#TIDALforALL made its viral debut this past week.
Tidal, the brainchild of Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and many more gained heavy support from a slew of today’s biggest musicians in a very short amount of time. The self-proclaimed “future of music” first appeared in the US back in late 2014, but now makes its mark in 34 countries.
You may be asking yourself, “Why Tidal?”
Well, Tidal’s bread and butter is their commitment to ‘Hi-Fi’ audio streaming; aka being able to stream any song from the Tidal music library in lossless quality.
Lossless audio isn’t something new or something Tidal suddenly conjured up. If you can remember back to the days of CD’s, we were already accustomed to lossless audio in the physical sense. Since then we’ve progressed to the digital age, and our streaming capabilities were limited by certain factors.
One of those factors is bandwidth. Without getting too technical, dial-up modems, ISP limitations and developing technology hindered the rate of data transfer; thus making large files incredibly slow for home computers to transfer via the internet.
But where are we now?
Today’s stunning computing speeds and ultra-fast internet connections allow for almost anyone to stream large audio files, like the lossless quality Tidal boasts. It’s rather difficult to describe the differences between audio files in words, so let’s use some visual representations of what your music looks like when you stream from different services.
When you stream music on Soundcloud, you’re listening to a lossy version of the song. Quality has been lost and thus cannot be described as ‘lossless.’ The bitrate (number of bits processed per unit of time, typically seconds) for these songs is 128 kbps or 128 kilobits per second. This bitrate would have probably sufficed in our early days of computer advancement.
Here we can see a spectral analysis of Alesso ft. Roy English – Cool (CRNKN Remix) pulled directly from Soundcloud. Since this is the lowest audio quality we will get into, you can see a visible “shelf” at 16 kHz while noticing sporadic vertices peak all the way to 22 kHz. This is due to Soundcloud’s compression algorithm which down-converts the original file into something smaller and quicker to stream for listeners.
Let’s progress to the next level in audio file types, and one that many people solely listen to: iTunes’ M4A format and Beatport’s MP3 format.
Both the MP3 and the M4A file format use a compression algorithm which also down-converts the original file into a smaller size. This is true for any song you purchase via the iTunes Music Store.
The algorithm compresses audio by removing parts of the sound that have the least effect on perceived quality. It’s pretty difficult to notice any difference in audio quality between an MP3 and what you’ll hear on Tidal, but it’s still there.
We can see this by visually looking at the spectral analysis once again.
First is Karen Harding – Say Something, a song I purchased on iTunes (M4A), and the second is Mat Zo – EZ which I bought from Beatport (MP3). The differences between Soundcloud’s quality and these two is quite significant. But, keep in mind that Soundcloud specifically streams music while these are purchasable options.
The visual “shelf” on these file formats peaks around 20 kHz, creating a much better listening experience than its 16 kHz counterpart.
Finally, let’s get into what Tidal is offering you in regards to your everyday listening experience. Tidal offers lossless music in the form of .FLAC files, a format that loses absolutely no information while still being compressed into a smaller size.
Apple even provides a lossless format in their ALAC file type. But how does this compare to the MP3 that we know and love?
Here is the last spectral analysis, of Major Lazer – Lean On purchased off Beatport as a lossless FLAC file.
Here you can see there is no shelf, meaning that the full information of the audio file isn’t reduced or compressed to any specific restrictions. This image shows us a slight increase in quality from that of the MP3 and M4A files we just looked at.
If we can barely see the difference, can our ears really tell the difference?
Yes and no.
If you’re a casual listener and not an audiophile fanatic with a studio monitor setup or $1,500 Sennheiser HD800’s, then you more than likely won’t notice any difference.
Is Tidal worth the steep $20 per month fee of streaming a large music library in ‘Hi-Fi’ quality? Probably not.
Is it worth $20 per month for a sleek looking design that totally doesn’t look anything like Spotify? Probably not.
What Tidal does offer is obviously what sets it apart from other streaming services: ‘artist ownership.’
For the music industry, physical sales have suffered as downloading became the status quo, not to mention streaming whole discographies on sites like Tidal.
But what if there was an artist-owned streaming site available – allowing musicians to run distribution with equal profits? Unfortunately, that’s not Tidal.
Instead, the wealthiest group of musicians (estimated at over $2.7 billion) turned the focus on themselves — promising allegiance to a platform Beyoncé described as “For the people, by the people.”
They claim an intent to preserve music’s importance in our lives, but how so?
Every day, we see technological advances taking away jobs. So how do artists like Kanye West and Jay-Z react to such a threat? Through capitalistic self-preservation, and a side of moral purpose.
For the everyday listener, Tidal will become another application in the oversaturated market of streaming services. And more importantly, it will become yet another example of the music industry’s effort to take away our right to free music through forced privatization.
Tidal isn’t the future of music. It just claims to be.
Think you have the ability to tell the difference between Tidal’s FLAC quality and a normal MP3?
Take the test here.