The Norway-based “High Fidelity” streaming music service WiMP is owned by Aspiro. The parent organization just announced plans to expand beyond Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Poland) to the US and UK this fall…just in time to compete with Ponomusic and its download service. I wrote about WiMP some months ago and was not overly impressed. At least Tidal is not claiming the tracks are “high-resolution” but sticking with HiFi. You can read my previous post here. However, it must be working because the Aspiro Group has re-titled the service (avoiding WiMP in the US and UK is a good call) Tidal. You can visit the website and join their mailing list to get early access.
Figure 1 – The announcement page of the Tidal music service website.
The website claims that Tidal will be delivering “High Fidelity Music Streaming” as opposed to the 320 kbps .ogg files used by Spotify at their max quality level or iTunes’ AAC format at 256 kbps. The company boasts more than 25 million tracks at 44.1 kHz/16-bits, which have been encoded as FLAC files. FLAC is the same lossless encoding scheme that Ponomusic will be offering in October when they launch their download service. The catalog is rips of standard resolution CDs, which have a bandwidth of 1411 kbps (the FLAC files will be less than that but about 10-20%). No remastering or new analog transfers are being done. For all we know, they could be sourcing the same “High-Resolution” CD-rips that Omnifone is going to offer through Ponomusic.
The monthly cost will be around double what Spotify charges…$20 per month. Is the improvement in sound between a great quality .ogg vorbis encode and a FLAC file worth twice the cost? Not to me.
Tidal’s website states:
“No compression. No compromise. With our lossless audio experience, you can enjoy your music the way the artist intended. Unlimited access to over 25 million tracks.”
OK, I understand the promotional spin that’s needed to grab our attention but FLAC is a form of compression…so saying the music is not compressed doesn’t give me a great deal of confidence in their marketing people. It is a “lossless” compression technology but it’s still mucking around with the bits and there are audiophiles that insist FLAC suffers in comparison to pure PCM .wav files. I’m not one of those people.
Figure 2 – The audio format chart for Tidal [click to enlarge]
[NOTE: After I wrote and published this article, a reader pointed out that the illustration above is a graph that purports to show the tremendous advantage of Tidal over Spotify and iTunes. I didn’t even notice that it was a graph! But now that I know it is a graph…it’s misleading and wrong. The 1411 kbps is the bandwidth of a stereo Redbook CD (not a FLAC compressed file). The “fidelity” of a 320 kbps .ogg vorbis file is virtually the same as the ripped CD…so the bars should be practically the same length. And finally, AAC files from iTunes will sound pretty close as well. Thanks for pointing this out to me. Don’t be fooled, you probably aren’t going to notice the difference.
The inclusion of the now popular reference “to way the artist intended” is also a red herring. As I pointed out in my review of “The Distortion of Sound“, the Harman film on the causes of sound degradation, the artists say that they want to connect with their fans with the best possible fidelity. Kate Nash delivers the question at the end of the Harman film, “I don’t want my name associated with low quality things. If I were in control, I would want it to be the highest quality possible. I don’t understand why it isn’t, really. Why isn’t it? Who’s got the answer to that?”
But then when you download her (or the others) music and take a look at the dynamics and overall fidelity, the tracks are heavily compressed and sometimes painful to listen to. There is clearly a disconnect between what they think they’re producing and approving and the final result that iTunes or the CD-rip produces. This is not the way the artists intend their music to sound.
The Tidal catalog will be available for download as well as streaming. I would assume that they would have several levels of quality as WiMP does…after all it is the same company.
If we temper our real high-resolution expectations, I expect that Tidal will be very successful. It will be very challenging for average consumers to tell the difference between a good MP3 at 320 kbps and a FLAC file of the same CD, but audiophiles will feel better about it.
They will also be offering HD music videos…I should get in touch with them and offer up my catalog. I’ve got lots of tracks with HD-Video and HD-Audio.