It almost seems strange that the one year anniversary of high resolution music streaming service Qobuz has already crept upon us. Valentines Day marks the first full revolution around the sun since the audiophile-friendly platform was first launched in the US, it has been an interesting 12 months of growth for the France-based company.
Most noteworthy of course is the drop in price for the high resolution Studio Premier streaming tier from $25 down to $15, but the streaming landscape continues to evolve and grow as more players enter the burgeoning field of what is sure to fully replace downloaded music in a few short years. Audio-Head got a chance to catch up with US representative David Solomon at the recent Florida Audio Show and drill into some of the finer details of the past cycle for Qobuz.
AH: We here on the one year anniversary of the US Launch of Qobuz, can you tell us what’s happened with the company in that time span?
DS: Lets see. We are finally to the point where people have stopped asking me “what is Qobuz?” or how to pronounce it. For many months, this was the recurring question, however, we’ve made great strides. Now everybody in the audio industry knows who we are and many are recommending Qobuz on a consistent basis. We’ve reached an apex where not everyone has necessarily tried it, but at they least know Qobuz, what it is and there is interest and support from the audiophile community as a whole.
AH: Both Qobuz and Amazon were subject to a bit of a price change this year, can you tell me a little about that?
DS: Yea. Amazon launched their HD service several months ago. And so instead of staying at $25 a month, we were able to renegotiate with partners and match their price at $15 per month. Paid annually, a year subscription is actually cheaper than Amazon, at only $12.50 a month. This is very close to mp3 pricing. Now more mainstream music lovers are willing to give Hi-Res a try without having to spend much more than a Spotify user. With the new pricing, every important metric improved and we’re moving beyond the audiophile alone.
The best thing about Amazon coming into the market is recognition of Hi-Res on the whole. Since Amazon started touting their HD, the promotion of high resolution on their part helped advance our message two, three years – by my estimation. I want to send Bezos a dozen roses just for coming out with the messaging.
AH: Qobuz had a solid launch. How did the numbers match up with your expectations?
DS: At first, we were meeting, or coming close to expectations. We were pleased, but not overwhelmed. However, actual numbers dwarfed our expectations after the price drop. Every metric you can look at improved. We don’t have quite the reach of Amazon, but in terms of feedback, articles and position, we are immediately recognized as better than say a Spotify or Apple music, or even Amazon. Qobuz seems to be at the cool kids table. The attention to the industry coupled with all of the additional editorial, industry support and being geared toward the music lover is paying off.
AH: What’s it like marketing to both the core audiophile and the mainstream? How do you tackle that puzzle?
DS: Another huge positive has been being on the road and supporting the audio industry from a grassroots level. Even before the launch, we were sponsoring most of the audio shows in the US. Panels, flash DJ sessions, music events, Streaming Music Matters seminars and having a large presence in the headphone arena have all had a great impact. There’s nothing like interacting with music lovers on a personal level and letting them experience Qobuz for themselves. This and a great team all focused on the same goals have helped solidify our position in the market. While still predominantly audiophile, Qobuz is more mainstream than it was last year, but not nearly as much as it will be next year. This is good for Qobuz, but it’s also good for expanding interest in Hi-Res and the audio industry. Continued support includes provisions for our partners to be interactive on Qobuz. In our playlist section, you’ll notice playlist from manufacturers, press and retailers that are searchable by the public complete with their company logo. Soon, we’ll have landing pages on Qobuz.com with company overviews and videos. No other streaming service supports the industry to this degree and we’re continually expanding the section.
We feel it’s very important to support this industry, because in the long run they are our 3rd party authority. This is the reason that we support audio dealers, manufactures and all of the shows because this hobbyist core is our nucleus.
At the end of the day, the only way things are going to sound better is if you get gear that is capable of producing this stuff. I’m amazed at how inexpensively one can get into Hi-Res. A good headphone rig or tablet can be amazing with something as simple as a $200 AudioQuest Dragonfly.
More and more MP3 listeners are slowing getting the experience and message. Not only people like us, but also the recording world – artists, record labels and marketers. So the message is getting around. I think in 10 years the kids are going to point to our generation and say “those are the people that ruined music with MP3 for like 20 years”. But now there is no reason for MP3, originally it was space and speed. Now we have an abundance of both. The next generation will hopefully never even know the shortcomings of MP3 and this was just a bad, although necessary phase to get to where we are now. How much do we believe this statement? For starters, Qobuz is the first company to totally drop the MP3 format. MP3 has no place being on Qobuz. If you happen to have a bad connection somewhere, you can still choose to lower your bitrate yourself in the app for easier streaming – but we aren’t going to do it for you.
AH: What’s the status of the your overall catalog of music?
DS: It takes time for things to fully mature. We opened a year ago and are slowly adding more titles and it’s really starting to happen. We are catching up with the more popular stuff, but what is the really cool thing about Qobuz is the sheer number of eclectic recordings. A lot of these little labels were ingested early on and many, you can’t even find them anymore. We have a tremendous amount of these albums and labels that others simply can’t get and won’t have. The popular music that are currently missing is much easier to acquire and catch up. Part of the issue is actually the ingestion. It’s a long process and everything needs to be right. 6 months ago we had a collection of 14 million tracks that we were loading in. We have to spot verify it all and it can take way more time than you’d think – everything has to come in and everything has to be right.
There is a lot of effort going into everything we do including, internally generated commentary, partner playlists, reviews, interviews with artists, all taking copious amounts of time, but we feel are all well worth the commitment. The extra features for music lovers and our undying support of our partners and the audio industry are what makes Qobuz special. Hi Res is now fully out of the box and the box will never be the same.
You can check out more from Qobuz, David and Managing Director Dan Mackta in PTA’s The Occasional Podcast interview back in October.
More info: Qobuz