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MQA: High-res audio breakthrough

What Master Quality Authenticated is and how to get it

Meridian Explorer 2 DAC with MQA decoding

MQA — short for Master Quality Authenticated — is a new way to experience high-resolution audio.

MQA encoding folds studio-quality audio into files that are small enough to stream (or store in large quantities on a portable device). But the encoding process doesn't just make hi-res music files smaller. It makes them sound much better, too.

You can buy a limited selection of MQA downloads now. They play through any equipment that can decode lossless file formats (WAV, FLAC, and ALAC). When played through equipment that can also decode MQA, the sound quality is breathtaking.

Shop for MQA-enabled players and components

What is MQA?

MQA was developed by Meridian Audio Ltd., a UK company renowned for their high-performance audio gear. MQA was designed to deliver higher sound quality from digital music while keeping file sizes as small as possible.

By using MQA as part of the mastering process, the track is marked as the version approved by the artist or label. In other words, what you hear when the track is played through an MQA-enabled player is what the artist intended. MQA-enabled players have a status light that confirms the track is MQA, and that all the information contained therein is being decoded.

How does it work?

MQA captures musical detail that’s typically left out of a digital audio file. It encapsulates that missing data into an inaudible portion of the file (without increasing the size of the file). A component with an MQA decoder retrieves the missing information and integrates it into the audio presentation.

So what does it sound like?

With MQA, you should notice an increased spatial depth of the sound field, and instruments and voices sounding more natural and realistic. At CES 2016, Absolute Sound editor Robert Harley listened to a sound demonstration which compared original high-resolution recordings with MQA-encoded versions.

"We first listened to [a] spectacular opera recording in [its] original 88.2kHz/24-bit format. Then, seconds into the MQA version, my jaw dropped — literally. MQA’s dramatic superiority made the original high-resolution file sound like a pale imitation of the performance," Harley said.

What gear do I need to play MQA?

If your digital music players can play WAV, FLAC, and other types of high-resolution files, then they can play the MQA-enhanced versions, too. Without an MQA decoder, you hear the file in the usual way.

So what devices have MQA built-in?

There are currently both portable players and home audio systems that offer MQA playback. You can find a complete listing on the MQA website. Below are the products Crutchfield offers.


MQA is incorporated into Roon music management software. (Read more about Roon here.)


MQA has become a regular feature in high-resolution portable digital music players. Sony and Astell&Kern are two companies that include MQA in their players.

Home audio

Through a software upgrade, all Bluesound multi-room audio components are now MQA-enabled.

Where can I find MQA streams?

TIDAL offers TIDALMASTERS MQA streams to their HiFi service subscribers. Tidal says the MQA streams include “thousands of master quality albums,” accessible only through the TIDAL desktop application.

Deezer offers MQA-encoded tracks on their Deezer HiFi subscription service.

You’ll need a USB DAC (digital-to-analog converter), such AudioQuest's DragonFly Red or Black plugin USB DACs to hear MQA-encoded tracks in their full glory. 

Where can I find MQA tracks?

Onkyo Music has a section devoted to MQA tracks.

The German-based site High Res Audio also has a dedicated MQA download section.

Small independent audiophile-oriented record labels were among the first to sign on to MQA, adding it to their mastering processes. European labels such as Eudora Records and Berlin Classics offer several releases, as do American high-fidelity labels such as ECM, Sono Luminus, and Delos Productions.

Three major labels have entered into long-term licensing agreements with MQA. Warner Music Group, which includes Atlantic Records, Nonesuch, Electra, and Reprise were the first. Universal Music Group, which has Interscope, Geffen, Def Jam, Verve, Blue Note, and EMI in their roster signed next. Sony Music, which includes RCA, Epic, and Arista joined them shortly after.

  • Raul from San Antonio

    Posted on 11/24/2021

    For anyone outside of audiophile circles, you're going to hear a small but vocal minority who love to complain about MQA (it's lossy, blah, blah, blah). Ignore them. The rest of us do. MQA, played back through supported equipment, sounds fantastic. Trust your ears.

  • George from Muscle Shoals

    Posted on 8/12/2021

    If you don't need an MQA to get it then why are there MQA decoders?

  • Mike Willett from Chino Valley

    Posted on 5/17/2021

    I think you have an obligation to your customers to explain that MQA is actually a manipulated lossy format. While it may sound good to some it is not what the artist created. I just dropped Tidal because of this and I won't buy any hardware that incorporates it.

  • Brian from New York

    Posted on 1/31/2021

    Is there a CarPlay enabled head unit that has a DAC that can play MQA from tidal app from iPhone

  • Robert Balducci from Walden

    Posted on 1/26/2021

    You discussion 'sounds' interesting and I am wondering if HiRes is better than well done record playback. FM radio stations transmit HiRes quality stereo? While I am at it ...are all products and of HiRes subscription or are there 'free' HiRes sources. The great attraction of FM ... at least for casual listening. Thanks in advance.

  • Shahid Ahsan from Irvine

    Posted on 1/18/2021

    I have compared MQA to Qobuz and there is no comparison. MQA wins hands down.

  • Andy H from Denver

    Posted on 12/5/2020

    Hi Guys ! I have enjoyed the MQA masters via Tidal for about a year now. If the source tape or digital master is good the MQA stream will be excellent. Just a heads up your Technics SLG-700 listing does not mention MQA anywhere until you get to the bottom of the specs page. Might help sales to make that more prominent on the listing page. DCS added MQA to their $15K Bartok DAC "because their customers demanded it"

  • Davin from Blackfoot

    Posted on 3/19/2020

    Do you need a hi-fidelity or high-resolution personal audio device if you have the Cobalt Dragonfly abd Shure SE535's with custom perfect fitting ear buds between your stremed music and your ears? I want to know if I have all I need to listen to the best music in the best possible way I can before buying a hi-fi personal music device which does essentially what the Cobalt Dragonfly does. Am I correct or wrong?

  • Larry Edwards from Centennial

    Posted on 9/1/2019

    How can MQA sound better than 24/192? There are a lot of poor recordings out there so junk in equals junk out. A lot of the of 10-20 year old recordings sound really bad. How many people can afford to spend over $3,000 for streamer and MQA DAC to achieve 10X unfolding in the first place? Thinking of changing from Tidal to Qobuz to get 24/192.

  • Gregory Wodark from Coto De Caza, CA

    Posted on 4/14/2019

    The future is here NOW! I have been listening to full MQA unfolding, on my Apple X iPhone, using an Audioquest Dragonfly MQA EQUIPPED DAC, through TIDAL! Now that it is widely available, you owe it to yourself to hear it ( if you care a wit, about sound quality). It is just like the "Absolute Sound ", reviewer said: " "...jaw dropping...". Please start finding DACs that do full MQA!

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