Move over aptX and Sony LDAC, there's a new Bluetooth hi-res audio option in town

MQair logo on purple background with DJ mixing
(Image credit: MQA)

A freshly certified hi-res audio codec from MQA is set to take aim at Qualcomm's aptX and Sony's LDAC solutions.  

The format is called MQair (well, technically it's named SCL6, but MQA is launching it to the public under the catchier moniker, MQair) and MQA tells us it can deliver higher quality PCM and MQA audio files when streaming to wireless and Bluetooth devices. 

And you don't just have to take MQA's word for it; MQair has gained hi-res audio wireless certification from the Japan Audio Society (JAS). This means that if you buy a product with MQair support in the future, you'll see a lovely gold Hi-Res Audio logo adorning the packaging – the likes of which you'll already find on the excellent Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII, or in fact on any of the best hi-res audio players on the market, not to mention the Sony WH-1000XM5 over-ears and some of the best wireless headphones out there. 

Here's the important bit: the MQair codec (which can be thought of as the 'bridge' between the resolution of the file you're streaming and how much of it can actually make it to your ears) will apparently 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 – aka potentially longer battery life for your devices, similar to the perks offered by Bluetooth Low Energy (LE). 

Update: our friends at What HiFi? have tried tried the new SCL6 codec, and are very impressed with the result.

Analysis: MQair is the codec Qualcomm and Sony will want to look out for… 

So, it's an LDAC or aptX alternative. But why is this particular codec potentially more important? Well, MQA is the file format Tidal uses in its highly-regarded Tidal Masters HiFi Plus hi-res library, which is (arguably, you understand) the audiophile choice when it comes to music streaming – it's certainly one of the best music streaming services available today. 

And whether or not you think MQA trounces the sonic chops of Apple Music's ALAC codec, used in its Hi-Res Lossless offering, it certainly offers more detail than Spotify's sociable but lossy OGG Vorbis solution (with that long-awaited HiFi or 'Platinum' tier still yet to launch officially).

The point is that when (if) MQair starts to become ubiquitous in Astell & Kern's newest creations and the like, it may well take over as the last word in wireless listening – the Netflix of audiophile streaming, if you will. 

Case in point: iFi's beloved-of-audiophiles output, which includes some of the best portable DACs in existence; see the hip-flask shaped hip-dac which is now into its second iteration. The company's ouevre has long boasted full decoding of MQA files up to 384kHz. This means that the entire ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to only the final unfold (in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’). All of which is iFi's roundabout way of saying "MQA is good, and we do it best". 

Of course, this is all a bit pie in the sky because we don't know for sure yet which brands or products will adopt MQA's new codec when it arrives, but we wouldn't be at all surprised to start spotting an MQair logo on boxes soon – and of course, whether or not Tidal chooses to support it will have no small bearing on its success. 

Will we see it start appearing in time for Black Friday? And will products unable to support it therefore be subject to some tasty Black Friday deals? It's all a bit soon to say. But we can't wait to hear it… 

Becky Scarrott
Audio Editor

Becky became Audio Editor at TechRadar in 2024, but joined the team in 2022 as Senior Staff Writer, focusing on all things hi-fi. Before this, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.