TIDAL: Your Favorite Music In A New Experience

I've always poked fun at audiophiles. There's people among us that willingly drop a rent check on a single pair of headphones, and who I imagine have a vinyl collection worth as much as a new Honda. Back when Winamp was still a thing, and torrenting wouldn't land you in court, I downloaded a few rock albums in FLAC format. What the heck is FLAC? Standing for "Free Lossless Audio Codec," when it comes to digital audio files, it's the crème de la crème. Cranking up AC/DC Live, several tracks in I really couldn't tell a difference, and immediately wrote if off. Little did I know at the time, I was a doofus.

MP3s, what many people listen to, are compressed in a way to keep the file size down. This leads to some of the music, the sounds, getting cut off to make way for less space. To the average listener, an MP3 sounds fine, and they wouldn't necessarily be wrong. To the audiophile, they're an abomination. However, streaming services like Spotify and Rdio take advange of the Ogg and AAC codec, which while better, max out at 320kbps.

Thanks to the work of folks like Neil Young with the Pono, a high quality iPod of sorts that's all about the best possible sound, there's a growing trend of getting people in touch with what some claim is the way music is meant to be heard.

One company on that bandwagon is TIDAL, a "high fedelity" music streaming service with over 25 million songs. This means agreements are in place with every major record label, including many indie labels. TIDAL also has a collection of over 75,000 HD music videos, and is available on every major platform except for Windows Phone. Sorry, black sheep of the mobile world.

The term "high fedelity" is a marketing buzzword, but it's not misleading in TIDAL's case. With streaming set to HiFi, you're getting music through a FLAC 1411kbps file. This means you'll be hearing everything you were meant to hear. Well, the music alone is only part of the puzzle. Remember when I said I was a doofus back in the day? The reality is, if you don't have really good headphones or speakers and by really good I don't mean Beats By Dre or the generic Apple headphones, you're not going to get the full experience.

What is the full experience? Unparalleled sound that will have you listening to your favorite music like you're hearing it for the very first time. From Pink Floyd to Childish Gambino, I can hear every subtle little nuance. Crisp and crystal clear immediately come to mind. As someone who used to poke fun, I'm now a believer with hours upon hours of listening to show for it.

TIDAL's interface is very cleanly laid out, and search works almost instantly. While I miss the level of curation that Spotify offers with their playlists based on your mood or activity, the snappiness of TIDAL's web player makes up for it, and music doesn't stop and skip even with 10+ tabs open like it did on Spotify. If you use the Windows or Mac desktop app, you can actually import your playlists from Spotify.

The music selection is fairly solid, and it's definitely a good idea to try the 7-day free trial just to make sure what you like is there. I was a bit disappointed there were a few artists and albums that TIDAL didn't have, but was also surprised in a couple instances where it had something Spotify didn't. TIDAL recommends at least a 2 Mbps connection, and if you're streaming on the highest quality, be prepared to wait a few extra seconds for buffering before every song.

The mobile app is virtually identical to the web and desktop offering, though found it odd that you have to turn shuffle off or on in the settings instead of directly from the player. Where we get into cons is back to the music itself. Streaming music in the highest quality means you're going to be using more data. Like, a lot more.

How much more? Well, there's a reason why you can turn the setting down to high or standard, which streams AAC files similar to what's found on iTunes. And there's also a reason you can set to stream music only over Wi-Fi on mobile. After around 90 minutes of listening to HiFi music on my phone, I used over 500 MB. Obviously, your performance will vary, but on the go, HiFi is not for the faint of heart.

This also extends to saving playlists offline. For a workout playlist of around 110 songs, it took up 3.1 GB. But man does it sound good. Thankfully though, you can change the download quality to High or plain ol' Normal if you don't want to go crazy. On my laptop, which I always have TIDAL playing the absolute best quality, I notice about a 15% hit in battery life at the end of the day.

If you prefer listening to music via the web, you may run into some problems. Currently, HiFi playback is only supported in Google Chrome. Lastly, there's the price. TIDAL runs $19.99 per month, which is double the cost of Spotify's Premium offering.

At the end of the day, TIDAL is not for the average person. It's geared towards those who already invest in quality audio equipment, and want no compromises. If that's the case, some would argue that an extra $10 a month for mind-blowing sound is a great deal. I know I do.


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