Coming soon, yet another audio file format:
Developed by Meridian, MQA is a breakthrough technology to reverse the trend, in which sound quality has been continually sacrificed for convenience. Vital elements of our music have been thrown away to fit thousands of songs into a pocket or millions in a cloud. With MQA there is no sacrifice; it brings us right back to the enthralling sound of live music. MQA captures and preserves nuances and vital information that current music files obscure or discard, but in a file that is small and convenient to download or stream.
MQA: Master Quality Authenticated.
While it may seem like a lot of marketing hype, there does seem to be a bit of momentum for MQA within the audio community. Basically, the intent is to get a high resolution source, say 24-bit/192kHz, into a file size that is only slightly larger than 16-bit/44kHz. That may be enough to help the delivery of high definition streaming audio as file size is still a significant barrier to adoption.
Meridian’s solution is packaging the audible spectrum with the timing data from the inaudible spectrum as metadata. The result is a file that plays like standard CD-quality PCM audio on a regular player, but on an MQA-enabled player, it has the precision of high resolution audio.
I think an MQA format might make it easier for studios to distribute high resolution audio files for review purposes. I’m just not sure that the general consumer market really cares for high resolution audio. The convenience factor of lossy MP3 or AAC files appears to be an acceptable tradeoff for much higher resolution audio. And it is challenging for most people to perceive differences between a 256kbps AAC audio file and a CD-quality audio file. Particularly if that listening is taking place in a car or on a pair of cheap earbuds.
John Atkinson of Stereophile provides his perspective on MQA. I always get a bit concerned when a report starts this way:
In almost 40 years of attending audio press events, only rarely have I come away feeling that I was present at the birth of a new world.
That said, if you want to learn a bit more about MQA, he provides an excellent technical summary of the new format.