[Review] MQA Audio on a Gaming Headset: The ROG Delta S
ROG Delta S Gaming Headset
Master Quality Authenticated - a posh term for a humble gaming headset...or perhaps not so humble after all, considering the ROG Delta S' hefty price tag of RM899, which beats out its predecessor the ROG Delta (without an 'S') by about a hundred bucks.
The ROG Delta S' claim to fame is being the world's first gaming headset to offer built-in MQA technology, which we will delve further into later.
For those who aren't familiar with the ROG Delta series of headsets, they are USB-C compatible and come with a 1m-long USB-C to USB-A converter, which opens up compatibility with a wide variety of devices, from PC, PlayStation, most modern mobile devices, as well as the notoriously difficult-to-along-with Nintendo Switch.
Now, without further ado, let's take a look at the new features!
Slightly updated aesthetics, altered fit
In terms of looks, the Delta S is very similar to the previous Delta, albeit with a few subtle updates. Firstly, its overall weight is now lighter at just 300 grams, making it even more viable for long gaming or headbanging sessions. The headband is slimmer but "more durable", according to ASUS (not that I've attempted to verify this claim, lest I be blacklisted for destruction of property).
The default PU earcups have been updated with a cross-hatched texture, while the spare mesh ones appear to be the same. What I did notice however, was that the clamping force appears to have lessened, causing the bass to leak noticeably. Passive sound isolation has also reduced compared to the previous Delta, which is a shame.
The RGB lighting is as vibrant and fluid as ever, and now features an new 'Soundwave' lighting mode to boot. It reacts to your voice (if the mic is plugged in) and flashes according to the volume.
If it ain't broke, why fix it? Unless...it is.
Otherwise, the design is largely the same, which is both good and bad.
It's great that they kept the D-shaped ear cups which are both easily recognisable and provide a great fit, but I'm a little bit disappointed that they haven't updated the volume controls with a scroll wheel which allows for more precision, instead of the same finicky rocker that doubles as a mute button, making for some really annoying situations when you're trying to quickly adjust your volume during a tense game but end up muting yourself by accident when you press too hard by mistake.
On the other hand, the lighting toggle which has gained a new notch for the Soundwave mode is as sturdy as ever, clicking firmly into each position so you'll never mistake which mode it's on.
The AI noise-cancelling mic makes a return, and works as well as ever to mute out annoying background sounds. It does cause your voice to have a slightly hollow quality due to the noise suppression, but you'll still be perfectly understandable in team chats. This is especially handy now that most of us are facing some sort of distance learning / working situation, as it's capable of even muting your mum vacuuming right next to your desk as shown below (why aren't you helping with housekeeping btw?)
AI noise cancelling ON
AI noise cancelling OFF
Same Quad DAC, but now with MQA technology
Now, on to the biggest selling point of the ROG Delta S - the built-in MQA technology.
To be honest, I've never really heard of MQA tech prior to this, so I did a little research. According to the official website, MQA tech allows listeners to stream the original master recording of the music right in their homes, as long as they have compatible and certified devices (like the ROG Delta S.)
Right now, most of us probably listen to music (mostly mp3 files) from streaming services like Spotify or even YouTube, which deliver highly compressed audio files which lose most of the finer details captured in the original studio recording. This for the sake of maintaining a file size small enough for streaming.
On the other hand, some more advanced listeners may be familiar with Hi-Fi file formats like FLAC, which deliver high definition audio through a significantly larger file size. This is usually reserved for audio enthusiasts and isn't really feasible for mainstream audiences, whose internet speed and device storage is usually limited.
This is where MQA comes in.
It promises quality superior to FLAC, with file sizes smaller than mp3. This is made possible by MQA's 'music origami' method, which 'folds up' the original file to become small enough for streaming. When paired with an MQA decoder, it 'unfolds' to the full quality of the master recording, enabling listeners to enjoy the aforementioned superior quality in a small file size.
But do we really need MQA?
If you've read my review on the original ROG Delta, you'll know that I'm a big fan of its sound quality. For a gaming headset, the ROG Delta series has always punched way above its station (albeit at a premium price tag). It not only provides rich tones and great positional audio for gaming, but also produces a very balanced sound signature which is my favoured way of listening to music.
The Delta S sounds as great as its predecessor and has a newer ESS 9281 Quad DAC setup, but does the MQA really help?
To test it out, I subscribed to Tidal, which is a streaming service like Spotify, but provides access to master quality recordings as well. When playing a master quality recording, the MQA indicator in Armoury Crate will activate, telling you if the song you're listening to is indeed of said quality or not.
And so, I listened to a vast variety of songs in both regular Hi-Fi and Master quality audio back to back - and by large variety, I went from rock to psytrance to kpop to classical and back.
A discernible difference, but is it better?
After hours of straining my ears, hoping to be blessed with a sudden revelation by the god of MQA, I can honestly say that while there is indeed a discernible difference, that's all it is to me - a difference.
Perhaps it's simply the fact that my ears aren't sophisticated enough to appreciate it, but while I could tell that the Hi-Fi and Master quality recordings sound different, I couldn't tell which was better. If you were to put me to a blind test and ask me to identify which was which, I'd be stumped.
I put 2 more people from the Salty team to the same test and they concurred - they could tell it was different, but couldn't tell which was superior.
Either way, while the audio quality was superb, I was slightly disappointed to find that I didn't manage to enter the clearly demarcated gates of auditory Nirvana like I expected.
Perhaps it might make a huge difference to audio enthusiasts, but as a layman, it's simply a great gaming headset with excellent audio quality - MQA meant absolutely nothing to me in the end.
Buy or no buy?
There are many reasons to buy the ROG Delta S. It has great audio for both music listening and gaming, effective AI noise cancelling, a comfortable build, and extensive compatibility with a wide array of devices.
It's just that for RM100 extra, I was slightly disappointed to find that the main selling point was just not outstanding - to my admittedly peasant ears, anyway. Sure, you'll also get a couple of new perks like the Soundwave lighting mode, but we all know that that isn't the main attraction.
In the end, I think the decision to buy the ROG Delta S hinges on how sophisticated your tastes are when it comes to appreciating music. Otherwise, you might be satisfied with the ROG Delta, which offers pretty much the same great features and performance - sans MQA - at a slightly lower price point.
Then again, if you already have nearly a thousand bucks to splash on a headset, why not just go all the way and treat your ears to the best of the best, eh?