Tidal, a new hi-fi music streaming service launched this week in the U.S. and U.K., marking the first available hi-fi consumer streaming service available in those markets.
For $20 per month, users can stream over 25 million tracks in lossless FLAC format at 1411 kbps, over four times more resolution than the current standard used by Spotify (320 kbps). Music is accessed via a web or app interface that will make any Spotify user feel right at home. And, a free 7-day trial is available right now, which, at first listen, sounds fantastic.
Based out of Sweden, Tidal’s parent company Aspiro has already successfully implemented hi-fi streaming in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Poland through its WiMP Music service. Coming to the U.S. represents a first for the world’s largest music market.
In September, the French-based streaming service Deezer introduced an “Elite” service to U.S. customers that allowed CD-quality streaming, but it only works for users who own a Sonos speaker system.
Since the first appearances of MP3 players, the audio quality of consumer music has taken a big step backward, as technical constraints and market demands valued storage space and convenience over fidelity. Even today’s best quality MP3’s still compress music files down to a resolution that’s 25% of the CD standard.
Convenience still seems to be a key priority for music consumers, though, as streaming services are growing significantly and album sales are dropping.
Tidal looks to tap a growing audiophile market in the U.S. that’s demonstrated a distaste for compressed audio and a willingness to pay more for better sound quality. Vinyl record sales have climbed 42% already this year due to this trend.
While Tidal’s 1411 kbps fidelity doesn’t represent the best current digital formats have to offer (downloads that exceed 4000 kb can be purchased), it does remove the consideration of quality as a primary reason for fans to still buy CDs.
The current cost for lossless audio with Tidal is $10 per month more than both Spotify and Beats Music. Whether Americans and Brits are willing to pay the difference is something many industry professionals will be watching in the coming months.
As Internet technology and bandwidth gets better, though, it may not be long before all streaming services offer Redbook quality or better and a new standard is established for audio mastering for web and streaming. And that’s a great prospect for anyone who loves their music to sound richer, more dynamic and beautiful.