Tidal officially kills MQA support, and tosses out Sony 360 Reality Audio too

Tidal and MQA logos separated by a broken heart.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Ever since Tidal announced that it would begin adding hi-res lossless FLAC tracks to its library, we’ve known that, sooner or later, the service would kill off MQA support entirely. That day, according to an email sent by Tidal to subscribers (and first noted by TechRadar), is July 24.

What was less expected is the news that Tidal will also be ending support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio (360RA) format on the same day. 360RA is a spatial audio format that has been not-s0-successfully competing with Dolby Atmos Music.

The email containing the two announcements was remarkably brief:

“On July 24, 2024, we’re replacing the music in TIDAL’s MQA catalog with FLAC versions. In addition to this change, we’re removing all podcasts and music available in 360 Reality Audio. Learn how these changes will impact your Collection.”

The switch from MQA to FLAC was clearly a cost-saving move. MQA (owned by Lenbrook since 2023) charges a fee for its use, while FLAC, as an open-source format, is completely royalty-free. The decision to ditch MQA may have been a key factor in Tidal’s subsequent subscription price drop, which saw its premium offering fall inline with Apple Music and Amazon Music’s subscriptions after many years of being nearly twice as expensive.

Killing support for 360RA, however, may simply be due to a lack of demand. Tidal says, “for immersive sound, Dolby Atmos was chosen as the format we will support going forward due to the number of compatible devices, catalog availability, and artist adoption of the format.”

The full transition away from MQA may not be quite as smooth as subscribers are hoping for. On the linked support page, Tidal notes that, “while we have at least 16-bit, 44.1 kbps FLAC versions for nearly all MQA tracks today, we may not have a replacement for every single one. We are working hard to ensure all existing MQA tracks will be replaced with a FLAC version in a timely manner.”

For folks with MQA tracks in their Tidal collection and playlists, these tracks will be automatically replaced with the highest-quality FLAC version (if it exists) on July 24.

Sadly, MQA tracks that have been downloaded for offline access won’t be spared from the cull: You will need to update to the latest version of the app on July 24, after which you will be prompted to redownload these tracks. The new downloads will be FLAC format.

For 360RA tracks, the process is much less friendly. These tracks (whether online or offline) will simply become grayed out on July 24 and will no longer be streamable. Tidal hasn’t said if or when it will offer Dolby Atmos Music versions.

While MQA fans have known they should be prepping for this moment for some time, there wasn’t an obvious way to replace Tidal’s exclusive streaming MQA catalog. However, this may only be a temporary situation. Earlier in June, Lenbrook announced it had partnered with HDtracks to create a new streaming service that will support FLAC, MQA, and Airia, a new format based on Lenbrook’s SCL6 codec, which it acquired as part of the MQA purchase.

The partnership hasn’t announced when the service will launch, how much it will charge for subscriptions, or which regions will be supported.