The HD audio revolution: how music streaming is going high-end, and why you’re going to love it

Music is changing

Of course for some people the existing crop of digital streaming and downloading services don’t go far enough. They see the potential for much higher definition that goes well beyond CD quality. One new digital audio format that has just been announced is MQA (Master Quality Authenticated). The brainchild of Meridian’s co-founder Bob Stuart, it claims to offer sound that is much closer to how the artist intended it to sound.

 “MQA is a revolutionary new technology that enables us to bring the actual sound of the studio to the audience at home,” said Stuart at MQA’s launch event at London’s Shard just before Xmas – see YouTube video below. “All the other ways we have to bring the sound pollute it in some way. They disturb the nuances and subtleties. MQA reaches the soul of music and the heart of the listener.”

Adds 7Digital’s Pete Downton: “What’s absolutely clear to me is that when you sit down with an artist or a producer and they hear their work in MQA they are able to detect very definite differences in terms of the music experience compared to existing forms of digital music.”

Importantly MQA is backwards compatible so even if you don’t have a product with an MQA decoder you will still, claims Meridian, get a better than CD experience. However, when the consumer is listening to an MQA recording on their suitably equipped phone or AV receiver a light will tell them they are listening to the master recording. Both 7Digital and Tidal have announced they will support MQA with digital streaming/download services due to launch in the next few months while Meridian itself will produce the necessary hardware, including the £199 Explorer2 DAC (Digital Analogue Converter) recently demonstrated at the Bristol Hi-Fi Show.

Says Spencer Chislu, Director of Content Services at Meridian. “The idea behind MQA was to deliver the best possible quality in a package that’s still convenient for the every day user. It’s not meant to be exclusive or just pointed at the high end. The consumer can now get a master quality sound in their home over their broadband.”

Nor is Meridian the only manufacturer of MQA equipment. At CES in Las Vegas, Pure (a division of Imagination Technologies which is best known for its affordable digital radios) demonstrated its latest Caskeid multi-room audio technology which is the first to support MQA. As well as selling the speakers, Pure/Imagination will also license its technology to other manufacturers which should help the format to become more mainstream.

It remains to be seen whether the new high end format will take off. But one thing’s for sure there is a growing appetite among mainstream consumers (and not just audiophiles) for higher quality audio services than are currently available from the likes of Spotify and Google Play, especially as people choose to stream music throughout the house.

Below: Meridian launch MQA at London’s Shard, December 2014

Chris Price