Tidal Adopting Hi-Res FLAC for HiFi Plus Subscribers

Editor's Note: This story was updated 4/12/23.

Today, Tidal revealed on Reddit that HiFi Plus subscribers will soon have a new streaming option: high-resolution FLAC. This announcement follows closely behind MQA's entry into "administration," the British equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This development suggests financial difficulties for MQA and raises questions about its future.

Tidal currently uses FLAC for its CD-quality streams, but relies on MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) technology for its hi-res streaming.

Until there's more information available, one can only speculate what are the ramifications of this announcement. But it is possible Tidal may be cautiously shifting to the non-proprietary FLAC format—which requires no specialized hardware for decoding—to hedge its bets with MQA. Will Tidal abandon MQA completely? Will it buy the underlying technology if the company is sold in pieces? Only time will tell!

There's no press release out yet, but the news about TIDAL adopting FLAC is official. In an AMA session, @TIDAL_Jesse specifically said:

"Breaking news for my reddit peeps: we will be introducing hi-res FLAC for our HiFi Plus subscribers soon. It's lossless and an open standard. It's a big file, but we'll give you controls to dial this up and down based on what's going on." - from Reddit.com.

So, what is FLAC? The Free Lossless Audio Codec is an open-source file format designed to provide lossless compression of digital audio data. FLAC was first released in 2001 and has since gained popularity due to its ability to reduce file sizes without compromising audio quality.

Key features of the FLAC file format
• Lossless Compression: Unlike lossy compression formats like MP3 and AAC, FLAC retains all the original audio information.

• Open Source: Its source code is publicly available and can be utilized or modified by developers free of charge.

• Compression Ratio: FLAC can compress audio files by about 30-50%, depending on the source material, which results in smaller file sizes compared to uncompressed formats like WAV or AIFF.

• Wide Compatibility: Supported by numerous hardware and software platforms, including smartphones, portable audio players, and desktop applications.

• Streaming Capability: Files can be streamed over the internet, allowing users to enjoy high-quality audio without the need for large downloads.

MQA Issues Statement on Entering into Administation
Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), the format invented by audio pioneer Bob Stuart and launched in 2014 under the aegis of Meridian Audio, the company Stuart founded in 1977, has issued the following statement:

"Following the recent positive reception to MQA’s latest technology (SCL6), there has been increased international interest in buying MQA Ltd. At the same time, MQA’s main financial backer is seeking an exit. In order to be in the best position to pursue market opportunities and expedite this process, the company has undergone a restructuring initiative, which includes entering into administration and is comparable to Chapter 11 in the US.

"During this process, MQA continues to trade as usual alongside its partners.

"We won't be commenting further while negotiations take place."

trynberg's picture

Nice to see the scam artists behind MQA finally getting their just desserts...

thompsonj's picture

FLAC is a digital audio file format like MP3, but with a major, important difference: it is a lossless file type—meaning that no audio data is discarded during the encoding process Minesweeper . This results in significantly larger files than MP3, but you can rest assured that there’s no detail missing from the files you’re hearing.

Billy's picture

But I believe FLAC is in the Apple universe, and many Windows devices at one time could not play them. Most of my CDs were ripped in WMA lossless, many years ago. Unfortunately, those do not work well with anything besides a Windows computer these days, so I find myself copying them into 320 mbs MP3s to go portable. At my age with my elderly ears, I find 320s to be fine, can hear no difference.

Brown Sound's picture

Apple users are always complaining about FLAC not being supported. Apple users have their own lossless codec, ALAC. Converting to either codec from your WMA lossless should not be a problem, with no loss in quality. My only concern would be with DRM coming from WMA. Good luck and happy listening.

DH's picture

FLAC has nothing to do with Apple, it's open source.
Flac has been Windows compatible forever.
The built in window player once couldn't play it, that doesn't mean it wasn't Windows compatible. Other players played it fine.

brenro's picture

Switched to Qobuz a long time ago.

