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. We’ll find out if that’s true, but one thing is for sure: a Tidal HiFi subscription costs a pretty penny.

Editor’s note: this review has been updated to account for new social features added to Tidal.

What is Tidal?

An image of the Tidal HiFi mobile app on a Google Pixel 3, which is resting on the underside of a backpack.

Tidal Premium is the service’s base membership. It costs $9.99/mo.

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

A picture of a woman holding a Google Pixel 3 with the Tidal HiFi app pulled up.

The user interface is intuitive and slick.

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.

Music playback, creating playlists, and more

A screenshot of the Tidal HiFi mobile app, which credits screen displaying various contributors to a song.

By clicking on any of the names under the credits section, you can explore other contributors’ works.

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.

App design

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?

No, as of now, you can’t add local music files to Tidal. If this is a dealbreaker, you may want to look into Google Play Music, Spotify, or Deezer.

What are the different streaming qualities?

A screenshot of the Tidal desktop app streaming options.

You get an array of streaming qualities depending on your needs and what you prioritize in music playback.

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. 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. This is supremely important for anyone streaming over cellular as it still delivers high-quality audio without taking a huge toll on bandwidth consumption. 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.

 StandardFamilyStudentMilitary
Tidal Premium$9.99/mo$14.99/mo$4.99/mo$5.99/mo
Tidal HiFi$19.99/mo$29.99/mo$9.99/mo$11.99/mo

What’s the difference between Tidal Premium and Tidal HiFi?

An image of Philips Fidelio open-back headphones on a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 desktop interface.

To get the most out of Tidal’s lossless streaming, it’s best to have a nice pair of headphones.

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
Qobuz$0.04390
Peloton$0.04036
iHeartRadio$0.01426
Amazon Unlimited$0.01175
Napster/Rhapsody$0.01110
24/7 Entertainment GmbH$0.01050
YouTube Red$0.00948
Tidal$0.00927
Deezer$0.00567
Google Play$0.00543
Apple$0.00495
KKBox$0.00435
Amazon Digital Services Inc. $0.00395
Spotify$0.00331
Loen$0.00205
Pandora$0.00155
Vevo$0.00109
Yandex LLC$0.00051
YouTube Content ID$0.00028
UMA$0.00013

Source: The Trichordist

Is Tidal is worth paying for?

Aerial image of a Google Pixel 3 on a JBL Link bar. The Tidal HiFi app is open on the smartphone.

Tidal lets you cast to smart devices.

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.

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.

Drawbacks of Tidal

A screenshot of the Tidal HiFi desktop application with the featured playlists and genres page pulled up.

Tidal lets you explore music based on your mood or activity and integrates social functionality into Instagram and Facebook stories.

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