With the advent of streaming services on the Internet, it was inevitable that a lot of brick & mortar stores would go by the wayside, and music stores were no exception. Many of the music stores of yesteryear that we saw in malls, or even the sections of the department stores where there were racks of CD’s, cassette tapes (for those of us who were around back then), and yes even vinyl LP’s are more nostalgia than anything now, save for the occasional sighting.

Even online retail giants, like Amazon, have seen considerable declines in the sales of physical music media formats, in lieu of streaming services and digital downloads, to the point where many simply don’t carry large selections, if they carry much of anything at all anymore.

With a lot of the streaming services nowadays, a lot of people have found many benefits to them, including the ability to listen to their favorite artists whenever they wanted, provided they had some kind of connection to the Internet, either through Wi-Fi, or now with ever-faster cell services, through their cellular providers. But with some workspaces putting restrictions on streaming, as well as cell reception being spotty in areas, especially during peak hours, there’s still the need for people to be able to download tracks, or even albums they like & have purchased.

A Late Bloomer

One late entrant to the game in the US, which has still made some excellent strides is the music website Qobuz. Started in 2007 in France, it’s a hybrid site, where it not only offers a subscription streaming service, it also allows consumers to purchase tracks and albums. One huge benefit of the site is that the music is offered in various formats, such as ever-ubiquitous MP3 format, the WMA format for Windows, the M4A format for Apple devices, and the list goes on. Most importantly though, it offers music in a format called FLAC, which is a platform-neutral lossless format, and perhaps the best, most versatile format you’ve never heard of.

I’m going to diverge here and get a bit technical. FLAC, or the Free Lossless Audio Codec, is (as the name implies) a Lossless music encoding format, meaning the music you hear is in the original quality. Nothing was removed in the encoding, like it would’ve been as an MP3. FLAC files, while larger, offer other benefits, such as the ability to record files in higher-than-CD quality, such as studio quality, which is 24-bit 192-kHz. This has the effect of listening to music as if you were sitting in the studio itself as it was being recorded. While there are some folks out there who will always say that people cannot tell the difference on anything higher than CD quality (16-bit 44.1 kHz), but with a high-end speaker system, the difference is most definitely palpable.

That’s A Lot Of Music!

And with Qobuz, which boasts over 100 million tracks to choose from, there is no shortage of music to be able to listen to. They give you several options to choose from, in fact. Through their streaming service, you can download the app on Android and iOS devices, as well as on your Windows & Mac computers, and you can create playlists of considerable size from the app, and here’s the best part. You’re allowed to import the tracks onto your device (provided there’s sufficient storage), and listen to the music even if there’s no internet connection. And if you sign up for their Sublime level service, if the music is available for purchase in hi-res format (that is at least 24-bit 48 kHz or higher), you can purchase it at a very nice discount, which you can then download to your computer, and organize however you see fit. And with hard drive spaces being what they are (more and more computers now have terabyte drives and higher, allowing for a considerable capacity to store music), you’ll be able to get yourself quite a lot of music to enjoy at a very high quality.

And as mentioned before, while Qobuz got it’s start pretty late in the US (it only became available to US consumers in 2019) compared to a lot of the other similar online music stores, like Tidal (which has recently switched to a streaming only service), 7Digital, HDTracks.com, and others, what sets Qobuz apart from others is its international presence, and larger variety of music. It does have the vast majority of catalogues from American record producers, with perhaps some very minor gaps, likely due to rights/legal issues on the part of the songs or albums being in some kind of legal limbo still needing to be ironed out, but that’s hardly a stopping point.

Still A Few Kinks To Work Out

A few things that Qobuz can still definitely improve upon is that with it’s app, which it uses for streaming, even on higher end computers, it tends to become a bit of a memory hog, and downloads on it are painfully slow. Even on ultrafast internet connections, which could otherwise download the full hi-res albums in a matter of seconds, it takes several minutes to do so through the app, as it downloads one track at a time, and there’s a 30 second delay between each download. Even the new downloader they recently introduced (which is it’s own separate application) isn’t without its flaws, however minor. While it does allow for much faster downloads, and it downloads your entire purchase the first go ’round, allowing people to download up to five tracks at a time, for albums that have special characters in the titles, or three periods in a row, it can’t seem to handle those titles, forcing people to manually download each track directly from the website one by one, which can be a bit of an inconvenience. Speaking of, if a person’s computer happens to crash, and they lose their downloaded music, forcing them to download their music again, they’d have no choice but to sit there, and, one album at a time, click “Download” and add it to the Downloader’s queue. If they purchased a significant amount of music, that could be quite a chore.

Still, for all the flaws, if Qobuz, can work such things out to the satisfaction of customers, it would truly become a juggernaut to contend with in the world of online music.

Update 9/14/2023: A couple weeks ago, shortly after having posted this, I emailed Qobuz separately, detailing the issues I had listed above, as well as a few others, with their Downloader, and some things they could do to help improve things. Turns out they actually listened. I got a response back within a few days, that on the surface, seemed like an email half a step above a canned answer, thanking me for my detailed email, and they’d forward it along to their development team.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, not two days later, they updated the Downloader program, and now the program can very easily handle downloading albums that have special characters or three periods at the end of their title (I tested on several albums I had issues with downloading thru the program previously, and they downloaded just fine). In addition, they updated how the program handles ID3 tag creation, which I brought up as an issue, since some fields they put in were empty, or just had “null” in the field, which was annoying to have to remove from each album, and a few other things. And while it would be nice for Qobuz to fully integrate the Downloader into the Windows app, I’m sure that’s something that may take a bit longer than just being able to handle special characters while downloading or empty/awkward fields in the ID3 tags.

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