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Tidal CEO says hi-res lossless is coming, raising doubts about MQA

While participating in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit on April 11, Tidal CEO Jesse Dorogusker, said that the music streaming service would soon add the option to listen to hi-res lossless audio in the FLAC format. The new format will be exclusive to the service’s HiFi Plus subscriber base. Dorogusker did not provide specific timing for the change.

“Breaking news for my reddit peeps:” Dorogusker wrote during the session, “we will be introducing hi-res FLAC for our HiFi Plus subscribers soon. It’s 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.”

Tidal HiFi Plus has always offered its listeners lossless FLAC audio at CD quality, but the company only streamed its Masters collection of better-than-CD quality hi-res tracks in the MQA format, something that many of Tidal’s customers have objected to. Some of the AMA participants referred to MQA as a scam and snake oil.

At issue is the concern that MQA isn’t a truly lossless format like FLAC, which some audiophiles see as an impediment to getting the very best sound quality. The MQA problem is compounded by the fact that if you want to hear MQA audio at its highest possible level, you need a device like a DAC/amp that can fully decode the MQA format.

Curiously, Dorogusker’s comments come just days after the company that oversees the MQA format (also known as MQA) announced that it will be entering into administration — the U.K. equivalent of Chapter 11 proceedings. The timing raises questions about the future of MQA at Tidal. At the moment, Tidal is the only major streaming music service that uses the MQA format.

Shortly after Dorogusker made his remarks on Reddit, Digital Trends reached out to Tidal to find out if the new hi-res lossless plans meant that the streaming service was considering abandoning MQA. In an email sent on April 14, we were told, “To clarify, we are adding hi-res FLAC to the platform, as part of our TIDAL HiFi Plus subscription. Our existing MQA catalog will continue to be available on the platform.”

We thought the use of the word “existing” in the description of the MQA catalog sounded like a way of saying that while MQA tracks will remain, the current catalog won’t be expanded, so we asked for clarification. In an April 18 response, we were told that what was shared is all that Tidal has to share on the topic at the moment.

With a move to support hi-res lossless FLAC audio, Tidal would join Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, and Qobuz in the lossless hi-res streaming space. If Tidal were to drop MQA from its service, it would lose a major point of differentiation. For as much as MQA has its critics, there are also those who believe the format can sound better than its lossless hi-res rivals.

Moreover, both Apple and Amazon offer their full hi-res catalog within their standard pricing tiers, while Tidal would make its own hi-res lossless offering a paid upgrade at almost twice the cost of those competing services.

Music fans have also been patiently waiting for Spotify to make good on its promise to launch Spotify HiFi, a lossless audio tier, but so far that has yet to happen.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
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