There has been a lot of chatter over the years about the problems with MP3’s. They simply do not capture the fidelity of the original recording. AAC has gone a long way to help that, but even then there is compression and sacrifice. When we use compression we lose quality. Those 1’s and 0’s have to be thrown out to make the file smaller.
File size was a much bigger issue when the first iPod’s came out than it is today. Hard drive space is cheap and the price is decreasing every day.
Craig Kallman, chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records was interviewed by Billboard Magazine. When he was asked about fidelity his response was, “Now is when we finally have the technological capabilities and the bandwidth capability to deliver people a convenient experience that also includes a true high-resolution audio result at the same time.”
Atlantic, Warner Music Group, Tidal, Pioneer, Onkyo and many others are starting to look very seriously at a new company called Master Quality Authenticated, or MQA for short. They provide a new kind of audio stream that they are calling Music Origami, which is basically taking the parts of a recording that are typically discarded and wrapping it into a compressed music file. The trick to what they are doing is putting the data under the noise floor.
Here’s a video of the MQA CEO expelling the process. He does a lot better job than I can.
Most of you have likely seen similar technology in action if you watch streaming movies. Have you ever notice that sometimes a movie is crystal clear and it may drop down in quality if there is a bandwidth problem? That is basically what is going on with MQA Origami. When bandwidth is sufficient to support a 96kHz stream the full file is sent providing original fidelity. The technology will step the quality down as bandwidth decreases to the point that we hear today from streaming services. This technology, however, is not limited to streaming services. There could be a day when music is mastered and distributed to end-users in the MQA format. It would simply take a new codec to uncompress the file. A software update would be all it would take to enable devices that have sufficient processing power.
How does MQA impact Musicians Now?
I’m glad you asked 🙂 To benefit from future technological enhancements we need to always keep an eye on the future. Home musicians often record at lower sample rates (e.g. 44.1 or 48kHz). CD’s and MP3’s are 44.1 and AAC files are 48kHz. The higher the sample rate and bit depth of audio being recorded increases the file size considerably. a 44.1 kHz mono file requires 5 megabytes of disk space per minute at 16-bit and 7.5 MB at 24-bit. A sample rate of 88.2 kHz consumers twice as much space as 44.1. Creating music requires numerous files. A drum set alone can have 8 or more dedicated tracks.
Most of the non-pro musicians I see record at the highest level they think they will need, which is most often 44.1 kHz 16-bit. The ones with Apple iTunes distribution in mind typically use 48 kHz 24-bit. However, the pro-studios that make the hit records generally record at 96 kHz 32-bit floating point. Why? Because pro-studios and record companies look toward the future. They can remix and sell their 96 kHz files as technology improves. A simple release of a remix album can bring in big $$ with minimal effort.
Remixing in mind is very likely the reason Atlantic and Warner are investing in MQA. They not only can sell remixed files at studio levels, the record industry has majority ownership of Spotify. Incorporating their high-fidelity streaming files into Spotify could leapfrog them over the competition that is not using the new technology.
Bottom line for recording musicians is to record at the highest quality your equipment can support. You may also want to read though the Apple iTunes Mastering specifications. Apple prefers to have master files sent to them far above what is needed today for recording. Why? Because they are planning ahead as well. If they have the high facility files in hand they can easily stream at a higher bitrate when the technology is ready.
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