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Crutchfield: The Podcast Ep. 24

Sujan from Qobuz talks high-res streaming, music history, and her home audio gear

In this episode:

J.R. introduces a Crutchfield exclusive — an interview with Sujan Hong, Head of US Music Content for Qobuz. Our headphone and high-res streaming expert Jeff caught up with Sujan to talk about all sorts of music-related topics, including music curation at Qobuz, Sujan's indie music credentials, and her favorite recent albums, available in high resolution. For video extras and photos, check out Jeff's full review of Qobuz.

Some of the gear discussed includes:

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Read episode transcript

Hello and welcome everybody to a bonus episode of Crutchfield the podcast. I am your host, J. R. We have got something really cool for you here today. You know what we normally try to do on this show is we interview people that work here at Crutchfield and we asked them what kind of gear have they purchased? What are they using at their home and why? Why did they choose it? And how much are they enjoying it? What do they listen to? Today's episode will be a little bit of that. But us so much more. We have a special guest our our lead headphone writer, the guy here at Crutchfield who spends his days trying on headphones listening to them and writing about them. His name is Jeff Miller. Uh he's we call him our headphone guru. He he actually, you may remember him, he did an interview with dan gauger from Bose last year in season one of Crutchfield the podcast. And it was amazing because he's the guy who was responsible for Bose noise canceling technology. And Jeff got to interview him and we repurposed that for Crutchfield the podcast. We're going to do something like that today with soo jin Hong shi is the head of U. S. Music calm content at Co. Buzz. Cobus is a streaming music service that focuses on hi rez you if you like to stream music you probably should check out kobus, especially if you care about the finer details of how that music sounds because it will sound better with Cohibas and Jeff talked to Sudan about kobus for an article. We're gonna link that article in the show notes for this episode. So you can quickly find that he recorded the interview. We thought we'd just repurpose it here for you, our podcast audience. If you're wondering about Cohibas again, it is a high res music streaming service. I personally, I use Spotify for almost all of my music streaming and I recently did a sort of an A. B test of some audio equipment in our lab here at Crutchfield and I had the chance to go back and forth using my Spotify app on my phone and my Co buzz app on my phone, same song singing, same equipment. And uh as a result of that, I have become a co buzz devotee. I love it. It sounds better. It just simply sounds better and this was true on the equipment I was listening to which wasn't even hi res certified. It just starting with a cleaner source is better for sound quality and Spotify. It's great. I still have a subscriber and probably always will be, but there's some differences. First off it sounds better. Second, it's human curated meaning. They, rather than rely on algorithms and math and science to come up with what music, their website and their app think you're gonna want to listen to. They use humans for that, which we, at Crutchfield, we love humans, we think humans are awesome and they have a staff of some pretty great ones, like Sudan Hong who are passionate about music and love to make lists of songs that you will probably enjoy. Uh And it's a it's a it's also a nice mix of editorial content with a very high quality music library. So uh Sudan Hong gives us sort of like a behind the scenes, look at what it's like to curate a vast library of music, what it's like to make these playlists. Uh she can explain some of the background stuff like why some tracks aren't available to you to play. That can vary from country to country because of the rights and everything. She will talk about what the top streaming albums are on Koba since they launched in the US2 years ago. Plus she knows what she's talking about. She's got a lot of experience in the music business. She's had experiences with bands like Interpol. She was in involved when Jack White was moving from the white stripes to being in the raconteurs. Uh she was involved in putting on Secret Radiohead shows, those of you that know about those, know what I'm talking about? She's she's got some street cred in the world of indie music for Shore. And this is going to be a deep dive for music lovers who have, if you've embraced streaming as a thing, then you should probably consider Cohibas as a way to do streaming even better. And if you haven't tried streaming yet. Just start there, just go to Cobus, download the app, pay for Cobus and you will be rewarded with the best quality streaming, you can get all right, I need to shut up now and let's get into the interview. This is Jeff Miller r headphone guru talking with Sudan Hong the head of music content at Coba. I love the way that you describe your experience with Covas as if like someone is kind of guiding you and that's certainly something that really is important to me. Like we want to act sort of like as a boutique record store, it's not just about walk in, we have a limited number of products on our shelves and that's those are your main choices. It's like we kind of want to direct you to some of the things you know and then maybe point you towards some things that might not be in your wheelhouse but might have you know, some sort of overlapping qualities or some like you know, connection that you're not aware of. So yeah, I mean that's that's a really important part Cobras um my day to day, it's it's a little difficult to describe. I think I like to just say that it's like kind of you know a lot of organized chaos going through