The State Of Streaming

The State Of Streaming

For the vast majority of people, streaming has become their only way of consuming music. It now makes up 80% of the whole industry’s revenue and is now a priority for most record labels...

What are your choices when it comes to streaming and what are the pros and cons of each platform? 

Spotify 

The most popular of all the streaming services with compatibility across a huge range of devices and a massive library. Being capped at 320 kb/s means that is doesn’t quite cut for most audiophiles in terms of sound quality. Probably the main selling point for most people is the fact that it is considerably cheaper than every other streaming service at only £9.99 per month. 

One thing that I like about Spotify is their personal playlist algorithm that has become a great way of discovering new music based on what I frequently listen to. 

Most new music is also released on this platform before any of their competitors.

Granted, I don’t only use Spotify. Once I find something new on Spotify that I like I find a High-res version on Qobuz and manually add it to one of my playlists.  

Pros: Massive catalogue, best for new music, fantastic playlists, connectivity, the price

Cons: Audio quality is lacking compared to the competition 

Qobuz 

The French don’t only make great cheese and wine! They also have been doing a hi-res streaming platform since 2008. Being the only one of the streaming services that offers at least CD quality on all of the library definitely sets it apart. Hi-Res 24-bit is also available for a large selection of their collection. Qobuz has recently changed the different price plans that they offer and now have two different options… “Studio Premier” and “Sublime +”. These both offer the same catalogue and features only that the more expensive “Sublime +” package also comes with discounts on individual downloads. Costing £14.99 per month makes it a bit more expensive than Spotify but the massive boost in quality and great, all be it a smaller catalogue of music make it a very attractive proposition. 

I feel that the Qobuz app is great from a content perspective with interesting articles and curated playlists from their team but is slightly behind the competition from a functionality and app stability standpoint. I’ll sometimes find myself with corrupted download files or an app that crashes on me more often than Spotify. These are minor problems to be fair and overall stability has been getting much better over the last 2 years that I’ve been using the service. Once they iron these slight creases, I could see them becoming the go-to for the majority of audiophiles. 

Pros: Class-leading audio quality, great selection, interesting written content,

Cons: The app is slightly more buggy than the competition 

Tidal

I’d say that Tidal has ruled the roost in the high-res space for a while now but is seeing their market share slip with the emergence of the likes of Qobuz and Amazon Music HD. At £19.99 / month it is the most expensive out of all the streaming services but does offer a lot of features and exclusivity on certain artists like Jay-Z for example. The highest quality tracks that Tidal offer are called “Masters” and use MQA technology. From a sound quality standpoint, they are level with the 24-bit offerings from Qobuz but are only available on a minority of albums. Jumping between Qobuz and Tidal, I quickly realised that there was more often than not a 24-bit version available on Qobuz where Tidal didn’t have a “Master” version. The app itself is level with Spotify on functionality and has fantastic integration with many HiFi brands. ( Naim, Cyrus Linn, etc... ). 

All in all, it comes down to whether you are prepared to pay the extra £5 a month for the subscription that is in my opinion level with Qobuz on sound quality and close to Spotify on functionality. 

Pros: Great sound quality on master tracks, good connectivity and functionality

Cons: A relatively small selection of MQA tracks, more expensive than others  

Amazon Music HD

Amazon seems to be selling just about everything at the moment from online groceries to their own TV-shows and you can now add hi-res streaming to their long list of services. 

They’ve positioned themselves at the upper-end of the market costing £15.99 / month going head to head with Qobuz and Tidal. Thankfully for review purposes, they offer a 90-day free trial to new customers and it is discounted to £12.99 / month to Amazon Prime members. They also offer a service similar to Spotify for £7.99. 

They’ve taken a few pages out of Spotify’s book on the playlist personalisation side of things and I’m a big fan of that.

The hi-res files come under the name of “Ultra HD” (not to be confused with 4k video files)

So how do the “Ultra HD” tracks stack up next to the competition? 

In terms of the amount of content, Amazon is slightly behind the competition. I found myself not finding “Ultra HD” albums that were available on either Qobuz or Tidal at either “Master” or “Hi-res” quality. Once I found something to compare across all 3 platforms though, it became clear that Amazon’s sound quality is incredibly close to the competition. Even on a high-end system, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It all boils down to whether the music you like to listen to is available at the highest quality on the platform you choose. And for me, more often than not, what I listen to is more regularly available with the competition.  

Compatability is also an issue for me and I found the service only worked natively on a handful of devices.

Pros: Sound quality up there with the competition, competitive price, good playlists 

Cons: Compatability  

Conclusion 

I feel that if streaming is your primary source of music, it is worth going for two of the services. (Spotify teamed with one of the 3 other hi-res options with Qobuz being my preference) With this, you’re getting the advantage of Spotify’s massive back-catalogue of tracks, newest releases and personalised playlists and better quality for when you want to do some serious listening with either Tidal, Amazon Music HD or Qobuz. At a total of £25 /month, it’s not a cheap solution (especially if decide to also pay for Roon) but means that you get the best of both worlds. Again these are my personal opinions and I’d be interested to find out what everyone’s favourite platform is and why. 

Harry Smith