Written by 4:35 am Digital • 13 Comments

Are We About To Have Streaming Wars?

Paul Wilson speculates about what will happen when Qobuz enters the US market…

By now it is no secret that Qobuz, the highly anticipated, well regarded European streaming site will open their doors, so to speak, to subscribers in the USA. Purportedly beginning in October, the US market will finally, and for some at long last, have a different choice than Tidal for high quality sound. 

AR-QobuzSmallFormat.pngAnyone whose standard for musical excellence does not extend beyond Pandora or Spotify will hardly be concerned about any of this. Mp3 is, after all, Mp3 and a level of quality I like to call the “skin of the snake.” While I do have an iPod, I use it exclusively in the car and likewise would never consider it a replacement for my Sonos system downstairs, let alone the big system in the audio room. Of course, that makes perfect sense as none are especially intended to replace any of the others to begin with. 

I’m an audiophile and as such, care about the level of quality of the music to which I listen. While I continue to not see streamed anything as a sonic equivalent or replacement for my server / DAC, and that is my opinion alone, it certainly does not mean there are not scores of audiophiles eagerly anticipating an alternative to Tidal. Having only the one source currently is a manageable thing for most people, but having additional sources will always be welcomed. And in this instance, Qobuz will probably be championed in the US. 

Rumors abound regarding the financial stability of Tidal. With a quick Internet search, differing viewpoints may easily be found – some purporting Tidal’s imminent demise to alternatively everything being absolutely fine. Personally, I pay little attention to any of this because as we all know, everything on the Internet is “one hundred percent accurate!” As if that were the case. I prefer to not speculate about Tidal’s fiscal steadfastness until the day comes when I am unable to use their services. Until that day arrives, I pay my monthly fee, whatever that might be, and tune in every so often to investigate some new title about which I may be interested. 

AR-Tidal56565665.jpgGoing on the basis that Tidal will be around for a while, it will be very interesting to see how the “Streaming  Wars” will pan out – if at all. Will Tidal lose myriads of subscribers to Qobuz? Will subscribers remain loyal to the one that brought them to the dance? Will a preponderance of listeners subscribe to both? For my purposes I will probably subscribe to both and if history in any perceptible way repeats itself, will seldom use either one. However, my proclivities aside, I am confident there are quite a LOT of audiophiles just champing at the bit to see an alternative to Tidal. 

Much of the success or lack thereof to Qobuz gaining a foothold in the US is dependent on sonic quality. Even the standard CD resolution offered by Tidal is more than acceptable. If Qobuz is something less than that, and I have zero expectation that is the case due to its popularity in Europe, the French service may run into trouble. 

Another issue is bandwidth and the transmission rate. My neighborhood was one of the first in town to have access to AT&T 1000 Mbps fiber optic Internet service so I doubt I will have any issues whatsoever downloading a second service. For those who have a lower bandwidth, and that being anything less than 20 Mbps, streaming may be somewhat slow. Given the affordable cost of bandwidth in current times, and the download speeds available, I doubt this will be much of an issue. Anyone planning to use both, and particularly in those probably rare instances where both are being streamed at the same time, better check that bandwidth.  

AR-MQA555666.pngMQA. I hesitate to even mention that particular service. Just the letters alone sparks a polarizing take on a format that supposedly delivers a high rez sound in a standard resolution footprint. Tidal has MQA. Qobuz offers higher than 44.1 / 16 resolution. To hear the fully unfolded MQA signal, an MQA compatible DAC is required. I have a Bluesound Node 2 that I use to stream Tidal. It only can process up to 96 / 24. My DAC is capable up to 192 / 24 and can up sample to DSD. I wonder, which is the better option – rely on MQA content from Tidal at something less than the fully unfolded resolution, or will there be a greater amount of High Rez music with Qobuz – all of which my DAC can process? Simply put, is there more High Rez music on Qobuz than MQA music on Tidal? 

I suppose it basically boils down to the listener’s opinion of MQA. For those like myself who have yet to be universally impressed by this new format, I probably won’t ever have an inkling of concern about whether or not Qobuz associates itself with MQA. For those that enjoy and support what MQA purports to deliver, Qobuz may not be a worthy option to Tidal – or maybe it will only be an adjunct to an existing platform. If Qobuz should adopt MQA that will be a whole different kettle of fish. 

AR-BluesoundNode2rrrtttt.jpgIf a streaming war does break out, and if that would ever happen is debatable, I wonder where it will lead? Will we have a price war committed to swaying subscribers from one service to another? If so, users will be the obvious beneficiary. Will the two services play nicely and have a symbiotic relationship? Will one falter under the possible loss of revenue from a divestiture of subscribers? Will the other fail to gain a foothold in an already crowded US streaming market? Is Qobuz dedicated to the long haul or will they decide after some short measure of time that playing across the pond is just not worth the effort? 

I certainly don’t know but will be interested to wait and see. And listen…

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