For the longest time, I’ve felt as though I had to settle for MP3-quality sound ever since I got my first iPod way back in 2004. Around that time was when I discovered the joys of FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) encoding, which encoded music files in full-CD quality, instead of the near approximation that was MP3 and other lossy (so-called because in order to make the files as small as they are, roughly 80-90% of the audio data is removed) encoders. While most people were content with being able to have 25,000 songs in their pocket, people with more sensitive and discerning ears like myself were wishing for someone somewhere out there to answer our prayers and get onto the FLAC bandwagon.
And then a few weeks ago, as if in answer to my prayers, I discovered Tidal. It’s a high-fidelity lossless (the term for FLAC and other encoders that don’t remove any audio whatsoever from music when encoding files) music streaming and downloading service. It’s owned by several high-profile artists, including Jay-Z, Beyonce, Rihanna, Madonna and others, and offers two tiers of streaming service. One is for regular users who don’t necessarily care about the quality of the music and want the MP3 version of songs, which is $9.99 a month. For people such as myself, the site also offers full-CD quality FLAC streaming of the same songs for $19.99 a month. In addition, should you choose to purchase the album from the Tidal store, you can do so in either format as well. If you choose to purchase the FLAC version, which (full disclosure) is roughly the price of a new CD at a brick & mortar music store, both FLAC and MP3 versions are available for download, but for those who have most modern MP3 encoders that’s hardly an issue and which I’ll delve into later.
The music collection itself is quite expansive, well into the millions of tracks. Searches for artists and albums showed all the singers & bands I grew up with and more, even making recommendations on similar artists that I had forgotten from my days growing up watching MTV, back when it played music videos. Speaking of which, music videos are also available on there for your viewing pleasure should you choose, which is a nice alternative to YouTube and VEVO. Once you create an account on there, you can make playlists of however long you want to stream from your browser, or to your smartphone and iPad if you choose. And when connected to your WiFi network, it plays the songs in full FLAC format. You can also favorite artists, albums and genres, and based on these items, Tidal can recommend music to you. In addition to the more established artists past and present, the website profiles new artists you’ve never heard of, and also presents music articles in their Tidal Read section on up & coming artists, as well as behind the scenes articles on established artists, including some behind the scenes stuff on Beyonce’s new album “Lemonade”.
The other nice thing is that there are apps for Android and iOS devices, so one could stream their albums and playlists created on the website to these phones and through whichever device they connect it to, including headphones, car stereos, what have you. One thing I noticed initially, which has since been resolved by and large, was that especially large playlists (I first created one over 1600 songs in length) played only the first couple hundred songs of the list, but would ignore songs further down the list if the playlist was set to shuffle mode. Also, while you can make playlists, favorite artists/albums from any device with Tidal, you can only purchase the albums from the Tidal Store website, but after having recommended it to the Tidal team, I was told they’d pass along the suggestion to have the option to purchase albums from the Tidal program and apps. When or if that will happen is anyone’s guess, but we can hope right.
Something I discovered very quickly about songs I’ve downloaded from Tidal is the fact that they are DRM free, so a person can re-encode the songs they’ve downloaded into whichever format they please to play on whichever device they so choose, including iPods. There are also an increasing number of Hifi devices, such as from Phillips and Fiio, that play FLAC files. This even includes AV receivers that have Internet connectivity or Bluetooth, so if you splurged and got yourself a $900 AV receiver that has Bluetooth or can connect to the Internet, do yourself a favor and sign up for Tidal’s Hifi streaming. You’ll be thanking yourself.
Overall, I’m very impressed with Tidal, and while it may have some minor kinks to work out still, and still has to deal with the juggernaut that is Apple, I’m sure that sooner rather than later, more people will see the light, especially with the prevalence of Hifi headphones Bluetooth speakers, and the list goes on, increasingly coming onto the market.
Tidal website: http://tidal.com