Depending on traffic conditions, I spend between 2-3 hours of my working day on public transport so having music to accompany me has always been important. I was, therefore, really curious to see how Tidal worked as a portable music player on my phone. As it happens, I was making my way home on the bus when I registered for the service – it helps that my local bus company offer free Wi-Fi access – and within about 2 minutes I had downloaded the Tidal app onto my phone and was streaming The Way Young Lovers Do by Van Morrison into my headphones. Tidal offers three ways to stream music while on the move: through 3G using your call plan’s data allowance, by Wi-Fi where a connection is available, or by downloading the tracks directly to your phone’s storage and playing them offline. I don’t have a large data allowance in my call plan so 3G access is not really an option and my bus route goes through some areas of patchy coverage so Wi-Fi caused some dropouts. I fairly quickly decided that the offline option was the best for me.
Choice of Music
Tidal claim to have over 25 million tracks available in lossless quality and I reckoned that even if 24 million of those turned out to be music I wasn’t interested in, there would still be plenty to keep me occupied. I immediately set to, trying to catch Tidal out with my favourite obscurities. Seventies psychedelic/jazz/rock jam band Sweet Smoke were present and correct, including a live album I was previously unaware of. No-Wave New York chanteuse Lizzie Mercier Descloux is well represented with 8 albums. Finnish jazz fusion bassist/keyboard player Pekka Pohjola also did well with 6 albums, several of which were new to me although there was unfortunately no sign of his 1977 Mike Oldfield collaboration Mathematician’s Air Display. Going out on a limb slightly, I have a couple of friends who are musicians and, with no real expectation of success, I decided to put their names into Tidal’s search bar and hope for the best. Scottish band Shatterhand came up trumps with their 2012 album Chaos And The Art Of Dissent – a great mix of punk/hardcore with pop hooks. My erstwhile school friend, next-door neighbour and bandmate Kevin Walsh also delivered the goods with 3 albums including his recent musical Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon’s novels. I actually struggled not to come up with at least a partial result for almost everything I searched for – some artists are represented by a handful of albums rather than their full catalogue . A few searches failed completely: No joy for session guitarist Barry Reynold’s 1982 solo album I Scare Myself (If you are familiar with Marianne Faithful’s Broken English or Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing albums then that is his distinctive slashing guitar that you hear). King Crimson fans will also be sorely disappointed at the lack of KC content although that is hardly surprising given Robert Fripp’s well-documented views on streaming royalties. A big zero also for one of my favourite female vocalists Mary Coughlan.
Tidal aim to have new albums available on the day of release. As I write this, I’m listening to Pink Floyd’s Endless River, released today. The What’s New section of the app has a wide selection of releases featured across all genres with albums from artists such as Neil Young, Damien Rice, Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, The Flaming Lips, Jessie J, Jackson Browne etc., etc., etc. All in all, I think it’s fair to say that choice isn’t a problem. I haven’t even scratched the surface of Tidal’s classical or jazz offerings.
The Tidal Interface
Tidal’s interface is subtly different depending on whether you use it on a phone, tablet or desktop. This is welcome as I imagine most users will want to use the mobile version on their phones differently from how they would use the desktop/tablet versions. All versions are intuitive and easy to use; the phone version leaves Apple’s standard iPhone music app dead in the water in every respect and that’s probably as much as you need to know. Barring a couple of minor style differences, the Android phone interface is identical in use. One of Tidal’s selling points is their “curated content” – interviews and features related to the music. This is present in the phone and tablet versions but is not easy to spot, it really comes into its own on the desktop version. My writing of this review was interrupted when I spotted an article on the new Pink Floyd album. It certainly adds another element to the Tidal experience. Tidal also offers high definition videos but that is not an aspect that I have so far explored.
My very first commuting companion was an Aiwa recordable portable cassette player. I bought it in October 1983 and it cost around £100 – a reasonably large amount of money back then. It used to take me about 2 hours to make up a 90 minute mix tape, a process I went through at least twice a week. Using Tidal, I can make a 2 hour playlist in about 2 minutes. One thing I really, really like (and I really, really can’t tell you how much I really, really like this) is that I can build a new playlist on my phone on my way home from work and once I get home, launch Tidal on my home set up and have that playlist ready and waiting to play. If you are too lazy to spend a couple of minutes creating a playlist, Tidal has hundreds of readymade themed playlists for you to try out.
If this kind of thing floats your boat you can post your playlists on Facebook or Twitter and other Tidal users can play them or comment on them to let you know how great they are. This latter aspect appears to be broken as although my playlists appeared on Twitter, the thousands of responses congratulating me on my exquisite taste evidently got lost somewhere in cyberspace.
