Spotify vs. Tidal

Spotify vs. Tidal

I’ve been a satisfied Spotify Premium user for a few years and haven’t looked at other streaming services. The latest upgrade to my Naim UnitiQute streamer introduced support for Tidal and included a three month trial which I had to try. This review pits Spotify vs. Tidal.

The main attraction was the lure of CD-quality streaming so I may never have to buy a CD or 16-bit digital download ever again. £20 a month sounded like a bargain, especially as I’m currently paying £10 for Spotify.

Setup & configuration

The download and set up was ridiculously easy and I was streaming CD quality music on the ‘Qute via the Tidal app on the iPad within minutes. Tidal is well integrated into the Naim IOS app and you can access your saved artists, playlists and albums.

One of the drawbacks using Spotify on the Naim steamer is that you have to start a track or album playing in Spotify on IOS then select the Naim as an external device, which takes over the stream.

Searching is also easy & quick on IOS and OSX apps. My impression is that the Tidal apps are faster than Spotify, which I feel is getting slower with each new release. Spotify’s Naim IOS app works differently, in that you start music in Spotify, then select the external system to play through. The ‘Qute then takes over the stream from the iPad, which isn’t as convenient as Tidal’s tight integration with Naim’s IOS app.

Both services integrate with our Sonos Play 1 and the IOS Sonos app was able to access my saved music, artists and playlists.

Real Life Use

Our home broadband suffers from low download speeds and, whilst the rest of the village has super-fast internet access, our little spur is still on modem speeds. Performance deteriorates in the evenings when the neighbours kids are home.

Its almost impossible for us to watch catch up TV without the spinning ball making an appearance and the concern was that higher bit rate streaming would cause drop outs. This proved to be the case, especially if we are using the iPads as well as streaming music. Dropouts are not a problem when streaming Spotify to the ‘Qute so this must be caused by the higher bit rate.

Tidal no networkI listen to a lot of new music when I’m travelling and download albums to listen to offline. This works great on both products, although I think that Tidal is quicker to download. Tidal also offers better quality offline listening, but whether this makes a lot of difference through in-ear headphones on a crowded & noisy train is up for debate.

Don’t think about using Tidal on your Mac on a train (or anywhere else without an internet connection) as you can’t even open it to play offline music ….. bit of a fail that one.

Music Quality

There has been a lot written about Spotify’s streaming quality but, to be honest, I have never found it to be a problem as long as you have selected “High Quality Streaming” which equates to around 320 kbps. Tidal’s unique selling point is it’s “HiFi” subscription that offers CD-quality 1411 kbps FLAC streaming.

The ‘Qute is a great renderer and handles both streams well. Listening to the same track on both services back to back its really hard to differentiate between the two, at least to my ears. Perhaps I need to experiment further with a different set of tracks and I’ll update this review over the next few weeks.

There is definitely a difference when playing a 320 MP3 vs a 16-bit CD RIP on the Naim, so its not the equipment causing a problem. This is, of course, totally subjective and you may a different experience, depending on how you listen to your music.

Music Catalog

I’m not sure which has the larger real-life catalogue, but I was able to find pretty much everything I needed on both services. Each service claims to have about 30 million tracks in their library, which I guess is enough for anyone. Some reviewer report that there are gaps in Tidal’s catalogue, notably when you are searching for rarer bands, albums or singles. I suspect that unless you have particularly obscure tastes, then you won’t have too many problems with either service.

Spotify may be able to fill in some gaps as their desktop app allow you to add your own music to the library.

Music Discovery

Both services aim to help you discover new music by suggesting albums and tracks that you may like, based (I guess) on what you’ve been listening to. It may be early days, but I’m not convinced that Tidal is listening to what I’m playing ….

Spotify presents suggestions based on “Because you listened to ….” I’m not sure what criteria Tidal uses. Perhaps the choices will become more appropriate as I use the services over the coming weeks?

Playlist Sharing

Once again, Tidal and Spotify both provide the ability to share your Playlists with friends on social media. I particularly like the way Spotify provides the code to embed a playable Spotify widget in a web page or blog post, which is what I use to share my ITfM Radio playlists.

By comparison, Tidal’s sharing is limited to copying the playist URL, which needs a subscription to play the tracks, otherwise you can listen to just 30 seconds.

The Verdict

Three weeks in & I’m on the fence. I prefer Tidal’s speed and like the idea of better quality streaming, but for me the biggest problem is that I can’t currently embed a playlist into a post, which I appreciate isn’t a deal breaker of most of the population.

In the end it will come down to whether Tidal is worth the extra tenner a month and the jury is still out…..

Oh, I can hear you ask, “Why no Apple Music in this review?” That’s easy – no hi-res music support, no integration with my Naim streamer and you need to use iTunes……

Spotify

spotify-logo

+ better sharing options
+ OK integration with Naim IOS app
+ good sound quality via the UnitiQute
– apps are slow compared to Tidal

Tidal

tidal-logo

+ fast searching
+ fully integrated with Naim IOS app
+ great sound via the Unitiqute
+ fast downloads for offline listening on IOS
+ fast apps (IOS & OSX)
– signal dropouts (not Tidal’s fault)
– would like to customise the apps to remove video from the home screen
– can’t embed a playlist in a blog post
– Tidal desktop app won’t even start without an internet connection