What’s The Best Music Streaming Service? Testing Spotify vs. Tidal

I would never admit to being a music snob—I don’t have a put-away vinyl collection, for example—but it is important to me.

The way I listen to music has always coincided with the best technology available. For example, I still have my Nas Illmatic and It Was Written cassette tapes from the ’90s, but they’re relics now, kept purely for nostalgic reasons.

I mean, I still play those albums frequently, but usually I’m streaming them on Spotify, the best music streaming service I’ve been able to find lately. The ease of having so much music at your fingertips, and the ability to import what you can’t find there, has led me to use it almost exclusively.

When Jay Z and co. rolled out Tidal in their world-saving, almost pompous, manner last month, it was branded as “cutting out the middleman” (referring to the major labels, the same ones most of those famous players on stage owed their start to), and it promised to help emerging artist by letting them keep “100% of their music.”

They also pitched Tidal as a higher quality streaming service; its lowest standard of music is equivalent to Spotify’s best. For an extra ten bucks, you get CD-quality, lossless streams, and with it some relief knowing that you aren’t starving your favorite artists (as much) by streaming their music.

This sounded interesting to me, so I wanted to see how it held up against the current champ of music streaming, and my existing favorite, Spotify. This is my diary of using Tidal (placing Spotify on the back burner) for a week.

Day 1

First issue: Tidal doesn’t have a desktop app like Spotify does, something I’m a little wary of. Spotify’s offline mode makes it feel as if you actually own the music rather than being a streaming site (which it ultimately is) where everything’s up in the cloud.
Also, I usually keep one big playlist on Spotify (close to 1500 songs), rather than multiple live-Spotify-DJ-set playlists. Thanks to Soundizz, a third party app that Tidal links over to, I was able to get nearly all of the songs transferred over with the playlist. It took a few minutes but thankfully in the end, I didn’t have to manually create the playlist over.

Tidal’s interface is similar to the iTunes store, in the way it hosts a cluster of content. Jay Z has a lot of rich friends and they all seem to have a hand in this. There’s a “Robinson Cano Game Day Prep” playlist with the same songs my Spanish barbers listen to in order to prep themselves for another workday. Cool.

The mobile app also looks less iOS-friendly and is geared more towards Android devices.

But enough about that: I hit the boardwalk with my pair of hi-fi headphones for a stroll to see if I can hear any noticeable difference between the premium 320 kbps streaming of Spotify, compared to the lossless CD-quality streaming of Tidal. Here’s my thought: maybe ever so slightly but nothing major. But testing indoors would probably make more sense.

Day 2

I noticed that with the mobile app, there’s a lag when changing between songs. Turning shuffle mode on works fine. Turning shuffle mode off doesn’t cooperate as easily. It may be a small bug in the current version. Also, I tried to download all the songs in my playlist in offline mode so when there’s no Internet connection on the subway I can still listen to some tunes. I was able to get some—about 400 songs loaded at a time—but the rest needs an Internet connection. Spotify does this without issue. Also, I wish the interface was a bit more straightforward. I’ll take simplicity and practical over what looks cool any day.

Day 3

Music on Tidal sounds crisp. Getting it sometimes is a different story. Kevin Parker just dropped a new Tame Impala song. It’s available on Spotify, but not yet on Tidal. There is a lot of curated/exclusive content I don’t really care much about.

Day 4

I’ve noticed that shuffle mode on Tidal is as weak as Spotify’s. Seems to be jumping to the same songs over and over again. Spotify has a tendency of doing that as well. Both need to get their algorithms right.

Day 5

Maybe I’ve gotten too used to Spotify: its simpler and more accessible user interface, not having to deal with buffering in between songs (gets annoying after a while), and the fact that I don’t have to go through a browser on my computer to connect to it. Riddled with nostalgia at this point.

Day 6

I’ve been cheating on Tidal with my ex. I’m a cheater, crushed by the weight of my conscience. Eh. Not really…

Day 7

I’m done. I know Jay Z took to Twitter to defend his investment, but as long as there’s something better on the market, from a consumer standpoint, he can shut it.
Unlike the haters, I like the guy (Reasonable Doubt should have indeed gone triple) and want to see him succeed even more than he has. I gave Tidal a fair shot and went in with an open-mind, but I think it’s far from reaching its full potential. I know he stressed patience on his twitter account and pointed to the number of subscribers who signed up during its first month. I’m one of those but after my free trial is up, I don’t plan on staying on. Truth is, the pastures aren’t greener on the other side. Rhetoric can’t hide the fact. In fact, I agree with Kanye when he tweeted that “the love of music louder than words.” I just don’t think he knew whom he was referring to. Spotify, in my opinion, is still the optimal music streaming service. If there’s unfair play involved in their relationship with artists whose music they host, I hope they sort it out and learn from Tidal in that respect.

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