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Tidal's HiFi music streaming plan costs more than Spotify or Apple Music, but if you really want the best audio quality, it's worth the extra money

 

Tidal

  • Tidal is a music streaming service with access to high-fidelity audio tracks and exclusive releases.
  • The Premium plan with standard audio costs $9.99 per month, while the HiFi plan with lossless audio costs $19.99 per month. 
  • It's available on a wide range of devices, and the app matches most other music services when it comes to key features.
  • If you're not interested in the more expensive HiFi streaming plan, however, there are fewer reasons to consider Tidal over the competition.
  • See more: Everything you need to know about HD audio and how it can enhance your music-streaming experience
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While Tidal is often overlooked in favor of bigger music streaming services, like Spotify and Apple Music, the platform is still well worth considering, especially for people who want HD and hi-res music in accessible streaming form.

Tidal's main differentiator is that it offers a plan with higher quality music streams than both Spotify and Apple Music — but it does so for a price premium over those competitors. That extra money will get you CD-quality music streams for most of Tidal's catalog, as well as even higher fidelity playback, typically MQA at 96 kHz and 24 bits, for select tracks. 

Beyond just music quality, Tidal has heavily relied on exclusive songs and albums to keep listeners loyal to its platform. But, just how does the overall subscription service stack up to others? And, is high-definition audio really a compelling enough reason to pick Tidal over the competition? 

In addition to writing about music and technology for the last seven years, I've actually used Tidal regularly for more than a year. Here's my full review of the Tidal HiFi service. 

Pricing and plans

Tidal features two primary subscription plans: Premium and HiFi. The Premium option costs $9.99 a month and stacks up evenly to many other music services. For that price, you get standard quality streams for over 50 million songs, as well as access to a library of HD music videos.

If you want a higher quality listening experience with lossless music, you'll have to step things up to the HiFi plan. This option costs $19.99 per month. Basic features are the same as the Premium plan, but you gain the ability to stream CD-quality and MQA hi-res tracks. This is a feature that many less expensive music services, like Spotify and Apple Music, lack. 

Tidal also has special student, family, military, and first-responder pricing available for each plan. The family upgrade includes support for up to six family members on one account. The other specialty plans are just adjustments to the price. Here's a full rundown of Tidal pricing: 

  • Premium: $9.99 per month
  • HiFi: $19.99 per month
  • Family Premium: $14.99 per month
  • Family HiFi: $29.99 per month
  • Student Premium: $4.99 per month
  • Student HiFi: $9.99 per month
  • Military Premium: $5.99 per month
  • Military HiFi: $11.99 per month
  • First Responder Premium: $5.99 per month
  • First Responder HiFi: $11.99 per month 

Student, military, and first-responder accounts need to be verified prior to signing up. Student accounts also need to be re-verified every 12 months. 

Setup and interface

The Tidal app is available on all major platforms, including iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows. In addition, the service is available on many smart TVs and streaming media players, including Roku, Chromecast, AppleTV, Fire TV, and Android TV, as well as cars and Echo smart speakers. 

As you might expect, Tidal is also compatible with many high-end audio devices that are capable of utilizing its lossless music feature, including products from brands like Technics, Polk, Mirage, and MartinLogan. In total, Tidal is supported on more than 65 high-end receivers, speakers, and audio components. You can visit the Tidal website for a full list of supported products. 

To cover the widest amount of users, I'll largely focus on the Tidal mobile experience and Sonos experience in this review.

The iOS mobile app features four main tabs, with sections for Home, Videos, Search, and My Collection. This general arrangement is mirrored across other devices, though the interface is tweaked slightly to better suit specific platforms. For example, on the desktop version the main sections are Home, Explore, Videos, and My Collection, with that latter category being broken out further to take advantage of the extra space.

The mobile version of Tidal has been decent since its inception, but the desktop version has actually come a long way over the years. In 2014, the Mac version was a bad Windows port, but improvements have been made since then. 

In a predictable fashion, the app suggests new songs, shows recently played music, and recommends albums and playlists based on what you've listened to. All of this works well and is convenient, but the app's functionality doesn't feel special or better than any other service out there doing similar things. 

Still, there are some key perks that I enjoy, including a section for "Artists releasing tomorrow" that's available to browse on Thursdays. This category highlights upcoming content, which is a handy feature to have for listeners who want to keep track of all the latest songs. 

Performance and features

iFi Audio DAC lifestyle

For this review, I used Tidal's HiFi streaming plan and tried several different listening configurations with CD-quality and Master-quality tracks, including plugging a pair of Grado SR80e headphones into a new MacBook. I also compared Tidal's HiFi streaming to Apple Music and Spotify to get a sense of the quality difference.

Does Tidal's audio quality sound good? You betcha. But, as is the case with products like camera lenses or top of the line TV sets, once you pass a certain threshold, the differences in quality are tougher to notice.

Still, the thing that struck me the most about testing Tidal's HiFi plan is how much I hated going back to normal streaming after listening to its lossless quality. During active listening, the resonance of drums and cymbals vibrate, while bass and other string instruments linger on full strums. Smaller, less noticeable sounds pop just enough to appreciate their contributions. 

With that said, these improvements over standard quality streams can be subtle. If you haven't previously listened to lossless audio through gear capable of reproducing its fuller sound, the first thing you'll likely notice is improvements in background clarity — not in the main instrumentation front and center. 

