April 12, 2024


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Qobuz – Review 2020 – PCMag Asia

not enough for music connoisseurs to have access to nearly all recorded music:
These listeners want the highest possible sound quality for the tracks they
listen to, as well. There are plenty of music streaming services that offer enormous catalogs—Apple Music, Pandora,
and Spotify, for example. But those services only trade in compressed audio
formats, which limits their streams’ fidelity. Qobuz not only offers lossless
streaming, but better-than-CD quality music for recent releases. It also lets
you buy and download music outright.

Other streaming music services also offer Hi-Res Audio, or HRA, notably Tidal, Deezer, and Amazon Music HD. But some differences are that Neil Young’s pet music service Tidal
costs more than Qobuz’s highest quality plan, and it offers live concerts as well, as does LiveXLive (the name gives it
away). Deezer only goes up to standard CD quality (44.1Khz at 16 bits), while
Amazon matches Qobuz’s price and sound quality specs. Read on to see how Qobuz
distinguishes itself in this packed field of competitors.

Pricing and Platforms

only offers two plans, and both include the highest-resolution audio quality
you’ll find anywhere. The Studio Premier plan costs $14.99 per month or $149.99
yearly and gets you up to 192kHz 24-bit FLAC streaming for available titles,
which is considerably higher-resolution than standard CD-quality FLAC (44.kHz
at 16 bits). The Sublime+ account runs $249 per year and delivers significant
discounts on music download purchases.

service offers apps for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and the web.
Unfortunately, the Qobuz desktop apps aren’t OS store apps, as are those for
Tidal and Amazon Music. I always prefer these for security, ease of updating,
use on multiple systems, and simplified installation/uninstallation. There are
no apps for game consoles or smart speakers.

Qobuz music service interface

The Qobuz Desktop Interface

The program window shows five tabs across the top: Discover,
My Playlists, Favorites, Purchases, and Offline Library. You’ll find an
always-at-the-ready search box and account settings on the right. You can
easily choose your preferred genres from the Discover view, after which you’ll
see new releases, curated playlists, and editorial content called Panoramas. A
section below that called The Taste of Qobuz offers an Ideal Discography and
Qobuzissime—basically top picks. You can play mentioned recordings directly
from these diverting sections.

As with most online music
streaming services, Qobuz persistently (in a good way) shows what’s currently
playing at the bottom of the screen, with controls for rewind, pause, fast
forward, along with a scrubber that lets you zip to the point you want to play
from. Qobuz is unique in showing you the exact quality specs for the currently
playing track, along with the Hi-Res Audio logo if the content meets that level.
Tidal simply shows a HiFi icon, and Amazon Music shows one indicating HD or Ultra HD,
and lets you click to see the actual specs. Next to the quality indicator are
the standard repeat, shuffle, song queue and history list, and volume slider.

Player page in Qobuz

If you click on the album art, you
get a pleasantly presented track list that uses a blurred background in a color
that echoes that of the album art. Clicking on a track title opens a text
window of credit. The ability to view the booklet (or what would be called that
if you’d bought the CD) in the app or in a PDF you can open outside the app, is
a big plus for fans of libretti and liner notes—and something you won’t find in
Tidal. (These are available on the super high-end Native DSD Music
download site, though listening to that content requires a special hardware and
software setup.) You can also view a large image of the cover art, something
that Tidal and Amazon Music also let you do, but Spotify frustratingly doesn’t.
Pop listeners may be disappointed that Qobuz doesn’t offer any karaoke-like lyrics display while you play a song.

Qobuz’s Catalog

Qobuz claims to offer “the biggest catalog of CD
lossless and Hi-Res albums in the world, both for new releases and specialized
genres,” and it puts the size of its catalog at 50 million tunes.  Indeed, I found every significant recent
release in the service. Not everything is available in Hi-Res format, which is
mostly relegated to more recent releases.

If you’re looking for music videos, Qobuz is not for you:
It’s laser-focused on music. In addition to all the various genres, from hip-hop to classical (for which Qobuz is eminently well suited), you also get a
selection of comedy releases.

You may miss some contemporary indie releases (stuff you’re
likely to find on Bandcamp, for example) on Qobuz. I couldn’t find the album The Errornormous World by Reflection or Cafe Del Mar Volume 10, both of which were
available on Amazon Music and Tidal.

For classical fans, none of the generalized services are as
good as Idagio
and Primephonic when it comes to finding works based on genre,
forces, composer, or period. As with even those classical-centric services,
Qobuz doesn’t offer the catalogs of the Hyperion, Linn, and some other very
minor independent labels. That said, I’m impressed with some of the obscure titles I was able to find in testing.

