TIDAL Dumps MQA Right After Lenbrook Announces a New Streaming Platform for Audiophiles

TIDAL will officially get rid of MQA in a month.
TIDAL will officially get rid of MQA in a month.

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Coincidence? I think not.

TIDAL has been quiet about when it will officially let go of all MQA tracks since it announced its move to FLAC formats in April 2023. But that changed on June 17, 2024, when the company finally shared its plan.

According to this, TIDAL will completely remove all MQA and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio tracks by July 24, 2024. Instead of these formats, the service is switching to FLAC and Dolby Atmos formats for high-quality audio.

This news came just 3 days after Lenbrook revealed plans for a new streaming service for audiophiles, using MQA’s new AIRIA tech.

TIDAL’s Official Announcement to Change Audio Formats

TIDAL's past ad about TIDAL Masters, which features the MQA format. (From: TIDAL)
TIDAL’s past ad about TIDAL Masters, which features the MQA format. (From: TIDAL)

TIDAL frames the decision as a strategic move towards more accessible and transparent high-resolution sound formats.

This is because MQA and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio require certified and licensed hardware to playback encoded content.

Compared to these, FLAC is an open-source format, and Dolby Atmos is something that most devices already support. Other streaming platforms also support Dolby Atmos so artists won’t have to re-master their songs just for Sony’s 360 Audio on TIDAL.

That’s why switching to this format makes it easier for artists to share their music. It also lets listeners access the music directly without third-party involvement.

What it means for TIDAL users

TIDAL's current sound quality options. (From: TIDAL)
TIDAL’s current sound quality options. (From: TIDAL)

For TIDAL HiFi subscribers, this means saying goodbye to the “Master” quality recordings we’ve come to enjoy (or tolerate, depending on who you ask).

MQA tracks in playlists will be swapped out with the highest-quality FLAC versions available.

But, due to the transition process, some users might notice temporary gaps in their collections.

For example, those with MQA tracks downloaded for offline access will need to update their app on July 24, 2024. Then, you’ll have to redownload the replacement FLAC versions manually.

TIDAL also says it has “at least” 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC tracks for “nearly all” of its current MQA tracks. However, some may be replaced with lower-quality FLAC files at first until higher-quality versions are ready.

Lastly, the company admitted that not every MQA track will have a FLAC replacement right away. However, it assures that it is working to ensure all existing MQA tracks are replaced with FLAC versions in a timely manner.

The Suspicious Timing

Lenbrook Media Group partners with HDTracks for a new streaming service for audiophiles. (From: Lenbrook)
Lenbrook Media Group partners with HDTracks for a new streaming service for audiophiles. (From: Lenbrook)

But here’s where things get interesting. Just three days before TIDAL’s announcement, Lenbrook – the company that now owns MQA – shared its plans to launch a new streaming service together with HDTracks.

This upcoming platform, set to launch in Q4 2024, promises to deliver adaptive streaming of both FLAC and MQA files.

Coincidence? I think not.

My bet is, TIDAL officially announced this to avoid supporting a potential competitor in the streaming service market.

Let’s think about this for a moment. TIDAL was holding off the transition from FLAC to MQA for more than a year. But, it suddenly decided to drop the format entirely, just days after MQA’s new owner announced a competing streaming service that heavily features MQA technology.

It’s almost as if TIDAL found out about Lenbrook’s plans and decided to jump ship before the new service could steal their thunder.

Or, perhaps, Lenbrook’s announcement was a direct response to TIDAL’s impending abandonment of MQA.

They might have discovered TIDAL’s plans and decided to launch their own service as a way to keep MQA alive and relevant in the streaming world. Either way, the timing is just too perfect to be a coincidence.

About Lenbrook’s New MQA-Powered Streaming Service

MQA AIRIA logo. (From: MQALabs)
MQA AIRIA logo. (From: MQALabs)

By offering both FLAC and MQA, Lenbrook’s new streaming service aims to appeal to a broader audiophile audience while still pushing their proprietary format.

The service will be the first to use AIRIA (Adaptive Intelligent Resolution for Immersive Audio).

This new Bluetooth codec is designed to deliver high-resolution audio over wireless connections by adjusting bitrate on the fly.

In fact, Lenbrook claims that this can save more of the original signal’s information compared to other codecs like aptX HD and LDAC.

“Our industry has been built by providing discerning music enthusiasts with choices while using innovation to advance digital music delivery. As audiophiles ourselves, it’s an exciting prospect to bring a service to life for the millions that care so passionately about the quality of the music they listen to.” says John Banks, Lenbrook’s Chief Strategy Officer.

Lenbrook’s new service will be available across platforms, including its own mobile apps. And, it’s expected to integrate with other high-end audio ecosystems, apps, and brands.

The Future of MQA

Lenbrook reveals MQA Labs with three new audio techs.
Lenbrook reveals MQA Labs with three new audio techs.

We can’t deny that MQA has had a rough couple of years.

The company went into administration in March 2022, only to be picked up by Lenbrook International in the same year.

We didn’t hear much about it until recently when Lenbrook formed the Lenbrook Media Group to oversee MQA Labs and its audio codecs: FOQUS, QRONO, and AIRIA (formerly SCL6).

Since then, it seems like Lenbrook has been working hard to breathe new life into MQA, and this streaming service could be their biggest move yet.

However, MQA has been a controversial topic in the audiophile world since its beginning. Critics argue that its lossy nature and lack of transparency go against the core ideas of high-resolution audio.

So, with the coming of the new streaming platform, will these features be enough to win over the skeptics? Only time will tell.

With TIDAL out of the picture, Lenbrook’s new service will have to work twice as hard to win over audiophiles who are already skeptical of MQA’s claims.

Of course, this is all just speculation. We may never know the true story behind these announcements. But one thing’s for sure: the timing is just too suspicious to ignore.

It’s like watching a high-stakes game of chess, with each player trying to anticipate the other’s moves. And we, the listeners, are left to watch and wonder what the future of hi-res audio streaming will bring.

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