Recently, Jay-Z and a bunch of well-known musicians unveiled Tidal, a new streaming music option created as a competitor to Spotify, Rdio, and Beats Music. Aside from being the only majority musician-owned service out there, Tidal offers two tiers of service – a standard stream for $10 per month, and a CD quality stream for $20 per month. According to those musicians, by paying these rates, you’re allowing them to make more money each time their songs are streamed, which generally, hasn’t been much.
So what makes this service different from its competition? Exclusive music and video, high definition audio, and curated playlists. There’s no free tier, like you get with Spotify, so will those perks be enough to get people to switch? I’ve been testing Tidal’s HIFI service for the last few days, and here’s what I think.
Tidal HIFI Sound Quality
I’ve been on a mission for a while now to make my digital music listening experience better, so Tidal’s high quality streaming tier is what interested me the most. If you’ve got a pair of high quality headphones, you’ll notice the difference. Listening through my Sennheiser HD380 Pros, the music was deeper and fuller, similar to some of the lossless files I keep on my laptop.
In order to conduct a very (un)scientific test, I listened to music from Jack White, Mos Def, Nine Inch Nails, Lower Dens, Kendrick Lamar, Death Grips, and Jose Gonzalez. It all sounded great.
The Tidal Interface
I’ll keep this pretty basic, because if you’ve used any of the other streaming music services, or iTunes, for that matter, you’ll be just fine with Tidal. It looks pretty similar to Spotify (some say too similar), and functions about the same. There’s no PC app – only the web interface, and mobile apps, so if you don’t mind having a tab in your browser for Tidal HIFI, you’ll be just fine.
Things I noticed:
- Songs take a little longer to load, probably because the files are bigger. When I say longer, I mean a second or so.
- Tidal HIFI streaming is only available in Google Chrome. Those of us using other browsers are stuck with AAC 320 quality.
- Since I’m so used to the Spotify app on my Macbook, the lack of navigation within the Tidal interface felt a little strange. You actually use your browser back and forward buttons to navigate.
- No keyboard controls available for use with Tidal? Hopefully they rectify that in the near future.
- A lot of artists have a social tab. It shows you their Twitter stream. You can interact via your own twitter account within Tidal. Still, I wish there were more going on with this social tab than just Twitter.
- The video tab was fun. I forgot how much I like watching music videos and live performances from the bands I’m into. I especially like it being tied into the music I’m listening to, since I don’t spend a lot of time on Vevo or YouTube watching music videos. Also, is that Paul Reubens and Karen Gillan in TV on the Radio’s Happy Idiot video? Awesome.
The Tidal HIFI Mobile App
The sound quality is as good in the mobile app as it is in the web interface. It’s equally easy to use, and shares all the same features of the web version, plus an audio search works similar to Soundhound – identifying what you’re hearing if you’re out and about and an interesting song is playing somewhere.
Is Tidal HIFI Worth It?
The million dollar question – is Tidal HIFI worth the $20/month price tag? If you’re happy with your Spotify free subscription, no. If you want high quality streaming audio, plus everything Spotify offers, then maybe.
Had Tidal been one of the first services out of the gate, I think consumers would have been more open to the idea of paying that much for streaming audio. I’m old enough to remember paying $20 for a CD, so had they beaten their cheaper competitors and launched a few years back, they might have had a better chance for a bigger audience. I’m not seeing a lot that differentiates Tidal from everything else on the market. The high quality audio is a definite plus, but there are a lot of little things that need to be tweaked (UI, exclusive content, better social integration, curation customized to specific user preferences) before I’d want to pay for it on a regular basis. Spotify is free and Beats does a solid job with curation, in my opinion.
That said, the longer I use Tidal’s free trial, the more I appreciate the high quality audio.
Have you tried Tidal HIFI yet? What do you think of the service? What do you think about all the hype? Tell us in the comments below.