Tidal vs. Spotify [Definitive Guide]

Updates:

  • 12/18/19 (My Birthday!): Article cleanup. Added some images.
  • 12/21/19: Article cleanup.
  • 1/7/2010: Added a Spotify issue that happened this morning.

3,205 word post, approx. 4-5 min. read

Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!

Before we get into a discussion on Tidal vs. Spotify, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Tidal vs. Spotify
Tidal Issues
File Formats, etc.
Recommendation & Final Word

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!!

Introduction

What is it about music that enamors us as humans? There’s something to it for sure.

I think back a few years go when I was still working at Strawbridge Studios. I had an exchange with one of the pressman that I’ll never forget. His name was Danny.

He prefaced his stance on music by saying he wasn’t really the religious type. I think he believed in God, but had become somewhat detached over the years. He had grown a bit cynical of religion in general, but what he said about music caught me completely off guard and on the verge of tears in the middle of a busy workday.

Mind you, this guy’s a consummate jokester, but I had really come to appreciate some of the deeper conversations we’d had during my time there.

He was specifically referring to Jazz during our conversation:

“There’s just something about Jazz, man. There’s something about an incredible Jazz song that almost transcends life itself. I think music in general is the one thing in the entire universe that proves there is a God. That it could completely disarm and break down a grown man, reducing him to a sobbing, weeping mess just says so much about it’s power.”

He was of course referring to himself crying, which I never in a million years thought he would actually admit to. It just wasn’t his personality.

It wasn’t until I listened to Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green” off of his 1959 album Kind of Blue, did I realize exactly where Danny was coming from. It’s a song that most are familiar with, but the effect it can have on a person cannot be overstated.

Tidal vs. Spotify
If peeing in your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis.

I’m specifically referring to the power of Bill Evans’ keyboard at the end. It’s delicate, melancholy, hopeful, gentle, subtle, vast, infinite and yet fleeting all at once. If you let it, it will break you down too. What’s so mind blowing about it is that there are no words. Often times, we can relate to a song’s lyrics: They’re readily accessible, immediate, and always available for discernment. But when an artist can completely disarm you and speak to your very soul using his instrument alone, that’s extraordinary. There’s just something so spiritual about it.

Most religious people tend to look at God as if he were outside of you, in some far off distant land, looking down at you as if you were a meager ant. But God is everywhere, in everyone and in everything. That’s why I’m reduced to tears when I hear a song like “Blue in Green.” I can feel the presence of God in it.

I believe this is what Danny was referring to. Clare Torry’s immeasurably stunning performance on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” is another piece that has the power to stop you dead in your tracks and just listen. Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”, Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station”, Common’s “Little Chicago Boy”, the list goes on.

The digital age has made it easier to access these classics, but there’s a certain charm that got lost in translation. Collecting CD’s, cassettes, vinyl, and crate digging in general has almost become a lost art. I still love going to the thrift store and buying records for .25c a piece. Discovering forgotten sounds that can potentially be flipped into something fresh and new has always appealed to me (essentially beat making). It’s what Hip-Hop in particular was built on.

Check out some of my beats here!

I grew up right around the time Y2K was all the rage, and programs like Napster, Limewire, Morpheus, Kazaa, etc. were the go to for music listening.

The Best Headphones for Jazz
The OG LCD-2 on a pile of old records.
Anybody remember Limewire?

It seems strange to think about how our listening habits have changed and shifted with the passage of time and the evolution of technology. I no longer have to even leave my apartment to find a piece of music, and in some ways that really depresses me.

One of the best things about listening to music was actually going somewhere and finding it, not sure if you were even going to find it. Sure, you can still discover it, but the fact that it’s so easily accessible almost makes you not even want to bother. Why would I go to the store and comb through hundreds of CD’s when I can just type something into a search bar?

It’s a strange paradox for certain. It kind of makes you take music itself for granted, and that’s never a good thing. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve stared into my Tidal dashboard, unsure of what to do or who to search for. It’s almost as if I don’t really care anymore.

Even when the iPod first came out, there was still the sense that you were crafting something special (in the form of your playlists, etc.) Comparing libraries, listening to a friends music, sharing artists you discovered, getting excited. It’s all something that has morphed into this sort of empty void.

Making a mix CD for someone used to be an event. Now it’s essentially looked at as an afterthought, a coda to a time long forgotten about. I remember making this girl who I really cared about a mix, and she loved it. It made me feel good. I spent weeks and weeks coming up with the perfect songs and the perfect order to convey to her how I felt about her (as well as music in general). I wanted her to feel what I felt listening to the songs. It mattered to me, much like her mixes to me probably mattered to her.

The fact that I can now just fire up Tidal or Spotify and listen to music is both a blessing and a curse. I still love it, and I accept the fact that times have changed, but sometimes it’s good to reflect on the past and how it’s shaped our perceptions.

With that, let’s take a look at the 2 platforms.

Tidal vs. Spotify

I’ve been jotting notes down for quite awhile in order to get some general impressions on how both programs behave, as well as any potential sound quality discrepancies between the two.

