Spotify vs. Tidal : What is the best streaming music service app?

Posted on July 16, 2016
by Seth Harden

I was jumping for joy and fist pumping when I heard the, Europe based, streaming music service Spotify had signed deals with U.S. record labels and was finally coming to America. I used the service a few hours before signing up for the $9.99 premium plan.

“YOU GUYS GOTTA CHECK THIS OUT!!!” I yelled through the office. By day’s end every single person in the office had downloaded Spotify on their work computer. Over the next year I preached Spotify to every person I came in contact with as if I had discovered the Internet itself. Spotify had finally solved my music access dilemma. For the price a cold sandwich I had my music fix covered. No more bit torrents and guilt from music theft, no more organizing my overwhelming digital archive of Mp3s, and no more surfing through countless pretentious indie blogs to find new music. As a deep deep music lover, Spotify was the savior of my music listening world.

My only problem with Spotify was its lack of brand culture and re-investment in music culture. Even MySpace made attempts at contributing something to the music community, it started a record label, sponsored concerts, and featured new artists on their homepage. Spotify felt like just an app, like a corporation, focused on a bottom line, exchanging money for services. All I knew about the company was Sean Parker’s appointment to the board of directors, most likely an attempt at legitimizing Spotify with the old Napster, anti-establishment, community. Spotify seemed content with only playing the role of technology creator and stayed out of the music community entirely. To further damage their image, it became clear early on that artists were barely being compensated for their music streams.

Introducing Tidal, claiming to pay 75% of revenue back to music labels for artist distribution. Tidal was acquired early on by Jay-Z for $5 million and marketed as the first “artist owned” music streaming service. With a monthly subscription fee of $9.99 (the same as Spotify) it also offers a HiFi subscription for $19.99 which provides lossless streaming of Flac files at 1411 kbps (the same as a traditional CD).

I signed up for a free month of Tidal HiFi to see if there was a noticeable difference in sound quality. First, let me say the sound quality is NOTICEABLY different. I found myself listening to my favorite songs just to hear parts of the music instrumentation I hadn’t been able to hear with higher compression. The sounds were crisp, the vocals were vibrant, and the music just …sounded better. The only downside was my limited 10GB monthly Verizon phone plan. I was already coming close to overage charges each month, and with Tidal’s significantly larger file size I would definitely be incurring additional data charges. To get around this I immediately made playlists and downloaded the tracks over WiFi for playback while I was in my car. You can also set mobile streaming to a lower quality, but HiFi streaming is the whole point of the Tidal service!

The interface of Tidal is much cleaner and uses a better font in my opinion. Another HUGE component of Tidal is their music video catalog! No more watching videos on YouTube with ads and popups. Along with music videos, Tidal produces music shows and concerts that stream beautifully on both the desktop and mobile app. Tidal is built using backbone.js while Spotify is still using Java, Python and Clojure – someone at Tidal really knows what they’re doing. I don’t like how they crop the album cover into a circle while the song is playing, it looks stupid and doesn’t allow you to see the whole album artwork. One of my favorite Tidal features is its lack of the social network feature! No more embarrassment when you play Abba’s Dancing Queen as your music selection isn’t broadcast to your Facebook friends.

The best thing about Tidal is the sense you get that the people running the show are passionate music lovers who care more about music distribution than app creation. Although, main owner Jay-Z has featured his wife (Beyoncé) on the home page for the past two months… favoritism?

Unfortunately, the party is about to end just as it’s getting started. Apple just met with Tidal to discuss an acquisition to the tune of $500 million. Even though Tidal only has 4.2 million subscribers compared to Spotify’s 30 million, Apple must see what I see – a superior music service just a few years away from taking that top spot.