Tidal is Phasing Out MQA, 360 Reality Audio In Favor of FLAC, Dolby Atmos Spatial

Tidal dumps MQA audio, switches to FLAC and Dolby Atmos spatial
  • Save

Tidal dumps MQA audio, switches to FLAC and Dolby Atmos spatial
  • Save
Photo Credit: Tidal

Tidal has announced it plans to drop the MQA and Sony 360 Reality Audio formats in favor of the open source FLAC and Dolby Atmos for spatial audio. Here’s the latest.

Starting July 24, 2024 Tidal will no longer support the MQA and 360 Reality Audio formats through its apps or desktop web player. The music service chose FLAC as its stereo sound format as it is open source and allows any artist to deliver their music in high quality without the involvement of a third party.

“For immersive sound, Dolby Atmos was chosen as the format we will support going forward due to the number of compatible devices, catalog availability, and artist adoption of the format,” Tidal says. You can thank Apple for the switch, since its support of Dolby Atmos spatial content has led to the format gaining industry-wide acceptance among spatial audio enthusiasts. “Through our continued partnership with Dolby, we’ve given artists the opportunity to expand on their sonic vision, allowing their fans to experience their music like never before.”

MQA was supposed to be better than already lossless FLAC and in a smaller size package, but the encoding could only be done by Meridian Audio as a proprietary format. Tidal integrated the format to offer the best quality lossless audio in 2014, but the format also worked as an anti-piracy measure because only approved software and hardware can decode MQA files. Canadian audio group Lenbrook announced in 2023 that it had acquired the assets of MQA from Meridian Audio.

Then in April 2021, YouTuber GoldenSound (real name Cameron Oatley) uploaded his own music plus test signals to Tidal to test the MQA format’s “lossless” claims. GoldenSound concluded that the Tidal ‘HiFi’ format MQA was not lossless and that Tidal streamed the MQA version of tracks with metadata removed to prevent DACs from recognizing the file as MQA, while limiting streaming to 16-bit.

Tidal added support for Sony’s new audio format, 360 Reality Audio, back in 2019 in an attempt to compete with Dolby Atmos for the spatial audio space. While Sony came on top in the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray battle, Sony lost out to Dolby Atmos spatial tech—which saw wider adoption after Apple Music implemented spatial audio.

For Tidal subscribers who listen to MQA tracks, they will automatically be replaced with FLAC versions in created playlists. Tidal says some FLAC versions may not be available right away—so there may be a waiting game for artists to make the switch. Meanwhile, any 360 Reality Audio tracks in downloads or playlists will be greyed out and unselectable.

For Sony’s format, only Deezer, Amazon Music, and the live concert streaming service nugs.net are left. Perhaps the format will be joining Betamax and Minidisc in Sony’s forgotten format filing cabinets, right next to the PSP’s UMD disc.