Why do manufacturers support MQA?

The focal point of whether consumers are voting with their feet is not in markets with established competition. It’s going to be where there was no choice (a monopoly) and then the alternative supplier enters the market.

You’d think this would make Roon the perfect Petri dish for the experiment, however, the findings may not be representative as the global market is disparate and in various states of maturity.

We know that the non-Roon streaming audiophile market is orders of magnitude bigger. I have seen in the last 2 weeks since Qobuz finally entered the market in Australia (HRA and others are still not here), a strong reaction to move away from Tidal. Watching the more civil mqa discussions on stereo.net.au is bearing this out. The key message is not SQ, although those mentioning SQ are distinctly preferring non-Mqa by a ratio of over 5-to-1 and possibly much higher (I’m not recording numbers, it’s just an obvious trend from the many hundreds of comments in the last 10 days alone). The key message is the fear of ending up with no choice if a proprietary format goes unchecked - the end of independent innovation.

I think the litmus is going to be what way Spotify jumps later this year. Sensibility proffers that they would not want to pay for the decodes and would want their pricing to remain their key proposition.

We will see.

9 Likes

This could support either argument. Lol.
image

5 Likes

Manufacturers want MQA because it is a selling point for them.
For the inventor and the investors, it is a market share enabler.

MQA is another attempt to let a closed proprietary format take over the business, with it’s only purpose, to make money where others cannot.
MQA is not about end users, they are there only to supply the money to be made.

I really want MQA on the pile where SACD, and other closed proprietary technologies has ended up.
Just a footnote in history, lived short and died fast and made a huge loss for their inventors and stakeholders.

2 Likes

You could ask why some manufacturers support phono inputs for vinyl in this age. The reason? People still want them and buy them.

3 Likes

Both of these.

This said, right now, as far as I can tell, MQA is still haemorrhaging cash.

Their Chinese partners don’t seem to be doing great, and with Amazon not buying in, MQA Ltd. have got Spotify and Apple left.

I personally don’t see Apple voluntarily adding MQA support, so that kinda leaves Spotify. Let’s see if that happens, and what happens if it doesn’t.

4 Likes

I recently read an interesting book on dominance: how to achieve it, how to maintain it. It suggests that every market is composed of three kinds of stakeholders: interchangables, influentials, and essentials. With regard to the original question of this thread, I think it’s interesting to try to see how the MQA marketplace breaks down along those lines.

Interchangables are stakeholders without much agency, which would probably include most who listen to music and most musicians themselves. No matter how much MQA Ltd. would appeal to them, there wouldn’t be much they could do about it. So, don’t bother marketing to them. The second group, influentials, are those who would have more, um, influence, and who might put pressure on, or even be part of, the third group, the essentials, who would be those required for market dominance. You have to have the essentials, and you want as many as you can get of the influentials, to join your coalition (adopt your product), in order for it to win out.

So, who would be the essentials for MQA? Well, first off, you have to have music to MQA-ize. So you’d need the people who have music, or have control over music, the record companies. And probably not just 2L, either. So Sony or Warner Music would be essential. But you also need a delivery format, and both physical media and downloads are almost dead. So you need a streaming company, like TIDAL.

And you need some way for the folks who listen to music to use your format, so you need some equipment manufacturers. Here’s where the influentials come in. Some of them would be audiophile reviewers and columnists and bloggers, who would announce the new format and inspire audiophiles everywhere to query their equipment provider about when they would be supporting the new format. If the influentials whip up enough interest, this could quickly become the “most requested” feature for manufacturers, even if the requesters don’t exactly know what it is they’re asking for, and even if the manufacturers are lukewarm about it. And it gives the manufacturers a new feature to flog in their advertising, just when chip-ification of DACs was making it so anyone could make one. I can see the appeal.

The manufacturers, by providing MQA support, would join the crowd of influentials on the side of MQA, as well, as the inclusion of the feature would drive feedback back to the streaming sites and music companies for more music in this format. Meanwhile, the MQA folks would seek to increase the size of that faction by pushing MQA capabilities further upstream, in this case to chips. We know the latest ESS chips do MQA internally, and we know from iFi that complete MQA decoding can be done with the latest XMOS XU216 16-core chip. This lowers the costs for manufacturers to include the capability, and makes it easier (lower-cost) for mass-market equipment to include it.

The authors of the book are accused by the Guardian review of “galactic cynicism”, mainly because they think everything involves money or its alternate forms, prestige and/or power, and very little if any of it involves the common good. They do emphasize that loyalty of the essentials is, um, essential, and that the company would best do that by keeping them fat and happy. This would imply payments or some other deals to those supporters.

So who am I missing in this analysis?

7 Likes

Those who can bring MQA to those that have no MQA hardware. The two big ones would be the TIDAL app and Roon. Are we “essentials”?

This is why this topic is of interest to me. I’m a pawn in a game I don’t like.

5 Likes

A pawn with a choice.

Of course, but a very difficult choice. Roon’s business benefited greatly from MQA, and continues to do so.

