Universal Music and MQA Announce Hi-Res Streaming Collaboration

Universal Music Group logo.
Courtesy of UMG

Universal Music Group logo.

Who's ready for an audio upgrade?

Don't look now, dear fatigued music consumer, but likely coming soon to a music platform near you is a new hi-resolution audio technology that promises better fidelity than all the cold digitally compressed CDs and MP3 hokum the music biz sold us in the 90s and aughts.

This because MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) is becoming evermore widely embraced by the industry, including today (Feb. 16) by the world's largest record company, Universal Music Group. The two companies jointly announced a "collaboration" with the new audio technology to advance the cause of hi-res on-demand streaming and whereby UMG has agreed to make a portion of its massive catalog of master recordings available in the hi-res audio format.

“We’re very pleased to be working with Universal Music to achieve our goal of moving studio-quality sound into the mainstream," said the CEO of MQA Mike Jbara in a statement. "Universal’s timeless catalog and impressive artist roster will fuel music streaming services worldwide and enable the premium listening experience for all music fans.” Jbara is a longtime music industry vet who worked for twenty years at WMG before last July moving to MQA.

MQA is said to bring higher quality sound without sacrificing portability and ease of streaming. Over the last year increasingly more music businesses have joined the cause, including most recently all three major labels, the Recording Industry Association of America and music platforms such as Pandora, Napster and HD Tracks, in concert with the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG), who together at last month's Consumer Electronics Show announced their support for MQA and a  “Stream the Studio” promotional campaign.

Last May, the Warner Music Group in general signed a deal to license the MQA technology, while in particular the Atlantic Record Group CEO and co-chairman Craig Kallman came out in support of MQA and at the beginning of this year TIDAL debuted the audio format on its streaming platform.

“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," stated UMG's Michael Nash, evp of digital strategy. "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 and his team at MQA to make our industry-leading roster of artists and recordings available to music fans in the highest quality possible.”

Industry executives predict that the different streaming services will all offer high-resolution audio quality, via various marketing schemes. One service may make access to high-resolution audio through a higher-priced tier, while another service may use it to acquire more customers, says one industry executive. The service will make their own decision on how to roll it out, those executives say.

The good news for for the industry is that the technology provides tools that allows the music to be encoded directly into the supply chain, says Jbara. On the consumer side, music services subscribers will need compatible hardware or desktop software to access the higher quality, but Jbara reports almost 200 devices are equip to handle MQA.

“We think that [high-quality sound resolution] will become the new standard that people will come to expect,” Jbara says.

In December, news broke that Apple was reportedly developing its own hi-res audio technology, which the company did not substantiate.

Additional reporting by Ed Christman.