I asked Bob Stuart, Creator of MQA, this very question when I reviewed MQA in May 2016. Here's Bob's answer:
"MQA manages no rights, extends or embodies no rights, has no tracing or user information (unlike UITS). There is no management system."
I spoke to Bob Stuart earlier today about this subject, something none of the people cooking up conspiracy theories seem inclined to do, and here's what he said:
"There is no DRM."


"Everything that looks like security is authentication."

If we look at how we can listen to MQA-encoded files today, we have the following options:
  1. Stream via Tidal
  2. Purchase MQA-encoded downloads
Based on a few facts including MQA does not send any data back 'home', anyone can play an MQA file on their existing DAC, and there are no rights being managed, I have a difficult time stamping "DRM" on MQA.

Some people believe this document from MQA partner utimaco from May 2017 tells a different story.

Here's the supposed smoking gun from the utimaco PDF:

The technical solution: Digital signatures for proof of integrity.
Utimaco provides a FIPS - certified hardware security module (HSM) that generates and stores cryptographic keys, and generates secure digital signatures that authenticate the audio data. Using the custom capabilities of the CryptoServer SDK, MQA implemented an advanced signature scheme that provides an audit trail guaranteeing the provenance of each piece of music. The decoder uses these signat ures to authenticate and verify the integrity of each piece of music as it is played.
Again, this document is talking about authentication not digital rights management. At least that's the way I read it. I have yet to read, although I admit I do not have the time nor the patience to wade through the nonsense-ripe forum posts on this subject, a convincing argument that contradicts this point of view.

But I have a confession to make—I am not a conspiracy theory kinda guy, I do not enjoy participating on forums where false narratives nonetheless become "the truth" (in my experience that would be most forums), where anonymous commenters feel it's appropriate to discuss other people's personal lives, their family, and their motives. Call me old fashioned.

Here's a related question to ponder:

Have you stopped beating your wife?"

CG's picture

BTW, this has gotten way, way off topic. Fini!

NeilB's picture
Michael Lavorgna's picture
Well written, well researched, and thought-provoking.
NeilB's picture

respectful discourse. As I stated in my only other post my 1st "encounter" with MQA is from the MQA files included in the Black Sabbath "Ten Year War" vinyl box set. Well that arrives today so I'll have a chance to listen to the MQA files via an ifi Nano iDSD Black Label DAC. Finally! I get to hear first hand what all the kerfuffle is about. Please be clear - what I was after when I purchased the box set was the 8 LP's - not the MQA files. That they just landed in my lap is happenstance. Here we go! Let the games begin!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If so, I'm very jealous ;-)

Respectful discourse allows for a sharing of ideas, which really is the point of discourse ;-)


NeilB's picture

It's that crazy, crucifix shaped USB stick. I'm a homer for old, classic heavy metal what can I say. Honestly though I plan to give these music MQA files a completely thorough, discriminating listen. If Amazon UK hadn't had the thing for US $187 at the time I never would've bought it in the first place, but that's a killer price which unfortunately has subsequently gone back up. I'll take the time to post my impressions after having had a chance to digest all those righteous old tunes............. Peace!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Looking forward to your impressions.
skikirkwood's picture

... was just posted on Computer Audiophile. I think Archimago's article is the new "reference posting" on MQA.