Qobuz tends to do issues in a different way to most of its rivals within the music streaming world.
The French service has been round since 2007 – that’s the identical period of time as Spotify – however solely left its dwelling borders in 2013, changing into the primary CD-quality streaming service to hit the UK, earlier than Tidal joined the ranks a few years later.
It was additionally the primary to supply hi-res streams, by way of its Elegant service, earlier than refining its providing with Elegant+, an annual-only subscription of £350. The Elegant+ tier now provides subscribers a 30 to 60 per cent low cost on a lot of Qobuz’s expansive and competitively priced obtain catalogue.
The primary sticking level for us at the start, regardless of it additionally sounding rather less candy that its Tidal equal, was the service’s excessive worth. However issues corresponding to which might be fairly fluid in the case of subscription-based streaming, and Qobuz’s most-recent low cost – to not point out its newest Family deals – has seen it rise fairly considerably in worth.
With MP3 streaming dropped totally – a loyalty to high-quality recordsdata that’s nothing however admirable – there are actually two packages from which customers can select: the Studio Premier plan (£14.99/$14.99 per thirty days or £149.99/$149.99 per yr) for streaming of Qobuz’s 50 million-track library; and Elegant+, providing the identical discounted purchases however now costing £249.99/$249.99 for the yr.
Qobuz initially outlined this discounted entry to the net’s greatest streamable hi-res catalogue as non permanent – the Studio Premier worth was mentioned to be out there to 100,000 subscribers who be a part of by 31 Might 2020 – however nearly a yr on and it seems to be as thought these costs are right here to remain.
Qobuz’s comparatively excessive worth has at all times been partly justified by its exhaustive library of hi-res music (FLAC 24-bit as much as 192kHz). Latest figures put the entire variety of hi-res tracks at over 2m, whereas Tidal claims ‘solely’ over 1m. Numbers not often inform the entire story, however we frequently discover hi-res albums on Qobuz which might be out there in solely CD-quality on Tidal.
On the flip facet, nonetheless, we frequently discover albums on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer that are not out there on Qobuz in any respect – which we might argue is a far greater problem. Whereas it is inconvenient to find that the most recent album or monitor by your favorite artist is not out there in hi-res in your chosen streaming service, it is downright annoying if it is not out there in any respect.
New music appears a specific problem, however established data are lacking, too: we put collectively a playlist of check tracks every month and Qobuz is at all times the service with probably the most gaps.
In actual fact, solely as soon as since January 2019 – 31 playlists in the past – have all our 20 picks been out there on Qobuz, with numbers starting from a excessive of 19 in March to solely 13 final April. Our collective style, although far-reaching, is under no circumstances the rule, but it surely paints an image.
Qobuz is now out there on a lot of gadgets. There is a net participant in addition to desktop (Mac and PC) and cellular (iOS and Android) apps, plus help from (and integration into) a variety of hi-fi merchandise.
Google Chromecast is a giant deal right here, because it means including Qobuz to an current ‘dumb’ hi-fi is as easy and inexpensive as including a Chromecast dongle, and plenty of hi-fi corporations are actually including Chromecast help into their streaming parts, thereby rising Qobuz’s availability.
Broadly talking, most gadgets that help Tidal additionally help Qobuz and vice versa, and each companies can be found solely in CD-quality by way of some streamers.
Qobuz is, nonetheless, the primary service to make 24-bit hi-res streaming out there on Sonos merchandise. Given how lengthy we have waited for our favorite multi-room household to undertake hi-res, this can be a actual feather in Qobuz’s cap.
Naturally, the hi-res pool is relatively small, however it’s greater than that provided elsewhere. That providing is pretty numerous, too, and may attraction to anybody who isn’t solely into hip-hop or dance music.
The choice consists of the entire traditional hi-res suspects, from Fleetwood Mac to R.E.M, but in addition consists of hi-res variations of albums that Tidal presents in solely CD-quality – Instrument’s Concern Inoculum and Discipline Music’s Making A New World, for instance. So, whereas the general pool of music is smaller than most, the hi-res providing is greater.
