the spirit of the record store breathed into high-fidelity streaming

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When we talk about the diffusion of music, we often think of Spotify or Apple Music, the two platforms that dominate the market. But we must not forget that France defends itself bravely with Deezer, which is about to go public and claims more than five million subscribers. And there’s also Qobuz, another tricolor streaming service that’s been around for almost 15 years and thrives in the shadow of industry giants. The platform, which takes its name from a very particular stringed instrument used by certain peoples of Central Asia during shamanic rituals, plays a partition high end resolution.

Qobuz offers the diffusion of the music in source quality which can go up to Hi-Res 24 bits/192 kHz. To these listening conditions is added a rich editorial content made up of album reviews, biographies, selections that invite the listener to discover and deepen the work of the artists.

We spent several weeks discovering the Qobuz catalog by listening to various musical genres in Hi-Res 24-Bit quality. We tested it with the Listen Sony wf-1000xm4, the Sennheiser Momentum TW3the Beoplay EX from Bang & Olufsen as well as the connected box Octavio’s Flow.

Qobuz reminds us of the spirit that reigned among record stores, with this sharing side between insiders, these recommendations that come like the nugget that we take out from under the counter accompanied by a ” you need to listen to this ASAP! »

With good equipment (we will repair it later), the audio quality is really there. Editorial content brings real added value, by opening up doors varied and original on a work or the work of an artist. Qobuz is read almost as much as it is listened to and that makes a real difference compared to other streaming music services. Enough to justify a price positioning higher than the competition by addressing music lovers knowledgeable and in love with the good son.

To deepen our knowledge of the service and its particularities, we spoke with Alex Destagnol, product manager for Qobuz.

Futura: Qobuz promises high-fidelity music streaming. What is it exactly?

Alex Destagnol: Qobuz broadcasts the music in source quality, without touching the file. This can go up to 24 bits/192 kHz. Some of our competitors remaster all audio files while we respect the quality choice made by the artist. Compression and degradation are no longer technically justified. Today the bandwidthincluding in the cellular network, is good enough to support the high resolution.

Futura: How many Qobuz subscribers are there today? What is their profile ?

Alex Destagnol: We have several hundred thousand Qobuz users who are present in 25 countries. We opened in early May in Latin America and Portugal. The Qobuz audience brings together audiophiles who love rock, jazz and classical music. These are people who are looking for precise, crystalline recordings enhanced by high resolution. We have a high-end positioning with slightly higher prices (the standard Qobuz subscription starts at €12.50/month, editor’s note). We address an audience ready to pay the price for additional quality content, which comes to deepen their knowledge of an artist, an album or a title. To take a comparison in theuniverse French luxury, we want to be the Hermes music streaming.

Futura: What are the specificities of the Qobuz catalogue?

Alex Destagnol: Our catalog has more than 80 million titles. It is quite comparable to those of our competitors. But Qobuz’s beginnings were made in jazz and classical, two genres in which we are particularly active. Some 30% of our streams are made on jazz and classical and give us references that our competitors do not have.

Futura: Tell us about your editorial work, which is similar to that of a record store

Alex Destagnol: Our editorial content is reworked with each news of an artist. Selection by experts is one of Qobuz’s strengths. About ten people in-house and independent collaborators (writers, journalists, etc.) write artist biographies, album reviews as well as panoramas (in-depth articles with a selection of albums). They are constantly selecting new releases, choosing an album of the week, supplying the ideal nightclub, unearthing new talent. We highlight the award-winning albums by different media (Télérama, Classica, Pitchfork…). This manual curation, artisanal if one can say so, is really a specificity of Qobuz.

Futura: Do you use recommendation algorithms?

Alex Destagnol: Indeed, we also use algorithms to complete the recommendations of our team. But our goal is to ensure that the selections made by our experts are always reported and highlighted by the algorithms. We want to infuse this diversity. No user will see a highlight made 100% by an algorithm. The second point to which we are attentive is to give the subscriber the possibility of rectifying these recommendations so as not to feel trapped in profiling.

Futura: Is there a recommended hardware configuration to get the most out of the audio quality that Qobuz can offer?

Alex Destagnol: It is necessary to make sure that the device which one uses does not put a limitation. In the case of smartphones, there is often one. For example, if you select an album in 24 bits/192 kHz, there will be an invisible degradation which can drop to 24 bits 48 kHz, which is the case for example of all iPhones. To benefit from the maximum quality on your smartphone, the only way is to use a CAD (digital-analog converter, editor’s note) which will obscure the audio output of the mobile to recover the original signal and broadcast it without loss to a wired headset.

Furthermore, the Bluetooth AptX does not allow you to achieve the maximum quality offered by Qobuz. This is the complexity of the audiophile universe: you have to check the output quality offered by the player you are using and, if necessary, use a DAC.

Futura: What about the integration of the Qobuz Connect function, which allows you to connect to third-party audio equipment from the native application?

Alex Destagnol: This is a big priority for us that we are working on. It’s the only one protocols which allows us to broadcast in high resolution and thus maintain our advantage over competing services that do not offer such audio quality. We work with allecosystem of audio partners, so there is a real relevance in pushing this project. Will we see it happen this year?

There are two points to take into account: having the solution ready and installed and the integration of this solution by our partners who must update their firmware. Some will need more time than others and we have no control over this part.

Futura: What are the major upcoming developments for Qobuz?

Alex Destagnol: We are going to refine the user experience in order to support our subscribers so that they listen to their music in the best possible conditions, knowing precisely the quality they are enjoying.

We continue to expand our recommendation system while preserving human curation. On classical music, we are going to offer a more suitable navigation, by work or composer. It’s quite complicated to set up, but it’s an important focus for us.

Furthermore, we also want to enrich and enhance all the ancillary information, reinforced around an album or a title which are so many paths of discovery for the listener. On Qobuz, we indicate the list of musicians who intervened on each track. For example, it can explore the specific work of a musician or sound engineer who worked on an album. This knowledge is of great cultural and differentiating value for Qobuz. And it is the opposite of the trajectory taken by our competitors. Finally, we will also continue our internationalization.

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