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The Canadian firm that owns NAD and Bluesound now owns MQA | Digital Tendencies Categorical Instances

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Simon Cohen / Digital Tendencies

MQA, the embattled U.Okay. audio know-how firm based by Bob Stuart, has a brand new proprietor in Canada-based Lenbrook, the father or mother firm of Bluesound, NAD, and PSB Audio system. Monetary particulars haven’t been revealed, however Lenbrook says it has acquired all MQA property, together with the corporate’s two key items of mental property — the MQA and SCL-6 audio codecs. Previous to at present’s announcement, MQA had been mired in administration, a British enterprise standing that’s much like chapter, and was in search of new possession after a significant investor exited the corporate.

“We view this acquisition as a possibility to make sure the applied sciences developed by the scientists and engineers at MQA proceed to serve the trade’s pursuits relatively than be confined to any single model or firm,” Gordon Simmonds, Lenbrook’s CEO, stated in a press launch that outlined the acquisition.

The MQA codec is taken into account by some to supply most of the advantages of lossless, hi-res audio codecs like FLAC, however with smaller file sizes, improved audio high quality, and a few extra options like having the ability to visually verify that the music you’re listening to is the model its creator wished you to listen to. Nevertheless, not like FLAC, which is open supply and royalty-free, MQA is proprietary, and any entity (from streaming providers to report labels, to audio gear makers) that wishes to make use of MQA should pay a licensing price.

Many report labels and audio gear firms have change into MQA licensees over time, together with Lenbrook’s personal wi-fi whole-home sound system model, Bluesound, in addition to a number of merchandise made by NAD. Nevertheless, Tidal stays the one main streaming music service that has ever supplied MQA-encoded tracks to its subscribers, and in 2023, Tidal has been busy making main adjustments that can finally see it transition its complete hi-res library of songs to the FLAC format. The truth is, with out Tidal’s help, music created utilizing the MQA format may change into very tough to entry.

Lenbrook’s substantial investments in MQA help throughout its Bluesound portfolio of merchandise (it considers itself “considered one of MQA’s most important licensees”), mixed with Tidal’s efforts to scale back its reliance on MQA, makes the acquisition one thing of a necessity for Lenbrook. Controlling MQA’s property lets it protect or negotiate any of the greater than 120 current MQA licensing offers, which may present much-needed stability for Lenbrook and the better MQA ecosystem.

Lenbrook stated its major goal on this acquisition was to supply certainty for enterprise and technical developments that have been underway previous to MQA’s administration. A type of developments nearly actually is PSB Audio system and MQA’s partnership to launch the primary set of wi-fi headphones that use ultra-wideband (UWB) as an alternative of Bluetooth for connectivity. For that initiative to work, PSB Audio system will doubtless depend on each the MQA and SCL-6 codecs.

To maintain issues transferring from a technical standpoint, Lenbrook says it’s retaining a core group of MQA’s engineers, builders, and gross sales and advertising group members. Lenbrook solely talked about considered one of these staff by identify: Andy Dowell, beforehand the top of licensing for MQA. Notably absent from the announcement was any point out of Stuart, MQA’s founder.

Presumably, considered one of Lenbrook’s first missions might be to resolve the Tidal downside. That might imply Tidal will get to maintain its MQA catalog at a decreased licensing value. Or if a deal can’t be reached, Lenbrook may attempt to construction an MQA partnership with considered one of Tidal’s rivals. Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Qobuz all have current hi-res libraries in both FLAC or ALAC, which makes them unlikely companions — except these providers really feel that buying some or all of Tidal’s MQA-loyal subscribers would make it worthwhile.

Alternatively, Spotify has been circling the hi-res enviornment for years, and a good cope with Lenbrook may lastly present the inducement it must launch its much-promised, however as but undelivered Hello-Fi tier. Licensing MQA would give it a method to launch that new tier with out it merely trying like a carbon copy of Apple Music and different providers.

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