In 2014, Tidal began life as a comically pretentious promotional video that featured Jay-Z and his musician friends touting the service as the future of streaming music due to its sound quality and artist-friendly payouts. Years later, Tidal has transformed into a pleasurable music platform that contains exclusive albums and videos, quality editorial, early access to concert and sports tickets, and excellent, lossless sound. A Tidal subscription gets you worthy benefits that aren’t commonplace in the space, which elevates the service to Editors’ Choice status, joining Spotify and LiveXLive Powered by Slacker Radio.
Tidal lacks a free, ad-supported option, so you have to either pay $9.99 per month for 320Kbps AAC+ music (Tidal Premium), or $19.99 per month for non-compressed 1411Kbps FLAC audio (Tidal HiFi)—a much higher fidelity than your standard MP3 or audio stream. Tidal’s top-level plan is double the cost of LiveXLive Powered by Slacker Radio‘s corresponding Premium plan, so take that into consideration before dropping any cash.
Tidal also offers a Premium Family Plan ($14.99 per month) and a HiFi Family Plan ($29.99 per month) that covers up to five people. Apple Music and Google Play Music‘s Family Plans cover six people. There are also significant discounts for students (50 percent off), military operatives (40 percent off), and first responders (40 percent off). In addition, Tidal has a 30-day trial period, so you can give the service a test run before committing to it. However, you’re still required to submit your debit card or credit card information for the trial.
For Tidal’s premium cost, you get premium content. Tidal has cool original feature-length articles, such as “Jay-Z’s Blueprint for a City’s Rebirth” and “Requiem for Warped Tour,” which have embedded music so you can learn more about artists while listening to their tunes. I like Tidal’s move to embrace the music’s faces and histories; Slacker Radio does a similar thing with its informative DNA stations.
Tidal offers exclusive albums for a short time period, such as Jay-Z’s 4:44, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, and Rihanna’s Anti, before they’re widely distributed to other platforms. It also has exclusive video content that never appears on competing services.
Tidal’s exclusive video content consists of music videos, music video outtakes, sneak peeks, and backstage concert footage. Video content is available to both Tidal Premium and Tidal HiFi subscribers, so it’s the lossless music streams that differentiate the two subscription tiers.
Tidal subscribers also get first dibs on select concert and sports tickets before the general public has an opportunity to purchase them, as well as Tidal-exclusive streaming concerts. For example, the Tidal homepage—at the time of this writing—lets subscribers purchase tickets for the Tidal X Rock the Vote voter registration fundraiser.
Note: Tidal does not let you record its streaming audio. If you want that unique feature, check out SiriusXM Internet Radio, the Editors’ Choice for streaming audio services focused on live audio.
Tidal HiFi and Tidal Masters
Tidal’s $19.95 per month HiFi plan is expensive when compared to rival services, but you may find that it’s worth the cash, if you value audio quality. Here’s why: Tidal’s more than 25 million music streams can sound significantly better than rival companies’ streams. That non-compressed 16-bit, 44.1kHz FLAC audio is pretty damn good.
For example, Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” sounded extremely clean in my testing, making it easy for me to discern and appreciate the individual instruments at work; this was especially evident during cymbal crashes. On the other hand, I didn’t notice any audio improvement in Kavinsky’s “Nightcall.” The stream quality was good, but I couldn’t detect a noticeable audio boost over Slacker Radio’s “Nightcall” stream.
It was D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel?)” that sold me on Tidal. I’d never before heard a streaming song sound so sensational. The song carried a fresh energy that was so addicting that I replayed the track several times. I must admit that some listeners may initially find the lossless sound a bit unusual when compared to an MP3’s compressed muddiness, but once you spend time with Tidal HiFi, it’s hard to return to standard streams.
Even better, Tidal offers a Masters collection to HiFi subscribers who use the Tidal mobile or desktop apps. The tracks in the Masters section offer studio-quality, high-resolution audio streams to music fans courtesy of the Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) audio codec. These FLAC-based streams are of 24-bit, 96kHz quality, and sound absolutely terrific. Jon Bonham’s hi-hat work in Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song” is seriously delicious when played back in Masters-quality sound. Amazon Music Unlimited also offers hi-res audio.
Dozens of albums spanning several genres are available in Tidal’s Masters catalog, including The Beatles’ Abbey Road, David Bowie’s Young Americans, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Jay Z’s American Gangster, and Stone Temple Pilots’ Core. Tidal says that more Masters content is on the way.
Please note that headphones play a key role in the listening process; cans with better sound reproduction are, unsurprisingly, conducive to a superior listening experience.
Catalog and Playlists
Tidal’s interface isn’t radically different from that of other music streaming services. I scrolled through the panel-driven What’s New section to see the latest releases, including Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors. This section also houses entertaining themed playlists like “Pop Queens” and “Big Dance Energy.”
Tidal has dozens upon dozens of themed playlists that are categorized by moods, time of day, and events, such as Coachella. It recalls Songza, a defunct, playlist-based music service that inspired many imitators. That’s not at all a bad thing. Tidal’s playlists may not be as quirky as Slacker Radio’s “55 Songs You Think Suck” or “Yacht Music,” but “Headbangers Ball: 1987-1995” will take metal heads back to the heyday of MTV rock.
Other sections highlight new albums, individual tracks, and the aforementioned video content. You can discover music by browsing the genre categories (a feature Pandora lacks) or by using the search box. Browser- and desktop-based based Tidal lacks Audio Search, a Shazam-like feature that analyzes music playing in your environment and displays song information. Tidal’s Android and iOS apps lets you cache music for offline playback.
Overall, the service’s music catalog is stacked. Tidal has struck agreements with Sony, Universal, and Warner, as well as many indie labels. I’ve found popular artists like Arcade Fire, Michael Jackson, and Led Zeppelin, as well as indie faves, such as The Dirtbombs and Harlem. You can, of course, favorite songs and create a radio station based on a particular artist. Unlike Spotify, Tidal lacks collaborative playlists. It also lacks lyrics, which may prove disappointing to people like me who occasionally want to read along to a song.
Tidal is often perceived as an artists’ ego trip, but it’s so much more. The service’s feature-length articles, curated playlists, exclusive albums, video content, high-quality audio (especially via the Masters feature), and early access to concert tickets add unique value. Tidal is an Editors’ Choices, joining LiveXLive Powered by Slacker Radio and Spotify as the best streaming audio services we’ve tested.