[REVIEW] Tidal high fidelity audio streaming service


There is no culture in this world that doesn’t have some form of music to inspire, invoke emotion or tell stories. As humans, we flock to the beat as a form of entertainment, distraction, communication, motivation… so when a new audio streaming service landed on htxt.africa’s doorstep two weeks ago, we jumped at the opportunity to give it a go.

Meet Tidal, a newly-launched (in South Africa – it’s already available in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Ireland, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) audio streaming service that grants audiophiles the ability to listen to music in the highest quality possible – high fidelity lossless audio.

The first thing that you will encounter when signing up is the online user interface, so let’s begin there…

Interface

Opening the web player from the drop-down menu on the right-hand side, you are immediately spoilt for choice in the default What’s New section in terms of curated playlists and recommended albums from a wide variety of artists.

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Things are pretty easy to find.

Things are pretty easy to find.

Tidal has over 25 million tracks. In comparison, Rdio has around 30 million songs, Spotify has about 20 million, and Pandora is on the 800 000 or so mark.

But therein also lies a bit of a problem – I added some of my favourite bands into the My Music section for easy access and I was under the impression that Tidal would recommend playlists, albums and tracks to me on the What’s New page based on my interests – but it doesn’t. As an example, I picked Deftones, Blessthefall and Bring Me The Horizon. I know that 36 Crazyfists released a new album a couple of days ago and expected to see it in What’s New – but no such luck. On the other hand, I guess it’s good to know that Gretchen Peters has a new album out called Blackbirds, but I highly doubt I will ever again give it a second glance.

Scroll a little further down and you’ll eventually reach the Top 20 tracks. While my music tastes are hardly considered mainstream, it is rather enjoyable to see which top 20 Taylor Swift songs are currently on almost non-stop radio rotation.

That said, Tidal’s interface is slick and it’s pretty easy to find your way around the wealth of information.

Sections

Below What’s New is an exciting section aptly named Playlists, and besides for having the same curated playlists and recommended albums as the previous section, it does have a rather nifty selection of playlists based on a mood.

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Tidal Genre

The Genre section in Tidal houses a selection of 18 popular music categories.

You can opt-in that Tidal plays you a selection of songs based on what you are doing, be it exercising, at a dinner party, or just relaxing at home.

What’s also interesting about the playlist option, is that Tidal can take you on a historical journey through sound with its History playlist. It features selections like ‘Dance to the 90s’, ‘The Golden Year of 1995’ and ‘In Memoriam – 2014’ – a selection of songs from artists who passed away that year.

Browse over to the Genre section, and you are given a selection of the 18 most popular music categories – pretty much all the bases are covered here, from soundtracks to reggae, metal to world music and more. There is even a comedy selection and an option for children’s music.

At the end of it all, if you don’t find something you like, you can also create your own playlist from the millions of songs available.

In-depth artist’s page

When you select an artist’s page in Tidal, it’s amazing to see the sheer amount of information that is presented to you. From top tracks across an entire discography, to a a list of all the available albums, singles, EPs and other albums (such as compilations on which the chosen artist features) are all presented in the same sleek manner as the main interface.

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Tidal Artist

The artist page hosts a wealth of really cool information.

Pop over to the Videos tab from the discography, and you can watch some of your favourite band’s music videos. The amount of videos and the age thereof vary by artists, but there is usually a good selection to peruse.

Digging a bit deeper, a detailed biography written by entertainment data company Rovi is located next to a tab that will display related artists. This is always a really neat feature to have on hand, as many new artists can be discovered this way.

Other options on the artist page includes starting a station with a shuffled playlist of the artist’s songs, tagging them as a favourite (so they show up in My Music), and sharing an artist, song or album with your Facebook friends or Twitter followers.

Sound

Tidal 4

Music for every occasion.

As mentioned earlier, there are three different sound quality options to choose between: a low-end one that will produce the most basic of sounds; a middle of the road (and friendlier on bandwidth) AAC 320 format; and the high-powered FLAC 1411 lossless audio, which is what Tidal is all about.

Without going into finicky details of how the sound circumvents the Haas precedence effect, how the high set-tones are perfectly attenuated by the mid-range levels, or how the long wavelengths reverberate through the inner ear, we’ll say this: lossless audio quality is amazing.

It is actually incredibly difficult to explain lossless audio, but by saying all the instruments can be clearly and individually heard doesn’t really do it any justice. The best way to equate it, is that the artist is playing inside your head, instead of on your ears. And more often than not, you actually hear other noises and sounds that you would have never picked up before – even if you have listened to the song a thousand times.

The closest that we can come, is that lossless audio is crystal clear – there is no other way to fully convey what it sounds like. It is like being in the recording studio when the band or artist is laying down the tracks for the first time. It’s fresh, audibly spectacular and you might just discover a new sound or instrument.

Verdict

After all that, it’s essentially up to you to decide if Tidal is worth the $10 monthly subscription fee for better-than-CD audio. And in truth, most people will be just fine with listening to the tracks on a low quality setting, even if that completely defeats the point of service. It’s also important to keep in mind that with the higher quality audio comes another issue that most South Africans battle with every day – bandwidth.

Tidal, on the highest possible setting, gulps up bandwidth like nobody’s business. So if you’re an audiophile and are going this route, make sure that you have the internet speed to match. That also creates a huge problem for people who want to listen to Tidal by making use of the Android and iOS apps – mobile data in South Africa isn’t exactly cheap. In essence, you will be streaming a CD (and its on-par quality), and these files can run up to about 30MB per song (if not more).

So besides for the awesome (albeit huge) music quality, Tidal, whether through its mobile app or web streaming site, is completely ad-free. You will never be interrupted by annoying sales pitches and that’s something we really like.

Still on the fence? You can sign up for a seven day trial but just be aware that you’ll still have to give Tidal your credit card details.

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