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Qobuz review

A good option for hi-res streaming, but not the best choice for all Tested at £250

Qobuz review
(Image: © Qobuz)

Our Verdict

The most advanced streaming ecosystem out there, but not necessarily the best value for everyone

For

  • Strong hi-res selection
  • Eclectic catalogue
  • Class-leading CD-quality streams

Against

  • Tidal’s hi-res streams sound better
  • Considerable gaps in catalogue

Qobuz tends to do things differently to most of its rivals in the music streaming world.

The French service has been around since 2007 – that’s the same amount of time as Spotify – but only left its home borders in 2013, becoming the first CD-quality streaming service to hit the UK, before Tidal joined the ranks a couple of years later.

It was also the first to offer hi-res streams, via its Sublime service, before refining its offering with Sublime+, an annual-only subscription of £350. The Sublime+ tier gave subscribers a 30 to 60 per cent discount on much of Qobuz’s expansive and competitively priced download catalogue.

The main sticking point for us at the beginning, despite it also sounding a little less sweet that its Tidal equivalent, was the service’s high price. But things such as that are quite fluid when it comes to subscription-based streaming, and Qobuz’s most-recent discount has seen it rise quite significantly in value.

With MP3 streaming dropped entirely – a loyalty to high-quality files that is nothing but admirable – there are now two packages from which users can choose: the Studio Premier plan (£14.99/$14.99 per month or £149.99/$149.99 per year) for streaming of Qobuz’s 50 million-track library; and Sublime+, offering the same discounted purchases but now costing £249.99/$249.99 for the year.

It is worth noting that Qobuz has outlined this discounted access to the web’s biggest streamable hi-res catalogue as temporary – the Studio Premier price is available to 100,000 subscribers who join by 31 May 2020 – but we predict this early tempter will be carried on if it achieves any considerable success.

It's a bold move, but it isn’t without compromises.

Features

Qobuz features

(Image credit: Qobuz)

Qobuz's comparatively high price has always been partly justified by its exhaustive library of hi-res music (FLAC 24-bit up to 192kHz). Recent figures put the total number of hi-res tracks at over 2m, while Tidal claims 'only' over 1m. Numbers rarely tell the whole story, but we regularly find hi-res albums on Qobuz that are available in only CD-quality on Tidal.

On the flip side, however, we often find albums on TidalSpotifyApple Music and Deezer that aren't available on Qobuz at all – which we would argue is a far bigger issue. While it's inconvenient to discover that the latest album or track by your favourite artist isn't available in hi-res on your chosen streaming service, it's downright annoying if it isn't available at all.

New music seems a particular issue, with Lane 8's Brightest Lights and The Band Royale's eponymous album both missing (at the time of writing) from Qobuz, but available from Tidal, Spotify and Deezer.

But established music is missing, too: we put together a playlist of test tracks each month and Qobuz is always the service with the most gaps. In fact, the last time all 20 of our picks were available was in January 2019 – 15 playlists ago – with numbers ranging from a high of 19 last October to only 13 five months earlier. Our collective taste, though far-reaching, is by no means the rule, but it paints a picture.

Qobuz features

(Image credit: Qobuz)

Qobuz is now available on lots of devices. There's a web player as well as desktop (Mac and PC) and mobile (iOS and Android) apps, plus support from (and integration into) a wide range of hi-fi products.

Google Chromecast is a big deal here, as it means adding Qobuz to an existing 'dumb' hi-fi is as simple and affordable as adding a Chromecast dongle, and many hi-fi companies are now adding Chromecast support into their streaming components, thereby increasing Qobuz's availability.

Broadly speaking, most devices that support Tidal also support Qobuz and vice versa, and both services are available only in CD-quality via some streamers (Sonos, for example).

Qobuz features

(Image credit: Qobuz)

Naturally, the hi-res pool is comparatively small, but it is bigger than that offered elsewhere. That offering is fairly diverse, too, and should appeal to anyone who isn’t exclusively into hip-hop or EDM.

The selection includes all of the usual hi-res suspects, from Fleetwood Mac to R.E.M, but also includes hi-res versions of albums that Tidal offers in only CD-quality – Tool's Fear Inoculum and Field Music's Making A New World, for example. So, while the overall pool of music is smaller than most, the hi-res offering is bigger.

