Tidal burst into the public eye a couple of months ago, in a dazzling flurry of celebrity power, social media, exclusive releases and more. It was also subject to immediate, severe criticism from basically everyone who wrote about it. (Us included, although we found good things as well as the bad.)
While the blogosphere has been eagerly updating its readers about the problems and changes and job losses and so on, we haven’t really heard many people actually talk about whether Tidal is actually any good. So we decided to fine out.
Five of us signed up for a month, tested it out, and reviewed it here. Enjoy!
James Tait: Car stereo, iPhone headphones
Georgia Bell: Beats headphones
Monique Hughes: I have been listening on my old-faithfuls* Sennheiser CX 300-II Precision buds (*of which I have bought about 6 pairs – at $70 a pop, JB-HiFi love me). I also synced up to my Sonos PLAY:5 Wireless Speaker System for a bit of ambiance while cooking dinner at home.
Lauren Ziegler: I tested a few things. Sennheiser earphones (also CX 300-II), Sony headphones, Bose wireless headphones, laptop speakers, Bose mini speakers. Just for good measure. Don’t ask me why I have so many audio devices, and don’t ask me if that’s all of them.
Alex Langlands: Sony MDR-1A Headphones
J: The aux cord that plugs into my car stereo crackles at even the slightest whisper of movement. I don’t expect Tidal to fix this but, you know, come on. 3/10
G: The first song I decided to listen to was King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar. Being subscribed to Spotify, I decided to compare the quality of each service against each other. I strained my ears, but I really couldn’t tell. If anything, Spotify seemed to sound better, but maybe that’s just my bias. Next, I listened to Mariah Carey’s Infinity, trying to difference in quality. If I could describe it in one word, it would be ‘meh’. Not worse, not better, just meh. 7/10
M: It’s good, but that good? Sorry, it takes a more delicate assortment of inner ear bones than mine to hear the difference. Don’t get me wrong, listening in particular with the Sonos, everything from Nina Simone to The Weeknd sounded smashing – I just can’t really discern the difference. Incidentally Tidal does include quite a cheeky playlist called ‘What Hi-Fi?’ with an assortment of aurally crisp tunes ready to prove their musical superiority. 9/10
L: I played Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb on Spotify and Tidal, and played the second guitar solo on each service twice in a row. It was only through the Bose headphones (more expensive than the others combined and stunning quality) that I really experienced the great, mysterious lossless audio. It was good, but so is Spotify. But it wasn’t mind-blowingly, once-you-go-Tidal-you-never-go-back type deal, not even close. 8/10
A: There was a notable difference when comparing songs from both Spotify and iTunes as opposed to Tidal, but it wasn’t as big as I had hoped. While lossless audio excites audiophiles, it hardly appeals to the normal consumer. 7/10
J: Most stuff yeah, but I had an unnatural urge to listen to the theme song from batshit 80s cartoon Bananaman. Tidal didn’t have it and I was disappointed. Professor Snape-level disappointed. 5/10
G: I was quite impressed with ‘Tidal Rising’, a section dedicated to giving up-and-coming artists more exposure. Apart from that, it was very rap/R’n’B orientated, with a bit of pop thrown in the mix, nothing too enticing. 6/10
M: Oh dear, Tidal. This is where you let me down. I set about writing a list of a few somewhat obscure (at least on a global scale) artists to see what Tidal offered by way of their discography. I picked Wild Nothing, Client Liaison, Tensnake, Northeast Party House and Owl Eyes. Things started off well, with the entire discography of Wild Nothing and a beautiful biography. But things went south with Client Liaison (no EP, just End of the Earth), Tensnake (Spotify has his latest single Keep on Talking while Tidal lags behind), Owl Eyes (blank discography) and NPH weren’t even recognised as an artist. Sorry Tidal – dealbreaker. 5/10
L: I actually thought it was excellent. They had everything I wanted to listen to, from classic rock to underground rap to Late Night Tales to obscure ambient electronica. Local highlights included Moses Gunn Collective, Gang of Youths, Cassian and Jack Ladder. 9/10
