Universal Music Group + MQA = Hi-Res Streaming

From the press release:
LONDON AND SANTA MONICA, FEBRUARY 16, 2017 – Music technology company MQA and Universal Music Group (UMG), the world-leader in music-based entertainment, announced today that the companies have entered into a multi-year agreement that will encode UMG’s extensive catalogue of master recordings in MQA’s industry-leading technology, promising to make some of the world’s most celebrated recordings available for the first time in Hi-Res Audio streaming.
While no specific numbers were given as to how many MQA titles will be released when, Michael Nash, executive vice president of digital strategy at UMG, told Music Ally, "We are focused of preparing tens of thousands – and ultimately hundreds of thousands – of tracks to have them available for [streaming] services."

The UMG deal added to the existing Warners deal gives MQA access to the catalogs of two out of three major labels, leaving Sony Music as the last major chip to fall...

I will editorialize by pointing out the focus of this press release: Hi-Res Streaming. The world is moving to streaming and away from downloads as is evidenced by...data. What does this mean? Today, it means that every Tidal HiFi subscriber can stream hi-res MQA content at no additional cost. If we hold this fact up against all of the doom and gloom MQA prognosticating, see Linn, you'll see that reality is rather opaque.

And then there's this, from Nash:

"We don’t want to step across announcements that other companies will make, but we think that we could safely guide you in the expectation that there will probably be half a dozen services in the marketplace by the end of the year delivering this format."

Stephen Dupont's picture

i read that as MQA, not "hi res", which is good news i think.

Linn might like to rethink.

morrismrinak's picture

Is all the scorn directed at MQA (and its marketers) just sour grapes from manufacturers having to pony up more money for yet another unasked for format? If so I understand their dismay. Is MQA being foisted on consumers like 3D TV's only to be jettisoned after the base of the MQA pyramid makes their projected $$ leaving everyone else hanging? Quite possibly. Thanks for keeping us up to date Michael.

Venere 2's picture

I am not happy with the direction music distribution is taking.

Universal could have remastered their vast catalogue into Hi-Res a long time ago, and offered it for people to purchase. There certainly was, and still is a demand for Hi-Res music to be offered for purchase.

Now, they choose to remaster their music, but will only make it available through streaming. This is unnacceptable. As a consumer, I should have the choice of paying for what I want. If I want to own the music, I should be able to.

MQA is the best thing to happen to the music industry/record companies. It gives them an excuse to take control and ownership away from people. They will now control the chain of distribution 100%. They decide to withdraw albums, tough luck, you cannot listen to them.

For those who want their music, they will be forced to purchase MQA compatible DACs, and subscribe to a streaming service. This would be acceptable if this Hi_Res music was also available for purchase in a non MQA format such as PCM. To offer it exclusively through streaming, sounds like a racket to put money in the pockets of MQA/Meridian, streaming services (Tidal...) and DAC makers who support MQA, as well as the record companies.
This is a nasty form of entrepreneurial collusion.

For those who are fanboys of MQA and say that this is not their goal, remember two things:

None of these companies are non profit companies;

Trusting the music industry is foolish, because they have proven over décades that they will do anything to make money. Remember the first years of CDs? 25$ a CD in the 1980s for inferior sound. DRM, scrapping the single, etc.

I see some people calling MQA the boogie man. I see others embracing it as the greatest invention since the Wheel.

Is there not room for healthy scepticism without being paranoid or a fanboy? I do believe healthy scepticism and prudence is warranted.

bscharp's picture

Perhaps those of us who wish to purchase our music can find small distributors who rent the master tapes from the majors and re-issue vinyl (Mobile Fidelity) or digital files (HDTracks) recordings.

torgny's picture

I certainly agree with everything the author is saying, but offer one saving grace --- while MQA may be the best streaming technology around, ripping a conventional Redbook CD and playing it back from your hard disk through a quality USB DAC will sound better. After trying the Tidal 60-day free offer I can say this with some conviction (albeit without a MQA capable DAC). In fact, I think selecting "bypass MQA" in some cases sound better than with the software decoding activated, go figure.

Itsaboutthemusic's picture

if it becomes easily and economically available with a wide selection of varied music. In other words, a hi-res version of what is available now. It appears this may be where we're headed.

