In my just over a year of experience at What Hi-Fi? I've learnt many things and come to appreciate video and audio in a whole new way. One of the first things I was introduced to back in April of last year was Tidal; a streaming service I had certainly heard of before, but not one I had ever sought out to use. Up until that point, I was a staunch Spotify user, with occasional flings with Apple Music when I was offered a deal, as well as to try out Dolby Atmos when it first launched on the platform. However, I always came crawling back to Spotify, and I fear it is that time once again...
I have been using Tidal for just under a year now and have come to terms with many of its quirks. I'll give Tidal its due, it certainly gives the impression that it cares about music specifically, as it doesn't mix in podcasts, news channels and more within its user interface. It's also worth putting out there now that Tidal is by far the best-sounding streaming service I've used, and it's one I will continue to use when testing products – especially thanks to the Masters and Atmos mixes. I even tried a quick side-by-side test with Spotify playing The 1975's song Happiness from their latest album, and could immediately deduce that Tidal sounded more detailed and energetic.
That being said, I can certainly get used to Spotify's lower-quality streaming as a trade-off for its other great features. What immediately comes to mind is Spotify's social features, and yes, before you roll your eyes, I will justify this. I know social features can be gimmicky, but in my eyes, Spotify gets the enjoyment of music, while Tidal is more about the appreciation of music, and a big part of the enjoyment for me is the social aspect. Spotify has a much larger user base, including the majority (if not all) of my friends, and this is where the social aspect really comes into play.
When I'm with friends and we have music playing, everyone with Spotify can quickly jump into the queue and add their own entries and share songs with one another in just a tap – everyone except me that is, as I often have to awkwardly ask to borrow someone's phone or ask them to queue a song for me. There's also Spotify Wrapped, which has a vice grip on my generation as everyone shares their results towards the end of the year. Once again, not me though, as I was limply presented with a 2022 round-up-style playlist in the same way a cat brings you a dead bird; I appreciate the effort but I don't really want it and it's kind of sad.
Tidal is also very spotty when it comes to compatibility with a lot of the tech I use. I've had a Sonos One smart speaker for around five years, and I've always used the built-in voice assistants to start playlists and search for songs. I've tried using Alexa and Google Assistant and was told by both that Tidal isn't compatible, and even Siri on my iPhone shuts me down if I request a song. Playing music through my PS5 is also not possible through Tidal, with only Spotify and Apple Music support, and while this isn't the end of the world, it is another limitation. While I could (and often do) just connect via AirPlay or Bluetooth, the bottom line is that I don't like losing features that I've come to expect and use in my day-to-day life.
Finally, it's no secret that Spotify is the most popular music streaming service out there, and that has become evident with how much better the playlists are, as well as how artists engage with their playlists. Spotify has a playlist for practically every mood and occasion, as well as personalised daily mixes that are all constantly updated. They're usually clearly marked and neatly organised, and while they're not always exactly my taste, I appreciate the variety.
On the subject of organisation, Tidal is nothing short of a mess, with Master, Atmos and regular versions of albums all placed side by side. Sometimes, Atmos versions of albums won't even show up and will instead randomly show in recommendations. I only found out that my favourite band had Dolby Atmos mixes of their entire catalogue because I stumbled upon them in the "More Albums" menu, which can only be accessed by scrolling to the bottom of one of their albums. The cluttered and confusing approach just isn't doing it for me, with artists such as The Weeknd having six different versions of his album Dawn FM all with the same name – how should I know which one to download?
At the end of the day, Tidal will always have a space on whatever phone, tablet or streamer I'm using for when I want to do some serious listening; but it might not be my day-to-day streaming service. I will always appreciate how good it sounds and the Master and Atmos mixes do a lot to help that, but when I've got my AirPods lodged in my ears on the bus, or I'm using a Bluetooth speaker in the garden with friends, I value Spotify's feature set and usability much more.
And of course, there's always Spotify Hi-Fi for higher-quality music streaming. That's still coming, right guys...?
Check out our full Tidal review
As well as our full Spotify review
And our picks for the best wireless headphones
When Spotify offers the same audio quality, then we'll talk.