MQA = WTF? 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