Can we talk? Ever since my generation started accumulating stereo systems for vinyl playback, I’ve been evangelizing to anyone who would listen about hi-res digital streaming as the other “must listen” format. Of course there’s no convincing anyone to buy a CD player, and purchasing downloads isn’t a thing anymore. The only answer is streaming, and with that often comes the use of popular low-res digital music streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, etc. Yes these companies offer mobile access to low-res digital versions of the music we all know and love. The sad part is, in comparison to vinyl or CD, low-res streaming sounds like shit. Enter The Qobuz.
Qobuz is a hi-res digital music streaming service, that feels like Spotify and iTunes had a baby. Digital streams are mobile and available in 16-bit/44.1kHz (CD sound quality) and up to 24-bit/192kHz (better than CD sound quality). This is the future I’ve been waiting for.
But does it conflict with vinyl? It doesn’t — in fact it compliments your vinyl. Qobuz is the perfect digital component to expand your vinyl collection. New vinyl can be expensive, and you want to listen before you buy. First off, to hear the tracks on the album and decide “Is this good enough to own on vinyl?” Qobuz hi-res digital streaming allows you to get as close as humanly possible to the vinyl experience, and to some extent even more than the vinyl itself depending on the quality and condition of your turntable and vinyl collection. But let’s not stop there, as this is a two-way street. Got a favourite vinyl record, but the condition is fading? Or maybe your copy isn’t quite what it could be — listen to that album on Qobuz, and you’ll instantly have access to what you’re missing. Then, maybe buy that album again on vinyl — or not, but either way, you’ll be informed.
Then let’s talk about digital transfers. The process of transferring older analog master tapes over to digital has been perfected. In fact, the process even yields improvements over master tapes that have seen better days, with the end results including a bit of digital-restoration along the way. But the story doesn’t end there, remember if you will (or take note if you’re too young), it was only up until the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that music was still recorded to reel-to-reel tape. Since then, most albums have been recorded, mixed, and mastered in 24-bit hi-res digital. To migrate that digitally-recorded music information back over to vinyl requires care, time, and expertise that often isn’t always available or practiced by modern day record labels. The process of moving digital-to-vinyl is laborsome, riddled with opportunities to make mistakes, and lastly usually contains inconsistencies across recordings. For my money, if it was recorded in 24-bit digital then I want to hear it in 24-bit digital. Hi-res digital is the stable platform for modern music that doesn’t warp and always plays back clean and without flaw.
For young people of a certain age, they’ve never heard digital sound this good. They’re likely unaware of how detailed and dynamic the original digital 16-bit/44.1kHz and hi-res 24-bit/192kHz sounds. Yes, it’s good to remember (or ironically fetishize) our past, but it’s also good to embrace where we are going, and to me Qobuz is the magic musical wonderland we’ve all been dreaming about.
by Eric Franklin Shook