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MQA streaming points to a brighter future for hi-res audio

  • “Well, we live in a trailer
    at the edge of town
    You never see us
    ’cause we don’t come around.” – Neil Young.

    Revolution Blues. Hi-res audio files are presently available for purchase as downloads from the likes of HDTracks, Pono and Qobuz. They serve the audiophile niche but, as argued in an earlier column, it’s a niche that shows no signs of mainstream aspirations. So how about a more positive take on the future of hi-res audio (HRA)? For that we must take the long way ’round.

    Before we dive in, here’s CEO and founder of Lothar Kerestedjian responding to last week’s op-ed on 12 reasons why hi-res audio will never go mainstream: “I do understand, that you are not into Downloads. Nevertheless, I don’t think you should as an open minded and competent journalist have a negative position and attitude towards HighRes-Downloads. We don’t sell the “cat in the sack“ nor music for bats! We cater for a certain individual and target group. We also convert a lot of customers, that are reaching out to purchase a better source. Considering that, our average album price is only a few Euros more than an iTunes or Amazon Download – I think we offer great value.”

    In saying “We cater for a certain individual and target group”, does our emailer not tacitly admit that his store’s contents appeals only to a niche market? A niche that can thrive, sure, but doing robust business doesn’t necessarily equate to mainstream take up.

    Consider the market for DSD downloads. Despite loud and ongoing shouting over the past five years about it being the ‘next big thing’ the catalogue remains wafer thin. Its appeal is therefore niche but by all accounts, doing nicely. Like hi-res PCM, DSD downloads cannot hope to match the catalogue width and breadth already available to CD collectors and lossless streamers.

    But Kerestedjian’s aspirations for mainstream market share face a more serious and immediate challenge: according to the RIAA’s 2015 revenue report, in the broader music market, streaming is trending toward being bigger business than downloads by end of year.


    This RTE post extends on the report’s findings:

    “Streaming music is officially a bigger business than download sales in the US for the first time according to new figures released today by the Recording Industry Association of America.”

    Of course, this isn’t new news.  Apple’s iTunes download store took a 13% hit to revenues in 2014 as Spotify, Deezer, Pandora and YouTube have emerged as the world’s biggest music suppliers.

    The IFPI’s mid-year report embraced the global trend: Joe Public’s attention is turning away from downloads and toward streaming:

    “Subscription services are now at the heart of the music industry’s portfolio of businesses, representing 23 per cent of the digital market and generating US$1.6 billion in trade revenues. The industry sees substantial further growth potential in the subscription sector, with new services advancing in 2015 led by three major global players: YouTube’s Music Key, Jay Z’s TIDAL and Apple’s expected subscription service.”

    Spotify claimed its 20 millionth paying subscriber in June 2015 – double that of twelve months ago – and Jay Z’s Tidal tipped 1 million paying subscribers in September of this year. Rhapsody now has over 3 million. However, it is Pandora that remains king of the hill with almost 80 million active users.

    The mainstream, the 99% who aren’t audiophiles, are many mbillions of people. In this context, any suggestion that a hi-res audio revolution is already underway in the mainstream looks laughably fragile where wishful thinking stands in for evidence.

    Consider this: Per Part-Time Audiophile’s interview with Neil Young last month, the number of Pono Players sold to date is 20,000 – a number that’s entirely consistent with the 18,000 units sold via Pono’s Kickstarter in 2014. A crowdfunding campaign that generated considerable mainstream press attention and which ultimately proved to be the third most successful Kickstarter in the company’s history.

    Young is more than just a celebrity backer of better portable audio hardware. His support for hi-res audio formats is tireless and ongoing and is to be applauded. But should we not also acknowledge that Young’s ‘sell’ is a tough one beyond the audiophile niche?

    Never mind that the 22,000 sales figure looks pitifully small against a backdrop of streamers that number tens of millions. Never mind that even if every Pono Player owner purchased five hi-res album downloads (at an approximate cost of US$100), album sales figures would only just tip 100,000.

    The problem isn’t hi-res per se. (Although its premium pricing doesn’t help). It’s that Pono, HD Tracks and Qobuz are selling downloads into a market that has since moved on. A download’s appeal is destined to become niche if it isn’t already.

    To the man in the street, a download’s image problem is two-fold: 1) pricing is a long way from being competitive with streaming and 2) they aren’t as convenient as streaming.

    We would do well to remember that mainstream music buyers are primarily motivated by convenience and always have been.

