DRM (Digital Rights Management) is a system intended to centralize control of music distribution through software and hardware manipulation. The advent of file-based digital music created a need in the music industry to control and profit from the distribution and playback of music and avoid copyright violation in a new environment where physical formats were in decline.
In every example, (Apple, Microsoft, Sony) DRM has always failed as a solution. DRM, by its very nature, creates a closed system and a royalties-based distribution scheme. It essentially forces a customer to purchase specific products if they want to hear music in a certain format, and forces manufacturers to pay royalties to the digital format-owner while forcing them to give up control of their own products. AURALiC firmly stands against any system like this. The consumer should be able to purchase any product they choose in order to listen to music in the preferred manner.
As many members of the high-performance audio community are already aware, the MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) format is a technology that utilizes a specific algorithm for recording, storing, streaming (primarily through TIDAL’s subscription-based streaming service), receiving, then playing back an audio data file.
Playing back MQA at its fullest resolution involves special requirements at every step of a proprietary chain owned completely by MQA. MQA requires that the recording engineer in the studio use MQA-approved hardware and software, that the consumer use MQA-certified software to play MQA-certified content, or that an MQA-certified streamer is used as a passthrough product, which then shuttles the signal to an MQA-certified DAC. Essentially, every single piece of hardware and software needs to be MQA-certified, even some of those products that don’t process the MQA signal require this paid-for certification. This all points to the incontrovertible fact that MQA is DRM. Since not every manufacturer makes MQA-approved devices, this limits the consumer’s choice if they wish to hear a fully resolved MQA music file.
Apart from the evidence that MQA displays all of the classic hallmarks of a DRM structure, other important technical aspects should also be considered.
MQA was developed prior to 2014, at a time when bandwidth limitations could have made streaming a larger high-resolution file across the internet a difficult and unreliable endeavor. As a consequence, MQA compresses and removes portions of the original file to make it easier to stream across the internet for complete delivery. This reveals MQA to be a solution for a problem that no longer exists, or a dated technology, rendered unnecessary, since bandwidth limitations are no longer an issue.
Since MQA’s compression method permanently removes bits from the original file, it must do so in a lossy manner, compromising the integrity of the full file, and does not deliver an actual high-resolution music format. Due to this loss of integrity, AURALiC does not consider MQA to be a part of true high-performance audio. In terms of quality, MQA offers little better than CD-quality FLAC as a format and is essentially a high-resolution version of MP3.
However, we do wish to offer our customers as many choices as possible with regard to playing back files and formats of any type through our products.
We provide options for our customers to play MQA files, but we do not employ any official form of MQA decoding or rendering. The AURALiC engineering team performed extensive research based on publicly available information on the MQA algorithm and its filtering technology. To this end, combined with the use of AURALiC’s powerful Tesla platform, we have developed a playback technology that simulates the sonic character of MQA’s digital filter.
In addition, all AURALiC streamers provide an ‘MQA Passthrough’ option, which enables the MQA content to be delivered to the DAC as a bit-perfect data stream, without using AURALiC’s MQA processing technology, a choice that can be made in our user interface.
In conclusion, because it is DRM, we do not endorse MQA. As a technology, we do not see it as a viable or necessary solution. For our customers, we will continue to provide numerous ways in which to enjoy music, including our solutions for playing back MQA-encoded music.