Australian Hi-Fi

Wireless headphones of the future


MQA, PSB Speakers and hearables start-up company Sonical have partnered to produce “high-resolution audio headphones” that combine hi-res wireless transmissi­on with a computer-in-your-ear operating platform. Indeed, these yet-tobe-named headphones — due to go on sale under the PSB brand early next year — sound ‘next-gen’ in more ways than one.

The high-quality wireless connection comes courtesy of MQA’s latest technology, SCL6, a codec that has been designed to facilitate truly hi-res audio streaming for the first time in such products. It’s essentiall­y a way of packaging an audio file for transmissi­on (in much the same way as aptX or LDAC, say) and works for broadcast and streaming across Bluetooth, UWB (Ultra Wide Band) and Wi-Fi, with any file type and regardless of whether the connection is wireless or not. Its scalabilit­y is what’s clever here — it can supposedly vary in data rate from 200kbps (lossy) all the way up to 20Mbps (lossless) depending on the quality of the connection, with the latter figure accommodat­ing lossless transmissi­on of hi-res 24-bit/384kHz PCM files. Over

Bluetooth? Not likely, the Bluetooth pipe is just not wide enough. But UWB is low power and can achieve a higher bit-rate, so this will probably be the vehicle in which, via SCL6, wireless hi-res is achieved on the PSB headphones. Given that the ‘best’ Bluetooth codecs have a maximum data rate of around 1Mbps (less than that of a CD-quality file), SCL6 and UWB together have the potential to hugely impact on-the-go sound quality.

As for the headphones-based computing system that will be at the headphones' core, that comes courtesy of Sonical and is o®cially called CosmOS, though it has been referred to as ‘Headphone 3.0’ for its next-level ambition. The idea behind Sonical CosmOS is to open up headphones to apps, allowing users to install third-party apps in the same way they can on their phones, thus giving headphone manufactur­ers greater versatilit­y in what they can ošer. The system supposedly runs on powerful low-wattage processing cores, enabling it to reside in a portable, battery-powered product like wireless headphones. Why, that makes the hoard of headphones on my desk sound pretty dumb!

“Our use of the CosmOS platform to make the world’s first software-defined wireless headset, and the inclusion of MQA’s adaptive wireless codec helps set a new benchmark for a high resolution, mobile high-fidelity product,” says Gordon Simmonds, President and CEO of Lenbrook Industries, PSB Speakers’ parent company. “We believe this product underscore­s what Paul Barton and the PSB team have accomplish­ed over the brand’s 50-year history in the pursuit of audio excellence for listeners at home and now on the move.”

Our very own Jez Ford recently delved into the Sonical ‘Headphones 3.0’ innovation, so those who are intrigued should check out his musings at

Further details about the PSB-branded headphones are being kept under wraps for now, but I’m already wondering whether such a ‘smart’ and hi-res-supporting pair will give us all a glimpse into the near future of headphones when they arrive in 2024.

That certainly gives MQA time to start building out an ecosystem of SCL6-supporting devices to give consumers an end-to-end option when the PSB headphones launch, for like a lot of technologi­es, SCL6 requires support from the source too.

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