We Ask 10 Questions To David
Solomon Of Qobuz
During Enjoy the Music.com's very special 25th Anniversary we're asking various high-end audio manufacturers and personalities to answer questions about their love of music. Their answers may surprise you! This month we're featuring David Solomon, Chief Evangelist for streaming music service Qobuz. When they formed Qobuz in 2008, their goal was to offer the digital world the aspects of music fandom that audiophiles, those who love music best, have always cherished. For Qobuz, this meant quality sound, quality editorial, and a freedom of choice that wholly excludes bias. As a result of their diverse collective culture and musical education, Qobuz' business catered to artists old and new. Qobuz wanted to design a service that catered to highly specialized music lovers all over the world.
Q. What is your first memory of falling in love with music?
A. Probably on our front porch listening to my aunt playing her Gibson J45 when I was very young. Every chord she made and every string she plucked was magic. I knew at an early age that I wanted to be around this forever. I was gifted this special guitar when she passed away. That exact same sound will be in my family till the J45 turns to dust.
I've now played and mixed music since my early teens and that love affair has been the most constant force throughout my life. At 12, I worked all summer and bought a drum kit and would play the rest of my life. At 16, I bought a Yamaha acoustic and a fake Les Paul w a Custom PA and Big Muff. I've been a hack guitarist since.
Q. How did you first get introduced to high-fidelity audio gear?
A. Mostly through friends with older sibs coming back from military service in Europe. They all came back with systems. I'd never heard music so sweet and I wanted one… I wasn't alone. Everyone wanted a sound-good system in those days. In 1979, I went to work for a HiFi Buys in Atlanta just so I could get a good one. It probably wasn't a great plan at the time, but the audio industry has been good to me and I've enjoyed my years in this wonderful industry.
David Solomon's First Drum Kit ($80)
Q. When did you decide to start Peachtree Audio?
A. My partner and I saw a need that wasn't being filled. It was such a large hole and we were very surprised that no one was seeing it.
In the early 2000s, it had become obvious that digital audio was taking over and only the turntable would survive in the analog world. Sonos and Slim Devices had started selling units that you could stream full resolution music on. Even though most people only streamed mp3, it was easy for us to see that this technology would eventually catch up and surpass music listening in other formats.
Even with the emerging digital trends, every preamp and integrated amp had only analog inputs.
After three years of ramp-up, Peachtree Audio was born. We came out with an integrated amplifier that had only one analog input and many digital inputs. USB, coax and optical inputs were offered with a built-in DAC. This doesn't sound innovative in today's climate, but when we came out with this product, it received a lot of great reviews and big attention. Peachtree became an instant success and for the next few years, was available in almost every reputable shop in America. Everyone was selling Sonos but wanted to improve the performance. The Peachtree Decco in 2007 had a slot for a Sonos ZP90 (Connect). Then with a short digital cable, you'd connect to the coax input on the Decco.
Our rooms were constantly packed at trade shows with interested dealers and almost every manufacturer coming in and studying the backside of the integrated amp. Peachtree Audio had a profound effect on the industry and if you look around at most any integrated amp these days, you'll find a DAC built-in w proper digital inputs. It was a perfect piece for the times and a couple of years later, we made the cover of Stereophile and won budget product of the year.
Q. When did you first know that streaming would be a factor in high-end audio?
A. In ~2009, I was introduced to a company called MOG. At that time, I was all about ripping and streaming my collection in full WAV from a hard drive. I had no interest in mp3 and didn't take any of the streaming services seriously. But, one night I was going grocery shopping and decided to load MOG onto my iPhone and listen while I was out.
My first stream was Paul Simon "Still Crazy After all of These Years". Was it as good as my expensive set up at home? Not by a mile. Was it better than FM? Absolutely! And now I can pull up anything I want? As a music lover first, that was all I needed. Technology would certainly keep advancing and at some point, would not only stream full bit recordings, but eventually Hi-Res. I fell in love with streaming that night and my next mission was showing people how to set up and make that streaming sound as good as it could.
Q. What, and when, started you on your music streaming career?
A. In 2014, I met Pål Brateland at the Munich HIGH END show. He worked for a streaming company in Norway named Wimp that streamed for 16-bit/44kHz. To me, this was a dream come true. I told him if they ever plan to come to the United States, I would love to talk to him about working with the company. Four months later I received a call from Pål inviting me to Norway to interview for a position with Wimp. I was thrilled to accept the position of launching the first full-resolution service in the US. Before the launch Wimp was renamed Tidal and I spent the next year and a half promoting CD-quality streaming to the audio industry. It was a blast and at the time, management was fully behind my plan to market and support the High-End audio world and the High-End audio world was eating it up. We were making great progress, however, about 18 months later, Jay Z and Rock Nation purchased Tidal and the world of High-End audio was no longer a priority or goal, so I left the company. It was a great experience and unknowingly prepared me well for my position at Qobuz.
