I recently sat down with Ken Forsythe, MQA Director of Market Development, to delve further into why this high-quality audio technology is important for our audio industry on so many levels.
Maureen Jenson: Ken, for those that don’t know yet, what exactly is MQA?
Ken Forsythe: Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) is an award-winning British technology that, for the first time, allows the consumer to hear original studio quality sound in a file format small enough to stream. In the past, consumers have been forced to give up sound quality to hear music on the go. This included not only downloaded music but streaming services as well. MQA’s unique “origami,” or folding, allows even the highest resolutions to be economically streamed and listened to at full resolution.
MJ: Why is MQA important?
KF: MQA is important because it means you no longer have to sacrifice quality for convenience. The key reasons, each a fantastic customer benefit, are:
- MQA allows record labels to release music in a single very-high-quality resolution rather than a resolution that supports the various formats of distribution. For example, in the past, a “Studio Master” would be made of various resolutions; depending on where and through what device you listened to it. MQA enables record labels to release a master in a single high-resolution version, its level of sound quality to be determined by the playback device, rather than by the content itself. MQA also makes it possible for labels to “authenticate” their content, ensuring its provenance. This means that, for the first time, the customer can hear what happened in the studio, guaranteed by the very people—the musicians, engineers, and producers—who created it. This makes possible a much more intimate experience with your favorite music and artist.
- MQA is backward compatible: You do not have to purchase a new device to listen to an MQA album. Even with no MQA decoding, you hear sound that is better than CD quality. With Software or Core decoding you can listen to files of up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution, while a fully certified MQA DAC will play those files at the level of Studio Quality Sound. Depending on what you listen to, MQA might even be able to be added as an upgrade!
- MQA’s unique “origami,” or folding, allows content of even the highest resolution to be streamed economically. MQA typically streams at a data rate of around 1.2Mbps, and its highest rate doesn’t exceed 1.7Mbps. This means that you can listen to the highest quality sound at the same, or slightly more than, the data rate of a standard 16-bit/44.1kHz CD.
- MQA has been adopted by Warner, Universal, Sony Music, as well as Merlin on behalf of the independent label community. This means that all the music in the world can be made available in MQA.
MJ: What categories of product is MQA available in?
KF: MQA capability is currently found in products such as home and portable DACs, DSP loudspeakers, wireless loudspeakers, soundbars, digital integrated amplifiers, home audio streamers, portable digital audio players, music software players and applications, and mobile phones. Developing product categories include AVRs, headphones, and car audio systems.
MJ: Where is MQA content available from? How can our readers get MQA music?
KF: MQA content can be distributed via all existing lossless formats, including CD, DVD, Blu-ray disc, downloads, and streaming. MQA will be distributed by formats in different territories, as determined by demand by the music labels. Currently, MQA CDs are available in the US and Japan, and MQA is used for streaming by Tidal; announcements for new streaming services include Deezer, and Groovers in Korea.
Check out these links!
Bob Ludwig – mastering engineer
MQA website – how it works
MJ: Where do you see the home-entertainment market going?
KF: We see increasing demand for convenience and quality. This is where the heart of MQA lies.
A trend that is moving quickly to dominate the market is streaming for video and audio.
Streaming offers consumers the benefits of not having to “purchase” and store content, or have access to a huge library, with all the convenience of taking all their content on the go. This will have an impact not only on the content services, but also on the hardware through which they enjoy this content.
As demand for physical media falls in certain (although not all) markets, we are beginning to see a refocus on higher quality. For example, in less than a decade, streaming video quickly evolved from compressed video to 480p, to 1080p, and now to 4K. We are seeing the same movement in audio, from MP3 to MQA. Like viewers, listeners want higher quality—signals that are more faithful to the source—while also enjoying this content on the go. MQA is ideally suited to this by delivering Studio Authenticated content in Master Quality Audio, all in a package small enough to be easily streamed.
To the majority of the audio/video market, convenience is king. Consumers will embrace higher quality only if it does not affect convenience. Consider a future in which the only source is a high-quality mobile phone or tablet. This will provide on-the-go availability and quality to the consumer’s library, and seamlessly integrate into the car or home when the viewer/listener is in that environment. Imagine walking down the street, listening to your favorite artist through your smartphone and headphones: When you enter your car, the music seamlessly switches over to the car audio system for your drive home. And when you walk in your front door, the album continues to play through your house system—all without missing a beat.
This is the ultimate in convenience and quality.