Tidal is a new lossless streaming platform that offers an audiophile experience that is at least CD quality with access to, reputedly, 25 million tracks. It also offers a video streaming service with access to 75,000 videos, an area I have not particularly explored in this review.
I’ll cut to the chase. I’m a Spotify Premium customer of long standing, so I’ve been shelling out £9.99 per month for a while now. I’m currently running through the ‘1001 albums you must listen to before you die’ so the Spotify catalogue is good so far. I have the right streaming equipment, including a Naim Uniti2 and a T+A Cala in the kitchen.
I have so far found Tidal to be a revelation, in terms of audio quality and new ‘curated music’. The user interfaces, so far, on my Android, this iPad and my laptop have been excellent and very intuitive. So it’s very interesting indeed. Am I going to switch for twice the price, let’s see?
Firstly, I wanted to briefly comment on the FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) versus compressed issue that elicits such fervent debate over coffee and dinner tables alike. If you have the equipment, for example, a Michel Tecnodec, new vinyl really can sound the best; CDs are great, manageable and accessible and on the right equipment are a joy; streamed files, if your bandwidth is good and your wifi is stable, are limited only by the equipment you have and the catalogue you have access to.
If you have the correct equipment, for example a lossless source into a Vitus DAC RCD-100 versus a Densen B440 CD into the same pre and power amplifier setup with some top cables there really isn’t much discernible difference between the two formats, FLAC should be at least as good as a CD in my ears at any rate. As always we are the mercy of the recording process, the mixing and production in the studio, not to mention loudness.
With Tidal on my Asus laptop I have played a CD back to back with Tidal and it is very difficult to tell the difference, with the above Vitus DAC. I’ve played the same CD with Spotify’s 320kbps Ogg Vorbis compressed format and there is a difference, in more complex tracks in particular, vocals are similar.
Two issue on the quality are as follows; you only get lossless on a laptop with the Chrome browser and also there is an increase in buffering the music. Neither of these points is a big deal, to me.
So the quality is there, what about the competition. Really we need to look at the User Interfaces and depth of the catalogue as well as the subscription cost.
All of the services have good Apps for iOS, Android and PCs. I have been running Spotify on android for a long time now, and it is very stable indeed. Tidal’s app is very functional but intuitive; it is black and white, which I like, and is at least as easy to get to grips with as Spotify’s. The only issue I’ve had, which may need looking at was that I received a phone call on my Android device (Nexus 5) and when I answered the music I was streaming went down the line to my caller!!! Hopefully this is an isolated case!
The Tidal Catalogue appears to be, at first glance, rather comprehensive and interesting. My trawl of artists, Radiohead, U2, Amos Lee, Damien Rice, etc. was very favourable and there are loads of rare EPs, special editions and other sessions. The John Coltrane catalogue is exceptional. There’s no London Grammar, which is odd. There are no Beatles albums here, only collections, this is not dissimilar to Spotify.
I have not been through the Classical Music as I am not an expert however two of the pieces I return to often, Daniel Barenboim’s Chopin Nocturnes and Vladimir Ashkenazy’s Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #2 are not there, that I can find.
The question really is am I going to switch, for £20/month, do I have the confidence I’m going to get what Spotify gives me, with added quality. I think I may, I do prefer the sound and the catalogue is pretty extensive so far. I note on my research that France’s Qobuz is in administration so I might have expected Tidal to price their product in a different manner. They might try the old £12.99/mth for six months reverting to £19.99/month to capture customers, but who am I to say? As has been pointed out to me, £20 is a couple of CDs a month or a descent bottle of wine so it is not crazy money. I probably have the right equipment so I may give it a go when my trial subscription runs out.[box]