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Tidal is quietly rolling out a bit-perfect Android app

  • Android smartphone users seeking to board the hi-res audio train via Tidal, Qobuz or Apple Music must mind the gap: Android OS resamples digital audio heading out of its USB port to 48kHz. A 192kHz stream will be downsampled to 48kHz. So too will a 96kHz stream. A 48kHz stream isn’t passed through untouched but (instead) resampled to 48kHz. Android’s resampling even recooks CD-quality (44.1kHz) streams, upsampling them to 48kHz. In digital audiophile parlance, this means Android OS is not ‘bit-perfect’ with USB DACs.

    One common workaround is the third-party music player app USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) that loads in its own USB driver to talk directly to the connected USB DAC, thus avoiding Android’s resampling engine. UAPP integrates Tidal and Qobuz but unlike Qobuz and Tidal’s native apps, it doesn’t accommodate offline content. Blame the record labels for that call.

    Seeing this problem and (finally) tackling it head-on is Tidal. The Norwegian-based streaming service has begun rolling out an update to its Android app that allows it to communicate bit-perfectly with any connected USB DAC, thus sidestepping the host OS’s resampling code.

    We know this because “Allow Tidal to access HELM MQA?” pops up on this commentator’s LG V40 (RIP) when the HELM Bolt is connected. Clicking OK and punching in an MQA stream has the HELM Bolt DAC’s LED turn purple (where previously it remained blue) for visual confirmation that the 48kHz (or 44.1kHz) stream has travelled from Tidal app to Bolt without the Android OS running interference so that the DAC can unfold at will. Hi-res ahoy*!

    Tidal’s bit-perfect playback also works with the LG V40 and the THX Onyx but – oddly – not the AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt. Tidal doesn’t even pop-up to ask if we want to allow it access to the Cobalt. Perhaps the interceding DragonTail USB-C to USB-A adapter causes the Tidal app not to properly identify the Cobalt?

    Or perhaps this wrinkle is specific to the LG V40 because cutting over to an Essential PH-1 smartphone (RIP), we do get asked if we want to allow Tidal access to the DragonFly DAC and we do see its LED glow purple when we punch in a track from Tidal’s Masters. Go figure.

    Of course, today’s story isn’t only about hi-res audio. Tidal’s bit-perfect app also means that CD-quality audio leaves the Android phone’s USB socket at 44.1kHz. Au revoir, resampling. Whether this fare-thee-well makes an obvious audible difference to CD-quality audio remains debatable but sweating the small stuff is all part of the hifi game for many enthusiasts. Isn’t this exactly why some are so determined to make hi-res audio work in their system?

    There is no word yet on how far this Tidal app update has travelled, to which devices or how long users can expect to wait to get their fill. Nor do we know when (or if) Qobuz or Apple Music will follow suit. (When they do, we’ll cover it). Neither do we know if Tidal plans to introduce bit-perfect playback to Android TV OS. This post is merely a heads-up that Tidal’s bit-perfect game is afoot.

    Further information: Tidal

    *Footnote #1: Based on the assumption that anything other than a bit-perfect stream would not illuminate the MQA authentication light.

    Written by John

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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