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TIDAL Adds FLAC: Is It Really Dropping Support For MQA?

TIDAL is introducing hi-res FLAC to the platform but does that really mean the end of MQA? We take a deeper look into a story that has customers confused.

TIDAL logo

In my coverage last week of MQA’s Chapter 11 Bankruptcy filing, I mentioned that it seemed unlikely that there would be huge changes in the streaming and portable market as a result; those comments created a flood of panicked comments and emails from readers who wanted to know if their TIDAL experience was about to change.

An announcement on TIDAL’s Reddit feed created a bit of a stir online overnight but there is more to the story than just the announcement that TIDAL will be adding lossless FLAC files to its Hi-Fi Plus tier.

CEO Jesse Dorogusker’s exact words were “we will be introducing hi-res FLAC for our HiFi Plus subscribers soon”.”

There was no second part to the statement that involved the removal of MQA Master files and nor was any date given in regard to the FLAC files. “Soon” is rather ambiguous to say the least and as we learned from Spotify — “Spotify HiFI is coming.”

Eventually. Maybe.

A number of other writers have already jumped the gun with a prediction that the introduction of FLAC means the end of MQA on TIDAL; that could always happen but I see this move more as a hedge against the weaponization of MQA by a hostile buyer.

Think about the position that this puts TIDAL in.

What if the new owners of MQA turn around and ask TIDAL to pay a huge increase in the licensing cost? TIDAL would be crazy to not already start working on an exit strategy in that scenario.

TIDAL on Astell&Kern DAP

Who would pay the higher premium for TIDAL Hi-Fi Plus for lossless 16-bit/44.1kHz PCM playback?    

Dorogusker even hints at the fact that MQA may still have a place at TIDAL with the following statement:

We also live in a world that is mobile-dominated and mobile phones have constraints in memory, data plans, coverage maps – so there’s always a consideration for the customer’s need between more quality and more bandwidth/storage efficiency.”  

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He further states that “FLAC is lossless and an open standard. It’s a big file, but we’ll give you controls to dial this up and down based on what’s going on.”  

Is it possible that dial will involve MQA for mobile and FLAC for those with higher bandwidth?

Obviously there is also the possibility within FLAC to dial bit depth and sampling frequency up and down but even 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC is likely to remain larger than MQA due to its lossless nature.

MQA logo

Dorogusker played down the MQA discussion during his latest AMA and the announcement of the addition of FLAC was a very small part of the discussion.   

Many of us have expected the addition of a true lossless tier at TIDAL since the news broke that MQA wasn’t truly lossless. With others offering lossless formats, it only makes sense that TIDAL keeps up with the competition and today that announcement came.   

The bigger focus of the Reddit AMA was actually on several other TIDAL projects with the announcement of the impending release of TIDAL Artist Home and a focus on all aspects of the creation process allowing artists, producers, and engineers to work together within the new space. 

The other big news that went largely unnoticed is that TIDAL is working on an API for developers. This potentially opens the TIDAL eco-system to a much larger world of devices as it would allow outside developers access to a subscriber’s TIDAL library of music without having to use TIDAL’s software to do so.    

Multi-source streamers have to be rejoicing as this clears a hurdle for integrating TIDAL more cleanly into mixed-source playlists and may usher in new features as it becomes available.

Dorogusker also mentioned that TIDAL was considering adding functionality allowing users to disable Atmos decoding as well.   

Could it be that users don’t want Spatial Audio even with all of the promotion and media support?   

All of this coming so quickly on the heels of the MQA bankruptcy filing has created paranoia on the part of users, but there is a good chance that TIDAL’s management is protecting itself on both ends.

Having hi-res FLAC available enables the streaming platform to justify charging more money for the Hi-Fi Plus tier, and it gives them some leverage in case they end up becoming a suitor for MQA.

What this means for manufacturers who invested in technology for MQA within Dongle DACs, DAPs, and network players, and desktop DAC/Headphone amplifiers is another story.

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Related reading: WTF is Hi-Res Audio?

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. ORT

    April 14, 2023 at 2:07 pm

    MQA can not die soon enough. As for those silly people (manufacturers and “listeners”) heavily vested in The FARCE™?

    Just buy a tiny blue LED and leave it on when you are “listening” to TIDAL so that The FARCE™ will be just as with you as it ever was.

    ORT

  2. miguelito

    April 14, 2023 at 4:29 pm

    Why would TIDAL keep MQA? Their higher res offering is not even called MQA but “Master”, so they would not even need to rebrand.

    • ORT

      April 14, 2023 at 7:34 pm

      The “M” in MQA kinda-sorta stands for “Master”. Not a trace of troof. It’s not twue!

      And so we see how eeeevile “tracism” rears its fugly, canard spewing cranium in frAudiodom…’n’ sheeeeit.

      Thank the Bovine and Turtle that MQA is going the way of the Dodo. The only thing I more eager in my anticipatory drooling for is the Prima CD player(s) being testified here. Soon. Right? Whew! Good!

      Back to “Redbone” on the table radio! Great ’70s sound RULES!

      Don QuixORTe’

  3. Asa

    April 14, 2023 at 6:15 pm

    You’d expect Tidal and others to adapt and compete in a marketplace that is ever-changing. Given what they’re hinting at, it sounds like they’ll be entering the production space…cost/pricing TBD.
    More options = 🙂

    Bottom line: the myriad of options available in audio have never been better and the hardware to process all of it is unprecedented…even DACs that are bi-lingual+. That’s why this site is helpful…I can’t afford the higher end of items reviewed here, but nice to know they exist and are available.

    If you don’t like something, don’t use it. Some act like it’s an existential threat.

    Happy TgIF!

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