A New Listening Experience

Coltrane on QobuzColtrane on Qobuz

I finally reached the breaking point with Apple Music. I’ve been a loyal Apple Music subscriber ever since the demise of the beloved Rdio streaming music service. I just can’t deal with the bugs across the application and service anymore.

Recently, I set my downloads to lossless quality, but I had trouble simply downloading music. I would try to download an album, and the progress indicator would just spin around and around. Some albums just couldn’t be saved to my machine. Classic albums like The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue just refused to store their files on my Mac. So, I had to listen in lossy quality or change the settings to stream in lossless, which would be somewhat of a strain on my network bandwidth.1 Since I just bought a DAC explicitly so I could listen to lossless and hi-res music, the whole situation wasn’t making sense.

The inability to save files for offline play was just one of the many bugs. The search didn’t work regularly. I could only type one character at a time and have to click somewhere else and then refocus on the search box. Tracks downloaded as lossless didn’t show the indicator that they were in that format most of the time. So I wasn’t sure if I still needed to try to grab the lossless files.

Ever since my wife upgraded her iPad to iPadOS 17, she can’t play more than 2 tracks of Music in a row without it crashing. It feels like no one at Apple is testing the app. This is surprising because I understand that Apple is trying to focus more of its growth strategy on services.

An error I get fairly often in Apple MusicAn error I get fairly often in Apple Music

In addition to the difficulty with Apple Music, with Bandcamp showing signs that it may be in trouble, I needed another option for downloading music. Enter Qobuz, a hi-res music streaming and download service. I think I originally discovered the service because Audioengine was giving away free trials with purchases of their speakers. I didn’t get the trial because I bought my Audioengine A5+ speakers on Amazon, but I kept the idea to check out the service at the back of my mind. When my A5+ speakers started having serious static issues right before my return period ran out, I hastily sent them back and exchanged them for a pair of Kanto YU4s. This time, instead of hooking up my speakers to my turntable and CD player, though, I attached them to my Mac with the new DAC. When Apple Music was having the aforementioned problems with playing higher-quality music, I decided to give Qobuz a spin.

So far, my impression of the upstart music service is very positive. In the language of net promotor scoring, I would recommend the service to a friend” in a heartbeat.2 Even though the Qobuz Mac app is not native, it works with far fewer issues than the official Apple Music app, which seems like it was carved off iTunes and never sutured properly. Qobuz feels as if it has some UI DNA from Rdio, along with decent editorial content and lossless/hi-res as a first-class citizen. It markets itself as the go-to platform for hardcore music fans or audiophiles. Thankfully, in my experience, it lives up to its image, with an editorial sensibility that matches, high-fidelity music and an algorithm that pairs tracks you’ve played with similar music eerily well.

Another benefit of Qobuz is that, unlike Apple Music or Spotify, it works with Roon, a favorite tool of music enthusiasts. Roon has a good remote app, which is something I’m looking for since I want to play the music from my main Mac while I have my work laptop hooked up to my monitor. I tried the iTunes Remote app, but it only found part of my playlists (on a 58-song playlist, it found 6 songs). It also hasn’t been updated in years.

Coming from a consumer perspective, I get the sense that Apple is just coasting off name recognition and familiarity regarding their music service. As a music fan, this isn’t enough for me. I would much rather give my streaming and purchase money to a company that is invested in the whole musical ecosystem and the experience. I’m dropping my Apple Music family plan to sign up for the Qobuz family plan.

  1. I’ve got a spouse and a son who will literally watch 2 different episodes of Law & Order SVU simultaneously in different parts of the house. I need to preserve that bandwidth.↩︎

  2. I’m hoping some of you reading this will consider it.↩︎