The newest kid on the increasingly crowded streaming block is Tidal, and straight from the off, their stall is set out to offer the greatest number of tracks, and in the best quality.
Music streaming is big business these days. Spotify, undoubtedly the current kings of this particular realm, are being met almost daily with new challengers to their throne. Sheer quantity of tracks is one way to try and keep up, but for hi-fi enthusiasts there is a quicker way to win the heart – boosting sound quality, and Tidal are tempting us all. Just look at these numbers…
The service, which until now has been available mainly across Scandinavian countries, has reached our shores, bringing with it some 25 MILLION tracks. Oh, and these are all available in lossless file format FLAC. On the first point, this would put Tidal at roughly 5 million available tracks more than Spotify, showing that unlike the other HD upstart Qobuz, they’ve got the big guns on board from the get-go.
Having these tracks available in lossless FLAC means that you’re looking at effectively CD-quality without the CD purchase. With Spotify currently offering a premium service that delivers tracks at 320kpbs MP3, and lower for it’s free services, it can only really be relied on for casual listening. By shifting to FLAC, and sticking to lossless in general, Tidal are able to run songs out at 1411kpbs – a huge jump in information left in the recording and dodging the compression that other services use.
All of this, however, comes at a price. Whilst signing up for my 7 day free trial (slightly stingy I thought – others offer a month), I was greeted with their standard price for monthly use thereafter – £19.95. Now, this figure for some will be too much right from the off, especially if you’re a casual listener. For those whose listening habits are all encompassing however, it’s certainly got a lot of potential.
You can use Tidal through your web browser (I use Chrome, which it’s fortunately optimised for, other browsers are limited) or the downloadable desktop programme. I started with the web browser option whilst my download installed and found it immediatley intuitive to navigate. I was prompted for my favourite genres from a list and was greeted with handy icons on the front page that mirrored some of my selections with other recommendations. A quick click and I was playing, nice and easy.
The desktop version layout is very similar apart from the colour (petty I know). Selection of tracks is fast, and I was never forced into the settings menu to tinker before being able to listen.
I endeavoured to test the sound quality difference compared to Qobuz – but I couldn’t hear any! That’s sort of to be expected when files are outputting at the same bit rate, but sometimes software will be set to boost certain frequencies ‘out of the box’, and this wasn’t evident here. Finally, I downloaded the app for iPhone. My now-archaic iPhone 4S (no yearly upgrades for me!) offered me a mini version of the browser, and was mercifully agile in operation on the older phone. From the headphone output it impressed, sounding a great deal better than my Spotify account playing the same tracks. From a dock to a DAC it was equally content, sounding clear, detailed and open.
So will I be keeping it? It’s a tricky one. It’s better value (at the moment) than it’s Qobuz equivalent, it offers a great deal more content, and the quality is sonically excellent. I think opening the trial period for a month rather than a week would offer a greater chance to really get to the meat of the software, as this ultimately plays a big part in whether it’s a keeper but I would definitely give it a try if you love to stream your music.
Author – Chris, Liverpool store