Actually, I don’t know how new it is, but it’s new to me at least. I heard about it thanks to the email newsletter from Gramophone Magazine, in James Jolly’s monthly Tune Surfing article. Mr Jolly’s piece contains some technical inaccuracies (mainly in terms of his simplistic comparison of apples and oranges when it comes to bit-rates), but he’s bang on the money when it comes to usability (far, far better than Passionato, which he also mentions).
So, what is this download site? It’s Qobuz, a French (and French-language) enterprise. It has several strengths (not all of which James Jolly covers). Apart from being an attractive and very user-friendly site, one of its main strengths is the wide range of recording labels which is on offer (all the majors apart from silly old Warner are there — which unfortunately means recordings from labels such as Erato and Harmonia Mundi are not included. Hopefully they will come on board in due course.). That in itself is not so different from, say, iTunes, but other important factors set Qobuz apart:
- [Be warned : Technical stuff] — The standard quality for downloads is MP3, encoded at 320kbps, but Qobuz (anyone know where that name comes from?) also offers Lossless versions (true CD quality, but reduced file size) and, in some cases, ‘Studio-Master’ quality. (In relation to this, I was pleasantly surprised when I checked out the site and saw that they were offering Lossless downloads for the same price as MP3s — most unusual — but then I spotted a banner which mentioned that this is a limited-time offer.)
- Most (if not all) download sites make no price distinction between CDs which would be full-price, mid-price or budget in off-the-shelf terms, presumably arguing that a digital file is a digital file regardless of how it may have been physically packaged, but Qobuz (uniquely, as far as I’m aware) honour the pricing differences. This is big! On iTunes, for example, it costs €9.99 for both a newly released Hyperion album and one of their budget-priced Helios releases. The standard Qobuz charge is also €9.99, but Helios albums are priced at €6.99.
- The site includes an excellent advanced-search facility. One thing I miss with iTunes, for instance, is being able to restrict a search to a particular label. This, and many other saech variants and combinations, is readily available at Qobuz.
- [This may not a consideration for most Group members, but it is important for me and for other Mac users] — Qobuz provides a Download Manager application which simplifies the actual download process. Again, this is not unusual, but Qobuz are truly Mac-friendly and automatically offer a Mac version for Mac users. (In terms of digital formats also, Qobuz is the only site I know which offers downloads in Apple Lossless format.) So it’s thumbs-up in this department also.
I only found out about this new download destination yesterday, and I’m already very, very impressed. Naturally I played with it a bit and downloaded one or two things. Perhaps the main difficulty is the pure fact that Qobuz is French and that the site makes no concessions whatsoever to speakers of other languages. This is really only a potential problem when it comes to things like registration and so on, though. I don’t even have schoolboy French, but I managed just fine to set up an account, download and instal the Download Manager, order and pay for some stuff, and successfully add it to my musical collection.
Bottom line: I recommend Qobuz unreservedly.