Lossless FLAC streaming
Easy artist discovery
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.
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.
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?
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?
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/month 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.
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