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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, Beyoncé 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 €15 to €23.

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 NextBigThing™, 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 H. Darko

John H. Darko

John is the editor/publisher of DAR from which he derives an income from its ad revenues. John is also an occasional contributor to 6moons and AudioStream and lives in Berlin, Germany.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

34 Comments

  1. Say you desire to join the revolution, ditch your system, and sink your hard earned money into a streamer going to a KEF LS-50 Wireless. Where you gonna to be when MQA takes over the world?

  2. Tidal software helps with the MQA decoding and I can notice its benefits instantly with Dragonfly Red at least with some Bowie’s and Richard Hawley’s releases I own . Does it mean that to listen to the improvements with purchased files, one needs a MQA DAC? I’m just expecting that the Red update will help with it.

  3. I can’t buy any of these and I want to. I created an account and was told I couldn’t download them. So when will I be able to download rock, pop, r&b/hip hop and country MQA files in the United States?

  4. One drawback to hiresaudio.com is that many titles are restricted by territory; for instance, folks in the USA who aren’t using a VPN or proxy of some sort see a message stating that the Joy Division and Bowie titles aren’t available to them.

  5. Found some of them. It states due to territorial restrictions it can not be sold. I am in the U.S.A.

  6. I wish it was so easy, but look what happen:

    “I`m sorry!

    Dear HIGHRESAUDIO Visitor,

    due to territorial constraints and also different releases dates in each country you currently can`t purchase this album. We are updating our release dates twice a week. So, please feel free to check from time-to-time, if the album is available for your country.
    We suggest, that you bookmark the album and use our Short List function.
    Thank you for your understanding and patience.
    Yours sincerely, HIGHRESAUDIO”

    • Yes, downloads and their territorial restrictions continue to trouble those on the wrong side of the fence with wallets open.

  7. It also seems that you can’t download the original hi res file, but are “forced” into MAQ.
    When search for 192, you are offered MQA.

    • BTW, I wrote highresaudio and asked them if selling MQA versions meant they wouldn’t sell other versions, or if MQA meant there was any restriction on what versions of an album they could sell. Here’s their answer:

      We always offer as default format the native and original 24bit FLAC and additionally via the dropdown menu you can select other formats e.g. MQA. or different sampling rate or audio codecs. The choice is always yours!
      We will never sell only an MQA album!

      Seems to be true, from the selections that I checked by going to the album page. You only see the selection when you click through to the album page, and not in the search results. Of course, if at some point the label sells on an MQA version, their claim won’t be true.

  8. Highresaudio.com tracks don’t appear to be available in Australia.

    Out of interest are the MQA tracks also available in 24/96 (or 24/88)? (I can’t see the format availability from Australia).

    The reason I ask is because looking at the MQA file size on Tidal, it is clear that they are effectively 24/96 (or 24/88) files, with some slight compression.

    Therefore MQA either have access to 24/96 source files or they are simply upsampling.

    If 24/96 source files exist, the big question is why aren’t they available?

  9. Yes, some companies like Schiit and Ayre are not diving into MQA. I have Tidal, so I can get a taste of MQA.

    However Tidal really needs to get their interface at par with Spotify. Right now, I can’t afford to Roon my finances, so I am stuck with the Tidal app (on iPhone or PC)

    Looking at HighResAudio website, not all albums are available in all territories 🙁

  10. Hi John,

    Cool that you are promoting HighResAudio.com, so many options indeed.

    I do believe they were already selling MQA albums since Munich High End, right ?

    http://www.mqa.co.uk/customer/news/post/MQA%20Announces%20New%20Partnerships%20at%20Munich%20High%20End%20Show

    Of course, they expanded their offering now with the recent announcements. The option to own is very important.

    The thing is, it all remains quite expensive for a digital download where there is no physical shipping involved. Same for HDTracks.com. For some albums that you love that is no big problem, but in general, on average, it is.

    I think Qobuz’s so called Sublime subscription is a very interesting option/example. They give you a discount on some HD purchases, often making them cheaper than CD quality. A bit similar to Amazon Prime I guess.

    For example, Mike Oldfield released Return To Ommadown today (no streaming yet, this is brand new ;-). Normal cost is EUR 17.48 for the 96/24 HD download, discounted to EUR 9.96 under the Sublime option, less than the EUR 12.99 for CD quality. Good deal, right ?

    Regards,

    Sven

    • MQA downloads have indeed been around since (before) Munich but the Warners (mainstream) content is new.

