UMG Watermark, true or false?

So, is this a real thing? Is UMG putting an barely audible watermark in their music, especially hi-res downloads?


Good question. I am interested to know the answer as well.

As far as I know all their digital content for download has the watermark embedded, no preference was given to HR content.

It’s clearly audible on Tidal. Yet another reason to buy music.

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Isn’t this supposedly in hi-res music for sale as well?

I wonder if Roon can filter this out.

Can’t tell whether this is sarcasm or not. If not sarcasm, what does it sound like, and do you have a good example track? FWIW, I prefer to own music I care about as well.

If you go to the website linked above, it actually give samples of original, watermarked and the file difference. .

Additionally, I think there is a Tidal playlist of 4 selections called UMG watermark:

and a spotify one:

(just remember to not copy the ")

I saw a compiled list of known CDs maybe on Steve Hoffman’s forums. The one that shocked me was The Stones in Mono. That is a whole lot of money in watermarking. The interesting thing is for that release the DSD is watermark free.

Not sarcastic at all.

Try Nelson Freire plays Bach (Decca) on Tidal. To my ears that album is clearly compromised.

I never heard the same effect on a purchased track.

I visited the Matt Montag site a while back and spent a few hours trying to discern the watermark.

Now I’ve queued up the first track in the Tidal Playlist: “Cry To Heaven” by Elton John.

What am I listening for? At what instant in this 4:17 song does this artifact become most prominent?

Not a skeptic but a student. Please, somebody educate me on this.


Here’s an album on which I think the watermark is particularly noticeable, Yuja Wang’s “Sonatas and Etudes”: Try the very beginning of the first track.

As the sound decays after each keystroke, there is a rapid pitch fluctuation that isn’t on the CD version of the album. If you compare the CD with Tidal, the difference is immediately apparent.

If true, this is a business model that I don’t understand at all.

Do they think that a person that hears compromised recordings on a streaming service will run out a buy a hi-res version instead? I would tend to avoid UMG completely.

I must be missing the logic here.

Cheers, Greg

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It’s not just streaming it’s hi-res downloaded content as well. DVD-A content also contained the watermark.

The watermark is suppose to be identifiable later as a way to track down pirating. Unfortunately it’s such a poor implementation that’s detrimental to audio quality.

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This is the rumor, and why I ask if it is actually true or not.

Unless I am mistaken, DVD-A used a different, non destructive, non audio band watermark, which was designed to counter copied disc playback. The current watermarking process, though, also could be applied to DVD-A – if any were still being released.


Please supply details of a DVD-A with watermarking. I have quite a few and never heard it, whereas it’s blindingly obviously on Tidal.

Thank you. While I don’t have the CD to compare it to, I believe I heard the effect. Having not heard the recording before, it would have completely escaped my attention completely.

Any chance you could provide some more examples?


Hi Tom,

If what I’m hearing on Tidal is the effect of this watermarking then I have a couple of examples (slightly different to Ludwig’s suggestions):

  • Rush: Exit…Stage Left, pretty much any of the audience noise
  • Various: The House That Trane Built, The Story of Impulse Records, sax is particularly bad

The way I hear it is as a particularly obvious flutter, as though it were being played through a cheapo tape player.

Once you hear it I find it impossible to un-hear it.

Or maybe I’m just hearing the effects of knackered old master tapes?

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Thank you Ian. That is exactly the guidance I am looking for. I will listen and report back…

This has been driving me crazy with Tidal for years. One of their support people told me they were going to get unwatermarked tracks from UMG, but they never did and he left the company. I’ve emailed them dozens of times. Here’s a sample of tracks where I hear it clearly. I mostly notice it in the piano, but I’m a pianist so it might just be what my ear focuses on. Please bother them about this, maybe they’ll fix it if enough people complain. Album#s are below Bill Henderson Dinah Washington
1214738 Joe Pass
4858874 Stan Getz
35627838 Vijay Iyer
1703361 Gene Harris/Scott Hamilton
6813865 Martha Argerich
2269750 Tom Waits
3969097 John Coltrane
4359078 John Coltrane
2937881 Karrin Allyson
35629508 Etta Jones
4013058 Shirley Horn
7253696 Abbey Lincoln
3288342 Stevie Wonder

I cancelled my Tidal subscription yesterday over this. They were talking in 2015 about Universal re-uploading the files, it never happened. As a classical listener it’s particularly apparent in any music with strings, and since Universal owns Decca, Philips and Deutsche Grammophon it contaminates a huge number of classical albums.

I was listening to and noticed it sounded wonky… it’s on Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre, which I thought was strange, but of course a quick google showed it’s owned by Decca, which is part of UMG.

Personally I believe they will never fix it, and instead push MQA, which provides non-audible watermarking built in. In fact I think this is the real reason behind Universal’s embrace of MQA.

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