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Tidal Hifi puts a CD store in your house

  • Before I’m an audiophile I’m a music nut with a thirst for tunes new and old. In the 25 years since The The’s Infected first blew my adolescent hair back, that thirst has never run dry. Not once.

    I dabbled a little in the world vinyl before CDs took hold of the market place in the late eighties. CDs remained my preferred format until dropping $800 – yes, eight large – on my first iPod in 2002 and three years after that, a music server.

    Prior to a private MP3 (and FLAC) revolution, fresh CD releases from the likes of Grant Lee Buffalo, Suede and John Digweed saw me battle UK weather (mostly rain) to get to my local record store each Monday morning.

    My music taste expanded as it evolved. In the nineties I starting signing cheques for large chunks of back catalogue releases from Genesis, Richard Thompson and Bob Dylan. There was so much to explore but CDs didn’t come cheap. Like many a music fan, I looked beyond the financial hardship of dropping well over £100 per week on those shiny silver discs, often sending personal finances into the red. My personal sacrifice was to forego the pub (mostly), drink cheap Spanish wine and eat pasta and sauce every night for a month. My waistline suffered only a little.

    By the turn of the millennium I’d amassed a collection of 10,000 CDs that occupied up an entire wall of my apartment. Financial burden aside, it was a thing of beauty but also beast that demanded constant feeding.

    Down under, the expense of buying CDs continued well into the noughties until the middle of the decade when I began selling off large chunks long since neglected. Times change, people change. In 2005 was a time when rare electronica would fetch good money on eBay.

    The CDs that remained were ripped to a hard drive as FLAC before being put into storage. My digital library was born 5000 titles deep but it had taken thousands of dollars to get there. If I were to put a conservative estimate on it: 5000 x $10 per CD = $50K – long green for a CD store in one’s living room.

    Kids today – they don’t know they’re born. That’s how my Dad sees it – it’s the ultimate cliché in parental social commentary. Modern Fathers point to mobile phones, computers and the Internet. They’re right – the cost of access to information and communication tools is at an all time low.

    Warm #evening, cold #beer, Giant #Sand.

    A post shared by DarkoAudio (@darkoaudio) on


    It’s not just hardware. Kids today no longer have to spend thousands of dollars amassing a digital music library. Streaming services have rendered redundant the MP3 piracy methods of yesteryear: Napster, Kazaa, Limewire and Bittorrent. Anyone with $10/month to spare now has instant access to any one of 30m songs at the click of a mouse or tap of a touchscreen. Spotify users prepared to tolerate ads between songs can access the same content as their cashed-up brethren but for free. One could even argue that with Spotify providing free access to music, they render it worthless.

    The compromise of Spotify, Deezer, Rdio and (soon) Apple Music is the lossy encoding. It’s a bridge too far for the majority of audiophiles. I don’t disagree. Whilst I would never describe MP3 or Ogg Vorbis (as used by Spotify) as unlistenable, all other things being equal, lossless audio tends to sound more wholesome than lossy. It has me listening with more enjoyment, for longer. That’s the number one reason for maintaining a FLAC library at home and supplementing it with a cloud-based subscription service…

    …which brings us to Tidal, the streaming service the mainstream press loves to kick and kick again. Yes, the Alicia Keys fronted re-launch could have been handled better but that doesn’t mean that what lies beneath Tidal’s star-studded surface is without merit. Think about it this way: no one is pointing the finger at Tim Cook for being a greedy billionaire.

    Since being acquired by Jay-Z (Sean Carter), Tidal has added a lossy service to its streaming holster. Does this US$9.99/month service compete with what can be had from Spotify for the same cash? The answer, as always, is “it depends”. On library size, Spotify wins out: ~30m songs to Tidal’s ~25m. Tidal counters with hi-definition video content, editorial pieces and their associated playlists. Spotify boasts over 1 billion (!) user-generated playlists. Putting Spotify at the number once spot in in the lossy audio space are its smart device and desktop apps. Their elegance and ease of use are unsurpassed.

    However, as polished as that user experience is, Spotify cannot compete on ultimate sound quality because it doesn’t offer a lossless service. For that, we look to Tidal’s Hifi service. $19.99/month nets access to the same 25m tracks but streamed in lossless FLAC (instead of lossy MP3). The perfect solution, right? Not quite. When set against the backdrop of Spotify’s free access and more bountiful library, Tidal Hifi presents as a tougher sell, especially to the man in the street who cares far less about sound quality. The DAC and op-amp combo that handles audio on his laptop and smartphone isn’t good enough to expose FLAC’s sonic superiority to Ogg Vorbis. When comparing Spotify Premium to Tidal Hifi he sees a saving of $10/month for access to more songs. You can’t fault his logic.


