With the $9.99/month subscription streaming model for music now firmly entrenched as the dominant revenue driver for the music industry, many of the major players are now looking to differentiation to keep the gravy train moving. Whether that has meant video for some, original content for others or additional services and bundles at lower price points for still others, there’s a clear opening for new and fresh ways of looking at the streaming ecosystem.
That’s just one of the reasons that Qobuz, the Paris-based, hi-res-first audio streaming company is finally moving ahead with its plans to launch in the United States. Beginning today (Feb. 14), the service’s streaming and download store is finally available Stateside, after more than a decade of availability in Europe. The service is available at four different price points: premium, $9.99/month ($99.99/year) mp3-quality streaming; Hi-Fi, $19.99/month ($199.99/year) 16-bit CD-quality streaming; studio, $24.99/month ($249.99/year) unlimited hi-res 24-bit streaming; and Sublime+, $299.99/year full hi-res 24-bit streaming packaged with 40-60 percent discounts on downloads in the Qobuz download store.
“Audiophiles have been awaiting Qobuz for years, and now we're able to reach a larger audience to let them know that better quality audio is available,” Dan Mackta, managing director Qobuz USA, tells Billboard in an email. “And bringing some competition into the sphere will be good for everyone -- listeners, labels (re: payouts), speaker companies, etc.”
While Qobuz is certainly seeking to appeal to the audiophile community -- the service is also prioritizing hi-res recordings of jazz and classical music specifically to entice that demographic -- those seeking higher-quality audio are also finding it easier, and cheaper, than ever to do so. The cost of top-level speakers and headphones has dropped as technology has improved, and bandwidth issues are easing when it comes to streaming larger files -- and getting better-quality audio. In a press release, the service boasted that its top-tier, 24-bit/192 kHz hi-res is approximately 29 times better quality than from an mp3.
“High-quality streaming is our priority,” Mackta says. “The roadblocks due to bandwidth limitations have gone or are going away and our service works with just about any home cable or fiber connection, and with a good 4G or LTE mobile connection you can stream hi-res on the go.”
In addition to its 40 million tracks available for streaming and offline downloading, Qobuz also offers album booklets, track and album metadata, curated playlists and editorial content, as well. And while other services also offer hi-res audio -- Tidal, for instance, has boasted a higher-resolution offering at $19.99/month, while MQA quality has been embraced by major and indie labels alike -- Qobuz says its 24-bit goes beyond that offered by the rest of the field.
“There is an explosion of interest in music on the go and a rapidly maturing streaming market here,” Mackta says. “Not everybody interested in streaming is served by the mass market providers. We are specializing in the top of the market, largely audiophiles who require a lot of special handling.”