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Download to own: Bowie, Blur and Joy Division in MQA

  • Rocky road – not the well-known combination of chocolate and marshmallows but MQA’s journey these past twelve months; I first sat down with company representative Spencer Chrislu at CES 2016. In Las Vegas I learnt of MQA’s promise: something for everyone (should they desire it).

    As with any new music delivery format, we’d do well do keep our enthusiasm in check until the content arrives. And I don’t mean the usual audiophile titles (hello 2L) but artists with more mainstream appeal like David Bowie, Joy Division and Blur.

    By the time we rolled into April, more mainstream music was nowhere to be seen. Further patience was required. The revolution would have to wait.

    At Munich High-End a month later, signs of progress: MQA had inked a deal with the Warner Music Group. The question then splintered: when and what? Which Warner titles would enjoy the MQA treatment and when would we hear them?

    Behind the scenes post Munich, MQA’s Bob Stuart and I conversed. MQA was both the name given to the company – not to be confused with Meridian – and an audio technology. Stuart would send me sample MQA content to evaluate. Audiophile stuff, sure, but the results spoke for themselves.

    What I didn’t reveal at the time was that Stuart has also MQA-d two of my favourite albums of all time. (No, I won’t name the artist). Again the Mytek Brooklyn DAC showed the MQA versions to sound superior – more spacious, tonally richer and more easeful – than the standard hi-res versions from which they were created.

    Hearing MQA applied to a mainstream artist with whose albums I was intimately familiar proved to be a turning point. Bob Stuart and Peter Craven’s technology could not be dismissed so easily. And yet I could still relate to the dissenting arguments emanating from reviewer colleagues and manufacturers.

    More crucial than the game of conjectural tennis that raged in the background was the issue of content provision. Still no word from Tidal on when they might drop the lever on MQA streaming. No word on downloads to own either.

    That was June, July and August.

    Meanwhile, DAC/streamer manufacturers continued to jump aboard: Bluesound, Pioneer/Onkyo, Bel Canto – and then in October – Aurender, Cary Audio and Brinkmann.

    At RMAF 2016, MQA’s Spencer Chrislu was kind enough to bring us up to speed on recent developments:

    …but still no word on how much MQA content would spill and when.

    Then came January’s big bang! At CES 2017 it was announced that selected Warner Music titles would begin streaming as MQA via Tidal immediately and at no extra charge to Hifi tier subscribers. Something for nothing.

    Clicking the Masters tab in Tidal would reveal not only the same old same old but classic albums from David Bowie, Talking Heads, Blur, Madonna, Love, The Black Keys, Beyoncรฉ and The Doors. And let us not forget Phil Collins. All accessible for US$20/month.

    Happiness and joy spilled from all corners of the audiophile community. Adversaries hugged, lines of conflict were erased, the world of audio saw a new dawn…

    only joking.

    To those who refer to Tidal as “Yuck” or would rather be seen naked in a bathtub of baked beans than be caught streaming from the Jay-Z-owned service, I absolutely cannot relate. Each to their own.

    Plaguing streaming services to a small degree is content provision stability. In 2016, Neil Young’s catalogue could – and did – disappear from Tidal overnight, only to return a few months later. Radiohead removed their non-Parlophone albums from all streaming services for a while. At time of writing, Prince’s almighty body of work is available on Tidal only.

    I don’t view these isolated incidents as reasons to ditch Tidal (or any streaming service) but I can relate to the need to own (and not rent) music, especially albums that we cherish so dearly. If it’s on a hard-drive in the basement, no-one can take it away.

    And if you feel this way about music as it relates to MQA, I have some good for you. Germany’s HighResAudio.com have this week announced the availability of the following titles as downloads to own, potentially forever (or as long as your hard-drive and back-ups last):

    Blur – The Great Escape (Remastered)
    John Coltrane – The Avant-Garde
    Eric Clapton – Live in San Diego (with Special Guest JJ Cale)
    Mick Jagger – She’s the Boss
    Mick Jagger – Primitive Cool
    Mick Jagger – The Very Best of Mick Jagger
    John Coltrane – The Very Best Of John Coltrane
    John Coltrane – Alternate Takes
    Deep Purple – Shades of Deep Purple (Stereo)
    Deep Purple – In Concert ’72
    David Bowie – Aladdin Sane
    David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
    Joy Division – Substance
    Jethro Tull – A Passion Play
    The Doobie Brothers – The Doobie Brothers
    Alanis Morissette So-Called Chaos
    Anthony Green – Pixie Queen
    Natalie Merchant – Natalie Merchant
    Foghat – Tight Shoes (Remastered)
    Foghat – Stone Blue (Remastered)
    Foghat – Rock And Roll Outlaws (Remastered)
    Foghat – Night Shift (Remastered)
    Foghat – Fool For The City (Remastered)
    Foghat – Foghat Live (Remastered)
    Foghat – Foghat (Remastered)
    Foghat – Foghat (aka Rock & Roll) (Remastered)
    Jeff Beck – Loud Hailer
    Carly Simon – Spy (Remastered)
    Carly Simon – Playing Possum (Remastered)
    Jeff Beck – Live +
    Carly Simon – Anticipation (Remastered)
    Carly Simon – Come Upstairs (Remastered)
    Carly Simon – Torch (Remastered)
    Carly Simon – Carly Simon (Remastered)
    Carly Simon – Another Passenger (Remastered)
    Carly Simon – Boys In The Trees (Remastered)
    Carly Simon – Hotcakes
    Chaka Khan – Chaka (Remastered)
    Chaka Khan – I Feel For You (Remastered)
    K. Michelle – Anybody Wanna Buy A Heart?
    Josh Groban – Josh Groban
    Josh Groban – Illuminations
    Dwight Yoakam – Hillbilly Deluxe
    Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears
    St Germain – St Germain
    The Corrs – White Light
    Mick Jagger – Goddess in the Doorway (Remastered)
    Coldplay – Viva La Vida – Prospekt’s March Edition (Remastered)
    Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head (Remastered)
    Coldplay – X & Y (Remastered)
    Coldplay – Parachutes (Remastered)
    Blur – Blur
    Blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish (Remastered)
    Blur – Parklife (Remastered)
    The Smiths – The Smiths (Remastered)
    The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (Remastered)
    Barclay James Harvest – Once Again (Remastered)
    Dwight Yoakam – A Long Way Home
    Adolphson & Falk – Indigo
    Adolphson & Falk – From Here to Eternity
    Charles Lloyd – The Best Of Charles Lloyd
    Halestorm – Into The Wild Life
    The Sheepdogs – Future Nostalgia

    (Lucky Foghat fans, eh.)

    This is by no means an exhaustive list. Yet more Bowie albums are available for purchase. Hit up HighResAudio’s advanced search panel and filter by format to go page by page through ’em all.

    Pricing per album download ranges from โ‚ฌ15 to โ‚ฌ23.

    Joy Division’s Substance is a classic in all but audiophile circles. Too see it made available in MQA, alongside The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead, is indicative of the catalogue width shortcomings of yesterday’s NextBigThingโ„ข, DSD.

    Furthermore, MQA’s authentication nixes the provenance concerns that plague/d standard PCM and DSD downloads. When that DAC LED lights up, we know with near-certainty that we’re listening to the studio master.

    Of their MQA downloads, HighResAudio say this: “All our MQAs are fully tested, verified and analyzed to offer you the native sampling rate and premium quality playback. We are proud in what we do and have to offer. “Guaranteed Premium Quality”. 

    Progress.

    Further information: HighResAudio.com

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he 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

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