LG Mobile has differentiated itself from the other smartphone competitors with Quad DAC audio processor on V20, G6 and V30. The V30 goes further by becoming the first smartphone that supports the relatively new but promising MQA format.
MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated, an audio technology developed by Meridian Audio in 2014. The files are packaged inside existing lossless container such as FLAC, WAV, ALAC. As of now, not many consumer products can play MQA, and LG is the only smartphone that can do that. Sony’s latest Walkmans like ZX300, and A40 supports, so are older WM1A and WM1Z via firmware update.
How does MQA work?
Essentially, MQA folds the sampling rate data, say from 192kHz to 96kHz. This is fundamentally different from other compression formats where the data is discarded to save space. Why MQA can work is because at higher sampling rates, the amount of audio data is little, albeit critical, but the data rate doubles. So MQA takes the audio data at the higher sampling rate and stores it within the lower sampling rate. And it doesn’t stop there: MQA again folds this compressed sampling rate down again, from 96kHz to 48kHz. The file size turns out to be nice and compact like a normal compressed file.
Using the MQA decoder, the audio information can be unfolded and restored back to its original high sampling rate. The good thing is that the same MQA file can be played on non-MQA decoders, and those with MQA decoders will unfold to the sample rate that matches the decoding player, so there is no need to have different file formats. For existing lossless file formats (like WAV, FLAC), a device cannot play a music file if the bit-rate or sampling-rate is beyond the capabilities of the audio processor. Here is a write-up from Stereophile to explain and illustrate further.
Thanks LG for agreeing to send back the V30+ to me after the previous review, so that I can further assess the MQA quality decoded on the V30+.
A legitimate website that offers a handful of MQA sample files for free download is at http://www.2l.no/hires/. Do download the other formats for your own critical comparison.
Is MQA Really Better?
I compared a few tracks downloaded from the above site, compared MQA with DSD and standard FLAC-compressed files. When listening casually with ambient distractions, I really cannot tell much difference in the overall sound. After all, we are comparing MQA with the best known audio formats. The difference is not as apparent as a CD vs. compressed MP3 file.
But as I paid further attention, I could pick up some new audio information on the MQA tracks. True to what many have observed, the instruments seem to sound more live (Haydn String Quartet in D), more distinct, with added subtle airiness (The Elder by Jan Gunnar Hoff). There are improved realism even in the harshest of instruments like the trumpet (Blagutten by Hoff Ensemble), where the rawness are portrayed with more layered dynamics. On FLAC, the same trumpet section (Atrognosia: Aquarius) sounds a little harsh and direct, and I would have thought this was recorded as such, until I sampled the MQA version, where the harshness is balanced with a wrap of resonance.
From the sample files taken from 2L website, MQA seems to be able to reproduce the audio to sound less “digital”, where the instruments feel more natural. This is an important observation as a lot of audiophiles are critical of how hi-res files sound “cold”. Also, MQA is not just about sounding clear and sonically perfect. It is about getting additional sonic expressions that are removed during the digitizing process (and inherent limitations) of PCM (pulse code modulation).
Just as MQA is an exciting technology, the LG V30 and V30+ is just as fabulous to be able to support MQA and bring the truest high-resolution audio into the hands of the mass consumers. Please don’t just buy V30 for the MQA, but it will be a worthwhile consideration for the audiophile enthusiasts like myself. It is going to take a while for MQA to become widely available, but when it comes, it will be adopted at a faster rate than DSD because of the smaller file size – about 4 times smaller than normal FLAC in similar bit-rate and resolution.
Headphones and earphones used for this review article: