There’s no denying the convenience of digital music. For a long time convenience was The Big Thing about digital – sound quality took a back seat in the drive to make files so small they occupied next to no memory space at all. But of course it was all too good to be true. And so the spell has been broken – the Emperor was wearing no clothes. Or rather, the Emperor turned out to be wearing about 10% of what any decent tailor will tell you constitutes an outfit.
We’re now craving better sound quality, and we’re craving the fullness of the physical music experience – just look at vinyl’s unlikely renaissance. But those of us in our right mind don’t want to dispense with the convenience of digital music, and now – thanks to Qobuz – we can have our cake and eat it.
(In fact, you can get 10% off a year’s Qobuz Sublime subscription if you click here and enter code QOBUZHIRES.)
Quality, convenience… and metadata
With Qobuz it’s possible to have the convenience of digital music while revelling in uncompressed sound quality that’s closer to the original recording than ever before. You can download or, with a Qobuz Sublime subscription and the right hi-fi hardware, stream high-resolution audio from a huge catalogue – often with cover art, digital booklets and expert-sourced album information of unmatched depth and quality. You won’t find hi-res audio streaming on any other service.
There’s an obvious question: how? How does Qobuz take a painstakingly recorded studio master and turn that mass of information into a pristine streamable or downloadable digital file? Although it’s about as far removed from the emotional and spiritual value of music as it’s possible to get, the answer is all about the maths.
Music by numbers
The CD has been the world’s favourite digital audio source for over three decades, and for sound quality it leaves the likes of iTunes in its dust. Music stored on CD has a bit depth of 16 – each sample of the audio signal can be expressed one of 65,536 different ways - and a sample rate of 44.1kHz – that means each second of the audio signal is sampled 44,100 times. Therefore, CD audio resolution is described as 16-bit/44.1kHz. A Qobuz subscription gives you access to 30 million tracks of just such quality – and its hi-res offerings take things up a level.
Qobuz demands that the studio masters it receives from its partnering record labels are at a minimum resolution of 24-bit/88kHz, and the files it serves go as high as 24-bit/192kHz. With 24 bits, your audio signal can be expressed 16,777,216 ways – that’s a far greater sampling frequency, with more ways of expressing the resulting sample. Also, through Qobuz’s process of turning a studio master into a user-ready file, there’s no upsampling, and no interference with the integrity of the audio.
As maths it looks impressive, and as music it gets you closer to the original recording. Qobuz has more than 40,000 of these albums – that’s nearly four times as many as its nearest competitor.
What the numbers mean
Greater resolution means there’s more scope to capture everything that’s moving, transporting and transcendent about music. From the subtly struck triplets on a snare-drum, through the greasy squeak as a finger travels a guitar string, to the little gasp for breath as a singer charges into the final chorus, it’s the details that give music personality. It’s the dynamic variance between very quiet and VERY LOUD that brings it to life. The way to secure more of these details is to relay the music at as high a resolution as possible.
That’s the beauty of Qobuz. It has the utility, convenience and portability of the digital music you love – but at the same time, it sounds amazing.
Completing the digital music experience
Since the rise of digital we’ve lost the things that contextualise the music we listen to: the artwork, the lyrics, the thank-yous on the back of the sleeve that introduce you to new musicians and give you insights into the mindset of the artist at the time.
In many ways the Qobuz music experience can match (or even trump) that of physical formats. The bulk of its hi-res albums come with digital booklets and ‘rich content’ that details the resolution of each file, as well as every artist, instrument, guest, producer, engineer, label and more involved in the recording.
An example: a Stephen Hawking sample on Pink Floyd’s The Endless River was outed by Qobuz, not the record label. You can expect that level of information for many of the hi-res (and CD-quality) records you download or stream from the service.
Exclusive What Hi-Fi? reader offer
Click here and enter code QOBUZHIRES to get 10% off a year's subscription to Qobuz Sublime (including up to 60% off the hi-res download catalogue).