Tidal Hi Definition Audio Streaming Review
Thanks to Tidal for the trial.
First Impressions: Well I am not a big music streamer. I may listen to a lot of music but a great big chunk of that is when I’m reviewing things. You know what totally sucks for trying to review and IEM or headphone? New music you don’t know inside and out. If you don’t know a track well then you have no idea what you should be listening out for or if its obfuscating anything it shouldn’t. So I don’t spend a lot of time with the likes of Spotify or Pandora or any of the others. I will confess I find Pandora a wonder for finding new things but since I live in the UK, well Pandora doesn’t work outside the US. (I’m not saying I use it in the UK you understand as that would be a violation of their T&C’s and that would be naughty of me.) So Tidal, it’s a new service from Sweden, land of snow and birthplace it seems of all music streaming sites.
Starting up on the Tidal site with my free trial code in hand that will offer me 90 days. They do however have a 30 day free trial to all to let you have a little taste of it. Also what I notice is that price is £20, or CA$20, US$20 or €20. As of their recent “relaunch” they now have a reduced package, where you only get at best 320kbit files but for only £10, CA$10, US$10 or €10. Right of the bat I can tell you I personally would not subscribe in pounds then. I don’t care if others (Spotify) think they can make some pay more than others, it costs Tidal the same to stream to the UK or Timbuktu. Then it gets better, as I sign in Tidals site keels over. Suffice to say Tidal and I are getting off to a pretty damn rocky start.
Compatibility: A quick glance at their site shows it to be compatible with just about every higher end (i.e. expensive) audio streaming device. Many of which are the sort of things mere mortals won’t ever come near, Linn, McIntosh, Meridian etc etc. Sonos though is up there too which is pretty mainstream. Well it’s comparatively mainstream. The main methods I think are likely to be via a computer or a phone. For a computer you can use their browser player or their Windows application. There are also apps for both iOS and Android. I’ll be giving all 4 of those options a whirl.
Windows Application: Seeing as I just singed up on my desktop it seem natural to download their Windows app and give it a whirl. They do also have a browser player (optimised for chrome it says) but I like dedicated players. Firing it up its very Windows 8 looking. Rather Spartan too, I spattering of various shades of grey and ill confess I really like how it looks. I’m not one for gaudy colours all over the place. I like its elegance and I think it fits in with its premium outlook. Plus I just really like various layers of grey. The application itself feels snappy in its music playback. Hit next track and it goes as quickly as if it were playing from local storage. That’s even with my rather terrible internet connection too, I only get about 6mbits so it’s got to be caching away constantly. Naturally if your connection is far worse, then you may want to dial back the audio quality from FLAC to 320kbit AAC. However if you connection is that terrible then you maybe want to rethink streaming at all.
N.B. Tidal, have after I’d had written all that killed off their desktop app. Can you say annoyed? Their press office indicated they are working on something but I think they were confused as to the difference between real Windows and Windows Phone.
Browser: Well the browser it seems is “optimised” for Chrome. I’d did work in others mostly, for some reason it hated Opera, which is Chrome based so don’t ask me why. Anyway, onto Chrome and it was rather nice. More than just rather nice, I really liked its aesthetic which is awash with dark greys and near white text. With tracks overlaid on some album art. It actually feels more polished than their own app does. Both sound identical and have the same bitrate options, though I honestly don’t know why the “standard” one at 96kbit AAC exists, anyone using it should be shot on sight.
What isn’t so great is that the browser version contains none of the additional information the windows app has. There is no text, none of the here’s things we have picked and why. The windows app felt like the grown up music discovery and learning tool but the browser version just feels like Spotify. Just links to music with no commentary to accompany it.
Android: The client looks quite nice. It’s not feeling like an iOS port or afterthought. Making sure the quality setting is at HiFi I get going. Hmmm it doesn’t like caching an album and playing at the same time. The network speed doesn’t seem very high, my first thought is to blame the mobile network (Three UK) but when I pause the music playback and fire up Google music the network throughput jumped up considerably. Hmm that pleases me not. Still it is a Thursday evening so I’m willing to, actually no, no I’m not willing to cut it any slack. Hit next track on Google music to make sure it’s out of the cached stuff the network usage jumps to about 20mbit down. Tidal why are you only serving me up about 2mbit? It worked fine on my only 6mbit land connection so why you hate my mobile one? Oh wait, that album done and onto another then suddenly it picks up now it’s going about 10. Weird.
iOS: The app looks very nice,, dark and with vibrant cover art. I do note that the music in the settings for some reason is all set to “standard” quality. Why the hell would you bother to do that? Anyone signing up to Tidal is doing it because of the high quality offered so why default to the 96kbit rubbish? The rest of the app is as awkward as everything is on iOS. In an attempt to be super simple and not put more than two buttons on screen at a time it just ends up being more irritating. Anyway once music is playing, all seems well.