    Surprising then to hear complaints about Tidal’s comparatively smaller library emanate from the audiophile community, specifically via forum chatter. When confronted by a series of holes in Tidal’s collection, the disgruntled audiophile complains that US$19.99/month is too much to pay; the lossless audio advantage is rendered insufficient. The glass, as he sees it, is now 10% empty rather than 90% full. That’s odd because I see Tidal as one of the single greatest audiophile-centric developments of modern times. Is is not more important to first rid the scene of lossy codecs than convince folk of hi-res audio’s possible merits?

    It is to these Tidal Hifi refuseniks that I offer a fresh perspective…

    Imagine you have a friend. Now imagine this friend owns a million CDs, some of which are to your taste and some are not. He offers to lend them to you indefinitely. They’ll take up zero space in your house because your friend will take care of off-site storage (at his expense) after each disc is ripped to a server. Your access to these CDs will be via streaming. Not only that, your friend will also drop a bevvy of new releases onto the server each week. It’s a virtual CD store in your house. Not everything will be your taste and there will be some notable omissions – Peter Gabriel’s entire catalogue is M.I.A. and I couldn’t spy Elvis Costello’s Blood & Chocolate – but there are thousands upon thousands of albums by artists you love already or are curious about.

    The cost to you? All your friend asks is that you give him one bottle of half-decent wine every month. You don’t have to spend big: $20 will do it.

    Go on, I dare ya: tell me that isn’t a killer proposition? Sure, there might only be a two Thomas Fehlmann albums in your friends collection and the new Ben Salter has yet to show up – but so what? Just pick something else to play; there are one million albums here. A lossless library for that costs you US$20/month or US$240/year. In ten years you’ll be out of pocket by US$2400. That’s one heck of a long way from the US$50K sucked up by my mid-00s music server.

    My advice to anyone who cares about lossless streaming: pony up the cash for Tidal Hifi and focus on what is there. If you find an album missing from its library that you simply can’t live without, buy the CD or submit a request to Tidal via their online form here.

    Tidal is a business, not a charity. It’s not for everyone but the audiophile appeal of its Hifi service is unassailable. If you can’t move beyond what’s missing from the library, try re-framing your view of Tidal as that of a mate loaning you his 1 million strong CD collection in exchange for the pitiful compensation of a good Shiraz each month. Hic.

    Further information: Tidal

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. I subscribed to Tidal lossless the day it became available where I live. The cost is made up by the fact that I’m buying fewer downloads now. I’ve gone over to buying only albums that have a good sounding hi-res release, or those I can’t find on Tidal. Maybe occasionally something in Redbook that is available on Tidal, but something I like a lot and want to have permanent owvership of, just in case.

      Yes there are some holes in the collection. For me, the classical library isn’t the most extensive, and some semi -esoteric Jazz isn’t there. There still seem to be a few labels that aren’t on board at all. I assume the catalog will grow over time and there will be fewer holes.

      But now when I read a review like one of John’s where he refers to a specific album/song, I can just pull it up on Tidal and listen. Or check out an album or artist just to see if I like what I hear. No risk. No trouble. If I like what I hear I can pull up more of the same. I’m not big on the curated playlists, but it’s pretty cool when an artist passes away or is in some other way in the news that Tidal makes a playlist available so you can remind yourself why it matters. Certainly worth the price of admission, and as I said, I think the net cost to me is zero (or less =money saving).

    2. Infected, now that’s an album! have you seen the video, bloody fantastic?
      I had a girlfriend who arranged to meet Matt in a pub in London, apparently he was very shy?

      Must play it this afternoon, very loud.

    3. John,

      I couldn’t agree with you more about Tidal’s value to us audiophiles. To get an almost endless supply of lossless music titles for $20/month, $17/month if you pay 6 months in advance is without question an audiophile’s dream come true. You can even get a month free trial. How can anyone find fault with this offer? I recently spent $36 on two 96k album downloads from HDTracks. That’s 2 months of Tidal lossless service.

      My Aurender N100H music streamer is on its way and I plan to sign up for Tidal to take advantage of this lossless music bargain.

      Brian …

      • Why pay thousands of dollars for a music streamer when your laptop and a good DAC will do as well if not better?

        • Well – careful there, Michael. The laptop + DAC might have the preferred interface, used for other tasks and is more easily upgraded with USB converters and re-clockers. However, it won’t ALWAYS best a streamer on SQ. That largely depends on the streamer. A fully tricked out MacMini will sound better than a Logitech Squeezebox but not better than an AURALiC Aries.

