MQA inks Warner Music Group deal, lands on Bluesound


MQA = WTF?munich_2016 For many an armchair skeptic the equation balances itself. Questioning the algebra, I ask: have you actually heard it? I haven’t. At least not yet. The British company’s singular playback of MQA-d material at shows – as witnessed at last year’s Munich event – doesn’t count. What we need access to is an A/B proper, preferably with music we know and love.

As is evident from the following introductory talk from MQA’s Director of Content Services, Spencer Chrislu, MQA aspires to be the definitive archive format. Theirs is a three-pronged attack: 1) the de-blurring of digital audio wrought by A/D converters; 2) authentication by the DAC, an LED confirming that the file has reached the end user without manipulation and 3) most usefully for audiophiles, an ability to stream hi-res audio without an increase in bandwidth usage over and above Redbook.

We covered this in greater detail in the wake of MQA’s CES 2016 noise but at Munich High-End 2016 Chrislu interrupts normal programming in the Dynaudio room to deliver an MQA primer and play a couple of cuts encoded in the all-new whizz-bang format.

Notice how the two music choices are deep archive (read: old) and lack any hint of contemporary flavour. Right now, MQA’s catalogue remains wafer thin and is strictly of an audiophile bent (sadly reflected by the majority of music heard at this very show).

For a shot in the arm, MQA needs a licensing deal with one of the three major record labels to kick content provision up a gear or two. And first thing on Friday morning such an announcement came: MQA had inked a contract with Warner Music Group.

From the press release:

“The agreement – the first between MQA and any major music company – will significantly increase music fans’ access to hi-resolution music globally. The agreement paves the way for recordings from WMG’s diverse roster of acclaimed artists and its world-renowned catalogue to be made available in studio master quality through MQA distributors.”

No word yet on the specifics of when and how much content. Doubtful that we’ll go from nothing to millions of MQA titles overnight. More likely is the slow release of several thousand titles to test consumer demand.

Our second Munich-show video opens with Lenbrook’s Greg Stidsen announcing that MQA decoding will arrive on compatible Bluesound streaming products – presumably those that contain a DAC – from 1st June.

But as Chrislu readily admits, streaming is now the dominant force in music supply. Streaming service integration of Warner’s MQA content probably means Tidal. This in turn probably means more lawyers and another layer of licensing agreements. Download stores might therefore beat Tidal to the punch on offering MQA content from artists that we’ve heard of.

During my post-announcement conversation with Chrislu, he promised to get an MQA-d album to me so that I might conduct my own home-based A/B session with the newly arrived Mytek Brooklyn.

Whatever your (theoretical) opinion of Bob Stuart’s latest encoding technology, it’s a long way from being down and out.

Further information: MQA


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Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
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  1. Good to see a major content owner getting on board. Claims such as “hi res with CD bandwidth usage” still rub me the wrong way given the files that we have seen are much bigger than the FLAC equivalents. But whatever, we shall see…

  2. John, why are you the only hifi writer (at least that I’m aware of) that has chosen to take such a reasonable and measured approach to MQA? I’m totally open minded about it, but some other publications (Stereophile) have already declared it the “superior format.” When I commented on a Stereophile post announcing the Warner news that I thought that declaration was a bit premature, the writer responded as if I’d given him a wedgie. Thanks.

  3. Once more, with feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeling…I am not buying the “White Album” again. This is just more ENC (Emperor’s New Clothes) to sell us the same music for the umpteenth time. Witness the catalogs being presented for supposed “upgrading” via the use of MQA.

    MQA will either add or take from the music in order to make it more “palatable” for streaming and listening. It exists to make a buck. The music does not need MQA but MQA needs the music. For what, you say? To survive long enough to become entrenched in the system and your wallet. Again, this is naught but more of the flotsam of ENC that we, the buying public see every few years.

    I want nothing added nor taken away from what I listen to. ATRAC did so for Mini Disc and DCC (Digital Compact Cassette) utilized PASC. MQA, like the weavers in HCA’s timeless story about the ego driven clothes hound emperor, wants to make money off the one thing all people have and audiophiles possess in spades: an ego.