    In the late 1980s, the allure of 70+ minutes of music on a small, silver disc that (questionably) promised indestructibility had the CD usurp both vinyl and the cassette tape to become the dominant format of the 1990s.  By extrapolation, one could argue that without the CD, cassettes sales would have eventually over taken those of vinyl. You can’t spin a record in a car, on a portable player or on a boombox.


    Similarly, the iPod’s success rode into town on the back of convenience. A thousand songs in your pocket is a far more compelling proposition than could ever be tainted by the (then necessary) lossy compression.

    Streaming services offer cloud access to a better stocked iPod. A minor hit to quality opens up the catalogue to almost any song of one’s choosing, all from one’s computer or handheld device with which we also make telephone calls. What could be more convenient?

    That doesn’t mean that the average streaming consumer doesn’t care about quality. S/he does. It’s just that better quality is often refused when it comes at the expense of convenience. Is it only audiophiles who buck this trend? Probably.

    MP3s sound better played back through a Pono Player than a smartphone. But carrying a second device? That’s inconvenient.

    Even on the smartphone itself, CD rips will sound better than any lossy streaming service. That’s of little interest to our mainstreamer though: ripping a CD and then loading the resulting files onto a smartphone’s internal memory puts the drag in the drag n’ drop.

    Similarly with downloads: why pay US$10 for a download and drag n’ drop when a month’s streaming access to the very same album – and millions of others – comes for the same price?

    I care about sound quality but why would I buy a 16bit FLAC of Slashing Cousin’s Fallen Gods EP from for US$11.99 when I can stream it from Tidal Hifi for not even twice that? Like the method actor seeking direction upon taking on a new role, “What’s my motivation here?”

    One might argue that streaming pricing as it stands is too cheap to be sustainable, that a subscription price hike is the only way for artists to enjoy proper remuneration. That may well be the case (and is beyond the scope of this article) but even if Tidal were to price their Hifi (lossless) service at $100/month, access to a catalogue of 35 million songs still looks like good value next to your average download site where a single album will run the buyer upwards of US$10 a pop.

    Imagine a lossy audio world where Spotify cancels its advertising-subsidised free access layer and charges US$50/month for Premium. Next to US$10 per iTunes store album download, Premium holds its value.


    Flipping this thinking on its head, how much do Tidal charge for (offline) downloads? Answer: NOTHING. They only last for the duration of the subscription but ten years of Tidal Hifi costs $2400. Assuming that a download store offered every album one desired, how many could one buy for the same coin? 200? 250?

    It’s not that streaming is too cheap, it’s that downloads are too bloody expensive.

    And if it’s tricky to get around the financial maths for lossy and CD-quality downloads, what hope for hi-res audio’s considerably smaller catalogue that simultaneously demands more dollars and more bandwidth?

    And then there’s the type of music coming to market in hi-res format: re-issues of old classics, jazz and classical, none of which speak with sufficient volume to catch the attention of the mainstream.

    And when new releases pop up on hi-res download sites, they’re often 24bit/48kHz at best.

    Back to Lothar Kerestedjian. Two key points emerged from our email exchange: his download site stocks 9000 native hi-res audio titles and currently sells to a customer base of 97,348 people whose age range runs from 27 to 70 years.

    My suggestion to him that the music he offers is predominantly of limited appeal solicited the following reply: “There is very little content prepared in our quality level for the mainstream market. The music industry still [sic] got to learn and understand, that there is a new channel. It all takes time.”

    In that one statement Kerestedjian nails the problem facing hi-res vendors: the largest chunk of the music market is driven by under 30s, a demographic that hi-res audio hardly talks to.

    Outside of the audiophile niche, hi-res or not, downloads are approaching EOL. Music consumption for >90% of the world is set to come via streaming. If it’s the music industry’s intent for hi-res titles to reach a broader market, they too must get on board with streaming provision. But with hi-res audio, bandwidth and download quotas come into play. A 24bit/96kHz take on Peter Gabriel’s ~40 minute second album II weighs in at 1Gb. Extended delays in playback startup or mid-track buffering just won’t do.

    What about reimagining Kerestedjian’s as a hi-res streaming service? 9000 titles streamed direct to home or smartphone for a monthly subscription fee. How much would/should he charge? On this, the sharp end of the issue, replies from our man in Europe dried up.


    Ask yourself: would you subscribe to a streaming service that offered 9000 titles? If so, how much would you be prepared to pay per month? If we’re to keep in line with the Spotifys and the Apple Musics and then correct for an uptick in quality, US$2/month might be the upper end of reasonable.

