DACs, network players and Qobuz
It is trite to say that things aren’t always simple in the digital audio world. Between the different formats, the samplings, the compression (lossy or lossless), the streaming, the downloads—to mention just a few aspects of the software part of the equation—and the way music is played once we develop the right reflexes to tackle the software, there’s still the hardware side of the equation (that is to say choosing the equipment) and this isn’t an easy task either.
But with this article, we’ll try to steer you in the right direction concerning precisely the hardware, hopefully erasing any of the confusion we sometimes get in the emails that we receive! It will probably be interesting, or even necessary, to address the software side in a future publication.
Let’s start with the different ways you can access music on Qobuz.
Qobuz is a streaming and download platform on which everyone can choose to either stream by purchasing a subscription that most suits their needs or aspirations, or simply buy and download freely among the titles of the catalog.
In the case of the latter, the files downloaded and stored on the medium of your choice (computer, USB stick, hard drive, etc.) become the property of the buyer, unlike streaming where the subscriber has a permanent access to the entire Qobuz catalog, online or by importing albums into a smartphone or tablet’s memory—but those are encrypted while imported and cannot be listened to anymore when you terminate your subscription.
Of course, a Qobuz subscriber can also buy and download any album he or she wants, with very interesting prices on most Hi-Res albums for the Sublime and Sublime + subscribers.
The two families of Hi-Fi elements that are essential in order to make the most of Qobuz quality are the digital-to-analog converters (DACs) and the network players (also called streamers).
The audio digital-to-analog converter (or Audio DAC), called a sound card on a computer, is essential to listen to digital music, whether engraved on an optical disc (CD, DVD or Blu-Ray), stored in a device’s memory (a computer hard drive, a USB stick or hard drive, a smartphone or tablet’s memory), or even streamed from our servers via the internet through one of the Qobuz applications.
An external and autonomous audio digital-to-analog converter, abridged in DAC, requires to be connected to a computer, a smartphone or a tablet through a USB cable, and it will transform the digital audio signals—regardless of the software or application handling them (Windows Media Player, VLC, iTunes, etc., and of course Qobuz)—into analog audio signals and send them to the sound reproduction system to which it’s linked, as would a CD player.
So it cannot really be said that a DAC is compatible with Qobuz, as we are asked sometimes, but any DAC able to decode digital audio files up to at least 24-bit/192 KHz can be used with the Qobuz apps for PC, Mac, Linus and even, in some cases, for Android and iOS.
If you want an autonomous device directly compatible with Qobuz, you’ll need a network player (or streamer).
Network players are devices which connect to—either through a network cable or through Wi-Fi, or even both ways—your home’s Ethernet network and can access all devices present on the network (a NAS server for example, or another computer) and play, if it’s been authorized, any digital files, in particular audio files.
As they can connect to the Internet, you can access many online services, like Internet radios or music services, including Qobuz. In order to do this, these need to have been integrated beforehand in the network players, and it’s important when you buy such a device to listen to Qobuz to check if the player offers it among its compatible online music services.
If you have trouble finding this information, you can check out the brands integrating the Qobuz application on this page, and please don’t hesitate to contact us for more details.
With some very rare exceptions, network players include a digital-to-analog conversion stage (DAC), some of them offering furthermore one or multiple S/PDIF outputs, and sometimes USB outputs, which will allow you to link them to the DAC of your choice, while others are equipped with digital inputs and can also work as autonomous DACs.
And finally, a network player connects to a sound reproduction system in a conventional manner, like any other source.
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Mirages (Messager, Debussy, Delibes, Delage, Thomas...) Sabine Devieilhe Gramophone Editor's Choice