I first became aware of Tidal in October last year. At that time it was being quietly marketed as a high quality streaming service with the emphasis on its lossless, CD-quality sound. Sound quality has virtually become an irrelevance in the mass market; the received wisdom that it it impossible to hear the difference between a 320 Mbps MP3 file and a 24 bit 192 high resolution file has been happily accepted as truth, mostly by people who have never heard a high resolution file. The result of this was that Tidal found itself targeting a niche market of audiophiles for whom sound quality was still a vital consideration and who had either already discovered the benefits of streaming music from their own computer-based audio set ups or were increasingly curious about doing so.

Once you have ripped your CD collection to hard drive, physical media loses its attraction fairly quickly and so the leap of imagination to streaming music not from your own collection but from one stored in the cloud is not such a great one. It seems fairly logical therefore that audiophiles would find a lossless streaming service to be an attractive proposition. Quiet success in a niche market seemed to be Tidal’s aim, although its parent company, Aspiro, was steadily losing money. And then earlier this year something extraordinary happened.

Jay Z announced that his Project Panther Ltd. company would be buying Tidal. The subsequent relaunch of the service signalled a clear change of direction: Tidal would continue to deliver its lossless service but for those who did not need or want this, a MP3-quality service would also be available. Co-owned by a consortium of artists such as Beyoncé, Coldplay, Kanye West, Daft Punk and many more, Tidal would be run “by artists, for artists” and promised to pay higher royalty rates than other competing services. The emphasis was now clearly on the mainstream market.

There are certain parallels between the Tidal relaunch and the earlier launch of Neil Young’s Pono player and online music store. Like Jay Z, Young relied heavily on artist endorsement, hoping to persuade his own fans, along with those of artists such as Tom Petty and Bob Dylan that repurchasing their CDs as Pono Music (in reality a generic high resolution audio file) would transform their listening experience. Perhaps Jay Z failed to notice that Pono failed to set the world on fire – unlikely – or maybe he counted on attracting a younger demographic who have already embraced the idea of accessing their music from a computer.

If Jay Z thought that his celebratory-laden launch would woo his target demographic then he may have made a grave misjudgement. In the days following the launch, Facebook posts about Tidal revealed, in no particular order, the following insights: 1) If you think I am going to give even more money to a bunch of multi-millionaire Illuminati (I lost count of the number of times I came across that word in Tidal-related posts) then you can think again. 2) I already use Spotify, why do I need this.? 3) if Kanyé West is involved, I’m having nothing to do with it. 4) Seriously, you expect me to pay for music now?

While Facebook comments did include some positive support for Tidal , the naysayers were very much in the majority. As another potential fly in the ointment, Apple have announced their own streaming service which will offer a service similar to Tidal but with additional social media features. Apple have a sizeable, extremely loyal user base who are very likely to stick to the brand they know when choosing a streaming service. So, will Tidal survive the stampede of the oncoming Apple juggernaut? Recent headlines like “Why Jay Z’s Tidal Is A Complete Disaster” on Bloomburg.com suggest that Tidal has its work cut out for it if it it is going to be able to attract a sufficient number of subscribers to make it a viable business.

So, if you are looking to sign up to a streaming service, is Tidal worthy of your consideration? I tried out Tidal prior to the Jay Z buyout and I was very impressed with what it had to offer so I gave it another try out to see if anything had changed. I’m pleased to be able to say that any changes are very much for the better; Tidal has upgraded its user interface to provide easier access to content. While video content was available under the old interface, it was pretty much hidden. Now, if you search for an artist, any video content is immediately apparent. I have to say though that video content remains very much a bonus feature as far as I am concerned; the music content is still the star attraction.

So, here are some reasons why I think you should check Tidal out if you are considering a streaming service:

Choice of audio quality; either MP3 or lossless subscriptions are available. If you choose the lossless option you can still download MP3s to your portable devices to save on memory space.
Tidal is integrated into equipment from a range of manufacturers including Auralic, Electrocompaniet, Linn, McIntosh, Moon, Squeezebox and many others.
A wide range of content – over 30 million tracks across a variety of genres from rock to classical, through pop, dance, world, soul, electronica and many others.
New music added regularly with new releases usually made available at the same time as the CD release.

Most importantly of all, when integrated into a Hifi system, Tidal offers excellent sound quality.

Audio streaming as an alternative to physical media or downloading is still in its infancy and it it is way to early to predict who will emerge as the market leader or indeed how many competitors will enter the market. It is clear, however, that streaming is the new wave of audio content delivery. If Jay Z has anything to do with it, it will be a Tidal wave.

John Scott

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