The Listening Experience
Using Tidal as a mobile player with downloaded files is excellent and it does everything I would want it to do. Sound quality is great – I haven’t done a direct comparison with mp3 files but I certainly have no complaints. For my home setup I downloaded the Tidal application to my laptop, connected my laptop via USB to my DAC and was good to go. The files were streamed via Wi-Fi from my router to the laptop and I did experience the occasional drop out. If I was to invest permanently in Tidal, I’d also invest in a wired Ethernet connection – something I should really do in any case. Once again, I had very little complaint over sound quality when compared to my usual streaming set up – a Squeezebox Touch into the DAC. I did have one major gripe though: Tidal did not initially appear to support gapless playback. This was a real problem for live albums or any other album where tracks run together and really spoiled any affected tracks. However, I’m happy to say that after a few days this was resolved.
As mentioned above, my usual streaming is done via a Logitech Squeezebox Touch. When I began my trial, Squeezebox devices were not supported. Thankfully, a Squeezebox update was made available, enabling Tidal to be accessed directly through the Touch. This made a huge difference as I really didn’t want to tie up my laptop to use the service. If you currently use a dedicated computer solution to play your digital files then I guess this is not a problem. If, however, you use a streamer then you will want to have Tidal supported by your streamer’s manufacturer. Happily, Tidal are in negotiation with a range of hifi manufacturers about integrating the service into their products.
While, for me, a streaming service such as Tidal could never replace my own music collection it does provide a very appealing add-on. Ongoing access to new releases is highly attractive and very probably worth the subscription price on its own. The lack Squeezebox integration and support for gapless replay would have been deal breakers for me but with both of these issues resolved, I was highly impressed with what Tidal offered. Looking to the future, support for high resolution files is something that I, and I imagine most audiophiles, would want to see. All in all, using Tidal is a very enjoyable experience and I would certainly recommend giving it a trial. The more I use it, the less likely it is that I’ll want to be without it.
Next up is Linette Smith
TIDAL…Bang Tidy or not ????
First off, TIDAL certainly looks the part, slick and simple and pleasing to the eye. When I first log in, helpful instructions pop up to guide me…it all seems pretty straight forward, now what do I want to listen to?
I flick to the genres section and select Dance…which seems to be mainly Calvin Harris and Avicii, and then realise I will probably be more at home in the Electronica genre.
At first glance there doesn’t seem to be that many options, even when I hit ‘show all’ on the album section, so I pick a Simian Mobile Disco album to start with.
The TIDAL interface seems pretty intuitive to use. It makes sense that if you click the title of the album that’s playing, it comes up into the main screen to show you the full track listing…and that’s exactly what it does….also scrolling down there are more suggested albums by the same artist, which I swear were not in the ‘all albums’ option that I started from!
There is a bit of a delay for a new track/album to start playing, but to be fair that’s probably down to the ‘oh so slow’ internet in our rural neck of the woods (we have been promised fibre-optic broadband but I am not holding my breath!) I do also get the odd break in playback……….again I am sure this is my internet connection as once the internet is behaving itself the breaks disappear.
The promised lossless, HiFi quality sound is just that. I’m listening at my desk using my laptop with a Chord Company USB cable to connect to my little ami Musik DAC/Headphone amp and Oppo PM1 headphones. The sound quality is as good, if not better than listening to Flacs from J River. Clean, clear and detailed, I feel like I am getting the most from my headphones. This is a really good start!
Although TIDAL splits the music into genres, I don’t feel like this is specific enough. While not one for pigeonholing music too much, I feel it would be easier to find new music that might be my taste with sub genres too like House, Techno and Drum n Bass….Electronic covers a huge range of musical styles. I guess this would work for all the other genres too, maybe something for TIDAL to think about down the line.
I have a bit of a dabble with the TIDAL playlists (avoiding the Christmas ones!)…these are pre done for you so you can just pick what you fancy listening to and press play, a great feature to use while sitting at my desk working. Plus if a track comes on that I really like its easy to select it as a favourite or save to my own playlist which I can rearrange into the perfect track order later.
I recommend the Equatorial Beats playlist to liven up a rainy afternoon!
Discovering new music is probably where TIDAL is working best for me, browsing through the genres and listening to playlists brings you something new at the click of a mouse. I like the feature that if you search an artist it brings up what album their tracks are on, often compilations or mix albums, which is a great way to discover other music from similar artists that is either new or that you missed before. For example I found was Hardfloor’s remix of House classic “Jack your body” from Steve “Silk” Hurley……I had missed this remix when it was released!
Will it replace my CD collection or using ripped copies of them?
No, because although it is great for discovering new stuff, there isn’t everything I want to have to hand to listen to on TIDAL yet, however it is excellent to have in complement to your own music collection, especially as the sound quality is so high.
And finally Stuart Smith
I’ll not go into most of the features and whatnot of Tidal as John has already covered most of these.
