in , ,

My crazy theory about why Lenbrook bought MQA

  • Lenbrook Corp., the parent company of NAD, PSB and Bluesound, has today announced that it has completed a full asset acquisition of UK company MQA Ltd. which went into administration in April.

    That’s the news. What’s the story?

    Lenbrook is now the owner of the SCL6 Bluetooth codec (fka MQAir) that will debut in the Ultrawideband-capable headphones teased by PSB earlier this year. The deal also gives Lenbrook full ownership of the MQA encapsulation system whose decoding engine is found partially or completely in many software apps and DACs. Does this make Lenbrook the new licensor of MQA-certified products? It would seem so.

    From today’s press release: “Lenbrook has established a position as a stable and well-capitalized organization that takes a long-term view of investments and market development. MQA had amassed over 120 licensees and several content partnerships, so Lenbrook’s primary objective in this acquisition was to provide certainty for business and technical developments that were underway prior to MQA’s administration. As a result, Lenbrook retained a core group of engineers and developers and sales and marketing personnel including Andy Dowell, previously the Head of Licensing for MQA, who will continue to lead business development activities.”

    One might understandably ask why any company would buy MQA and retain a core group of engineering staff when the week before last, Tidal, the largest supplier of streamable MQA-encoded content, announced it would be slowly replacing MQA files on its hi-res tier with FLACs?

    From Digital Trends’ 7th September article: “Tidal’s new policy is that when it adds a 24-bit FLAC version of a given track, that song will no longer be available to stream in MQA. It may take a while, but there will come a time when the entire Max collection will be exclusively available in FLAC.”

    Now back to today’s press release and a quote from Lenbrook CTO Greg Stidsen: “MQA is the only technology that considers the entire audio signal chain, from studio to listening room, to assure consistent quality of reproduction. The patents and research that underlie MQA represent significant contributions to digital audio quality due to their focus on time domain issues that have not been well understood until recently. We’re determined to continue to develop our marketplace and encourage the possibilities these technologies can achieve.”

    So again we ask: why did Lenbrook buy MQA? Today’s press release doesn’t tell us and my former MQA press contact was also none the wiser.

    What follows is pure conjecture on my part. 

    I do not have the inside scoop, nor am I spilling any beans. I keep tight-lipped about embargoed news. Nobody from Lenbrook has been in touch with me, officially or unofficially. This wacky theory comes purely from my own imagination. I ran it past Twittering Machines’ Michael Lavorgna earlier today to see if it passes the smell test and I’ll say to you what I said to him, “Hear me out…”.

    Lenbrook owns Bluesound. Bluesound has built a robust reputation as a manufacturer of MQA-capable streaming DACs and amplifiers. Bluesound also makes streaming modules that it ‘licenses’ to sister company NAD for them to make MQA-capable streaming amplifiers and sister company PSB for them to make MQA-capable streaming loudspeakers. (BluOS modules have also been licensed to DALI and Cyrus).

    Next, BluOS, the software that allows users to control and configure Bluesound hardware is soon to enjoy a big update. Version 4.0 was teased two weeks ago and will launch sometime in October.

    With the software and hardware side of streaming already in place, all that Bluesound needs to go end-to-end with MQA is the content itself. And in today’s streaming world, that content has to be streamable. Downloads won’t cut it. This means Bluesound needs another MQA-capable streaming service to step into the slowly evolving void being left by Tidal.

    So maybe – just maybe – Bluesound will soon introduce its own MQA-powered streaming service. Let’s call our imaginary service BluStream. There are several white-label providers who could assist with bringing it into existence although much work would need to be done behind the scenes with lawyers and licensing. The result would be a streaming service that Bluesound could integrate into its BluOS app to go, as Greg Stidsen says above, “from studio to listening room”. Roon could optionally integrate BluStream into its ecosystem. Such a move would also push some much-needed fuel into the MQA hardware licensing engine.

    Over on Twittering Machines, Michael Lavorgna points to Lenbrook wanting to provide certainty to MQA licensees and content partners as being the motivational “why”. But why would a company be interested in ‘providing certainty’ when a meaningful amount of streamable MQA content isn’t available? One answer is my imaginary BluStream.

    Like I said, this is pure speculation on my part. If I’m wrong, I owe Lavorgna a slap-up dinner at Munich High-End 2024. And if nothing else: we can remember today as the day that a bunch of plucky Canadians tried to save MQA from extinction.

    Further information: Lenbrook

    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.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

    Bowers & Wilkins announces PX7 S2e

    Rise of the machines: Rega, Musical Fidelity & Thorens