Sound Quality of the Future: MQA Technology (Master Quality Authenticated)

I get a lot of confused comments and questions from my friends who listen to Tidal or are curious about Tidal Masters recordings. For this reason, I think it would be nice to simply explain what MQA is and how to listen.

MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) is a compression and decompression codec. It is a pure process chain that starts from the studio and comes to your home via Tidal Masters (commonly).

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MQA is a Hi-Res format and is different from other Hi-Res formats. The starting point was actually both to create a philosophy and to respond to a technical gap. Its creator is Bob Stuart, the founder of Meridian Audio , and his team. It has been developed on the philosophy of delivering the music created by the artist by staying true to the original without directly changing the music to the listener, which in fact is the basic philosophy of High Fidelity. The example given by Bob Stuart in this regard also shows how difficult the job is. For example, Warner Company publishes each song of its artists in 57 different ways. This creates a big mess in terms of staying true to the original. At this point, MQA comes into play as a streamable high quality format. The works, which are ready to be published in the studio using MQA 's own toolkits, reach the audience in the quality they were created and as recorded by the artist. It strictly adheres to the High Fidelity philosophy.

Using this format without going into technical depth, the engineers deliver the high-quality (Hi-Res) audio files required for streaming to us, using 1/3 of the original size with the help of MQA , in a package. The device that can play MQA in our hands also allows us to listen to these file packages with unfold, lossless and faithful to the original. (For now, it can give us a better quality version of a 24-bit 192 kHz lossless file, commonly with 24-bit /88.2 or 99.6 kHz).

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This situation may actually become very popular in the future, considering the quality that MQA adds to the sound for the streaming world. MQA allows companies and business partners that have an agreement with it to integrate the MQA process into the devices or software they produce. In other words , MQA can play Master Quality Authenticated files with the products of its partner brands. It is currently available as media on new MQA CDs as well as Tidal Streaming . Apart from this, they present the direct performances of the artists as MQA Live and their videos as MQA Videos . There is also a streaming company that does this. In general, I can say that MQA is still a developing product-service for now.

In my experiments on Tidal , I can say that Tidal Masters albums that were directly recorded and encoded with MQA toolkits gave better results than the old albums that were Up-sampled and then compressed with MQA . After all, pure chain integrity is important. For MQA playback, friends, you need a device with MQA Codec support. You have DAC, DAP, AVR, Network Player etc. Just because it supports 24 bit/192 kHz doesn't mean it can play a 24/88.2 or 99.6 MQA file! This situation, which causes confusion for many of our friends, is due to the fact that the song starts to play smoothly after selecting the Master quality in Tidal and pressing play on an unsupported device. If it doesn't, the situation will be understood. When the device plays the song, it seems that I am listening to Tidal Masters with MQA . However, what is listened to is actually Tidal Hifi . Tidal Masters is not MQA . In short, if you want to experience MQA, you need to find out which playback devices, brands and programs you can listen to MQA with the help of MQA company's page, and you need to pay attention to this when making a purchase decision. Otherwise, as I wrote above, you will think you are listening to MQA, Tidal Masters, and you will be listening to Tidal in Hifi quality and you will never wake up to this situation.

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Let's take a look at which MQA concepts are used by devices that can play MQA , or rather the concepts created for MQA Playback.

Roughly, we have a master quality MQA file from the studio packaged with MQA ( MQA calls it origami folding). When this reaches us, it is necessary to “unfold” it, a process necessary to reopen something that has been folded. This is where device capabilities come into play.

MQA Full Decoder: It uses hardware resource to reopen incoming MQA file. It handles Core Decoding and rendering processes at the Hardware level, which I will talk about shortly, and offers you the master quality MQA file. The process ends on one device. We reach the highest possible MQA resolution with this scenario; because we can render MQA up to 24bit /96kHz in many renderers.

It will be much clearer if I give an example here. For example, recording in the studio was originally produced at 24bit/192 kHz. This was twisted and compressed at 24-bit/48 kHz using the MQA toolkit in the studio using the origami folding technique. This compressed format is stored and streamed on Tidal servers. Your Full Decoder device will take this file as 24/48 and open it again in hardware, bring it back to the original studio quality and play it back to you at the highest recorded sample rate, 24/192.

Core Decoding and Rendering: Two steps are used here to unfold the MQA file compressed with MQA.

  • Stage1: The software starts the unfolding process (Tidal Desktop, Roon, Audrivana) and after a certain unfolding process, it needs a renderer (hardware finishes the unfolding process).

  • Step 2: Sends the file to Renderer. Let's give the same example above for Tidal Desktop and Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt . The recording in the studio was originally produced at 24bit/192 kHz. In this studio, using the MQA toolkit, it has been twisted and compressed in 24-bit/48 kHz with origami folding technique, and this compressed format is stored and streamed on Tidal servers. Tidal Desktop does this bent file processing up to a point and sends it to the hardware-supporting renderer, Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt, to finish the job. Here the renderer opens the bent file at the highest point of technical capability. Here, Dragonfly can present us the file that Full Decoder can open as 24/192 at sampling rate of 24/96. However, there is no change in the quality of the sound that will emerge here.
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  • Audiquest says that it can play files in 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz, 352.8kHz samples at 24/96 without sacrificing sound quality. Again, if you do not have an MQA certified DAC , MQA 's claim is that even in the scenario where the master quality song, bent with MQA , is partially opened with software decoding and sent to the DAC , much higher quality results are obtained than the CD. They say this is due to the purity of the chain from recording to playback, and the ability of MQA 's toolkit in the studio, and the codec quality of MQA to give high quality results in every scenario. In other words, with Core Decoding software, it is possible to listen to MQA 's Masters recordings with a quality close to tamanub, even if not completely.

What Mevlana said "Come whatever you are" is equivalent to "Come whatever you have" in our case what MQA said. The claim that MQA will make it better actually creates confusion and distrust in the odophile world. Other digital formats are stable and the samples it can output are extremely clear. At the same time, the capabilities of the devices that can play are just as clear. In MQA, on the other hand, there are many confusing aspects that are not clear. Your ear is definitely what will guide you here. For myself, there is definitely a difference in quality between the Hifi and Master versions of a new master quality album in Dragonly Cobalt and Tidal Desktop . I can't deny that. The fact that there are relatively few albums of Tidal Masters quality is another point that makes the work unpleasant.

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All of your friends who have been patiently reading this far should have found the answer to the question of why there is no master quality Turkish album. Because there is probably no studio in Turkey working and recording with MQA yet.


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