Qobuz also lacks Spotify’s social aspect: You can share a
link to an album or tune from the app to email, Facebook, or Twitter, but
you can’t follow performers, other users, or shared playlists as you can on Spotify. It’s fun to see what your friends are listening to.

One of the biggest missing pieces in Qobuz, though, is the
lack of auto-created “radio” stations based on your tastes and
listening history, a feature pioneered by Pandora. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to
think of another service that doesn’t have a similar feature, even the high-quality
Tidal offers it. I understand the idea that if you’re really into music, you
want to hear a particular album or track, but sometimes you just want a
background soundtrack that you don’t have to program yourself.

Buying music on Qobuz

Purchasing Music on Qobuz

One Qobuz capability not found in many competitors is the
outright purchase of downloadable songs. Apple Music and Amazon Music are the
primary competitors that also offer this. You can buy high-res music
without a streaming account, but if you get a Sublime+ membership, the prices
are significantly lower, and you also get unlimited streaming. You can buy pretty
much any track you can find in the service, but unlike some other services,
Qobuz’s purchase catalog isn’t larger than the streaming one. Unfortunately, I
was unable to find some music that I found on the iTunes Store (not for
streaming from Apple Music, however), such as the Hyperion catalog. As you can
see from the screenshot, you get quality choices, depending on the

Download quality options when purchasing music on Qobuz

When you click the button to buy a track or album, you’re taken out your web browser, where you complete the purchase; after this you can
download the music back in the app or from the browser. It would simplify
things if you could just do everything inside the app. I had to reenter credit
card info, too. Note that streaming subscribers can download tracks for
offline listening without having to purchase them, too. The files arrived in WMA
format on my Windows 10 PC, but you can also download in WAVE, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC

Qobuz Audio Quality 

Qobuz, along with Amazon Music and Tidal, offers
beyond-CD-quality audio, which has a sample rate of 44.1kHz at 16 bits per
sample. This High-Res or Studio Master quality is usually at 48 to 192kHz at 24
bits. The desktop apps for each let you choose a DAC as an output device using
WASAPI in exclusive mode, which delivers bit-perfect output—something you can’t
do with Spotify or Deezer. I listened to the services through my stereo setup
consisting of a preamp and power amp from Conrad-Johnson and Bowers & Wilkins DM601 speakers.
I sent the signal from the PC through a DAC that uses an ES9018K2M Sabre32
Reference chip.

Hardware output options in Qobuz

A new recording I used for listening tests was of Telemann’s
opera entitled Miriways, performed by
the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin; it’s notable for extremely high quality,
both technically and musically. Surprisingly, the recording is not to be found
on Amazon Music, though Qobuz, Tidal, and Spotify all feature it. All three
services deliver stellar sound, though I’d give Tidal a slight edge, with more
presence, lifelike instrument timbre, and detail when its setting for
Passthrough MQA is enabled. That lets an external DAC do the decoding rather
than the app doing it.

I listened to some other genres, including some songs by the
sonically masterful Lil Uzi Vert and folk singer David Haerle’s Death Valley
album. The same comments hold true, with Tidal having a slight edge in depth
and realness compared with the also excellent Qobuz.

Mobile Apps and Extras

I tested Qobuz’s mobile versions on my iPhone X and a
Samsung Galaxy Note 8. The interfaces are identical. The app offers a dark mode
and a standard interface that closely tracks that of the desktop app, though
the menu buttons are along the bottom. The mobile app doesn’t offer the ability to download music purchases, though it does allow you to download tracks for offline listening.

One thing I miss on the app is Spotify’s awesome ability to
control playback to any device signed in to your account—be that an Xbox, a
smart speaker, or a desktop computer.

Is Qobuz Worth the Buzz?

Qobuz has a lot going for it. It offers a huge
catalog of music at the highest resolution available for both streaming and purchasing, a well-designed interface, curated playlists, and the
ability to read album liner notes. Though its sound quality is superb, Editors’ Choice, Tidal, narrowly edges it out. Tidal costs more, but in
addition to its top sound quality, it offers custom radio stations, videos,
music-focused editorial, and an equally huge catalog—though it does not let you purchase and download music.

For the most full-featured (and more affordable) service, our other
on-demand streaming music service Editors’ Choices are Spotify, which offers a free level and tons of social integration, and LiveXLive Powered by
, for its in-depth curation wisdom. For internet delivery of live radio
stations, our Editors’ Choice is SiriusXM Internet Radio.

Qobuz Specs

Free Version Available No
Hi-Res Audio Yes
Live Programming No
Non-Music Content Yes
Song Lyrics No

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Further Reading

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