playlet, looking at the week's um release calendar. Um Not just like the priority releases but everything else that's coming out in the week. Um looking at future releases, so you know, I have a sense of what's coming up. Um I can assign reviews and articles like in advance and give the writers enough time to do that. Um You know and the meetings pop up and this and that and then um you know, I need to do like an english translation for something coming out of the french office. Um So really I guess the main like kind of connective point is that everything just sort of relates to like music, which is really an incredible gift to have if you're a music lover like myself that um I'm just like surrounded by all of these like weird and different elements of music like all day. So I don't know if that's really, you know, gives you a sense of my day to day, but it's it's kind of just like all, you know, all these things are happening related to music and I'm just kind of like in the middle of it trying to you know, do the best I can. Well can I ask you specifically like um to do so as we're recording this two days ago, daft punk breaks up. So does that like said everybody into a tails are do you see that when you're scrolling through your phone or? Yeah. Yeah. So you know, in addition to like listening to a ton of music, I also read a lot of like music news and you know have like a number of people that I follow and really um kind of serve as like touchstones in terms of like oh I can rely on these people to kind of have like breaking news or be at the forefront of what's happening. Um So when that happened, when that news broke, I think it was was it end of day in the States maybe. So it might have been a little late for the french office, but you know, I saw an article, I shared it on one of our slack channels um that you know, various members of the cobras global team are on. Um and then, you know, the next morning when I woke up, someone had already updated the artist playlist that we have. Um So you know, the first thing I did was to make sure that we had um you know, a version for the US that we could publish. So that was like the top priority of the day just to get that up and then get that published um as soon as possible. So when you say like a version does that mean like you have to clear all the music rights and how exactly, so, you know, Cobos is a global company, but our headquarters are in France, so we're open in 13 territories right now. Um but the albums and the artists, they have different suppliers depending on the territory, you know, a lot of times the music has like worldwide rights, so that means uh the album on the U. S. Service is going to be the same as the album on the french service is gonna be the same, you know for the UK service. But you know, that's not always the case. So sometimes we have like a US version like us um product I. D. So in that case you know all the album codes and track codes are gonna be different and um it'll you know, something is live in France that has a different idea in the States. It's going to show up as a great track on the U. S. Service. So we got to go in and make sure that we have the proper versions. Um So yeah, I mean, you know, and then also like tweak some of the language tweet maybe like the track orders. Um But you know in terms of daft punk, I certainly defer to the french, you talked about the great out you get a lot of feedback on that or. Yeah I do. And it sometimes drives me a little crazy a lot of times what happens is that a let's say like a single is released an album, like as a standalone piece of music. And then when the album comes out and you know, we'll add that track to one of our playlists. When the album comes out, that single may get taken down and replaced with the full album which you know of course encompasses that, that one song along with all the other tracks. So if that's taken down that track, you know, depending on how um the metadata update is sent may show up as a great track. And it's not because the track isn't available but that specific instance of that track is no longer available. Yeah so we got to go in and we got to like you know, update I. D. S. A lot of times. Um Sometimes the the new asset gets delivered with and and it just kind of seamlessly transitions in which is great and you don't have to worry about that. Um And then sometimes, you know suppliers change things move around, there's not really a universal system. So, you know, when you see a great out album, it's it's because perhaps, you know, one label lost the rights to it and it's in the process of getting transferred to another label who will then deliver it to us or another supplier will then deliver it to us. Um But more often than not, if you see a great track um if you just search for it, you'll find a version of it. Um And it actually is really helpful when when, you know, our our user's reach out to us and say, hey this is great out, you know, and because they're seeing something that we may have missed pretty much everything on Covas is, you know, human curated don't really have a lot of algorithmic based like recommendations. Um Certainly all the like banners and new releases and playlists are, you know, they're they're hand assembled, you know, a lot of a better term. We have a global music team and our head of streaming David Cervantes, he is based in France and he has been, you know, he comes up with a lot of like the franchises, um you know, like the High res Masters, I don't know if you've seen those, but that's kind of a newer franchise that we've been rolling out. Um He comes up with a lot of that. Uh and then, you know, we adapt those for the US or we kind of come up with, you know, um if it's like, let's say a genre that is more specific to the US hasn't been covered. So like hi res masters country, you know, the Europeans, it might not be something that's, you know, as top of