Spotify, Tidal & Qobuz: A Comparison & Review. Part Three: Qobuz

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 1 September 2018 | 10:46:00 pm

Despite not  being as well known, Qobuz has been around longer than not only Tidal but even Spotify, A French company, it launched in 2007 and was originally only available in French, Later it expanded to the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Spain. In October, it finally launches in the USA and seems determined to expand to other nations. It is better known as a company that specialises in classical music and jazz, although a quick look at its catalogue will show it has the same range of artists and genres as both Spotify or Tidal,

Like most other services, it has a web player and apps for Windows, Mac, and Android. Also, like Spotify, but not Tidal, it does have an unofficial Linux program. Alas, this is not available from their website but can be downloaded from GitHub and can be found in some repositories.

It can also be found supported by a bewilderingly large range of Hifi equipment and manufactures where it often offers full integration.

As it does not use MQA, it differs to Tidal in that all of its audio streams - from 320 kbps to FLAC 24-Bit up to 192 KHz - can be played in any browser or OS.

All music is available to stream, download and buy. 


Membership.

Confusingly, Qobuz has 4 membership tiers. Two of these are paid monthly and two are paid annually. 

Premium

Streaming at 320 kbps. This is Qobuz "lossy" streaming service. Comparable to Spotify. This is priced at 9.99 a month.

Hi-Fi.

This is Qobuz lossless streaming format. This allows streaming or downloads of CDs for offline listening, as Flac files at 16 bit 44.1 kHz. This costs 19.99 per month

Sublime

Sublime is one of two annual subscriptions that Qobuz offers, This is the same as its monthly Hi-fi plan (Streaming and offline play  Flac files at 16 bit 44.1 kHz) but also provides the benefit of allowing you to buy "Hi-Res" files (typically FLAC 24-Bit up to 192 KHz) for the price of an MP3. This costs 219.99 annually

Sublime Plus

Bewildering, Qobuz offers one other annual membership, Sublime Plus,. This is the only one of Qobuz memberships that allows streaming and offline playing of  FLAC 24-Bit up to 192 KHz (studio "masters if you will). It too provides a discount when buying albums on "HiRes" for the price of an MP3. This costs the 349.99 a year! 

App.

Like all other services, the app looks and operates fairly much the same on all platforms. However, unlike Tidal, and nearly all other services, it does not try to copy Spotify's layout. Instead, it goes for a much different "cleaner" aesthetic, keeping as much desk space as possible for music exploration. The navigation bar typically found on the left-hand side of the app is relocated to a set of links at the top (See image above). Again, like Tidal it does not have many of the social media/community aspects that Spotify does. No list of what your friends are playing on the right-hand side of the app, for example.

It has slightly few tracks than Tidal at just over 40 million and growing. However, it does have more "HiRes" albums then Tidal.  It should be noted, that having investigated it fully the fewer number tracks are not obvious and that indeed, Qobuz seems to have a greater selection of Classical and Jazz.

It quickly becomes apparent that Qobuz is aiming itself at a more "mature" or "musically literate" audience than any of its rivals. This is seen by the number of mature articles and reviews it has on the artists and CDs it carries.  It is also one of the only services to offer access to a CD's accompanying booklets. Qobuz says that there are "thousands" of these but gives no more detailed information. My experience is that you are more likely to find them with newer releases than older ones. Recommended music and playlists also take a more musically literate approach than any other service. 

Overall, the App and approach are so different from its competitors that I have produced a video to explain it (if anyone asks I will also go back and do one for Tidal). This does contain music streaming from the site, but due to copyright reasons, I have kept this to short(ish) samples. 

This was recorded in Windows 10, using the Chrome browser. For various reasons, we have had to clip part of the right side of the webplayer. See image at the top of this page to examine the full UI. 


Music Discovery.

Qobuz seems to pay serious attention to music discovery, offering well-curated playlists and some very good articles and features. This can be found across all genres, from Pop to Classical. Its classical music discovery needs special praise. No "Classical goes Pop playlists here. In many ways, it seems like a cross between a music app and a very good music magazine. See the video below for an example.

Meta Tagging (see the Tidal overview here for an explanation of metadata in music - if needed)

Qobuz handling of meta tagging in classical music is much better than average. It's not perfect and sometimes using different search terms or looking into different categories - artist, CD, etc - is needed. It is, however, the only service I have found were entering "Goodall" led it to suggest the conductor which then brought up all of his available recordings!

Sound Quality

Again, like Tidal, excellent. Again CDs sound like CDs and similar to what I would rip myself. The major difference with Tidal is that it has a more "rounder" or "smoother" sound. Whereas Tidal's encoding tends to emphasise mid and high tones, Qobuz shows no such preferences. Whether you think this is better or not, is of course always a matter of personal preference.


And that concludes our look at Qobuz. Next a review, discussion and comparison of both services Plus my final recommendations.