What is TIDAL?
Music streaming services aren’t quite as influential. They don’t generate the same content as the TV contemporaries but they are a massive part of how we consume music, find new artists and albums and share our tastes with others. I have been using Spotify as a subscriber since 2009 and the costs of subscription are secondary to the vast amount of music I have bought as a result of discovering it on there.
One aspect that these services have in common is that they are convenience rather than absolute quality options. I don’t say this in a derogatory sense- I find Netflix more than watchable and Spotify is more than up to the task of headphone and earphone work and finding new music- but I have tended towards physical media for absolute quality (and because, as I have remarked before, I have an unhealthy love of vinyl). Into this gap steps TIDAL.
TIDAL is a music on demand service that aims to offer the same convenience as rival services but then deliver CD quality at the same time. This is a radically different proposition- in theory you need never buy a physical copy of an album ever again. Can TIDAL make good on this promise and be the quality and the convenience option at the same time?
How does it work?
The key aspect of TIDAL is that when you select the track in question, you get a full fat 16/44.1kHz CD equivalent sent from a remote server. Having consulted with TIDAL as to what this actually is in terms of format and exactly how close to CD it actually is, TIDAL has confirmed that the transmission format is ALAC (or AAC if you request the compressed version) and that there is usually a degree of pre compression on many of the masters received- although nothing that doesn’t allow for the original file to be reconstructed in its entirety.
How much does TIDAL cost?
Does it offer anything additional to Streaming?
Any downsides to TIDAL?
The next is that 25 million tracks or not, TIDAL is more limited that Spotify which served as my main benchmark. A-B comparisons of tracks between the two services revealed a number of albums not present on TIDAL and I have yet to find something that TIDAL has that Spotify doesn’t. This is far from the end of the world but if you are a playlist sort of person, you may find that you can’t port a like for like version across from Spotify to TIDAL.
How has it been tested?
The app software was then installed on an iPad 3 (and briefly Air to check some of the complaints above) and a Google Nexus 5 phone. This was for both mobile testing with the same headphones and earphones listed above but additionally in the case of the iPad to allow for an Arcam airDAC to be sent the signal that could be run into the digital input of a Naim ND5XS to permit A-B testing of the TIDAL signal against material previously ripped to Western Digital NAS drive.
How does TIDAL Sound?
As long USB cables are seen by my son as something to bite, I switched to using the iPad app via AirPlay into the digital input of the Naim streamer and did some more comparisons. Once again, after some extended back to back tests, I would not bet money on me consistently telling the TIDAL stream from ripped FLAC- even though there is technically zero compression on the bulk of my ripped files. At no stage have I felt compelled to switch back to the stored library because it sounds better (although I have because the Naim iPad app is everything that the TIDAL one isn’t). Using the iPad and Arcam as a transparent AirPlay bridge, my home system sounds as good as it always does and it is entirely easy to forget what is supplying the music and just enjoy it.
Is TIDAL a viable alternative to buying albums?
- Sounds excellent
- Genuinely good artist information
- Good desktop ap
- Poor iPad ap
- Content more limited than compressed rivals
- Comparatively expensive
TIDAL Music Streaming Service Review
There are quibbles; the iPad app isn’t currently good enough, it needs to present more material for you to link through from artist to artist- a process that has cost me a fortune over the years on Spotify but has helped me discover dozens of great albums and it realistically needs a ‘Connect’ version to better integrate with streaming equipment. I am acutely aware that to make use of the excellent decoding my streamer possesses, I have to basically patch the signal to it but all of this is secondary to the fact that my music library just got a 25 million track shot in the arm. TIDAL isn’t perfect but it is truly great and if you have the means to make use of it, I urge you to do so.
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