Spotify vs Tidal - initial review

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Andy Clough

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We're told Tidal will be integrated into other devices such as the Simple Audio Roomplayer+ as announced yesterday, and we expect more manufacturers to follow:

http://www.whathifi.com/news/tidal-lossless-streaming-comes-to-simple-audios-roomplayer

We have been doing a direct test of Tidal vs Qobuz as well, and the results of that will be published in our January issue, on sale December 17th. Our initial impressions are certainly that Tidal is the easier of the two to use and navigate, but it's a closer call on sound quality.
 

gowiththeflow

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Regisss said:
Will ever Tidal be available in AVR, Stereo or network streaming devices like Spotify (Spotify connect)?

Tidal currently have this information about various home audio players/streamers that are due to receive integration.

Bluesound, Auralic and Simple Audio are the first three to support Tidal integration, with more to follow. However, they originally claimed that a lot more (including Sonos) would have Tidal integration at the launch date and that didn't materialise.

.
 

gowiththeflow

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Andy Clough said:
We have been doing a direct test of Tidal vs Qobuz......

...........but it's a closer call on sound quality.

Will you be making it clear what methods/routes/mechanisms you used to deliver the service, bearing in mind out of all the different options, only a few of these will allow the Tidal lossless HiFi stream to be played?

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Nice review and thanks. I gave the free trial a shot today and my experience was quite similar to yours. I have to say the sound quality difference was mostly impeceptible to my ears. And, at first listen, I'm not sold on the switch from the Spotify 320 stream. Perhaps there is an issue with AirPlay compression. I was streaming via iPad to Airplay (using optical audio output) through a Pioneer receiver and ulimately to a pair of floorstanding B&W CM8s. Music I compared:

Dire Straits: Sultan of Swing
Stereolab: Feel and Triple
John Coltrane: Blue Train
Camille Saint Saens: Organ Symphony (Poco Adagio mvt)

I was really hoping to be blown away but wasn't.
 

davedotco

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hybridauth_Twitter_20718017 said:
Nice review and thanks. I gave the free trial a shot today and my experience was quite similar to yours. I have to say the sound quality difference was mostly impeceptible to my ears. And, at first listen, I'm not sold on the switch from the Spotify 320 stream. Perhaps there is an issue with AirPlay compression. I was streaming via iPad to Airplay (using optical audio output) through a Pioneer receiver and ulimately to a pair of floorstanding B&W CM8s. Music I compared:

Dire Straits: Sultan of SwingStereolab: Feel and TripleJohn Coltrane: Blue TrainCamille Saint Saens: Organ Symphony (Poco Adagio mvt)

I was really hoping to be blown away but wasn't.

This seems to parallel my experience, the difference between Flac and Spotify Premium is pretty small.

Can you hear it? All things being equal and on a good system, probably. However, there are other factors at work, I think I can hear an improvement if I connect my MBP directly to my dac (wired) rather than via Airplay, I understand that Airplay should be audibly transparent but it does not appear to be in this case.

Right now, the comparison I really want to hear is a Flac based streaming service against Spotify Connect. Using Connect appears to be superior to regular Spotify in brief informal tests, I would like a chance to verify this, firstly in a wired system, then perhaps in an airplay based setup.
 

fr0g

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davedotco said:
Using Connect appears to be superior to regular Spotify in brief informal tests, I would like a chance to verify this, firstly in a wired system, then perhaps in an airplay based setup.

Not sure how that can be the case. Essentially Connect is simply using 2 instances of Spotify, using one to control the other, ie streaming the commands to the playback version, rather than the actual songs, like DLNA or Airplay. Somewhat like how Chromecast works.
 

davedotco

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fr0g said:
davedotco said:
Using Connect appears to be superior to regular Spotify in brief informal tests, I would like a chance to verify this, firstly in a wired system, then perhaps in an airplay based setup.

Not sure how that can be the case. Essentially Connect is simply using 2 instances of Spotify, using one to control the other, ie streaming the commands to the playback version, rather than the actual songs, like DLNA or Airplay. Somewhat like how Chromecast works.

Indeed, I make the point that Airplay should be effectively transparent but when i checked (some time ago now) my MBP sounded better connected to the dac via cable (toslink) than via my AEX.

I went to some lengths to make sure that all settings were the same and that levels were balanced as closely as possible but it was impossible to arrange blind switching, so I made my comparisons by 'living with' the two configurations for a day or two at a time.

