Since Tidal announced MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) 24/48 streaming capabilities (and software decoding of the file up to 24/96) on January 5th at the opening of CES in Las Vegas, there has been a collective question mark hanging above the heads of Roon Labs software users around the globe. Their question being: When would Roon support the first unfolding step of the MQA “origami” software decoding process? Some opined weeks or even days.
I decided to contact Rob Darling of Roon Labs over the weekend to see if he would be able to comment, and he very kindly got back to me saying that they don’t have a date for a Roon/MQA software decode that they could comment on at the moment.
What he did say was that they were working closely with MQA and waiting for them to provide elements that Roon needs for the software decode.
Darling said that since Roon is more complex than other audio software products (especially in terms of multi-room, Roon Ready, and other supported streaming protocols) the MQA team has had to undertake some additional engineering effort to make MQA decoding work in the Roon world. Both teams are working on it, and an update will ship as soon as technically possible. Said Darling… “Once we have code from MQA, it should be a matter of single digit days to get it integrated.” Darling added that Roon engineers were working on a method to specifically filter MQA files from Tidal as well.
At this point Roon is simply passing the 24/48 (or 24/44) MQA file to a connected DAC, so if you don’t have an MQA-certified DAC, all you’re getting downstream from Roon is that original MQA transport/wrapper/codec being handed off. Those with a highly-resolving system may be able to hear some of the mastering differences I wrote of here with those undecoded files. Those using Tidal to send the MQA files on to a non-certified DAC are getting software decoded MQA files (single unfolding of the MQA origami wrapper, resolutions up to 24/96 or 24/88). For those with hardware-qualified DACs, the fun really starts because those MQA files could be unfolded multiple times to match full studio-resolution MQA playback (24/192 or higher if the MQA file was recorded at higher resolutions). The fact that Roon Labs seems to have such a focus on applying resources to MQA delivery that once they receive the crucial data from MQA, it would take only days to implement it, is terrific news for users.
I’d like to thank Darling for his help while away from the office for bringing us this information.
For those of you not familiar with the how/what MQA encapsulates in their MQA files for streaming, and software/hardware decoding, here’s MQA top man Bob Stuart explaining the entire process:
Tidal on its own has an atrocious user interface compared to Spotify, but I am sure Roon bridges that gap and then some.
My current playback hardware isn’t sufficiently resolving to distinguish between 320 Kbps OGG from Spotify and Tidal lossless.