MQair: hi-res on the go?
Bluetooth’s bandwidth limitations have somewhat been in the spotlight recently as consumers wonder how they can fully take advantage of the hi-res music that streaming services are now offering through their Bluetooth headphones (the answer: they can’t). The prospect of a better wireless transmission standard for higher sound quality is therefore ripe for the taking, and MQA Ltd — the company behind the MQA format, used to deliver Tidal’s hi-res Masters and ‘studio quality’ MQA-CDs — has announced that it has developed a new hi-res wireless codec, called 'MQair' (technical name: SCL6), that it claims can deliver high-quality PCM and MQA audio when streaming to wireless and Bluetooth devices.
It has also achieved hi-res audio wireless certification from the Japan Audio Society (JAS), whose stamp of approval (and gold logo) can be found on products such as Sony headphones and Qobuz music streaming service to confirm something's hi-res audio status.
The codec will support both PCM and MQA audio formats up to 384kHz over Bluetooth, Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and Wi-Fi streaming connections. It also claims to offer low latency and high efficiency, which could result in longer battery life — similar to the goals of the latest Bluetooth 5 and Bluetooth LE standards.
The press release states that “MQair delivers detail and clarity by focusing on the time domain” — which the company believes will transmit a better quality of wireless sound between compatible wireless headphones, true wireless earbuds, smartphones, digital audio players and Bluetooth speakers.
What seems unique about this transmission technology is that the encoded data rate is scalable. MQair purportedly scales from hi-res 20Mbps to below 200kbps bitrates “seamlessly” in very small increments so that changes in data rates of streamed music won’t have a noticeable effect on the sound quality.
“These days it is possible to enjoy high-quality audio streaming using high-rate PCM or, better, MQA,” says Bob Stuart, MQA Founder. “The streaming service sends this to a playback device where it can be directly connected to loudspeakers or headphones.
“However, many people want to enjoy the convenience of wireless connection to headphones or earbuds — especially ‘on-the-go’. Invariably these wireless connections provide unpredictable data rates and a codec is needed to bridge the gap. This ‘bridge’ can significantly reduce sound quality, especially if the source is high-resolution.
“MQair is a real-time codec that can seamlessly adapt to both the radio capacity and the music content and aims to maximise transparency.”
Of course, for this technology to have a chance at making a meaningful difference in our lives, manufacturers of source devices and wireless speakers and headphones will need to adopt it.
At the time of writing, MQair supporters have not been announced, though I would not be surprised to see the logo appearing on new wireless devices this year. Watch this space.