Last Monday, in a fairly bizarre ceremony, an assortment of rave Kings with various headware, a R&B Barbadian Princess, a quiffed analogue juggernaut and a Brooklyn hip-hop mogul strolled on stage to formally announce the launch of what they called a “game changer”.
Their big selling point is “lossless quality music” – something that few companies boast (outside of Scandinavia). The standard format in streaming and digital music compresses and clips the music file, removing some of the nuance, muffling and warping the songs artists work so hard to make. Tidal says that is what sets them apart from services like Spotify and iTunes.
Lossless quality music almost completely removes clipping of the song (making files bigger). Most quality CDs use lossless technology so it’s kind of odd that to take two steps forward today, we have to take one step back.
Tidal offers two levels of service. The basic one costs £10 a month, which gets you 25 million tracks, HD music videos and editorials; the premium version costs you £20, with the basic features plus offline and online access to the lossless quality music – which, by a genius conversion from $20, Brits and Europeans end up getting charged more! Tidal may face a barrier due to the obvious difference in offerings compared to free services.
What baffles me is how the model work for artists.
Tidal was bought by Jay-Z to combat streaming companies like Spotify because the money artists were making from a stream was roughly 0.01p per play. A paltry amount for the time and effort it takes to make a hit song. But rather than renegotiate their contracts with the record companies that cream almost all of the money, they instead charge the consumer more. Even if they double or quadruple the amount taken from streams, they are still disregarding the fact that their record company is taking a large portion of it. It’s almost as if they are forgetting that there is still a middle man between them and the consumer.
Throughout the week, I predominately used the mobile app and I used the premium version so I could test their sound quality claims.
And to be totally honest, I couldn’t hear a noticeable difference. Sure, there were occasions in which I could hear, perhaps, a more pronounced vocal track or more crisp drumming, here and there, but overall, side by side, most genres and individual songs sounded identical when played next to Spotify. For the most part, a lot of modern music doesn’t really lend itself to an increase in audio fidelity, it is partly due to the recording process in itself.
FLAC (the file type that produces better quality music) can be made meaningless by modern hardware such as a good quality soundbar that scales up mp3s. While again, there is a financial barrier to own such hardware, so offering an alternative via Tidal is a plus.
Tidal borrows a lot of its design from Spotify, and this isn’t a slight against either company; why fix something that many people are used to? The design is clean and easy to navigate: separating content on the front page between “What’s New” , “Videos”, “Playlists”, “Albums” and “Tracks” tabs within easy reach.
On mobiles, a simple swipe or tap can access everything in the app and due to the familiarity with Spotify, I could get around the app within minutes.
During playback, I found a weird design issue with the music display. The artwork would be placed at the very top of the screen and the backward – pause/play – forward buttons at the bottom, but there would be an inch or so gap between the two, which looks aesthetically odd, considering the additional features accessed via a swipe down could probably fill that gap. But this is just nitpicking if I had to choose problems with the design.
The search menu was placed at the top next to the album and artist information, and initially I didn’t notice it, thus making it tricky to find. For a relatively new launch, their music library is pretty expansive, living up to their claims of having 25 million tracks. When it came down to searching for content, some searches came out blank (which kind of sucked) but it is still amazing how much they offer for former-Spotify users.
Looking at the here and now, does Tidal live up to its price tag? No.
While what they offer isn’t anything close to sparse, £20 per month (if the quality of sound is what you’re after) is still a considerable mark up from most services and only in time would that price match up with the touted exclusives that are rolling out over the next few months. Then again, it kind of depends to whom Tidal is aimed at: there will probably be that hardcore fan who wants that extra few days or weeks’ exclusive of their favourite artist’s new album, or that audiophile who wants that extra notch or two in quality of sound from their headphones. But to the general consumer, history has shown that the cheapest offering is usually the most popular one and Tidal won’t exactly tackle piracy in getting torrenters back through the paying door.