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 H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
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  1. Could the same scenario play out for Auralic? Get the Altair and you get the whole chain – get an Aries and no “No. 2” for you.

  2. great write up. Really helpful. I reckon there will be many a new product coming out over the coming year that will require a very careful consideration of all the advantages and trade-offs. Thanks, keep it coming.

  3. What I find more interesting is that Meridiam has allowed NAD to unfold the MQA file and distribute it over the digital outputs. I suppose it’s a first step in the right direction, after Auralic was not allowed to do the same thing. What I find more disturbing about the MQA end-to-end, closed, model, is the requirement to be certified by MQA, and the personalized filters applied by them. I understand the reluctance of DAC vendors and I’d be more confortable with a model where the MQA specs where public, and DAC vendors could license MQA, and were free to implement their own unfold and filters.

  4. I grew up as a kid buying Stereophile magazines from the local we have-it-all book store in the 90s in ABQ, New Mexico not far from Santa Fe, NM where they were based at the time (correct me if I am wrong). A kid with no money, but wondering what this McIntosh stuff was (until I heard some nice heavy metal on my friend’s dad’s ‘off limits’ system when he was at work – Slayer – yes audiophiles love heavy metal too). Forward 20 years and the kid has a good job and money to buy Metrum DACs and M2Tech DACs (both are awesome in their own R2R or Delta sigma ways). And all this excitement got this engineer by day to build his own tube amps and begin to see these DACs with just a gain stage or two between them and my ears (and staying up late to enjoy it all). With MQA what becomes the hobbyist? The solder slinger? The guy following the amazing DSD minimalist approach on DIYAUDIO.com. The HQplayers of the world? Closed sources stifle innovation.

  5. And here’s the answer of a Blusounder after a very rough and short comparison last night: My Node (generation 1) sounds better if I use the optical digital output of the instead of the analogue output.

    But I have to say that my Node is connected to active DSP speakers (Nubert nuPro A-500) which lack a typical DAC unit. Anologue signals are digitalized, and DA conversion takes place in the very last step after the (Class-D-) amplification. (A detailed review of the “little brother” nuPro A-300 can be read at http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/nubert4/1.html) This speaker definitely sounds better with digitally connected sources, but the difference isn’t huge.

    So apparently the (possible) benefits of MQA decoding and DA conversion inside the Node are outbalanced by the imperfections caused by AD conversion inside the speakers. Benefit “number 2” doesn’t seem to have an overwhelming effect. But it would be interesting to know what Bluesounders with different set-ups experienced.

  6. Thank you for your coverage of this topic.
    Compared the analog outs of my Node 2 with the outs from a Schiit Bifrost Multibit connected to the Node 2 via coax (SPDIF). Listened to the 2L MQA files, some CD quality tracks from Tidal, and non-MQA 24/96 FLAC files. With any music I tried, I couldn’t discern a clear difference between the Node 2 built-in DAC and the Schiit. Before the Node 2 MQA firmware upgrade, I slightly preferred the sound of the Schiit. I am wondering whether time domain blurring in my room due to less-than-great acoustics hide the full benefits of MQA deblurring.

  7. I’ve always been less than fully impressed by the sound of my bluesound node. Good for the money, but not up to snuff for real enjoyment. But the firmware upgrade has made it a very musical experience indeed.Highly recommended. I have only listened via the analog outputs, but I’ll give my Van den hul optical output a spin tonight and see if there’s a discernible difference. I’ve been very impressed with the mqa encoded dxd files. Hiresaudio.com also has a few dozen mqa recordings that include 2L, but not limited to them.

  8. I wish to use Node 2, with MQA and Tidal with MQA as my only source in the future so I don’t have to move from the couch. Is the Node 2 affected by the distance from the wireless router and does the router need to be ultra high speed?

  9. Good stuff John! I put it to the test using my Node 1 (why is the upgrade process with Bluesound so flawed?). Previously the difference in SQ was substantially in favor of the optical output however now the analogue sounds really good, the ease of listening improves, this however only applies to the MQA files….
    Now the important question: where is the content? Can somebody please steal & share Meridian’s demo files?