    4. Couldn’t agree more John. I have more expensive rigs but for simplicity you can’t beat, say, Tidal HIFI on an iPad mini 2 straight to AKG 550s.

      Have a listen to Simple Mind’s This Earth that you Walk Upon (Live at Hampton Court Palace 2011). Good enough for me, but maybe I only have $50 ears !

      PS Keep up the great work for us !

    5. I’d like to mention another option lossless option. Deezer Elite. It’s advantages over Tidal are gapless playback and a larger catalog. Deezer claim 35m in total of which 30m are FLAC Files.

      It’s currently a Sonos exclusive, but once you have activated the subscription you can also use it on mobile devices and in my case my OS X music server.

      I’ve trailed Tidal and had a 12 month Qobuz subscription. The combination of a larger catalog than Qobuz and gapless playback; which wasn’t available when I trialled Tidal, make it an attractive choice, despite the short term hurdle of needing to activate a subscription with a Sonos device.

      • Yes – and Deezer would get a stronger mention if it weren’t tied to a single hardware manufacturer (Sonos) and its appeal therefore somewhat stunted.

        • Stunted? Surely you’re aware that Sonos outsells all its competitors combined by orders of magnitude. And thumbs its nose at silly audiophools.

    6. John,

      There can be no doubt that Tidal is one of the great things to happen for those of us who enjoy listening to good quality music. For me the new found joy is in playing something right the way through that in the old days of CDs and LPs I might have picked off the rack and thought “nope, I’ll buy X instead. This morning I listened to the new Kathryn Williams album right through and loved it (it is seriously good). I now play lots of things I’d never have listened to, also, if I read a review of an album somewhere, a couple of clicks later I’m listening to it. Brilliant.

      A while ago I was thinking about how much music is too much music. You stated that you have 5000+albums. Is that too many? How many do you actually play? I’ve got around 2000 albums. The truth be told, there’s about 20 or 30 that I listen to regularly and lots that I don’t go near (all bought with good inentions). Tidal now makes that question irrelevant, since you can pretty much listen to whatever you want, when you want. It’s a new paradigm.

    7. Now if only Tidal will open their API to the public so people will be able to develop their own applications against it….

    8. The arguments against Tidal reek of stupidity and ignorance. Tidal is the bargain of all bargains. Unfortunately the Internet age has led to an expectation of “free” that defies all economic logic. That era is coming to an end but it will be messy.

    9. I too signed up for Tidal as soon as it was available. As a longtime Spotify user I was excited to finally be able to hear my music on all it’s full-res glory. But there was a problem…

      Am I the only one that has noticed that Tidal provides no good way to organize a music “collection”? None of the reviews I’ve read have pointed out the fact that a long list of playlists is all you get. Music needs organization. For instance, I’ll bet that wall of CDs in your apartment was nicely organized and you could pick out your next selection at a moment’s notice. Likewise, a music store is organized by genre, sub-genre, sub-sub-genre, and alphabetically within these categories. Again, easy to find what you are looking for. I guess I’ve been spoiled by Spotify, which has extensive support for folders and sub-folders allowing me to use a cataloging system for playlists (which for me are usually albums) just like I did back when I had goodly number of CDs.

      I know that I am expected to use the search function, but with the inconsistent metadata attached to all music I found I had to focus too much attention on searching – you know, computer stuff – robbing me of quality listening. With Spotify, when I read an album review I create and file a playlist for later consumption. No need to remember what it was or search for it, it’s right there waiting to be selected. If I really like it I re-file it for long-term easy access. I have dozens of folders and hundreds of albums in my “collection”. I’ll try Tidal again as soon as they implement a workable organization scheme.

      • I agree with you on the lack of music management tools. It’s probably my biggest complaint re: Tidal. I’m hoping that’s something that will soon be addressed. Gapless playback would be a nice addition as well.

      • Actually, I could almost live with the lack of organization tools if the search function was usable – but’s it not!

        In Spotify, if I search for an artist, I get all her/his records in the right place, even if those are results of a collaboration with other artists. When I follow the artist, I have access to all the records with a single click.

        In Tidal, each collaboration is a separate result (and many results do not contain any streamable music at all) – for instance, for 10 records would have to follow 7 different “artists” (first looking into each result if there is anything there at all).

        Without sorting by tags, the only usefull way to go is marking (“following”) artists (easier than marking each single album), but with this search problem, it’s really infuriating. For this single reason, if Spotify goes lossless (and if it gets support on Lumin), I will drop Tidal this very moment without a second of hesitation.