It’d be very painful for us to drop MQA support, just as it would probably be painful for MQA to lose Roon support.

5 Likes

Think of Roon as an interconnect between digital music sources and digital music players. Interconnects that are not monopolies need to support the widest range of sources and players to have a chance. The situation is very different for co-dominant sources (Apple, Spotify, Amazon, YouTube Music) or for niche music players (Linn, Schiit, …) who focus on serving an opinionated submarket. While I don’t care for MQA, in Roon Labs’s shoes I’d make the same choice: give the greatest choice to the greatest number of users with different source and player preferences.

1 Like

There are always compromises. While it does benefit Roon and many Roon customers, I do not think MQA is good for the industry. I do not think anyone should have a closed codec in this position. It’s restrictive towards innovation.

That’s why above I said it’s very hard to be Switzerland. I’m not sure there is a good solution here, but it’s interesting to get your takes on the subject, especially the ones I hadn’t explored.

For example, I never considered the “MQA will not survive” angle.

5 Likes

@Fernando_Pereira @danny @Bill_Janssen
Now we are going places with the discussion, thank you!!!

1 Like

If it doesn’t survive and consequently Tidal doesn’t, will that leave you vulnerable with just one streaming partner?

First, I don’t think MQA failing will impact TIDAL at all.

Second, I don’t think TIDAL will fail any time soon.

Third, TIDAL’s doom would only concern me if I didn’t already know things I can’t speak about publicly (yet).

The first point is actually kinda nuts. If TIDAL was to pull the plug on MQA or if MQA was to fail, I’m not sure it’d impact TIDAL’s business in any real way. Do you think any significant number of TIDAL customers who already haven’t jumped, would jump ship to Amazon, Qobuz, or some other niche service to get some hi-res content? I really don’t think so.

3 Likes

And let’s not forget, for much of the world Tidal is the only actually reliable streaming service at even redbook quality and therefore absolutely the only one at hi-res in all those places. Amazon’s interface is total garbage and their library is laughable, Qobuz doesn’t exist in most places, Spotify is often just unlistenable and has honestly one of the worst interfaces, and Apple Music, well I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. For me,Tidal +/- MQA sounds just fine but, with Roon, it’s the only option out here on the rural left coast of Canada for listening to a huge library of high quality music, so I’ll take it.

Y’all have different experiences of course, but please stop assuming that everyone in the world lives in a place with gigabit fibre internet on tap to their house for $5 a month and the choice of all sorts of streaming at 8K and the blah blah blah. We make our cell phone internet work most of the time for doing the things that really matter, like doing our jobs that pay the bills in middle of the COVID disaster.

Thank ***** we have Tidal to listen to, even if it does skip tracks occasionally.

7 Likes

MQA is a nice eye-catcher, the good gets better, but many recordings are not worth to be published in MQA or any other High-Resolution Audio. It’s more about creating a brand and a cash-stream.
Audio- & Media-Business is getting captive in terms of formats and “co-dominant sources”. One thing is the current state of a software or format, the other is the number of subscribers. In future there will be more and more pressure for captive subscriptions (owners of a music library will become a rare species!): At the end it will be a question with which of several dozens of subscription services one will or “must” go on in life. Looking at ROON I would not wonder if - in the next years - they are taken over by one of the “dominant sources” like most other innovative companies. Will ROON maintain to bring ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ to HiFi music-lovers also in the future?

Remark: HRA (High Resolution Audio) was mentioned just one time in this comprehensive discussion on “best audio”. If ROON ist just fostering the big players, at the end it might be on the acquisition menu of them soon.

3 posts were split to a new topic: How is MQA authenticated?

Maybe Roon should start its own streaming service?
PCM, Redbook & high resolution without MQA nonsense.

Thats interesting, thanks for sharing.

It’s maybe instructive to go back to Steve Jobs, the iPod, and the labels. Back then I was close to a team (let’s call them T) trying to launch a label-approved, DRMed, with a better codec (related to AAC) than MP3, alternative to Napster. Here’s what happened:

  • Team T was trying to work with the labels kept getting more and more conditions from them, around DRM and royalties, that complicated the engineering, delayed the product, and ultimately made the business unviable.
  • Team T also met with Steve Jobs in Cupertino. Jobs despised their DRMed streaming plans, but loved their portable player prototype.
  • Apple introduced the iPod, supported by iTunes that “officially” was a way for Apple (and later Windows) users to rip their CDs to the portable device. In a feint to the labels, iPod/iTunes supported a DRMed version of AAC, but it was pretty much a loss leader. The reality is that people filled their iPods with rips, from their own collections, their friends’s, or file sharing sites. Jobs smiled, let the labels fume, and took the market.

Moral for today. If Jobs’s spirit still haunts Infinite Loop, I can’t imagine Apple Music conceding to a label-promoted restrictive codec. Nor Amazon, or Spotify, or … I could be wrong, of course, but I don’t see the labels having today even a fraction of the power they had 20+ years ago. And they lost back then.

1 Like