MORE: High-resolution audio – everything you need to know

Ease of use

Qobuz ease of use

(Image credit: Qobuz)

Hi-res albums are clearly flagged with the familiar ‘Hi-Res Audio’ logo, both in the library interface and playback bar (which you can click on to change the stream quality). Searching for ‘hi-res’ brings up a list of (mostly) hi-res albums – although, as with Tidal, we’d prefer a dedicated section.

Another option would be to have special hi-res playlists, as Tidal does – especially as Qobuz’s curation team already creates lots of useful playlists, including those based on genre, mood and current affairs, and those by music artists and labels.

We like that bitrate and frequency are displayed in the playback bar, though – it's something we wish other streaming services would include.

Qobuz ease of use

(Image credit: Qobuz)

The interface is a joy to navigate across the PC and mobile platforms, and an aesthetic leap above its rivals that nails the balance between space and content density.

Rather than having the left-hand side menu widely adopted by its rivals, Qobuz uses a top-bar menu, beneath which is a banner of featured content and several sections such as ‘new releases’ and ‘Qobuz playlists’.

‘Panoramas’ (features on particular artists and genres) and ‘The Taste of Qobuz’ (including Qobuzisimme: music that has received an award from Qobuz’s magazine team) also feature on the home page. Other headers are gateways to your playlists and favourite music, as well as purchased music and offline content.

Disappointingly, while most services have now heavily moved to a discovery model that uses algorithms to recommend new music, Qobuz has barely dipped its toe in such personalisation. Despite rebranding its 'Home' tab as 'Discover', Qobuz simply isn't as good as its rivals at introducing you to new music – and that's without taking into consideration that it doesn't have as much new music in its library.

Sound

Qobuz sound

(Image credit: Qobuz)

We stick to the familiar territory of our What Hi-Fi? playlists during our listening test and find Qobuz’s 320kbps streams (while still available) are in similar territory to those offered by rival services.

Its CD-quality streams, meanwhile, are greater sticklers for detail than Tidal’s, although such discrepancies are hardly discernible when we listen through budget headphones plugged straight into a laptop.

But when it comes to hi-res streams, Qobuz is distinctly second best. In our previous review of the Sublime+ tier, we noted “a lack of unity to the sound, compared to the same recordings delivered by Tidal Masters”, and that remains the case.

Qobuz sound

(Image credit: Qobuz)

We play the Qobuz (24-bit/96kHz) and Tidal Master (sampling and bitrate unknown) streams of Don Broco’s Technology, and the latter is more convincing, communicating the rhythmic structure of the opening drum pattern better.

The thumping presence beneath the jangly synths plays a bigger part in driving the instrumental forward, and there’s a harder kick to the electric guitar melody to carry it through the vocal.

With Gregory Porter’s reading of L-O-V-E, the Tidal stream shows a greater handling of the track’s intended timing and dynamic flurries, organising it into more distinct layers without compromising its delivery as a cohesive whole.

But while Qobuz’s hi-res streams may not be the most timely or driven, they still offer a marked step up from the CD-quality tracks. And the fact that there are (comparatively) so many of them is to be strongly applauded.

Verdict

For anyone willing to spend no more than £10 per month on 320kbps music streaming, there's never been a compelling reason to choose Qobuz over the likes of Spotify or Apple Music, so the loss of that subscription tier isn't a major blow. Qobuz has always been about 'hi-fi' streaming, and here it is the king of content, conquering its rivals with the comparative comprehensiveness of its catalogue.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. Tidal sounds better than Qobuz and both it and Amazon Music HD offer hi-res at more affordable rates. While Qobuz has more hi-res tracks, both its rivals boast bigger overall music libraries. As much as we are fans of high-quality sound, not having an album at all is worse than not having it in hi-res.

The core of music streaming's appeal is that it puts all music at your fingertips. By not quite doing that, Qobuz prevents itself from being your only music-streaming source, and you will need Spotify or Apple Music to plug the gaps. That's a problem, regardless of this or any future drop in price. 

Pay for Tidal or pay for Qobuz and a second, more comprehensive streaming service on top? We know which we'd choose.

