Tidal’s New Lossless Tier Says Goodbye to MQA?

First spotted on the Roon forums, the news of the day is Tidal, beginning in Australia, is offering a new streaming Tier that separates lossless CD-Quality (HiFi) from Hi-Res MQA/Atmos/360 Reality Audio (HiFi Plus).

Here’s what the new three-tiered approach looks like:

  • Premium – $11.99 AUD a month with standard sound quality (320 Kbps)
  • HiFi – $17.99 AUD a month with lossless High Fidelity sound quality (1411 Kbps)
  • HiFi Plus – $23.99 AUD a month with lossless High Fidelity sound quality (1411 Kbps), Master Quality audio (up to 9216 Kbps), and immersive audio – 360 Reality Audio, Dolby Atmos Music

This will come as good news or even great news to music lovers around the world, as this new three-tiered price structure is expected to span the globe over time.

The good news: for people not interested in hi-res, they can opt in on the lower-priced lossless service, giving them access to the entirety of the Tidal library in CD-quality. Why pay for something you don’t use?

The great news: for people who view MQA as the devil incarnate, they can keep Tidal and skip MQA.

[Edit 5.2.21] With a day to digest and more information coming from the Roon forums, it may very well be the case that some percentage of albums in the Tidal HiFi tier will, in fact, be MQA-encoded. When and if this will apply to every album in the HiFi tier is dependent on MQA’s success in adding more labels to their roster.

Hold On There, Chief. What About Hi-Res, MQA, And The End Of The World?

The anti-MQA argument goes as follows (minus the invective): MQA is a lossy codec, there’s no need for it, it degrades sound quality, you can’t use DSP with it, you’ve got no choice but to pay for it, indirectly, when streaming Master Quality titles in Tidal or when buying an MQA-capable DAC, and the company is intent on gobbling up the entire world supply of hi-res music, leaving us with no alternative than to pay MQA, indirectly, if we want to stream hi-res music.

Let’s tackle the last bit first with one word: Qobuz. If you want unadulterated hi-res streaming, skipping MQA’s special sauce to quote Neil Young, Qobuz is for you. While the Tidal and Qobuz hi-res libraries are not identical, we see Qobuz adding new hi-res titles every week. It’s worth noting that in both cases, hi-res titles make up a small percentage, estimated at less than 10%, of their total lossless offerings.

Here’s my personal take on hi-res streaming in a nutshell: it’s a non-issue since the music I listen to is rarely, if ever, released in anything but CD-quality. I would estimate the percentage of hi-res music I listen to at around 1%. Give or take. And that tiny % is largely 24-bit/48kHz at best. Next to no 96k, and 0% above that.

As far as MQA goes, I’ve never owned an MQA-capable DAC, so I file away MQA under the same category – a non-issue.

The fact of the matter, when it comes to sound quality, is this — the quality of the recording and the quality of your hifi are 1,000,000 (think Dr. Evil) times more important than hi-res when it comes to sound quality.

The promise of hi-res and MQA — that everything will sound better, even remarkably better — just didn’t pan out when it came time to listen to more and more hi-res and MQA-encoded content over time. Some stuff does sound better, some about the same, and in some cases, as with dodgy remasters, some sound worse.

There’s also the issue of complexity. I hate complexity when it comes to listening to music. The beauty of records and CDs is you buy ’em and play ’em. End of story. Dicing and slicing music up into bit and sample rates and suggesting that the higher the number, the better the sound, is like saying you should only marry someone over 6′ tall. The thing is, you may end up marrying someone who speaks a different language but don’t worry, you just have to learn a new language or pay an interpreter.

Worrying about hi-res is like worrying about the weather, where you’re only truly happy less than 10% of the time.

With lossless streaming, we can focus on the music and forget about the container. I’d say that is one small step for man, and one giant step for enjoyment. I also dream of the day when lossless comes to mean the version that leaves the studio, since a 16-bit/44.1kHz container makes about as much sense for streaming as one-size-fits-all briefs.