High-resolution music service Qobuz will make its much-anticipated American debut on Thursday, the company confirmed to Rolling Stone. Qobuz — pronounced “co buzz,” and currently available in Europe, the U.K. and Ireland — offers both downloads and music-streaming subscriptions at CD quality and high-res quality, and its unique hybrid service will be available on all U.S. app stores.
“Nobody else is offering high-res music like this,” says Dan Mackta, the managing director of Qobuz’s U.S. operation. Mackta, who has served as head of marketing for Razor & Tie, Jive Records and RCA Records, was hired in July to lead the Paris-based company’s foray into America, and the Valentine’s Day launch has been eagerly awaited since the 12-year-old Qobuz first opened new headquarters in New York last year. The platform offers around 40 million songs at CD quality (16 bit) and around 2 million songs at high-res quality (24-bit/192 kHz), which it says is the largest catalog of high-res music in the world.
While other high-res music services already exist — Tidal and Deezer both have high-fidelity tiers and Sony recently launched a standalone service in Japan — none have yet become big hits with a U.S. audience. The biggest hurdle for high-res music is inconvenience: Listeners have to use compatible headphones and custom computer equipment to access a superior level of audio quality in the first place. (In Japan, Sony’s high-end gear is already popular.) But Mackta says he is optimistic about Qobuz USA’s ability to capture market share in the crowded music-streaming market because high-quality speakers and audio equipment are increasingly affordable, and because he thinks dedicated music fans will always flock to the best possible listening experience.
“We’re not taking a shotgun approach,” he says. “It’s hand-to-hand combat — it’s focused. We’re going after audiophiles in the U.S. who are eager to have high-resolution options for music streaming, especially after seeing their friends in Europe have it. Then, we’re building out to regular music fans who haven’t experienced songs in high resolution yet.”
Audio connoisseurs can expect Qobuz USA to come with offline listening options, deep metadata, rare jazz and classical tracks and curated editorial content. The hybrid service, which has been tested in beta for the last few months, will offer four pricing options for U.S. customers:
- “Sublime+”: $299.99/year for full high-res streaming and discounts from the Qobuz high-res download store
- “Studio”: $24.99/month for unlimited high-res streaming ($249.99 annually)
- “Hi-Fi”: $19.99/month for CD-quality streaming ($199.99 annually)
- “Premium”: $9.99/month for MP3-quality streaming ($99.99 annually).
After Spotify went public on the New York Stock Exchange last year, Qobuz’s president Denis Thébaud said to Music Business Worldwide that Spotify’s success indicated the market was “becoming more mature” and “widening the scope for specialized players with a strong personality, like Qobuz.” While the French music service has not made an IPO of its own yet, it would be one of several music-tech companies to follow in Spotify’s direction if it chose to do so.
Qobuz is not yet betting on universal acceptance of high-res audio, but it expects the popularity of the option to swell. “Likely at some point, the mainstream streaming services will see the value of a more premium, high-res option,” Mackta says. “The question is, will it be this year or in five years? And hopefully Qobuz will have traction in the U.S. by then.”