I received a press release from the French high-end digital download company Qobuz.com announcing, “we are both proud and excited to announce the official opening of the Qobuz music download service in your country.” The company was founded in 2009 in France and has continually grown outside of the U.S. Since I live in Los Angeles, it seems they’ve come to the states.
Here’s their statement:
“You won’t find MP3 files here! The entire catalogue, including major and independent labels across all musical genres, is available for you in at least True CD Quality (Lossless). Qobuz goes even further to offer you the world’s largest catalogue of releases in 24-bit Studio Master quality. This format is superior even to that of a CD, and allows you to listen to your music exactly how it leaves the studio, approved by both the engineer and the artist themselves!
The Qobuz experience is also based in musical expertise: our specialists are actual human beings and will update you every week on what’s happening in the music world as well as hand-picking the finest recordings, from both past and present.
Qobuz Client Services is at your disposition for any and all questions, especially during this initial opening period. We are more than happy to receive your comments and opinions in order to improve our unique music service for you everyday.”
It’s not hard to quibble with their definitions of high-resolution and claims of having “largest catalogue of HD downloads in the world.” As some readers may recall, I downloaded the free sample files that they make available and found that despite their assurances of tight quality control…both tracks were in fact, not 192 kHz as they claimed but upsampled DSD recordings or transferred analog tapes. You can read my post and check out the response from the founder and head of Qobuz by clicking here.
They mention “at least True CD Quality (lossless)”. CD quality usually refers to a music download that has been through lossy encoding but sound as good as a CD. To preface that term with “True CD Quality” is just confusing. Either something meets the CD specification…the Redbook spec at 44.1 kHz /16-bit PCM…or it doesn’t. Should I bother to ask how many titles in the “largest collection of HD downloads are ‘true CD quality’?” Just how many of their Studio Masters were natively recorded using equipment at 96 kHz/24-bits or higher?
As for 24-bit Studio Master quality, a format they claim is superior “even to that of a CD”; I’m rather dubious about that claim as well. Qobuz receives masters from their licensors in the format that the labels make available. They’re at the mercy of the engineering team at the delivery end of that relationship. In fact, the email that I got from the boss said exactly that. Basically, don’t blame us! Blame the labels. And unfortunately, there aren’t too many labels that are actually recording and releasing material in high-resolution. They take whatever catalog they’ve got and upsample or transfer it to bigger bit buckets.
I noticed in Cookie’s August newsletter that she’s pulling old 24 track analog tapes and remixing them to 2-track tape and then making DSD copies. As wonderful as Blue Coast’s recording are…they aren’t HD. If she makes them available to Qobuz as PCM files (no word whether they are going to get sucked into DSD downloads), the final downloads will be upconversions from the DSD
The entry of Qobuz into the North American market does present additional pressure on the existing players…including, HDtracks, SuperHiRez.com, ProStudioMasters.com and the upcoming Ponomusic site. It will be interesting to see all of these sites battle for market share when the stuff that they’re selling comes from the same source…at least in the case of the major labels. I fully expect Pono to jump out in front by say they’ve got 35 million high-resolution tracks for sale…as if the number of tracks is more important than the fidelity.
If I had to guess, I’d be willing to bet that Apple is readying the iTunes HD upgraded site as I write this. It’s going to get interesting in a few months. Unfortunately, all we’re likely to get is more over compressed music without the MP3 format.