        Also the search for incorrectly spelled names/titles is absolutely unusable (and again, Spotify does it very well).

        Tidal people – please please make search actually usefull, like it has been on Spotify since it’s very beginning. If they can do it, you can too.
        It just requires doing your software by someone who can understand what is convenient for users instead of doing what’s simplest from the software designer point of view (I’m a software engineer, I know the symptoms when I see them).

        And I’m using Tidal with Lumin, so no 3rd party software solutions for Tidal (like Roon) will help me. Either Tidal people fix the gross inadequacies in their software, or it will be goodbye the first moment I have an alternative. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one thinking this way.

    10. I support subscriptions to Spotify+, Qobuz and Tidal for all these so obvious reasons. Between the three of ’em, I can find most the stuff I’m curious about or read about somewhere. If there’s something I truly fall in love with, I buy it as a file to be independent of Internet access. As others have already said, it rather saves on the old CD buying habit.

      • I opt for both Spotify Premium and Tidal here and I would add Qobuz if they were to serve this part of the world.

        • QoBuz way to go for me – because I can buy downloads there and I like their metadata and interface….. shame not available in Asia or USA ….

          • Yes, and that’s the kicker for those living outside of Qobuz’s Eurozone. I can’t comment on a service to which I don’t have access.

    11. Totally agree. I have had Tidal for a couple of months and though I have some minor quibbles about the interface and ( lack of) some functionality I came to rely on in JRiver overall it is a great service and great value.

      One thing I find odd is that occasionally I find an album but it can’t be streamed with a note to say the album has not been approved for streaming by the label. What is the thinking about putting up albums that can’t be streamed?

    12. I totally agree about Tidal but the best thing to happen to Tidal is Roon Labs software. It catalogs my existing collection with lyrics, artist profiles and album notations. It integrates seamlessly with Tidal so I can add a Tidal album and it shows up in my library as though It is part of my collection. If you haven’t checked out Roon with Tidal integration please do. I can sit for hours now listening to my own music that leads me to searches thru Tidal for other albums. A fantastic combo for any audiophile, I mean music lover!

    13. When I read (here on DAR last Nov) that you could stream TIDAL via a Logictech Squeezebox Touch I jumped on that. Haven’t looked back since… I download a lot of TIDAL music to my iPhone 6 Plus 128gb device for offline listening; especially when I am exercising. Also stream offline content in my cars too. I’ve explored more music in the past six months than I have done in the past number of decades… I will even say the sound quality is even noticeable on stock Apple earbuds which I use when working out.. So there we go.. I do find it odd that the media in the USA credits Jay-Z for creating TIDAl ..#sigh

      • Tidal’s keen push for integration with hardware manufacturers has been fundamental to their success so far. 🙂

        • It’s unfortunate that J River have opted not to include that integration with Tidal. I read a post somewhere that said Tidal required some changes to the JRMC application that J River wouldn’t agree to. No idea what they were but as a J River user it’s a big loss not to be abler to use it as a front end for Tidal.

          • The problem is Tidal’s refusal to open their API and let software developers and vendors develop their application against it. This is not the time for Tidal to enforce their draconian license agreement upon vendors. At the end, it is the consumer who loses.

    14. And… compared to Spotify and Qobuz, the Tidal desktop app (which disappeared but can still be downloaded on the WiMP website) is quite poor and really could use a massive overhaul. Whilst the praise for the service is well-deserved, hammering them on the sub-standard app is necessary too to get it improved and ship shape!

      And whilst Tidal like to claim there were/are first, Qobuz was there years before. Of course that matters only to those who despise history rewrites; and those in whose country that service is actually available…

      • Yup – the original Tidal desktop app was a bit so so. The web interface in Chrome was more than good enough for me even though it couldn’t go proper gapless. One can sidestep Tidal’s own interface when streaming through an AURALiC Aries or Squeezebox server.

        …but a new version hit the Tidal site a week or so ago.

        Not sure if you’d call it a massive overhaul. It’s still not as accomplished as Spotify’s but it’s good enough.

        I know not of Tidal’s attempts at history re-writes?