    What if Pono, HD Tracks and Qobuz pooled resources for a (generously estimated) catalogue size of 30,000 titles? US$3/month.

    It doesn’t take a professional business strategist to realise that our imagined hi-res streaming service would need to be supplemented by CD quality content, just as several hi-res download stores already do.

    The next logical leap might be to ask: what if the world’s hi-res catalogue could be added to something like Tidal’s lossless ‘Hifi’ service but with minimal subscription fee loading? Say, US$23/month all up?

    The missing piece of our puzzle here is MQA: file compression for hi-res audio developed by the UK’s Meridian Audio. MQA promises several benefits to the listener but the most relevant to streaming is its its ability to fold and pack all the information required by a hi-res file into a container that’s roughly twice the size of an equivalent non-MQA’d 16bit FLAC file.

    MQA encoded, a file’s ultra-sonic frequencies – aka the hi-res portion of the file – are folded under the noise floor so that 24bit/96kHz luggage can travel in a 24bit/48kHz-size suitcase. (Also, Redbook content zipped by MQA is smaller than the same encoded with FLAC.)

    An MQA-equipped DAC like the Meridian Explorer or the forthcoming Mytek Brooklyn is required to unpack the hi-res portion of the MQA-wrapped file, otherwise it is parsed by a non-MQA DAC at CD quality. (Specialist hardware is, ironically here, its own niche).

    The upshot is that MQA-encoded studio masters can be transported from studio to lounge room at the click of Tidal’s play button. MQA doesn’t spell out Master Quality Authenticated for nothing.

    I don’t have the inside tip from Tidal on the likelihood of MQA-powered hi-res streaming coming into being any time soon but over the last 12 months Meridian Audio’s founder Bob Stuart and Tidal’s Strategic Partnerships Manager, Pål Bråtelund have stood as a united front on numerous occasions. Channeling the gossipy tittle-tattle of Hello magazine, where MQA goes, Bråtelund goes too.

    Below we see Bråtelund interviewed by What Hifi at CES 2015. At the four minute mark, the conversation moves to HRA where the Norwegian discusses then ongoing development work with Meridan’s MQA. “It’s likely to happen,” he says of hi-res streaming.

    When I sat down nine months later with Stereophile’s Michael Lavorgna at RMAF 2015 to check out the MQA-loaded Brooklyn, it was Bråtelund who schooled the two of us on the benefits of MQA to a streaming service. As Lavorgna noted in his Audiostream coverage, “Pål demoed streaming an MQA-encoded 24-bit/384kHz file through Tidal over the hotel’s crappy WiFi. It worked.”

    Also at RMAF, Bråtelund and Stuart were the only two guests for Chris Connaker’s streaming audio panel discussion:

    Listen closely at the seven minute mark as Bråtelund outlines another advantage of MQA: a single MQA-encoded file hosted on Tidal servers will unpack as hi-res audio for those with MQA decoders but as Redbook audio for those that don’t.

    For the considerably larger portion of albums that only exist as Redbook masters comes MQA’s secondary benefit: their claim of better sounding 16bit/44.1kHz.

    Then there’s the new Pioneer XDP-100R, the world’s first MQA-compatible DAP. Sort of – MQA support will be added via a future firmware update. Bråtelund’s presence at its UK launch last week led to What Hifi ruminating on the possibility of Tidal offering hi-res streaming some time in 2016. That’s a wide window.

    With CES just ‘round the corner, manufacturers have been teasing promo for what will be launched in Las Vegas. AURALiC asked us to ‘STAY TUNED’ for this:


    AURALiC also have close ties to Tidal. Hmmm.

    The time is ripe for Tidal to add MQA-fuelled hi-res files to their subscription service roster. In the above What Hifi interview, Bråtelund commented that Tidal Hifi “isn’t for everyone” and hi-res is unlikely to change that. Think of it as icing on an existing cake. Or cream in a coffee.

    Instead, the MQA encoding of Tidal streams is more likely to put web stores like HD Tracks, and Pono Music on notice: that hi-res audio’s future lies not so much in downloads as in streaming.

    Further information: MQA | Tidal

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. What would be really interesting is if the unpacking of the MQA stream can happen in software on your computer, smartphone, etc., so that special MQA-hardware equipped DAC’s are not even necessary.

        • Maybe more, depending on software licensing terms… easier for most people to spend $$ on a software license, than $$$ -$$$$ on a new DAC.