As one who spent many dollars and years seeking out and acquiring music in physical form, going all the way back to 8 track tapes, I do not miss having to buy an unknown album simply to hear it. I used to shy away from record stores without listening centers and well-stocked house-copy bins. On the other hand, finding and taking a chance on an unknown record and having it turn out to be a gem was a great experience. As records and then CD's got more expensive the risk became greater and was taken less and less.

Quite simply, I have thoroughly embraced the vast selection offered by streaming. I do not believe, as some do, that the musical experience is diminished by this development. I have happily made peace with this particular devil and feel like a kid let loose in the record store. If MQA can offer better quality streaming, and the price is right, I'll gladly embrace it. Right now, I prefer Tidal/Roon/upsampling but who knows what will happen as MQA matures. My pleasure comes from listening, to as much as I can find time for, at as high a quality as my budget allows for. Formats come and go but the music remains. I'll probably always have my favorite music in physical form, but I don't expect I'll ever have all that I enjoy listening to in physical form - I never even came close before streaming. The difference between now and then is that now, as many have said, I can listen to and enjoy virtually whatever I want for the price of about 1 or 2 CD's a month. My hope is that MQA adds to the experience.

rt66indierock's picture


Thanks for the link to the Michael Nash interview in Music Ally about MQA. Focusing on preparing tens of thousands of tracks is nice but it will take a while for them to be available for streaming. And since at CES 2017 it was disclosed there were only “more than 15,000 albums” converted to at least 24/48. I must ask where is all this music to convert to MQA coming from.

His wine analogy is priceless I hope nobody tells him about millennials and wine because he has the activating of consumers backwards. And of course artists will play a key role in educating consumers if you pay them to do it.

And finally my favorite quote of the interview “15% to 20% of our consumers generate more than two thirds of the revenue associated with sound recordings.” Sounds like a way sell a niche at a higher price point to me.

fritzg's picture

This brings up the UMG audible watermark. is this real? Will it be in MQA files?

timorous's picture

I'm old enough to have had the great pleasure of going into my favorite records stores, and the excitement of seeing something new, and buying all kinds of vinyl LP's and 7" singles..and then CD's. Holding these physical artifacts, reading the liner notes and of course listening to these has been one of life's pleasures. However, I'm not totally wedded to 'owning' a physical copy of a musical performance. This is just ingrained habit..nice though it is. It takes up a lot of room too..something to consider if you plan to move at some point (and you will..)

The world is obviously moving away from owning music, and this is fine with me, though I'm not currently interested in paying for a monthly service at this point. I think the majority of joe public don't seem to value music as much as visual entertainment. These same people who balk at a $20 a month music service, are not averse to spending $100 or more a month on all manner of video entertainments. To each his own choice.

It looks as though this paradigm shift away from owning music will be complete within 3 to 5 years. However, there will still be room for those who want to own a physical product. These will be niche markets though. One way of providing these (except vinyl) is through an 'on-demand' service, where a copy is made for you when you order it. Amazon has been doing this with obscure movie titles, some CD's and hard-cover books, for a few years now. The movie/record companies/publishers actually do the re-mastering (or book formatting), and merely license the master to Amazon, rather than mass-produce something that will never be sold in large enough numbers to warrant the cost.

Vinyl will continue to have its place, but in the bigger picture, likely to remain a niche product, despite its current popularity. There's room for all these niche markets..no one 'has to' do without the medium they prefer, if they're willing to pay a slightly higher price for it.

I also suspect MQA hi-res will become the default format, since it will play at whatever resolution the device it's played on will accomodate. You just get a bit less resolution with anything less than a full-on MQA playback device. It will soon get to the point where most listeners won't know or care whether it's hi-rez, although it's likely to sound better than the MP3's they're used to listening to. Since Tidal isn't charging more for MQA, I expect all other streaming services will follow suit, and the nitpicking over hi-rez will become a moot point. You can still fret over the provinence of the source tape or file that gets used for the MQA mastering, of course, and how well the mastering is done. This has always been the case though, even when vinyl was the only physical medium.

NeutronStar's picture

I still don't understand how or in which way MQA encoded files are "authenticated" as suggested by the acronym: Master Quality Authenticated
Can anybody explain?
I am also suspicious about the final sonic experience as compared with plain 96/24 or higher bit rates.
Qobuz announces that they will offer HiRez 96/24 streaming of their catalog that in my experience is much better than Tidal (for classical and jazz that I usually listen to). My feeling is that with increasingly fast internet this is the way to go.