by Stuart Dredge, theguardian.com
October 28th 2014
Tidal is the latest streaming music service hoping to make waves in the digital music market, launching today in the UK and US hoping to take on Spotify, Deezer, Beats Music and others. Launched by Scandinavian technology company Aspiro, its monthly subscription is twice the price of most of those rivals – $19.99 / £19.99 – with the firm hoping that its promise of “HiFi-quality” music persuades music fans to stump up the extra cost.
It will stream tracks at “lossless” quality – FLAC/ALAC 44.1kHz / 16 bit files at 1411 kbps to be specific – with distribution partnerships already signed with a range of hi-fi manufacturers including Sonos, Denon and Harman.
Tidal is also betting on more than just audio. It has 25m songs available to stream, but also 75,000 music videos and a team of editors writing features and interviews about established and emerging artists. “The music is just one part of the service. The expert editorial educates, entertains and enriches the music experience while the music videos complement the music perfectly,” said Tidal’s chief executive Andy Chen. “We are sure that Tidal will quickly become the music streaming service of choice for all who appreciate high quality at every level.”
Unlike Spotify and Deezer, Tidal will not offer a free version of its service supported by advertising. Aspiro has signed deals with all three major labels, as well as independent labels and collecting societies in the US and UK. Like those rivals, it will be available through computers, iOS and Android apps and connected hi-fis.
On the latter front, Tidal says it already has 34 deals with more to come. Tidal’s roots lie in WiMP, the Aspiro-owned service that is a rival to Spotify in Scandinavia, and which has its own double-price WiMP HiFi tier offering lossless-quality streams. At the end of June 2014, WiMP had 580,000 paying users, including 17,000 signed up to its HiFi version.
Other services are also exploring higher-quality streaming. Deezer recently launched in the US with “Deezer Elite” which offers similar 1,411kbps streams for $14.99-a-month, through a distribution partnership with Sonos. Fellow French firm Qobuz has been offering similarly high-quality streams through its Qobuz Hi-Fi service, while British radio group Absolute Radio has been experimenting with streaming its stations at lossless quality.
How about Spotify? The company said in September that it has been testing lossless streams, but does not believe the technology is ready to launch yet. “We’re thinking about it all the time, but it’s a trade-off. If we go for lossless, would we be able to deliver the same instant experience that Spotify gives? If we could, we would,” its head of hardware partnerships Pascal de Mul told Gizmodo. “At the moment, we don’t think we can do it. We’re testing it, we’re looking at it, but we don’t want to go back to that pre-Spotify time where you’d double-click on a track and you see a little timer going, and only after five seconds the music starts.”
But with more people installing faster broadband connections at home and buying connected hi-fis, Tidal, Deezer and others are betting that the time is right to take the risk of those spinning timers. Lossless streaming is also likely to be pitched to musicians as part of the solution to their complaints about the royalties they receive from streaming music.
In February, Aspiro’s Kjartan Slette encouraged an audience of artists at the By:larm conference in Norway to promote WiMP HiFi to their fans over cheaper rivals. “If you can get them into WiMP HiFi, you will get twice the money,” he said, during a session attended by the Guardian.
If that argument is reflected in royalty statements from Tidal other lossless services, it may help to win over some artists who’ve been sceptical about streaming.