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Tidal review: Is this Spotify for audiophiles?

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £10
£10/month (Premium); £20/month (HiFi, Lossless)

Tidal’s ever-expanding catalogue of high-quality streaming music is an audiophile dream – but rivals are hot on its heels


  • Lossless sound quality
  • Good selection of hi-res albums
  • Interesting personalised playlists


  • Some gaps in the music library
  • No equivalent to Spotify Connect

Ask most people which streaming music service they use, and chances are the answer won’t be Tidal. Despite Jay-Z’s best efforts (his company bought Tidal back in 2015), it’s the likes of Spotify and Apple Music that have captured the ears and bank details of the music-streaming public. But with a claimed 60 million tracks on offer and a vast selection of lossless and hi-res music, Tidal has the one thing that eludes many of its rivals: audiophile appeal.

Tidal review: What you need to know

Unlike Spotify, Tidal has no free tier, although you do get a 30-day free trial to help make up your mind. After those 30 days are up, you either pay £10 per month for a Premium subscription, which lets you stream music up to a maximum bitrate of 320kbits/sec – similar quality to Spotify, in other words – or you pay £20/month for a HiFi account, which gives you access to music in lossless CD quality and the entire Masters catalogue of hi-res music, which provides tracks in up to 24-bit 96KHz quality.

Tidal has native apps for Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS devices and there’s support for streaming via Chromecast and AirPlay on compatible devices. And yes, you can stream music through a desktop browser too if you need to. There are also apps available for Apple TV, Android TV, select Samsung Smart TVs, and Roku media streamers.

Regardless of the platform you use, however, the app will be familiar to anyone who’s ever used Spotify – or any other music streaming service for that matter. You can download tracks, albums and playlists to a mobile device for offline playback, but can’t do so on Windows or MacOS devices, nor any of the other platforms. Tidal is also the darling of various hi-fi brands, so you’ll find native support for the streaming service in everything from affordable wireless speakers all the way through to audiophile music streamers which cost as much as a brand new family car.

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Tidal review: Price and competition

Tidal’s two tariffs – Premium (£10/month) and HiFi (£20/month) – are competitive with most of Tidal’s rivals. Students can claim 50% off the cost of any monthly subscription and the Family accounts add £5 to the cost of each tier and allow up to six users.

If lossless and hi-res audio streaming are what attracted you to Tidal, then there are alternatives: Amazon Music HD and Qobuz. Amazon Music HD is the cheapest of the lossless bunch, costing £12.99 a month for Prime members and £14.99 for everyone else. Qobuz is the more established of the two, and a recent price-drop has brought it down to £14.99/month for lossless CD-quality music and up to 24-bit 192KHz quality hi-res streaming – notably, Qobuz has abandoned MP3 completely, so every single track in its library is lossless CD-quality or better. 

If you’re not swayed by Tidal’s promises of improved sound quality then there are plenty of other options. Spotify (£9.99/month) is popular for good reason. It has a vast selection of tracks, and the radio function works brilliantly for finding music similar to tracks you already love. Spotify Connect is a real boon for quickly streaming music to nearby devices, too.

Apple fans keen to keep it in the family may be tempted by Apple Music (£9.99/month). The selection is on a par with its biggest rivals, quality is good – even if it isn’t lossless – and it serves up intelligent playlists and new music suggestions all tied together with a slick, easy to use interface. The tight integration with Apple’s hardware and software is a huge plus point.

Tidal review: Music selection and curation

With 60 million tracks to choose from, you wouldn’t expect to find many holes in Tidal’s library. That said, it wasn’t until recently that Tidal finally added the full back catalogue of albums from Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus and Boards of Canada. Given that all these artists are on the Warp Records label, I can only surmise that some licensing issue was to blame but their absence meant that I regularly had to fire up Spotify instead.

There are still a few omissions – none of the albums or singles from LTJ Bukem’s Good Looking Records are anywhere to be found, for instance – but in my experience those dead spots are increasingly rare. In any case, if you have particularly eclectic tastes, there’s a simple solution: take full advantage of the 30-day trial and see if Tidal is the right music streaming service for you.

In other regards, Tidal genuinely seems to have caught up in leaps and bounds in recent times. I haven’t always been very impressed by its radio function – the ability to generate a playlist based off a particular track – but I now often prefer its selections to that of Spotify. Give both services the same track to start with and it’s interesting to see how the playlists they create are so different.

