Music streaming has rapidly become the de facto way we access and listen to our favorite sounds. In the United States, streaming accounted for 83% of total music industry revenue in 2020.
The undisputed industry leader is the Swedish company Spotify. Since their launch in 2008, they’ve racked up an incredible 158 million subscribers who are willing to pay the monthly fee for a premium account.
Tidal is one of the companies looking to grab a share of this burgeoning market. It’s hard to gauge their popularity as there doesn’t seem to be an accurate figure for the number of monthly subscribers. Estimates range from 1-5 million. So it’s fair to say they have a long way to go before Spotify needs to start looking over their shoulder.
Either way, both bring a markedly different ethos to the table…
The Spotify experience is firmly rooted in providing a personalized experience by using very effective algorithms. Tidal is firmly focused on sound quality, and being artist-owned, they market their service as one that rewards artists for their work.
Whilst the basic streaming service of each company is quite similar; there are a lot of differences between Tidal and Spotify. We’ve decided to compare and contrast what Tidal and Spotify offer, to help potential customers decide which is the better service for them.
So, without further ado, let’s kick off this Tidal vs. Spotify review.
As far as music is concerned, Tidal has over 60 million tracks stored on their databases, compared with around 50 million on Spotify. It has to be said that a large chunk of those totals will be made up of cover versions and remixes. But this is still an insane amount of music. It’s safe to say that whatever it is your into, you’ll be able to find it on either platform.
One of the small advantages that Tidal has over Spotify is in exclusive releases. It’s part-owned by hip-hop titan Jay-Z and several other high-profile artists. Many of these artists release their new material on Tidal first, then open it up to rival streaming services a while later.
However, the number of artists doing this has significantly dropped in recent times. The subscriber base on Tidal hasn’t shown the kind of growth seen elsewhere. Spotify users have to wait too long these days before the “exclusive” releases on Tidal are available to them.
It’s worth noting…
Tidal has a large number of videos to stream, about 250,00 to be precise. In their “Videos” tab, you’ll not only find music videos but live performances and documentaries that you won’t be able to find anywhere else too.
Spotify is rather lacking in this department. Whether this is by choice or not, it’s hard to say. They do have some video content, but it’s not a pillar of their service like it is on Tidal.
One area where Spotify triumphs is the podcast library…
Spotify made some serious moves in this area over the last few years. Their purchase of Gimlet Media and The Ringer (both large podcast producing companies) has enabled them to grow their catalog to over 1 million episodes.
They’ve spent a fortune signing up some of the biggest podcasts to exclusive deals. They reportedly paid $100 million for the wildly popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast. They also got former first lady, Michelle Obama and former royals, Harry and his wife on their books.
No other streaming service comes close in terms of podcast content. Whatever you listen to, you’ll likely find it on Spotify. Tidal has a handful of hip-hop-centered podcasts available, but that’s all. Spotify will also allow you to play locally stored MP3s from your hard drive, a feature that doesn’t exist on Tidal.
Winner: A draw.
Music Discovery and Playlists
One of the main reasons why Spotify is so popular is its ability to help you discover music through personalized and curated playlists. Tidal also does a good job of providing you with new tracks to feast your ears on. But it’s simply not as effective or as comprehensive as Spotify.
The team that developed Spotify’s music recommendation algorithm has my undying praise. It doesn’t take long for the algorithm to grasp a good idea of what you’re into. From there, it compiles a whole host of playlists designed around your listening history and songs you’ve ‘liked.’
My favorite is “Discover Weekly”…
A personalized two-hour playlist delivered every Monday, largely featuring artists and songs you’ve never heard before. As a way of discovering music that’s new to you yet perfectly tailored, it’s nigh on impossible to beat. Exploring the back catalog of these newly discovered artists broadens your library further.
“Release Radar” is another personal favorite. This playlist comes out every Friday afternoon, featuring newly released and live material from your favored artists or those like them. It’s a very useful tool to keep up to date with all the latest happenings.
Besides these gems…
Both services offer playlists constructed around individual songs, artists, and genres. Spotify does a better job of pulling up tracks that you haven’t heard before, whilst Tidal throws up fewer surprises. If you want music that’s familiar to you, this is great, but it doesn’t do much to expand your musical horizons.
Tidal’s music discovery is based around a feature called “Tidal Rising.” This is a curated playlist of tracks and albums from artists that the company considers to be on the rise. It’s not a bad way to find something fresh, but lacks the personalized qualities of playlists like “Discover Weekly.”
They also feature lists of Billboard’s top songs by genre so you can keep on point with what’s currently popular. So, Spotify takes this one thanks to their ability to make recommendations and playlists that are far more personal to you.
Well, there’s no question who comes out on top here. Tidal touts audio quality as being their main selling point. Offering a range of different streaming rates depending on which payment plan you’ve signed up for.
For Tidal Premium, the quality maxes out at 320kbps delivered in AAC format. There’s also a lower quality level for those on limited data plans. If you’re willing to pay for a Tidal HiFi plan, then this is where things get interesting. Tidal HiFi offers lossless CD-quality recordings with a bit rate of 44.1kHz/16-bit.
But that’s not all…
Tidal also has a limited number of tracks available in an even higher resolution audio setting they call Tidal Masters. These are the studio-level recordings of particular tracks.
There are only 25,000 available. However, if you see a small “m” next to the title, you’ll be able to listen at 96kHz/24-bit quality. You’ll have to make sure you have a good set of headphones or quality speakers to get the most out of this quality level. Earbuds will not suffice. However, if you do, you’ll be impressed by the extra depth and detail this delivers.
