Traditionally, streaming music services have been heavily criticized because they don’t offer the same high quality of sound as physical media. But over the last few months that’s definitely changed, with a handful now prioritizing quality.
Last month Deezer entered the U.S. market with a high-quality “Elite” subscription service targeted at those interested in streaming to home audio systems. And then two weeks ago, Rdio came out swinging by upgrading its entire catalog of music to higher-quality sound. The latest streaming music service to go this route is Aspiro-owned Tidal, which claims to be the only one to offer the same quality of music as you’d find on a CD.
Technically speaking, Tidal streams 44.1 kHz / 16-bit FLAC and ALAC music files at 1411 kbps, which allows for lossless sound quality that’s over four times the bit rate of competitors. It’s also the only one to provide that level of quality over mobile devices. However, anyone doing so would be best advised to toggle on a local Wi-Fi network, as your stream would likely obliterate the monthly data caps offered by wireless carriers. (Tidal does offer a lower-quality option that plays AAC music files at 96 Kbps.)
Other services, I’m guessing, would view offering this level of sound quality as overkill — and probably with good reason. Most people don’t really have top-notch speakers that take advantage of this level of high-quality sound. And on top of that, few people really want to pay more to wireless carriers for any data overage charges associated with streaming high-quality music.
But that’s sort of irrelevant for Tidal, as the service is banking on grabbing the number of people who are happy to pay for a monthly streaming music service that offers CD-level quality sound for $20 per month. That’s double what you’d pay for premium subscriptions from Spotify, Rdio, or Beats Music.
This logic kind of makes sense for a service like Tidal, too. We know there’s a fraction of the music-listening consumer base that is more than willing to spend the kind of money necessary on home speaker systems and top-of-the-line headphones just to get the best quality sound. So you might think its kind of insane to drop $700 on a pair of Sony XBA-Z5 ear buds, but there are those who would. And those people might be interested in a service like Tidal.
As for the service itself, Tidal is a pretty straight-forward music service. It has a wide selection of songs and also offers curated playlists built by Tidal’s in-house team of music editors. It also offers a selection of playlists based on your current mood or activity — similar in scope to what Songza is doing. The service also lets you save frequently listened-to albums/tracks to a personal library, plus download music for offline listening.
I enjoyed the limited amount of time I spent playing with Tidal, but its worth noting that there were certain points where there would be a good 20 seconds or so before a song would play. That isn’t very surprising, given that the files are a tad larger than typical streaming music files.
The service itself is available today on the Web, iOS, Android, and a number of smart speaker systems such as Sonos.