In general, Spottily seems to be more stable. None of the issues I have in Tidal, do I experience in Spotify. Well, save for one: Sometimes when you’re listening, Spotify also skips ahead 5-10 seconds on the next song. More on that in a bit.

For clarification and disclosure, I pay for Tidal, and I’m utilizing the 3 month trial for Spotify. Outside of that, I’ve been listening to free Spotify since around Spring of 2017. I decided on the 3 month so I could get a true sense of any actual sound quality differences with regard to file format.

Tidal runs 16-bit/44 or 48k files for all FLAC (lossless). Their MQA files (Master Quality Authenticated) come in at 24-bit/88 or 96kHz and generally do sound better than the former. I almost always hunt out MQA files over FLAC if that’s any indication of how much I value them.

Contrary to what some people may tell you, there are plenty of MQA albums out there. I currently have around 21 saved to my library. I love ’em!

I had taken a break from Spotify for a long hiatus since purchasing a Tidal subscription. Upon returning to the platform for some song demos, I was completely taken aback at how poor the sound quality was in relation. There’s an inordinate amount of distortion that really shocked me. Keep in mind I am comparing Apples to Oranges (Lossy vs. Lossless), so there’s that.

Still, I don’t remember these songs sounding quite as bad even just a year or so ago. I used to listen exclusively to Spotify free, and liked it just fine. Now? I couldn’t fathom going back to that when I have basically ultra Hi-Fi tracks at my disposal 24/7.

Listening to DSD didn’t help that sentiment much either, even despite the fact that basic DSD64/128 formats can be reproduced by a standard PCM file.

There are some important details worth knowing when making a comparison between DSD and a FLAC file, for example. The first is that DSD is not magically better than its rivals. A ‘standard’ DSD file – often referred to as DSD64 is roughly equivalent to a sample rate of 24/88.2kHz. ‘Double DSD’ or DSD128 samples that single bit of information 5.6 million times a second to give you a signal equivalent to 24/176.2kHz. Again, this is a sample rate that can be reproduced by formats that are not DSD. Higher rates exist but they are very, very rare. If anyone says that DSD is ‘better’ than other formats, the numbers don’t necessarily support that. Cambridge Audio

In other words, DSD files are overrated, don’t matter much, and are pretty hard to find outside of a few free samples that I have on my computer. (AKA, you have to pay for most of them BUSTER).

The only reason I even have DSD files on my hard drive is for formalities sake. Some Amps & DACs that I have demoed are DSD compatible, so naturally I need to verify that they actually work and change colors when you play them.

The iFi Zen DAC/Amp, FiiO K5 Pro, and FiiO K3 are 3 such products that allow you to play Direct Stream Digital. The Zen in particular lights up in 5 different colors depending on source! I will admit, it’s cool when the colors change, but outside of that, who the f cares?

Tidal MQA – Magenta
DSD256 – Dark Blue
DSD64/DSD128 – Light Blue
PCM 176/192/353/384 kHz – Yellow
PCM 44/48/88/96 – Green

Anyways..

Even though Tidal files are demonstrably better, there’s a whole other host of issues (mostly minor) that get on my nerves. It isn’t really enough to make me cancel my subscription and switch to a paid version of Spotify, but it should be exposed regardless.

Let’s take a look. We’ll get into Spotify Paid vs. Tidal Paid in a bit, so sit back and chill out will ya?

Heh.

Tidal Issues

  • Tidal cuts the first bit of the song at the start sometimes. Spotify does as well. This is actually kind of annoying. You’re listening to a playlist or album, the next song comes on, and you’re like “wtf?” You know something’s amiss, but don’t know what. Then you realize the song started like 5-10 seconds in. Super frustrating. Just drag the play head back and shut up I guess. 😛
  • Sometimes Tidal will randomly stop playing the track for various reasons, one of which is “Could not connect to server.” or “Server Error.” “Whattheheckyamean?!” says Jerry Lundegaard. This usually requires a complete shutdown of Tidal and/or a reboot of the PC. Almost a deal breaker on a bad day. #firstworldproblems. It’s important to mention that this type of error could be any number of issues outside of Tidal (my web server, etc.), but the fact that 1) my connection is always fine when it happens, and 2) it never happens in Spotify, is telling.
Tidal vs. Spotify
Server Error my a**, you play that file this instant!
  • Sometimes if you pause the track and step away from the PC, it will not resume once you come back and press play. Huh? GFYS Tidal. Play my track you stupid efffing program! XD Almost a deal breaker.
  • Sometimes after a track is done, the next one plays but the album artwork doesn’t update to reflect the new song. The play head also takes a while to scrub to the right spot. Minor annoyance.
  • When Tidal resumes playing after a pause, it takes a few seconds to resume. This happens if you’ve been away from the PC to take a dump or something. Pretty irritating.
  • Sometimes the song cuts out intermittently while playing for a second and then resumes. This hasn’t been happening much lately, but did quite frequently before.
  • Spotify free actually does sound considerably worse with some songs. You can clearly hear the distortion after making the switch back from Tidal.

