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Review: TIDAL high-fidelity music streaming

Better than Spotify?

Heads up!

Welcome to this article from the Crutchfield archives. Have fun reading it, but be aware that the information may be outdated and links may be broken.


hen we listen to music, we often have to choose between sound quality and convenience. I’ll admit to settling for “good enough” in the past, from MP3 downloads to quickly pulling up songs on YouTube and listening through my phone's built-in speaker.

Tidal Logo

But what if you could get uncompromised sound alongside instant gratification? That's what TIDAL offers. It's an online music service that touts higher-quality audio than Spotify®.

What is Lossless streaming?

Most streaming services compress music files for fast delivery to your smartphone or tablet. Part of the music is essentially chopped off. While that leaves the meat and potatoes, you lose musical nuances that can give a song more life and substance. 

TIDAL, however, offers CD-quality music streaming. It streams FLAC files at 1,411 kbps – that delivers far more data than the lossy streams offered by Spotify and most other services.

FLAC chart

TIDAL lets you choose and toggle between three different sound qualities.

TIDAL offers two “tiers” of streaming plans — $19.99 a month for “HiFi” streaming  and $9.99 a month for “Standard” streaming. The HiFi plan gives you CD-quality lossless and high-res streaming capabilities, while the Standard plan streams music at 320 kilobits-per-second (kbps), on par with Spotify and Google Play.

You can toggle between sound quality settings. TIDAL HiFi takes up a lot of data, so if you're out and about and listening on, say, a portable Bluetooth speaker, you'll probably want to choose a lower setting. You can also download songs to your phone to play when you're away from an internet connection. Handy when you're on a road or plane trip, or when you don't want to use your data plan.

It should be noted that TIDAL HiFi can tax less robust wireless networks. I had no issues on my computer when connected by Ethernet, but occasionally had problems on my Android phone over Wi-Fi. Every once in a while, the audio would drop out or start skipping near the end of a song.

streaming quality on mobile app

You can set different streaming bitrates on TIDAL's mobile app, so you don't have to manually toggle when on Wi-Fi or your data plan.

TIDAL streams high-resolution music via MQA. MQA encoding "folds" studio-quality audio into files that are small enough to stream. Called TIDAL MASTERS, it is currently available on the TIDAL desktop PC app and through the Bluesound multi-room music service.

So how does it sound?

I fired up TIDAL for a first impression through some nice portable headphones — the Sennheiser HD 1 On-ears. I plugged directly into my Android phone as I cooked a hearty weekend breakfast. I put on some jazzy horns-and-percussion hip-hop in the form of the new Oddisee album. Well-rounded bass laid the foundation for a rich mid-range that felt light and bouncy. It was a perfect Sunday morning soundtrack as the energetic sound added oxygen to the room. What I heard was on pace with the attack-of-the-senses aroma of my morning mugful and scrambling skillet.

Sennheiser headphones

TIDAL sounded great through the Sennheiser HD 1 On-ear headphones.

At work, I used the same headphones at my desk and played the Tom Petty track “Melinda.” The HD 1 On-ears have a pretty up-front sound, but this felt more open with instruments playing from different directions. As the keys melodically lulled me into the groove, I barely noticed the percussion building the beat. By the time I caught my toe-tapping, the rhythm guitar kicked in and the pace picked up. Then Petty’s vocals started, perfectly placed in the track, taking the rollercoaster ride home.

So how does TIDAL's sound quality compare to Spotify's? I used Preservation Hall Jazz Band's "St. James Infirmary, Part 1 and 2" (featuring Jim James and Trombone Shorty) as a test track. It’s one of my favorite live recordings, because it's closest to how I heard them perform it here in Charlottesville. I had listened to it many times on Spotify, and TIDAL gave me a much stronger illusion that I was there in the building. It was so powerful, that I could practically recreate that memorable concert by closing my eyes.

When I reviewed the Bluesound Pulse Soundbar, I tried it out the Tidal Masters high-res offerings. Here's what I thought:

"The sound seemed to open up and breathe a little more with the higher-resolution files. Roberta Flack’s “Killing me Softly” was a highlight.

