MQA announces licensing deal with Universal Music Group

The headline says it all. After landing Warner Music Group back in May of last year, MQA have Universal Music Group (UMG) all signed and sealed on a multi-year contract to license their “extensive catalogue of master recordings”.

From the press release: Mike Jbara, CEO of MQA, commented, “We’re very pleased to be working with Universal Music to achieve our goal of moving studio-quality sound into the mainstream. Universal’s timeless catalogue and impressive artist roster will fuel music streaming services worldwide and enable the premium listening experience for all music fans.”

Also from the press release: Michael Nash, Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy at UMG, said, “The promise of Hi-Res Audio streaming is becoming a reality, with one service already in the market and several more committed to launching this year. With MQA, we are working with a partner whose technology is among the best solutions for streaming Hi-Res Audio, and one that doesn’t ask music fans to compromise on sound quality for convenience. We’re looking forward to working with Mike and his team at MQA to make our industry-leading roster of artists and recordings available to music fans in the highest quality possible.”

The upshot? We’ll soon see UMG-sourced studio masters streaming via Tidal and (perhaps) made available for download via online retailers.

Did someone say, “The Beatles”?

For a list of artists presently signed to Universal, go here.

Two down, one to go (Sony).

Further information: MQA

Written by 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
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46 Comments

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  1. Excellent achievement by the MQA team!

    The codec will become as legendary as Dolby was in the 70’s. Sound quality improvement is fundamental and even with hifi sets in the 1000 USD range clearly audible.

    Looking forward to the release of more legendary albums at Tidal!

    • Peter,

      All I care about is the running total of albums on TIDAL and number of MQA albums I can download in the categories nine out ten Americans buy. So far the number of albums on TIDAL is unimpressive and the number of mainstream albums to download in the United States is zero.

      • Unlikely MQA can get to 5% of the market so hardly a standard. And American’s at least hate big record companies its in our DNA. Add promotion by audiophiles you have the kiss of death for a format.

        • That’s sad. Which other format can deliver a so-called ‘hires’ file in a CD size.
          Makes perfect sense to me that the rest of the industry adopts it; remember the protracted BS over VHS/Beta…?

  2. Great news. The more traction MQA gets the more chance companies currently sitting on the fence, Chord etc will update their products.

  3. Any good quality files available to ‘download’ rather than stream is very welcome, I find Tidal costs too rich for my blood. I’m not a piano & chamber music man and the lack of good quality content to download is shocking and, for me, it’s definitely hindering high res progress. I won’t get to exited by the news yet but it’s a very good step.

  4. Promising for MQA, but still doesn’t mean it will succeed as a format:
    Will it only be a streaming format? What percentage of users will sign up for the premium stream needed to receive it?
    How much of the catalog will actually receive MQA treatment?
    Will all of that material be available as downloads or physical media?

  5. I’m still a physical media guy and hope to remain so. But it does seem things are lining up for MQA to be the exclusive format for hi-res music. Scary.

    What are they gonna do when some 14 year old kid writes utility with two lines of code which rips the Tidal stream to your hard drive? Will be like a Las Vegas buffet for a two months until everyone has what they need.

  6. Whilst I applaud any attempt to improve the quality of audio playback in an age of lossy compression being “the standard for the masses”, I really can’t see a way in which MQA will succeed in penetrating the market beyond the niche audiophile/hi-res music crowd. Think SACD and DVD-A and the big player backing those formats had (admittedly fractured/partial support between formats) and I can’t help but think MQA in the longer term too. For a format to suceed it must be simple to access and use and for me there are issues there too. Finally, Apple, the biggest of all players whether we like it or not, simply won’t touch it, period. Now, if they decided to go Hi-Res/lossless themselves using the 24 bit masters they are collecting, well then maybe there’s a chance yet. Just trying to be a realist and just my humble opinion…happy to be proved wrong 🙂

    • “I really can’t see a way in which MQA will succeed in penetrating the market beyond the niche audiophile/hi-res music crowd.” <--- my thoughts precisely. Who is talking about MQA and/or hi-res audio outside of the audiophile ghetto's echo chamber?

      • Indeed so, John…I really would like an initiative like this to succeed but feel we’ve all been here so many times before.

    • I read that just now. While I find some of the arguments made compelling – main one being that MQA, or at least the way it’s been marketed/lobbied, sees the primary customer as the recording industry, not the artist or consumer – but there also seems to be a bit of hyperbole and FUD mixed in. Time will tell, I guess.

  7. Hi John,

    Any idea on why Tidal is only showing such a limited selection of “Master” tracks? (At least here in New Zealand – not sure if it’s a regional thing?)

    Cheers,

    Jeremy

    • My understanding is they have other albums scattered about and not all sitting neatly in the Masters section. Room for improvement in organizing it.

