No longer is master-quality hi-res playback solely the preserve of the recording studio or even home hi-fi. Having launched its partnership with MQA a number of years ago, music streaming service Tidal now has thousands of hi-res albums available to stream through its Android and iOS apps, compatible hi-fi components (natively or via Tidal Connect) and software platforms like Roon. That means subscribers to the service's top tier, Tidal HiFi Plus, can hear music in its intended glory wherever they may be.
Of course, Tidal isn't alone in its offering of hi-res streaming – Apple Music, Amazon Music and Qobuz are also on the battlefield – but it's one of the most established services; one of the best-sounding (and priciest!) too. (You can see how the hi-res music streaming services compare here.)
The good news is that the number of hi-res albums on Tidal (labelled 'Tidal Masters') is always on the rise and rise, as it is the service's discovery functionality. So, where do you start? That's where we come in...
We listen to Tidal every single working day – whether through our desktop system or phone, our reference hi-fi system or the product we're currently putting through its paces – and are forever jotting down Masters albums we believe sound exceptional. Everyone has their own tastes and preferences, of course, but if you're looking for music inspiration or simply a cracking example of how good a hi-res stream of a recording can sound, here are some of our favourites to get you started.
Revolver (Super Deluxe) - The Beatles
One listen through this 63-track masterpiece would feel as though your first month's Tidal HiFi Plus subscription had already been paid for. The Beatles discography has been drained to death, and yet last year we were gifted a true gem. Space! Stereo imaging! Textural nuance! This 1966 album has been given a new lease of life by Giles Martin and Sam Okell's new stereo mixes – particularly impressive when you consider the mono original (also part of the package here) was recorded on four-track tape.
While you can strongly suspect that the new details easily detectable on this master add serious depth and eke out extra meaning to the tracks after having only listened to opener Taxman, it's well and truly confirmed by track eight, She Said She Said.
Orphée - Jóhann Jóhannsson
Jóhann Jóhannsson is a composer who almost alone could prove the necessity of hearing recorded music at master quality. Orphée is the final solo album released before the Icelandic musician’s sudden passing in 2018; at times hauntingly melancholic, its marriage of orchestral movements and light-handed electronics is permanently beautiful.
Entertainment! - Gang Of Four
The near antithesis of Jóhannsson’s oft-ethereal arrangements, Gang Of Four’s debut album of 1979 as good as defines the word angular as a musical descriptor. Andy Gill’s guitar lines jut through Entertainment!’s schizophrenic phrasing like broken glass and benefit infinitely from having their lines this finely drawn.
Tuvayhun - Beatitudes For A Wounded World – Kim André Arnesen
One of the many, many glistening recordings in the catalogue of 2L, a Norweigan label founded in 2001 by engineer and recording specialist Morten Linberg and which specialises in Nordic and Scandinavian classical compositions of the highest (you could easily say sublime) sonic quality. Recorded in the Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway, Tuvayhun ("blessed" in Aramaic) is a very modern, very human record that takes several listens to really even begin to comprehend its magnitude, both in terms of its production and as a piece of music.
Daddy's Home - St. Vincent
Partly inspired by the father of frontman Annie Clark's release from prison and a gushing love letter to ’70s rock’n’roll, Daddy's Home is a stomping follow-up to the band's highly acclaimed 2017 album MASSEDUCTION – a family affair full of groove and funk and personality that deserves to be heard with all its punch and sparkle intact.
Nina Simone: The Montreux Years - Nina Simone
A Nina Simone fan must-have, The Montreux Years is a newly released, career-spanning collection of recordings from her five legendary Montreux Jazz Festival concerts, from the first time she ever took the stage in the summer of 1968, to the last time 22 years later, and of course including her legendary 1976 appearance which is widely regarded as the festival's best ever. It's a beautifully edited collection and the audio quality is truly excellent. What's more, from track 16 onwards, we get to hear the debut show in its entirety for the first time ever.