I’m a similarly big fan of the My Mix selections. These six auto-generated genre-based playlists reflect the kinds of music you’ve been listening to, and barring the occasional oddity – a jaunty slice of bebop sandwiched in-between po-faced classical recordings – they’re a great way to step outside your favourites.

One mild criticism is that it can feel like Tidal’s choices are a little too safe sometimes, with the result that playlists are peppered with tracks from the albums I’ve favourited but then that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s often pleasing to hear familiar tracks set in a new context. Not all of the recommendations are quite so prescient though. The Suggested New Tracks and Suggested New Albums on the app’s homepage do seem more focused towards popular suggestions than music I’d actually want to hear.

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Tidal review: Sound quality

Tidal’s library is, barring the odd exception, almost entirely available in lossless CD quality – not to mention the increasing number of hi-res albums. It’s this that offers it a big advantage over rival services that rely on compressed formats. The result? Despite being a Spotify subscriber, I prefer to listen to music on Tidal where possible – the sound quality on lossless and hi-res albums seems just that bit cleaner and more defined.

That said, you’ve got to be confident that you can hear a clear difference between compressed and lossless audio files if it means spending twice as much per month. If you’re not sure you can, then I recommend giving this aural test a go to see if you can really trust your ears. As someone who can discern the difference, I still wouldn’t say it’s night and day by any stretch, but is it better? Yes, definitely!

However, if you’re dead set on squeezing every literal bit of potential from Tidal’s hi-res Masters albums, then you won’t just be doubling the subscription costs: you’ll also need to shell out for extra audio hardware. Why? Well, because Tidal’s hi-res tracks are encoded using Meridian’s proprietary MQA format, an MQA-compatible DAC is required to unpack the hi-res audio data to its fullest potential.

Thankfully, recent updates to Tidal’s iOS and Android apps mean that now both the mobile and desktop apps have a built-in software MQA decoder. This software decoder carries out the initial ‘unfold’ of the compressed MQA data which can provide anything up to a 24-bit 96Khz audio stream depending on your particular device’s capabilities. This means most subscribers can enjoy Tidal’s Masters catalogue without any expensive hardware. Bear in mind, though, that you will still need to buy a DAC with an on-board MQA encoder if you want to hear the purported benefits of the full end-to-end MQA decoding process.

Unlike Tidal’s CD-quality HiFi setting, it’s worth mentioning that the MQA format isn’t actually lossless: it uses lossy compression to crunch the hi-res audio down into a smaller file size. Once decoded, it claims to provide superior resolution to a CD-quality file but that’s the subject of some heated (and highly-technical) debate. It’s worth noting that rival hi-res services from Amazon Music HD and Qobuz don’t use MQA encoding, preferring instead to provide true lossless hi-res files for streaming. Read into that what you will.

Without getting into an argument about whether you can hear the difference or not, there’s no question that Tidal’s Masters albums do sound very nice indeed and increasingly so if you’re listening on suitably capable hi-fi equipment or headphones. Whether Tidal’s hi-res Masters streams sound better than its CD-quality HiFi ones is entirely up for debate but given you get access to both with a HiFi subscription, you can make up your own mind.

Can I hear a difference? Good question. I’m pretty sure I hear a noticeable difference between the two on some albums – the Masters version of Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales’ Room 29 sounds more open to my ears – but then that begs the question as to whether I’m hearing the difference in absolute quality between the two file types, or just differences in the mastering process between the CD-quality and hi-res files.

A better question might be whether I prefer the sound of either Tidal version to the lossy, compressed versions on Spotify, to which the answer would be an enthusiastic yes. As ever, though, without doing careful blind tests, I wouldn’t be inclined to read too much into what my ears are telling me.

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Tidal review: Verdict

Tidal’s appeal largely boils down to one key question: can you hear the difference between lossless and compressed audio formats? If your ears are up to it, then it’s certainly got a lot going for it. The library is extensive, the sound quality is great, and the combination of “AI” algorithms and human curators provides a wealth of intelligent playlists that will help anyone expand their musical horizons.

Even if you can’t hear the difference, don’t be tempted to dismiss Tidal out of hand – it’s still well worth taking advantage of the 30-day trial. It may not be the most popular choice but with so many factors to consider – the app design, hardware compatibility, automatic music curation just to name a few – you may end up preferring it to rivals such as Spotify or Apple Music.

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