TIDAL vs Spotify: Which is music to your ears?
The music streaming market may still be dominated by Spotify, but TIDAL is a worthy alternative for audiophiles. Here’s how the two services stack up.
Updated . What changed?
A big musician relaunching a rival music-driven platform? It’s not the first time this has happened – remember when Justin Timberlake tried to help relaunch MySpace after Facebook had already taken over the world?
With TIDAL, JAY-Z (alongside stakeholders like Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Calvin Harris, Jack White, Kanye West, Madonna, Usher and Deadmau5) is responsible for investing in the online streaming platform.
What is TIDAL?
Essentially, TIDAL is the first ever artist-owned, global music and entertainment platform. According to the official website, the platform has 60 million tracks and tons of exclusive interviews and videos. The whole thing began when JAY-Z purchased Aspiro, the Swedish company that originally operated TIDAL, back in 2015.
And while the artists that are involved were not part of the purchase of Aspiro and TIDAL, they do feature on the platform, which means they have some sort of equity in the platform that, in a way, makes them part-owners. The artist-owners are Alicia Keys, Arcade Fire (Win Butler and Regine Chassagne), Beyoncé, Calvin Harris, Claudia Leitte, Clifford "T.I." Harris, Coldplay, Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Jack White, Jason Aldean, J. Cole, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Shawn "JAY-Z" Carter, Damian Marley, Indochine, Lil Wayne and Usher.
What does TIDAL have that Spotify doesn’t?
- Special content. Subscribers can access special content, including artist interviews. There are also TIDAL originals available, such as revealing interview series, documentaries and special events that bring your favourite artists closer. Plus, the platform runs TIDAL X, a program that connects artists directly with fans by giving them a platform to engage in unique ways. For instance, the Fenty by Rihanna runway show in Paris was streamed live for TIDAL members.
- Artist control. One of the goals for TIDAL is to give control back to the artist, railing against the use of music as a marketing or advertising tool. And in an age where artists are battling free and pirated downloads of their work, this platform will empower them financially.
- Better sound quality. ...if you're willing to spend more cash, that is. The platform promises to provide the best high fidelity sound and high definition music videos with full offline capabilities. You can try the free trial and check it out for yourself.
How does TIDAL stack up against Spotify?
- High-quality audio. Extreme audiophiles will love and appreciate this.
- Offline accessibility. Listen to the music you love, whenever you want.
- Exclusives. Top-tier artists sometimes release their music exclusively through TIDAL because of their stake in the company.
- Artist control. Bite back at illegal streaming and pay the artist what they deserve for the music you listen to.
- Free 30-day trial. TIDAL offers a free 30-day trial of its services
- Free streaming. You can stream all artists and playlists offered for free – however, you will have to plough your ears through some advertising every now and again, unless you pay for an ad-free subscription.
- Less data usage. Compared to TIDAL, Spotify uses less data in its high-quality streaming mode than TIDAL does in high fidelity. Of course, to avoid this with TIDAL, you could stream in a lower quality by allowing your device to optimise audio quality.
- Offline accessibility for subscribers. Listen to the music you love, whenever you want – but only if you have Spotify Premium.
- Price. Spotify Premium is slightly less than TIDAL's subscription fee at $11.99 per month.
- Free 30-day trial. Like TIDAL, Spotify offers a free 30-day trial of its service. That being said, the platform often runs special promotions, and you may be able to score up to three months free when you sign up for a Premium membership.
- No free streaming. TIDAL is all about empowering and giving back to the artist, so it's a subscription-only service.
- Price. Compared to Spotify, TIDAL is slightly more expensive. Subscriptions cost US$9.99 per month (approximately AUD$12.95) for Premium and US$19.99 per month (approximately $25.90) for Hi-Fi (better sound quality).
- Artist pay rate. One of the biggest backlashes that TIDAL has faced is claims that it only works for the big, rich artists and not the up-and-comers. Because it has a hierarchical pay scheme, the big guns get a bigger cut than the smaller players. However, TIDAL is running TIDAL Rising, a program dedicated to artists from around the globe that is designed to bring them more benefits, like better placement throughout the platform.
- They only pay the artist what they have to. This is how artists are being cannibalised. Because all terms and agreements are negotiated by record labels, collectives and copyright boards, platforms like Spotify only need to pay what has been negotiated by a representative. Not by the artist personally.
What about discounts?
Let's start by stating the obvious – you can stream Spotify for free. However, the free plan comes with ads and numerous limitations. You can't download music for offline listening, you can only play music in shuffle mode and you can skip tracks only up to six times per hour. The audio quality is inferior as well. If you listen to a lot of music, these limitations will become increasingly frustrating, so we recommend signing up for the Premium plan. If you only need background noise every now and then, the free plan should do the trick.
Besides the individual Premium plan, Spotify offers a Premium Family membership for $17.99/month, which enables you to register up to six accounts for family members living under one roof. This plan includes Spotify Kids, a special app for kids up to age 12. There's also a Spotify Premium Student plan, which is available for a 50% discount at $5.99/month.
TIDAL also offers a 50% discount on subscription tiers for students. As for families, each additional family member is offered a 50% discount on both subscription tiers. The family package is limited to five members.
Spotify vs TIDAL: Content and features
Both services have a generous content library, so you won't have to look too hard to find your favourite artists and tunes. Due to JAY-Z's connections, some artists may release their music exclusively on TIDAL before making it available on competing platforms like Spotify.
On a similar note, both services do well on the music discovery front, offering a Radio feature to help you expand your music horizons, as well as tons of playlists that fit any mood. They're also great at suggesting new tracks based on your personal taste.
That being said, Spotify generally has more playlists, as well as the Discover Weekly feature that offers users a new playlist of fresh music every week. You can check out TIDAL Rising for new names that might catch your eye, but Spotify tends to be easier to navigate and more intuitive when it comes to finding new music that you might like. It also offers tailored Daily Mixes made specifically for you.
Both services offer podcasts, though Spotify seems more interested in this department, with a considerably bigger selection. TIDAL, on the other hand, has its own Originals section, which includes exclusive interviews and documentaries. Music videos tend to play a more important role on TIDAL, with a dedicated section just for them. Spotify offers some videos as well, but you will have to look harder to find them.
On the compatibility front, both services come with desktop support for PC and Mac, plus Android and iOS apps. Both Spotify and TIDAL support Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay. TIDAL is compatible with a variety of audio and streaming devices, but Spotify has a slight edge, enabling you to listen to your favourite tunes using everything from wearables to audio streamers to gaming consoles.
As for sound quality, this is where TIDAL has the advantage over Spotify. The streaming service offers four audio settings: Normal, High, Hi-Fi and Master. The last two are available with TIDAL's most expensive plan. Keep in mind that not all songs are available in these formats and you will also need high-quality headphones to enjoy the premium quality. Your run-of-the-mill in-ear earbuds won't do the trick.
Meanwhile, Spotify offers five audio settings: Automatic, Low, Normal, High and Premium. Premium is pretty much equivalent to TIDAL's High. It still sounds great and if you're not too demanding, the quality will satisfy you. Dedicated audiophiles, however, might want to take the TIDAL route.
Which service is right for you?
There's no clear winner here – both TIDAL and Spotify are excellent music streaming services with plenty to offer. For better audio quality, go with TIDAL as long as your budget allows. For a wider diversity of playlists, go with Spotify.
Better yet, both services offer free trials. Why not sign up for both, test them out and see which one better fits your audio needs?
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