TIDAL: a star-studded gimmick?


Music is easier than ever to listen to these days. You no longer have to go out and buy a cassette tape, vinyl, or dare I say it, a CD, to listen to your favourite artists sing or play their hearts out in a conventional 3-5 minute time-frame.

Music began to make the transition to digital in 2001 when iTunes was launched. With this piece of software, which was purchased by Apple in 1999 and was available solely to Apple computer users, came the ability to import music from CDs onto an easy-to-navigate format. Then, in 2003, came the iTunes Store, which arguably revolutionised the way music was purchased and consumed. You could buy music without even moving, which in addition to aiding to the growing obesity problem, was a fairly new concept. Of course, although file-sharing software such as LimeWire (rest in peace you beautiful programme) had been around since 2000, there was no accessible and simple way of legally downloading music until iTunes was created.

It seemed, however, that the music-based piece of software created by the delicious fruit-named company was a fairly lone competitor at that time – that was, however, only until the launch of Spotify in 2008. Spotify was presented as a streaming program, whereas iTunes was not. You could play music without having to download any files that clogged up your hard drive, as if it were magic! Although popularity was slow to build, which most companies tend to experience, it really made its name known in 2010 when it reached a total of 10 million users, followed by 60 million users – 15 million of which have a paid subscription – in 2015.

So here we had two competitors: iTunes – the pay-per album or single app – and Spotify – the pay-monthly streaming site. Now, in 2015, comes Tidal – a streaming company, similar to Spotify, that allows you to not only stream in normal quality, but also in ‘high fidelity, lossless audio’. What does this mean exactly? What actually is HiFi lossless audio? Well, it is uncompressed music. Where iTunes and Spotify compress their music to create smaller files, Tidal does not. In short, HiFi lossless audio is intended to sound a lot better than compressed music. This sounds good when you first hear about it. Better quality music? Brilliant! Anything that is ‘better’ is good, right?

Well, yes I suppose so. But, there is a massive setback to this feature of Tidal. In all reality, there is a high chance you will not actually notice the difference between the uncompressed and compressed music at all. To do so, you’d need your device to have the ability of supporting HiFi audio, or have headphones or speakers that are good enough to play it. These necessities can be pricey, and not everyone is willing to splash out on a £200 set of speakers, or £150 pair of headphones (and no, Dre Beats do not count).

So is Tidal actually worth it? Well, Tidal Premium, which is the standard version, is priced at £9.99 a month – the same price as Spotify Premium. Although Spotify does have a free version, which Tidal lacks, it also has adverts in-between songs, which is never fun. So for the Premium version, Tidal is probably worth it. It’s virtually identical to Spotify Premium, but with better playlists. I guess the decision between the two Premium’s comes down to what interface you prefer – I prefer Spotify’s.

Now, what about Tidal HiFi? This ‘innovation’ in streaming music costs a whopping £19.99 a month – so if you are REALLY into your music and have the capabilities of actually hearing it, then go for it if you really want to. But for me, in answer to whether it is actually worth paying £19.99 for, I’d say no. Tidal HiFi seems like a bit of a gimmick to me: you pay virtually £20 for something that you probably won’t hear the difference to (unless, of course, you actually have speakers or headphones that can capture the difference). And, more importantly perhaps, you don’t need. Listening to HiFi music is all good, but is there really much of a need for it? How many people will listen to intently to all the small intricacies of the song that they will ever notice the difference? The average consumer, I’d imagine, would not. However, with glamorous faces such as Jay Z, Kanye West, Daft Punk and Madonna on it, the average consumer will want to hear this difference in quality, and will think it is, as they say, a revolution in music.

The bottom line is: don’t pay £19.99 for something you don’t need (unless you really, really want to).