Ease of use
Hello-res albums are clearly flagged with the acquainted ‘Hello-Res Audio’ brand, each within the library interface and playback bar (which you’ll click on on to alter the stream high quality). Trying to find ‘hi-res’ brings up a listing of (principally) hi-res albums, and Qobuz does now supply quite a lot of hi-res playlists. It is a welcome addition over the previous yr.
We like that bitrate and frequency are displayed within the playback bar, too – it is one thing we want different streaming companies would come with.
The interface is a pleasure to navigate throughout the PC and cellular platforms, and an aesthetic leap above its rivals that nails the stability between house and content material density.
Quite than having the left-hand facet menu broadly adopted by its rivals, Qobuz makes use of a top-bar menu, beneath which is a banner of featured content material and a number of other sections corresponding to ‘new releases’ and ‘Qobuz playlists’.
‘Panoramas’ (options on explicit artists and genres) and ‘The Style of Qobuz’ (together with Qobuzisimme: music that has acquired an award from Qobuz’s journal workforce) additionally characteristic on the house web page. Different headers are gateways to your playlists and favorite music, in addition to bought music and offline content material.
Disappointingly, whereas most companies have now closely moved to a discovery mannequin that makes use of algorithms to suggest new music, Qobuz has barely dipped its toe in such personalisation. Regardless of rebranding its ‘Residence’ tab as ‘Uncover’, Qobuz merely is not nearly as good as its rivals at introducing you to new music – and that is with out considering that it would not have as a lot new music in its library.
We persist with the acquainted territory of our What Hi-Fi? playlists throughout our listening check and discover Qobuz’s CD-quality streams are literally better sticklers for element than Tidal’s, though such discrepancies are hardly discernible once we pay attention by way of price range headphones plugged straight right into a laptop computer.
However in the case of hi-res streams, Qobuz is distinctly second finest. In our earlier evaluate of the Elegant+ tier, we famous “a scarcity of unity to the sound, in comparison with the identical recordings delivered by Tidal Masters”, and that is still the case.
We play the Qobuz (24-bit/96kHz) and Tidal Grasp (sampling and bitrate unknown) streams of Don Broco’s Technology, and the latter is extra convincing, speaking the rhythmic construction of the opening drum sample higher.
The thumping presence beneath the jangly synths performs an even bigger half in driving the instrumental ahead, and there’s a tougher kick to the electrical guitar melody to hold it by way of the vocal.
With Gregory Porter’s studying of L-O-V-E, the Tidal stream reveals a better dealing with of the monitor’s supposed timing and dynamic flurries, organising it into extra distinct layers with out compromising its supply as a cohesive entire.
However whereas Qobuz’s hi-res streams might not be probably the most well timed or pushed, they nonetheless supply a marked step up from the CD-quality tracks. And the truth that there are (comparatively) so a lot of them is to be strongly applauded.
For anybody keen to spend not more than £10 per thirty days on 320kbps music streaming, there’s by no means been a compelling cause to decide on Qobuz over the likes of Spotify or Apple Music, so the lack of that subscription tier is not a significant blow. Qobuz has at all times been about ‘hi-fi’ streaming, and right here it’s the king of content material, conquering its rivals with the comparative comprehensiveness of its catalogue.
However that does not inform the entire story. Tidal sounds higher than Qobuz and, whereas Qobuz has extra hi-res tracks, its rivals boast greater total music libraries. As a lot as we’re followers of high-quality sound, not having an album in any respect is worse than not having it in hi-res.
The core of music streaming’s attraction is that it places all music at your fingertips. By not fairly doing that, Qobuz prevents itself from being your solely music-streaming supply, and you will want Spotify or Apple Music to plug the gaps. That is an issue, no matter this or any future drop in worth.
Pay for Tidal or pay for Qobuz and a second, extra complete streaming service on high? We all know which we might select.
- Efficiency 4
- Options 3
- Ease of use 5
Learn our Tidal review
Learn our Deezer review