        • I got an email last night about Amarra for Tidal 2.0 and they wrote “Support for upcoming MQA streaming” so I sure hope that means a new DAC is not required. I also hope they’ve fixed their buggy UI. $10 upgrade for existing users.

        • I don’t think it makes much difference. Meridian is licensing code, note hardware. My assumption is that software vendors like Audirvana, JRiver or Roon would license it the same way a DAC or streamer vendor would.

        • Yes, the business model is rather important. I suspect Bob has given some thought to retirement where he doesn’t have to monitor Meridian’s sales figures or his own bank account month-by-month.

          If firmware upgrades (reasonably-priced licence) can simply be added free-of-charge to various streaming players or DACs, where or what will generate a revenue stream?

      • In Robert Harley’s extensive piece on MQA in The Absolute Sound issue 253, Bob Stewart confirmed MQA can be decoded entirely in the DAC, in software on a computer/smartphone or a combination of both.

    2. Tidal streaming MQA files wirelessly / via bluetooth. Its the simple missing link for inexpensive, convenient quality to the masses. Tidal, plus Audioengine, plus your phone or laptop… huge leaps in sound quality for the cost of a few mochas!!!!!!!

    3. I thought I had read somewhere that MQA software unpacking is going to be possible.

      IMO, it’s a must if they want the format to succeed.

      The advantage of MQA is mainly in streaming CD quality and h-res – the audiophile streaming market. If they want to succeed in that market, I don’t think they can expect everyone to go out and buy new MQA hardware. That’s a good way to fail – SACD anyone?

    4. Unless I am misinterpreting, the graph labeled RIAA’s 2015 revenue report does not show that streaming is a bigger business than downloading. Download revenue is 1268 mega-dollars but streaming is only 1028 mega-dollars. So downloading is 23% more mega-dollar-ish.

      Maybe streaming is growing faster and will overtake by the end of the year.

      BTW, love the chart porn!

    5. Hi, John,
      I am a little bit confused. Are you trying to convert everybody to subscribing to streaming services? And if yes – why? (I know, you’ve just tried to convey that reason in your article, but I am not convinced.). Do we all need to fit into the so-called mainstream? And if yes – why?
      I confess, I am completely indifferent to streaming services and instead, I buy hi-res downloads. I use a free Pandora account once in a blue moon to discover some new music. But to listen for pleasure?…
      How is the availability of millions upon millions of unlistenable trash superior to thousands of select high quality music pieces that I can enjoy in higher-than-CD sound quality? And who in the world has the time to waste on all those millions of songs? When I buy a download, I know for sure that I will be enjoying it and listening to it for years to come. Streaming services are just attempting to introduce a horrible noise to my life and depriving me of the precious time that I have left on this planet before my departure.
      I agree with you on one thing in this entire matter: hi-res downloads are way overpriced. And that is the single most important reason they will NEVER go mainstream. But exactly the same reason makes the hi-end audio equipment staying at the bottom of (or even completely outside of) the purchase lists of 99% of the audience.
      I am totally OK with that. As long as there are some esoteric channels for me to indulge in my musical tastes and longing for the high quality of sound, as long as I can afford few downloads every few months (always during sales intervals), I will never go mainstream.
      However, if new technologies supporting hi-res music, like MQA, emerge and get enough momentum to power up streaming services, I will be open to embrace them. Until then, I will stay with hi-res downloads.

      The only conclusion from my comment: q-u-a-l-i-t-y-o-v-e-r-c-o-n-v-e-n-i-e-n-c-e. N-i-c-h-e-o-v-e-r-m-a-i-n-s-t-r-e-a-m. Always.

      • Not trying to convert anyone to anything. Rather, throwing light on how vanishingly small the hi-res library is and how the current delivery system of downloads only has limited appeal. A niche within a niche. That’s fine but mainstream it is not. Why does that matter? Remember when Young said “We’re going after the mainstream” at the Pono launch? I do. Young (and download store owners like him) are kidding themselves if they think there’s a hi-res revolution underway. Especially when their delivery methods – downloads – are slowly losing lustre in the mass market.

        Hi-res providers need to get on board the streaming train sooner rather than later: it’s the only way to deliver quality WITHOUT a hit to convenience. That matters greatly to all but audiophiles who, over time, become inured to inconvenience. Some even wear the I word as a badge of honour, proof of some imagined authenticity.

