Tidal's waving goodbye to MQA and Sony 360 Reality Audio: here's what you need to know

Tidal listener
(Image credit: Tidal)

Emails from any of the best music streaming services tend to fall into one of two categories: news of a price hike, or news of new features. But the email we got last night from Tidal doesn't drop into either type, because it's an announcement of a huge change that's coming into effect next month. 

Tidal is waving goodbye to two key formats, MQA and Sony's 360 Reality Audio.
Here's what Tidal has to say (it is not a long email): 

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 AudioLearn how these changes will impact your Collection.

Tidal has decided to streamline its streaming and throw out some file formats. The end of MQA support wasn't a huge surprise given that Tidal had already launched a big FLAC update in August of last year, and it now seems extremely unlikely that Tidal will be one of the firms to license MQA's successor, AIRIA

Tidal said that "we have no further plans to change our audio format offerings". But the end of Sony 360 Reality Audio support (Sony's proprietary spatial audio offering) was more unexpected.

Why is Tidal saying sayonara to Sony spatial audio?

The short answer: Dolby Atmos is where it's at. Tidal says it's focusing on Atmos because of "the number of compatible devices, catalog availability, and artist adoption of the format." 

So what does this mean for your library? 

From 24 July, if you have MQA tracks in your collection Tidal will automatically replace them with FLAC versions. Not all tracks will be replaced immediately, however: Tidal says that some tracks' FLAC versions may not be available straight away or may not be hi-res initially. 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."

And from the same date, if your collection includes 360 Reality Audio tracks in your downloads or playlists they'll be grayed out and won't be selectable for streaming.

The end of 360 Reality Audio support is not the best news for people who've been enjoying it on earbuds such as Sony's rather good WF-C700N, and it's even worse news for Sony: while the format is still supported by Deezer, by live concert streamer nugs.net and by Amazon Music, this is definitely a big loss for the format and a suggestion that 360 Reality Audio may be joining Betamax and Minidisc in the filing cabinet of forgotten Sony formats. 

Spotify doesn't offer 360 Reality Audio and isn't expected to in Spotify Hi-Fi, while Apple is already on board the Atmos train. 

Tidal is, however, one of the few music platforms that actually cut its prices, in March 2024, so if you're looking for a new music streaming subscription that's changing things up, it might be one to trial… 

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.