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Lenbrook Introduces MQA Labs With 3 New Audio Technologies

by June 18, 2024
Lenbrook Introduces MQA Labs

Lenbrook Introduces MQA Labs

It’s been over a year since MQA Ltd. entered into administration, the British equivalent to filing for bankruptcy. Not long afterward, Tidal — the only major streaming service to use MQA technology — began offering high-res FLAC streams alongside MQA, with the goal appearing to be a complete transition away from MQA for its high-resolution content. But just as it looked like curtains for MQA, the company found a buyer last autumn in Lenbrook, the parent company to NAD Electronics, PSB Loudspeakers, and Bluesound. When the acquisition was announced, we could only speculate as to what Lenbrook had in store for MQA. What we did know was that the purchase included not only the embattled MQA technology used by Tidal (which has been the subject of considerable controversy among audiophiles), but also the promising SCL6 transmission codec formerly known as “MQAir.” MQA’s software development team was to remain at work under the Lenbrook umbrella, and with these MQA assets aboard, Lenbrook announced the formation of the Lenbrook Media Group, tasked with guiding the MQA ship out of the dangerous waters from which it had been so narrowly rescued. Now, Lenbrook Media Group is giving us the first look at MQA’s next chapter.


Lenbrook Media Group (LMG) has just announced the formation of MQA Labs, a new subsidiary in charge of developing MQA technologies. At the same time, Lenbrook has introduced three of these technologies, which together “bring audio processing enhancements across the music supply chain,” according to Lenbrook. Though details are slim at the time of writing, we know that SCL6 has been rebranded as “AIRIA by MQA Labs,” and is still positioned to deliver high resolution audio while seamlessly scaling from full lossless to very lossy rates, depending on the delivery pipeline being used. (Though often discussed as a Bluetooth codec, SCL6 can also work over WiFi, a cellular connection, or really any method of digital signal transmission.) So AIRIA is the first of three technologies introduced by MQA Labs. What are the others? Next comes FOQUS by MQA Labs, which “represents an innovative approach for analogue to digital conversion,” according to Lenbrook. Finally, QRONO by MQA Labs “brings a variety of audio processing enhancements within playback devices.”

These developments confirm our instincts around this team and the value of the IP. While the choice and accessibility of MQA content remains a priority for us, this was never about a single codec.

— Gordon Simmonds, CEO of The Lenbrook Group

Lenbrook is continuing MQA’s hardware licensing business, and these new technologies are reportedly expected to debut in a variety of licensee products before the end of next year. According to Lenbrook, the creation of MQA Labs and its newest product families “reflect (the company’s) passion to improve the whole audio chain and bring the highest quality recording, distribution, and playback technologies to benefit the entire specialty audio industry and its fans.” FOQUS, which involves the analog-to-digital conversion process, reportedly tackles the same “time smear” distortion that MQA creator Bob Stuart described when introducing the technology some 9 years ago. For the unfamiliar, here is how MQA Labs defines time smear:

Time smear is a form of distortion that is the result of representing sound waves as 1s and 0s – think of it as translation from one language to another. Inaccurate translations can sound awkward to a native speaker just as digital audio can sound unnatural if the conversion contains inaccuracies. Time smear is a particular inaccuracy in which sound impulses are not fully aligned, meaning that if you analyze wave graphs from digital audio there is often noise surrounding sound impulses, indicating for example, that sound is being produced even before a sound actually happens in the music. Contrast this with the natural world, where a cymbal clap happens when it happens and does not start a few microseconds before. Therefore, time smear results in unnatural-sounding audio, which often manifests in muddiness or a lack of clarity in the sound.

— MQA Labs

QRONO will apparently address time smear when converting digital back to analog, though we don’t know much more about how this will be achieved, nor what sets these technologies apart from MQA as we know it. But lest MQA-haters assume that FOQUS and QRONO are just MQA with new names, Lenbrook assures us that these new technologies are “independent of the original MQA codec, meaning that they neither require nor result in MQA encoded files.” Whether these new technologies can win over the throngs of anti-MQA audiophiles remains to be seen. There are, of course, other audiophiles who liked MQA, most of whom got their fix via Tidal. And although Tidal has made the jump to FLAC, Lenbrook says that the original MQA codec will continue as a product family within the MQA Labs portfolio.

The most highly anticipated of LMG’s future products is certainly AIRIA, formerly knowns as SCL6. The codec was reportedly developed to “transform audio across wireless connections” via an ability to ensure the best resolution possible regardless of bandwidth availability, making seamless adjustments without playback interruptions. Lenbrook says that the company has recently completed successful pilot runs using SCL6 as a distribution codec, and that it is destined for (as yet unnamed) music streaming services. LMG says that AIRIA “shines” as a high-resolution transmission codec “with dramatic operational savings and reliability.”

Lenbrook MQA

The digitization of an analogue signal introduces a range of imperfections to the resulting audio file. One of the most common and critical is something often referred to as time smearing – when the resolution of two sounds is reduced because their timing is incorrectly reproduced within the digital file. MQA Labs’ team are experts in time-domain audio improvements, having invented many of the techniques to avoid or eliminate such audio defects.

— Greg Stidsen, Chief Technology Officer at Lenbrook

We are inspired by the reactions of our partners who are incorporating these technologies into their products. This is a milestone moment for us. We are committed to receiving and applying feedback from the market in how we apply our technologies and ensuring they are more flexible and accessible throughout the music supply chain.

— Mike Jbara, Vice President & GM of LMG

According to Lenbrook, early response from the industry around MQA Labs’ new technologies has been positive. It will be interesting to see whether Tidal, Spotify, or any other streaming service will adopt AIRIA. We do expect to see the technology at work inside a wireless headphone from PSB, slated to arrive before the end of 2024. Will skeptical MQA-haters give FOQUS and QRONO the benefit of the doubt, or will the audiophile world at large resist another infusion of MQA technology? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below.


About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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