        Very few of the artists I and many others like are available in hi-res. I’m thinking of people like me who don’t listen to audiophile music – the genre, not the sample rate or bit depth. I don’t see Spotify et al full of “millions upon millions of unlistenable trash” – is that not snobbery? Sure horribly mastered stuff is out there but if we only listened to the good stuff our library would be even narrower than it is already. The other advantage is that streaming services cater to people who listen to techno, 70s rock, IDM, indie rock etc.. more than any hi-res service could even dream of.

        Tidal Hifi has the catalogue and Redbook quality in place. MQA can improve 1% of that catalogue with hi-res data. Meridian also reckon they can improve Redbook SQ too but that’s a story for another day…

    6. That’s right, “that’s a story for another day…”. And that’s why I stick with what I like instead of “going mainstream”. The mainstream has absolutely no appeal to me. I listen to what I like and so it happens that the file download business has the bulk of what I like. Well, maybe 50-60% of what I like. I don’t see how anybody can consider that a snobbism…
      Should I change my musical tastes in order to fit into the mainstream? That would be a snobbism, in my view…

      As I said in my original post, I have no time to waste on all the trash that the streaming services are pushing my way. Combining that with lower sound quality, that’s enough reason for me to stick with downloads – even if just for a little bit longer.

      • RobD – it’s likely a failing on my part with my explanation. I’m not asking you or any other reader to do anything. I’m suggesting that if hi-res vendors want to expand their market reach they should look at streaming, just as MQA is with Tidal. The broader market of music fans are more likely to take an interest in better *quality* (hi-res) formats if it doesn’t impact the *convenience* of streaming.

    7. Remind me why would the labels want to do another remaster or MQA encode process just for streaming when they won’t do it properly for $24-a-pop downloads?

      • …and pay Meridian a licensing fee to boot.

        Keep in mind that MQA is a whole ecosystem outside of a being just another novel encoding scheme.

        Also, it is my understanding that a non-MQA compliant decoder (software or hardware) will though see a Redbook bitstream during playback of MQA decoded file, that stream will be lossy, i.e. there is actual some loss of bits during the “folding” process as per the patents they filed (I wrote about it but I refuse to thread crap). So if you ARE a bit counter, I wouldn’t want MQA as my primary archival format. Obviously, I think at this point, Meridian is more concerned about streaming than downloading as per John’s great talking points above.

        I will say this: I am very suspicious of the technology until the licensing model is fully fleshed out. People are clamoring about having playback in software, but I think that goes directly against Meridian’s licensing model around it which makes me very worried. I’m a big believer in “open” standards on principle.

        Btw, the day Spotify/Apple have a lossless option (which they will), all of this will be moot. The clock is ticking.

        • Indeed. I didn’t address the MQA ecosystem angle to keep the article focussed on how a download store’s market growth days are already numbered.

          • Downloads aren’t that desirable because you get nothing tangible. But I’m still buying SACDs. Bought at least a couple dozen this year already because I get artwork and a disc. And I can swap and trade with people. Of course labels don’t like it because it’s more work than putting it up on web site. Boutique labels like MFSL and Audio Fidelity get it and they do a good job. I wish the labels would license them to release PCM hi-res on a DVD-ROM.

            • I wonder what you mean by “cut out the middle man”? Discs are cheaper than downloads much of the time and you get more. I buy SACDs sometimes for around $20 from discounters and the mastering from people like Steve Hoffman and Keven Gray is much better than some of the garbage the labels are calling hi-res.

    8. I buy lots of hi-res downloads (b/c I listen to jazz and classical as well as more popular genres), but I love Tidal. Sounds good, and enables me to hear lots of music I wouldn’t otherwise. I think in the end it saves me money, as I don’t buy some album downloads that I’m not sure I want to pay the price for, and just listen to them via Tidal. Otherwise I’d buy some of them, and buying one is the same price as a month of Tidal.

      I’ve also subscribed to Roon. Having Roon integrates Tidal totally into your user interface, so that your Tidal selections become a part of your library, just like what you have on your hard drive. It’s a real change to the user experience, and also a much better interface than the Tidal one. Increased the value/enjoyment of Tidal by an order of magnitude.

