TIDAL — High Fidelity Music Streaming

TIDAL HiFi (Tidal) introduced its product as ‘the first music streaming service that combines the best High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and expertly Curated Editorial’.

Just as the cell phone size wars have come to an end with the large iPhone 6 Plus, I think the same has happened with music delivery formats. Other than getting a chip inserted in your brain, ‘streaming’ high fidelity music from the Cloud is the end of the technological road for audiophiles. From mono records through to CD and beyond, we’ve arrived. Streaming is the final monolith. 

Tidal is a little late to the party, following in the steps of Spotify, Google Play Music, Rdio and others. What Tidal offers compared to most streaming services is CD quality sound using FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) or ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) files. TIDAL suggests that you’ll get the a CD sampling rate of 44 kHz, 16bit and at a bitrate of 1411kbps.

Tidal also says it has 25 million tracks available. More about the repertoire choices later.

From an unscientific survey I did on Facebook and Twitter, I would say that Tidal is getting some traction with audiophiles. Many are intrigued. And let’s face it, other than Deezer Elite — also streaming in CD quality — Tidal is the only streaming service they’ll buy.

A Tidal subscription costs $19.99 a month for the lossless quality high fidelity service. They recently introduced a $9.99 rate for those not worried about CD quality sound. But competition among services at this rate is fierce. Most have an entry level freemium option, jumping to the now standard $9.95 per month with no advertising and more access. Tidal’s $19.99 is a big matzoh ball hanging out there when most internet fans are used to nickel-and-diming. That said, Tidal will give you a week’s trial to see if it’s worth it to you.

From that unscientific survey, ‘Tidalists’ were streaming through as many different platforms as individuals answered back. From computers, to headphones to ultra high end kit. I chose to use my under-review SONOS system — Playbar, Sub and Play 5. They worked a treat.

It must be said that for audiophiles like me — analogue and tube enthusiasts — the ‘magic’ of streaming and manipulating a smart phone (via the SONOS iOS8 app) as conduit to thousands of hours music is quite a novelty. And a damn fun one. I was hooked after a few short hours.

I set up a long listening list, many tracks in direct comparison with my other service, Google Play Music ($9.95 per month with only 320 kbps). I heard the difference in sound quality immediately. It’s not subtle, even on a ‘lifestyle’ system. On my reference system, I imagine the difference between the two services would be much greater. If you’re an audiophile or just like good sound without all the dithering, Tidal’s your man.

With recordings I know intimately, I heard much deeper bass (the SONOS Sub is a cracker), with more air around instruments and better separation. The midrange was smoother and had more depth of field. And the treble was very refined. With less than CD quality, treble instruments can get a little scrawny. If you have Tidal, check out the Berlin EMI Bruckner 7 with Karajan from 1971. You will hear what I mean about the upper instruments. The exquisite playing sounds so sweet on Tidal. Just as I remember it on an Angel pressing from my youth. 

Listening primarily to classical music and jazz, the repertoire is updated regularly with new releases and Tidal has a large back catalogue. Especially good are collections — ‘The Symphonies of Haydn’, for example, with many hundreds of tracks. And beautifully catalogued collections from all the major labels (see below left).

‘Search’ could use a better algorithm. I’m not sure the image above right from my iPhone 6 Plus SONOS app best represents ‘expertly curated editorial’. In fact, I’m damn sure it doesn’t. Many thousands of classical tracks are contained within these cheap and cheerful albums — be sure to listen to them if you want smart babies or some quiet music to accompany your studies. Otherwise, stay away. (Google Play has a bigger purse and a head start so the classical and jazz repertoire is more substantial).

Other than a few wayward searches, I am enjoying my time with Tidal. The service offers outstanding sound and core repertoire. Kanye and Katy came up big in searches, if Top 40 is what you prefer. The service even had 18 Tony Joe White albums, including my beloved ‘Homemade Ice Cream’. 

Tidal was purchased last week by Jay Z and his buddies with much ballyhoo. I’m not interested in how much ‘musical history’ they have created or how many more pennies a play some Seattle alternative band will be paid (and, it will be pennies) now that Tidal is in the hands of ‘musicians’. What I would like is a drop in price. I think a $14.99 price would be more palatable and offer the added value audiophiles enjoy.

Price: $19.99 per month via subscription
Source: Press pass