I was pretty interested in hearing this new-fangled Tidal thing given the recent hype surrounding its release, but at the same time somewhat skeptical about how it would perform. However, set up is a doddle, the layout clear and simple to navigate… and it streams FLAC direct to my desktop.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve given it a fair old hammering and I like it a lot, but let’s deal with a few issues that I personally encountered.
Searching for Chumbawamba’s “Pictures Of Starving Children” and “Never Mind The Ballots” drew a blank. A search for Crass also drew a blank other than an albums called “Crass Moments In 20th Century Culture” by The Klone Orchestra which was pretty interesting and not a record I’d had the pleasure of hearing before and so whilst I was initially a tad disappointed, there was a silver lining to this particular grey cloud.
I wanted to test Tidal’s content for the obscure given the distinct lack of a couple of bands I enjoy and so I searched for “Nurse With Wound” expecting to get similarly disappointing results. Wow, Nurse With Wound are pretty obscure, or so I thought and so I was pretty overwhelmed with the plethora of albums Tidal was able to offer. Now this is a band of whom I had a few vinyl albums back in the day before Internet and so it was interesting to read the band’s biog’…nice feature.
Also a nice feature is the Related Artist button which in this case brought up the likes of Skinny Puppy and Psychic TV. Like I say this is a nice and useful feature and it does open you up to bands you may not have heard of before that are relevant to your tastes, but I found myself jumping around from track to track and not really listening to whole albums. This is more a quirk of my personality I think than a problem with Tidal, but it does open a new way of listening to music that some will enjoy and others will not…it’s certainly quite addictive. So I hit the Related Artists button yet again and up popped an old favourite LFO, hit it again and, hang on a minute…I “get” how Speedy J and Two Lone Swordsmen are related to LFO but NSYNC and Five…mmm.
The What’s New feature is also pretty cool and you’re offered a load of Playlists (I didn’t explore these as I’m too old for that kind of thing but apparently they are all the rage with most folk) as well as a whole load (100 plus) of Recommended stuff under a separate tab. This feature is interesting and so I hit play on a record by The Hum called Hookworms. Yep, my kind of thing so top marks to Tidal for helping me discover a new band. I like this feature a lot!
The Top 20 tab is ok, and brings up pretty much the stuff you would expect, Pink Floyds last album, Annie Lennox and Ed Sheeran, but also some other less expected stuff like Flying Lotus
I added a few of my favourite bands to the My Music section of Tidal with one of these being Hawkwind, so on with “Live Chronicles” and one of my favourite tracks “Moonglum”..oh hang on a minute that’s not Moonglum but an entirely different track. Somehow all the songs are out of kilter somehow – “Master Of The Universe” (side 1, track 12) plays “Sea King” (side 1, track 5), “Angels of Death” (side 1, Track 7) plays “Naration” (side 1, track 10)…I lost patience and moved on before finding “Moonglum” I’m afraid to say. Now this is a live album and here is another niggle as playback is not gapless. However, click on the Hawkwind biography and that’s pretty good, detailed and well written, but then hitting the Related Artists button brings up just four bands, one of whom was Mike Oldfield. However, there are plenty of other Hawkwind albums to go at, so it’s not all negative.
Ok, so there are some niggles with the content on some of the albums (perhaps I stumbled inadvertently across an album that was the exception rather than the rule) but what about the sound quality? Well, most of my working day is spent sat at my desk ad so out of necessity this is where I do the majority of my listening. I’ve got a nice little system based around KEF X300A speakers fed directly from the USB on the computer and with Tidal set up to play FLAC 1411 (again a doddle to set up) there really is very little to complain about with regards the quality of sound I’m experiencing with Tidal…it’s excellent. I found that having the volume on Tidal cranked up to the max and controlling the volume via the knob on the speakers’ amp gave best results. There is a bit of delay when you first fire up a new album and I did experience the odd glitch/dropout in the playback, but these were few and far between and likely an issue with the frankly appalling Livebox router we have been lumbered with – given that this is lossless music being supplied wirelessly I was pretty impressed.
From the perspective of someone who listens to music all day Tidal has proved to be something of a revelation and at just shy of twenty quid a month it represents a bit of a bargain. There is a catch with this however in that Linette and I both work from home and both listen to music independently at our desks and so to get the most out of Tidal we would have to have two subscriptions.
The Offline mode, videos and most of the editorial are pretty irrelevant to me given the way I listen to music, but for others they will, I’m sure, be a major selling point…though I did read a few of the biogs, I must confess.
As always, the main consideration and question has to be “Would I pay for this service or not?” and the answer is a resounding YES…probably. The new music content is excellent and above all sound quality is excellent. Tidal isn’t perfect (what is?), but for my needs and the way I listen to the majority of my music it’s not that far off. Like John, I will find it difficult to change the way I listen having experienced Tidal and recommend you take the trial.
No scores for this one but all three agree that despite the odd niggle it’s definitely worthy of recommending.