    9. The part of the conversation I always miss in these types of discussions is how the content creators get paid. If the new paradigm for acceptable pricing is $20 for 24/7 streaming access to 1’000’000s of tracks at 16/44.1; and perhaps a bit more for higher-than-CD resolution (like $23/month???) … I pity the non-mainstream artists who haven’t made it already. What I see in this move is a wholesale education of the masses to expect “something for nothing”, i.e. an awful lot for basically peanuts. And, I see a lot of belly aching for even a $20/month fee as though listening to free music 24/7 was an unalienable constitutional right. There’s something *very* wrong with the underlying atittude and sense of entitlement that’s created here if a whole caste of society (musical artists) are expected to give their product away for nothing.
      I *much* prefer to pay €15 or whatever for a Qobuz or BandCamp CD download, especially if with BandCamp, I know that 90% of my cash goes to the artist. I’m a content creator, too. I know what it feels like to work hard and have people expect it for free. It’s the bane of the Internet society.

      • Agree 100%, there’s been a slow erosion of the value of music. Precisely why I posited how a much higher streaming monthly fee would still stand tall against download pricing. I wish Spotify would ditch their free (ad supported) access and making everyone pay. To those who complain that $10/month or $20/month is ‘too much’ I cannot relate.

        Where this money goes was covered in this piece here:

        It’s shocking reading really but unsurprising that streaming services are paying out royalties only for the labels to keep the lion’s share.

      • You are correct, but unfortunately I think it’s a lost cause.
        The arrogance of the record companies years ago led to mp3s and “free” music over Napster. An entire generation was educated to think of lower quality audio as the standard, and that audio should be 24/7 and free.

        Youtube today continues this situation – it’s a favorite of young people for consuming music and it is free.

        One of my 20 something acquantainces (I’m 58) couldn’t understand why I buy muisic – because “it’s all on youtube and the artist gets paid” . I explained about SQ and even more so what the economics are: that most performing artists and especially songwriters make next to nothing off of youtube plays, versus considerable royalties if music is “bought”. She was surprised and impressed, but not convinced.

        But in historical terms, artists have always had a hard time making a living – the 20th century was somewhat of an exception for them – so maybe we are just returning to the historical norm.
        In any case, I mostly blame the record labels and distributors, who have a monoply like control of the market and have written contracts for digital (non-physical media) that makes sure almost all the money accrues to them and almost nothing goes to the artist.
        It doesn’t have to be this way, but unfortunately I can’t see how it is going to change to put more money in the pocket of artists.

      • Aha, a smart political mind at work here. Inalienable rights Mr. Ebaen it is. I say that as an American who studied the US Constitution because I write about it daily, and one who lives in Europe for some parts of the year next to one of Europe’s most beautiful opera houses where he gets to hear live performances and practices daily. But I agree…everyone has an inalienable right to a high rise condo in Palm Beach and a $250,000 high end audio system, no?

        Seriously, I think that too many reviewers might get sucked into another hype that sounds good in the here and now – as snake oil often will smell good – until the time it no longer sounds good. We know, albeit the data is incomplete, that WAV sounds better than folded WAV, aka, FLAC, ALAC. We know why people download and streamers use FLAC. Because most don’t use WAV – meta data issues and the good reasons for having the folded version.

        For example, we know that Israel is not occupying anyone’s land. It has something to do with inalienable rights, so on. There are things we “know” provided we have the information – for example history and museums across the globe that prove our contention – – from which we get the knowledge out of which we get the ability to draw concrete conclusions and useful opinion.

        For example, while we don’t have the knowledge – yet – about MQA’s “quality” other than the propaganda we get from its manufacturer, we should suspect that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I came to this conclusion indirectly after a long night of consuming large quantities of intoxicating substances. During my misspent youth I purchased a bridge spanning the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan. It was a bargain then, it is a far greater bargain today as you can see here:

        Fold anything and it is likely not to unfold to be exactly the same as it was before you folded it…you know, those inconvenient wrinkles on your recently unfolded white shirt after it was unpacked on your arrival. The same can be said about mideast stories and politics after you unpack them. And stories about the benefits of any new technology. And stories about your luscious model girlfriend whom you’d wish became, as soon as possible, someone else’s luscious model girlfriend.

        Which might bring us back to inalienable rights of people, regardless of where they live…first ones to get there matters. In audio MQA’s vendors have gotten there first, which matters, and the technology probably has some value for streaming. But it is the unfolding of the tale that might no longer ring true that is of concern to this writer.

    10. Here’s my observations concerning MQA:

      -Meridian want to collect royalties with the technology

      -The MQA include some sophisticated metadata tracking (that could be useful to track the files and copyright)

      -MQA want to please the IT Crowd by crunching the size(in the mean time we got Netflix 4K pouring at 20Mbs in our living room…)

      -Meridian will have a edge by including the MQA technology in their products, but it’s easier and more lucrative to sell the IP (intellectual property)

      -So in short…MQA is there to please the industry more than the audiophile…and we got all the open source technology in place (flac,ogg,Opus) to get better sound quality for cheap…why invent a new codec ? Just to collect more money ?