  11. Interesting news but I still have one fairly big problem with MQA and really, all hi-res files in general. How much of a premium is it worth paying to get that last bit of juice beyond the 16-44 offered by red book files? This is particularly an issue for people who have already invested substantial amounts of money in red book CDs. I have a good enough system that I can hear the difference but I find it really hard to justify paying the premium, particularly for records that I already own. For those with large collections, it’s not an insignificant investment if you’re considering replacing a lot of what you already have with hi-res or MQA versions. In my experience there is about a 15-20% premium (in general) for hi-res above red book. The costs you reference in your article suggest a possible additional premium above that for MQA. I really feel like we may be approaching a point where the law of diminishing returns begins to rear its head. Tidal’s recent announcement helps to provide an alternative at least up to the 24-96 threshold. Beyond that you would have to invest in an MQA DAC, an additional investment of hundreds? thousand[s]? And you still wouldn’t own the files as you pointed out in the article. This is just one person’s opinion and everyone will have to make their own decisions. This hobby seems to have an amazing ability to find new ways to empty your bank account.

    • 1. Reading your comments re ‘hi-res’, I have to wonder if you’re familiar with exactly what it is MQA is offering over other high bitrate music formats. Does ‘desmearing’ ring any bells ? That’s going back to the source and potentially fixing a serious issue – something no upsampler has ever been able to offer.

      2. I agree that paying more to repurchase music you already have is a big ask, but let’s be clear here : you never really ‘owned’ any of it, whether its on analog or digital media. Countless court cases involving artists and their record companies over who owns the creative output of their efforts – guess which one usually has the nastier legal team ? No-one here is going to stop you burning a downloaded album to CD or even transferring it to reel-to-reel tape if that’s your thing : the industry gave up on trying to prosecute people for that decades ago. Just dont try to share it online and you’ll have the physical media that many here cant seem to let go.

      3. If Audioquest holds true to its promise, I’ll have an MQA ‘decoder’ by the end of this month for no extra cost over the $149 I paid for my DF Black. That’s hardly ‘thousands’, is it ? If MQA folded tomorrow, I will still have a working DAC that I am 100% happy with – can the same be said for the people who’ve spent serious dollars for a DSD DAC ? I’ve owned several and simply wouldnt pay the same prices again purely on the basis that it ‘brings DSD to life’, but that’s just me.

      I’m agnostic on MQA, btw – if Schiit and others have this pegged (as they seem to have done with DSD), John will have to find something else to write about pronto, but it wont be any skin off my extremties 😉

      McLovin

  12. I think we’re all suffering from NextBigThing™ exhaustion. At least MQA has backwards compatibility nailed and gives varying options for those who haven’t bought an MQA player which gives it more traction than previous NextBigThing™ technologies.

  13. Since i got Tidal in july 2016 i,ve been having this feeling that anytime now i,ll wake up and it,s all been beautiful dream!Seriously,20 euros a month for all this and now MQA as icing on the cake for free.If you think that is overpriced i don’t know what to say.Actually i do,i’m 56 years old and things have NEVER been this good in terms of availabilety,price and quality .
    Lasse K
    Stockholm

    • Lucky you Lars, one of the privileged few to have open access. I have NEVER in ALL MY LIFE seen such DISCRIMINATORY, RESTRICTIVE ACCESS TO MUSIC as these high-res music services, either by download or by streaming.

      The history of access to recordings:
      LP: everyone
      Cassette: everyone
      CD: everyone
      SACD: everyone
      DVD-Audio: everyone
      Bluray: everyone
      Hi-res internet: DISASTER

      How JD can go around excited about this, instead of screaming from his perch, makes me wonder. We are witnessing a massive collapse in the availability of quality audio. The Haves and the Havenots. And there is NO indication that it’s just a matter of small delays, or even of large delays: the licensing restrictions make it look more like, you know, walls.

      • It’s a new post about the availability of MQA content to own as a download from a single German web store. Hardly reason to divert frustrations with said store’s regional restrictions to the reporter bringing it to your attention. Yes, such restrictions are frustrating but these are likely the result of roadblocks put in place by the license holders. Your ire is therefore best kept for the record labels themselves.

        Agree with you however on the division of audio quality mirroring that of society.

      • Grant, I’ll be 58 in April, so we’re roughly the same vintage and I have to say that I consider you a Luddite. Lets address your precious media, shall we ?

        The history of access to recordings:
        LP: everyone :
        Cassette: everyone
        CD: everyone
        SACD: everyone
        DVD-Audio: everyone
        Bluray: everyone
        Hi-res internet: DISASTER

        Last I checked, vinyl, CD, DVD and BD were still being sold, albeit not in the volumes you might like. SACD was a proprietary format from day one, and the jury is STILL out on whether the difference in SQ was obvious to most (human) ears. In my early twenties, I spent far more on vinyl in any given month IN 1980s DOLLARS than the cost of a TIDAL subscription today, was frequently forced to buy an album for one or two decent songs (plus the obligatory filler tracks) and had no recourse but to buy an album again if it was damaged or stolen. No cloud, no cheap USB drives for backup (I worked on a mainfraime computer at the time and the very idea of owning a ‘microcomputer’ was pure fantasy).

