What to make of the new ‘music origami?’
MQA sounds promising, so does this mean that you should head out and purchase a new DAC? Not so fast.
MQA is the latest abbreviation to be thrown around in the world of audio. What is it and what should music lovers and audiophiles make of it?
MQA stands for ‘Master Quality Authenticated’ and it was launched by prominent English audio hardware manufacturer Meridian Audio, towards the end of 2014. Since then, it has gathered increasing support from recording labels and audio hardware manufacturers. The ‘Big Three’ recording labels, Universal, Sony, and Warner, have all pledged support for MQA. More pertinent perhaps is that Tidal is already streaming MQA titles over its online music streaming service.
In a nutshell, MQA is a new audio codec that aims to bring highquality, high-resolution audio to music lovers without the large file sizes associated with traditional high-resolution audio codecs and files. This is done using a process MQA calls ‘Music Origami,’ where music data is compressed and folded to create a substantial smaller file. On the listeners’ end, this file can then be ‘unfolded’ back to its original resolution using an MQAcertified digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
MQA’s ‘Music Origami’ process sounds simple. For example, a highresolution 24-bit/192kHz file can be folded twice. Once to 24-bit/96kHz and then down to 24-bit/48kHz. The resultant music file can be half to a third of the original file size.
This music file can then be played on any device, but an MQA-certified DAC can see that it is a MQA file and then unfold it back to its full original resolution. On non-MQA-certified devices, the playback resolution will be the final folded resolution, in our example, 24-bit/48kHz. But if you have a music player app that supports MQA, like Audivarna or the Tidal desktop app, the app can handle the first unfold to offer playback at 24-bit/96kHz. Both sample rates are equivalent or higher than CD quality audio.
In other words, an MQA-certified DAC is required to fully enjoy the benefits of MQA. But just as crucial is that you can still listen to music even if you don’t have MQA-certified gear — just at a lower audio quality level.
MQA sounds promising, so does this mean that you should head out and purchase a new DAC? Not so fast. This isn’t the first time the music and audio industry has seen the introduction of new technology. Remember DSD, SACD, and the MiniDisc? Where are they now? The truth is that no one wants to repurchase their audio equipment and their music collection just to listen to their favorite music, especially when existing technology works just fine.
Think about it: do you even worry about device compatibility when it comes to playing music? No, you just play it on whatever device you like. With MQA, you’ll need to get a certified device to reap the rewards. And we haven’t even got to the supposed benefits of MQA. How many casual listeners can even tell the difference between a CD quality file and a high-resolution MQA file? I’m guessing not much.
Still, that’s not to say MQA won’t take off. With the support of the major recording labels, anything is possible. But for now, we advise audiophiles and music lovers to sit tight and take a waitand-see approach.