AustinJerry's picture

I have been streaming music using Deezer for several years. Deezer streams FLAC files, and when I am listening using my Sonos app, I can verify that the stream is indeed FLAC. I don't know why Deezer doesn't get much publicity--I am very pleased with it and prefer it to Tidal, which I evaluated last year.

barfle's picture

I never caught the MQA bug. It seemed like a solution in search of a ptoblem, so I’ve been spending my money on stuff I can hear. Once FLAC got pretty much usable on all platforms, I pretty much use that for my own work.

I have one downloaded file that says it was MQA, but it’s a 96/24 FLAC. It sounds pretty good.

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mpb020479's picture

Has there ever been a proprietary audio format that experienced widespread adoption?

Anyway, I'm going to take a minute to chuckle at that one article from TAS a couple years ago that declared the "paradigm shift" in audio was happening with MQA while he was just describing what had already happened with mp3.

Jim_F's picture

Question: "Has there ever been a proprietary audio format that experienced widespread adoption?"
Answer: Sure, there have been several proprietary (patented/licensed) audio formats that were broadly popular. Here are just a few of them.

1. "Compact Cassette", a Philips-licensed tape recording standard introduced in 1963, was widely used throughout the world for a few decades. This was originally a low-fi convenience format for dictation. Although it proved useful for casual music listening later in its life. Reproduction apparatus may still be found for sale at dealers such as the US based retailer "Walmart" at the date of this writing in 2023. So that's at least a 60 year availability period. (I'm using retail sales at Walmart in Coconut Creek, Florida, USA as a proxy for continued contemporaneous availability of an audio format.)

2. "Compact Disc", a Philips/Sony-licensed digital recording standard, was introduced in 1982 and was popular throughout the world for decades. Reproduction apparatus, and new software, may still be found at bricks and mortar retailers such as Walmart at the date of this writing in 2023. So at least a 41 year availability period.

3. The Edison Cylinder Phonograph was popular for decades. Both for home recording and reproduction of studio recordings. Newly manufactured reproduction apparatus isn't available for sale today in my local Walmart. So I'm calling this format "dead" at present, but it had a long and profitable run.

4. Emile Berliner's Gramophone (used flat records) competed successfully against the cylinder (Edison's and others). It was proprietary originally under U.S. patents 372,786 (1887) and 382,790 (1888) among others throughout the world. Per this writer's recent visit to Walmart in Coconut Creek, Florida, consumers may purchase newly produced flat records in 2023 featuring musical artists such as "Taylor Swift" and "Harry Styles". Closer examination reveals that the Swift and Styles records have a somewhat different encoding method than called for by Berliner and they rotate at a slower speed than called for by Berliner's patents. Plus they have a specific encoding/decoding equalization standard not envisioned by Berliner. So not exactly the same. A record player available this morning at my local Walmart will play both the Berliner records at 78 revolutions per minute, and the newer Swift and Styles records at 33 revolutions per minute. For reference, the reproducing apparatus is labelled "The Victrola Journey+ Signature Bluetooth Record Player- Grey" and costs US$59.88 plus tax.

4. More comparable to the MQA "add on" format (the original topic of the post) are the following:
Dolby Type A noise reduction (1965), for professional recording, and Dolby Type B noise reduction (1968), for home recording. Both experienced VERY widespread adoption in their respective markets. Observers attributed the broad adoption to the significant audible benefit provided, and the licensing was thought to be reasonably priced. This contrasts with MQA encoding, the benefit of which was sometimes compared (correctly or not) to the use of "fairy dust". Dolby ceased licensing noise reduction in 2014. MQA was introduced in 2014, and the related company went into administration on 3 April 2023. Seems like the lifespan may be limited....but we'll see in due course.

Dolby Type C and S noise reduction (two sided) and Dolby HX (one sided), which I personally adopted, were not as well received by the market in general. Although they worked.

Who's the winner in the longevity contest? Since the Berliner licensed recordings from 1887 may be reproduced using a new, locally available, machine, and the new flat records have a similar albeit not identical encoding scheme, I'm giving Berliner kudos for the longest-lived format at 136 years and counting. Note that Berliner's patents have expired so it's no longer proprietary. But still pretty good.

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