Predictably, the ink was barely dry on our ‘How to hear MQA high-res from Tidal’ story in Sound+Image (expanded from this earlier online piece) before changes came through, notably in the form of a system software upgrade from Aurender for its A10 digital player.
This confirmed that the information currently on both Tidal and MQA’s websites is not entirely accurate in saying that the only way to access a complete unfolding of its MQA Masters files into their full high-res form is by using the desktop app version of Tidal for PC or Mac.
It’s not true, because with this system update, Aurender’s A10 digital music players can stream and fully decode MQA Masters direct from Tidal.
Tidal is accessed directly by the A10 using Aurender’s Conductor app (iPad only, pictured, showing an MQA playlist we made earlier), and the new software issued on 28 Feb updated both Aurender’s upmarket A10 playback + DAC unit's system software and its Conductor app, while confirming the unit now has certified MQA status.
The update, says Aurender, delivers “Full Decoder MQA file playback from the internal DAC, with MQA content status displayed on the A10's front panel. In addition, when used with the A10, the Conductor App will now display MQA file information… Additional features and improvements are available for all models, including a new “Add to my library” feature for seamless integration of Tidal, Qobuz, and other (where applicable) streaming content with the local library, a “Masters” tab for filtering MQA Master Albums from Tidal Albums, and the ability to filter and identify locally stored MQA content more easily with Conductor.”
This ‘Masters’ tab in the Conductor app (shown above) is a particular bonus, because identifying MQA content from within Tidal itself is currently (we hope it changes) difficult. We’d note, though, that this tab in the Conductor app seems to duplicate the section under Tidal’s own interface (Albums/New/Masters), which is not believed to be the full MQA catalogue available (see our article in Sound+Image Feb/March - a PDF will appear linked here shortly).
As we happen to have an A10 under review, we could check this for ourselves, and below, to show the proof, is a screenshot of a Bowie track in MQA streaming from Tidal showing its final authenticated 'MQA Studio' 192kHz status. Curiously, though, when we went back to get an better focused image half an hour later, the exact same file (re-selected from the existing queue) played back as MQA Studio at 176.4kHz. It can't be both, so which is it, and what's going on?
Also shown is a grab of a local MQA file on the Aurender's hard drive of Coldplay playing back at 192kHz -- this file came to us from Meridian's local representative, but no MQA Studio status is granted here, although it does specify 24-bit, showing that bit-length is still a thing for MQA, though it is rarely mentioned in literature.
The Aurender update is great news, as it shows the Tidal MQA Masters can be accessing in other ways than the desktop app, freeing up MQA for other paths to playback. While we might note that the benefits of MQA’s audio quality have yet to be widely established, we can report that we’ve just been A-Bing the Aurender-rendered Tidal stream of Led Zeppelin’s Gallows Pole against the full FLAC file version played through the A10’s DAC, and we couldn’t pick between them. Other questions over MQA have been raised by a blog on Linn’s website, which is interesting reading. For now, though, we’ll revel in the easy access to large numbers of high-res albums ready to play at a fingertip’s notice.
More on the Aurender update here: http://support.aurender.com/software-release-notes
Aurender is distributed in Australia by Busisoft AV; a review of the A10 will appear in an upcoming issue of Sound+Image.