Warner Music is bringing hi-res audio to the masses

Fans of The White Stripes, Jonny Cash and Gorillaz rejoice

If you're someone who feels held back by music that's 'only' CD-quality then your options are about to get significantly larger thanks to an agreement between Warner Music and the developer behind a new high-resolution audio standard.

The agreement means you'll soon be able to stream and download tracks from Warner Music, who own the music produced by artists such as the White Stripes, Biffy Clyro, Jonny Cash and Gorillaz, in better-than-CD-quality.

The format promises to pack all the information from a 24-bit/192kHz PCM track into a file the same size as a 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality track.

The development is thanks to a technology called MQA (or master quality authenticated) audio, which allows high-resolution audio files to be packaged into much smaller files. This is especially handy when you're trying to stream music, which relies upon file sizes being small enough to download on the fly.

Hi-res barriers to entry

MQA is nothing new having been announced by Meridian over a year ago, however its adoption has been limited by three things, lack of hardware to fully utilise it, lack of distributors, and finally lack of music produced using the standard.

This deal with Warner Music is aimed at addressing the latter issue.

The issue with MQA adoption thus far has been that since it's a higher audio quality than CDs, MQA cannot simply rip audio from pre-existing releases. Instead it must have a direct relationship with the music's producer in order to have the track be produced in the high-resolution format in the first place.

The amount of hardware available which fully supports MQA audio encoding is currently small. Meridian's own Explorer 2 DAC fully supports the format, as does Pioneer's XDP-100R portable music player. The format is backwards compatible, meaning users can still enjoy better than CD quality playback on older devices, but the number of devices that fully support the standard is currently small.

On the distribution side, MQA files are currently available through High Res Audio, Onkyo Music, and 7digital. Meridian has also reached an agreement with music streaming service Tidal, which has promised to enable MQA streaming later this year.

Warner has also said that there are "ongoing discussions' with other distribution partners to make the files more widely available.

With limited distribution channels we're unlikely to see MQA audio takeoff overnight, but if other music companies follow Warner's lead we might see a lot more high-resolution music become available soon.