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Tidal Music Review: CD Quality At A Price

Tidal LogoAmongst an already crowded streaming music market, a new player has entered in the US. Dubbed Tidal, it differentiates itself on streaming high quality music.

In March, music streaming service Tidal made waves when it announced that Jay-Z has acquired its parent company. Since then, it has slowly been making its way to the mainstream through social media campaigns and TV ads.

However, ever since Tidal has been under new ownership, there has been questions as to if it can survive. Tidal is trying to keep a profitable public images despite losing its CEO, losing its top 20 spot in the iPhone app store, and competitor Spotify’s increase in revenue.

All of that aside, is it a solid music streaming service?

Interface
Tidal’s web player is one of the most well designed players in the music streaming industry. From a visual standpoint, the interface is just as visually pleasing as other music services. A mainly black interface with bright blue highlights dominate the interface.

On the side, there are a couple of tab to easily access different parts of the service. Users can click on shortcuts for playlists and their library. The “Tidal Rising” tab shows music that is trending in the service. A “videos” tab shows music videos from different artists.

Navigating through the interface is quick and easy. In the web player, the interface is responsive. On congested Malvern Wifi, I rarely had to wait for screens to load.

The mobile apps are also visually consistent with the web interface as well. Both Android and iPhone apps are well designed.

Library
Tidal’s music library is a mixed bag – at best.

On one hand, there are some noticeable gaps in the catalog. When I imported a heavily hip-hop playlist, two songs were missing out of a total of 22. Browsing through other genres, there were a few songs missing as well. It’s worth noting that the missing songs were older than the other songs on the playlist.

However, one of the main advantages of Tidal is the exclusive content that artists have to offer. Both Rihanna and Beyoncé have had exclusive tracks on the service.

Another advantage of Tidal is the availability of music videos. As a whole, the amount of music videos available on the service also seems on par with other competitors. On the example playlist, out of the songs that have music videos, all of them were available on Tidal.

In addition, there is exclusive music videos only available on Tidal. As of this review, there is very little exclusive content. This may be subject to change, however, as more artists join.

Performance and Playback
As noted above, the web interface is quick and fast. Despite the large file sizes, music streams quickly, even on a relatively low slow connection.

However, the playback on the mobile apps are an entirely different story. On two different Android devices, the app crashed occasionally. Often, when music played back, it stuttered more.

The quality of the music has also been a mixed bag. In general, I cannot tell the difference between music streamed on Tidal and music streamed on Spotify. Using both cheap $10 headphones and higher end headphones, there was not a noticeable difference.

A quick survey of casual music listeners also had the same result. However, discussing Tidal with an audiophile friend, he has been able to notice a difference between the audio quality. Subtle aspects of songs can be heard much more clearly, and it close to CD quality audio.

When played back on higher end equipment (such as a professional DAC), the difference in the quality of the audio is more noticable. On an ordinary computer, there wasn’t a perceivable difference.

Value
The cheapest tier of Tidal starts at $9.99. This level, called Tidal Premium, allows full access to the entire library, as well as access to music videos. However, the more expensive Tidal HiFi allows users to stream higher quality audio.

Competition
Two of the most obvious competitors are the popular Spotify and Beats Music. Both services are priced at around $9.99, which places it at the same price as Tidal Premium. However, this is half of the price of the higher quality Tidal HiFi.

Tidal shares many of the same features as its competitors. For example, a radio feature is present, which is similar to the radio feature in Spotify.

However, there are some missing features. There is no desktop application for computers, and all music must be streamed through the web app. As a result, music cannot be played offline on computers and only on the mobile app.

Should you drop Spotify in favor of Tidal? Unless you can perceive the difference between the higher quality Tidal HiFi option and Spotify’s high quality option, then there is little reason to switch. The $9.99 Tidal Premium tier offers the same features of Spotify, but at the expense of a limited library.

With that being said, Tidal’s music service is not terrible. In fact, it is excellent compared some of its smaller competition. With some help of Jay-Z, Tidal could become a serious competitor in the future.

About Chris Bunn

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