Audio Streams #2 Page 2

Other options include Crossfade Duration (within a range of 2–15 seconds, set with a sliding scale), Gapless Playback, Cache folder path, Cache max size (automatic 10% of free space, or set with a sliding scale from 1GB to a maximum value that will vary based on the amount of storage available on your computer), Playing buffer size, and Music Downloads Import Quality (320kbps or CD quality). I found that I had to adjust the buffer size when playing from my iMac, which connects to my network via WiFi. Once this was set, I experienced no dropouts or interrupts. (The rest of my desktop system comprises a Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC connected to a pair of ADAM A3X active speakers.)

I also used the Qobuz Hi-Fi service in my main system, with my MacBook Pro connected with a length of Light Harmonic Lightspeed cable to an Auralic Vega DAC. The Vega is wired to my Pass Labs INT-30A integrated amplifier using Kimber Kable Select KS 1126 balanced interconnect, and the Pass is wired to my DeVore Fidelity The Nines speakers with Kimber 12TC speaker cable.

There's also a mobile version of the Qobuz app, for both iOS and Android devices; each subscription allows you to play the app on up to three mobile devices. While I did play with the iPhone version, my main listening was through my desktop and main systems.

Streaming in CD Quality Is Better than Good
If I listed all of the music I listened to during the weeks I evaluated Qobuz Hi-Fi, I would have no room left to tell you how much I enjoyed it. Okay—enjoy is really not the right word. I relished every last minute of it. Having one-click access to a catalog of a claimed 17 million (and growing) tracks of CD-quality music for a fixed monthly price of $27 is file-based-music–lovin' heaven.


Cab Calloway, Robert Pete Williams, Giacinto Scelsi, St. Vincent, The Feminine Complex, Swans, Giuseppi Logan, Jimmie Rodgers, EinstÅrzende Neubauten, PJ Harvey, a recent reissue of Grace Jones's Nightclubbing, Mosaic, Burial, Ben Frost, Jimmy Giuffre, and on and on. Many nights found me still awake long after I should have been asleep, listening through the prospect of having so much music right there, right in front of me. It's like being locked in a museum or library all by your lonesome, and you can stay as long as you like. Lovely.

Let's face facts. The majority of music most people are interested in and buy is offered, at best, in CD quality (at least until Apple decides to follow first HDTracks' and now Pono's lead. While better is always better, I'm fine with CD quality, as it can and often does sound just wonderful. With lossless streaming, I no longer have to buy the CD or the download equivalent, and this same online library of lossless music is available to me wherever I have an Internet connection. Not to mention what that does for my music-storage requirements—namely, cutting them down by whatever percentage of music I stream instead of buy. All of that, I believe, falls under the category of "Awesome." I'm smitten.

In terms of quality, the wired connection seemed to offer slightly better sound than WiFi. I also compared a few downloads to the streamed versions and found little difference worth noting, although using third-party media players such as Channel D's Pure Music 2 gave downloads a slight sonic edge. More relevant is the fact that streaming in CD quality from Qobuz Hi-Fi was 100% enjoyment in every way.

There are a few basic ways to discover music within the Quboz app. First, I confess a near hatred of algorithm-based recommendations: "If you like X, you may also like the XX." D'oh! I find machine-made recommendations no match for a human DJ. Discovering music new to you can be a joyous and life-changing event. Music matching, on the other hand, is geared toward giving you more of the same. No thanks.

The Qobuz app offers New Releases, Most Streamed, Best Sellers, Press Awards, Qobuz Picks (reportedly, a combination of selections made by humans and algorithms), and Qobuz Playlists (curated lists). There's also a fast and very efficient search engine that auto-fills as you type. I sampled each of these options and found the curated Playlists the most interesting, second to simply searching for music. A search for a musician, say Pharoah Sanders, will return not only albums by him, but also albums on which he appears. Nice. Perhaps due to Qobuz's French origins, I was particularly delighted with their very deep catalog of free jazz.


You can also build and save playlists, make a playlist public so others can enjoy it, and even make it a Collaborative playlist so others can add to it. You can import playlists from Spotify and Deezer. As you listen, Qobuz automatically creates an Off-Line Library—essentially, a cache of the tracks you've most recently listened to. If you purchase any downloads through Qobuz they show up under the Purchases tab, and you can create Favorites by simply clicking on the star icon when viewing an album.

The Qobuz Hi-Fi service doesn't have every record I'm interested in hearing. Some are still available only as LPs, others only as CDs, and others as downloads not offered by Qobuz. I'm not suggesting that Qobuz is the be-all and end-all. It is, however, a big chunk of it all.

One disadvantage of the Qobuz streaming service is that no remote app is available—when you want to change what's playing, you have to get up to go to your computer. Quel dommage! If that prospect is too troubling, for remote control you can run, on an iOS device, a screen-sharing app such as Air Display. You can also run the Qobuz app through other apps, such as JPlay, Amarra, and Pure Music. I used Pure Music 2 running on my MacBook in Playthrough mode; one thing this bought me was the use of Pure Music's dithered volume control.

There's also very little in the way of personalized music discovery and recommendations, something that Spotify and the other streaming services offer and some people appreciate. I can easily live without this feature, and find browsing and searching equally fulfilling. Besides, I get music recommendations from friends, listening to the radio, reading reviews, and generally from just being alive.

