High-quality music experiences are no longer exclusive to physical formats and home hi-fi. You can now stream studio master recordings, in their highest quality, straight from your phone, laptop, music player or audio system – all courtesy of Master Quality Authenticated (MQA (opens in new tab)).
MQA technology captures 100 per cent of a master recording and delivers every painstakingly engineered detail to music streaming services such as TIDAL (opens in new tab) – fully intact and completely unharmed, preserving the song’s original resolution and crucial timing information. So that wherever you are listening – on the move, in your car or at home – you can be transported to the artist’s original performance.
Since arriving on the scene in 2015, TIDAL has been our favourite music streaming service. A higher quality alternative to Spotify and Apple Music et al, the Jay-Z-owned service has picked up several five-star reviews and What Hi-Fi? Awards for its commitment to hi-res streaming – made possible by MQA.
As with Xiami Music (China), e-onkyo music (Japan) and nugs.net music services, MQA technology furnishes TIDAL’s catalogue with hi-res streams – dubbed TIDAL Masters – for subscribers of TIDAL’s Hi-Fi tier to enjoy at no extra cost.
TIDAL Masters recordings are available through the TIDAL desktop, Android and iOS apps, which have the MQA Core Decoder necessary to 'unfold' the MQA streams and output them to a maximum quality of 24-bit/96kHz. To entirely unpackage an MQA stream for playback, and therefore get the most accurate representation of the track, the decoding process is performed by an MQA-ready product, such as the Bluesound Node 2 hi-fi streamer, AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt portable DAC or select Astell&Kern and Sony portable music players, to name just a few.
To set you off on your journey to music listening nirvana, we have picked some of our favourite TIDAL Masters tracks to give you a full taste of MQA technology; tracks that really let you hear the difference.
Trondheimsolistene - BRITTEN Simple Symphony, Op 4: I. Boisterous Bourree
You could pick any 2L TIDAL Master and be utterly swept away by the meticulous purity and intricacy of its recording, so we are thankful the record label is wonderfully represented in MQA. The Trondheimsolistene’s rendition of this symphony is an exemplary display of how the spaciousness, transparency and dynamic subtlety of a master-quality recording can really transform a listening experience. Even at its most cacophonous, the string composition sounds fluid and organised as it unfurls from the well practised performance.
- Listen to BRITTEN Simple Symphony on TIDAL Masters (opens in new tab)
Talking Heads - This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)
Everything in this "very personal love song", as it’s described by David Byrne, demands to be heard – the layered synth-pop melody, sanguine percussive beat and collage of non-sequitur lyrics. Listen out for the sucker-punch delivery of that jaunty bass line, the rhythmic cohesion of those intertwining funk lines, and how the guitar ditty dances around them cohesively yet with a satisfying sense of space that really opens up the record.
- Listen to This Must Be The Place on TIDAL Masters (opens in new tab)
Beck - Lost Cause
Here, Beck’s folksy guitar ballad picks at patterns that, while densely presented, are treated to the elbow room to evolve without sounding on top of one another. It’s that clarity and instrument separation, coupled with the finely drawn lines of Beck’s forlorn vocal, that is key in conveying the familiar doomed sorrow theme on this downbeat ditty and the rest of the Sea Change album.
- Listen to Lost Cause on TIDAL Masters (opens in new tab)
The Beatles - Back In The U.S.S.R. (2018 Mix)
How can a track that was recorded in the late ‘60s sound fresh from the studio as a stream? The White Album reissue’s producer Giles Martin and mix engineer Sam Okell, and MQA technology of course, can take the credit there. The mechanical whirring of a jet landing flies across a wide-open sonic canvas that’s filled with clean, crisp detail and raw energy as Beach Boys harmonies and rollicking guitar solos fill it. The milestone 2018 release is among the best MQA albums on TIDAL, period.
- Listen to Back In The U.S.S.R. on TIDAL Masters (opens in new tab)
Nick Drake - Pink Moon
Not many artists have the capacity to simultaneously lull and rouse as much as Nick Drake did. His Pink Moon TIDAL Master album is a shining advert for MQA technology: the urgency of his acoustic strumming is poignantly communicated, and there’s a compelling tangibility to the textures of his dynamic finger-picking and intimate vocal that simply isn’t as telling in the non-Masters version of the album.
- Listen to Pink Moon on TIDAL Masters (opens in new tab)
Norah Jones - Begin Again
The burden of the keys so measured it conjures images of the piano-playing performer, the confidently delivered undulation of Jones’ virtuosic crooning, and the shuffling soft-brushed drums that refuse to be a backstage act – every element of this recent work is so refreshingly crisp and expressive, you’re given no choice but to be utterly drawn into the music.
- Listen to Begin Again on TIDAL Masters (opens in new tab)
Kendrick Lamar - King Kunta
One of the best-produced – not to mention critically acclaimed – hip-hop albums in recent years, To Pimp A Butterfly wholeheartedly warrants the invaluable insight gifted by the TIDAL Master. With the album’s champion track, King Kunta, Lamar spits bar after bar with cutting venom over a stripped-down grunge beat that sounds rhythmically surefooted and engagingly driven.
- Listen to King Kunta on TIDAL Masters (opens in new tab)
Sturgill Simpson - All Around You
Both Simpson’s Sound & Fury and Grammy-winning A Sailors’ Guide to Earth are a credit to TIDAL’s MQA library, but arguably it’s this powerfully rousing tune from the latter that most demands to be heard in high-resolution. With impressive scale and dynamic ambition intact, the ‘60s-soul-inspired country ballad is alive with wailing horns soaring above Simpson’s stern vocals. Compared to the standard stream, the TIDAL Master is a much more grandiose, emotionally charged affair.