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BluOS 4.2.6 Update Prioritizes FLAC Over MQA With TIDAL Connect

Listening to MQA tracks on TIDAL using BluOS just got a lot harder. Is this the end for MQA?

BluOS App 4 Screenshots


BluOS is a software platform that’s been gaining popularity among audiophiles. It lets users wirelessly connect and control compatible players, speakers, and streamers either one at a time or in a multi-room setup. BluOS supports lossless, hi-res audio up to 24-bit/192kHz and provides access to music from popular streaming services or personal music libraries. The BluOS Controller app (iOS /Android) manages wireless music streaming through associated Bluesound and NAD products, such as the popular Bluesound NODE and NODE X streamers. Ultimately, the BluOS ecosystem is a competitor to Sonos.

BluOS 4.0

In October 2023, BluOS 4.0 was released. It provided improved navigation, customized content, centralized access, and improved player control as well as search capabilities.

In November 2023, another update (version 4.2.0) added access to the Pandora and Presto music streaming services. Then on December 12, 2023, a subsequent update (version 4.2.6) fixed some bugs, but what really got our attention had to do with the handling of MQA music.

The BluOS website simply said, “Added support for TIDAL ConnectHiRes FLAC files.

However, BluOS didn’t just add a feature, it removed the ability to listen to the same song in MQA.

BluOS 4.0 iOS App on iPhone Lifestyle


Let’s back up. BluOS has supported TIDAL for some time and added TIDAL Connect support in 2020, but the BluOS 4.2.6 update changes how things work for TIDAL HiFi Plus subscribers.

Here’s what’s stated on the BluOS support website, “If tracks in TIDAL are available in both MQA and FLAC, the TIDAL App will offer you the FLAC version by default, and the MQA version will be inaccessible.”

In this scenario, MQA music isn’t gone, it’s hidden. However, BluOS users can still find and playback MQA music from TIDAL using the BluOS Controller App.

TIDAL HiFi Plans 2023

MQA Confusion?

What is interesting is that TIDAL has been an enthusiastic supporter of MQA, releasing “millions” of MQA-encoded tracks. However, MQA’s fortunes have dwindled to the point where they filed for bankruptcy protection in April 2023.

With the status of MQA (the company) in question, TIDAL announced a week later it would be adding a different hi-res music format called FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) to its HiFi Plus subscription tier. Although MQA music wasn’t completely eliminated, its days were starting to look numbered.

To add another wrinkle to this story, Lenbrook (owners of BluOS, Bluesound, NAD Electronics, and PSB Speakers), purchased MQA in September 2023. Before buying MQA, Bluesound has supported MQA music playback since 2016.

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Lenbrook acquires MQA Ltd

So despite Lenbrook owning both BluOS and MQA, Bluesound products seem hamstrung by TIDAL’s decision to prioritize FLAC over MQA. Why would TIDAL do this? Ultimately it comes down to money. When MQA music is streamed, TIDAL owes a “MQA royalty” to Lenbrook (the new owners of MQA). By using FLAC, TIDAL owes nothing (extra). Of course in both cases, TIDAL still owes regular music streaming royalties to rights holders (artists, songwriters, etc.).

With MQA’s future in question, there’s speculation that Lenbrook’s long-range plans might be to start their own streaming service using the MQA encoding as part of the service’s platform.

But streaming MQA is only half the problem. Listening to MQA requires licensed equipment to decode MQA music files. So Lenbrook collects licensing fees from manufacturers that include MQA integration. But how many are likely to renew if TIDAL drops MQA altogether or Lenbrook launches its own streaming platform and demands an additional fee to carry it?

Tech Note: As part of the acquisition, Lenbrook owns the patents for the MQA and SCL6 (formerly MQAir) audio codecs. 

Lastly, after 9 years of claims about MQA’s superior fidelity, a somewhat ambiguous quote on the BluOS website says, “It is important to note that the perceived “better” quality is subjective, and personal preferences may vary. At BluOS, we consistently advocate the philosophy of ‘Let your ears decide‘.”

Ultimately, is this a final admission that any difference between music encoded via FLAC versus MQA would be nearly impossible to detect?

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