Despite all the industry-conference panels predicting that high-resolution music is the next big leap for our industry, the idea has yet to really catch fire with mainstream listeners. For sure, artists and labels like the idea of music sounding like it did in the recording studio; companies like MQA have been working hard to put together partnerships across devices and streaming services; and when surveyed, fans tend to approve of the idea of higher-quality music.
The sticking point: there’s not much evidence yet that they’re willing to pay more for it, which means that hi-res remains a.) something of a niche in terms of usage, and b.) very much a topic that’s talked about by the music and tech industries rather than actual music listeners. There are also precious few figures available on the popularity of hi-res when it has been offered as a streaming tier, bar Tidal telling Billboard in March 2016 that 45% of its three million claimed subscribers were on its ‘HiFi’ tier. Deezer hasn’t announced similar figures for its ‘Deezer HiFi’ tier.
But wait, here’s a new figure. In fact, here are two! Hi-res focused streaming service Qobuz has told Variety that it now has 200,000 customers globally, including more than 25,000 in the US, where it launched in February. However, the article did not specify how many of those people are on Qobuz’s one-month free trial, versus paying for one of its subscription tiers (which range from $9.99-a-month for standard-quality streaming to $299.99 a year for its highest level of streams plus discounts from its downloads store).
“We’re not competing with the big guys. Our aspiration is to reach 1% of the market,” said Qobuz’s US MD Dan Mackta. Bear in mind here that according to industry body the RIAA, the US market averaged 50.2m paid music subscriptions in 2018, so 1% would be just over 500,000 people. There’s still some way to go, then: Qobuz and other services are bedding in for the long haul, while awaiting the moment when (or perhaps if) streaming’s largest player, Spotify, makes its own hi-res move. Apple Music, meanwhile, has recently been talking about its Apple Digital Masters, although that’s more about the mastering of tracks rather than the delivery.