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Qobuz review: A music streaming service on the verge of greatness

Qobuz (pronounced koh-buzz), an audiophile-oriented music-streaming carrier based totally in Paris, introduced within the U.S. nowadays after being unique to Europe for the previous 10 years. I’ve been enrolled within the closed beta for the previous few days, and I completely adore it.

Along with the use of the carrier, I additionally spoke with Qobuz USA’s managing director Dan Mackta at CES in January, so I’ll sprinkle some quotes from him all over the assessment. There are many issues about Qobuz that make it other from different streaming products and services, however a very powerful differentiator is that you’ll be able to circulate high-resolution FLAC information: As much as 24-bit decision and sampling charges as excessive as 192kHz. The carrier validates such tracks with the acquainted Hello-Res Audio brand from the Japan Audio Society.

That stage of constancy doesn’t come affordable, even though, and I used to be stunned to seek out some albums bearing the emblem that may best play in 16-bit/44.1kHz decision. I’ll get into the 4 carrier tiers later.

Qobuz delivers knowledge galore

Regardless of which stage of carrier you join, you’ll get the entire remainder of the options that render Qobuz tailored for track enthusiasts. Leader amongst those is the metadata and different documentation hooked up to the tracks. Bios are equipped for each and every artist, and a brief essay is hooked up to each and every album. Within the Home windows app, whilst you click on at the “data” icon subsequent to every observe, a “observe main points” window pops up record the label that printed the observe, and the identify of the composer (hyperlinked to a biographical cartoon with a listing of different tracks they’ve contributed to and identical artists).

qobuz track details Michael Brown / IDG

Qobuz allows you to know who performed what and which function each and every particular person performed in recording the album.

Going again to the observe main points window, you’ll in finding the names of the entire artists recorded at the observe and which tools they performed, plus credit for the engineers and manufacturers who combined and mastered the observe. It will be superb if those names have been additionally hyperlinked, so it’s good to discover their different works and contributions, however Qobuz already supplies additional info than another mainstream carrier provides. And if you happen to additionally subscribe to the terrific Roon track participant carrier, you’ll be able to combine the 2 and dive even deeper into your favourite artists and their track.

The Qobuz staff in France produces maximum of this editorial product, however the carrier all attracts descriptions from the report labels and pulls in some subject matter from AllMusic and Remaining.FM, all the time offering attribution to the supply.

Many albums on Qobuz additionally include virtual booklets—PDFs of the broadcast subject matter integrated with the bodily discs it’s possible you’ll another way purchase—with lyrics, notes from the artist, and the entire knowledge that’s integrated within the observe main points. Mackta says Qobuz is launching within the U.S. with about two million tracks in its library, and 170,000 albums in Hello-Res Audio structure. The carrier’s web site says virtual booklets are to be had for “masses of hundreds of albums.”

qobuz booklet Michael Brown / IDG

In lots of circumstances, Qobuz will supply a PDF model of the booklet that incorporates the bodily CD model of the album.

Those PDFs, then again, appear to be to be had best on the internet participant and the pc apps. I couldn’t in finding them within the Android or iOS apps. Qobuz’s library pales compared to Spotify and Apple Song, however what’s here’s selection. “Our focal point is on high quality,” Makta stated. “We’ve a laser focal point at the audiophile marketplace. We’ve quite a lot of jazz and classical track. Our curation specializes in what audiophiles are in search of.”

Circulate by way of the internet, pc, or cellular tool

You’ll use Qobuz 5 techniques, however you’ll be able to run just one circulate consistent with account. The internet participant streams without delay in your browser, so that you don’t want to obtain or set up anything else. It intently resembles the Home windows instrument (I didn’t review the Mac model) and purposes a lot the similar. There are apps for Android and iOS cellular units, and I used the instrument on an iPad and on a Pixel 2 XL.

Qobuz is built-in right into a wide array of Hello-Fi units (from the likes of Sonos, Yamaha, Klipsch, Arcam, and Naim), however I’m now not positive if the U.S. variations of the ones firms’ merchandise have enabled that characteristic nowadays. It wasn’t to be had on my Sonos gadget as of the day gone by. In any case, Qobuz Attach allows the carrier for use with third-party applied sciences similar to AirPlay, GoogleCast, and Bluetooth. I examined it with GoogleCast, streaming 24-bit/96kHz audio to a Google House sensible speaker. I didn’t take a look at AirPlay compatibility, but it surely’s value noting that AirPlay has a 16-bit/48kHz ceiling. Sonos may even fortify best CD-quality streaming.

qobuz resolution choices Michael Brown / IDG

Cough up the coin for the Studio or Sublime+ tiers of service, and Qobuz will stream music at up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution if the record label makes that version available.