    And so MQA weaves a web of deceit to make audiophiles feeeeeeel they are missing something. Something they really cannot hear (but then that’s never stopped someone whose ego is only dwarfed by their “golden hearing”) but have been convinced exists and they need it to be “real audiophiles”. If one emperor buys into MQA then other emperors will do so too because after all, who wants to just someone that enjoys music. They want to be audiophiles, dammit!

    “Just listen to it”, they will say…”A true golden ear can easily discern the remarkable difference between music dipped in liquid pool that is MQA and raw, unfiltered, common music”, and more praise will be heaped upon it…”So transparent it’s like you can hear right through it!”…”Oh my GAWD!!! The soundstage enveloped me like my Great Aunt Matilda at our last family reunion! At once both dulcet and spicy… Such power! Such grace and love and velveteen smooooooooothness!” Ad (revenue) nausea.

    It will begin slowly at first but will gain acceptance with each “golden eared” audiophile typist.

    Not writer. TYPIST.



    • …or who will be able to hear the difference over 16/44.1 other than ten year olds and dogs?
      Monty on has already settled that…no one.

  4. Well John, I agree with you that the launch of MQA takes much time.. But with this first deal one of the 3 major music companies, it seems that their persistence will pay of sooner or later. Especially older recordings (with larger A/D errors) should profit most from the MQA algorithm. For recent material you can try the 2L testbench for example I am much looking forward to your personal A/B comparison of MQA content.

  5. Hi John,

    whilst I will have to wait for next year’s Bristol show to get a possible MQA A/B test, MQA has promise, in one scenario, it becomes popular enough that the price of entry drops below 500 ($,£,AUD) for a source component. (Meridian Explorer excepted)

    As you point out, the genres of music currently available are niche, and I fear that Warner will release major artists only (Fleetwood Mac, The Doors etc) in the first 2 years, which will make MQA possibly irrelevant to aspiring audiophiles/better sound seekers.
    Finally as you state, streaming is the most popoular consumption method and still growing, MQA has a massive opportunity to appeal.

    I wonder if getting modern music MQA’d inside the next 6 months is actually on their agenda or will the music industry belly flop on it’s “golden catalogue”?

    As always, time will tell, as will the A/B test.

    Looking forward to your feedback from that test, particularly some headphone testing if possible.



  6. IMO, Bob Stuart’s motive for MQA is the revenue stream. If it’s so great then why isn’t it open source? I think the general public cares nothing about sound quality and never will but making all distributed music MQA encoded regardless of where it’s played will be a huge windfall for MQA.

    Charlie Hansen of Ayre wrote an interesting opinion on the Stereophile web site. I tend to believe him since he’s a smart cookie and speaks his mind.

    • I think ALL of this is moot once Apple streams high-res natively (which if we are to believe the rumors is “soon”).

      What’s strange to me is that everything the presenter is talking about is *well understood* (pre-ringing, time smear, etc., etc.) in the industry but he doesn’t actually explain HOW MQA really solves or mitigates these issues. It’s magic.

      The storage argument sounds a lot like HDCD. A lot. And in 2016, with both storage and data rates what they are, I’m not sure how relevant this feature set is (probably depends on the compression ratio).

      Finally, the “authenticated” part is also cute. Now I will have a light to confirm the master was compressed to death. Sweet!

      I am looking forward to John’s impressions though. I too would like to get some MQA in-house to play with.

  7. I give them credit for going the right direction with it….
    Up until this point, it looked like a ploy to sell aluminum boxes with an MQA ready LED or sticker on them.

    The next big question is what does an MQA Distributor look like and what does the end user need to have in hand to take advantage of it?

    Will this content get the MQA’d treatment and then get rolled out via Tidal?
    Or are they going to try monetize even this little slice by selling downloads via some tired High Res site for $3.00 a song?

    I personally think that’ll spell disaster.

    That plus hardware requirements will be the next big hurdle. If you have to spend $1000 to enjoy MQA then it’ll remain audiophile fringe. No one in their right mind wants to spend $1000 just to listen to a different version of a song they can already listen to for free.

    However if they can offer higher quality content for near free without a bunch of burdensome hardware requirements…. then they may have something.