Like most audio professionals, we have been working with high-resolution audio for almost two decades, but for consumers, high-res has been a niche product. Physical media–SACD and DVD-A discs–are all but gone; and Blu-ray Pure Audio discs have not made inroads into the US market. Download sites like HD Tracks and Nugs.net offer high-resolution files, but these too are niche markets for audiophiles and enthusiasts.
Now, along comes MQA (Master Quality Authenticated), a means of delivering high-resolution audio that overcomes a major obstacle: MQA files are only a little larger than CD-quality wavs, and thus are easy to stream reliably. MQA offers these breakthroughs:
- MQA files can be decoded to high resolution, up to 384k/32 Bit, and are backward compatible with PCM playback devices.
- The signal processing used for encoding MQA files can correct the phase response of the converters used for recording and playback, a process MQA calls ‘de-blurring’.
MQA is the brainchild of Bob Stuart, founder of Meridian Audio, and a digital audio pioneer.
MQA-equipped DACs are now available from many hi-fi manufacturers at all price levels. MQA can also be decoded by music playback apps from Amarra (Sonic Studio) and Tidal and others. Full MQA decoding to 384k with ‘deblurring’ requires an MQA DAC. MQA decoding in a player app can ‘unfold’ the audio up to 96k.
Tidal offers a great collection of MQA music for streaming. The difference between listening to an MQA and CD-quality version can be dramatic!
Airshow Boulder is equipped with a Mytek Brooklyn MQA DAC with custom firmware, and the MQA PRO-Emulator software. With these tools we can optimize the MQA encoding settings for clients high-resolution audio masters. For now, MQA encoding is done at the record labels, or by MQA. A cloud-based encoding service is forthcoming from MQA; when that arrives, we will be able to deliver MQA files directly to our clients, as we do other master formats, including DDP masters for CD and Mastered for iTunes files.
We recently hosted an MQA listening session at the Boulder studio attended by a dozen or so engineers and producers (and Charlie Pilzer, visiting from Takoma Park). Audio journalist Steven Stone was there and filed a report for Audiophile Review
Read Anna Frick’s related blog post on high-res work flow and deliverables, “What You Should Know About New Recommendations on High-Res Audio.”
Here is the MQA Cheat Sheet from the listening session.
Please contact Airshow Boulder to learn more about MQA.