    11. I’d love to see Tidal and Pono merge and offer multiple streaming service tiers depending upon one’s budget and needs… e.g. Lossy, Lossless Redbook and Hi-res streaming, and discounted download prices for streaming subscribers.

      Fortunately, for non-critical / day-to-day listening, I’m perfectly happy listening to lossy streaming services (e.g. iTunes, Spotify) on my factory car stereo or using my Shure canal phones with my Android phone or iPod Touch.

    12. I was one of a dozen people who saw/heard the MQA/Tidal demo at RMAF. First was 1957 mono demo of Sinatra singing acapella. And yes, it was streaming to a $2,000 Mytek Brooklyn DAC over the hotel’s crappy wifi. It was easily the most memorable sound I heard in Denver and I heard most all of them. It did sound like a master recording, not just hi-res.

      This was an EXCELLENT bit of writing Mr. Darko!

    13. There is more content on trend-following than illumination on audio performance distribution and replication.

      Baby boomers valued music differently than millennials. (That’s neither “good” or “bad”.) Just is. But you will have to wait for more Boomers to die off to hide from people who actually heard the studio recording, heard the mixing boards, and other nuances. (You know- there was direct-to-disc in the ’70s, too.)

      Poor record labels can’t get a monopoly extension (copyright/performance right) like big Pharma is getting for its (patent) products. Offering new versions of old recordings is their way to rejuvenate deteriorating top-line margin and revenue streams.

      The reality- even if everything was equal, a class D amplifier and Beats for a soundstage will take re-investment that millennials can’t afford. The music cataloguing and organization has had real scale and consistency limits. Bit-rot on multi-cellular (flash) storage and HDD media further erodes the value proposition. The player industry reveled at the margins they got on players that had no spatial dimensionality- just amplitude and frequency. Accountants driving a market into the ground with efficiency at the trade of effectivity. Listener’s ears never get tuned, so they move on. And now its all commodity with margins disappearing along with top-line revenue.

      And then this chromium-plated scientism.

    14. What I would love to see is someone talking about the Youtube effect. One can upload pirated music basically ad infinitum. Yes Google will take it down (tssk, tssk), but if it is constantly being uploaded is it really unavailable? Millions use Youtube as if it were spotify, etc. A massive Trojan Horse. Why pay anything when Youtube seems to facilitate theft?

    15. Dear John,

      I believe your post is highly misleading because it puts the focus on bits and not on the recordings. I understand you have used a business approach in your post and my comment echoes this business approach.

      Let me give you an example, and there are countless of them.

      Nevermind by Nirvana -> Original CD = DR12 … CRAP 24/96 “Studio Master” Quality sold by HDTracks and Qobuz = DR7

      The original version converted to MP3 256 kbps will sound far better than the LOUD 24/96 crap sold by HDTracks.

      In the above scenario bits are only relevant if the original recording is sold in good quality.

      Quality of recording matters the most by far and I could go as far as saying that HDTracks is ripping clients off selling a DR7.

      Pono’s marketing felt miserably because Neil Young and his crew (except for the honest Charlie Hansen) chose to talk about bits and tested the Pono in moving vehicles. If Young had been honest, he would have told the audience that recording matters the most and that Pono would do its best to find the best possible recordings so one can truly tell the difference on a Pono Player (which I own and which I love). I know the Young crew mentioned quality of recordings at some point, but they focused far more on digital technicalities.

      Your current post misleads the public by not addressing a simple fact: the public will benefit far more from better recordings.

      Ok, people prefer convenience and loud MP3s is fine with the vast majority. For now, this means that good recordings will remain VERY niche and that’s the end of it. Who really gives a damn if Tidal or anyone else streams lossless if the vast majority of recordings to be listened to have subpar quality??

      So let’s talk business: Value of music started to go down the drain when labels started to make loud recordings for background listenings. This is a fact. How do we make music profitable again for labels and artists? They must unite! Stop loudness all at the same time. Unite. Put music back at the forefront. Music celebrities must be vocal about loudness and condemn it. The audiences will be able to tell the difference if they simply turn up the volume knob a little for better recordings and the Pono player will rule the world.

      By making music a centerpiece and not a background crap-piece, labels and artists will see their income soar.

