I like many have had a lot of time over the past 12 months and I’ve been trying to decide on which music service to stick to. While the below isn’t really technical, it’s all I could do to try and justify my own reasoning. And with the everlasting MQA debate, I thought I could try and get me back on the fence with it after a post of mine was removed by @danny
Just to be clear, I am not a hater, nor mean any disrespect in this post. My views only and open to others opinions. Yes I’d like your opinions and suggestions. Or if you think I’m worng, great tell me. I won’t take offence, just be polite.
Sound quality is king, right?
With the constant debate over Tidal/MQA, I thought I’d take one last look at it as a consumer. Without test data and all that, I decided to check download (offline) files sizes as a comparison from Tidal, Spotify, Qobuz and Amazon Music. My logic is that if the files sizes for Flac are bigger then surely they retain all the information from the original mastered version. If MQA files were bigger than CD and a little less than Flac, as I interpret it, I could start to form a different opinion maybe.
I used the same Coldplay album as I know it is 24/192 on Qobuz and Amazon music. Spotify was set to 320kbps and Tidal used the Master version. I chose this album as I like it.
I then did an A/B comparison over a 24 hour period between each services CD/Hi-res version. At the end of the day it’s subjective to each of us, this will just be my opinion.
Here we go…
CD quality 16/44.1 @ 284mb
MQA master @ 284mb
I am very surprised by this. Unless I’m mistaken, I thought MQA masters were meant to be about 20% bigger in file size when compared to CD quality. Does this suggest it’s the same as the CD version, with some MQA information to bring on my MQA logo on my DAC?
Ogg Vorbis 320kbps @ 113mb
As you’d expect.
CD qaulity 16/44.1 @ 280mb
Hi-res 24/192 @ 1.79gb
Similar CD file size to Tidal, but massively different in file size when 24/192.
CD quality 16/44.1 @ 282mb
Hi-res 24/192 @ 1.52gb
Similar CD file size to Tidal and Qobuz, but massively different in file size when 24/192.
While these findings are only looking at file size, to a layman this suggests the 24/192 versions from Amazon and Qobuz retain all the important information and are normally considered lossless. Spotify is what it is. However, Tidal shocked me a little. I chose a further album by Twenty One Pilots (Blurryface) and this revealed the same. Both CD and MQA were the same file sizes. This may differ for other albums that I haven’t checked and stand to be corrected. Does this suggest all MQA files are upsampled from 16/44.1?
Can anyone explain this to me in layman terms as the research I have done, including listening to Bob Stuart previously, I was under the impression MQA file sizes are smaller than your usual hi-res Flac but bigger than CD quality file sizes. Yes there is this origami folding going on, and unfolding which my equipment can do fully. But if it’s that small a file size, can it become hi-res?
A/B tests for CD quality and 320kbps. My preferred in order are;
Jointly - Qobuz, Amazon music and Tidal
I found Qobuz, Amazon Music and Tidal all sounded very good in CD quality. I may say Tidal was slightly more textured, warmer over Amazon but for whatever reason I felt Amazon sounded clearer, precise. Qobuz was very good. Spotify, bit unfair to compare really.
A/B test for MQA and 24/192. My preferred in order are.
Qobuz just pleased me more. Simple really. Amazon was clear but again lacked a little texture. During the few opening seconds of Coldplay’s Don’t Panic you can here some background noise. One noise sounds like the guitar on the right channel being picked up or a hand touching the strings, and then there’s a clear fret noise. On both Qobuz and Amazon these are clear. On Tidal these noises sound different, muted a little to me. I also found the tracks hiss (noise floor?) more noticeable on Tidal, maybe this is how it’s meant to be. On Qobuz and Amazon this hiss sound was less, and in this respect I preferred them.
This is my view for most albums, tracks I like that are available on Qobuz. I only really used Amazon on this occasion as a 3rd comparison.
Tidal MQA vs Tidal CD
While I can say there was a slight difference between the two, I cannot say it was that great of a difference for me to prefer the MQA over CD. I have only based this on this Coldplay album and a few others I really like. Other people may find different findings and I’m happy to listen to other people’s suggestions.
Spotify is Spotify, great for your phone and being mobile. It does sound good at home but not in the same league as Qobuz, and dare I say Tidal either.
I’m not a hater of Tidal. I’m just not keen on MQA, it’s supposed benefits which I don’t feel are that great. If I found the sound quality was a lot greater to my ears over CD I might be into it. I like the idea of smaller file sizing and the idea behind the technology of MQA (which is closed off from people). Bandwidth, nor storage are issues to me. I’m lucky to have unlimited mobile data as well as broadband.
My dislike of MQA (not Tidal) is the idea that to listen to MQA, equipment manufacturers have to pay MQA to have it in their equipment, higher costs for consumers. We, the consumer have to buy separate equipment to enable us to listen to MQA. But what if we don’t like it? An equivalent DAC etc without MQA support could have costed me a lot less. For many this may not present an issue.
For a friend of mine who knew nothing about MQA and subscribed to Tidal, they were amazed at the sound quality of MQA. I pointed out that using an Android phone with Bluetooth headphones wasn’t how you listen to MQA. I set them up with a £100 USB MQA enabled DAC and ok headphones. They didn’t want to be wired up so went back to Spotify.
As for individual music service apps go, I prefer Tidal. Amazon and Qobuz mobile apps are not the best.
As mentioned above, please share your views, opinions and any music recommendations, more importantly in MQA to see if I can be persuaded.