Master Quality Authenticated - MQA
We recently received an email from Scott in Pine Arizona asking us to talk about MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) audio. We’ll take a look at it from a 30,000 foot level in the hopes that you take a deeper look on your own.
MQA is an audio codec using lossy compression and a form of file fingerprinting, intended for high fidelity digital audio internet streaming and file download that was developed by the co-founder of Meridian Audio, Bob Stuart.
A good way to look at this compression is mailing a letter in an envelope. A 8 ½ X 11 sheet of paper won't fit into a standard envelope as it is. So if you have written a letter taking up the entire sheet you could come up with a short hand that would fit on a smaller sheet of paper and the reader would then have to decode the letter. They would probably get most of the letter correct but may miss a word here or there. Not enough to change the meaning of what you have written but it would not be the exact letter as you wrote it.
The alternative would be to take the full letter and fold it up and place it in the envelope. The reader would then unfold the letter and read it without any loss of meaning. MQA call this their ‘Origami’ folding technology. This is a very high level explanation of the process. The technical details and more precise explanation is found on their website (MQA Playback).
Streamers - Partial List
There are many more devices, including smartphones and portable players, that can help in the “unfolding” of the MQA file. Please check out the MQA website for more details (MQA Partners).
Finally there are MQA CDs. The website features six titles including the Doors Waiting for the Sun which has been remastered. The two CD and one LP set will run you $50. We looked and found it difficult to find MQA CDs but we figured why buy the disc when the downloads have no difference in quality. With that said we tried to download some Van Halen albums but were told that HighResAudio.com did not have rights to sell the album in the US.
There are other alternatives to MQA. For instance HDTracks.com offers high quality tracks that are not encoded with MQA. We found our Van Halen album available there in 96/24 and 192/24 for $17.98 and $24.98 respectively.
Hi-Res Audio is something that won’t appeal to everyone. The music costs more and you need equipment that can handle the higher resolution files. Then there is the debate whether you can hear the difference or, at a minimum, is the difference is worth the added cost. Regardless, for the majority of us, there is no reason to bother. However, for a few of us, it's the only way to listen to music.