mind as it is to us here in the States. Um So then I'll go and I'll create a version of that or I'll work with one of our freelancers to create a version of that. Um and then yeah, everyone kind of has their own like specialty as well. Um you know, we have a merchandiser who does soul and we have some folks who, you know, are focused on like metal. Um I tend to do the genres that are us specific just because, you know, there they weren't there before the U. S. Launched, which is a country which we have as a stand alone genre, blues which we have as a stand alone genre in States and Americana folk. Um Those three genres are actually um not separate there not separated in the european markets. So um you know for me I think you know there's a difference between like a blues track and a country track. So for for when we launched in the States it's important that we kind of segment out those three genres in particular. Like you know like I said when I pull up the front page is a lot different than than the Spotify one and you sometimes have classical and stuff that I wouldn't even you know wouldn't even be on my radar. Yeah. Well I mean I think that is a testament to um you know what are our top genres on Covas are you know rock, Rock is number one but number two is jazz and number three is classical. So for us it's you know we're we're kind of focusing on genres that maybe our um you know not primary genres for other services. Um And again, you know it's not really looking to our left and right to see what the joneses are doing. It's really focusing on, you know what what do our customers want, what is what's our consumer base like looking for and and you know coming up with ways to help them discover um new music and also revisit existing music because you know, the music cycles are so quick, these things. It's great to go back and visit revisit something even if it's like a newer album that came out six months ago that maybe like you missed because you know, everything else was moving so quickly and albums that have been out for a bit of time, you know, The Beatles, a Hard number one artist, the Abbey Road super deluxe reissue that came out at this point, like over a year ago. I mean, that's our top streaming album since our launch. Um and it doesn't hurt that, you know, a lot of these albums get remastered and get, you know, these deluxe additions, so many great albums had like 50th anniversaries last year. And you know what, you know, we saw all these new versions coming through. So in a way, it's like, you know, people are familiar with these albums but now we're able to uh like with Cohibas with the re master kind of present it in a way maybe that they haven't heard before or in a new way or maybe they have just been listening to it in mp three quality and now all of a sudden it's like, hey, you know, this is like um the one that got me was the Bee Gees documentary, like two months ago or something. I was kind of aware that they had like a pre disco in that almost Beatle esque vein. But I didn't really know anything until I saw the documentary and then I went and got the soundtrack and you guys had it then it sounded really and I was like, oh man, I didn't know I was, yeah, I just watched the documentary, I love the BGS. Um I just watched a documentary last week which um you know, a testament of a great film. Is that the minute I start, you know, it ended, I was like, I kind of want to go back and watch it. Um Yeah, the first album I love, you know, it's very like Beatles e Baroque pop um and it's amazing that some of the songs that they're most well known for were you know, on that album, that first album. Um so yeah, I mean to coordinate with the documentary release, we put together like a playlist because we didn't have one already. Um and that was for me like a great opportunity to just kind of go back and realize like how many amazing songs that the band had and not just as the bee gees, but um you know, Barry Gibb wrote Islands in the street, you know, yeah, you know those brothers really knew how to craft a song, you know, I've actually been listening to a lot of these past couple of months, like since we're looking back, I did go a little bit back through your resume is kind of curious kind of the path to copas and then there was just like as a music fan all these like flashbulbs of oh you were in some of the coolest places for music between like 1998 and um and well up until you were in cobra. Yeah so I mean I went I went to N. Y. U. And went to Irving Plaza. I remember this day like super like vividly um to buy fugazi tickets like a little like you know piece of paper on the wall that said we need interns. And I was like I'd like to intern here. Um I was also interning for a publicity company called girlie action who I had come to know when I was in high school because I had like a little Z. And somehow like that got on their radar, they were sending me music which is like a 16 17 year old is probably like it doesn't get much cooler than having like music show up at your parents house. Uh So um the internship quickly led to a um like a position there um that summer a music festival called the Macintosh new york Music Festival was launching. Um And it was basically kind of like the first digital music festival. There were like I. S. D. N. Lines being run through like all the clubs in new york um that the performances could be broadcast over, you know through our computers, whatever. You know, I don't know what the quality was. I mean this was you know, in the mid nineties. So um so I guess that kind of was like, you know, the the starting point of like the music and technology delta for me. Um And then yeah, from there fast forward through a couple of places and then prior to joining Covas, I was at a another DSP that focused on downloads for you know, a number of years. Um and then kind of towards the tail end of that. Um we have been exploring