MQA fireside chat at What Hi-Fi? Virtual Show
The first ever What Hi-Fi? Virtual Show took place on 24 April 2021, featuring expert advice, product launches, as well as a fireside chat with MQA founder Bob Stuart and The Metro’s tech editor Lucy Hedges.
Bob set the scene with a whistle-stop tour of the genesis of MQA: the founding team who also invented the first lossless compression system; Bob’s passion and lifelong interest in neuroscience and how humans hear; the fundamental shift in thinking that led to MQA’s fresh approach to digital; and co-founding one of the UK’s leading audio hardware brands, Meridian Audio, along the way.
Traditional vs MQA
Two of the key attributes of MQA music are clarity and transparency, and great sound connects you with the artist and their music. While the conventional method for improving digital audio has been to increase the sample rate, effectively diluting any pollution, Bob describes MQA’s radical new approach as akin to removing the dirt. “We developed a set of tools that we call for simplicity ‘de-blurring’. Imagine it's like you’ve got a window that's dirty. If you clean it, you see more clearly by taking the dirt away,” explains Bob. And while the engineering team carries out all the theoretical work, the practical testing has been done with leading producers and mastering engineers. George Massenburg even went so far as to say, “MQA gives me a reason to go back into the studio.”
A further MQA innovation was to focus on the musical information and give more care to the 'information inside the data'. As a result, the file is packaged more efficiently: “It's very beneficial because it gives us a lower carbon footprint and we think that's very important. It's easy to think that bandwidth is free or cheap, but somebody pays for that data….and it's got an environmental impact.”
End to end
MQA has a wide range of applications and solves a number of problems. And this is one of the reasons why some people may be confused, claims Bob, “Because we're not just doing one thing: we're not a codec, we're not hi-res delivery, we're actually thinking about the whole chain from the studio all the way to your home.” Whether it’s livestreams, TV, video, or radio – in each instance MQA enables delivery of the best sound.
“We've built up a hundred licensees at companies that are really enthusiastic about MQA,” states Bob. Some of the most recent partners include ASUS, Cambridge Audio, KEF and THX, enabling MQA to reach new audiences. Other partnerships have continued to thrive: since adopting MQA, streaming service TIDAL has won Best Service at the What Hi-Fi? Awards for 4 consecutive years. In Spring 2021, MQA announced its first radio partner – Radio Paradise in collaboration with BluOS – with the station’s founder Bill Goldsmith stating the decision had been based, “solely on my opinion that MQA’s encoding improves the listening experience.”
While the first gaming headset with MQA (ASUS ROG Delta S wired headset) was enthusiastically received by the music and gaming communities, the MQA team is already working on wireless solutions. As Bob explains, “Airplay, Chromecast, WiFi, Bluetooth – all can be an obstacle but MQA was designed to deal with these 'bottlenecks'. You'll see us delivering more and more smart implementations to enable great listening experiences in wireless environments.”
Other focus areas of development work include: television where sound has always been the ‘poor cousin’ to screen resolution; radio and turning it into ‘something that is high quality’; as well as more services, more territories and more great products. Watch this space.