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This paper introduces a new high-rate analysis of the multiple description scalar quantizer (MDSQ) with balanced descriptions. The analysis provides insight into the structure of the MDSQ, suggesting the nonoptimality of uniform central quantizer cell lengths, as well as a method to approximate optimal cell lengths. For both level-constrained and entropy-constrained MDSQ, new upper bounds on the granular distortion for sources with smooth probability density functions (pdfs) are derived under the mean-squared error measure, which are 0.4 dB lower than previous results. Based on the insights, a universal multiple description scalar quantizer (UMDSQ) is proposed which, at high rate, can achieve nearly the same performance as the fully optimized entropy-constrained MDSQ (ECMDSQ), without requiring extensive training. The proposed UMDSQ has only two control parameters, and a continuum of tradeoff points between the central and side distortions can be achieved as the two parameters are varied.