Since I always knew whether I was listening to wired or Airplay, my preference for wired may be entirely psycological, I do understand that, but the percieved improvement of wired over Airplay was difficult to resist.

Connect can easily be set up fully wired, no Airplay or wifi involved so maybe I am simply more comfortable with the concept, I shall at some point get Connect at home, so we shall see.
 

unsleepable

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davedotco said:
Indeed, I make the point that Airplay should be effectively transparent but when i checked (some time ago now) my MBP sounded better connected to the dac via cable (toslink) than via my AEX.

I went to some lengths to make sure that all settings were the same and that levels were balanced as closely as possible but it was impossible to arrange blind switching, so I made my comparisons by 'living with' the two configurations for a day or two at a time.

Since I always knew whether I was listening to wired or Airplay, my preference for wired may be entirely psycological, I do understand that, but the percieved improvement of wired over Airplay was difficult to resist.

Connect can easily be set up fully wired, no Airplay or wifi involved so maybe I am simply more comfortable with the concept, I shall at some point get Connect at home, so we shall see.

When you had mentioned this before, I had understood that the comparison you had made was between Airport Express connected to the network with wifi and with cable, not removing the Airport Express entirely.

Anyways, this has been discussed other times before in this forum. The sound difference you appreciate is probably due to higher jitter when the Airport Express is in the middle. This also relates to what I recently posted about the DACs having similar performance only when there are optimum jitter and source noise conditions.

I've compared the sound through my Airport Express connected to the DAC on TOSLINK, vs directly using the DAC on USB, and did not find any differences. But the DACs I've been using also re-clock the TOSLINK signal.
 

Leeps

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My initial enthusiasm for Tidal had been waning slightly last week - Spotify is much better at generating lots of new suggestions of artists, either through the recommended artists section, or by using the Radio feature based on a particular track.

Anyway, I'd been consumed by the new Interstellar soundtrack after seeing the movie (twice) and was pleasantly surprised to see such a new release on Tidal too. So I eagerly fired Tidal up again and listened to the whole album. Thoroughly enjoyed it I must say. Epic album. However, the extended version that has half a dozen extra tracks has not been released on CD or Tidal, so to listen to these few tracks (after listening to Tidal for the full album), I switched back to Spotify.

The most noticeable thing to me was that the soundstage immediately shrank. Perhaps it's most noticeable on this type of orchestral music that demands an open large soundstage to carry the emotion of the music. I know from experience that with electronica and funk, it sounds really great on Spotify and doesn't appear to be harmed too much by the 320kps stream.

I'll freely admit to being no sound engineer, but my ears weren't lying: especially as I'd got used to the sound on Tidal listening to it for an hour or so before switching over.

So for now, Tidal's staying. The catalogue does indeed appear to be growing (as per the new Interstellar's appearance). I just hope that they manage to sort out the non-gapless playpack in due course.

Oh, and if you've not heard it yet, you must listen to the Interstellar soundtrack!
 

Joe Cox

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gowiththeflow said:
Joe Cox said:
where have you seen that? we've been told lossless works fine on the desktop app. you're right about only chrome for the web player, though.

It's in the FAQ's, Joe.

You can also use our Web Player on PC/MAC: http://listen.tidalhifi.com/ - HiFi is only available in Google Chrome.

To be able to stream HiFi you must use the Web Player. (HiFi mode will not work through the desktop app, only High & Normal mode)

I haven't downloaded the desktop app to check this and have only been using Tidal via BluOs in lossless FLAC and the Web Player in 320kbps AAC..

The Web player definately won't let you select HiFi mode in Safari.

I think there's some confusion here (because it's slightly confusing...).

You can get lossless 'HiFi' mode streaming on the desktop app. The text turns white to indicate the lossless quality. I have also confirmed this is the case with Tidal.

As far as I can see, the line above - "(HiFi mode will not work through the desktop app, only High & Normal mode)" - only appears on the FAQ page in relation to streaming via Airport Express/AirPlay. So it's not relating to the desktop app in general use, it's relating to when you stream via AirPlay. AirPlay does require that you use the Chrome Web Player in order to get the lossless mode.

I think...
 

gowiththeflow

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Joe Cox said:
I think there's some confusion here (because it's slightly confusing...).