Spotify Issues

  • Like Tidal, sometimes the song will cut out the first 5-10 seconds upon switching to the next track.
  • I just dropped the kids off at the pool and came back. Pressed play and the song wouldn’t play. This happens in Tidal as well. Closing Spotify and re-opening it fixed the issue, but I shouldn’t have to do that.

Now for the million dollar question, does Spotify Paid sound as good as Tidal paid?

Great question home slice. Let’s dive in.

File Formats

Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis (basically an Alien, but a lossy Alien), vs. the FLAC (lossless) utilized by Tidal.

Normal quality files from Spotify come in at 160 kbps, or 96 kbps on mobile devices. If you upgrade, like I did with the Premium trial, you’re getting high quality files coming in at 320kbps.

Tidal’s HiFi subscription boasts over 4x that at 1,411kbps.

From Tech Radar:

The difference between lossless and lossy formats stems from what is lost after the files are received by the user and uncompressed.
Lossy formats are very good at compressing data to a small size, such as audio, video or images, so they can be easily transferred over the web via streaming, email or downloads. Lossy files, such as MP3s (for audio) and JPEG (for images), are common on websites, because they can load quickly without sucking up the user’s time or data plan.
However, in doing this, these formats “simplify” parts of those files to make transfers easier, resulting in a lower quality sound or picture when retrieved on the other end.
Lossless formats, on the other hand, are able to recover all the data from their compressed files, meaning no loss in quality in the transfer. Typically, these files don’t compress down to a size as small as their lossy brethren, making them more suitable for situations when the quality of the product matters more than the speed at which it downloads or the amount of memory it takes up.Tech Radar

This is likely in part why Tidal comes off as more buggy than it’s lower quality competitor. There’s so much more data clogging up the servers because of the fact that there are essentially zero lost artifacts in a lossless file – and, there are roughly 60 million of those files available. Wowzer McGee! Everything is there, and boy howdy does it sound great. It does? You can bet your buns it does. But it’s not without a cost (no pun intended).

The question then becomes, what is true high quality worth to you?

Being a reviewer/blogger, it’s very much worth my money to invest in the best quality source files. I demo a lot of gear and give a lot of of advice, so naturally I need to utilize every tool available so that my impressions are the best they can be for readers and subscribers.

If you’re not a reviewer or audiophile, but more of a casual listener, you may just go with Spotify Premium and call it a day. It still sounds very good, but I will say I prefer lossless every day of the week and twice on Sunday homie!

I pay $20/month for a Tidal Hi-Fi subscription, but there’s also a “Premium” for just $10. With premium, you’re not getting the MQA files but do still get FLAC.

Conversely, Spotify premium costs $10/month while the the free version is just that.

Interface

As far as the interfaces are concerned, they look about the same in both, function in pretty much the same way, and are very user intuitive. They use similar fonts for Album titles, Playlists, etc. The smaller text (song names) looks to be the same font. I’m a graphic designer so I notice these things. 😛

Playlist I made for someone special in Spotify. The title is one of her texts to me 🙂
Same playlist in Tidal.

You can save albums in both, manage and create playlists in both, and generally do the same things with regard to saving songs to your library and what not.

The only real differences come down to where buttons and other prompts are located, which almost doesn’t even deserve mention. Hearts are on the left in Spotify, and on the right in Tidal. I’m sure by now you’re probably skimming past this, so why am I even writing it. Lol whomp.

Song Selection

I will say that I think for certain genres, Spotify has the edge. In listening to stuff like Indie Pop, EDM, etc. I found the selection of music to be better. This does come down to personal preference, but I nearly always find myself skipping around in Tidal, trying to find a good song, whereas with Spotify it seems like they’ll rifle off 8 in a row that I absolutely love.

Even with that said, If I’m looking for something specific, I can easily find it in both programs and have never not found what I was looking for. Kind of like that song by U2, only not. 😛

Pretty amazing considering I’ve listened to some really esoteric music in the past.

Recommendation & Final Word

At the end of the day, I would go with Tidal, even despite the issues mentioned here today. Why is that? Well for one, because I said so! Haha just kidding.

No, I’ve been gathering these negative impressions in Tidal for the last 6 months or thereabouts. Since then, I haven’t experienced them nearly as much, save for the track skipping ahead a few seconds, and the occasional freeze. While still annoying, it doesn’t make me want to cancel my subscription, though it kind of did when it was happening more frequently. F U Tidal! JK I still love you.

Tidal is most certainly a work in progress, but it seems like they are actively trying to improve their product. For that I don’t mind paying the price for what I’m getting in return – that sweet, sweet MQA, as well as FLAC in all it’s glory.

Well that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve gotten some valuable information out of this Tidal vs. Spotify Comparison.

Which of these would you likely pay for? How much is sound quality worth to YOU? Be sure to let me know!!

If you have any other questions, or feel I’ve missed the mark on something, leave a comment down below or Contact me!

I very much look forward to speaking with you..

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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