Ive been tempted to download Tidal ever since Kanye West dropped The Life of Pablo exclusivelyat least for a momenton the streaming platform. But as with Rihannas Anti before it, I knew it was only a matter of time before alternate avenues emerged.
Princes tragic death on April 21 changed things entirely. The R&B icon had a fraught relationship with the Internet to say the least, leaving those scrambling to find an adequate soundtrack that day with few options outside random YouTube clips or purchasing his catalog on iTunes. My CDs are still in boxes from my last move, and theres a noticeable gap in my record collection in the P section, so I turned to Tidalthe only streaming service that offers Princes deep discography on demand.
If that hadnt forced my hand, the surprise release of Beyoncs masterpiece, Lemonade, two days later, surely wouldve. The combination of those two events brought a reported1.2 million new subscribers to Tidal.
That means everyones 30-day free trial is almost up. Heres what Ive learned about Tidals biggest selling points over the last month and why Ill be disconnecting.
Theres only one Prince
Need to hear Purple Rain right now? Have a sudden urge for the soundtrack for Tim Burtons Batman? Curious how Princes flurry of new releases actually stack up? Tidal is the only place you can hear it all on demand. Its a ridiculously deep catalog and can you occupy you for months, if not years.
Principal ownerJay Z has a deep Rolodex of connections, and Tidals artist-owned model makes it a premium destination for high-profile exclusives. Rihanna initially released her latest thriller, Anti, in February as a Tidal exclusive, followed in short order by Beyoncs Formation, Wests The Life of Pablo, and ultimately, Lemonade, though the latter can still be viewed via HBO Go. As of this writing, Radioheads A Moon Shaped Pool can be streamed in its entirety on Tidal and Apple Musicbut not Spotify. Its also become a destination for new music videos (Nicki MinajsFeeling Myself and Rihannas Bitch Better Have My Money), and the occasional streaming concert. While it seems to only be a matter of time before the window of exclusivity closes on these sorts of releases, its clear that if you want to hear them first, you need to be on Tidal.
Tidals defining feature is its high-fidelity sound. Whereas most streaming servicesand Tidals $9.99 tier for that matteroffer only mp3s, which squash audio files in the interest of saving space on your hard drive, its premium version ($17.99 per month) relies on FLAC (free lossless audio codec). That means that youre getting a far higher quality of soundwhat the artist intended you hearevery time you start streaming.
This is by far the most appealing aspect of Tidal for me personally, especially when Im streaming through Sonos. But for most people, its a complete non-factor. A decade of iPods and shitty earbuds have taught most to accept audio quality thats closer to a ringtone than an LP.
One of the most daunting aspects of leaving Spotify is losing all of the playlists Ive painfully curated over the years. Thankfully, Tidal integrates with soundiiz.com, which makes it easy to import playlists from Spotify and Soundcloud. I tested out a couple of my own playlists and was mostly satisfied with the results. I lost significant chunks in the Numero Group catalog, and a handful of tracks from myBest of 2015 playlist (Django Django, Lera Lynn, Hop Along, Battles, Thunderbitch). The more obscure you get, the more youll lose: Eight of the tracks from my Losing My Edge playlist, which pulled one track from each artist referenced in LCD Soundsystems track of the same name. But honestly, that was less than I expected, and the whole process took under 10 minutes.
This isnt a distinctive feature for TidalSpotify offers itbut it works really well. If you need to download an album for the gym or the subway, its as easy as toggling from within the app.
What Tidal lacks in original content (like Spotify Sessions), its attempting to make up for with thoughtful playlists, curated either by its editorial staff or by the artists themselves. Theres a lot to unpack here. It reminds me of the supplemental CD youll get with Mojo magazine, allowing you to dig a little deeper into the material. Take, for instance, this collection of tracks helmed by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, this playlist of the samples from Drakes Views, or these unexpected Nirvana covers, pegged to Sturgill Simpsons In Bloom overhaul.
So is Tidal worth it?
Whether youre willing to pay for Tidal or not will depend almost entirely on if you already have a preferred streaming music service and how much stock you put into its high-fidelity sound.
Unlike Spotify, Tidal doesnt offer a free, ad-supported versionthough its worth noting that it extends discounted rates for veterans and is 50 percent off for students. Given the overlap in their offers, and the infrequency of genuinely exclusive releases, that means youre ultimately going to be paying a little more for whats essentially the same service.
What Tidal is really lacking is a defining feature, something that clearly differentiates it from Apple Music and company. HD video isnt it. For Spotify, its the platforms Discover featurewhich offers personal recommendations and a shockingly good weekly playlist based on complex algorithms and your own personal listening habitsand the ability to see what your friends are listening to and share playlists with relative ease. (Tidal has its own version of Discovery, but it’s nowhere near as sophisticated as what Spotify provides.)
My colleague Nico Lang said it best:
xclusives arent enough: What Tidal has yet to offer is a compelling narrativeor any real reason that users should prefer their service over Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, or any of the other virtually identical offerings from other companies. Its not just about content but doing something different than what every single other streaming service provides.
Canceling your Tidal subscription is easy. Just go to Settings > Account > Manage Subscription. In the pop-up window, click on Subscription again, then look for Cancel my subscription in the bottom right-hand corner.
As for me, let’s just say I finally stocked up on Prince records.