A First Look At Tidal’s Music Streaming Service

A First Look At Tidal's Music Streaming Service

Along with all the wacky things that happened in the world today, TidalHiFi launched their music streaming service.  So the quote goes, “who needs another rock and roll band,” and it might be said with equal weight, “who needs another music streaming service?”

But we do.

Unlike all the other streaming services, Tidal is serving up their music at 16/44.1 resolution.  For those not so techie, this is pure CD quality resolution, not the dumbed down mp3 files that everyone else is offering.  And the difference to anyone that cares is huge. Yes, yes, I love analog and my vinyl, but I’m totally tired with the thought of moving 12,000 CDs and 6,500 albums this May when Pamela and I move into Portland’s Pearl district and an 800 square foot apartment.  Millions of tracks, served up on my iPod, through the digital output to my dCS DAC?  Sign me up.

I love music, that’s the reason I bought my first decent stereo system in the first place when I was about 17 years old.  38 years later my enthusiasm hasn’t waned, but lugging around physical media has.  If you had been sitting next to me in high school (like our web editor, Ellen Green was) and whispered in my ear, saying “dude, someday you’ll have 20,000 albums,” I would have never believed you.  But it’s 2014 and I do.

If you’re the rabid music collector that has ten or twenty pressings of everything, the idea of streaming CD quality music probably doesn’t sound like anything that impressive.  But if like me, you’re a music lover, who even after purchasing almost 20,000 albums, cringes when the person behind the counter at the music store says, “find everything you need?” This is your lucky day.  Of course I found everything I fucking needed, I just couldn’t afford to bring 1,500 albums home today.  Duh.

Even with todays music servers, you still have to rip all those darn CD’s that you no longer want and then, depending on the size of your music collection, you might just have to become a part time IT guy as well.  Who needs it?  Not me.  The Tidal service sets you free and allows you to discover and enjoy music without any of the headaches.

So, how does it work?

Unlike the logjam that is Spotify, you’ll be up and listening to music in about 90 seconds with Tidal.  Give em a user ID, password and credit card number.  Download the app – bingo!

Like most other systems, there is an artist, album and track layout, with others favorites, etc etc. You can stream on your iPhone or iPad instantly through headphones, and if your phones are up to the task, you’ll immediately notice the increased fidelity that streaming 16/44 makes.  But we’ll argue about that more later.

Using my iPhone 5 as the physical streamer proved decent, but the larger screen of the iPhone 6+ definitely makes this all more readable for those of us 50 and over.  Interestingly, the Bluetooth connection between the Apple TV and the iPhone 6 makes for a much better musical interface, with a much bigger and more fleshed out sound, the 5 sounding like mp3 by comparison.  An hour into the demo, it’s getting a lot more interesting.  Yeah, they’ve got 12 Tommy Bolin albums in the queue.  Hmmm.  Keith Richards, check.  The new Annie Lennox album, double check.  No Tim Curry yet though, or the Beatles, but they expect to flesh the catalog out sooner rather than later. Do I really want to move all that vinyl in May?  I’m thinkin EBay.

How does it sound?

With so many audiophiles peeing themselves about DSD downloads, seriously, I could care less.  I’ve got a couple of great DAC’s in the house and for the most part, this vinyl lover can live happily every after with 16/44.  And who knows, maybe Tidal will start streaming high res files one of these days.  Until I know for sure, I’m not giving the guys at HD Tracks another penny, and neither should you.

While the sound quality via Bluetooth is excellent, hardwiring the connection from the iPhone, going via USB is much, much better. A quick listen of Laurie Anderson’s Home of the Brave instantly reveals how much more musical nuance is brought to the party – particularly in the upper registers.  Now, the Bluetooth connection sounds like early CD, with a bit of graniness. However, the Iphone does not use the latest, greatest Bluetooth protocol, so there’s probably more performance to be had here.

Tidal does not mention what master is used for any of these tracks, but a side by side comparison of the Laurie Anderson stream from Tidal and the original CD reveals no discernable difference between sources, via the dCS Paganini stack.  So the rest of you should be ace.

The bad with the good

As awesome as all this is, there are still a few things to be addressed, but for a 1.0 release, Tidal is pulling all A’s.  First, they don’t have everything, so you can’t dump your whole music collection just yet.  But there is a lot to listen to, and I was truly amazed at the catalog depth they’ve pulled off out of the chute. Bluetooth playback is still slightly glitch, but it is with every other Bluetooth device I’ve used, so we’ll call this a neutral.

However, that’s about 3% neutral to bad, 97% awesome.  Sound quality when Bluetooth is on point is excellent, and hardwiring your iDevice to your DAC sounds as good as any transport or streamer.  Tidal is promising Sonos and other streamer compatibility in the near future, so you can count on this getting better too.

The ability to make and save favorites and playlists is also quite good, but being wishful, if Meridan licensed the Sooloos interface to Tidal, the combination would be untouchable.

All nitpicking aside, Tidal offers a way to ditch all or most of your physical media, and have the music you love whenever and wherever you want it, all for $20 a month.  If this isn’t worth an Exceptional Value Award for 2014, I don’t know what is.  I can’t think of a better way to enjoy music!  Now you can be the guy with the major music collection without lugging all those boxes of albums around.  And, they are streaming music videos too…