MQA's even higher-quality music streaming tech sounds amazing… if anyone supports it

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

The first hands-on review of MQA’s ground-breaking new hi-res audio streaming codec has been published, and it’s not likely to make great reading for the folk behind rival formats at Qualcomm and Sony.

Previously launched last year under the MQair name, SCL6 aims to deliver higher quality audio files when streaming to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices, with sound that can scale from Bluetooth transmission up to big-bandwidth lossless files, and losing less detail at all levels.

Acting as a 'bridge' between the resolution of the file you're streaming and how much of it can actually make it to your ears, SCL6 is compatible with any file type, be it PCM, MQA, FLAC or WAV audio formats up to 384kHz, and able to send them over Bluetooth, Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and Wi-Fi streaming connections. 

All-digital audio files lose information through compression when they’re packaged and sent via wireless. MQA however, claims the packing and unpacking algorithm which SCL6 is based around manages to preserve more information from the original signal than its two rivals; Qualcomm’s aptX HD and Sony’s LDAC.

Arguably the key feature of the tech is that its adaptable, meaning it can scale its data rate from 20Mbps (considered lossless for wireless audio) all the way down to 200kbps (lossy) depending on the quality of the wireless connection between devices. 

In practice that means if the connection between devices gets weaker, SCL6 is able to dial down the data rate and then later pick it back up in real time should the connection get stronger.

In a demo at MQA’s HQ, What HiFi? ‘s Andy Madden went hands on with the new format, and appears to have been hugely impressed with what he heard.

In one demo of a full-res 24-bit/96kHz MQA file played side by side with the same track in SCL6 running at 660kbps, on a speaker setup specifically designed to highlight any extreme detail changes, the difference in the wireless version is described as being “virtually inaudible”. 

Meanwhile, a further test demonstrating the scalability of the SCL6 codec, with a track starting at a lossless bit rate before being dropped down to 300-500kbps equally impressed, prompting Andy to comment “the sense of refinement and the rhythm of the track seem to come through relatively unscathed”.

a screenshot of the tidal masters

MQA's original tech is used by Tidal Masters, but remains relatively niche. Will the new tech improve on that? (Image credit: Tidal)

Analysis: SCL6 looks set to be a genuine gamechanger for wireless audio

This first hands-only serves to reinforce our excitement in seeing the first wave of SCL6-supporting devices hit the shelves.

While we’re always sceptical of any wireless sound technology being described as lossless, we sense the codec’s seemingly superb preservation of audio data will likely be a compromise most audiophiles will be more than able to live with.

But there remains the question of adoption – the benefits are clear, but there's a severe lack of information about what devices might support it, or what music services. With wireless codecs, it takes three to tango: your wireless speaker or wireless headphones; your phone or whatever is sending audio to your listening device; and the music source.

Can MQA get the best music streaming services on board? Or the makers of the best wireless earbuds? Even the higher quality Bluetooth LE Audio standard, that's literally part of the latest Bluetooth spec, has had slow adoption, with no word of support coming from Apple at all so far.

So while we we're extremely excited for the potential of the SCL6 technology, there's a huge hurdle to clear yet.

Kevin Lynch

Kevin Lynch is a London-born, Dublin-based writer and journalist. The author of Steve Jobs: A Biographic Portrait, Kevin is a regular feature writer for a number of tech sites and the former Technology Editor for the Daily Mirror. He has also served as editor of and has been a member of the judging panel for the BAFTA British Academy Video Game Awards. Alongside reviewing the latest AV gear, smartphones and computers, Kevin also specialises in music tech and can often be found putting the latest DAWs, MIDI controllers and guitar modellers through their paces. Born within the sound of Bow Bells, Kevin is also a lifelong West Ham fan for his troubles.