The reason most music streaming services largely cap their quality at 256 or 320kbps lossy audio is because you can still hear the bass drop just fine at that lower quality. But, going beyond that level in data transmission, bit-depth, and sample-rate is like going from looking through a clean glass window to removing the glass altogether so no imperfections are in the way of your view.

Basically, it's like the difference between listening to a really good recording and actually being in the room. It largely sounds the same, but there are lots of minor details that sparkle and breathe throughout a song.

I listened to a lot of the recommended Master-quality selections, like John Coltrane, Norah Jones, The Beatles, and Elton John. I also listened to newer songs from Billie Eilish and the "Westworld" soundtrack. All of this lossless music offers roughly the same effect. When presented at this quality, aspects related to how each track was recorded or what kind of room they were recorded in begin to play more of a role in how the songs sound.

These are all benefits that I think people who take the time to listen actively, with the right equipment, will notice. The question then ends up being whether you're the kind of listener who wants to take that time. 

Outside of playback through my Grado headphones, Tidal also sounds great on a second-generation Sonos Play:5 speaker. On the Tidal app you're able to choose available speakers in your home, and the app will then select the best quality possible. If you select Bluetooth & AirPlay, you'll notice the quality indicator reverts to "Normal." A higher end wireless speaker like the Play:5 is able to produce the full range of Tidal's CD-quality tracks for more richness and clarity in songs.

To fully take advantage of Tidal's HiFi performance, the ideal listening scenario is sitting in a quiet room with wired headphones while you remain purely focused on the sound. For the absolute best playback, you'll also likely want to invest in a good quality DAC, which will optimize the audio processing from your playback device.

Of course, that's not how most people listen to music and that's why the service's HiFi subscription simply isn't for everyone. It's for enthusiasts and those who will notice and savor the nuances. More casual listeners and people with less expensive audio gear, however, will find it much harder to appreciate Tidal HiFi's benefits. 

Besides its collection of CD-quality and MQA songs, Tidal HiFi also offers a selection of 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos tracks. These features use "object-based spatial audio technology." What this means is that songs and performances are essentially remixed in a virtual surround sound environment.

This 360 audio can be effective for live performances to make it feel like you're there, but overall it feels gimmicky. Still, I think a lot of people listening on decent headphones will be able to hear a difference and appreciate the effect — maybe even more so than the expanded range offered by CD-quality and Master-quality songs. 

Discoverability and playlists 

In terms of promoting new music and helping users discover something new to listen to, Tidal does a fine job. It works better than Amazon Music, but it falls short next to Apple Music's human curators or Spotify's brute force automated personalization. 

For example, Spotify is now employing different types of content recommendations based on the time of day and other individual factors to keep new content discoveries fresh. Tidal simply doesn't provide this level of curation. 

One area Tidal has really doubled down on, however, is promoting its video content throughout its interface. You'll notice live performances, music videos, documentaries, visual albums, and all sorts of visual content from artists. If you enjoy music-related videos to go along with your audio streaming you'll love this.

The way Tidal does song queuing is also fantastic. It understands user intent when you have music playing better than other streaming services. For example, if you start playing a song in a playlist it will add the rest of the songs to your queue. That's pretty standard, but let's say you find another song and then add it to play next. Once it's added, Tidal will know that this new track should now be the second song instead of being placed after all the other songs from the playlist that was previously added. 

I wouldn't subscribe to a service just for this song queue feature, but it's really nice. It can become quite frustrating over time to continually have to move songs around in your up-next queue on Spotify and Apple Music.

The bottom line

Tidal

Tidal is a really competent streaming music service in its own right, but its ultimate value really depends on what you're looking for.  

If you just want standard quality streaming, then Tidal's $9.99 per month Premium plan just doesn't outshine competitors like Spotify and Apple Music. If what you're really after is lossless audio quality and the best streaming fidelity available, then Tidal's $19.99 per month HiFi plan is a much more appealing option.  

Audiophiles and more discerning listeners won't be disappointed with Tidal HiFi. Casual listeners who are less concerned about bitrates and audio compression, however, are probably better off with a cheaper alternative.  

Which plan should you get? 

Though the Premium plan is solid at $9.99 per month, the real differentiator for Tidal is its $19.99 per month HiFi plan. If you're thinking about signing up for the service because of its superior streaming quality over competitors like Spotify, the HiFi plan is the option to go for. New members can sign up now for a free 30-day trial.

What are your alternatives? 

When it comes to standard quality music streaming, there are several alternatives to Tidal, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, and YouTube Music. All of these services are available for $9.99 per month and they all offer a similar library of tracks. Of the bunch, Spotify is generally considered the most well-rounded option.

For those who want CD-quality or hi-res music streaming, however, there are fewer alternatives to pick from. Amazon now offers a Music HD plan that includes support for similar lossless streaming for a more affordable subscription price of $14.99 per month. With that said, Tidal is available on a wider selection of devices, it occasionally offers exclusive music, and it includes video content that Amazon lacks.

For more music streaming recommendations, be sure to check out our guide to the best music streaming services.

Pros: Lossless audio quality on a wide range of consumer products, includes video content, discounts for military and students 

Cons: More expensive than Amazon Music HD, less focus on music discoverability than Spotify or Apple Music

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