An Update on UMG Watermarks

Today, 8 years after first complaining about Spotify sound quality issues, I'm happy to report there may finally be some relief coming for audiophiles.

It appears that watermarks are gradually disappearing from the Universal catalog. The following tracks have undergone a marked improvement, first noticed in mid-June 2019:

They used to have a distinct watermark, and now they don't. Importantly, these tracks come from the back catalog. They're not merely new tracks that were delivered under the latest watermarking policy.

The following tracks, for example, have not improved:

(The Elton John track is one of my favorite specimens — absolutely disgusting.)

Hopefully this continues and watermarks will disappear from more of the back catalog.  I've got a lot of Stevie Wonder and DMX to catch up on.

7 ResponsesLeave a Reply

  1. RussellH

     /  July 27, 2019 Quote

    Wow, that's great news! I wish there were some way to catalog what has been fixed. It would be great to create some kind of detector/crawler to create a database of watermarked tracks.

  2. Chris

     /  August 19, 2019 Quote

    Thanks for this Matt. In your last post about this you referenced a MATLAB script to attempt to smooth out the watermark. Is that script open source? And would it be possible for that script to analyze an audio file and determine if the file contains the watermark?

  3. Moongrazer

     /  August 29, 2019 Quote

    I feel like I'm still hearing the watermark on Piano Concerto No 1. It's subtle - but it sounds like there's still some fluttering noticeable in those opening crescendos. Not having the previous version to compare it to, I don't know how much has changed.

  4. Hi Chris, just sent you an email.

  5. Actually, it was Tim's words. Now, can you explain how ripping off watermarks makes them a "conduit" to the "free world"? I'm not sure if you're just confused about the technology, but watermarks are not an actual protective DRM mechanism, they just allow UMG to slightly narrow down the source of a pirated file (though I'm not sure what they accomplish by doing so). Meanwhile, they reduce the value of the product - they may not be that noticeable in a heavily-produced pop song, but they sure as hell ruin an orchestra. In fact, that's a great idea. Live symphonies should have a guy stand in the back playing a steady didgeridoo note, in case anyone makes a bootleg recording. The audience surely wouldn't mind!

  6. Most of their newly released materials starting from March 2018 (International Division e.g. Asia)/August 2018 (US Division) are watermarked-free, except if it is to be released in the United States region services, those are tagged with variant 2, watermarked region 1-3 kHz.

    They reuploaded their entire catalog in June this year on Apple Music/iTunes for unknown reason. However, there are still some new releases with the content watermark enabled.

  7. Hi Matt,

    Thank you so much for these blogs and the basic work.

    For several years occasionally I came across these kind of artefacts knowing from my own experience as engineer they are not from encoding. It took until today to find your pages via the Spotify forum and when I heard the examples here I found confirmed what annoys my ears. I even left Tidal for Spotify some years ago and now find impaired albums rarely in Spotify also.

    This is very annoying as such to get bad quality for money. It also damages the reputation of digital audio processing.

    However the most nasty thing is the fact the support teams are denying any issue and recommend to reinstall what ever is needed to get the stream – pointing to the users equipment. I spent days re-installing what so ever before I gave up. No wonder I had no success. I assume that the platform operators such as Spotify, Tidal others MUST know the watermarking is applied.
    So why not tell the customer? Because it cannot be what must not be? Why not mark the respected tracks?

    Luckily most of the music on Spotify is OK and I am more than happy with it.
    And now there is hope the watermarking is removed over time.

    Again thank you. Excellent work: Keep it up!!
    Best Regards!

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