Watch out, Spotify, Tidal is upping the ante for streaming-music sound quality

The Audiophiliac explores the deep end of Tidal's new music subscription service, and he loves the lossless sound quality.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read


I was initially skeptical about Tidal, but I'm really enjoying this new streaming music service. Spotify, Mog and Pandora never clicked with me; with those music subscription services I'd jump from tune to tune, listen a bit, then move onto something else. It's not that I ever thought Spotify or Pandora sounded bad, but they couldn't hold my attention. Tidal keeps me in the music.

It also expanded my horizons: I use Tidal to check out new music, and when I find something I really like, I buy it. Old habits like that don't change so quickly; I buy music I love because I always try to support artists I like directly. I own thousands of LPs and CDs I've picked up over the years, and I have no plans of ever letting them go. On average I buy six or seven CDs and LPs a month.

The multi-room speakers of CES 2015

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One of the very first albums I found on Tidal was guitarist Fred Frith's "To Sail, to Sail." I'm a Frith fan, but I had never heard that album before. His scratchy acoustic guitar meditations are open-ended, and Frith's wildly eccentric stuff is so unique. That record led to another guitar wizard, John Fahey, and his gorgeous "Of Rivers and Religion" solo album. I bought both records.

Then I stumbled upon Radiohead's "Com Lag: 2+2=5" collection of live tracks and B-sides. For me Radiohead's dense textures and vast soundscapes are the big draw, and Tidal doesn't gloss over any of the details. Of course, massively over-compressed music, like the Pixies' "Indie Cindy" album, still sounds like crap, but I can't blame Tidal for poorly recorded and mixed music.

Listening comparisons between Tidal and Spotify weren't 100 percent clear-cut -- some of the time the music sounded not much different -- but as I listened more and more I usually preferred Tidal. Its maximum streaming 1,411Kbps bit rate lossless FLAC (or ALAC)-formatted files definitely win on sheer resolution over Spotify's 320Kbps bit rate, but there's no way to know which album master was used by each service (there are lots of different versions of albums). When I compared Tidal with a CD of the same music, again the results were inconsistent. Sometimes there was no difference, but when there was I usually preferred the CD. In the final analysis none of that really matters, as it's the wider experience with day-to-day listening that counts.

At home I listened to Tidal over the extraordinary Genelec M030 monitor speakers, or the Stax SR-207 electrostatic headphones. They're both exceedingly revealing of sonic deficiencies, but Tidal music sounded perfectly fine. As one album led to the next, Tidal quickly became an indispensable part of my music discovery and daily listening regimen. The bottom line is this: Tidal is the only streaming service that has maintained my interest, so it must be doing something right.

True, Tidal is more expensive than the more established music streaming services, at $19.99 or £19.99 a month, but you can check it out with a free seven-day trial subscription. Tidal lossless music streaming is available for iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac computers, as well as on Android systems and PCs. Plus network players from Sonos, Bluesound, Linn, Simple Audio, Auralic, Amarra sQ, McIntosh, Wadia, and Meridian. For more information, check out this article on the Tidal streaming service by Ty Pendlebury.

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