Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tidal: Finally, lossless streaming audio

At first I saw Tidal with their pretentious launch event and group of highly overpaid artists/owners  I couldn't help but feel the commercialization. The feeling I always get from these superstars that over sell themselves as a product is that I'm being over sold. Have I bought in to what they have to sell me? Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Daft Punk, Kanye West, Deadmau5, Calvin Harris, Madonna.. the list goes on. All of the big names that you would associate with "mainstream", and as a consequence sold out and in more way than one. However, It wasn't this list of owners that sold me on the service, It was the service. I've often read that the first rule to starting a tech company is to make something that people want. In so many ways, this is really hard to do. The main reason I can see is that yes, it is easy to think of something that will definitely take off- but for most of us is that we don't have the money or connections to put it all together.
  One thing that I've always wanted since streaming services started appearing was to have a streaming service that did away with all of the ads and provided the highest quality content. For video this is still an issue- you can't get a high cost all you can consume video service with a completely full catalog of movies streaming high quality video. It just doesn't exist. And with some services, like Hulu, you pay a monthly fee and still get ads!  Thankfully for music, Tidal exists. I love my music but ever since lossy music became the standard I haven't been entirely satisfied. My journey with compression started when I was the first kid at school (and for a while, the only) with a mini-disc player.  This was not CD quality but incredibly good at 292kbps. While kids at my school were making mixes on tape (this was even before burning CD's was an option) I was cutting tracks with sub-second precision. I loved the sound that my mini-disc player had. And the fact that I could put all that awesome sound into something that fit snug in my pocket was immensely satisfying. Then I remembered seeing the first article for solid state players. The first one I recall was 16mb and cost $500.  Even though I knew it would still be a few years before solid state would become viable, the writing was on the wall. Years later I got my first player. I acquired a 256mb Rio from a kid at my school who I found later later had stolen it from his brother. This was the first time I felt the squeeze of not being able to bring or access the music I wanted at the quality I wanted due to space constraints. I wanted to bring enough music with me so, so I would choose a lower quality (128kbps). The quality was passable but I would often defer listening to new music until I had the CD in my hands to play in my car. Today the quality I've become used to has been the 256kbps from Amazon prime. Still no where near the clarity of CD quality, it has become the norm for me. Up until last year I had a CD player in my car and would still buy CD's for the higher quality audio and I would still defer listening to new tracks until I had the hard copy in the CD player. Since then I've traded in my old car for a shiny new 2014 model that comes without a CD player. Needless to say, I've missed high quality music. This is the reason I've tried Tidal, to re-live high quality music that I've been missing and so often gone out of my way to re-capture. And so far, so good. I've only been using the service for a few hours now but the quality is definitely worth it. I hear so much more to each note that the music leaves me feeling full.

So is it worth the hefty $20 a month? More than twice what I pay for Netflix? Maybe, but not for me. I do enjoy my music but I also enjoy silence. I doubt I can listen to as much music for as much time as I spend on Netflix, and again- it is less than half the cost. But this isn't an apples to apples comparison. Compared to other music services I have to say it is does compete nicely- but double the cost for a high quality option seems a bit stretched. I can see a 50% premium but as a whole the service is barely affected. I think if it were a $5 option far more people would opt in and never think twice. For me, I'll see how much I actually use the service but I feel it is all or none for me. Either I'm in it with HIFI or I'm out. There isn't really a compelling reason to use the service besides the HIFI. As I mentioned above, the software is functional but I don't really enjoy using it as I have with other software. And as far as software goes, if I'm paying a premium I expect a premium experience all around- not just with what is coming from my headphones.

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