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Cesar Cadenas

Tidal adds another reason why it's a better Spotify alternative for audiophiles

Smartphone with Tidal logo laying on a laptop keyboard with wireless earbuds next to it

In a recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), Tidal CEO Jesse Dorogusker revealed the streaming platform will soon be introducing hi-res FLAC audio to HiFi Plus members.

FLAC, or Free Lossless Audio Codec, is a digital audio format that can offer studio-quality sound without requiring a whole lot of storage space. The small file size is important as these platforms need to have enough room for millions of tracks. This particular format already exists on Tidal in the standard HiFi tier where songs are said to have CD-like quality. Music on HiFi Plus, more commonly referred to as Tidal Masters, currently runs on MQA, a controversial format that appears to have been a hot topic in the AMA.

MQA or Master Quality Authenticated is an audio format allowing studio-quality sound to exist on file sizes smaller than FLAC. The company behind the digital music tech, MQA Ltd, recently announced it was “entering into administration” which is the British version of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US. This worried TIDAL users as it could’ve spelled the end of HiFi Plus. Fortunately, it's not over.

Potential changes

Switching over to a file format with a larger size than MQA is going to change a lot on the platform, but for now, things will stay mostly static. In a recent report from Digital Trends, a company spokesperson told the publication the “existing MQA catalog will continue to be available on the platform” and that TIDAL is simply “adding hi-res FLAC” as an alternative. Dorogusker also said in the AMA the service will provide new “controls” over FLAC files; seemingly allowing a way for users to adjust their size.

Users' response to this change has been mostly positive from what we can tell. They seem to appreciate that TIDAL will be offering, what some might consider, a true lossless audio format in the service's highest tier.

You see, there’s been some controversy regarding the validity of MQA actually being lossless. Some have gone as far as referring to it as snake oil. A YouTuber by the name of GoldenSound took the time to test the format. According to his findings, MQA wasn’t as good as the company claimed it to be. So, there's a good chance Tidal HiFi Plus will get an audio upgrade.

The future of MQA

Considering the recent bankruptcy news, it's possible MTQ Ltd may soon stop supporting its own format, leaving TIDAL with only FLAC. Jesse Dorogusker didn't say anything about growing the TIDAL Masters catalog. It appears at the moment the platform is more focused on building a FLAC music library. 

We reached out to TIDAL with several questions. Will the MQA tracks stay on the platform and for how long? What exactly are the “controls” Dorogusker mentioned in the AMA as it relates to FLAC files? And is there a specific launch date in mind? This story will be updated if we hear back.

Meanwhile, rival Spotify is content with adding a TikTok-like feed rather than finally adding high-resolution audio. So if you're thinking of jumping ship to Tidal, now's your chance. 

And if you do, be sure to check out TechRadar’s recently updated list of the best over-ear headphones for 2023.  You're going to need a good pair to get the most out of FLAC audio.

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