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[Discussion] Tidal Ditches MQA and 360 Reality Audio for FLAC and Dolby Atmos: What Music Lovers Need to Know

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Tidal's Big Audio Change

In a crucial move for music enthusiasts, Tidal has announced a dramatic change in their audio formats. The music streaming platform will no longer support Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) or 360 Reality Audio formats from July 24th. In place of these, Tidal is adopting FLAC as the default for stereo, while Dolby Atmos will take over as the preferred format for sound immersion.

Currently, Tidal offers three tiers of audio quality for streaming: low, high, and max. The 'low' tier uses AAC files reaching up to 320kbps, the 'high' tier provides CD-quality lossless FLAC files and the 'max' tier offers MQA and superior-resolution FLAC files. The crucial change comes in the 'max' tier where the discontinuation of MQA holds significance. This shift may not come as a surprise to dedicated Tidal users.

From MQA to FLAC

MQA format was widely supported by Tidal and its main advantage was to retain high audio quality while maintaining smaller file sizes compared to FLAC. However, MQA files necessitate special hardware or software for playback, which is its main drawback. The initial indication that Tidal may sunset MQA arose last year when a new HiRes FLAC format was launched (which is just another way of referring to a larger-than-standard CD quality FLAC file). Additionally, after the launch of the new format, Tidal swiftly made HiRes FLAC the default for 'max' quality streaming. Further, last year, the company backing the MQA format went into administration in the UK, equivalent to filing bankruptcy, not aiding the MQA's plight on Tidal.

According to Tidal’s FAQ, the streaming service made its format decision based on accessibility and cost considerations. Dolby Atmos was picked for its wide range of compatible devices, available catalogs, and artist adoption. Although Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format is well-received among audiophiles, its adoption is not as widespread. By opting for the open-source FLAC for stereo, Tidal ensures artists have no need to pass through a third party. In addition, FLAC doesn't carry the licensing costs associated with the proprietary MQA format.

What’s Next For Tidal's Users

For music lovers who have collated MQA tracks or albums on Tidal, their files will be automatically upgraded to the highest quality FLAC versions available on the platform. This also extends to MQA files downloaded for offline playback. However, 360 Reality Audio files will be grayed out and consequently unavailable for streaming.

Tidal has assured its users that it has “no further plans to change our audio format offerings.” Yet, these changes come on the heels of the company's decision to cut its subscription price from $20 a month to a more affordable $10.99. In a bid to simplify offerings, they also merged the HiFi and HiFi Plus plans into a single tier.

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