MQA – Other Perspectives On Streaming
Mini-opinion by Noam Bronstein
I tried, I really tried to avoid a clickbait title. Just including those three letters “MQA” in a post title is going to attract some views, I know that. I can’t recall a debate as nasty as this one among the audio opinionaters, in the last dozen years or so. And that isn’t surprising, given the way this technology has been rolled out.
But…..I swear…I’m not here to exacerbate that, so chill and enjoy your Sunday. I don’t have a position or agenda on this. I’ve been casually streaming both Spotify and Tidal the last 4-5 years, and sampled a couple of others. I like Tidal’s sound quality, for the most part, and that’s the service I mainly use when I’m not spinning physical media. None of these services are perfect. Certainly their business models can and should be questioned. Again, my point is not to dig into a COW (can of worms).
What I’ve found is that the quality of Tidal Masters seems to have improved over the last couple of years, when listened to with a full MQA decode. That’s subjective though, there are other factors that may be skewing my perceptions. I’m including a few below, that I think represent some of the better major-label efforts that I’ve had the chance to hear. Nothing too esoteric or ‘audiophile’ here.
Alright, Tidal listeners. What do you think of these – worse/equal/better than their CD counterparts? On what basis? Are there other examples – good or bad – you’d like to share in the comments? Opinions on the quality of streaming, is it something you’ve embraced? Eschewed? Still undecided? OK for falling asleep but not for the main system? There are no wrong answers here. Discussion of equipment is fine as well.
As always, please keep the discussion civilized. We’re fine with frustrations being vented, not trolling. As Steve said (I’m paraphrasing), it’s ok to share your opinion without showing us your butthole.
Thanks for reading,
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Noam, I used to fuss over and (almost) obsess over trying to get “perfect” sound but now, I am spending more time enjoying the music and less time obsessing. For me, post-Covid, I want to enjoy the music more with good friends and good food.
I use Tidal and enjoy it. I play vinyl and enjoy it, my old ears probably can’t tell the difference of MQA/Master/CD anyway.
That is totally cool. But you replied so fast, I know you haven’t had time to listen to the tracks yet. 😉
Hi Noam. I’m really enjoying the Bluesound Node. It’s a phenomenal piece of kit. I do notice that MQA sounds fuller, more analog. I prefer it. With some tracks, it gets close to vinyl. Tidal has come a long way in just the last year or two (when I cancelled my subscription). Thanks to the Node, I’ve renewed it.
I agree. The Node and Powernode are crazy good value, and NAD/Bluesound have a real team of engineers working to keep BluOS running. Right here in Canada.
Yes the BLUOS app is very good. The last streaming DAC I had in the house was the Lindemann Limetree. The Bluesound is better, cheaper, and with a much better supporting app. It’s seamless. About a year ago, with all the Zoom meetings etc I upgraded my wifi and internet speed to the fastest available. I have had no skips. None.
Noah, I have to ask why write this now? Simple, MQA Ltd is trying to raise more funds to continue operating because they lack the revenue to continue without it. They need people to talk about it because after eight years, MQA still has no traction in the market. I have a saying about what you wrote and the timing. I’ll post it in my MQA is Vaporware thread (still getting 30,000 views a month after more than six years).
MQA after all the promotion by the audio press has a streaming market share of 00.05%.
Finally, you call your blog the Wall of Sound but guess what. MQA doesn’t do Pet Sounds or any other wall of sound recording well.
Thanks for your comment, Steve. Six years ago I would have agreed that MQA was voodoo, based on what I heard at the time. But things have changed, and the major labels have been putting resources into this technology. So your viewpoints may be in need of an update. Anyhow, my site is inclusive and we aren’t aiming for controversy. If you don’t like MQA that’s cool. Just be factual about it wherever possible.
All the best,
The last contributions by the labels was in 2018 to Merlin. In 2016 Warner and Universal contributed services for MQA stock and in 2017 Sony completed services for stock. So it has been awhile since the labels contributed anything to MQA Limited according to their audited financial statements.
The 2020 MQA Limited financial statements discuss going concern as an issue and report cash receipts and disbursements for 2021. Not a pretty picture.
Tidal’s financial statements are also public until Square Inc. bought them and now they are too small to report as a segment so until they are reported as a segment we can assume limited growth. And a very small market share as I said.
As for the technology convince me I can’t duplicate the sound of the MQA encoding process with existing software and DSP. Bob Stuart couldn’t and I’ve met him and talked about MQA plugins for DAWs.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, I’m writing an article comparing MQA to Tharanos. They are eerily similar, starting with fishy demos.
Fun fact, if it wasn’t for me you would not know about the labels contributions of services for stock. I said in 2017 that the labels were given stock based on information on Companies House website. The 2016 statements were restated and Mike Jabara (CEO MQA) told me late 2016 was a busy time and they missed it.
For my facts to be wrong neg.net would have to have an abnormally high percentage of MQA streams and even then MQA’s streaming market share would be insignificant. Everything else is from financial information posted on Companies House website.
It sounds like you’ve made it your mission to take these guys down. Can we expect a Netflix documentary on this royal scam? 🙂
I’m still interested in our readers’ experiences with playing Tidal Masters. That was the only ‘evidence’ I was looking for, as it’s a discussion that’s seemingly been lost in all the hoopla.
A confession: I used to work for MCA but now it’s MQA. They kick back thousands and thousands to me each week.
Good grief, ese, do you really think we have any connections with the MQA people? It just so happens that MQA sounds good. So does SACD. I own at least 150 SACDs. They sound better than redbook and sometimes better than vinyl. Just because MQA has not caught on doesn’t mean it isn’t good. SACD proves that. Sometimes the market doesn’t appreciate a good thing.
As to your question – I think the MQA tracks are superior to CD level. I am acutely familiar with the Coltrane Naima cut and there is no doubt that to me the MQA version is fuller and rounder. The CD version always sounded thin to me and while the vinyl version was better this MQA track is the best yet.
I’ll second that for the Michael Jackson track. It has detail and dynamics I haven’t heard on any version.
I am delighted with Tidal and Tidal Masters. I run it through a Roon Nucleus into a PS Audio DAC and the rest of my gear is Bryston. The system doesn’t do MQA but it sounds terrific to me. I attached a turntable to it (I still have over a thousand LPs) but pop, click, hiss … I unattached it.
I agree. Thanks for your comment. Out of curiosity, which turntable did you try? Older records do require work to clean. Not exactly convenient but can still be very rewarding, depending on the circumstances.