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Sweet news? MQA comes to Bluesound

  • As foretold by the Lenbrook Group’s Greg Stidsen at Munich 2016, owners of Bluesound devices can now, as of June 1st, update their streaming devices to BluOS v2.2 which adds MQA support.

    Per the press release (which you can read in full here):

    “Bluesound is thrilled to be the first wireless multi-room system to support MQA and bring hi-resolution music to consumers so they can stream and listen to any room in the home”.

    From the site MQA, signs of a small initial wrinkle for iPhone and iPad users:

    “At release, MQA music will be supported and available on the Android version of the BluOS app, with support for iOS devices to follow soon after.”

    (Just so you know).


    How a Bluesound streamer will handle an MQA file warrants closer inspection.

    Consider the Node 2 (above). It’s a streamer with digital and analogue outputs.

    Putting aside concerns about MQA’s current catalogue size, the degree to which MQA will improve the sound quality heard from a Node 2 will not only depend on the recording but also which of its outputs is tapped.

    A quick recap on MQA’s proposition:

    1. better sounding source files via MQA’s ‘deblurred’ encoding
    2. better sounding playback from a pre-DAC corrective filter
    3. unfolding of any hi-res content within the MQA file

    The time domain correction of number 1 is embedded in the file and can potentially benefit ANY DAC whether it’s inside an MQA-capable Bluesound device or not.

    On top of that, end users who connect their Node 2’s analogue outputs to an amplifier will get the benefits of Numbers 2 and 3. Why? The MQA software that sits inside the Bluesound streamer will unfold the hi-res portion of the file and apply an MQA-coded digital filter to the signal before it reaches the DAC chip. This filter has been specifically tailored by MQA to the Node 2’s internal DAC and its filters because each are known quantities in the playback chain.

    This scenario is precisely what I heard in the Lenbrook room at CES 2016:

    However, listeners who wish to bypass the Node 2’s internal DAC in favour of their own decoder will connect an external box to one of the Bluesound’s S/PDIF outputs.

    In this scenario, the MQA software within the Node 2 will unpack any hi-res content and send the entire, unfolded file to the external D/A converter over S/PDIF. How much hi-res unfolding takes place will depend on the maximum sample rate handling of the Node 2’s coaxial and Toslink outputs.

    Now comes a slight catch: the MQA software inside the Node 2 isn’t ‘externally DAC aware’; it knows not which DAC has been connected to its rear panel and therefore cannot apply its custom, pre-corrective filter. No number 2 for you.

    This leaves Bluesound users looking for the complete MQA fix to answer this question: does an uptick in sound quality brought by MQA’s pre-corrective DAC filter offset the sound quality foregone by not deploying one’s (presumably superior) external D/A converter?

    An interesting conundrum for Bluesounders.

    Further information: Bluesound

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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