MP3s are convenient but sound like crap. CDs and vinyl can sound very good–certainly better than MP3s–but aren’t very convenient. And although Hi-Res Audio has promise, it still requires the purchases of new gear and the re-purchase (again!) of music we already own.
This is where we encounter MQA. From Billboard:
Enter Master Quality Authenticated, or MQA, a new type of format that provides elasticity to music streams. What that means: If you’ve ever streamed Netflix and the quality was breathtakingly sharp, then took a nosedive because of connection problems, this is essentially what MQA allows for high-resolution music. The format has the potential to bring far higher quality sound without sacrificing the portability and ease of streaming — if labels and streaming services decide to use it. Kallman is, of course, convinced they will.
Kallman spent five years in contact with the technology’s creator, Bob Stuart. “MQA [finally] was in a place where we could start conversations together of how we could really help bring high-resolution audio into the digital music marketplace,” says Kallman. “I think that started almost five years ago… it took about five years for it to coalesce, to see the end zone where we could actually bring this to market as an industry.” Kallman says he’s given the record industry’s foremost leaders test drives of the tech, and its reception has been very warm. “This is a no-brainer, where do I sign up,” was the response he describes.
So why did this no-brainer technology spend so long in gestation? Because it’s very complicated to develop, and not easy to explain, either. David Hughes, Chief Technology Officer for the RIAA, describes a very complicated series of data “origami” which allows the format to hide its hi-res information. (If you dare: “In a nutshell they take the audio, and everything that is above 48kHz and 96kHz, they take that portion of the data and they hide it below the noise floor of the 48kHz/24-bit section, and then you draw a line where 48kHz sampling is hidden kind of like a watermark below the noise floor of the main file, then anything above 96kHz is reduced to a small number of bits.”) Essentially, if the bandwidth is available, MQA unfolds. If it’s not, it doesn’t.