Almost 8 years after the introduction of MQA, Bob Stuart embarks on a new mission to solve the problem of wireless high-resolution audio transmission.
Although Bluetooth has become the standard for wireless headphones, most people don’t realize that the Bluetooth Audio protocol currently cannot support full-resolution wireless transmission of lossless or high-resolution music. Essentially, the Bluetooth tube is too thin to fit all the data through. Just enough data gets through to be able to hear the music thanks to a fancy algorithm that uses psychoacoustics to discard data that is unlikely to be noticed.
With MQA’s latest initiative called MQair, the company seems to have figured out a way to dynamically transmit MQA or PCM audio wirelessly up to 384kHz/24-bit. Very little music exists at such a high sample rate, but in theory things seem very promising.
There are no MQair-compatible wireless headphones (or speakers) on the market, so it may take some time for MQair-enabled products to ship. We were told that MQair can be implemented in software on a wide range of chips. It sounds like that could mean firmware updates on existing products could bring the MQair to market faster. However, information is very limited at this time.
Details from MQA’s press release are set out below, along with 10 questions about MQair.
Today it was announced that the Japan Audio Society (JAS), the internationally respected audio research organization, has certified MQA Ltd’s new scalable codec, for use with the Hi-Res AUDIO WIRELESS logo. This new codec carries the technical name SCL6 and comes to the market as MQair.
MQair delivers detail and clarity by focusing on the time domain – a critical factor in human perception of high-resolution audio. This fresh perspective enables an exceptional sound experience and responds to the growing demand for better wireless sound.
The technology supports both MQA and PCM audio up to 384kHz, and the encoded data rate can be scaled seamlessly from below 200 kbps to 20 Mbps, covering Bluetooth, Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and WiFi links. It offers low latency and high efficiency for extended battery life.
Powered by the SCL6, MQair means the listener doesn’t have to sacrifice quality for convenience.
Bob Stuart, MQA Founder and CTO commented, “We are very honored that JAS has certified the SCL6 for use with the Hi-Res AUDIO WIRELESS logo. This latest technology is born from our passion for the highest sound quality and an understanding that such quality brings us closer to the music. With MQair, we can improving the listening experience for many listeners and expanding the MQA ecosystem to wireless devices. High resolution isn’t necessarily defined by the big things – it’s shaped by small elements in sound that convey detail, separation, color and space. Our benchmark for transparency is the air in itself. We are excited to use these insights in the design of MQair to provide a more enjoyable experience for audiophiles and music lovers everywhere.”
10 questions for Bob Stuart, MQA
1. Can a firmware update enable MQair on existing headphones, or are new chips required?
Technically it is possible, but it would be a decision for the manufacturer.
2. Is MQair analogous to aptX Adaptive or aptX Lossless? If so, aren’t new chips required to send/receive?
SCL6 (the codec labeled as MQair) covers an area where today we see codecs such as AAC, aptx, LDAC, LHDC and LC3+. Since it can be implemented in software, no new chips are needed for the codec. However, this is an area of rapid development, and where new chips will come into play is the ability to handle high-speed audio at both ends.
3. Is MQair dependent on a specific music streaming service?
No. MQair handles any audio that might be in the phone – whether from Tidal or a PCM streaming service, YouTube, games, video or internet radio.
4. What is the requirement to activate a headphone or speaker MQair?
MQA has a licensing program for use of the codec included to ensure compatibility and quality standards. MQair can be implemented in software on a wide range of chips.
5. Is spatial sound (Dolby Atmos or Sony 360) supported over MQair?
Not naturally, but MQair can support multi-channel audio.
6. Does MQair use any technology from MQA (eg folding/rendering) or is it completely new?
MQair uses fundamental insights into the human perception of “resolution”, combined with data from encoding many millions of songs in the world’s music catalog. It incorporates several new and also existing MQA technologies, including, where possible, rendering. MQair shares the DNA of MQA – with a focus on the time domain. Although a completely new codec, SCL6 is the perfect companion for extending MQA listening over wireless links.
7. How is MQair different from AirPlay 2?
Airplay 2 is limited to audio sampled at 44.1 or 48 kHz and generally 16-bit. Depending on the transmitting and receiving device, it may involve sample rate conversion between these rates, while higher rate signals will be downsampled. MQair conveys 24b audio sampled between 44.1 and 384kHz, so it handles “high resolution” sources natively.
8. Does MQair require a minimum Bluetooth specification?
Not as such, but we expect that later specifications will be used in future products.
9. What is the maximum distance to achieve 384kHz wireless transmission?
This is really a question of the design of the radio system. Using UWB for headphones, MQair can deliver it with exceptional quality over 10 meters.
10. Can MQair dynamically detect wireless connections to scale performance up or down?
The SCL6 encoder can scale the data rate seamlessly, in real time, in response to information from the radio system about what is available.
About MQA Ltd
MQA Ltd is a research, development and licensing company whose mission is to achieve excellence in all aspects of audio entertainment: from audio recording, to content streaming and broadcasting, to consumer playback devices. The first product on the market – Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) – is a ground-breaking suite of technologies that delivers the original sound from the recording studio in a format small enough to stream. This award-winning technology is licensed by leading record labels, music services, broadcasters and hardware manufacturers worldwide. MQA Ltd is a private company based in the UK.
For more information visit mqa.co.uk
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