak's picture

On 12/4/15 Auralic posted this on their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/auralic.ltd/photos/a.189521017783070.44813.1730...

As a very content Auralic Aries user AND Tidal Hi-Fi subscriber I am VERY pleased regarding this (apparently pending) development.

MilesFerg's picture

Any word on when Tidal will be able to cast to the Google Chromecast Audio? I had heard it was coming soon. Using BubbleUPnP, but would rather be able to go directly from the app, like I can with Spotify. Also, any reviews coming of the Chromecast and if the digital signal benefits from a reclocking device before getting to the DAC?

Sal1950's picture

At $19.95 it's still too expensive. Time to standardize on just one download format and lower the price to $9.95 for everything. I'm not paying twenty bucks a month for radio. I get that over the air or commercial-less via my Comcast cable for free. Tons of streaming radio stations available too.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Tidal offers a $9.99/mo service but if you want CD-quality, it's $19.99/mo.
Sal1950's picture

Thanks Michael, I was well aware of that. My point was that the CD quality was overpriced to begin with and hopefully they won't consider another price bump for MQA compressed HD files. This is all so old school in today's world of cheap bandwidth.

One file format download "MQA", one price at $9.95, that's what's fair. Cheaper in the long run to just prepair and offer one file anyhow.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Is this based on knowledge of Tidal's overhead, or something else?
Sal1950's picture

Nope, JMHO, and my cheapskate wallet. LOL. I'll probably never pay for radio in any case, I'm 66 and old school, if I pay for it I want to own it forever.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...that that's no way to suggest running a business ;-)
paulg's picture

Tidal is a steal at $20 a month. I haven't bought a CD since I subscribed. I listen to more new music now than ever in album format.

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