      And, John, and I know this is your venue and you own it, so I cannot go any further than giving you kind suggestions, but can you do us all a favor and acknowledge that recordings matter the most by far and incorporate this fact into the construction of your discourse?


      • Yes, recording matters most, I hear ya but this was a discussion of hi-res audio coming to Tidal via MQA. That doesn’t make this post misleading; it’s a discussion of the application of an audio tech. Whether it *should* be applied is another discussion entirely. Posts on mastering quality and the loudness wars are coming soon to DAR.

        As for campaigning for better studio standards, that’s beyond the remit of these pages. However, I reckon the value of music being close to zero is more to do with a decade of rampant piracy than it is diminished recording quality standards.

        • “Posts on mastering quality and the loudness wars are coming soon to DAR.”


          Sorry about the “misleading” label. I guess I see pretty much every reviewer with an audience talking about bits and forgetting about recording quality. I guess the sum of all these posts by reviewers is misleading, as this sum seems to equate quality with bits and my example of Nevermind by Nirvana is one example among thousands that asserts that quality of recording is far more important.

          I believe your main thesis is that our audiophile niche should meet convenience/mainstream (I apologize if I am wrong). MQA meets Tidal. I believe this thesis is flawed (sorry!!). Our audiophile niche is all about conscious listening and we will despise HDTracks albums with pitiful dynamic range (don’t you?). We buy audio gear and carry the pono (+ balanced cables + HD-650, in my case) because we feel it is a good investment because we have the habit of fully devoting our attention to music.

          The only way the mainstream could possibly meet this habit and care about the quality of the sound is if they are offered recordings that are not ear-fatiguing.

          So Neil Young’s blurb should have been like: “You have been sold awful recordings by the artists you care for. But we artists are sorry and now we want you to really listen to what music should sound like. Buy good sounding recordings from the PONO ecosystem, use the Pono and don’t forget to turn up the volume, and enjoy music that will really make your soul shake.” And then he could have his celebrity friends join in and share the same blurb. And Voila! Truth shall set music free!

          • My main ‘thesis’ doesn’t centre on any technology or ‘should do’. It’s one of pragmatism: getting mainstream listeners onto Redbook diets before any talk of hi-res arrives at their door. The music is already in place so no loss of library and the lossless streaming is already in place so no hit to convenience. A move to lossless audio could be applied to every streamer on the planet *tomorrow* if it weren’t for the variable quality of Internet connections (and download quotas) around the world.

            Improvements to mastering quality means changes at the studio level. For that I hold out far less hope than technological advances in listening rooms.

    16. Thanks for the reply, John.

      Improvements of mastering quality are already in place and available. So keep your hopes up 🙂

      Think about any popular album (that sold more than 10,000 copies) and chances are there is a good master available. For music after year 2000, master is usually in the vinyl record version, but it does exist.

      My guess is that you are acquainted with this web site It is my Holy Grail when I am curating my music collection.

    17. Companies X,Y, & Z will struggle financially until they figure out how to make streaming music fully addictive. 🙂

    18. An interesting test for anyone on Tidal already. Tidal provides, if I recall correctly, Tidal HSQ via Amarra? The test next is Amarra-Tidal v MQA-Tidal, and lastly, Amarra-MQA-Tidal, if that is possible at all. After MQA, are any of the players we may use via Macs, useful? Are we at the point that MQA in your PC will obviate good digital engines in the players?

      Will MQAs obsolete good DACs too, or will there be DAC technologies such as Chord’s specifically, that may resist the curve? Can MQA be applied before the DAC?

      Questions, questions…

    19. Just came across this. Interesting debate.
      One other angle, perhaps – what about the power of the super-artists and super-groups who I would assume, rightly or wrongly (and what follows assumes rightly) could be in a position to pull their music from one or more streaming services (e.g. Adele).
      In such a scenario, if they don’t feel that their cut from one outlet is enough and pull their music from it, and if we talk multiple artists, people could head off from that streaming service to another who gave in to the demands like a herd of zombies hearing a noise in ‘The Walking Dead’.
      Their destination might cost a little more, but since they have no hard-copies to fall back on, the users might well pay.
      The subscription services could alternatively attempt to ‘show up’ the artist as a ‘money-grabber’ by charging a small extra fee to listen to X, Y or Z making the demands in the hope that the users will be so incensed that the artist suffers, but I don’t imagine that working.
      Or, they could all “club together” and hold ranks, all refusing to stock those artists’ tracks. But then people will presumably gravitate to YouTube.
      Who would win – the artists and labels, or the subscription services – who wields the power?

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