A: One thing Jay-Z and the rest of the team have done well is reached far and wide to produce a very diverse catalogue. Aside from the big names who set up the service, the presence of smaller Australian acts such as The Middle East came as a pleasant surprise. Oh and it’s got Taylor (not 1989, but still a lot.) 9/10
J: A whole bunch of Rihanna stuff and zip-all else that I need about as much as a hole in the head. 1/10
G: ‘Exclusive content” is a misnomer for shit music that gets to jump to the front of the queue thanks to the elite and collective ownership of Tidal. For example, Willow Smith’s new song F Q-C #7. Like, really, who gives a crap about new music from Willow Smith? (editor’s note: actually it’s a great song – albeit not exclusive.) In this way Tidal just becomes a platform for friends of the rich and the famous to give their music exposure they couldn’t get otherwise. And ‘exclusive content’ means nothing these days. Nothing is ‘exclusive’ in the digital age. I could go and pirate any of this content more easily than I could sign up for Tidal’s services. 2/10
M: sorry, I didn’t really find anything here that sung to me (*cough*) N/A/10
L: Mehhhhhhhhhh. The only thing I found interesting, that I couldn’t find anywhere else, was Jack White’s last acoustic concert before he goes on hiatus. The video quality was awful and relentlessly stopped to buffer. Nothing else was ‘exclusive’ anyway. 3/10
A: Some aspects of the exclusive content did surprise me. Aside from a Rihanna song that made it to YouTube ten minutes after it was “exclusively” uploaded to Tidal, the fact that they’ve gone above and beyond and added the 2006 Daft Punk movie ‘Electroma’ was something special. 7/10
J: No different from just listening to my music library normally really, except it chews the unholy fuck out of your data. 5/10
G: I didn’t really like the layout of the page either. Spotify’s is much more user-friendly and pleasing to the eye. It actually kinda looked like a rip off of Spotify’s design actually. 3/10
M: I’ve got to hand it to Tidal here – the user interface is clean and simple, and yet it’s easy to sift through loads of content and flick from playlist to playlist without it feeling like too much of an effort. Even the basic playscreen, with its smooth round circle (reminiscent of Apple’s track wheel) feels nice. 8/10
L: I liked it. It was clean, easy to navigate, great search engine, excellent playlists – exactly like Spotify. In spite of my previous comment the video content was cool, and the website has an excellent blog section 7/10
A: Tidal was fairly easy to navigate and pleasant to use, but this was partially because it’s so similar to Spotify. Aside from that, the addition of high quality music videos was a nice addition, but with YouTube continuing to dominate the world in that area, it seemed somewhat unnecessary. 9/10
Value for money
J: $29.99 a month?
G: Please explain to me why paying $21.99 for Tidal is better than the $11.99 a month you pay for Spotify? Spotify also has more content, so I really think you are getting more bag for your buck there. 3/10
M: polished sounds and a gorgeous user experience aren’t enough to make up for what’s not there, and Tidal lacked a lot of my much loved artists. Maybe next time? 6/10
L: Triple the price of Spotify for exactly the same or possibly a slightly better service? 3/10
A: While Tidal is the highest quality streaming service you can find today, it does come with a mammoth price tag. While the likes of Spotify offer free usage with ads for an unlimited time, Tidal’s pricing seems a bit excessive and unwarranted 3/10
Would you switch from Spotify/any other streaming service to Tidal?
J: I don’t have either so… no?
G: God no
M: No, not yet. Maybe if they beefed up the available tunes.
L: If it was cheaper, had its own laptop app and didn’t eat my data, sure.
Best thing about it?
J: The hearty guffaws I let free when Kanye retroactively erased all traces of association with it from his social media
G: New and exclusive content
M: Tidal’s overflowing with gorgeous playlists that you can meander through over an afternoon – everything from Mew’s influences and Beyonce’s Festival Favourites to basic goodies like Tidal’s Ten. I rate them. Also, Tidal Rising is quite good, showcasing Say Lou Lou’s latest album and the single Worship by Years & Years as an example.
