FLAC vs. MQA: 5 Key Differences and How to Choose

flac vs mqa

What Is FLAC?

FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. It is an audio format that compresses audio files without any loss in quality. The term ‘lossless’ implies that the audio data is perfectly preserved even after compression. This is unlike ‘lossy’ formats such as MP3 and AAC, which discard some data during compression and sacrifice quality somewhat to achieve smaller file sizes.

FLAC is an open-source format that is free for anyone to use and modify. It is widely supported by a range of software and hardware, including media players, smartphones, and stereo systems. FLAC files can contain high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, making them a popular choice among audiophiles and music professionals.

However, FLAC has a downside: the file sizes can be quite large compared to lossy formats. This can make FLAC less suitable for streaming or storing large music libraries, particularly on devices with limited storage.

What Is MQA?

MQA, or Master Quality Authenticated, is another format that aims to deliver high-quality audio practically. It was developed by a British company called Meridian Audio, with the goal of reproducing the sound of the original studio recording as closely as possible.

MQA files use a type of lossy compression but with a twist. They use a unique folding process to reduce the file size while preserving all the details of the original recording. This allows MQA files to deliver high-quality audio with smaller file sizes than lossless formats like FLAC.

Unlike FLAC, MQA is a proprietary format. This means it requires licensing and is not freely available for anyone to use. It is also not as widely supported as FLAC, with playback requiring specific MQA-enabled hardware or software.

This is part of a series of articles about video format.

flac vs mqa

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FLAC vs. MQA: Key Differences

1. Resolution and Quality

When it comes to audio resolution and quality, both FLAC and MQA deliver superior performance compared to standard lossy formats. As a lossless format, FLAC ensures that no audio data is lost during compression. This allows it to deliver high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, which is significantly higher than the 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution of CDs.

MQA, on the other hand, uses a unique folding process to compress the audio data. This process retains the key details of the original recording, allowing MQA to deliver high-quality audio even at smaller file sizes. In addition, MQA files include a form of authentication that verifies the file has been faithfully created from the original master recording.

2. File Size

In terms of file size, MQA has an advantage over FLAC. While both formats deliver high-quality audio, FLAC files can be quite large due to their lossless nature. This can make FLAC less suitable for streaming or storing large music libraries, particularly on devices with limited storage. MQA files, in contrast, are smaller while still delivering high-quality audio.

3. Playback Compatibility

FLAC has broad compatibility compared to MQA. Being an open-source format, FLAC is supported by a wide range of software and hardware. This includes a variety of media players, smartphones, and stereo systems.

MQA, on the other hand, requires specific MQA-enabled hardware or software for playback. While this format is supported by some high-end audio equipment and streaming services like Tidal, it is not as widely supported as FLAC.

4. Licensing and Cost

Another key difference between FLAC and MQA lies in their licensing and cost. FLAC is an open-source format and free for anyone to use and modify. This has contributed to its widespread adoption and support.

MQA, however, is a proprietary format developed by Meridian Audio. This means it requires licensing, which can lead to additional costs for manufacturers and consumers. These costs can also affect the price of MQA-enabled hardware and software.

5. Authentication

Lastly, MQA includes an authentication process that verifies the file has been faithfully created from the original master recording. This provides assurance to listeners that they are hearing exactly what the artist intended. FLAC, while offering high-quality audio, does not include this authentication feature.

Related content: Read our guide to FLAC vs MP3

flac vs mqa

FLAC Pros and Cons

Here are the main pros and cons of the FLAC format:


  • Lossless compression: FLAC compresses without any loss of quality, which means that the audio is perfectly preserved.
  • High-resolution audio: Supports high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, which is appreciated by audiophiles and professionals.
  • Open source: It’s free to use and implement, with a wide array of software and hardware support.
  • No licensing Fees: Since FLAC is open source, manufacturers or consumers have no licensing fees.


  • Large file sizes: The files can be quite large, which may not be ideal for streaming or for use on devices with limited storage.
  • Not universally supported: While it is widely supported, some streaming services and devices do not support FLAC files.

MQA Pros and Cons


  • Smaller file size: MQA files are smaller than FLAC files, which is beneficial for streaming and storage.
  • High-quality audio: Uses an advanced folding process to retain much of the original recording’s detail, aiming for high fidelity.
  • Authentication: Files include a verification signal to ensure they match the source material from the studio.


  • Proprietary format: The MQZ format requires licensing, which can increase the cost for manufacturers and potentially for consumers.
  • Limited playback compatibility: Requires MQA-enabled hardware or software, which can limit where and how users can enjoy MQA content.
  • Partially lossy: While it preserves a high level of detail, it is not truly lossless, which might concern some audiophiles.

FLAC vs. MQA: How to Choose?

If you value an open-source, lossless format with broad compatibility, FLAC could be your best bet. Its ability to deliver high-quality audio without any loss of information makes it a favorite among audiophiles.

On the other hand, if you’re more inclined towards streaming and want high-resolution audio without the hefty file size, MQA might be the way to go. The assurance of listening to the music as the artist intended is a unique feature that many music lovers appreciate.

Converting Between FLAC and MQA With Cloudinary

Whether you’re working with FLAC or MQA formats, you can rest assured that Cloudinary makes the conversion process brisk and straightforward. Here’s how you can achieve it in a quick three-step process:

  1. Upload your FLAC or MQA audio file to the Cloudinary server. Make sure the file is correctly formatted for a smooth process.
  2. After the upload is complete, input the q_auto command. This automatically determines the best encoding parameters for your file.
  3. Click on the ‘convert’ button and wait for Cloudinary to complete the conversion process.
  4. Once done, your optimally converted audio file is ready for use.

Keep in mind that Cloudinary provides you with an efficient way of converting between FLAC and MQA, allowing you to deliver a superior audio experience.

Last updated: Nov 28, 2023