Is streaming music about to make a huge leap in quality?
The mp3 file format was created in 1995 when storage space was expensive and so filesize was of paramount importance. mp3 is a ‘lossy’ format which means a lot of the sound information is thrown away when the file is compressed to make it small enough to store or send over a low speed internet connection. A 128 kbps mp3 is roughly 1/11th the size of the original file on a CD for example. The ‘perceptual coding’ compression used discards the parts of the sound that are less audible to human hearing. This may be fine for mobile music players where you are likely to be listening to music with a lot of background noise; but when it comes to listening to music at home, many people find the quality of mp3 disappointing.
There are a number of ‘lossless’ music formats (eg FLAC) which can’t compress the information quite as much (typically about ½ the size of the CD file) but when expanded again create exactly the same data as the original. They are even capable of storing music at much higher resolution than a CD. Storage space is now much cheaper and broadband internet connections are much faster, so there isn’t the same demand for the file to be as small as possible. However these current lossless formats aren’t supported by all music playing devices so have tended to remain the preferred choice of mainly audiophile enthusiasts.
But that may soon change.
On 4th December Meridian Audio announced a brand new music compression format called MQA (Master Quality Authenticated). This new format claims to retain all the quality of the original recording whilst still achieving relatively low filesizes.
Even if you’ve never heard of Meridian Audio, you’re almost certainly already using their technology. Their other audio compression technology MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) is used to compress the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack you’ll find on many of your Blu-ray disks.
At the launch of MQA Meridian Audio founder Bob Stuart said, “Music lovers need no longer be shortchanged; finally we can all hear exactly what the musicians recorded. MQA gives a clear, accurate and authentic path from the recording studio all the way to any listening environment – at home, in the car or on the go. And we didn’t sacrifice convenience.”
There seems to be a lot of support for the new MQA format from equipment manufacturers and some streaming companies are expressing an interest. At Cyberhomes we’re looking forward to hearing for ourselves just how good it is; although we suspect that Apple adopting it for their iPod/iPhone devices will be one of the keys to making it a success.
For more details, see https://www.meridian-audio.com/meridian-world/research-and-development/