  8. If studios use MQA. The ‘file’ before folding and after unfolding is loss less. Then I can support this chain. I don’t think I will ever buy equipment with MQA. Most of my music I already have and for sure the new purchases I can play via my DAC without MQA. I seriously don’t see the excitement.

  9. Right, I still remember my first Floyd album I bought – Wish You Were Here somewhere around 1990. It was a cassette (sic!) and I soon run back to my store to get a CD. Was quite happy with it for a good while until I was infected with the vinyl bug – so Wish You Were here was one of the first records I bought. Soon after came the ipod, so as soon as Floyd catalogue was made available on the itunes store I couldn’t resist getting my favourite Floyd. And then came the hi-res version I bought last year I think. So now I’m biting my fingers waiting for my favourite Floyd album to be available in MQA!

    Or not …

    • I notice that they have pulled the ‘Mastered for iTunes’ heading from the store and that was their previous riposte to ‘audiophile’ criticism. I have a couple of MFi albums and one in particular, from the ECM label, sounds fantastic.
      Perhaps change is in the wind…

  10. Most of the hub-bub remains between those who purchase hi-res formatted music and corresponding playback equipment vs. those who primarily consume music via streaming.

    I’ve listened to basic decoded MQA via my audio system (thanks, John) and it’s qualitatively better sounding than non-MQA…TO MY HEARING/NEURAL-CIRCUITRY. I understand that progress always creates winning and losers, but that’s the way the REAL world works. Over the next year, I will shop for the best QPR (quality price ratio) DAC with pre-amp volume control to enhance my audio streaming system.

    Whether hardware manufacturers will improve the more inexpensive portable/mobile devices to resolve MQA sound quality seems the reasonable future goal given statements in these news reports.

    http://www.billboard.com/articles/business/7684981/jeff-bezos-steve-boom-amazon-power-100-cover

    http://musically.com/2017/02/16/umg-backs-mqa-predicts-half-dozen-hi-res-streaming-launches-2017/

  11. Can anyone tell me why MQA sounds better? I have been listening to Tidals Masters and they sound obviously better than CD’s I have. Now why I find this strange is I have active speakers with DSP inline to do the crossovers. How can the improvement (removal of time smear?) not be destroyed by the following analog digital analog conversions?

  12. John, I’m going to keep bitching about this in the comments section of every story you post re MQA or Audioquest. We’re nearing the end of February 2017 and there is still no sign of the long-awaiting firmware upgrade for the DFB/DFR. I expected more of Audioquest – clearly I need to realign my understanding of the gap between their marketing spin and reality.

    McLovin

    • You don’t have the patience to wait? We should be remind ourselves that it was NOT AudioQuest who promised the firmware update by end of Jan. The press release promising as much came from MQA’s PR team.

    • I’d rather they get the update right first time unlike say, Apple, who subsequently release tweak after tweak to correct initial errors.
      Given that little has happened on the MQA front, in terms of available material until very recently, shouldn’t we cut them a little slack?
      I have a pair if seriously inexpensive Altec Lansing speakers currently providing the audio from the desktop. The sound was always very mediocre, given they are little more than a pair of baked bean cans with drivers on the front.
      A week ago, I inserted a Jitterbug and my DF Black between tower and speakers and, strewth! what a difference! Soma FM now has clarity, space and stereo separation out of all proportion to the previous offering. My Red continues to feed my Shure 1840’s from various iDevices and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
      What’s not to like…?

    • There is buffer issue that TIDAL needs to resolve. It isn’t an AudioQuest DragonFly issue. Personally I don’t see how complaining in comment sections helps. The issue is TIDAL’s doesn’t it make more sense to talk to them?

  13. What we seem to have here is a codeq that enables the not-so-rich like me to achieve a more involving listening experience. Yes I hope a hi res subscription is going to cost less than €20 in the future, but owning a dragonfly red and a decent headphone means I can (in a month or so?) listen to Faithless, Depeche Mode etc. in a way that is more satisfying than previously. An MQA demo on a Bluesound/Lyngdorf/Elac set was a game changer for me. Yes, non MQA listening to €10.000,- equipment gets the same result (even with redbook files), but that leaves me out. It’s not just the gadget happy millenials who will benefit from this hi res revolution. My as yet MQA less Dragonfly red has already opened a door to experiencing my favorite albums like never before and more is to come through affordable hi res. Including de-smearing the original D-A. Semi-high end on a sub € 1000,- set. Actually, mine is a € 500 set, including the Grado headphones. Happy me indeed.
    And yes, I am saving for an upgrade. Chord Poly/Mojo? Active ls 50’s? I’ll wait untill an MQA inclusion is garanteed. Gives me some time to save the money.
    My opinion? Let MQA be the Model T Ford of Hi Res Audio. Despised by some, but the way forward given the current technology.

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