What is MQA, Master Quality Authenticated audio?

What is MQA? Audiolab OMNIA (Full MQA Compatible) & Wharfedale EVO4.1

MQA is a high resolution streaming technology that gives you original master recording quality from a music streaming service. It’s the core of TIDAL’s vast TIDAL Masters catalogue. And while far from exhaustive, it does include some pretty incredible works of art.  

From classic albums like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and David Bowie’s Space Oddity to more contemporary masterpieces like Beyonce’s Lemonade or even Max Richter’s Sleep. These are albums you can stream at resolutions up to 24-bit, 192kHz, giving you mind-boggling resolution that helps create a deeper, more immersive listening experience. 

However, none of this is without certain caveats. While TIDAL Masters will offer up 24-bit, 192kHz, just because it’s a Masters track doesn’t mean it will hit those incredible heights. In fact, most don’t. The majority of masters titles are going to sit somewhere between 48 and 96kHz, which is admittedly far from the shiny 24/192 that’s continually advertised. 

Tidal Masters – MQA Master Quality Authenticated

Add to this that Masters streaming is going to set you back 23.99 a month, double the price of competing providers like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon. Include the fact that you’ll need MQA compatible equipment to get the full experience, and you might be wondering, is this worth my time? 

Well, I’m here to tell you that it is.

Because while, yes, not every Masters track is a hefty 24-bit/192kHz in resolution, what you do get is well beyond CD quality. TIDALs already vast collection of Masters grows daily, giving you access to thousands of high resolution masterpieces. And from a listening perspective, the full MQA experience is nothing short of breathtaking. 

The best analogy for MQA is akin to digital origami. The technology folds down large packets of data to send a wealth of information from streaming services to streaming devices. Think of it as a zip file for audio quality. And according to MQA, there are three distinct folds. 

MQA Core Decoder Unfold 1

The first unfold is the MQA Core Decoder. This is included in desktop and mobile apps from streaming services like TIDAL. The first unfold recovers all the direct music-related information, and the output quality can reach anywhere from 88.2 to 96kHz. MQA Renderer Unfold 2

The second unfold is known as an MQA Renderer. These are portable USB DACs and headphones, from official MQA supported products, that can take the information from the Core Decoder and render a complete unfolding of the MQA file. MQA Full Decoder Unfold 3

The third unfold is a Full MQA Decoder. Theses are not portable. They’re home HiFi units like the all-in-one Omnia from Audiolab. And according to MQA, at this level of playback you’re hearing studio quality audio – with precise file and platform-specific DAC compensation and management.

Now, MQA don’t specify a distinction between the audio quality from Rendered unfolds to Full Decoders. So you have to go on faith that what you’re getting from the Full Decoder is a superior product. But it doesn’t take an audiophile to understand that you can achieve vastly different outcomes between home HiFi and portable DACs and players. 


Read our How to Get the Complete MQA Experience with Audiolab OMNIA