the idea of doing hi res there. So um that's where I first started learning about, you know, the high risk quality and different formats and all that. Um And then that kind of just naturally led to my role here Recoba's um you know, it was like this intersection of having worked at a DSP, having had editorial experience, having had merchandizing experience, having had like label relations experience. Um Yeah, it just seemed like this like kind of perfect fit. Um and you know, here I am right now, how many hours in the day our um so when I saw Matador records, it was, I was racking my brain because I knew, I mean I was aware of Matador records like Interpol and all that and I have a shirt, I don't know if this was your it was a large professor had an album. Remember Large Professor that and it said it was like by the album when I dropped it, which he said 93 then it and it says the album's coming out in 2002 matador record right there. I mean that's classic matador. Yeah, that's a little bit before my time. But you know I worked on the first um like national record for um you know with under the beggars group umbrella. You know I worked on the second Interpol record. Um Antics. Um You know there was a solo tango record, you know during my time there new pornographers record um Just you know a lot of amazing stuff. Um Dizzee rascal was signed at the time. I m I a had you know remember Yeah like learning, you know learning about this new artists that had just been signed. Like wow. You know. So yeah there was a lot of fun stuff that came through the doors. Um And then with V. Two I was there right at the transition of Jack White, kind of transitioning out of the white stripes, the raconteurs. Yeah, so that was pretty interesting. What was the most memorable show you did you get to enjoy the show? Yeah. Yeah. Before I go into that though, I want to say that um in retrospect there were a ton of shows that happened that did not um appeal to my like you know indie rock snob sensibility that I like I'm so annoyed with myself, you know being young and dumb. So there were several like that, but there was a pulp show in 95, 97. That was pretty incredible. Um there was a like a kind of like a secret radiohead show that I feel like every couple of years, the guest list for that show like kind of circulates virally. Um and I'm pretty sure I type, I'm the one who typed up that guest list, but I don't know, I can't quite remember, but it was like a secret radiohead show after uh maybe like a tibetan freedom concert in new york. And so everyone was in town, you know, so like, you know, bono showed up, Michael stipe showed up. Um Courtney Love showed up. Like everyone, you know, was was at this show and then, you know, of course, seeing, being able to see Radiohead And like, you know, seven, person venues, although I'm sure there are more people packed in that night. Pretty incredible. Um Yeah, I mean, I think I took a lot of it for granted because you know, I'd be working and then go upstairs and catch sound check and not really realize how special that experience really was. I find myself having these conversations with friends. Like, I'll read about a show that someone like, you know, brings up where it bubbles up, like by a video and I'll like text Friends and like, were we at the show? Like they're like, yeah, we were like, I have no memory of this and this was an amazing show judging the video I'm watching like something's wrong there. Yeah. There you know there are a lot of shows um during that time in retrospect it's kind of amazing that like you know every day you could just kind of like bounce from show to another. But you know, back when there were fewer options, there weren't as many venues, there weren't as many um different level like venues and clubs that you can go to and now like, you know, there's so many options. Well not right now obviously what you guys have a role in that. Yeah, I mean, you know we are members of various independent um music organizations that are there to kind of support the community. Um you know we do presentations, we do sponsorships um you know, I think the where we are right now um there's kind of like less gatekeeping, there's more information and resources out there so that people and artists and labels who may not have like a full network can find like the support and information that they need. And there are organizations out there that have kind of like, you know pulled their resources so that the indians have like a seat at the table in terms of negotiations and and you know making sure that their voices, their collective voices are heard. Um Yeah, I think for me like coming from like the indie world um and also like how we operate is really not very different than, I feel like, you know, like an indie label where everyone was wearing multiple hats, um, everyone kind of has their, you know, like, like 10 different projects going on at the same time. Um, You know, I think it's in a healthier position certainly because there are more opportunities and there are artists who have shown that, um, they can do things on their own and um, kind of set like the pace for other artists to like follow. Um, but, you know, I think with any other industry, it's, it's hard being a mom and pop, you know, it's hard being that, um, it's hard being self sufficient. It's, it's, it's just, you know, the odds are stacked against you. So, in that way, you know, it's, it's just continually a struggle, I think. Um, but I think that because, you know, people are more open with each other and willing to talk about their experiences and, and share this information that, um, there's, you know, more opportunities out there, you know, you can just upload something on Soundcloud or on Youtube or on Tiktok and get a record deal out of it. You know, to that point, I noticed that a lot of the newer releases have that high res badge on your site. Um, so has