Young, Gifted and Black - Aretha Franklin
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Soul '69, Aretha Now, Lady Soul – we're blessed that all of them are Tidal Masters on the service. Quite frankly, a third of this list could be made up of Franklin albums, such is the strength of their content and production quality. 1972's Young, Gifted & Black is always worth revisiting when you can muster the emotional capacity for Franklin's peak-Black-Power-era intensity and passion. The Master of Rock Steady grooves away with all the spunk and spirit, while the joyous Nina Simone-penned titular track sparkles with crisp detail.
The Road - Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
While we mourn the fact that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' 2021 triumphant Carnage album has not been released as a Tidal Master, we find consolation in one of their previous collaborative efforts, the soundtrack to John Hillcoat's The Road – which was. An achingly beautiful, yet suitably sombre, accompaniment to the 2009 post-apocalyptic drama, where Ellis' wistful violins and Cave's low piano create an ambience that's captivating and, despite the film's overriding theme, never bleak.
Toto IV - Toto
It should come as no surprise that an entry from our best-produced recordings list has found its way into this one. If any musicianship and engineering, and indeed its resulting collection of recordings, deserves to be heard in studio quality, it's this one. Toto's six-Grammy-winning album is accomplished in every way, from its hugely dynamic, infectiously melodic compositions to its tight, gleaming production.
Power, Corruption and Lies - New Order
Power, Corruption and Lies was arguably the record that defined New Order as being a band apart from Joy Division. Its use of synthesizers is far broader than on Movement, but still intelligently intertwined with guitars and acoustic percussion for a sound that is at once texturally dense and refreshingly spacious.
Speaking In Tongues (Deluxe Version) - Talking Heads
That you’ll find a number of Talking Heads records on Tidal Masters is undoubtedly one of the tier’s fortes as far as we’re concerned. Speaking In Tongues makes most of the higher resolution with its idiosyncratic grooves and playful instrumentation, not to mention two of the band’s finest moments in Burning Down The House and This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody). The Deluxe Version adds a cracking alternative recording of the former, plus an unfinished outtake of Two Note Swivel.
To Pimp A Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar
Few hip-hop albums have influences so sprawling as To Pimp A Butterfly. From dub to free-form jazz, the backdrop to Kendrick Lamar’s magnum opus is ever-changing and laced with subtleties despite its often abrasive delivery; this is an album deserving of the deeper listening the master files facilitate.
Lust For Life - Iggy Pop
You won’t be lost for David Bowie’s work on Tidal Masters, but many of his finest hours were spent the other side of the mixing desk – including on this, his second production credit for Iggy Pop. Songs such as the title track and The Passenger made this Iggy’s most commercially successful album to date, and Lust For Life retains the garage rock aesthetic of The Stooges while treading a path that is unmistakably his own.
Pink Moon - Nick Drake
If the idea of this improved sound is to bring the artist closer to the listener, then there can be few better examples of its importance than a suite as intimate as Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. As much as you can hear fingers shuffling between the strings and live in the body of Drake’s guitar, it is said intimacy that here helps foster an even more tender relationship between the listener and the music.
2X1=4 - F.S. Blumm and Nils Frahm
Released in 2021 under Nil Frahm's new co-created label Leiter, 2X1=4 is the fourth collaborative work by the two experimental German composers, in which they channel their shared fondness for dub and flex their creative dexterity in ambient sound to produce seven magnetic – often arousing, sometimes hypnotic – tracks that intriguingly plait several music genres with dubby, echoic elements. The soundscapes are superb, the production equally so.
Kaya - Bob Marley
There were those critical of Kaya upon its release for being overly laid-back and concerned more with songs about love and marijuana than making political statement, but few could argue against its ten sun-drenched melodies or the fact they could be penned only by a talent as singular as Bob Marley’s. This 40th Anniversary Edition allows us to hear every element recorded at Island Studios in its full resplendent glory.
Tutu - Miles Davis
To another titanic genius of the 20th century who with this work fell somewhat foul of critics. Miles Davis’s Tutu is admittedly not an entirely cohesive listen, but it is no less intriguing a listen for it. Inescapably a product of the 1980s, its combination of synthesizers and drum machines that make a bed for Davis’s far-reaching trumpet lines perhaps shouldn’t work, but they photograph a creative mind that simply refused to be limited by genre.
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