My recent experience with Qobuz and their offering of standard definition files in high-resolution bit buckets brings up a few more issues. I noticed on their website that they offer a warranty, a sort of “Studio Masters Guarantee”. You can see the messaging all over the site…with many if not the majority of their albums are labeled as “Masters Studio Quality Guarantee” (interesting how the words are reversed in this phrase, when everything else is a “Studio Master”).
When you go to the page that explains the warranty, you get the following (through Google translate and lightly edited by me):
“Qobuz Studio Masters – The sound as it was recorded in the studio, delivered in its entirety. No compression. No concession. A file as supplied by the record label without any reprocessing. Albums at sample rates of 24 bits, with sample rates up to 192 kHz, each clearly indicated. Qobuz Quality Guarantee: one specific to Qobuz Studio Masters program for even more quality and safety of purchase. A wide selection of albums Qobuz Studio Masters already has the label “Studio Masters Quality Guarantee.” A team is dedicated to Qobuz Studio Masters albums. They check and test each source album one by one before the sale. Signal analysis, real-time monitoring, verification are part of routine checks. After these checks, the label “Studio Masters Quality Guarantee” is assigned to the album. Advantages – You can be sure of the sincerity of the products that are available. You can be sure of the quality of your purchase, and sustainability. You get a personalized after-sales service by mail and telephone as needed. In case of defective problem file*, your purchase is exchanged double value *. All download as Qobuz Studio Masters are compatible with the main players on the market.**
* Qobuz guarantees the quality of all releases with the designation Album Studio Masters Quality Guarantee. If you find any technical fault or sound compression on one of these albums, Qobuz will reimburse you 2 times the amount of your purchase as a gift certificate that can be used on any site within 3 months of receipt of the check.
** Windows Media Player, iTunes, Foobar, VLC, Real Player, QuickTime…the Iphone, Ipod, Ipad are nevertheless blocked files less than or equal to 24 bits / 48 kHz quality, except use a special application.”
If you are a customer of Qobuz, you might feel all warm and secure in the knowledge that there are professional engineers checking each track. As an audio engineer that actually did some checking myself (of the very first files that I downloaded), I’m dismayed that both projects were standard definition and didn’t actually benefit from the super high sampling rate.
So who’s responsible? The providers of the source files are the ones making the recordings and we assume they’re doing the very best that they can to supply the best possible versions of their products. But as the case of the Psalmus recording clearly showed, they decided to record in DSD, rolled off the DSD induced high frequency noise AND then offered to Qobuz a 192 kHz/24-bit PCM soundfile. Shouldn’t the engineers that are doing the checking at Qobuz have questioned the specifications and claims about the recording? I think they should. Just what are they doing?
At first blush, the warranty is a marketing ploy and nothing more. I would have to download and verify a lot more files to determine whether the Norah Jones album or any others are real high-resolution audio files. But I don’t want to spend any money on more downloads from Qobuz.
It all comes down to the term “Studio Master”, the one that Michael Lavorgna over at AudioStream thinks is the best choice to identifying the fidelity of a digital download. The folks at Qobuz (and other sites) are comfortable with accepting standard resolution files and offering them up as “Studio Masters” and charging more for them…even if they’re not really living up the new higher quality standards. Are they being untruthful? No. They accepted the files from Psalmus Records. They accepted that they were done correctly and they offered them as being legitimate 192 kHz PCM files when they weren’t. Their response? It’s not our fault…we marketed the files, “supplied by the record label without any reprocessing.”
There are no standards or accepted definitions for “Studio Masters”. And it’s pretty clear to me that the Guarantee or Warranty offered by the site means absolutely nothing when it comes to actually posting files for downloads. Does anyone really think that Qobuz would give me double credit for the cost of the questionable files (if I had paid for them) after I pointed out that the files were not really 192 kHz worthy?
If I wanted the best version of the Psalmus recording, I would simply go out and download or purchase a CD version of it. There is no advantage to buying it from Qobuz. No big surprise.