      • Well said Sir.
        QoBuz seem to suffer a bit from being the “little guys” in all this – perhaps because they have chosen – or don’t have the muscle – to roll out “worldwide”.
        They were the first to offer RedBook streaming and their interface at first was horrible – but they seemed to listen and now (for me) it’s pretty fine.
        In the end I feel that all these “streaming pioneers” will have one big issue on their hands – income generation, and the monsters will probably win.
        It’s disappointing to note that Apple Music, despite rumours, seem to have ignored quality and are being draconian with artists royalties. A pity, because they CAN afford to be fair and champion quality, but they don’t. Their roll out at the SFO keynotes made me cringe! But will the great unwashed (the public) accept the vacant ‘everything is beautiful in the world’ deliveries? …… Alas, possibly.

        • As Srajan says Qobuz were pioneers in this field – they were the first to offer lossless streaming – but don’t you think that Qobuz suffer from a perception of being the little guys because they ARE now the little guys? As I understand it Qobuz don’t operate outside of Europe. Launching in the USA might redress that image imbalance – maybe?

          However, Tidal’s edge is not only the fruits of a robust territorial expansion but their work in partnering with hardware manufacturers. Users of Linn, AURALiC and Aurender (to name three) don’t have to rely on the desktop app which although less than stellar in its original incarnation was also updated a few weeks back.

          And then there’s Roon which (for US$144/year – not cheap!) renders the Tidal desktop app effectively redundant.

    15. On your say so I’ve subscribed to Tidal Hi-Fi streaming and yes you are right it’s about the music stupid (I said stupid not you) something I’ve had to remind some when I was selling hardware and including myself from time to time. The access to a wide range of music new and old is astounding….. And a quality of sound that doesn’t get in the way is the bonus…. Thanks

      • Refusal? I thought you might have your wires crossed Angelo but confirmed with Pal Braetlund of Tidal just to be sure. He emailed me the following:

        “The API is open to anyone who speaks to Rune* (Tidal’s CTO) or me. There is no draconian license agreement or fee. It’s free to partners to use and we offer help. But it’s not public as in anyone can use it by just going to a web page. We sort of keep a tiny amount of control by shaking hands with anyone who wants to use it. It’s as simple as that. Spotify opened theirs mostly because of their now abandoned plug-in strategy. We didn’t do plug-ins but work tighter with our partners.”

        So there you have it – the Tidal API *is* open and access is supplied free of charge.

        *Not to be confused with Roon (Labs).

        • I sent numerous emails to Pal but never got access to their API…. Open means that there is an easy and direct way to access something without asking for explicit permission. That’s how the internet works and that is what expected from an Open API.

          • Hard to tell from your comment whether or not Pal didn’t reply or that Tidal simply don’t wish to work with you?

            • As a writer publisher who champions Tidal from a consumer perspective, your comments on access to the API have moved from the general to the specific, pointing to a possible grievance you may or may not have with Tidal. I don’t know. Neither am I across the inner workings of your company or Tidal and so it’s impossible for me to comment. I hope you understand.

          • Hi, Ran

            I think I found the correct email thread. You asked about Linux client, right? I sent you an answer but it might somehow have disappeared on the way? I understand it’s attractive with an open API but it is not the route we have chosen as with playback of someone else’s content there are so many more things involved than just giving access. Earlier we handled this by dividing the API up in two where only a select few got playback rights but others only could do browsing. It didn’t suck, but it wasn’t productive for anyone either. Now we have all in one API that we also use ourselves but also only open to those who need access.

    16. Sure. My experience with Tidal is irrelevant. I was complaining about the lack of openness to their API.

      • But it IS open…to people Tidal with whom Tidal wish to work. Perhaps we could/should call that ‘semi-open’.

    17. 100% agree. Tidal is a great deal. I never cared for the idea of music streaming but the CD quality makes the difference. Along with the fact that they are trying (admirably) to streaming rates more fair to artists. If someone told me years ago it would be possible to have an entire record store at my disposal for the price of one CD a month I would have freaked the ever living heck out. 2015 is a good year.

    18. I hate streaming services! I hate 320 kbps! I hated Tidal during my trial!
      Now I’m back, as I better understand what it is, to me anyway.
      I buy CDs and listen to them, I eventually rip them to mac mini and AK portable. I’m happy. Then I get a little thirsty for something different and want to fish around for some new tunes. Hi Tidal. Sweet lossless love. I mostly use Tidal at work, running my AK as a DAC from my computer with my favorite earphones. Sometimes at home through my full setup.
      Anyway, I’ve yet to find the content selection lacking (85% indie rocker), appreciate the clean and minimalistic presentation, and of course the HIFI from wherever. I’ll buy CDs until they stop making them, but Tidal is a boon and $20 / month is NOTHING unless you’re one of those goons who think music should be free.

      • “$20 / month is NOTHING unless you’re one of those goons who think music should be free.” <--- nailed it.

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