The Bluesound family of wireless multiroom audio products will be among the first able to stream music using MQA encoding and playback technology which promises “authenticated” high-res audio quality.
MQA, developed by Bob Stuart and his team at Meridian and now operating under a separate company MQA Ltd., has also been licensed for availability on all three of Auralic’s streaming bridges, the Aries, Aries LE, and Aries Mini. Content provider 7digital (the music service, not the Australian TV site) ihas announced it already has independent MQA content available, and will add content from high-res label 2L when available.
At CES in Las Vegas, Bluesound demonstrated "proof of concept", equipping one of its most popular digital players with technology that “unlocks the full richness of MQA”.
Of particular delight is the fact that all Bluesound products, including the first generation, will be upgraded via firmware to allow MQA playback.
“Music is important to us all, and being able to connect listeners with the artist’s original studio recording through Bluesound is incredibly exciting,” said Bob Stuart, MQA’s creator. “Never before have listeners been able to enjoy MQA’s studio quality music like they can with Bluesound’s line of wireless multi-room speakers and digital music players.”
“MQA is at the very forefront of digital audio, and we’re proud to lead the way for wireless multi-room systems to support MQA’s lossless audio files,” said Greg Stidsen, Bluesound Director of Technology and Product Planning. “Fusing Bluesound’s proprietary BluOS software and advanced audio architecture, with MQA’s scientific approach to digital processing, makes it possible for listeners to stream authentic Studio Master recordings in real time with enhanced audio quality.”
1. It’s authenticated. We understand all too well how useful it will be to have high-res files authenticated as genuine — Sound+Image reviewed dozens of high-res releases in conjunction with Hi-Fi News & Record Review in the UK, discovering a good many that contained upsamples and mis-conversions and other dubious results.
The MQA encoding system can encapsulate data within any lossless file format or streaming system, and achieves authentification by bringing up an indicator confirming to the listener that they are hearing a fully reconstituted original master as signed off by the original producer. This requires an MQA-equipped decoder, of course; MQA files will play at CD quality on other devices.
2. It’s smaller. MQA also aims to put high-res “into a file that’s small enough to download or to stream today” (24-bit/192kHz lossless audio at a similar bit-rate to uncompressed 16-bit-44.1kHz). It may achieve this in part by analysing the noise floor of recordings, to allow a varied encoding scheme for MQA, optimising the encoding space depending on the true bit-depth of the music… as Meridian says: “higher sample rates can make improvements to the sound, but most of the ‘encoding space’ created goes unused. It’s like putting the music into a bigger box, most of which is empty – it’s inefficient and because you can’t tell where the music’s essence is, it’s hard to lift it out undamaged.”
Of course if MQA is bit-stripping where it deems this possible, the system could be interpreted as lossily encoding, since it is removing information from the signal - even if Meridian insists this is non-relevant and non-musical information. Most providers of other lossy systems would say the same, after all. Meridian is out to prove that in their case it is true.
3: But is it better? Is MQA’s convenience (in lowering bit-rate) and its authentication system the whole story? Or does MQA offer an actual improvement over other high-res formats per se?
Meridian seems to claim that the MQA encoder software can analyse music files to get a fingerprint of the original studio recording equipment, in particular of its low-pass filtering and its effect on time smearing. Elsewhere it has been suggested that studio ADC (analogue-to-digital converter) characteristics could be provided fdor the MQA process by the studio itself. The MQA decoder can then 'correct' music using this information, in a similar fashion to the way digital cameras correct for known lens aberrations. Metadata within MQA includes not only details of the recording, but track-specific instructions for the decoder and D/A converters on how to create this authenticated exact reconstruction. The result might then achieve improved fidelity to that experienced in the recording studio than simply playing the non-MQA high-res file.
The proof, as ever, will be in the pudding. You can hear Meridian's Bob Stuart discuss the ideas behind MQA in the video above.
Pricing for Bluesound Gen 2 in Australia is as follows:
- NODE 2 Wireless streaming music player $999
- POWERNODE 2 Amplifier / wireless streaming music player $1599
- VAULT 2 NAS / DAC / Server / Music Player $2199
- PULSE FLEX Compact wireless streaming speaker $699
- PULSE MINI Wireless streaming speaker $1199
- PULSE 2 Wireless streaming speaker $1499
- DUO 2.1 sub/sat speaker system $1799
Bluesound is distributed in Australia by Convoy International.