Streaming services are in their heyday. With so many great options available to consumers, it’s hard to know what makes one service different from another. Well, Tidal prides itself on being an artist and quality-first platform. It now has social features to become more appealing to fence-sitting Spotify users, and offers high-quality audio support from FLAC files and more. Time to find out if this streaming service is worth all your pretty pennies.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on July 2, 2020, to address an FAQ about Master quality.
What is Tidal?
Tidal is a music streaming service that promises to unite artists and fans. It distinguishes itself from other services by offering lossless streaming if you go all-in with a Tidal HiFi membership. While music content is the priority, users are also provided access to original video series, podcasts, and music journalists—though podcasts are extremely limited.
It promotes itself as the streaming service that puts the artist first. Various celebrities, like Jay Z and Beyonce, own equity in it. While artist empowerment is a core tenant of the platform, so too is its commitment to benefiting fans. Artists provide members with exclusive digital content and experiences through the Tidal X program.
As of August 20, 2019, Tidal now includes social features that make it easy for iOS and Android users to share music and video to their Instagram and Facebook stories. This is something we’ve seen with Spotify allowing users to post individual songs to a story. However, Tidal lets users post individual tracks or whole playlists which appear as still images on either social platform.
How to use Tidal
Tidal offers two applications, one for mobile and one for desktop use, both of which are similar to competing platforms’ interfaces. The home screen presents a banner of featured content, some of which are platform exclusives. Just below the banner is your recently played media followed by suggested new tracks and albums. The curated and featured playlists suggestions continue for a few more thumb scrolls.
Tapping away from the home screen brings you to the explore tab. Here, you’ll find featured artists, different genres, and then suggestions based on your preferences. If you’re hosting a party or going to the gym, you can also select from the “Moods and Activities” curated playlists.
Tidal Rising is an easy way to explore rising artists from around the globe.
One of my favorite features of the online streaming service is Tidal Rising, which is under the “Explore” tab. This is where lesser-known, up-and-coming artists are featured. Much of my day-to-day consists of latently listening to music. Recommendations like this remove my myopic genre blinders. It introduced me to some excellent international artists whom I wouldn’t have otherwise found.
Tidal’s December 19, 2019, update (v3.19.1) displays updates to the album credits page by including release dates and video information. It also improves image scaling, so no more disproportionate album displays. It also remedies the top result when searching for tracks, as some Tidal users reported the display of irrelevant results.
On March 25, 2020, Tidal released an update (v3.22.0) which includes a “date added” column in personal playlists. It also provides less intrusive update notifications and minor bug fixes.
Music playback, creating playlists, and more
Once you select a song to play, the playback display pops up. You’re afforded basic controls and options like shuffle and loop. You can also cast to connected devices like the JBL Link Bar. If you tap the three stacked circles located in the bottom-right corner of the display, a Spotify-like menu pops up whereby you can add the song to a playlist, your collection, share it with a friend, start a “Track Radio,” view the credits, and more.
The credits feature is the best I’ve seen. It’s quickly available via an “i” icon, whereas with Spotify it takes a bit of digging to access. Like the rest of the Tidal app, the credits layout is attractive and easy to understand. Plus, by tapping on a contributor’s name, you can view other projects they’ve participated in. This is a great way to discover similar, yet different sounds.
Oftentimes, I’ll Google search an album’s producer and research their other projects. It’s great to see Tidal simplifying that process, allowing members to conduct a similar inquiry without leaving the app.
This is one of the most attractive streaming apps available. The dark black and gray color palette with contrasting blue accents look great. Animations between menus and the playback module are smooth; I rarely experienced any lag. The biggest drawback to its interface is the lack of voice search capabilities. Hopefully, that’s updated sooner rather than later, but it’s a mild inconvenience.
Are local media files supported by Tidal?
What are the different streaming qualities?
Tidal HiFi, the membership I used for this review, allows access to four streaming qualities: normal, high, HiFi, and Master. Normal reduces data usage and is good for anyone with limited bandwidth or a slow internet connection. High quality strikes a fine balance between data usage and sound quality by streaming at 320kbps over AAC. The most interesting qualities are HiFi and Master.
HiFi recordings are CD-quality lossless FLAC files, which essentially means that no data is lost when transmitting the audio to your ears. This means you’re benefiting from 44.1kHz/16bit audio files, which is plenty of data for our brains to decode. To take full advantage of this, you’ll want to equip your ears with some fine headphones rather than your cheap backup earbuds.
Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) is available with the $19.99/mo subscription. This audio codec promises high-resolution (96kHz/24bit) audio delivered via FLAC or WAV file. Any media labeled as MQA under Tidal means that it was directly authenticated by the artist. Initially, MQA was only available on desktop but has since been made available on the mobile app, too. MQA availability is limited. Taylor Swift’s song You Need to Calm Down streams over Master quality, but her first banger, Our Song, isn’t Master-supported.
Save data by downloading music
Tidal allows you to download content for on-the-go listening, which is great if you want to prevent any overage charges from your service provider. Anything accessible from the service is also downloadable: adding a music video to a downloaded audio playlist will automatically download the music video, too. You can choose to download only over Wi-Fi via the settings menu. If you plan to download a lot of music—videos, in particular—be sure your phone’s internal storage can house that much data. If you have a phone with expandable storage, pick up a microSD card.
How does a Tidal subscription work?
