Qobuz Studio Premier: $12.99/mo or $129.99/year; Qobuz Studio Sublime: $179.99/year
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Qobuz was the first streaming service to emphasize high-res audio, and the company has a passionate following among creative professionals in the music business. Unlike many of its competitors, Qobuz is a company solely devoted to the digital music business, and that focus shows in its product.
Founded in 2007 in France, the company has always had a digital music store to go along with its streaming service. It launched in the United States in 2019 and quickly gained a foothold in the audiophile market.
In addition to its high-res streaming, Qobuz makes greater use of available metadata to deliver more complete musician, producer, and songwriting credits than almost any other streaming service.
The standard Qobuz Studio Premier Solo plan costs $12.99/month or $129.99/year. The Studio Premier Duo plan, at $17.99/month or $179.88/year, allows a second person living at the same address to have an independent account. A Studio Premier Family plan supports up to six users—again, everyone must live at the same address—for $21.90/month or $215.88/year.
Qobuz also offers a Studio Sublime Solo plan for $179.99/year (there is no monthly payment option). That extra $50 gives you everything from the Premier plan plus substantial discounts when buying digital music from the Qobuz Store. If you’re looking to build a personal collection of purchased Hi-Res files, the discounts could be worth it.
A Studio Sublime Duo plan gives you two independent accounts for two people living at the same address for $269.89/year, and a Studio Sublime Family plan does the same for six people; it costs $349.99/year. Qobuz doesn’t offer a student discount or a free listening option, but there is a 30-day free trial available.
Qobuz has long been the market leader in streaming quality. Everything is now available in at least CD quality: 16-bit resolution and a sampling rate of 44.1kHz (a bit rate of 1,411Kbps). A huge percentage is available in higher resolution streams, labeled with the Japan Audio Society’s Hi-Res Audio logo. Those tracks are encoded in 24-bit resolution with sampling rates of either 96- or 192kHz.
If your internet service provider imposes a data cap, or if you routinely stream music using your mobile device on a cellular network, be aware of bandwidth that streaming at those resolutions will consumer: We’re talking bit rates of 1,411Kbps for CD quality, and up to 9,216Kbps for high-res.
That said, that’s top of the market for streaming quality and it’s a big part of the reason that audiophile brands like Astell&Kern, Sonos, Bowers & Wilkins, and Cambridge Audio have made their streaming devices and software compatible with the service.
Until recently, search was a pronounced weakness for Qobuz. Search an artist like Led Zeppelin and you’d arrive at a jumbled page that showed all the artist’s albums in no particular order, and a ton of music that was only tangentially related to the band, such as tributes and covers.
Qobuz heard its users, and the latest version of the desktop app brings the presentation in line with the very best streamers on the market. You’ll usually get a solid bio originally written for AllMusic.com, and now the various titles are grouped into Albums, EPs & Singles, Live, and Other. Nearly all the titles now display a correct original release date.
The service also takes advantage of the extra metadata that some labels are providing for individual titles. Click on the Credits button on an individual song’s page and you’ll get a text page that might include valuable information like composers, producers, engineers, and original record label. Qobuz is of course limited by whatever information the copyright holders choose to provide, but they’re making a significant effort to expand the information available from their service.
Qobuz is one of only two music streaming services that integrates with Roon, the subscription software that aims to offer the kind of metadata-rich listening and recommendation system that none of the current streaming companies can begin to offer. Tidal is the other service. Roon is designed for the most serious music fans and requires both a serious financial and time commitment to make itself worth a user’s while. It speaks to the quality of Qobuz’s streaming that Roon has chosen to support the service in its app.
Another Qobuz exclusive is its Panoramas section, which features in-depth and informative articles about a specific corner of music with links to the discussed music in the app. The selection for me this week included posts about female composers, grunge albums, the MPS jazz label, and bossa nova. If you’re looking to learn about new music, these detailed guides can be invaluable. If you’re already an expert, the pieces are well-written. It’s fun to either agree or argue with the conclusions.
Even though there’s a standard batch of core albums available across the different music services, Qobuz had an anecdotal reputation for missing some titles in its catalog, especially from independent artists.
There’s a reason for that. The company faced a challenge when it entered the U.S. market. A significant number of independent artists have distributed their music through a company called TuneCore. When a creator or label uploads music to the site, there’s an opportunity to check boxes for individual services. If you want your music on Tidal and Apple Music but not Spotify (to pick a totally random example), you have that option. Unfortunately, there’s a ton of music that was uploaded for distribution before 2019, and a rights holder must go back and grant permission for TuneCore to distribute its music.
Qobuz has made a lot of progress filling in the gaps. If you see something missing from an independent artist, you might want to contact them via social media or their website and ask if they can add Qobuz (or any other streamer) to their distribution list.
The flip side of that is that Qobuz seems to have titles available in Hi-Res Audio that Apple Music or Tidal do not. The new album from acclaimed New Zealand singer/songwriter Aldous Harding is CD-quality on Apple Music and Tidal, while Apple’s versions of the latest from Michael Bublé and Denzel Curry don’t feature Qobuz’s Hi-Res versions even if their CD-quality streams are available in Dolby Atmos.
Qobuz has yet to embrace surround-sound mixes from Dolby Atmos or Sony 360. Considering the site’s emphasis on sound quality, that may not be a surprise since many audiophiles have doubts about these formats. That might–and the absence of MQA support–might be a negative for some listeners.
That gets at something specific that might be important to your choice in streamers. Music streaming is a tight-margin business and, if you want a company that will live or die based on how good their music experience is for its customers, you can choose a streaming service that isn’t a loss leader for an ad-sales business, an online department store, or a massive hardware manufacturer.
If you’re a classical music listener looking to integrate your listening with other genres, Qobuz makes finding what you want much easier, with the ability to search by composer, orchestra, conductor, or even record label. It’s a better in lots of tiny ways that add up to a far superior experience overall.
Music for sale
Qobuz is still in the sales business, offering CD-quality or high-res downloads of many of its titles at competitive prices. A CD-quality copy of Maren Morris’ 2022 album Humble Quest sells for $15.69, while the Hi-Res Audio 24-bit/96kHz version in either WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, or WMA goes for $18.09.
If you spent the extra $50/year for the Sublime subscription, that price drops to $12.09 for the Hi-Res version. Many other titles are 50 percent off. If you want to own specific music in digital format for times when you’ll no longer want to rent, Qobuz Sublime is a great value.
The new Qobuz desktop app features a clean and uncluttered design to go along with its massively improved search and artist page layout. Even though the Mac desktop app is still built for Intel chips, there’s no lag or stutter on an Apple Silicon Mac when translated by Rosetta 2.
Qobuz is the best music app for audiophiles who also want to own digital files. Their Sublime subscription will pay for itself with just a handful of purchases each year, and buyers who even just make one purchase a month will get an amazing deal.
For the rest of us, Qobuz offers music streams that are as good as any currently available. If you’re willing to invest in the external DAC and wired headphones necessary to enjoy Hi-Res audio from your mobile device or laptop, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever again be able to listen to lossy music streaming without wincing.
Even if you’re just using a good pair of Bluetooth headphones, the CD-quality and above music from Qobuz blows Spotify out of the water. Lossless music is the new standard and Qobuz deserves credit for pushing the market in that direction at a time when everyone else insisted no one really cared.
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