RMAF 2014: Tidal Alert

The big news—the really big news at RMAF—was the "before winter" US launch of five-year old Tidal of Oslo's full CD-quality, (lossless 1411kbps) music streaming service. Demonstrated in a fine sounding room with Electrocompaniet equipment, the sound was convincingly good when we cued up a track from pianist Leif Ove Andsnes' recording of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto. (More on the sound in another blog, where Hegel was using Tidal's service to source music for their room.)

Here's what you can learn if you visit the company's English-language website: Tidal is "the world's first music service with High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and Curated Editorial, tailor-made by music journalists." After the site compares its streaming rate to sonically inferior Spotify (Ogg Vorbis 320kbps) and iTunes (AAC 256kbps), it promises over 25 million tracks and 75,000 ad-free music videos; curated content by experienced music journalists that includes tailor-made recommendations, albums and playlists; and integrated articles, features and interviews. Once you sign up for the mailing list, you're promised early access, which you're told will get even earlier if you invite three friends.

David Solomon, Tidal's Director of Sales and Marketing for the US and a founding partner of Peachtree Audio, tells me that a lot more information will be available online very soon. Meanwhile, he filled in some very important blanks for Stereophile. Tidal currently has 90 employees and 580,000 paying customers. While its maximum capacity stream rate is currently 1411kbps, the fact that FLAC is a variable-bitrate lossless codec translates into a real-world data stream of between 700kbps and 1.2Mbps. Subscribers normally can only have one device or system streaming at any time, though people with Sonos can run several streams concurrently. Subscribers can also sign up three authorized offline devices to use when they are away from home.

Tidal stores files as FLAC, and then generates other formats such as ALAC, the Apple Lossless Audio Codec, for iOS or other format-specific devices. While Tidal does not currently offer high-resolution streaming, it has successfully experimented with streaming 24/96, 24/192, and DSD. The buzz is that these will be available sooner rather than later.

Tidal's announcement comes shortly after Qobuz, the other CD-quality and hi-res music streaming service that had announced a US launch for December, filed for the French equivalent of Chapter 11 protection in late August. It seems that company failed to raise their third round of financing, and has four months to pull everything together.

Here's hoping that Tidal, which stared off in Europe under the Wimp name and is listed on the NASDAQ Stockholm stock exchange, succeeds in bringing their service to the US. Solomon tells me that a number of audio retailers and manufacturers already intend to use Tidal in their presentations. That the company offers specialized playlists, compiled by manufacturers and reviewers to show off specific system attributes or shortcomings, is a major plus. Sounds like I could become a Tidal surfer very soon.

Note: Streaming service Tidal of Norway is not related to the German loudspeaker manufacturer of the same name.

jramsay's picture

At CEDIA Deezer announced that it was introducing CD quality streaming in the U.S. I've been playing with it for a few days and am not sure that's accurate, sounds very close to my Spotify streams. Anyone have any thoughts or information?

John Atkinson's picture
At CEDIA Deezer announced that it was introducing CD quality streaming in the U.S. I've been playing with it for a few days and am not sure that's accurate...

Deezer claims that they stream lossless, CD-Standard audio, the same as Tidal and Qobuz. We have yet to try it, however.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

bpw's picture

I may be mistaken but believe Deezer only works with Sonos.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I've spent a while researching Deezer. According to a very long and detailed article on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deezer, the service only went up to 320 kbps MP3 until the announcement of their new "Elite" service which does offer full CD-quality sound via FLAC (and which has yet to make it to the Wikipedia entry.) The service also seems to be distinctly pop oriented. Its US launch date is not announced, but it does have integration with Bose (hmm...), Sonos, Samsung, and other companies. Their US offices are in SF and NYC, and they're so big that they don't include any contact information that I can find.

Here is a very recent story on Deezer: https://gigaom.com/2014/10/02/deezer-launches-in-the-u-s-again-this-time-partnering-with-bose/. From what I can tell, we'll be hearing more about it by the end of the month.

To me, this [http://www.forbes.com/sites/bobbyowsinski/2014/10/10/deezer-and-bose-agree-to-help-each-other/] is the most interesting article of them all. Want to know why you only see Bose headphones on the heads of NFL players? It's because they're prohibited from wearing anything else. Why do I get the feeling that Deezer, already in 182 countries, is spinning a giant web, and is prepared to lure consumers in by any means necessary?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

With thanks to Tyll Hertsens of InnerFidelity.com and Scott Hull of every outlet under the sun, I've just learned that Apple has pulled all Bose products from its stores. [See http://www.theverge.com/2014/10/17/6995403/apple-removes-bose-products-from-store] While one reason is undoubtedly Bose's deal with the NFL, which prohibits NFL players from wearing headphones other than Bose in public, it may also have to do with the fact that Bose is allied with Deezer, whose lossless FLAC streaming service will undoubtedly eat into profits from iTunes. Many of us have long waited for Apple to finally move beyond 256 kbps MP3 and their compromise improvement, "Mastered for iTunes," and instead embrace both full CD-quality and true hi-res downloads. Methinks they are paying the price for staying away from full hi-res, including Blu-ray playback.

jramsay's picture

@bpw, Sonos and Bose are promoting Deezer but you can play it through a laptop as well. @Jason, Deezer is here now but maybe not their Elite service and perhaps that's why I didn't hear that much of a difference. However, last night I took my Sonos ZP80 out of the chain and listened through my laptop. Whatever the bitrate, Deezer sounded noticably better than Spotify in that configuration. Eager to hear more listening reports.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

All their promo seems pop oriented. How are they with classical, world, jazz, etc...?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

And there you have it.