Other Lossless Streaming Services
At the time of writing, there is one other CD-quality streaming service: WiMP HiFi, based in Norway ( WiMP is currently available in Denmark, Germany, Norway, Poland, and Sweden for 199 KR/MND/month and in Germany for €19.99/month and claims access to "music from a library of several million tracks." OraStream offers high-resolution streaming services through their Dance! HD and Classical! HD apps ($7.99/month). I have not tried these services at length, but the OraStream apps are a very promising if somewhat limited relative to the million-plus albums available from Qobuz.

Streaming Is Here to Stay
According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's IFPI Digital Music Report 2014, streaming services saw the greatest growth in sales of digital music in 2013, while download sales dipped slightly. I expect these trends to continue. In my opinion, the pricing-and-ownership model of music downloads never made sense. Initially offering the worst of all worlds—lossily compressed music that we don't own for roughly the price of a CD—downloads were the fast food of the music business. CD-quality streaming puts our ears on a far more nutritious diet.

There is also the question of high-resolution downloads. My feeling is that, for those records of special interest and importance, it still makes sense to purchase the hi-rez download, especially if you've built a hi-fi around hi-rez playback. The difference in sound quality between 16/44.1 and higher resolutions, including DSD, can be obvious and compelling, the latter two often offering a more emotionally engaging experience.

As I mentioned in my July column, manufacturers like Bluesound and Sonos are incorporating the Qobuz Hi-Fi streaming service directly into their devices and apps. With the Bluesound Node, you can have immediate access to millions of CD-quality albums as soon as you turn it on. That's what we used to call slick.

The Right Stuff
Paying about $30/month for unlimited access to a library of lossless music larger than anyone has time to browse, let alone listen to, is an appealing value proposition. But will my inner collector be satisfied with being such an ascetic, never owning physical manifestations of most of my music? Considering that we don't really own the downloads we've already purchased, we've been groomed for this kind of relationship all along. The more I use Qobuz Hi-Fi, the more I realize I don't need to own everything. Besides, who's got the room?


Kal Rubinson's picture

It looks a lot like a version of JRMC. Do you know if there's any relationship?

music or sound's picture

40% of the population in the US have no access to broad band internet. So streaming anything than the lowest of MP3 would not work for them.
Any ISP plan with limited data amounts (like smart phones which most are using now as their main music device) would too costly to use for high res streaming.
Tidal wants to adjust its streaming mode to bandwidth.
So high res streaming is a niche thing and could disappear before it really started. I understand its attraction but I can't get fast enough internet to make it practical for me.

struts's picture

A very thought provoking article that I enjoyed immensely. The point about collections defining a combination of who we are and who we want to be is spot on.

Fascinated by the comment above about the availability of bandwidth. Maybe I'm spoilt living in Sweden but we have symmetrical 100Mbps to the home and although the 4G bandwidth I get is not as high (as low as 30 Gbps at our summer cottage) it does the job. Is the US /really/ a first world country? ;-)

Many thanks Michael, keep up the good work!

islandman's picture

Just another option for controlling Qobuz wirelessly. I have a dedicated music netbook with HDMI out connected to my flatscreen. The wireless logitech keyboard that I use has a track pad built in. The logitech's dongle is inserted into the netbook. I sit back in my "sweet spot" and surf Qobuz'. My daughter loves seeing the Qobuz album art on the big screen.....and so do I!

It is really cool that if you forget, before you sign off Qobuz, to save who that new artist, or song was that you were listening to....doesn't matter because what you were listening to when you signed off is exactly where you pick back up whenever you sign back in.

Quboz' fidelity has changed the way I listen to music. Well written article Michael. Thanks!

andy_c's picture

The point about collections defining who we are caused me to remember an interview Marian McPartland did with Becker and Fagen on her "Piano Jazz" program. In college, they became friends immediately mainly because, as one of them said, "We each realized we both had the same record collection."

Regarding the absence of liner notes, I wish record companies would provide them in HTML format. HTML has everything needed for great liner notes. And software authors can easily incorporate an HTML viewer into the player app using canned software components.

On the subject of streaming, that's how I do all my music discovery, but even with cable internet, I get a lot of dropouts. This may be a problem with Shoutcast and other providers and maybe not at my end. Not sure about that.

DetroitVinylRob's picture

I love my record collection too...

What vinyl does is slow me down a bit, make me less likely to approach my leisure life, like my work (busy life) can demand, multitasking, fluttering from one thing to another like a gadfly, without a defined beginning, middle, and end. It causes a physical meditation, if you will, and process that focuses, not unlike a tea ceremony. In contrast, it causes us to wait, anticipate,and appreciate, often an Lp as a collected idea, as of course, many are.

I see a great propensity with digital files and remote controls to the contrary. I like the utility of my iPod for times on the go, at home my space is reserved for deep listening and whatever supports that is essential and dear to me.

And ultimately in principal, possession is 9/10 (points of the law). If I can't hold it in my hands and put it on the shelf, I'm not paying for it.

Thank you Michael for yet another, thought provoking insight.

dcp's picture

Hi all, I'm just getting into computer audio and need some help--whether/how to use a NAS. I made a Powerpoint slide (worth 1,000 words?) but not sure how to post that.
1. Can I use a NAS as both a backup for photos and a source for audio?
2. Can I use a NAS as a source for the streamer without connecting to the modem/www? If I do want/need to connect this rig to the www, can I do it via wireless signal (dotted line) from router 1 to router 2? (My sole modem jack is on the other side of the room from the streamer and I can’t run wire across the room.)
3. Where do I connect the NAS—to router 2 or the streamer?