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Cecilia Doan
November 13, 2018

Tune in with Audio Adapter HD — Interview with MQA, Smoke Season & Essential

Music on mobile and why we created Audio Adapter HD

This summer we introduced MQA technology to Essential Phone and partnered with TIDAL to make high-quality music listening a key part of your mobile experience. Following a new software release this November, we’re excited to announce that Audio Adapter HD is now available—and is one of the best mobile audio experiences today. Here we interview MQA, indie band Smoke Season, and our Essential team members on the impact of MQA and why we created Audio Adapter HD.

Bob Stuart - Creator of MQA
Kamil Opara - R&D Engineer at MQA
Smoke Season - Musicians
Kevin Hoffman - Industrial Designer at Essential
Kechang Wang - Product Designer at Essential

Please describe MQA and how it's revolutionized the mobile listening experience.

Bob: MQA brings a huge improvement in quality to mobile devices in four ways. MQA’s origami encoding folds the full music to a stream that is small enough to receive on a mobile data plan, and yet brings no compromise to the sound, and even allows higher resolution. Next, MQA authenticates playback guaranteeing that the music has arrived perfectly. Then, to deliver the exact sound all the way to the headphone, it was necessary to build a clear path through both the operating software and hardware of the phone, avoiding or rebuilding the many places where sound quality can be compromised. Finally, seen first in Essential’s Audio Adapter HD, we have a digital-to-analog converter with MQA technology on board.

Kamil: On a typical phone, audio is being converted between different formats many times and each stage of conversion degrades the quality. The resulting audio is usually a stripped down version of the original lacking in details and dynamics. Making sure that the audio is bit perfect from beginning to end of the digital signal chain is a necessity for any high quality playback. Currently audio on Android is not lossless, so the Essential team, with the help of MQA, customized the Android operating system to make sure that not even one bit is lost during the playback.

Can you share the design inspiration for Audio Adapter HD?

Kevin: Essential accessories take on pure, foundational forms with details that express clear functionality. The Audio Adapter HD barrel is elevated to accommodate a range of 3.5mm audio jacks. Intersecting the barrel with a pure slab of HiFi circuitry also pays homage to the classic audiophile aesthetic. We present studio sound in clean geometry, bead blasted metal, and radial-brushed detailing.

Kechang: This is a unique audio DAC because it attaches to Essential Phone directly by magnetic force. The back housing of the audio DAC is made with titanium alloy, which has very high tensile strength and toughness, and is lightweight and extraordinarily corrosion resistant.

Why did Essential choose to produce this accessory (vs. other possible accessories)?

Kevin: In the smartphone industry audio quality is compromised simply because a proper, high performing audio DAC cannot fit into a thin, compact smartphone package. Even headphone jacks are being phased out due to the emergence of USB-C. Our product gives audiophiles both an audio jack and high resolution audio that is one of the best in the smartphone market.

Bob: A modern phone is a complex machine and all too often the sound quality is a neglected afterthought. For us the biggest challenge is to make sure that other processes in the handset don’t alter or degrade the sound.

As musicians, can you describe the difference between listening to one of your tracks on a typical mobile phone vs. listening to it in MQA?

Smoke Season: The difference is like either watching a movie on a big screen, or going to see a movie in IMAX. You can see all of the vibrant colors, and the experience is profound and long lasting. The sounds come alive and move into your auditory senses in a more profound way. Listening to an MQA encoded track takes you deeper into the musical realms that were intended by the artist.

Why is hearing every detail of a track including minor sounds important for not only artists but fans too?

Smoke Season: Making a track in the studio requires hours and hours of tweaking sometimes very minute details. In some cases, it’s slight EQ changes, or high pass filters that cut out certain frequencies. All of these adjustments add up to the end result being a sonic representation of what the artist had in mind. In order to truly hear exactly what was intended, it is crucial to reproduce what was heard in the studio environment.

Can you share a favorite track or album you’ve listened to in MQA?

Kevin: I grew up listening to a lot of hip hop. Hearing “Hova Song (Intro)” by Jay-Z in MQA paired with the Audio Adapter HD took me back. The looping chorus, guitar sample, and heavy bass line were more present, more alive than I had ever remembered.

Bob: Of course I enjoy many types of music, but one I have been enjoying recently is “Polarity”, by the Hoff Ensemble. This exquisitely clear, sensitive acoustic jazz music was put together in the studio using MQA technology and at the highest resolution (352.8 kHz/24b).

Kechang: In college, I heard Lady Gaga on the radio. Now I have a totally different level of audio quality by listening to her classic tracks in MQA with Audio Adapter HD.

Smoke Season: MQA re-released The Doors album, “Waiting For The Sun.” We had heard this album countless times before, but never like this. The guitars have more bite, the beats are more present and full, the organ is blaring through the speakers… and Jim Morrison sounds as if he were singing right next to you.

Kamil: I’ve recently rediscovered the Nirvana “Nevermind” album in MQA. I’ve heard this album on many different systems, so I had a very strong impression of it in my memory. Listening to it again in MQA quality blew my mind. Vocals were more human, guitars sounded more raw and less processed. I started listening to the album over and over again, each time rediscovering something new.

Learn more about Audio Adapter HD and MQA here.

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