Spotify offers a range of different quality settings…
If you’re using Free Spotify, you’ll only be able to listen at a maximum of 160kbps, whilst premium subscribers are treated to 320kbps AAC files.
Spotify is in the throes of bringing in CD-quality streaming, having already announced their plans for a Spotify HiFi subscription plan earlier this year. We’ll have to wait and see how this will manifest itself and what the cost will be.
Spotify sets the standard for an easy-to-use interface. One that much of the rest of the competition has emulated. To compare Tidal vs. Spotify in this area, there’s very little difference.
Everything on both platforms is intuitively laid out and straightforward to find. You’re never more than a few clicks away from locating your favorite music or podcasts. Likewise, playlists are also super accessible.
The home screen on Spotify is a little more personalized than what you’ll find on Tidal. It takes into account your recent activity a little more to provide you with links to playlists and music that they think you’re more likely to be searching for.
One major difference…
Is their respective search capabilities. Spotify’s search bar is well optimized to return results after just a few keystrokes. You can even misspell your search, and it will still return pretty accurate results. Tidal’s search bar has no such smarts. Misspell anything, and that’s enough to confuse it into providing no results.
The search advantage and the extra personalization are enough to sway this one in Spotify’s favor.
Social Media Interaction
Spotify has a lot more going on when it comes to social media integration. You can link your Facebook and Spotify accounts together to share songs and playlists with your friends.
If your friends allow it, you can also see what they’re currently listening to via a feed on the right of the desktop app interface. You can also post songs and playlists on all the other major social networks, including Instagram and Twitter.
The ability to make collaborative playlists with other friends on Spotify is also a great social feature. One which I’m sure has been used a lot more since the start of worldwide lockdowns.
Tidal doesn’t have the same social media integration…
You can post songs to Facebook and Instagram via their “story” features; that’s about it. The lack of actual users also means that most of your social media friends are unlikely to have a Tidal account, whereas many will be Spotify subscribers.
This is another one of the benefits of Spotify. Possibly because they’ve been around so long and they have such a huge user base, Spotify is compatible with way more devices than Tidal.
You can get Spotify apps for the biggest game consoles and a load of wearable fitness products, smartwatches, and smart TVs. Tidal has no such integration, with only one app for the Samsung Gear smartwatch.
We’re coming to the end of this Tidal vs. Spotify head-to-head. However, there are a few extras each platform has that are worth mentioning here.
Tidal has a nifty Shazam-like feature on its mobile app called “Audio Search.” If you’re out and about and you hear a song you like, but don’t know what it’s called or who it’s by, simply activate Audio Search, and it will provide you with the details. From there, you have the option to save it to your library.
Spotify has a sleep-timer that will stop the tunes after a set amount of time. Very handy if you’re the type of person that likes to fall asleep to music. Additionally, in the Spotify settings, you’ll find a fully adjustable EQ and the ability to crossfade songs or simply remove the gap between tracks.
One other thing…
Something we should mention is that Tidal pays artists more per stream than Spotify. A fact they are very keen to point out. You get the feeling that if they had the same level of sway as Spotify, the amount they pay artists would go down. But that could just be the cynic in me talking.
First and foremost, you don’t have to pay for Spotify if you want to use their free version. You’ll have to put up with ads interrupting your listening, though. There’s also a load of restrictions you’ll have to put up with. The main one being no download ability for offline listening.
Also, if you’re using the mobile app, you have to listen in shuffle mode and can only skip up to six tracks per hour. But hey, free is free, and almost 200 million people choose to use Spotify in this way.
Upgrading to a premium account will set you back $9.99 per month or $4.99 if you’re a student. Students also get a basic Hulu subscription thrown in.
Got multiple users in one house, you can pay $14.99 per month for a family plan, which will support up to 6 premium accounts. Couples can pay $12.99 per month for a Duo plan with two premium accounts.
There is no such thing as a free Tidal account…
You can sign up for one month’s free trial, after which you’ll have to stump up. A Tidal Premium account costs the same as Spotify, $9.99 individually, $4.99 for students, and $14.99 for a family plan with six accounts. They also offer a reduced price of $5.99 for members of the military and first responders.
If you want to take advantage of Tidal’s top-tier audio quality by upgrading to Tidal HiFi, you can double the prices just listed. In other words, an individual subscription will cost $19.99 and a family $29.99, and so on.
Winner: A draw.
Looking for More Information about Spotify and Other Streaming Services?
Let our experts give you a hand. Check out our detailed guides on YouTube Music vs Spotify, Spotify vs Pandora, Apple Music vs Spotify, and Amazon Music HD vs Spotify Premium for more useful information.
And don’t forget some great headphones so you can listen to Spotify or any other service. Take a look at our comprehensive reviews of the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal, the Best Headphones Under $100, the Most Comfortable Headphones, and the Best Lightning Headphones for iPhone & iPad you can buy in 2021.
Tidal vs. Spotify – The Verdict
Choosing between Tidal and Spotify is mostly dependent on how much you care about high-quality audio. If that’s important to you and you have the necessary equipment to appreciate the difference, then Tidal should be the choice for you. Yes, the subscription fee is double that of Spotify, but it’s not vastly more than a CD cost back in the day.
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If you value the excellent personalization that Spotify’s algorithm affords you. Along with the superior social features and the more widespread device support available, then Spotify is the far better choice. Spotify isn’t far away from launching its HiFi subscription plan, so it might just be better to wait for that.
Either way, the decision is yours. So, until next time, see you in the streams.