I found the Qobuz software easy to use on all the platforms I tried it on, but the Windows (and presumably the Mac) version—with a mouse, keyboard, and a big display—are the best tools for deep exploration. The Windows version even lets you choose not just which audio output you want to use, but even which API you want to use (WASAPI, WASAPI Exclusive Mode, or DirectSound) when you’re outputting to a digital audio device.  

qobuz android app Michael Brown / IDG

This is what the Qobuz app looks like on an Android smartphone (a Google Pixel 2 XL, in this case).

You’ll find the same painstaking attention to detail in the mobile apps. You can customize listening quality to limit your broadband consumption when the device is connected to a mobile network and when it’s connected to Wi-Fi, with four choices: Listening quality of 24-bit Hi-Res up to 192kHz, 24-bit Hi-Res up to 96kHz, CD quality (16-bit/44.1kHz), or MP3 quality (320Kbps). You can also disable streaming when the device is connected to either or both types of network if you’re worried about busting through a data cap.

Listening to and creating playlists on Qobuz

If Qobuz has a weakness, it’s its playlists. “All our playlists are human curated,” according to Mackta. Maybe that’s why there are so few of them. And the ones that are available seem to be all about themes—love, summer, friendship, and so on—and include tracks from a mix of genres. When I just want to play background music on my Sonos speakers, it takes just a few button presses to pick from dozens of long genre-based playlists. Some genres have more Qobuz playlists than others, but Americana is my favorite genre right now, and the service has almost nothing to offer. Select “Folk/Americana” on Qobuz and you’ll get a block of 21 new album releases, a seven-album block labeled “Press awards,” and then—finally—an apparently unending list of tracks labeled “Top releases on Qobuz.”

Despite these tracks being numbered 1, 2, 3, and so on, Qobuz plays whichever track you click on, and then it plays the next track on that album instead of the next track on the list. And when the last track on the album is finished, the music just stops.

qobuz network choices Michael Brown / IDG

The Qobuz mobile apps let you choose a resolution, so that your music streams don’t incur big moile data bills or bust through your data caps.

Now if you enjoy creating your own playlists, Qobuz makes them very easy to build, with either individual tracks or entire albums. You can give each playlist a name, and if you choose, you can add a description. Each playlist can be designated as private (only you can see them), public (other Qobuz users can listen to them), or collaborative (other users can modify them as well as just listen to them). Qobuz also offers a tool for importing playlists you’ve created on other services.

Qobuz service tiers

Qobuz is available in four service tiers, and you’ll need either the second-most expensive tier, Studio, which costs $24.99 per month or $249.99 per year if paid annually; or the top tier, Sublime+, which is available only as an annual plan ($299.99 per year). The “plus” in the most expensive tier entitles you to discounts of 30- to 60-percent on purchases of Hi-Res albums from the Qobuz download store (the store itself is another differentiator, and anyone can purchase music there). If you don’t think high-res tracks aren’t worth the additional cost, or if your ears can’t tell the difference, there are two lower-priced tiers to choose from.

qobuz playlists Michael Brown / IDG

Playlists are a key weakness on the Qobuz service.

The Hi-Fi tier streams tracks at CD quality—16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC—and costs $19.99 per month or $199.99 per year if paid annually. This is comparable to Deezer HiFi and Tidal HiFi, both of which also cost $19.99 per month, but neither service offers a discount for paying annually. Tidal, however, does offer MQA-encoded tracks with its HiFi tier at no additional cost. When I asked Dan Mackta about MQA at CES, he said “We’re open to adding MQA if the market wants it. We have a shared goal [with MQA] of raising attention to better-quality audio.”

Finally, to compete with Spotify, Apple Music, and many others, Qobuz offers a $9.99-per-month ($99.99 per year) tier that streams MP3 tracks at 320Kbps. Qobuz does not currently offer a family plan, and if you’re streaming on one device and initiate a stream on a different one, that first stream will cut out almost immediately with a notification that you’re entitled to only one stream at a time.

qobuz not hi res Michael Brown / IDG

This is a little disturbing: Some albums labeled as being available in Hi Res Audio would only stream at CD quality.

Is Qobuz a good value?

Qobuz has a rough edge or two—it’s disconcerting that some albums labeled as being available in Hi Res but stream at only 16-bit/44.1kHz—and I’m not crazy about its playlists. I also hope that the U.S. version of the service will be quickly available on the various audio ecosystems (Sonos, et al) that the European service already supports.

But I found Qobuz’s audio quality to be excellent, the diversity of its catalog deep and broad, and its editorial curation is the best I’ve seen on any streaming service. Prices for the various service tiers are on par with the competition (in fact, they’re cheaper if you can swing paying for a year of service at a time), and Qobuz is unique in offering Hi-Res streaming to both computers and mobile devices.

If you enjoy deep musical explorations, Qobuz is an excellent choice, though you might want to wait to sign up for a paid subscription until you know it’s available on your streaming platform of choice (i.e., other than Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS).

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