We’ve written a lot about the huge potential for SCL6, the new wireless audio format also known as MQAir, but bemoaned the lack of support for the adaptive hi-res wireless audio format. That looks set to change however, with news that the codec’s developer MQA has announced a partnership that promises a new set of next-gen hi-res headphones.
The team-up is with NAD sister-brand PSB Speakers and hearable app developer Sonical, with a press release boldly declaring that the partnership “will define a new category of high-resolution audio headphones”. The catch is that they're scheduled to launch in the first half of 2024. Still, these headphones sound 'next-gen' in more ways than one.
First announced by MQA in 2022, SCL6 aims to deliver higher quality audio files when streaming to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices, with sound that can scale from the lower end of Bluetooth transmission up to huge-bandwidth lossless files, and promises to lose less detail at all levels than other transmission tech.
Acting as a 'bridge' (according to MQA) 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.
Set to be released under PSB branding, the new headphones will be designed from the ground up to make use of the format. The new cans will meanwhile utilize Sonical’s new ear computing platform CosmOS, which is able to run on powerful, yet low wattage, processing cores.
CosmOS was launched last year by the US company and has been heralded as the next evolution of headphones, allowing users to install and use third-party apps on their cans in the same way they can on their phones.
The PSB headphones will also feature an Antennaware Ultra-wideband (UWB) antenna to allow the higher data rates needed for SCL6 streaming as well as extremely low latency, while also counteracting body blocking which can sometimes hamper wireless wearable devices.
Announcing the move, Gordon Simmonds, President and CEO of Lenbrook Industries, PSB Speakers’ parent company, said: “Our use of the CosmOS platform to make the world’s first software defined wireless headset, and the inclusion of MQA’s adaptive wireless codec helps set a new benchmark for a high resolution, mobile high-fidelity product”.
There’s currently no indication as to when the headphones will be released or an expected price point, but stay tuned to Tech Radar for full details as and when we receive them.
Analysis: New cans offer a glimpse of a hi-res audio future
It’s taken a while, but today’s news from MQA does at last point to some firm plans for some hardware supporting the SCL6 format.
While it may not be a household name consumer audio company, PSB Speakers is very much a respected brand within the hi-fi community and we’ve plenty of confidence its capable of designing a set of cans to properly showcase the high-res audio format and compete with the best wireless headphones around. The inclusion of support for the CosmOS platform certainly opens up a world of audiophile possibilities, the likes of which we’ve probably never seen before on a humble set of headphones.
Our big hope, however, is that the eventual release PSB headphones will trigger more widespread support for the near-lossless codec, offering up a world of higher audio fidelity for more people to enjoy. Of course, the best music streaming services will have to support it too for it to get widespread use, but that's a battle for another day.