L: Playlists & great content
A: A whole load of content, exclusive and general. Plus it serves as a platform for video content.
Worst thing about it?
J: Going to bed with work at 6 the next morning, only to be rudely awakened from my slumber at somewhere between the hours of 3am and fuck my life o’clock to the full volume strains of Bitch Better Have My Money blaring forth from my iPhone. I am yet to find a reason why this happened beyond ‘Fuck You James, Signed Jay-Z’. I feel like if I messaged Tidal support to ask why that they would probably send back a compilation video of every time I’ve ever been hit in the groin with the laugh track from The Big Bang Theory dubbed in. That’s the kind of disrespectful customer experience they’re peddling. Fuck you Rihanna and fuck you Tidal.
G: Doesn’t bring anything new to the table
M: Their regular ‘top tracks’ lists seem to be dominated by rap. Bleeeeeghhhhhh.
A: The price tag
What would you change?
G: The price
M: a) make an indie electro pop playlist and b) represent more Aussie indie bands.
A: Jay-Z, if you’re reading this I have a brilliant idea for you. Let’s start off with two questions; 1. What do audiophiles love most in the world? Music! 2. What streaming service does everyone else on the internet love more than life itself? Netflix. You already have the platform tap into this area which no other music streaming service has realised, yet you’re not using it. Get the new Kurt Cobain documentary, BBC’s ‘Seven Ages of Rock’, Almost Famous, those fucking Zombie films the Hilltop Hoods made, I don’t know. But if its music related in a documentary, interview or film format get it on there. People who love music also love learning about it and watching it. It’s clear that your service is aimed at audiophiles, so give them something to get truly excited about.
G: The only thing ‘tidal’ is the tidal wave of condemnation and criticism the hifi-online streaming surface has come under. Not all of it is justified, but at the end of the day it’s just not that remarkable a service.
Call it crazy, but my theory is that because I was streaming Tidal on an internet browser, instead of through an actual App like Spotify, the quality wasn’t as good. Having an app for your streaming services also allows for other benefits, because you can control the app with certain commands, keystrokes and shortcuts.
I don’t think Tidal can compete with Spotify. Maybe if you didn’t already have a subscription to a streaming service, the Tidal would be somewhat enticing, but final verdict: don’t bother.
M: I was genuinely pleasantly surprised by what Tidal had to offer, and I think they’re not necessarily getting the credit that’s due. Alright, maybe “lossless sound” is a big pile of wank to most people, but the core offering is robust, with some impressive content (videos, bios, playlists and otherwise). Tidy up a few things around the edges and I’d genuinely consider jumping over.
L: To date I have received 17 stupid spammy emails from Tidal. Also Jack White didn’t personally call me. And let’s face it, that’s the only reason I arranged this entire thing.
Overall I was more impressed than I thought I’d be, but it’s definitely not enough for me to switch, and I don’t know many people who will find this advantageous enough, except for the populace who buy the modern equivalent of those old iPods which had U2’s autographs on it.
A: Look. I feel Tidal aimed at people who can afford the luxury of listening to high quality shit. In many ways I think its trying to bring back the element that was lost when Vinyl went out of fashion due to cassettes which I back. From an economic standpoint it’s hardly worth while in any circumstances when you can torrent music for free, but I feel from a music lovers stand point it’s completely viable. When Jay-Z first announced Tidal, he portrayed it as a movement as opposed to a music streaming service, and I’m pretty sure that’s what he has achieved. I don’t think they’re trying to make a profit as much, more start a very expensive conversation about audio quality and its importance. I think they’re saying that now we’ve become spoilt for choice when it comes to music, more often than not people are ripping shitty quality music off YouTube, putting it on their iPod with a 56kbps bit rate and listening to half of it before they change song and start another track which they’ll listen to two minutes of. I think Tidal is more an effort to try and make people remember that music is in fact an art form. Like imagine art galleries but its like a 32×32 sized pixaleted picasso, its not going to be as attractive. So despite the heavy price tag, Tidal is fighting the good fight.