In my September 28 piece titled “Are We About To Have Streaming Wars,” I discussed the possibilities of what might happen once Qobuz, the European (French) streaming service finally, and for some at long last, reached US shores. While the popularity of streaming, even among audiophiles, is unassailable, it does not mean that any of us are happy with what amounts to only one service with a minimum of CD quality.
Qobuz utilizes a slightly different approach than does Tidal. For one, they have, at least for now, completely abandoned any notion of MQA. My guess is they are not willing to pay the presumed high cost of the licensing fees. Instead, they are able to conveniently stream high resolution files up to 192 / 24. One feature unique to Qobuz and not Tidal is a download service. Qobuz subscribers are able, at a separate cost, to download files up to 192 / 24.
Musical variety is something all audiophiles will be concerned about. I have heard presumed numbers of songs and some have stated that one is better than the other for certain music genres. There are those that feel the quality of sonics of one at CD level is better than the other and hi rez files on Qobuz sound better than the MQA files on Tidal. I have also heard it the other way around. This will be an endless question without a definitive answer. Why? Because it is simply a matter of opinion – and the system on which the streamed service is played. One may sound better than the other on any given system. So I think it quite presumptuous to categorically state that one is incontrovertibly superior to the other. Here is what I can undeniably report: Both services have millions of songs available right now with more being added every day. So much so, in fact, it would be hard to listen to everything available in one lifetime, perhaps several. My guess is that any music lover can be enthralled for hours on end with the amount of music offered by either service.
As far as pricing is concerned, there are similarities as well as, not surprisingly, differences in the tiered pricing structures offered by both. Like Tidal, Qobuz has a Mp3, 320 kbps service for $9.99 per month. Also, like Tidal, Qobuz has a 44.1 / 16, CD Quality service for $19.99 per month. Beyond that is where Qobuz begins to differentiate itself from Tidal. Whereas Tidal offers MQA at no additional cost, Qobuz plans to charge $24.99 per month, called their “Studio” level service, for unlimited standard and hi rez streaming up to 192 / 24. Downloads in Qobuz will be a separate cost structure and not included in the Studio pricing structure. Qobuz will also offer a “Sublime” package that costs a flat $299.99 per year that offers unlimited streaming and discounts on downloads of up to 60%. Depending on how much music one would ever plan to download, the extra $50.00 per year over the “Studio” level might be worth it.
So, is this new service worth the cost? On the one hand, Tidal offers MQA at no additional cost. Qobuz offers hi rez, supposedly at worst the equal of MQA, at a higher price, although for many the extra $5.00 per month will not even matter. One also offers downloads whereas the other does not. For anyone who likes to download this may completely obviate the need for a service like HD Tracks, whom I suppose is paying attention to all of this. I think a lot of this is, as I have steadfastly maintained, very dependent on the system. For some, hearing the difference between MQA and hi rez will be difficult because of system quality. For most of us, however, even a basic entry level system should capture the sonic upgrade over Red Book CD that is offered by both hi rez and MQA – if you believe in that sort of thing, of course. One big question as I see it is this – how much music is available from Tidal formatted as MQA as compared to hi rez music from Qobuz at a $5.00 per month higher price? And by this, I mean music I am interested in hearing. If my favorite music is available in hi rez from Qobuz and not from Tidal as MQA, then Qobuz might be the better choice. Having all these millions of songs is useless if I am not interested in any of them. It only matters if I want to listen to what is available. Qobuz claims to have over 40 million songs in total with over 2 million in a hi resolution format. Boil all this down to the lowest common denominator and I see the two significant questions being: One, which sounds better on your system and two, which is the better value based on your listening habits and preferences?
As for me, I will probably just subscribe to the Studio level and continue my Tidal subscription as well. Which I feel sure is what both services would very much like for me to do. If I had to choose one over the other, hmm, that is a difficult choice to make. If I was highly concerned with saving $5.00 per month I would probably pick Tidal. If musical availability and streamed quality mattered most, I suppose I would choose Qobuz.
Right now, Qobuz have only publicly announced an “early 2019” official launch date. So you have what is likely a few months to make up your mind. In order to help you make your decision, Qobuz is offering a free, 30-day trial service so any interested user can see firsthand what they have to offer.
Again, I ask the question posed in my earlier article – are we about to have a streaming war? It is still too early to say, but it should be fun to watch and see how this all develops.