Other Streaming: According to their own website Tidal is presently set up to be compatible with it seems every streaming device out there. Notably from some of the brand names there is a clear slant toward “high end” stuff, think Meridian, Linn, McIntosh etc etc. Seeing as I being a mere mortal do not have any of these products I cannot test them. Still the very fact that its available on such premium equipment is clearly intended to make use of the lossless audio quality. I mean if you are using a £20’000 amp connected to £100’000 speakers you are really not going to want to be throwing a 128kbit mp3 at them are you. Tidal is I believe the only streaming service that offers lossless quality, making it the obvious choice for such consumers.
Musical Range: In the time I have been using Tidal I have noticed a change. At first there was much literary commentary in their windows application. Many of the playlists they have created seemed to be of a more mature audience. Much classical, much stuff that despite my having just turned 35 felt far more aimed at my father than to me. However since their “relaunch,” you know that event where Madonna straddled a table for no reason and Alesha Keys, well she, oh just watch it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egShCjfvi9s I am curious how and why she was the one picked to present the thing. It can have been because she was best suited, maybe it was their idea of a practical joke? Ever since then I’ve noticed a dramatic shift to the same sort of cack Spotify keep trying to push. Lots of Jay-z and Rihanna on the front page. That the desktop app is no more and all the commentary it contained, if feels very much it was purchased not for what it was but to be turned into the personal promotion of the new investors. Its early days but it feels as though it’s just thrown its primary differentiator from Spotify out the window. Let’s face it, the other being audio quality, hardly matters for listening to Nicki Minaj, not just because its rubbish but because it’s so badly mastered and dynamically compressed to hell. It literally would make no difference. I also don’t see Linn buyers revelling at the new push of such erm “artists” on their service. Maybe I’m totally wrong and the sort of people that buy such high end stuff love Rihanna and Dead Mouse.
Aside from this new push the collection is really rather good. All the classical collections are still there and there is a ton of superbly recoded stuff. However it’s just now not so easily displayed for your perusal. I mean it’s gone from having on the front page a playlist for Easter called “Golgotha Revisited: Songs About Faith & Doubt” to pushing Jay-z’s latest video. Maybe it’s a temporary blip but it’s like the service just took a massive dive.
Value: Hmm well when I started the service only offered its premium service, at 20 currency units and you got everything and all offered in full lossless quality. With its “relaunch” they now offer a 10 currency unit option where you can get just up to 320kbit, just like Spotify premium. At the beginning of my time with Tidal I would have said, if you want lossless and you’re buying such premium streamers then of course pick it over Spotify, if your buying £100’000 speakers an extra tenner a month is nothing. However……. That has changed. Now they offer a package at the same price as Spotify. Spotify also has a free version so you can try it for a while. Tidal only offers 30days of free, then you must pay. That it once offered all the commentary and playlists was the real appeal I felt for music lovers. It gave you access to the brains of people whose lives are music and they could share their incites with you.
One last thing about value, How much is Tidal Premium? TIDAL HiFi: $19.99 in the US $19.99 CAD in Canada £19.99 in the UK €19.99 in Europe 199 Nordic Countries (DK, NO). hmm so EU users are getting screwed and UK users are getting uber screwed. F U Tidal.
Conclusion: Tidal isn’t all bad. If you want lossless streaming it’s your only option but if I was you, I would skip it. If you want lossless just buy and rip your own CD’s to local storage. Tidal I think had something special and offered something worthy of its increased cost but since its relaunch, err no. The Tidal “event” seriously go watch on YouTube, it’s a total train wreck. The event was very widely panned (for the love of god who put Alesha Keys up there?) it was lambasted as some of the richest “artists” in the world coming on stage to whine about how they should make even more money. Seriously, watch it its staggeringly terrible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egShCjfvi9s there are simply no words that capture how bad it is.
It’s a shame. I think I just managed to catch the tail end of what Tidal used to be before Jay-z and his friends have destroyed it. It was something different, something original but now it feels nothing special. It feels like a platform to push Jay-z and his friends and to wake them more money. (Particularly more if you’re in the EU or god forbid the UK. In fairness Spotify does exactly the same thing so they are just as bad.)
So coming right down to it, would I pay for Tidal? No. At the start I thought I might do but they have just thrown out everything that made it special. Bit rate aside, I can see nothing about Tidal that is uniquely compelling.