You could be using the world’s greatest headphones, but if the quality of the sound going into them is mediocre, there’s only so much lipstick you can put on that pig. Audiophiles — or even people who just like their music to sound better than the usual trebly phone-into-earbuds situation — have had a tough go of it in the digital age, as high-quality solutions seem always to be on the horizon … and seem to remain on the horizon.
Yet the RIAA estimates that 1,000 albums per month are released in hi-resolution audio. And while Tidal and Deezer have long offered solid hi-fidelity options, and Apple Music launched one just a couple of weeks ago, the French-based company Qobuz, which launched in the U.S. six months ago this week after a decade of success in Europe, is one of the few companies that’s designed with the audiophile in mind, bringing hi-res music to a hybrid streaming and download platform.
The company says it has almost 200,000 customers across the 12 markets in which it operates, with over 25,000 in the U.S. already. While it doesn’t offer as deep a catalog as other streaming services, for many the sound quality may make up the difference.
“We’re not competing with the big guys,” says U.S. managing director Dan Mackta. “Our aspiration is to reach 1% of the market.”
The company launched in 2009 as a hi-res download service, with its streaming option rolling out gradually over 2014 and 2015. And while its catalog isn’t as complete as that of other streaming services, it offers up CD-quality audio of more than 40 million tracks, and millions of Hi-Res tracks up to 24-bit/192 kHz resolution from all genres. It also offers playlists, exclusive editorial content and other standard streaming service amenities.
But whatever — anyone who’s read this far only cares about how it sounds. As we all know, music is an intensely personal experience, and sound quality is a big part of that (just ask any music head about their favorite headphones). And in this writer’s opinion — based on an A/B with Tidal’s formidable Hifi service, through an expensive pair of Beats Studio headphones — the win goes to Qobuz by a nose, although allowances must be made for the type of music one is listening to.
Specifically, whether listening to a song released this year or one released in 1980, Qobuz’s sound is bright and clear, with ample bottom and pristine definition. Its high end is often brighter than Tidal’s, although on some hip-hop tracks Tidal’s low frequencies were a bit beefier.
Both services costs $20 per month, so it all comes down to personal preference. But with Qobuz’s free trial period, what have you got to lose? After spending time with hi-res audio, you may never want to leave …