You can get lossless 'HiFi' mode streaming on the desktop app. The text turns white to indicate the lossless quality. I have also confirmed this is the case with Tidal.

As far as I can see, the line above - "(HiFi mode will not work through the desktop app, only High & Normal mode)" - only appears on the FAQ page in relation to streaming via Airport Express/AirPlay. So it's not relating to the desktop app in general use, it's relating to when you stream via AirPlay. AirPlay does require that you use the Chrome Web Player in order to get the lossless mode.

I think...

It is very confusing.

This what the FAQ's say.....

Please note that in the first version of the Web Player, HiFi Sound Quality is only available in the Google Chrome browser.

You can also use our Web Player on PC/MAC: - HiFi is only available in Google Chrome.

(Under Airplay) - To be able to stream HiFi you must use the Web Player. (HiFi mode will not work through the desktop app, only High & Normal mode)

Airplay is currently not available in the TIDAL Web Player.

So if HiFi is available via the desktop app, you cannot use Airplay to deliver the stream to a HiFi, Dac etc. It can only be done by wire (e.g. USB) or optical.

Using the web player instead, HiFi is only available using Chrome, but cannot be streamed via Airplay.

However, the caveat under the Airplay section says "to stream HiFi you must use the Web Player" ! That's either an unfortunate contradiction (regards using Airplay), or refers to all streaming from a PC/Mac. As you have confirmed that HiFi can be streamed (by wire/optical ???), then it must be a contradiction? or is it??????
 

davedotco

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unsleepable said:
davedotco said:
Indeed, I make the point that Airplay should be effectively transparent but when i checked (some time ago now) my MBP sounded better connected to the dac via cable (toslink) than via my AEX.

I went to some lengths to make sure that all settings were the same and that levels were balanced as closely as possible but it was impossible to arrange blind switching, so I made my comparisons by 'living with' the two configurations for a day or two at a time.

Since I always knew whether I was listening to wired or Airplay, my preference for wired may be entirely psycological, I do understand that, but the percieved improvement of wired over Airplay was difficult to resist.

Connect can easily be set up fully wired, no Airplay or wifi involved so maybe I am simply more comfortable with the concept, I shall at some point get Connect at home, so we shall see.

When you had mentioned this before, I had understood that the comparison you had made was between Airport Express connected to the network with wifi and with cable, not removing the Airport Express entirely.

Anyways, this has been discussed other times before in this forum. The sound difference you appreciate is probably due to higher jitter when the Airport Express is in the middle. This also relates to what I recently posted about the DACs having similar performance only when there are optimum jitter and source noise conditions.

I've compared the sound through my Airport Express connected to the DAC on TOSLINK, vs directly using the DAC on USB, and did not find any differences. But the DACs I've been using also re-clock the TOSLINK signal.

There are so many variables and the comparison is functionally quite difficult which makes it difficult to perform even an informal blind test. For this reason I was very coy in my post, careful not to offer any black and white conclusions.

Recently I found myself removing my dac from the system to demonstrate something to a friend at his home. I set the AEX to perform as a dac and drove my speakers direct, well via a cheap mini-jack to phono adaptor. My early dual band, plug in AEX did a fine job without an external dac, in fact I did not notice any real difference when I replaced the dac in the system.
 

unsleepable

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davedotco said:
There are so many variables and the comparison is functionally quite difficult which makes it difficult to perform even an informal blind test. For this reason I was very coy in my post, careful not to offer any black and white conclusions.

Recently I found myself removing my dac from the system to demonstrate something to a friend at his home. I set the AEX to perform as a dac and drove my speakers direct, well via a cheap mini-jack to phono adaptor. My early dual band, plug in AEX did a fine job without an external dac, in fact I did not notice any real difference when I replaced the dac in the system.

I agree that the Airport Express uses a half-decent DAC, and the model you have—same as mine—is regarded as having a better DAC than previous models and similarly as good as the later one. Because of this, using the Airport Express with a cheap DAC is not likely going to improve the sound.

On the other hand, the Airport Express is connected directly to the mains without any isolation, and is not impervious to jitter. A better DAC improves the sound in comparison with connecting it directly to the amplifier.
 

gowiththeflow

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Joe Cox said:
I can't see the line saying Airpay is not available on the web player?! I'm looking here.

Can you link to where you're reading that?

