Apple Music vs Qobuz: compare & contrast

Apple Music vs Qobuz: the search for high-definition streaming

Apple Music vs Qobuz: the search for high-definition streaming

Convinced that I needed to find a better music source than Apple Music played via Airplay 2, I decided it was time to give the well-publicised Qobuz a try. I have been using Apple’s ubiquitous music service for several years but experience with various streamers gave me the impression that a truly lossless service might deliver a better experience. The Editor recommended the French service Qobuz for both its sound quality and diversity of content so I decided to investigate hi-res streaming.

Apple quality

What originally attracted me to Apple Music (in the old days of iTunes) was not only that I was using an iPhone but that I could upload all my own recordings so that they’d be safely stored in the Cloud from where I could access them at anytime from anywhere with internet connectivity. Nowadays there are plenty of options for secure off-site storage, and I have a backup in Dropbox.

Fairly content with Apple over Airplay which provided CD-quality, I detected a change when I upgraded my phone and a real difference when I moved from the Hegel H190 to the H600. This needed investigation. It seems that my ears were not deceiving me and that I had been using Airplay1 but was now forced to use Airplay 2 which has, shall we say, different technical parameters.

Apple Music vs Qobuz: the search for high-definition streaming

Hegel worked amicably with Apple from the early days to refine Airplay so that, to my mind, they provided the best option possible. Other manufacturers say they had less success in co-operation, not least that Apple will not release the necessary API to allow streaming from Apple Music by anything other than [the now compromised] Airplay.

Apple Airplay

Only the likes of Apple could introduce a new version of something that is of lower quality than the last, and that is exactly what was happening. It’s quite hard to nail down the specifics, not least Apple don’t like to give much away. Just look at the non-information they provide about their critical security updates, for example.

As far as I can tell, the original 2010 Airplay (which I’d used almost from day one) which gave me streaming of my library, plus anything from Apple Music’s vast repertoire, from my phone to a suitable equipped device (such as the trusty H190). Admittedly the music stream had to travel via my iPhone but this was always well within range of the Airplay streamer, so no real problems apart from the fact that I got through phone batteries even more quickly, but I had lossless 16-bit/44.1kHz audio quality, just like CD. And, if it was good enough for Sony and Philips, who devised the Red Book Standard, then it was good enough for me.

There were reports of users suffering dropouts and finding the response rather ‘laggy’, although I have to admit that I didn’t find any issues. However, the negative publicity is partly what made Apple look at creating a new version of Airplay. Airplay 2 was launched with a promise to improve responsiveness, reduce dropout and address battery drain. It also added a multi-room facility for those with audio systems around the home which could now be controlled from a single source.

Airplay 2

It was soon reported that, unlike the original Airplay, the ‘upgraded’ version didn’t rely on continuous streaming but, rather, sending data in bursts. This will certainly improve battery life but means that CD-quality audio won’t now be achieved. Truth is, Airplay 2 reduces the quality, albeit slightly. But it is undoubtedly this which I was witnessing when I changed both my iPhone and Hegel amplifier – with both the source and endpoint, by default, running the new version of Airplay.

There was a suggestion published that one way round this was to continue to use a source (such as iPhone) still running the original Airplay, but as soon as the iOS was updated this wrinkle would not work. Notwithstanding that I didn’t really want to go back to using an old phone when I’d gone to the trouble of buying a new one, principally to make use of the improved camera function to cover hi-fi shows.

The position is not totally clear, although several articles have attempted to explain it. Suffice to say, I needed to find a better alternative to access high-quality music for review purposes. My own recordings, for personal enjoyment, were probably okay where they were. So, I cancelled my £10.99 monthly subscription to Apple Music, paid a one-off annual fee to keep my personal library safe, and looked to Qobuz.

Apple Music vs Qobuz: the search for high-definition streaming


Unlike Tidal and Spotify, Qobuz does not have a casting system (such as Spotify Connect), although one has long been said to be in active development with sources close to the company saying “it’s very much in the pipeline and being perfected”, even if the rumoured launch at High End 2024 did not come to fruition.

Until then the Qobuz app can be used to listen and download music to a smart device (phone, tablet, laptop) but not to cast to an audio system. For that either generic UPnP or Chromecast is needed, or to use the app provided by a streamer manufacturer.

I borrowed an Auralic Aries G1 streamer and found their app excellent for accessing all that Qobuz has to offer. Although, rather like the Gold Note and Atoll ones I had used previously, both appear to be designed for tablet rather than compact smart phone because much of the information presented is hard to read for anyone with myopia. By contrast, the Apple Music app, perhaps not unsurprisingly, presents a much more legible and easier-to-use interface even on a small screen. So, now armed with a new iPad as well I am able to explore Qobuz’s library to the full.

Using Qobuz

Much like Apple Music, there is a user library and playlists. In fact, it’s quite a simple job to import playlists to Qobuz, using a third-party site. This is where I noticed the first difference. Of course, I did not expect Qobuz to be able to access any of my hundreds of private recordings, but I also noticed that it didn’t recognise a number of commercial recordings which I had in my Apple playlists. Okay, perhaps some of these were rather obscure but probably highlights that Qobuz is intended as a resource for audiophiles while Apple provides for a more generalist audience.

Apple Music vs Qobuz: the search for high-definition streaming

Much of what Qobuz gave me was in the old CD-quality that I’d been happy with via Airplay 1, since most of its 100-million track library is stored at this resolution. It is only a minority which carries a hi-res logo and can therefore be heard in higher resolution via a hi-fi system.

Sonic comparisons

In rough A/B comparisons, using both the Airplay and Qobuz options on the Auralic streamer, the results were enlightening. For electronic music, Apple tracks via Airplay were noticeably more compressed, with a slight Radio One feel about them. This might add excitement and, for some, listener involvement, while I found the slightly more open and transparent option from Qobuz much more appealing.

Listening on the move, in-car or via headphones, the Airplay sound might help to overcome extraneous noises but, through a hi-fi system it showed up as being compressed and lacking in total believability.

On classical repertoire, the comparison was rather akin to Radio Three when it used to switch its Optimod audio processor in and out, depending on the time of day. Apple Airplay was not unlike Optimod ‘in circuit’ while Qobuz was a cleaner sound where the listener is treated to increased dynamics and greater detail.


Several reputable sources had already steered me away from both Spotify because of its limited bit rate and while Tidal offers ostensibly the same resolution as Qobuz its catalogue is less suited to my apparently catholic tastes in music. Then, with Apple degrading the sound quality available, surely any discerning listener should be looking at alternatives in order to stream the best possible quality music. It’s early days but I don’t regret my decision to switch to Qobuz as my main streaming source of commercial recordings for both pleasure and review work.

Trevor Butler

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