Qobuz review: A music streaming service on the verge of greatness

Qobuz (pronounced koh-buzz), an audiophile-oriented music-streaming service based in Paris, launched in the U.S. today after being exclusive to Europe for the past 10 years. I’ve been enrolled in the closed beta for the past few days, and I absolutely love it.

In addition to using the service, I also spoke with Qobuz USA’s managing director Dan Mackta at CES in January, so I’ll sprinkle some quotes from him throughout the review. There are lots of things about Qobuz that make it different from other streaming services, but the most important differentiator is that you can stream high-resolution FLAC files: Up to 24-bit resolution and sampling rates as high as 192kHz. The service validates such tracks with the familiar Hi-Res Audio logo from the Japan Audio Society.

That level of fidelity doesn’t come cheap, though, and I was surprised to find some albums bearing the logo that would only play in 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution. I’ll get into the four service tiers later.

Qobuz delivers information galore

No matter which level of service you sign up for, you’ll get all the rest of the features that render Qobuz tailor-made for music lovers. Chief among these is the metadata and other documentation attached to the tracks. Bios are provided for every artist, and a short essay is attached to every album. In the Windows app, when you click on the “info” icon next to each track, a “track details” window pops up listing the label that published the track, and the name of the composer (hyperlinked to a biographical sketch with a list of other tracks they’ve contributed to and similar artists).

qobuz track details Michael Brown / IDG

Qobuz lets you know who played what and which role every person played in recording the album.

Going back to the track details window, you’ll find the names of all the artists recorded on the track and which instruments they played, plus credits for the engineers and producers who mixed and mastered the track. It would be wonderful if these names were also hyperlinked, so you could explore their other works and contributions, but Qobuz already provides more information than any other mainstream service offers. And if you also subscribe to the terrific Roon music player service, you can integrate the two and dive even deeper into your favorite artists and their music.

The Qobuz team in France produces most of this editorial product, but the service all draws descriptions from the record labels and pulls in some material from AllMusic and Last.FM, always providing attribution to the source.

Many albums on Qobuz also come with digital booklets—PDFs of the printed material included with the physical discs you might otherwise buy—with lyrics, notes from the artist, and all the information that’s included in the track details. Mackta says Qobuz is launching in the U.S. with about 40 million tracks in its library, and 170,000 albums in Hi-Res Audio format. The service’s website says digital booklets are available for “hundreds of thousands of albums.”

qobuz booklet Michael Brown / IDG

In many cases, Qobuz will provide a PDF version of the booklet that comes with the physical CD version of the album.

These PDFs, however, seem to be available only on the web player and the computer apps. I couldn’t find them in the Android or iOS apps. Qobuz’s library pales in comparison to Spotify and Apple Music, but what’s here is choice. “Our focus is on quality,” Makta said. “We have a laser focus on the audiophile market. We have lots of jazz and classical music. Our curation focuses on what audiophiles are looking for.”