Universal Music Group Goes MQA

On February 16, Universal Music Group and MQA announced a multi-year agreement that will encode UMG's huge catalog of master recordings in MQA. In the language of the press release, the agreement promises "to make some of the world's most celebrated recordings available for the first time in Hi-Res Audio streaming." UMG's labels include ECM, Interscope, Geffen, A&M, Capitol, Island, Def Jam, Decca, Verve, Blue Note, Virgin, and EMI.

The announcement comes after the embrace of MQA by major label Warner, and the launch of the "Stream the Studio" campaign at CES 2017. Spearheaded by DEG, the Digital Entertainment Group, the campaign included a press conference where all the major labels and a number of indies pledged support for hi-resolution audio. Also at the press conference, Tidal announced MQA "Master" streaming, and both Pandora and Rhapsody/Napster announced hi-rez streaming. MQA-encoded files are also available internationally on select music download sites.

Michael Nash, Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy at UMG, is quoted as saying, "The promise of Hi-Res Audio streaming is becoming a reality, with one service already in the market and several more committed to launching this year. With MQA, we are working with a partner whose technology is among the best solutions for streaming Hi-Res Audio, and one that doesn't ask music fans to compromise on sound quality for convenience. We're looking forward to working with Mike [Jibara, CEO of MQA] and his team at MQA to make our industry-leading roster of artists and recordings available to music fans in the highest quality possible."

With no one from either Universal or MQA available for comment at press time, the announcement left a host of questions unanswered. First and foremost, what kind of a timeline are we talking about? When will the first UMG releases appear on Tidal, assuming that to be the first service to offer them? Will they appear on other music streaming services at the same time or shortly thereafter?

Are we talking classical, pop, jazz, blues, legacy, or all of those and more in UMG's humongous catalog? What are the priorities in terms of titles and recording date, and what rollout schedule can we expect? Is there a target date by which a certain portion of the catalogue will be available in MQA? Will the MQA-encoded files be limited to older, digital, Red Book recordings, or will they also include newer hi-rez digital masters?

That's just for starters. Are Universal and MQA preparing MQA-encoded downloads for various services, including but not limited to HDTracks, or will the files only be available for streaming? Is there any talk of MQA-encoded CDs?

Finally, are all new Universal recordings going to be encoded with MQA from the get-go? Does Universal now record most titles in hi-rez? If so, are recordings usually limited to 24/96, or are some engineers/studios equipped to go higher? Is UMG still recording anything in DSD?

I'll bet you have a ton more questions. Please feel free to share them below.

Axiom05's picture

I thought that EMI was part of the Warner music group.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

It seems to be far more complicated than one might think. EMI Classics, Erato, and Teldec were bought by Warner, but EMI Nashville and other parts of the EMI catalogue seem to have migrated to Universal.

Here is UMG's official list of labels [http://www.universalmusic.com/labels/]. I'm sure Warner has a similar list, although I have not found it as yet. One explanation may be that while Warner has kept the Erato and Nonesuch imprints, it has simply subsumed EMI Classics and Teldec under the Warner imprint.

Axiom05's picture

Thanks Jason. The music industry does seem to be a complex mess. My interests lie with classical music so EMI for me is EMI Classics which is under the Warner Music umbrella. Cheers!

thompsonjosiah's picture

I am under the impression that MQA is not necessary/used for Redbook quality streaming- just higher bit-rate files

drblank's picture

My understanding that under proper conditions that MQA would be better than RedBook, even for 16/44.1. Redbook isn't the same as the master from which it came from, that's why they developed MQA. At least that's what understanding I have. It just has the benefit of being compressed to use for streaming services. Maybe someone else with an intimate involvement can chime in and verify.

Peragulator's picture

24bit /96khz is now considered "limited"?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

You've misunderstood my meaning. I'm asking if UMG masters are now all recorded in hi-rez. If so, is the default standard 24/96, or are some of them recorded at higher resolutions (e.g., 24/192)?

Serge Sirota's picture

Againts Lyra Scala + Whest P30 — YEP.

But MQA itself — not up to the 24/96. MQA suxx.

goodfellas27's picture

Great news for MQA and people that care about better sound quality.

I hope Apple picks this up and we say our collective goodbyes to MP3.

drblank's picture

Since they support MP4/AAC, etc. But I do agree with you that it would be nice if they signed up with MQA. My thought is that they would use ALAC, not FLAC, since ALAC is part of the MP standards, while FLAC isn't. But to the user, it doesn't matter which they use for these files. MQA can use either FLAC or ALAC.

strereophilejymmy's picture

For right now, the problem is the Tidal access is only available from a Direct Tidal application, on Mac (or PC i guess) , for example, you can't acced to Master via Audirvana Tidal

Frank Larsen's picture

Dear Apple, don't mess this up.

drblank's picture


I urge you and everyone that uses Apple products to do the same. The more people they get requesting this, the better chance we have at getting it.

It's a site to make suggestions, complaints, etc. etc. and you can choose the product and what you want to submit and it gets routed to the proper team.

Pass it on...

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

From Michael Nash, EVP, Digital Strategy: We have tens of thousands of songs available in Hi-Resolution Audio, with a near-term goal of seeing that rise to more than 100,000 tracks. MQA has already begun the process of encoding those songs and providing them to services that license their platform.
Further clarification: The MQA rollout will be in every genre represented in its catalogue.

GuillaumeLN's picture

As long as they use MQA's crappy encoding for streaming only I have no problem with the deal. I don't stream any music anyway.

thompsonjosiah's picture

funny thing is I hear more of a difference in a short cheap usb cable vs aq forest than twixt Master and Hi-Fi levels on tidal

corrective_unconscious's picture

What (non streamed) recordings have you listened to at the same bit and sample rates in both regular and MQA versions? Based on your professed dislike of MQA you obviously don't own MQA enabled gear, but feel free to enlighten me as to what your non A/B A/B comparative listening was done on....

GuillaumeLN's picture

I actually made my opinion based on a presentation hosted by Meridian at the Montreal Audio Show where I heard one of the least impressive sound I've heard in any system. I should point out that I've been to the Toronto, New York and Chicago shows. MQA flattens the sound, removes any life from it and make it less tonally vibrant. It is quite simply a sound for old guys who can only ear high frequencies. Try listening to pop, hip hop or any music with electronic sampling and you'll be mightily unimpressed by MQA.

corrective_unconscious's picture

What recording in both MQA and then non MQA versions did you hear at the Meridian demo you allegedly attended?

I didn't ask for more "explanation" of what you think MQA does to the sound. I suggested you don't own MQA gear and thus have never compared an MQA recording to its Redbook, or whatever, counterpart.

And I was not unclear, so this time there will be no need for you to dissemble again. Or will there?