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What is TIDAL? The music streaming service explained

If you’re a music fan, you can’t move online without budging into a music streaming service. There are now plenty to choose from, one of which is TIDAL.

TIDAL as we know it began in 2014, and since its inception it has had many owners with Jay-Z acting as the figurehead for the service and even Samsung was rumoured years ago to be interested in an acquisition.

TIDAL is now owned by mobile payments firm Square, run by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey who bought a majority share in the company in 2021. It continues to be a music streaming service that puts artists first, with the aim of bringing fans closer to them while streaming music in the highest quality possible.

What is TIDAL?

TIDAL is a global music streaming service that positions itself as the first music streaming service to offer high-fidelity sound and hi-def video. It claims to have a library of over 80 million songs, double the amount that was available when we last reviewed it in 2018, and features over 350,000 videos that includes original content and livestreams. There’s a selection of podcasts available on the service, though not as much as you’d find on Apple Music or Spotify.

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Tidal music curation in app

As a music service, it aims to put artists at the forefront of the experience by making royalty payments fairer and more equitable; its Direct Artist Payout program increases payments to artists each month by directing up to 10% of a member’s subscription to musicians who are listened to the most in a calendar month.

The music and video content are also supplemented by editorial content, with interviews and features that give fans of musicians more insight into their work and history.

How much does TIDAL music cost?

In North America, Tidal offers three pricing tiers, the lowest of which is its free ad-supported tier with limited interruptions that launched in 2021.

In the UK there are only two tiers: HiFi and HiFi Plus.

HiFi is ad free, costs £9.99/month after a 30-day free trial, offers access to the full library of content and playlists and audio is supported up to CD quality (1411kbps)

HiFi Plus is priced at £19.99/month after the 30-day free trial elapses, and features everything included in the HiFi tier, but takes the sound quality up to 9216kbps and adds support for Tidal Masters, Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio.

This tier is also where initiatives such as Direct Artist Payout and Fan-Centred Royalties exist to funnel part of your subscription to musicians listened to the most.

What is TIDAL Masters?

TIDAL Masters is an area of the streaming service’s catalogue that features millions of tracks available in high-quality streaming format MQA.

MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated, and it claims to deliver the original sound recording via TIDAL Masters over streaming. It achieves this by folding and unfolding the data, using less bandwidth and therefore less data to stream high quality files.

Tidal MQA albums

TIDAL Master supports audio up to 24-bit/96kHz and is only available with a subscription to the HiFi Plus tier. In order to play music in Master quality, the streaming settings in the app or on desktop must be changed to ‘Master’.

You can spot Master Quality Authenticated content by looking for the Master logo next to albums and tracks, or by looking for curated MQA playlists. In the desktop app, you’ll find Master Quality Authenticated albums and playlists to peruse on the home screen.

MQA Renderer

In order to deliver MQA tracks over a network, they are ‘folded’ – think of it as like folding a piece of paper into an origami shape – before they set off (you can read more about this in our explainer).

The TIDAL app can decode MQA streams on desktop, iOS and Android; performing the first ‘unfold’ of the ‘folded’ file, and when paired with a compatible product (such as the THX Onyx), the final unfold can take place to deliver the full quality of the MQA file.

Some devices can do this without the need for additional help, such as Bluesound’s products, performing the full unfold on their own.

Where can I get TIDAL music streaming?

TIDAL is available across a wide range of devices such as those from Sonos, Naim, Denon, KEF, Yamaha, Cambridge Audio, Dynaudio, NAD and Technics to name but a few.

It has also carved out a niche with support for high-end devices from the likes of Moon Audio, T+A, Esoteric and Electrocompaniet.

You can use Chromecast with TIDAL (although Chromecast does not appear to support MQA), and the service is supported on Roku devices (though Atmos and Masters streaming appears supported), Vizio TVs, Samsung and Android TVs (Sony and Philips).

Fire TV and Apple TV streaming devices support Tidal, and if you have a car from Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln or Volkswagen then you can also stream directly from Tidal. Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto also offer control and playback of music from the service.

DJ applications feature such as VirtualDJ, Pioneer DJ and Serato, while there’s support for the likes of iOS (iOS 13 onwards), MacOS, Apple Watch, Android (Android 6 and above), Windows, Samsung Gear and Amazon Alexa. You can find out which other brands support TIDAL by heading to the website.

What is TIDAL Connect?

TIDAL Connect is, according to the service itself, “the first and only HiFi casting technology”. It allows users to send music direct from the app to their connected devices (we’re sure Chromecast will want to have a word, though).

It functions in much the same way as Spotify Connect, but allows for higher-quality formats such as Sony’s 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos.

To cast music, users must open the “Now Playing” screen when a song is playing, click on the device selector in the bottom left corner of the app and choose an available TIDAL Connect-enabled device to continue playback.

Brands that support TIDAL Connect include Bluesound, Cambridge Audio, DALI, KEF, iFi audio, Lyngdorf, Monitor, NAD, and Naim Audio. StreamUnlimited is also a partner, acting as a bridge to high-end devices.

Is Tidal worth it?

If you desire a more audiophile streaming experience over Spotify, then TIDAL fits the bill. It has a library that matches Spotify in terms of scope, features tracks in better quality and covers much of the same ground in terms of features.

The standard tiers cost the same, but you are getting more bang for your buck in terms of audio quality from TIDAL. If you are a music lover with a thirst for higher quality streaming, and want to ensure more of your money ends up in your favourite artist’s pocket, TIDAL is currently the service leading the charge on both those fronts.

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