The strong thump of the bass and percussion took over my rapidly nodding head at first. Then my movement was forced to slow down by Flack’s beautiful “can’t-be-rushed” vocals as the song went on. Her voice was crystal clear, and there was an extra spaciousness to the song."

TIDAL MASTERS MQA menu on Bluesound

Bluesound lets you stream studio-quality MQA music files via TIDAL MASTERS.

Best gear for listening to TIDAL

It was striking how good TIDAL sounded just through a decent pair of headphones connected directly to my computer or phone. Of course, better headphones yield better sound. Add a headphone amp or digital-to-analog converter to your listening setup for some extra power and depth.

If you want to use TIDAL with your home stereo, you have some options. There's no stereo integration on the level of Spotify Connect, but you can play TIDAL wirelessly on a receiver with Apple Airplay. For better sound, use TIDAL's web player and connect your computer to a DAC or digital inputs on your home system.

TIDAL is also integrated into Bluesound, DTS Play-Fi, Denon HEOS, and Sonos, multi-room systems that let you play music through your whole house. I tried it out with a Sonos wireless home theater we set up — the music sounded bigger than the speakers themselves. Like everything with Sonos, there’s seamless control between TIDAL and other music services.

User experience

I admitted earlier how much convenience matters to me, so all the praise of the sound only matters if TIDAL is as intuitive and engaging as the other music services. Both the desktop browser and mobile app succeed here.

Desktop is super easy to navigate, with all your main options to the left and the “search” field up top.

shot of My music

I typically gravitate to the “My music” area so I was pleased to see it highlighted and “expanded” so could quickly get to my saved playlists, artists, or albums.

The playlists are also very good, usually having something to do with recent news or a cultural event. I also like how you’re given an easily digestible amount and can choose to view more if you would like. It makes music discovery simple without overwhelming you with choices.

Picture of playlists

You can search playlists by genre or mood, and I found a pretty dense catalog of playlists in each category.

Cool features and content

TIDAL allows you to use multiple devices at the same time, which is super convenient. I pulled up the mobile app on my phone and it's just as user-friendly as the desktop, with a similar layout. Topical content is displayed first under "What's New." Along with the curated music, TIDAL offers high-definition music videos, as well as concert footage.

app screen shot

The mobile apps' home screen serves up new content every day.

In just the few weeks I had for my trial, TIDAL had two really cool live events – Jack White played an acoustic show, and Jay-Z himself (who recently purchased and relaunched TIDAL)  performed in a smaller, intimate club. He dug in the crates and ran through his B-sides backed by a live (and lively) band. As I bobbed my head along, it reminded the most jaded hip hop fan of his excellent back catalog. I felt like I was part of an exciting, exclusive music club.

There are even daily long-form articles and in-depth artist interviews. They practically served as liner notes, one of the things I miss most from CDs and LPs. It may be the closest thing left to the ritual of pulling a new disc or platter out and soaking in the packaging, art, and words.

I scrolled through a Q& A with an artist as I listened to a new album, immersed in the experience like I was back in my room as a teenager, fresh from the record least until my kids shouting in the other room woke me from my nostalgic daydream.

app shot of articles

TIDAL's Q&A's and articles are enjoyable companions to the music.

Final thoughts

As I said, I’ve often sided with convenience. But if I can get something nice, and it’s just as effortless, it’s worth considering – even at a higher price. Let’s put it this way: I’m not exactly clamoring to go back to black bars on the side of my movies. TIDAL gives me access to all my tunes through an intuitive, straightforward, and fun interface while preserving essential musical details.

Now that I’ve had a taste, I understand what a difference that makes.

  • Bill klenk from Atlanta GA

    Posted on 12/18/2021

    I love Crutchfield, I've purchased gear from them and they're very knowledgeable. This review was not knowledgeable. Tidal is way above in quality than Spotify. Yeah if you listen thru you iPhone because it's convenient fine. But a lot of us have excellent equipment and quality is more important than convenience. Tidal is very convenient 80+million songs and interface is very intuitive. Setting up is 10 minutes and that's looking up my iPhone ID. I would NEVER use Spotify with all the compression. I subscribe to the high end tidal service $25/mo and don't even think about it. Tidal is that good. The review doesn't come close to being accurate.

