What is Tidal and how does it work?


(Pocket Ribbon) – Tidal is a digital music streaming service that gives you access to more than 80 million songs and 350,000 videos from music artists around the world, comparable to Spotify and Apple Music.

Tidal has traditionally been about correcting the mistakes of the music industry and ensuring that artists are paid directly and in full for their art. In return, you’ll get music that exceeds CD quality and hopefully a gut feeling about paying for HD tunes.

Tidal offers an unprecedented level of insight into how its subscribers directly support artists. It promises to deliver 10 percent of a monthly HiFi Plus subscription directly to your most streamed artist.

In addition, Tidal HiFi Plus subscribers can also see how their cumulative streams add up to artist earnings in their activity feed.

With a strong focus on audio quality, Tidal offers three subscription levels that give you access to lossless FLACs and even 9216 Kbps Master quality audio on the HiFi Plus subscription. This is something not yet offered by Spotify, although Spotify HiFi has been announced to launch in 2021.

To help you decide if Tidal is worth your money and time, especially when you’re taking on the competition, we’ve explained how Tidal works and what supposedly makes it better.

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How does Tidal work?

Tidal offers a free tier in the US, but that has yet to launch in the UK. There’s still a 30-day free trial for new subscribers, so it’s easy enough to give it a try and see if this is the platform for you. The Tidal app works with more than 95 platforms, including Android, iOS and desktops, as well as some cars and hi-fi equipment.

On the first launch of the app, the service gives you a very intuitive way to select artists you like and with each one you select, more artists appear. It is a very smooth experience and only takes a few minutes.

Tidal then uses this data to build playlists and suggest songs and artists you might like right from the start. Of course, you can also search for music the old-fashioned way. With Tidal, you can save and download your favorite playlists, albums, and songs for offline listening.

How much does Tidal cost?

You can see how much Tidal costs here. There are two subscriptions available, called HiFi and HiFi Plus.

HiFi

The HiFi plan offers CD quality audio up to 1411 Kbps. It also gives you access to Tidal Connect, offline listening and, of course, is ad-free. The HiFi subscription costs $/£9.99 per month.

HiFi Plus

HiFi Plus gives you everything HiFi has to offer, as well as access to Master Quality Audio recordings and innovative spatial formats such as Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 reality audio. Plus, it pays out 10 percent of your subscription to your most-listened artist, and you can track how your listening habits fund your favorite artists. HiFi plus costs $/£19.99 per month.

Rival service Spotify only offers 320Kbps playback with its $9.99 subscription and has yet to launch a hi-fi offering. In comparison, Amazon Music Unlimited also offers high definition and Spatial Audio listening, albeit with a smaller library and no MQA options. Amazon’s service costs $12.99 (£7.99) for Prime members and $14.99 (£9.99) for non-members.

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Which devices support Tidal?

The Tidal music service has a wide range of support on third-party sound systems such as Sonos and Denon Home. Tidal can be added as a streaming music source within the dedicated apps for these systems, ensuring audiophiles get the best possible codecs through their speakers.

Tidal also has a feature similar to Chromecast and AirPlay called Tidal Connect. By using the Tidal app as a controller you can select supported speakers to play and it will send the highest possible stream be it FLAC, Master audio or even Sony 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos.

A full list of nearly 100 supported devices can be found here.

Where is Tidal available?

Tidal is currently available in 61 countries and plans to continue increasing this number. Most of Europe, the Americas and Australia are covered, but if you want to see the full list you can find it here.

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How do you navigate Tidal?

Once you’ve downloaded the Tidal app and signed up, you’ll go through a customization process, prompting you to select artists you like. After going through the simple process, you will be on the home screen. Here you’ll be presented with a selection of music that Tidal thinks you’ll enjoy based on your previous selections, and after using the app for a while, also based on your listening habits.

There is a menu bar at the bottom of the screen for navigation (on the mobile app) to different parts of Tidal. There are five screen tabs in the menu bar:

Home: This page is full of suggestions for music that Tidal thinks you’ll like, in the form of playlists, radio stations, new songs, and charts.

Videos: Presents you recommended videos from Tidal’s network, as well as video playlists tailored to your taste. You can also access album experiences here, which are essentially director commentary, but for albums. There are even some full-length movies here, mostly of the music documentary variety.

Explore: The Explore tab allows you to search for a specific song, artist, or genre. You can also browse music suitable for moods, activities, events and more.

My Activity: A list of your top artist and what you contribute to that artist from your HiFi Plus subscription.

My Collection: Every time you favorite a song, album, video, or playlist, it’s added to your collection under Mixes, Playlists, Artists, Albums, or Tracks. You can also find your downloaded tracks and recent activity here, as well as access to the settings.

These sections are also generally reflected in the desktop app, based on a menu on the left.


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There are a few extra buttons to look out for. The first tells you the quality of the stream. Normally it will say “Normal” or “Master” (depending on your plan), but click this and you can change the quality. The mobile app also has options to change the quality for Wi-Fi and mobile data – to avoid getting hit with a huge streaming bill.

The second interesting button is the output Tidal uses. This is a speaker icon and on a desktop device you can choose from the outputs available to you on your system – this could be your PC speakers, an external DAC or various headphone jacks. It also includes casting to send to a Google Cast compatible device – this option is also in the mobile app.

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How do you change or cancel your Tidal subscription?

If you decide to upgrade or don’t want to be a Tidal subscriber anymore, the process is quite simple.

In your browser:

Log in to my.TIDAL.com.Click Subscription.Select Upgrade, Downgrade or Cancel.Confirm your selection.

In the Tidal app:

Click My Collection, Settings, Edit Profile, then Manage Subscription. Click Subscription. Select Upgrade, Downgrade, or Cancel. Confirm your selection.

If you use Pay Apple:

Go to Settings.Click Apple ID.Click Subscriptions.Confirm your selection.

Are there alternatives?

Alternatives include: Spotify, YouTube Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Deezer, and Apple Music. With each of these services, you can not only stream music, but also download and listen offline.

None of the competing services offer such insight into how your subscription helps the artists you love, so if that’s high on your priority list, Tidal is a very compelling choice. It must be said that none offer the same sound quality as Tidal’s Master recordings, but Amazon Music Unlimited and Deezer come pretty close.

You can learn more about all of these services by checking out the following Pocket ribbon roundups:

Written by Luke Baker. Editing by Chris Hall.

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