Here....

https://tidalsupport.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/201166542-How-do-I-stream-through-Airport-Express-Airplay-

.
 

davedotco

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unsleepable said:
davedotco said:
There are so many variables and the comparison is functionally quite difficult which makes it difficult to perform even an informal blind test. For this reason I was very coy in my post, careful not to offer any black and white conclusions.

Recently I found myself removing my dac from the system to demonstrate something to a friend at his home. I set the AEX to perform as a dac and drove my speakers direct, well via a cheap mini-jack to phono adaptor. My early dual band, plug in AEX did a fine job without an external dac, in fact I did not notice any real difference when I replaced the dac in the system.

I agree that the Airport Express uses a half-decent DAC, and the model you have—same as mine—is regarded as having a better DAC than previous models and similarly as good as the later one. Because of this, using the Airport Express with a cheap DAC is not likely going to improve the sound.

On the other hand, the Airport Express is connected directly to the mains without any isolation, and is not impervious to jitter. A better DAC improves the sound in comparison with connecting it directly to the amplifier.

Good cheap dacs seem to be mostly usb, i'm thinking Odac here, what level do you think would be optimum for a Spdif equipped device?

I had a good play with a Mark 1 Matrix Mini-I two or three years ago, functionally it was very nice in all respects and SQ seemed fine. Is this the sort of standard you are looking at? Maybe a Maranyx NR1504 as a network dac/pre-amp? Or do you need to spend more?

Intregued to hear your view.
 

unsleepable

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davedotco said:
Good cheap dacs seem to be mostly usb, i'm thinking Odac here, what level do you think would be optimum for a Spdif equipped device?

I had a good play with a Mark 1 Matrix Mini-I two or three years ago, functionally it was very nice in all respects and SQ seemed fine. Is this the sort of standard you are looking at? Maybe a Maranyx NR1504 as a network dac/pre-amp? Or do you need to spend more?

Intregued to hear your view.

The Matrix Mini-i looks good on paper. Well, and on pictures. I am not sure if the previous and current Mini-i models re-clock the signal on TOSLINK, but the Mini-i Pro should as this is a feature of the Sabre32 chip. I believe all models use the XMOS USB controller, which also re-clocks the signal and is used by many well-regarded DACs. They don't seem to sport any electrical isolation, but if you'd be interested in connecting them on TOSLINK, electrical isolation from the computer is a given.

Reviews of Matrix Audio DACs are good but not great, though, and each model seems to carry a different sound signature—not as in different levels of quality, but as in different types of sound, which I find disconcerting. I checked this DAC a while back when you recommended it here, but the reviews didn't convince me about going through the hassle of testing it.

If you would use this DAC with a computer, why would you use the TOSLINK port? Or would this be to plug it to the Airport Express?
 

davedotco

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unsleepable said:
davedotco said:
Good cheap dacs seem to be mostly usb, i'm thinking Odac here, what level do you think would be optimum for a Spdif equipped device?

I had a good play with a Mark 1 Matrix Mini-I two or three years ago, functionally it was very nice in all respects and SQ seemed fine. Is this the sort of standard you are looking at? Maybe a Maranyx NR1504 as a network dac/pre-amp? Or do you need to spend more?

Intregued to hear your view.

The Matrix Mini-i looks good on paper. Well, and on pictures. I am not sure if the previous and current Mini-i models re-clock the signal on TOSLINK, but the Mini-i Pro should as this is a feature of the Sabre32 chip. I believe all models use the XMOS USB controller, which also re-clocks the signal and is used by many well-regarded DACs. They don't seem to sport any electrical isolation, but if you'd be interested in connecting them on TOSLINK, electrical isolation from the computer is a given.

Reviews of Matrix Audio DACs are good but not great, though, and each model seems to carry a different sound signature—not as in different levels of quality, but as in different types of sound, which I find disconcerting. I checked this DAC a while back when you recommended it here, but the reviews didn't convince me about going through the hassle of testing it.

If you would use this DAC with a computer, why would you use the TOSLINK port? Or would this be to plug it to the Airport Express?

A few years ago a chap close to me in north london had some Matrix, Audio GD and other product he was trying to retail. At that time the Mini-I was around £200, had no usb input and appeared decent value for money. I tried it with my AEX and the sound I thought was very 'easy', not at all spectacular. In a shortish dem that is probably a good thing.

