Are the MP3’s days numbered? © Getty Images

Are the MP3’s days numbered?

We talk to Benoit Rebus, head of partnerships at Qobuz, to find out whether MP3 was on its way out.

At the Bristol Hi-Fi Show earlier this year, one announcement stood out. French music-streaming service Qobuz was ditching MP3 and making its high resolution (hi-res) audio streaming cheaper.

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It’s the first streaming service to drop formats that compromise on quality. We caught up with Benoit Rebus, head of partnerships at Qobuz, to find out whether MP3 was on its way out.

Why make the change?

We [Qobuz] have been around in the UK since 2014. At the time we launched, we only had CD quality. Later on, we introduced studio quality. Our pricing plans and packages diversified over the years, but now we want to simplify
our service and make it clear what we’re about.

There’s no longer an entry-level service for MP3s, but you can switch to CD or MP3 if you are in the middle of the desert and still want music.

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As 4G becomes ubiquitous, you can literally stream hi-res audio in the high street, so the loss of MP3 will become a non-subject, technologically speaking.

Now that speed and space are no longer a concern, why is there even MP3? The only reason MP3 stays is because of the pricing policy of the labels. The quality of audio they sell is linked to a certain price, so when that eventually falls, MP3 will disappear.

So will the price of hi-res audio come down as the demand goes up?

Yes. First we had to prove that were was demand. MP3 is 20 years old now. It was necessary when it came out, but for some reason we still stick with it. Compared to MP3, the best hi-res files are 20 times better in terms of information.

So now the biggest bottleneck in terms of audio quality is how people are connecting to their systems?

Yes. This is why we do a lot of educational work. We have knowledgeable customers, but if you don’t know, you don’t know. We’ve met people with £20,000 music systems, who can’t understand why their system doesn’t sound as good as it did in the store – when they’re using Bluetooth.

Bluetooth isn’t a high-bandwidth way to send your music to your sound system. People don’t realise that if they have a good system, then they ought to be using a dedicated music streamer.

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What should someone do if they want to upgrade their system to keep up?

Don’t ditch your speakers. Because they might still be great, especially if you bought them 20 years ago. You just need a Chromecast dongle to upgrade them – in the same way that you might improve an old TV.

The only missing part that our customer needs is the streamer. Think of the streamer as a CD player but fully remoted by the smartphone. In the short term, the first piece to put money in is the streamer.

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If I’m happy with MP3, why should I care?

The ear is super-lazy, so if what you feed it is poor, the ear will be happy with that, and eventually your hearing capability will reduce. It’s like living in the dark, things will be much, much clearer once you see the light.