MQ ehh?

Our feelings on MQA as a format and technology - and what we do with regards to MQA

MQA is a relatively new standard introduced in 2014. MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated. It sure sounds impressive - who wouldn't want their audio to have master quality?

But the problem is, we're engineers. We're scientists. We're music lovers. We're geeks. We listen to stuff, and we check the science behind it. If things don't add up - we go HEAVY on the skepticism. Like 3 jars of peanut butter on a single Saltine cracker heavy. And with MQA, we are VERY skeptical.

First, MQA is a lossy format. Yes, you read that right. It's lossy. That means it is taking some of that pristine, pure, full-representation data and tossing it out. You're probably saying the exact same thing we did - how can you authenticate master level quality when you're tossing away information? Precisely. In effect, MQA is just a fancier version of MP3. Sure, the results may sound pretty good - but it's decidedly, scientifically, unequivocally degraded the information present in the file.

How does the algorithm work? Could it really still preserve the important information, even when tossing some away? Well - MQA won't tell you how it works, just a lot of flowery speech about how revealing and natural it is. Squishy words that can't be objectively quantified. And they won't tell you how it does it, either. Just trust them, it's OK to toss information.

Now, if we were still in the 2000s, or even prior to 2013 when 3G was still the rule, MQA might make sense. And given it launched in 2014, that's probably why it came about. Back then, storage and bandwidth were still pretty limited. So cutting a CD quality file (1.411 Mbps) down was desirable. You can fit more music on your phone, and stream without excessive streaming charges. But today, where 5G bandwidths are in the tens (or hundreds) or Mbps, unlimited data plans are the norm, and storage is not measured in MB but GB and even TB? Lossy formats have no place.

We've measured MQA files before and after compression - and didn't like what we saw. Lots of noise, jitter, and ringing was present, especially in the top octave (10 kHz to 20 kHz). Ick.

Add in this little gem - to use MQA, you have to pay MQA a license. Yes, they get a cut of the action. Add their decoder in, you get to pay them.

Our answer? "NOPE". We're not going to pay for a lossy CODEC that degrades the audio experience. And one that has little support.

Now, that position did cost us! Lots of audiophiles demanded MQA - it's the latest and greatest, we should support it! But the costs, and degradation are real. So we didn't. And we took our lumps. But the world has evolved. In fact, MQA is now in bankruptcy, seeking a buyer to keep it alive. The biggest supporter of MQA - Tidal - now offers FLAC (a lossless compression algorithm - you lose NOTHING, it's bit-perfect) in place of MQA (which used to be the only "high res/master" format they offered). In our estimation, the world has moved well beyond the need for Yet Another Lossy Codec.

We're happy to say "good riddance". We'll never offer a product with MQA - there's no reason for it.