it just, is that because people are more, um, like conscious of that or just recording equipment has gotten better for for even for people who are just making I don't know, stuff out of the bedroom or whatever. I mean, I think, yeah, I think it's like all of that awareness level certainly has been raised, has been raised um You know, in the two years that we've been around um you know, it's still uh an education process but you know more and more people um I think are just just know about Hi rez or know there is such a thing as like hi rez right? They might not know all the, you know, all the details but they realize that there is better audio quality out there. Um You know, for us that is our, you know, that's our differentiator. We have that high red logo. Um And we're, you know, we're super proud to have that badge. Um That indicates that you know, we have this music, we're super serious about this music and the quality. Um And So you know, I think as we talked to like labels and producers and artists and let them know like service like Cobos exists. Um I think that in turn when you know the files are getting turned into the label, they're like, well let's let's just submit these 24 bit like, you know, we have them. So let's submit. It's easier and cheaper to do now than try to go back. Yeah. And I think, you know like file transferring and all that like everything is just getting faster and lighter and this and that. So the subject of vinyl came up um for so long like that the streaming world and vinyl is almost like butting heads but now like I mean now we're holding hands and um that is other than cobras, that is my probably my primary way of listening to music. Um But you know I'm here in Brooklyn with limited space, I don't have a separate room that is like my music room so um you know have a decent amount of records but you know I'm at the point where it's like one in one out. Um But yeah I mean I think it's a it's a natural um like alliance and I'm glad like you know we can be friends. The vinyl you know we've been working with, we started working with some labels to kind of be like the you know download code fulfillment provider because I think there is just like a natural synergy between you know people who want to listen to music via cobras because um of its you know accessibility and mobility but then also people who have like a great setup at home and want to listen to a record you know. Um So yeah I think there's room for both and certainly you know I look forward to um more opportunities to work with with labels or artists you know on the physical front with final, you mentioned you're in Brooklyn right next to your neighbors? What, what is your listening set up? It's pretty compact. So I've got like, um, I've got the SVS prime wireless sound base. I've just got like a, like audio Technica, automatic turntable. Um, and then Cario bookshelf speakers. Um, so, you know, it's, it's pretty petite, but uh, you know, there's not, it doesn't really need to fill up that big a roof. So you've named all the right brands. So that's, that's good. Yeah. And then, you know, when I, when I travel and I'm on my phone, um, you know, I don't go anywhere without the audio quest, Dragonfly of the red, which, you know, is great if you are an iphone user, um, just, you know, max out your sound nice and portable goes with you everywhere. Just, you know, let's see. I have a pair of bowers and Wilkins and actually one of my sons is currently using, wired. Um, they've got their very comfortable and he refers to them as the luxury headphones. And then I also have, um, I mean, I have some wireless ones have these audio technical, Yeah, these are really nice. Um, and this is great for, you know, running chores around the house. So, you know, I can multitask and and listen to music or a podcast at the same time? Since you're the head of CUBA's music content? What music should I be listening to right now? Oh gosh. Have you listened to the recent mad lib quartet collaboration. Um No, but I don't. I certainly nomad. Yeah, I would definitely check that out. We only have it in 16 bit, but it's a pretty incredible record. Um You know, heavily uh you know, tons of samples. Um That's a really good one. Um in terms of rock, there's a record coming out by a young artist named Julien Baker. That's actually on Matador records. Uh like singer songwriter from Tennessee. Just like just has a lot of like grief and sadness in her voice. Um but that one is pretty amazing. I mean she's only 25 and it just sounds like she has lived many lives I guess kind of sort of on that. Um Same tip is the avalanches record that came out late last year. That one is pretty incredible. Um It's a long record and there are a ton of like guests on it. But it's another one. We're like, you know, listening to it in high reds. Like there's just so much texture and depth and you know, it's it's pretty great. Well we're big fans here and I thank you for talking to me and thank you for holding my hand through my music selection every week. I'm going to um I'm going to put together a list for you of some of the more like hip hoppy things to recommend just in case they weren't on your radar. That would be much appreciated. Yeah, it's been a pleasure Jeff. It's really nice to meet you and talk with you all right. Take care, wow. I hope you were as enthralled with that interview as I was. Sudan really knows her stuff. She's got the street cred and we are we are lucky to have her programming songs for us to listen to at Co Buzz. Be sure to check out Jeff's article which is based on the inter view you just heard with him talking to Sudan Hong. There may even be additional tidbits and factoids in the article that we were not able to fit into today's podcast. We'll be back very soon with another regular episode. Thank you so much for listening. I'm jr over and out.

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