TIDAL Boots MQA and 360 Reality Audio to the Curb, Embraces FLAC and Atmos


(June 25, 2024) TIDAL is making significant changes to its catalog of Hi-Res audio tracks. Beginning on July 24th, the streaming service will officially sever ties with MQA and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. Instead, company executives are embracing FLAC or the Free Lossless Audio Codec.

TIDAL's enduring support for MQA has been notable, professing that MQA's smaller file sizes (compared to codecs like FLAC) and supposed superior sound quality made it a reason to embrace the company's service. Though, those claims failed to address several of MQA's warts. One being the need for authorized hardware or software to playback MQA files – a notable layer of complexity for end users. The other was the actual listening experience; MQA's detractors claim the codec sounds no better than other Hi-Res options, possibly worse.

Last year, TIDAL unveiled support for better-than-CD-quality FLAC files (HiRes FLAC), making it the default setting for the service’s “Max Quality” streaming option. This was a good sign that not all was well with its vested interest in MQA... cracks were evident. On TIDAL's HiRes FLAC FAQ, the company touted FLAC's open-source nature, noting that it provided artists with the ability to create without the need for a third party (like MQA). Of course, MQA soon found itself in deep financial distress, ultimately changing ownership and becoming part of the Lenbrook Group.

TIDAL says it’s committed to making the FLAC transition as smooth as possible by replacing MQA tracks and albums in subscribers’ collections with the highest-quality FLAC version available. If you're a subscriber and have an MQA track or album downloaded for offline access, you’ll need to update to the latest version of the app on July 24. You’ll then be prompted to redownload tracks with equivalent FLAC versions.

Subscribers should experience a relatively seamless transition, though TIDAL warns that it may not have a direct FLAC replacement for every MQA track in its catalog. In a recent communication with customers, the company said, "We are working hard to ensure all existing MQA tracks will be replaced with a FLAC version in a timely manner.”

360 Reality Audio tracks and albums won’t be replaced like MQA tracks. Instead, TIDAL says that subscribers with 360 Reality Audio content in their Collection—including in a playlist or downloaded for offline access—will find tracks and albums grayed out and unavailable for streaming. Going forward, anyone interested in immersive audio will need to search for Dolby Atmos versions of songs and albums.

The decision to move to TIDAL isn't too much different than the move away from MQA, citing ease of sourcing compatible devices, catalog availability, and artist adoption of the format.

For more information about TIDAL’s transition away from MQA and 360 Reality Audio, read TIDAL’s “Upcoming Changes to Audio Formats” FAQ on its website.

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