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New Lenbrook HDtracks Streaming Service to Offer Choice of FLAC or MQA

by June 19, 2024
Lenbrook HDtracks Streaming Service to Offer Choice of FLAC or MQA

Lenbrook HDtracks Streaming Service to Offer Choice of FLAC or MQA

I have to hand it to audio reviewer John Darko. Last year, when Lenbrook bought MQA, the audio journalism world could only guess why the parent company to Bluesound, NAD, and PSB Loudspeakers was interested in the floundering MQA business. Sure, MQA was invented by a digital audio legend, and its development team had an impressive roster. But the MQA codec was an unusually controversial technology from the beginning, and appeared to be dead in the water when Tidal began streaming in FLAC. Darko put forth a seemingly wild suggestion: perhaps Lenbrook was going to launch its own streaming service, and would use MQA technology in the process. I think Darko is one of the sharpest audio reviewers out there, yet I was pretty quick to dismiss his “crazy theory,” which just didn’t seem plausible to me. Why would Lenbrook launch a streaming service in a time when the audio customer is already spoiled for choice? Apple Music and Amazon both deliver high-res audio these days — not that the typical mainstream user is concerned with sampling rates or bit depths. For the audiophile crowd wanting something different, we already have Tidal and Qobuz streaming high-res FLAC. What would a Lenbrook streaming service offer to set itself apart? And why would Lenbrook launch a service using MQA, when a vocal portion of the audiophile community has decided that MQA is bad news? Well, we’re about to find out, because that is precisely what’s happening.

HDtracksJust days ago, Lenbrook introduced a new subsidiary called MQA Labs, along with a trio of MQA-branded technologies. Among these was AIRIA by MQA Labs, a rebrand of the SCL6 transmission codec, which MQA developed before the acquisition by Lenbrook. Now Lenbrook Media Group has announced that it is joining forces with HDtracks, the go-to source for audiophile-quality music downloads, to develop a streaming service “aimed squarely at discerning music fans.” Although there aren’t many details available as of now, we know a couple of important things. The new service will be the first to use the AIRIA codec, which can seamlessly scale from lossless, high-res audio down to lossy rates depending on the available bandwidth. Presumably, this will allow the new service to adjust to the fluctuations in connection speeds offered by cellular and Wi-Fi connections. (AIRIA should also be able deliver lossless audio in a scalable manner between source devices, like smartphones, and receiving devices, like headphones. We expect to see an AIRIA-equipped wireless headphone from PSB later this year.) The second big piece of news about the upcoming streaming service from Lenbrook and HDtracks is that it will allow consumers a choice in audio formats. Do you want to listen to MQA or FLAC files? The choice will be yours to make. When Tidal first began offering FLAC alongside MQA, I assumed that the listener would be able to choose between formats for any given track, allowing for potentially-enlightening sound quality comparisons. That didn’t turn out to be the case (see my article about Tidal’s FLAC Woes), and now Tidal is transitioning away from MQA altogether. With this new streaming service, customers will reportedly have full control over which file type they play. For those still curious about MQA, the new service will provide the perfect opportunity for side-by-side comparisons. Those who don’t want anything to do with the MQA codec can simply stream in FLAC.

HDtracks co-founder David Chesky has been a leader in high-resolution audio for years, alongside his brother Norman. “We have wanted to launch an HDtracks streaming service for some time,” he said. “In Lenbrook we have a partner with global reach to help us launch a service ensuring quality and consumer choice. Fans will get to choose their format – either PCM/FLAC or MQA – in a service that will ensure high-resolution audio streaming whether you are in your home or on-the-go.”


The Lenbrook press release announcing the upcoming service did not say what it would be called, nor how much a subscription will cost. Instead it focused on some of the technology that would set it apart from competitors like Tidal and Qobuz. Chief among these is the aforementioned AIRIA delivery codec, which Lenbrook touts as a transparent, efficient, and truly lossless way to stream music from the cloud. Lenbrook says that AIRIA is “designed for low-latency wireless communications by the inventors of lossless compression.” (Indeed, MQA-creator Bob Stuart collaborated with Peter Craven and Michael Gerzon to develop Meridian Lossless Packing, or MLP, the lossless PCM compression technology which eventually became Dolby TruHD.) Lenbrook says that AIRIA “brings the benefits of a format-agnostic, scalable codec with an unmatched combination of audio quality, reliability, and data-efficiency.”

Norman and David are the perfect partners for Lenbrook. Their experience and understanding of the high-end audio fan is unique and their history with quality and innovation speaks for itself. We are ready to embark on this journey with them and think music fans are going to love it.

— Mike Jbara, VP and GM of Lenbrook Media Group

Our industry has been built by providing discerning music enthusiasts with choices while using innovation to advance digital music delivery. As audiophiles ourselves, it’s an exciting prospect to bring a service to life for the millions of global audiophiles that care so passionately about the quality of the music they listen to.

— John Banks, Lenbrook’s Chief Strategy Officer

New Lenbrook Streaming Service Available Across Platforms!

According to Lenbrook, the service will be available across platforms, so we can reasonably expect support for iOS, Android, Mac, and PC. In addition to its own applications for mobile, the service will reportedly “find its way into many of the world’s leading high-end audio ecosystems, apps, and brands, that count on service providers for their content.” Surely this will include the Lenbrook-owned Bluesound ecosystem, and likely Sonos as well. But what about Roon? We’ll have to wait and see. Lenbrook did say that the new service will not be exclusive to Lenbrook’s brands, so you won’t have to run out and buy a Bluesound or NAD product in order to subscribe. And we won’t have to wait too long for more information, as Lenbrook and HDtracks plan on launching the new service in Q4 of this year. And the word on the street is that all three major labels will be onboard at launch, so we can expect a healthy catalog of content. What else would Lenbrook and HDtracks have to offer to get you interested in yet another new streaming service? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below.


About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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