        I’m not anti-vinyl, just pointing out a couple of grim realities that folks who get hung up on nostalgia seem to overlook – as for cassette tapes, please give us all a break. I cant think of a crappier media than the cheap tapes the record companies foisted onto us – the ‘premium’ tapes from the likes of BASF and Toshiba were better but you were still held hostage by the cheap gear of the day.

        As I pointed out earlier in these comments, whatever the legality of burning your downloads to CD (or burning FLAC files straight to a DVD for backup), I doubt that you’ll ever be prosecuted. Why pay ~20USD to have two CDs sent to your home when you can listen to hundreds of CDs every month for the same outlay ?? I get that those who prefer analog still buy vinyl, but given that John’s primary focus is on digital audio (note I said ‘primary’), I’m assuming that you arent interested exclusively in vinyl. Perhaps its time we dragged outselves into the 21st century instead of longing for a past that was never half as good as some would have us believe.

    • I’m expecting a premium MQA tier at some point, for more money. Not based on info, just on experience/cynicism.

    • Damn straight! For the price of a new cd per month you can try all sorts of new stuff. Then of course MQA is becoming a real option. Just wish i could control Tidal from the couch. Amarra just isn’t working for me.

  14. As far as MQA proving we’re getting a master, it is “sort of” true. MQA says they only apply their process to the “best available” version. It’s already been shown that some MQA versions aren’t from the original master, but a “safety” copy or some other 2nd generation copy.

    I’m not really saying that as a criticism, just giving a little perspective on something that’s been hyped a bit. The MQA light only proves you’ve gotten the true “MQA remaster”, not really something you know for certain is made from the actual studio master.

    • In the majority of cases, MQA are applying their process to the “best available” *digital* master. The way I understand it, they only go back to the tape for ‘white glove’ projects.

  15. OK John – I have to have a moan and you’re as good a place to start as any. I would really like to see any future ‘MQA’-style acronym suffixed with ‘Audio’. Why the %^#@! hell Roon felt the need to go from Sooloos – something that could NOT be confused with anything else completey effing escapes me.Type ‘Roon Ready’ into Google and you’ll see what I’m on about – I *know* the company is called ‘Roon Labs’, but should it really be so bastardly hard to get a current list of Roon Ready network players ?!? This page is a massive effing cop out IMO:

    https://roonlabs.com/partners.html

    Links to manufacturer’s sites with no indication of WHICH of their products have been tested / certified ? As for MQA, the would-be rulers of the streaming universe, where is Audioquest on this page ?

    http://www.mqa.co.uk/customer/our-partners

    John, I realise this is still work-in-progress, but from where I’m sitting the big boys are leaving it to the community – including reviewers like yourself – to do their jobs. A pox on both their houses.

    McLovin The Frustrated Audiophool

  16. I’m still struggling to get my head around MQA and how I can give it a try on a tiny budget (I trialled Tidal last year, before MQA, so I probably don’t qualify for another).

    Are there any other desktop tools available that can perform the first unwrap of an MQA file to 24/96, that my current DAC can handle?

    e.g. Do we think this will come to tools like Jriver?

  17. So, I’ve taken advantage of a 3 months trial of Tidal to listen to some of the MQA masters that I happen to also have in high res or redbook on my computer. I’m equipped with my old MacBook white, a Focusrite Saffire 24 interface and an AKG K612, not state if the art, and the Saffire is limited to 96Khz, but in my case, good enough. I launched the Tidal desktop software (yep I’m old school like that:) ) and Swinsian with my library on the other side. I listened to extracts lasting around a minute of a few songs (of course I checked that all settings were right) and so far MQA does nothing for me. At best I completely failed to hear any difference, in few occurrences, such as “I do” from The Bride by Bat for lashes, “Starman” by Bowie, “Queen” from Electric Lady by Janelle Monae, “Lonely Woman” by Ornette Coleman, “Quadrant 4” on Spectrum by Billy Cobham, the MQA version actually sounded worse even than the redbook version: harsh highs, lack of definition in the medium and lower medium. I certainly didn’t hear any improvements in the sense of space, instruments separation and transients.
    As far as I’m concerned, this the end of the MQA experiment for me.
    It’s always a pleasure to read your posts, John, and dream of inaccessible gear 😀

    Cheers,

    Pierre

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