What is MQA?
Using a unique ‘origami’ folding technique, the information is packaged efficiently to retain all the detail from the studio recording. Hardware or software with MQA decoding capability can ‘unfold’ the MQA file and reveal the original master resolution.
In short, the MQA format claims to deliver better quality than lossless files like FLAC, at a much smaller file size.
How does it work?
MQA tracks are delivered to the listener with all the required data for full studio quality hidden, or 'folded' within the file itself. This means with each unfold, more data is revealed for higher quality playback.
There are essentially four versions of MQA playback. And depending on how your system is configured, each will perform different unfolds to reveal more of the dormant information hidden within the file.
As expected, this is the raw folded MQA file that can be played back through any device as no decoding is required. This is typically better than CD quality at 44.1 or 48 kHz.
MQA Core Decode
This is the point at which the first unfold takes place. The MQA Core Decoder authenticates, decodes full dynamic range and matches to the current playback settings. This can be performed either within software (TIDAL, Audirvana, Roon) or hardware that contains a MQA Core Decoder, and at this point the file is upscaled to 88.2 or 96 kHz.
MQA Core Decode with Hardware Rendering
In this method of playback, a combination of software and hardware is used to further unfold the file. As with MQA Core Decoding, the software decodes the MQA 24 bit / 44.1kHz file, and unpacks it to 24 bit / 88.2 kHz. This file is then output to the hardware renderer where it is expanded up to 24 bit / 352.8 kHz.
Full Decode and MQA Renderer
Full Decoding and MQA Rendering is only possible using hardware with MQA certification, and is the optimum playback method of MQA files. This will require all stages of the unfold or processing to take place within the hardware, which is fed the untouched MQA file before performing the various decodes and rendering. This is typically the highest possible quality and files can be upscaled to a maximum resolution of 768 kHz.
What devices can be used for MQA playback?
As explained, MQA files can be played back using various configurations that will allow access to different layers of the file, and with each unfold more of the original studio master file is revealed and a higher resolution is achieved.
However as mentioned, for optimum performance and the 'full fat' experience of MQA playback, users will need a device that contains both a built-in MQA Decoder and Renderer. Cambridge Audio has a range of products that are able to achieve this and considered fully MQA Certified, in the Evo 150, Evo 75 and DacMagic 200M.
For more information on MQA, please visit the official MQA website - https://www.mqa.co.uk/