For those not aware of the MQA battle royal taking place for the hearts and minds of music lovers and audiophiles everywhere, let me give you the brief skinny.
MQA, an end-to-end recording, compression, streaming and playback algorithm developed by Meridian founder Bob Stuart to deliver high-resolution audio via online delivery has been both soundly embraced and rejected by the hi-fi cognoscenti as either the sound they’ve been waiting for or a consumer cash grab as thousands upon thousands of songs and albums get the MQA treatment and are offered on streaming services such as Tidal or for purchase and download. There are three levels of “unfolding” of the MQA format, all of which are either software or hardware dependent on their level of file resolution delivery/playback.
Whatever your take upon hearing one of your favourite LPs or cuts once its been given the full MQA, there’s no denying the format has taken the music industry by storm and is here to stay as ever more DAC manufacturers open up their hardware for MQA playback certification.
Astell & Kern press release highlights below
Irvine, CA – Astell&Kern, a global leader in portable high-resolution audio players, announces new firmware updates that will add MQA support for the A&ultima SP1000M, A&futura SE100 and A&norma SR15 on December 12, 2018. MQA support was added to the A&ultima SP1000 in November 2018.
MQA’s award-winning technology captures and reproduces the sound of the original studio master in a file that’s small enough to stream and download easily. With the TIDAL Masters integration, users can instantly stream thousands of MQA tracks on their players.
These Astell&Kern players with MQA support have a full decoder built in, so they can unfold all the way to the original resolution of the file. MQA playback is supported both via downloaded MQA audio files and through the embedded Tidal app, allowing users to stream high resolution audio via Tidal Masters.
The following player lines support MQA:
The A&ultima line of players are equipped with two AK4497EQ DACs. A separate DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) is dedicated to each independent left and right audio channel, producing a wider soundstage and better stereo separation. With the addition of an Octa-Core CPU, the A&ultima line of players not only boot faster, but are able to process digital audio playback without lag or compromise in sound.
A&ultima players support native playback of up to 32-bit/384kHz high-resolution PCM audio and native playback of DSD audio, up to DSD256, a Parametric EQ (PEQ), VCXO Reference Clock (Femto Clock) for minimal jitter and vivid, HD screens. The A&ultima line supports fast charging and data transfer via USB-C.
The A&ultima SP1000 includes 256GB of internal memory and features a 5-inch HD screen. It is available in Copper and Stainless Steel bodies. A limited-edition Stainless Steel Black Onyx is also available. The SP1000 retails for $3,499 USD.
The A&ultima SP1000M includes 128GB of internal memory, features a 4.1” HD screen and is available with an aluminum body in Blue Lapis or Black Onyx (North America only) for $2,399 USD.
The A&futura SE100 is equipped with a professional grade DAC chip from ESS, the SABRE ES9038Pro, which offers 8-channel procession of sound inputs. With 4-channels of dedicated processing per left and right channel, the SE100 is capable of producing even more detailed and clear sound with excellent SNR. The SE100 can play back up to 32 bit/384kHz PCM audio and can play Quad DSD natively. Thanks to an updated amplifier design and noise control technologies implemented by Astell&Kern, the SE100 produces 4.1 Vrms (balanced output) from its built-in amp only. The SE100 also features an Octa-core CPU, 5-inch touch screen, 128GB internal storage, support for fast charging, and can play back music for about 10 hours. Its aluminum alloy body design is solid and durable, and the classical design of the volume knob and diamond-patterned glass back plate completes the premium look and feel of the player when holding it in your hand. The SE100 has also been awarded a “Red Dot Design Award 2018”. The SE100 is currently available for $1,899 USD.
The A&norma SR15 is the first model from Astell&Kern’s new standard line of players. The A&norma line is designed to provide those new to high resolution audio a feature-packed introduction to the Astell&Kern brand. The A&norma SR15 is packed with several features found in previous Astell&Kern flagship devices so that even beginners can enjoy the fullest musical details when listening with an A&norma player. The SR15 uses two of the proven Master HIFI level Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chips, and features a Quad-core CPU which provides abundant power to process high-res music and creates an intuitive and snappy user experience. The A&norma SR15 can playback up to 24bit/192kHz PCM audio, and DSD64 natively. All of these features are packaged in a solid aluminum alloy body that resembles the popular AK70 series. The SR15 is currently available for $699 USD.
All current generation Astell&Kern players also include both 3.5mm unbalanced and 2.5mm balanced outputs, Wi-Fi connectivity, support for the AK Connect app, USB DAC function, DLNA networking support, OTA software updates, digital audio output via USB, aptX HD Bluetooth, microSD card slot to support additional storage up to 2TB, and support for music streaming services via embedded apps and the new Open App service (support for streaming services varies by country).
MQA support for other Astell&Kern products will be announced at a later date.