MQA has recently been a hotly debated topic. Some users believe in its benefits, while others claim that it isn’t worth your time. The lack of a clear consensus has made it very confusing for newer audiophiles to decide whether or not they should try out this new file format.
This is especially a problem for potential subscribers of Tidal Masters. Additionally, to fully enjoy MQA, you have to purchase specific audiophile devices that can fully unfold MQA. So this begs the question, is MQA/Tidal Masters worth getting?
We will help you answer this question by giving our insights into the MQA experience. We will also be discussing what MQA is as well as our recommended audiophile DAC/Amps that support it.
What is MQA?
MQA is a new file format dedicated to audiophiles. To simplify things, MQA aims to compress lossless audio formats (specifically FLAC) to a smaller file. The resulting file aims to be as good as FLAC and significantly better than MP3.
MQA is mainly used for streaming platforms such as Tidal. It is offered via Tidal’s Tidal Masters (highest subscription tier). Additionally, MQA is now being offered for purchase on different audiophile-focused websites. Read our full article about MQA to learn more.
Does Tidal’s MQA Format Make Music Sound Better?
MQA is designed to produce the best sound quality possible. It has been a key factor in making Tidal one of the best streaming platforms for audiophiles.
But despite this, the benefits of MQA have been widely debated in different audiophile forums. Some prefer their sound while others find them to color the sound too much.
During our testing with the iFi Nano IDSD Black Label, we did find that MQA offered a unique flavor to our favorite tracks. The changes were fairly subtle, but they were certainly noticeable. With that said, we did not mind even if we used a non-MQA certified device for the same track.
For us, a high-quality recording and a good master make more difference than any of the available audiophile file formats.
Which Devices Can Access MQA?
Unlike other file formats, MQA can only be unfolded by compatible devices. This means that regular devices such as your smartphone and your laptop are not fully compatible with MQA. Tidal’s Master Files and local MQA files will still be played, but they will be downsampled to a file that is compatible with your device.
At the time of writing this article, modern offerings from different audiophile brands fully support MQA unfolding.
Is it Worth Purchasing a DAC/Amp for Tidal MQA?
The fact that MQA requires a potentially expensive audiophile device can act as a barrier for most users. And those who wish to maximize their Tidal subscription may be wondering if they truly need to purchase a DAC/Amp just for Tidal.
As we have mentioned earlier, we did not mind even if we were not fully unfolding the MQA file. For us, this was pretty much similar to pixel peeping. The changes were so small that we did not notice them during casual music listening.
Given our experience, we do not recommend buying a DAC/Amp just for the sake of having an MQA compatible device. Instead, we recommend purchasing a DAC/Amp that fits your needs.
If you have high-impedance headphones, make sure to purchase a DAC/Amp with enough power output to drive them properly. And if you are an IEM user, make sure to purchase a DAC/Amp that has a dedicated mode for IEM use.
If you own neither of these devices, invest in a good pair of headphones first. You won’t be able to enjoy Tidal if you are not listening to a high-quality pair.
Is it Worth Subscribing to Tidal Masters?
Despite all the controversy of Tidal MQA, we still recommend subscribing to the highest subscription tier regardless if you own an MQA enabled device or not. The reason for this is that you will get the highest quality of the files that you are listening to.
And again, for us, MQA provides a unique listening experience that may appeal to you. So if you want to mix things up from time to time, you can listen to the MQA versions of your favorite albums.
How to Set Up Tidal MQA
For those who own an MQA compatible device and want to test them with Tidal, here are the steps that you need to follow:
Setting up Tidal Masters for Android devices is not as straightforward as you might think. Selecting Tidal Masters on the Tidal app does not trigger the corresponding light on our test devices. This is because Android limits its sample rate and does not support the high sampling rate of MQA files.
To bypass this issue, you need to purchase a certain app from the Google Play Store. This app is called USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP). You also have to purchase the MQA in-app purchase.
With this app, you can bypass Android’s sampling rate and play locally stored high-resolution files. And more importantly, you can now stream Tidal MQA files.
Unfortunately, you cannot download Tidal files for offline listening using this method. And overall, this method is not very convenient, and we believe that users should not need to pay an extra fee just to enjoy the full Tidal experience.
Luckily, for Windows users, setting up Tidal MQA isn’t as complicated. Simply launch the app, then go to the settings. Change your output device to your MQA compatible DAC/Amp, then click on more settings and change the current option to Exclusive Mode.
Take note that this will authorize Tidal to exclusively use your DAC/Amp. This means that audio from other applications and websites will not work while Tidal is running. You can learn more from Tidal’s official website.