SCORES

  • Performance 4
  • Features 3
  • Ease of use 5

MORE:

Best music streaming services 2020

Read our Tidal review

Read our Deezer review

  • EricLeRouge
    A few comments regarding Qobuz from a hifi perspective:

    - Qobuz has a terrible quality control, and many of the so-called "masters" that are on the service are actually poor quality digital captures published by the french national library (BNF), from when it had its entire vinyl library digitized by a Belgian company about 5 or 6 years ago. Those BNF titles have been digitized in a a rushed studio, and they sound terrible, even compared to vinyl rips published on Youtube. In practice, the titles released in high resolution are those published by the main music publishers, and they should be roughly be the same for Qobuz and Tidal (or other services, obviously).

    - Qobuz is a much more "messy" than Tidal, e.g. Qobuz tends to keep several variations and successive remasters of the same titles, which makes very cumbersome and annoying for the subscribers. In addition, some titles "disappear" of the main library for no particular reason, and sometimes they re-"appear" in the library, so maintaining a collection of playlists can be challenging sometimes.

    On the (very) positive side - As far as depth of catalogue goes, Qobuz has (by far) the best classical and jazz catalogue. Having used Qobuz and Tidal for several years (4 and 2 years respectively), I can say that classical music is almost absent from Tidal, whereas Qobuz can really offer a wealth of versions from all major publishers, so exploring a composer or an opus in Qobuz is a real treat for the music lover, student, or musician. For anyone interested in classical music at all, there is simply no equivalent, and the cost of €20 for Hifi (CD quality) or €25 for Sublime (CD+Hi-Res) is a steal if you think about it.

    - Qobuz has a much poorer customer support than Tidal, and this can be very frustrating for customers, but it allows for a lot more technical tweaks for the more technology-oriented users

    - Smooth integration with Audirvana puts Qobuz on par with Tidal, and it makes it very easy to use with a Kef LS50W system for example, but it really shines in USB or LAN connection, so a sound comparison between Qobuz and Tidal should probably use exactly the same chain of software, cables, speakers, etc. In my experience, Qobuz has superior sound quality in many cases, in particular in classical / baroque / opera, as the files have not been "normalized" or boosted for more customer impact, which I think Tidal does in some cases (so in practice sometimes Tidal sounds 'louder', but not better)

    The overall quality of the high resolution masters varies considerably from one title to another, and there is simply no "tracking" of the original source of the files made available. Some files are made available by the publishers with the original bitrate of the latest known remaster (sometimes with the watermarking included), in other cases the publishers have resampled the files, and sometimes it seems that Qobuz have resampled the files themselves (e.g. some files are available at 24/96 when they are not available at the same bitrate anywhere.

    Overall, I think in the future audio enthusiasts will need to look "under the hood" and analyze the actual files made available on platforms such as Qobuz and Tidal, and possibly define some methodology for checking the integrity of the files.
    Reply
  • DREADZONE
    At the moment I have 3 music streaming subs: (1) googleplay @£7.99 (reduced price because I was an original subscriber) is good for vast catalogue - would discontinue because it is only Standard def, but has quite a few tracks not available from other two; (2) Tidal HiFi @£19.99 - unsure about the assumed improvement in listening experience with Masters: my system unfolds MQA up to 96kHz, and I do notice a nice difference with tracks that were originally mastered well . . . however, Amazon has given me a re-think!; (3) Amazon Music Unlimited HD £14.99 (but currently one month in to enjoying a 3 month free trial) - their HD tracks sounds very good, and HD Ultra sounds brilliant - certainly matching anything I've heard from Tidal Masters. I did a simple listening test with Fleetwood Mac The Chain (2001 Remaster) across both providers and both sounded excellent .
    So, jury is out on which to stick with long term; over the coming months I will weigh-up the catalogue merits of each provider. Also, I will examine Tidal's "transparency" with their MQA encoding for Master recordings vs Amazon HD's Ultra offering.
    Anyone compared Tidal HiFi and Qobuz with Amazon Unlimited HD?
    Reply
  • DREADZONE
    << The overall quality of the high resolution masters varies considerably from one title to another, and there is simply no "tracking" of the original source of the files made available. Some files are made available by the publishers with the original bitrate of the latest known remaster (sometimes with the watermarking included), in other cases the publishers have resampled the files, and sometimes it seems that Qobuz have resampled the files themselves (e.g. some files are available at 24/96 when they are not available at the same bitrate anywhere).