There are four subscription rates: standard, family, student, and military. No matter what rate you pay, you’re charged every 30 days. According to the company website, months containing more than 30 days may show charges twice in a month.
Tidal offers discounted rates for students and military service members.
Family memberships allow for up to five members to be on a single account. Its student membership requires users to enter their university and provide a valid university email address. This requires verification every 12 months. Military memberships, on the other hand, require users to select their current military status, denote what branch of service they’re in, and provide an applicable email. Both student and military membership types are limited to certain geographies.
What’s the difference between Tidal Premium and Tidal HiFi?
There are two Tidal membership tiers: Premium and HiFi. The standard Tidal Premium membership costs $9.99/mo, and audio quality maxes out at 320kbps via AAC, a lossy file format. You’re granted access to exclusive music, videos, and events as well as Tidal’s self-proclaimed expertly curated editorial. This is great for listeners who don’t need audiophile bells and whistles.
Tidal HiFi is for listeners who take their music quality seriously. The standard Tidal HiFi membership costs $19.99/mo. You get all the same perks as Premium members with the additional benefit of HiFi and Master streaming qualities, addressed above. Both memberships offer 30-day free trials, which may be canceled anytime.
How does Tidal pay artists?
Tidal claims to champion the artist but its payout is measly compared to Qobuz, another hi-res streaming service. That said, it still pays about double what either Google Play Music or Apple Music pays per stream. The most effective way to directly support artists in the age of digital streaming is to attend their shows and buy their merchandise.
|Digital Service Provider||$ Per Stream|
|24/7 Entertainment GmbH||$0.01050|
|Amazon Digital Services Inc.||$0.00395|
|YouTube Content ID||$0.00028|
Source: The Trichordist
Is Tidal is worth paying for?
This is a widely used platform that has quickly expanded its artist library over the past few years. Its selection is just as competitive as Spotify’s, save for podcasts. If you enjoy the idea of exclusive and early-release content, Tidal makes sense. What’s more, Tidal Rising and credits functionality are both stellar, giving listeners the means of finding hidden gems with minimal effort.
Although $19.99/mo feels like a subscription fee bombshell, it’s a small price to pay for a vast library of FLAC files at your fingertips. To put it into perspective Vulfpeck’s album The Beautiful Game costs $10 on Bandcamp. I’m no mathematician, but buying two albums puts you beyond the monthly cost of a Tidal HiFi membership. If you frequently purchase high-resolution albums, it’s easy to get your money’s worth. Plus, Tidal provides a 60-day free trial for new subscribers. This minimizes any financial risk if it turns out you don’t like the service or can’t afford it.
Even if you don’t care much for sound quality and are wishy-washy on exclusive content, the Tidal user experience is fantastic. It didn’t matter whether I was using the desktop or mobile application: its design is great and easy to navigate.
Save a little, get Amazon Music HD
Amazon’s high-resolution streaming service may not have the same celebrity clout as Tidal, but it’s an excellent bargain for anyone who wants an expansive library of lossless FLAC audio. Over 50 million 16bit/44.1kHz songs are available, and Ultra HD can stream up to 3,730kps. This high-resolution streaming requires a premium device to support it, so some users may need a DAC. Amazon’s streaming service supports music downloads and, unlike Tidal, local file playback. A subscription costs $14.99/mont for non-Prime members and $12.99/mont for Prime members.
Drawbacks of Tidal
A huge strike against Tidal, and why I won’t switch to it from Spotify just yet, is its lack of social features. Again, it added Instagram and Facebook story integration, but lacks native social features as seen on Spotify. I cherish Spotify’s “Friend Activity” column and frequently use it to discover new music. While I loved nearly everything about the interface, I frequently missed creeping through friends’ playlists. This tracks with Tidal’s projected image: it’s not about the listener as an individual as much as it is about the artist-listener relationship. I know plenty of people who couldn’t care less for Spotify’s social features. If that resonates with you, then Tidal is still a great platform.
Additionally, if you’re someone with a large personal library of locally stored files, or find yourself addicted to podcasts, this service isn’t for you. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed my Tidal HiFi trial membership and would feel compelled to switch streaming services if I weren’t already knee-deep in Spotify playlists.
Next: Apple Music review
Frequently Asked Questions
Probably not. When compressing an audio file into a lossy format, data points are dropped from the file. You certainly can tell the difference between a high bitrate lossless file and a low bitrate lossy file, but the difference between Tidal's HiFi and Master qualities are mostly undetectable seeing as they are both high bitrate lossless files. Additionally, many people are perfectly content with the audio quality produced by a lossy AAC, which is the format you will find on Apple Music and Spotify. Particularly because lossless files take up more storage space or Internet data to store or stream, many people are fine opting for the lesser quality. Another thing that does differ between lossy files and lossless ones is that you can sometimes hear compression artifacts, which manifest as distortion, when you listen to lossy files at high volumes. If you want the opportunity to tell the difference between lossy and lossless audio files, you need to make sure the speaker or headphones you are listening with are compatible with the high quality.
You can use 1 device in online mode and 5 devices in offline mode simultaneously when subscribed to the standard single-use Tidal membership plan, Premium or HiFi. If you want to use more than one device at a time, you must upgrade to the Tidal Family Plan, which supports up to 6 accounts.
Yes. Tidal's music library has works from Puccino, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, and more.
Tidal's free trial does include Master Quality files; however, not all songs and albums or available in Master Quality. Supported tracks will have greyed-out "M" next to them.