MQA announces new hi-res MQair codec for wireless devices

MQair hi-res wireless codec
(Image credit: MQA)

Well, this is unexpected news. MQA Ltd has developed a new hi-res wireless codec called MQair, which aims to deliver higher quality PCM and MQA audio files 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 like Sony headphones and Qobuz music streaming service to confirm hi-res audio status.

The new codec is technically named SCL6, but MQA is calling it MQair for public use. 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 – in compatible wireless devices (similar to Bluetooth 5/LE).

The press release states that "MQair delivers detail and clarity by focussing on the time domain" – which the company believes will deliver a better quality of wireless sound to compatible wireless headphones, true wireless earbuds, smartphones, digital audio players and Bluetooth/wireless speakers. 

What seems unique is that the encoded data rate is scalable. MQair purports to scale from hi-res 20Mbps to below 200kbps low bitrates "seamlessly" in very small increments, meaning that changes in the data rates of your streamed music won't have a noticeable effect on the sound quality – or so MQA claims.

In further comments to What Hi-Fi?, Bob Stuart, MQA Founder & CTO, has said: "These days it is possible to enjoy high-quality audio streaming using high-rate PCM or, better, MQA. 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."

We don't know yet which brands will adopt this new codec, but we wouldn't be surprised to start seeing announcements and the MQair logo appearing on new wireless devices in the near future. We are also obviously curious to see if Tidal, which uses the MQA format for its Masters hi-res catalogue, will also use MQair.

We look forward to answers in due course, as well as trying out the new codec once it's available.

What is SCL6? All the facts on the future of wireless audio

Read our SCL6 hands-on review

MQA audio: what is it and where can you get it?

What is LDAC? Where can you get it, and how does it compare to aptX?

Read our Tidal review

Kashfia Kabir
Hi-Fi and Audio Editor

Kashfia is the Hi-Fi and Audio Editor of What Hi-Fi? and first joined the brand over 10 years ago. During her time in the consumer tech industry, she has reviewed hundreds of products (including speakers, amplifiers and headphones), been to countless trade shows across the world and fallen in love with hi-fi kit much bigger than her. In her spare time, Kash can be found tending to an ever-growing houseplant collection and hanging out with her cat Jolene.