The Battle for Hi-Res Listeners: Qobuz Edition
By Lewis Dalven, Natural Sound Audio Consultant
Last time we met, we discussed Tidal and its partnership with MQA. This time we are going to bring its chief competitor Qobuz into the conversation. Tidal and Qobuz are at present the only services that bring "higher than Redbook CD resolution" music to the listening public. In that elevated sphere, they alone compete. For all you music lovers in the Boston, MA area, these are both excellent high-resolution streaming services.
Their business models differ in several ways. Tidal is primarily a streaming service, but it does allow users to download music to their device for offline listening. You are not paying for, nor do you own, full rights to the downloads; you just get to listen without a network connection as you would with one. This is great for plane flights or camping trips or even driving when the cell towers are unreliable.The amount is limited by your phone’s storage capacity and only applies to full albums—not individual tracks. Qobuz markets itself both as a streaming service and as a download-for-purchase store like the iTunes Store. With Qobuz downloads you might typically purchase a high-resolution file and then you “own” the music. You can store it wherever you want, whether on a computer or a NAS drive.
Each companyhas its own hierarchy of pricing options. Qobuz is pricing their individual service at $14.99/month or $149.99 annually. The top tier subscription (Sublime +) is $20.83 per month and $249.99 annually. This plan includes discounts on Hi-Res purchases. Tidal is $19.99 per month or $239.88 per year. There are family plans available from both services that do raise the price but allow up to 5 additional family members to enjoy the service.
So Qobuz' normal hi-res streaming service is less expensive than Tidal's. It offers a lot of Hi-Res content and its claim is that the files are Flac 24-bit and up to 192 kHZ, which is a considerable step up from the CD standard. This is their “answer” to MQA and does not require any “decoding” on the part of the digital device that one streams through other than an up-to-date DAC. Both companies have vast music libraries, but they do not fully overlap...there are performers and performances not found on both. My experience is that more often Tidal has the more extensive selection, and the reported numbers seem to bear this out. It is certainly true that Tidal is geared more to popular music than Qobuz, but when you search Tidal for Folk, Jazz, World, or Classical...it's there.
Our customers' biggest concern will be sound quality...is there a difference? Which is better? Surveying online reviews, What Hi-Fi, for example, clearly states they prefer Tidal MQA to Qobuz Hi-Res sonically. Numerous users on Audiogon discussion groups say they prefer one or the other. The Roon community discussion group seems to agree there is no difference in sound between the two services, or at least no consistent difference, and the fact both stream in FLAC would argue there should be none. Overall, it seems to be a toss up on sound quality, coming down to whether you prefer the MQA process or not. One thing is surely true...with either of these services, your streamed music will sound its best!
We invite you to come into our Framingham shop for a listen to either or both through devices like the Bluesound Node 2i, as well as the NAD, Naim, Bryston, or Ayre streamers. We can help you make a good decision on the streaming device and the service that you might choose. Call us at (508) 879-3556 or fill out our online contact formto arrange an appointment in the store.