  • Scott from Brandon

    Posted on 4/3/2021

    How does Tidal compare to Amazon Music HD? I pay about $14 per month for Amazon HD. I have absolutely no complaints with the sound quality or musical selections. I stream it through a laptop, an external DAC, a JVC A-X30 integrated amp and Boston Acoustics CR-6 speakers at work, and a laptop, external DAC, and Yamaha A-1060 integrated amp with Infinity Betas at home.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 4/5/2021

    They both have their strengths and weaknesses. I personally prefer Amazon Music HD overall. But it happens to more easily integrate with my everyday gear. I do like Tidal's presentation a bit more than I like Amazon's more functional design. I think the audio quality is basically a tie between the two. So if you're happy with the sound and music selection, I'd stick with what you know and love.
  • Greg from Los Angeles

    Posted on 8/29/2020

    You can also use the LG TV Tidal App, and then have it play HDMI ARC to your Receiver to hear it's speakers. Someone posted on a FB group, about doing that for Yello's Point album to hear it with their Atmos setup.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 8/31/2020

    Awesome, Greg. Thanks for the tip.
  • Rick from Knoxville

    Posted on 6/15/2020

    STAY AWAY!!! Cant cancel "free trial". I had to close my checking account because they wont stop stealing money from it.

  • Steven from Nutley

    Posted on 5/18/2020

    I would like my Sony HT5000 SOUNDBAR to play Tidal HiFi. Sony only has Chromecast and Spotify in their setup. How can I stream Tidal to the soundbar w/out losing the 1411 kbps quality?

  • David R from N. Georgia Mountains

    Posted on 8/29/2019

    Spectacular! I have a collection of half speed master vinyl and SACD and Tidal's Master streams might as well be SACD. Better then some of my viny from Acoustic Sounds. In addition, the masterr designation seems currated for perormance as well as data rate capability. FYI And here is a surprise; audiophile bluetooth! I am streaming from my old Nexus 7 tablet through an Audeo Engine B1. The B1 is better then the tube reciever it replaced. The Nexus 7 is the only tablet I have that can do the work. My Galaxy tab S2 can't do that.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 8/29/2019

    Nice!! Sounds like you've got it made.
  • John from Branson

    Posted on 12/1/2018

    Tidal has a pretty limited selection in Master Track, IMHO, which is the Highest Resolution Format Available from them. Otherwise TIDAL seems to have pretty good sound through my Modi 3 DAC And Altec Lansing horns tube amp system. The extra cost of max resolution track availability, however is not 'worth it' due to limited selection in the Master Category. Therefore, since the bulk of TIDAL content you will be listening does not beat CD quality, then the service is not truly audiophile level in terms of sampling rate. The The Tidal High FI, nor the Tidal MasterTracks sound as good as a new record or factory recorded 1/4 inch tape. Of course you may ask yourself, why would I wonder? Well, because I believed all the hype and most of the reviews. Anyway, the experience will be ok as long as they cancel when I tell them to and don't keep charging me.

  • Andreas from San Carlos

    Posted on 4/14/2018

    Have been using it now for 2 years. It's excellent - in HiFi mode no difference in quality from playing CDs

  • kevin brust

    Posted on 3/20/2018

    I would recommend to use MusConv tool.

  • Dennis from Carrboro/Chapel Hill

    Posted on 2/8/2018

    For best sound quality use the Tidal desktop app on a computer and output to a USB DAC connected into your stereo system. I have done this and the sound quality is excellent. I also bought a cheap, used netbook for 60 bucks, installed Ubuntu on it and streamed Tidal from on the Chrome browser. I have a very nice streaming machine for 60 bucks that is connected to my USB DAC and then to my Oldchen K3 KT88 tube amp with some nice speakers hanging off of it. l love the sound. Also be aware that Tidal gives a 50% discount to veterans. I am a very happy camper using this setup. I can also line out to my tube headphone amp from the USB DAC and listen on headphones so as not to bother anyone. My first choice is still vinyl, but if I am feeling lazy then I fire up Tidal and listen. Not quite as good sound wise as my vinyl sounds, but it is damn good, and much more convenient. It really gives you an opportunity to audition albums that you wouldn't typically get the opportunity to listen to. Highly recommended.

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