Matrix do rather tend to follow trends and, frankly, copy other brands. The Mini-I visually mimics Bel Canto, the Quattro is, by repute, a clone of the Benchmark, the latest Mini-I has asyncronous usb and the 'Pro' model supports DSD, something for everyone it seems.

I do not, generally find huge differences in dacs, some are deliberately voiced to sound different and some appear sensitive to input quality but in general, with careful listening, I find little difference. For example, I thought the AEX's onboard dac to be quite poor until I tried it in a level matched comparison with an Arcam, virtually impossible to pick one from another once the low output is taken into account.
 

fradbut

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Great thorough revue. I've used Tidal for a couple of months and to add a few comments.

Pros - Sound quality can be exceptional and far better than Spotify.

Cons- I'm not sure the sound quality is consistent through the library.

The library has many band exclusions and some albums missing.

Tidal in web player works better than the downloaded PC software but both have poor search engines.

Both Tidal players I've used stutter once or twice on the startup of a new track (hard to live with) even though I'm playing through ethernet/40mbs connection.

Price too high - In the UK we pay the most at £20pm. US is $20 and Europe is e20.

The connect player on Spotify that connects all your devices works brilliantly, is mssing on Tidal

Spotify is excellent for everything except the lack of lossless.

Hope it helps with making a descision.
 

Womaz

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fradbut said:
Great thorough revue. I've used Tidal for a couple of months and to add a few comments.

Pros - Sound quality can be exceptional and far better than Spotify.

Cons- I'm not sure the sound quality is consistent through the library.

The library has many band exclusions and some albums missing.

Tidal in web player works better than the downloaded PC software but both have poor search engines.

Both Tidal players I've used stutter once or twice on the startup of a new track (hard to live with) even though I'm playing through ethernet/40mbs connection.

Price too high - In the UK we pay the most at £20pm. US is $20 and Europe is e20.

The connect player on Spotify that connects all your devices works brilliantly, is mssing on Tidal

Spotify is excellent for everything except the lack of lossless.

Hope it helps with making a descision.

Thats a great post. Think I will stick with Spotify until Tidal sorts these issues out.
 

gowiththeflow

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After the 30 day free trial, I decided to keep the subscription going to see how things developed.

I'm accessing Tidal on my main HiFi set up via both my Sonos ZP90 Connect and NAD M50 (BluOS) streamer. I also listen on various Sonos Play 5's and a Play 3 in other rooms (kitchen, dining room, study etc).

Experience and opinions so far.....

Sometimes slow to buffer and there's often a delay before playing music. This does vary though.

Occasionally the stream cuts out, either intermittently, or just stops completely and I have to manually restart the track playing. Very annoying. I don't get that with Spotify and I have a good enough Fibre internet download speed.

Sound quality can be V. good and even exceptional, but is not always consistent. Certain albums can sound stunning even on 320kbps Spotify, so I guess the quality of source material and mastering are the key factors at play?

The search engine may not be good enough. Missing Albums and gaps in various artist's output results in the expected Cannot be Found, or an incomplete list of albums ...BUT.... I've found that using alternative ways of searching often reveals that the desired material is there after all. Similarly, if a Cannot be Found response is just left alone for 10 or 15 seconds, sometimes the search engine changes its mind and decides to produce the goods.

The UK subscription cost is difficult to justify at £20 p.m.. My wife is also querying if I need to spend that amount each month. I'm in two minds about this and am wavering whether or not to stop my subscription. I'm prepared to wait and see if the forthcoming iTunes/Beats streaming service causes a shake up and realigning of the current streaming tariffs before deciding one way or the other.

Some great music on there though. I've found quite a few great albums that I wouldn't have found otherwise.
 

SteveR750

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I personally find the difference between Spotify and FLAC usually so small it's not worth the extra cost. If it is, I'd buy the CD and be done with it. That way I'm not entirely dependant on a PC and t'internet, neither of which I trust to be 100% reliable.
 

davedotco

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For no obvious reason I find anything streamed on Spotify to be very slightly 'dark', tonally that is.

It maybe me or my setup, but when I did the Spotify (Ogg Vorbis compressed) vs Qobus (Flac) comparison I found that a very gentle eq 'uptilt', to improve Spotify to the point that It was subjectively as good as Qobuz. Without the eq Qobuz sounded marginally crisper and more focussed, with the eq the difference pretty much disappeared.