David Solomon Circa 1980s.
Q. What challenges did you face during those early years?
A. Technically, it was mostly internet speeds at an average or two to three Mbps in the USA at that time. While this was fine for mp3 (192 to 320 kbps), it was choppy for 16-bit/44kHz resolution, which was up to 1411kbps.
The other challenge, which continues today, is to get people to understand that the Internet and the connections to it are the backbones of streaming audio systems. Now that we have speeds up to 1000k up and down, we just need to make sure that our Internet and LAN has the right equipment and it's configured properly. This may take the help of an IT specialist, but it will be well worth the investment. To stream properly, we still recommend a wired Ethernet connection for the best overall results.
Q. How has music streaming evolved over the years?
A. Many decades ago, XM and Sirus radio started streaming content at 64 kb per second. Even voice was unlistenable at those rates and music sounded horrible, but it was a start and proof of concept. In this time period, music piracy was running rampant. People were filling up their hard drives with stolen MP3s and the music industry was in shambles.
Those of us who cared about sound quality insisted on ripping our CD catalog, bit-perfect onto a hard drive, and/or buying full-bit digital files. We were learning how to use DAC's with computers as engineers were trying to get better recording in the digital format. Our hearts were broken as our hard drives failed and meta-data was lost forever. But we rebuilt them and continued our journey toward user experience and sound quality. Engineers, new to the digital format made more bad recordings than good. Most were frustrated and everyone was looking for better results, which finally came to pass.
Since then, streaming services, user interfaces, and hardware have greatly improved. Dozens of units and even phone can stream bit-perfect high-resolution audio.
From the technical side, internet speeds are more than adequate to deliver Hi-Res music with no problem. This allows millions of Hi-Res albums to be streamed up to 24-bit/192kHz that were once very expensive files to purchase.
So, music playback has gone from 64 kbps to over 9500 kbps in a few decades with an infrastructure that can support it. From hard compressed mp3 to 24-bit/192kHz bit-perfect files, streaming has come ions and there's no longer a reason to use compression in any part of the process. Streaming over the internet is no longer a bottleneck and Qobuz is taking full advantage of the ever-expanding limits. Now you can have more music at your fingertips than you could ever rip on to a hard drive with more metadata than you could ever gather on every device you carry; I'd say we've come a long way.
Q. Do Hi-Res recordings sound better?
A. Absolutely, but it took some time. When digital was first getting going, great recordings were few and far between. This was to be expected as it was a new format for recording engineers who'd been working in the analog world up till then. It was a learning process and like streaming, computing speed, space and power were not up to the task. Neither were A to D converters. There were a few recording engineers that put out exceptional digital recordings, but they were the exception, not the rule. In contrast, if you listen to recordings that have been made within the last five years, they can be astonishing. It's getting easier to record great sound with current technology. There are many examples of this. One would be Billie Eilish who recorded her Grammy-winning album in a bedroom with $3000 worth of gear. So yes, recordings and playback are better in high resolution. I just wish Zeppelin and the like could have recorded and produced the sound quality that we're getting on a regular basis today.
We intend to stream in the resolution of the original recording or the highest we can get from the labels when possible for those who are looking for the best audio experience.
There are also many great classical and jazz recordings that have been transferred from the master tapes to Hi-Res. If you want an older experience, try Illinois Jacquet, The Swing of Things in 16-bit/44kHz and then 24-bit/192kHz on Qobuz. This Recording was released in 1957 and a high-resolution track on Qobuz sounds like the saxophone was in the room. Not nearly the same experience as the 16-bit/44.1kHz version. The same can be said for Kenny Burrell's Midnight Blue, released in 1963. There are dozens of examples like this, some better than others, but high resolution overall is a magnificent advancement and does have the capability of sounding better than standard resolution files.
David Solomon's current drumset.
Jamming during RMAF.
Q. How is the Qobuz catalog going?
A. We've gone from 40,000,000 to 60,000,000 tracks so we've all been caught up with most of the streaming services. We're adding thousands of titles every week and about 80% of those are in high resolution. So, the catalog is going well and it's getting harder to find any missing artists. We will continue adding to the catalog until it's complete, which will be never, but it's a labor of love.
David Solomon DJ'ing during a show.
David Solomon's current home office.
Q. What advancements do you speculate high-end audio will offer ten years from now?
A. The high-end world will continue to flourish and expand, providing better sound quality everywhere. I expect to see user the experience to continue advance and high-tech based features will continue to infiltrate our world. There will always be people looking for the best music experience and there will always be companies that care enough about music reproduction to design and manufacture that level of gear. Since the source base is advancing so quickly, it would stand to reason that a greater demand for ways to take full advantage of that source will follow. This is why I feel Hi-Res is very good for the audio industry and why I'm proud to be working with Qobuz.