    Overall, I think in the future audio enthusiasts will need to look "under the hood" and analyze the actual files made available on platforms such as Qobuz and Tidal, and possibly define some methodology for checking the integrity of the files. >>

    Agree with above.

    The actual recording of the artist is much more important than the playback quality, and it would be useful to know the source. If you want to compare one platform with another, good actual source material could include Steely Dan's catalogue as it was all engineered by Roger (The Immortal) Nichols and produced by Gary Katz - both perfectionists in purity of recorded sound - but unfortunately the fire at Universal Studios in 2008 may have destroyed some of the master tapes. Their albums Gaucho and Two Against Nature are pure quality in 24/96.
    I'm part of the group that thinks, whilst 192kHz may benefit some recordings, the listener is unlikely to hear the difference in audio playback terms between 24/96 and 24/192 masters. I have done a few A/B tests with Tidal vs Amazon and both sound really good in 24bit Master/Ultra quality - noticeably greater clarity than HiFi/HD.
    Reply
  • Ramborme
    I must be doing something wrong, I'm only paying $15 a month for Qobuz, I don't have a MQA DAC, as such I think Qobuz sounds better than Tidal, I dropped my Tidal subscription and picked up Qobuz, my only concern is sometimes it's slow to respond, I'm using their app on a PC, using a Schiit multibit DAC and the sound is great,
    Reply
  • kenosha
    Ramborme said:
    I must be doing something wrong, I'm only paying $15 a month for Qobuz, I don't have a MQA DAC, as such I think Qobuz sounds better than Tidal, I dropped my Tidal subscription and picked up Qobuz, my only concern is sometimes it's slow to respond, I'm using their app on a PC, using a Schiit multibit DAC and the sound is great,
    Same here.

    To all who read Whathifi’s Qobuz review, I encourage you to give it a chance, sign up for the free trial period and compare it for yourself to your preferred hi-res streaming service.

    I was a TIDAL subscriber for 4 years, joined Qobuz when it cut its price to $15/month, and spent a month comparing the two.

    On my system (Cambridge CXNv2 streamer, Moon 340i integrated, KEF R3s), Qobuz hi-res sounds better than TIDAL masters, and Qobuz CD-quality sounds better than TIDAL CD-quality streams.

    Qobuz‘s library is missing some of my favorite titles from TIDAL’s library, but the reverse is true, as well.

    TIDAL’s iPhone app is a bit more polished than Qobuz, but not significantly so IMHO.

    I’ve used Qobuz tech support only twice in the three months or so I’ve been a member, but each time they responded promptly and it was clear they read my questions carefully and had good answers.

    I ended up quitting TIDAL, but I’m happy it still exists. The more choices in hi-res subscription services, the better for consumers.
    Reply
  • jules153
    I would defo go with Amazon HD, great value and huge selection, but I doesn't cast in CD quality (or above) to my Chromecast Audio so it's Tidal for me!
    Reply
  • Typhoon1944
    It would be interesting to revisit this since Qobuz have reduced their Studio Premier tier to £14.99.
    Reply
  • Jimboo
    I listen to c.d quality recordings by playing c.ds funny enough.
    Reply
  • Jules42
    I usually use Tidal Hifi to stream, (and I'm not totally convinced by its hi def - it could just be louder), but I've just taken out a Qobuz trial.

    As I'm listening now, Qobuz sounds on a different level.

    Dynamism, soundstage, speakers disappearing, all the indicators of a much better source....

    .....but it's not as 'sweet' as my system usually is, but the dynamics and involvement are way worth it.

    As a result, I suspect that different systems will prefer different services as they probably have different characteristics at source.

    Feel free to flame me....
    Reply
  • James Robinson
    I have had a Qobuz subscription for a couple of years, mostly listening to classical music but keeping an eye on other genres. The way "new releases" are presented is very clear and easy to navigate, whatever genre; this is quite sufficient to find and try new music, without any of the "if you like this, you might like this" recommendations on other platforms.
    For me Qobuz has the huge advantage that it very naturally displays music by albums, rather than individual tracks. I've found no other streaming service (and I have tried many) that is so well suited to classical music.

    Every so often I think I should try Tidal, given WHF's consistent rating of this above Qobuz. Last time was two months or so ago - I paid for a month's subscription, and only used it for a day, finding its way of responding to any classical search extremely frustrating.
    Reply