Convenience wins most of the time (a Spotify and Tidal story)

I’ve been a Spotify user for several years now and I enjoyed their discovery and classification engine, also the easy to use mobile app, but most of all I appreciated the fact that they were everywhere – I mean, I couldn’t find products that supported streaming and didn’t support Spotify. They had a very good implementation of their Spotify Connect and that was available with all of the Hi-Fi consumer electronics – be it Denon, Yamaha, Maranz, Sony, Harman Kardon or other well known brands – all of them supported Spotify Connect. Also the highly appreciated Google Audio Chromecast supported Spotify as well, making your mobile app a very nice and intuitive remote for most of your audio equipment.

When Spotify launched their service in Romania, they had good prices but only had the Premium offer and not the Family plan. Spotify was coming late to the party, on the Romanian market there were already Google with Google Music (and later Youtube Premium/Music), Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, all of them having Family options for attractive prices. Spotify didn’t offer their family option for the last two years, even if people were requesting this option. In the meantime, Tidal, Deezer and more recently Amazon Music are supporting Hi-Fi options that bump the streaming quality from 320kbps to 1411kbps level – which for most people who enjoy music and have some better equipment is a very attractive option.

For me, it was one friend who said someday early this year if I wouldn’t be interested to try Tidal HiFi, since they were offering high quality, a family plan at an attractive price. In Romania, Tidal has the Family Tidal Premium at 6.20EUR and the Family Tidal HiFi at 12.40EUR, with up to 6 people enjoying the streaming services. The sound quality improvement when listening on the headphones connected to the MacBook Pro, which allows Master files to be decoded in the macOS Tidal app, is perceivable even for me and I’m not very trained … but simply I liked the Tidal sound better, it was more “full”. I canceled the two Spotify Premium accounts which were 10EUR/month and replaced them with the Tidal HiFi. Moving my playlists from Spotify (and my wife’s as well) wasn’t that complicated and for the next 4 months I enjoyed the Tidal quality.

But, there is a catch … at least for me, that didn’t come without some compromises. My audio setup includes Yamaha RX-479 receiver, Yamaha WX-30 smart speaker, 2 audio chromecasts and one raspberry-pi & Behringer UCA222. All of those were very friendly with Spotify, but the situation was not exactly the same with Tidal. Yamaha for example supports Tidal as a streaming service in their recent receivers, but they don’t support it on my older RX-479. This I believe has nothing to do with their hardware capability, but rather it’s considered a “good incentive” to buy new products. I find this to be a cheap way to try to get some money from your existing customers … and I was very much pissed of by this practice. For example, Tidal is supported by the WX-30 which is not a very new device, just a bit newer than the RX-479 and I doubt that the hardware is more capable on the WX-30. Buying a new Yamaha receiver just for that, because the new versions from the RX series are not much different from the RX-479, make little to no sense. Yamaha could correct this with a firmware update, but they are not considering this apparently.

But anyway, with this exception (which to some extend can be solved by using the Music Cast link capability, using the WX-30 as master and RX-479 as slave), all the other devices could be used to access Tidal. For the raspberry-pi, I had a subscription for Volumio (https://volumio.org) which allows you to access the Tidal services from the web interface. The sound quality for me was limited by the Behringer DAC to flac, which is more than decent for the speakers I use Audio Engine A5+ (details here) – but generally I liked the Volumio service. For Tidal and Qobuz, you need to have a paid subscription (MyVolumio Virtuoso costs 29EUR/year, available as a monthly payment as well), but for other services (including Spotify) you don’t.

The thing that kind of makes a difference between Spotify and Tidal when linking the streaming services with speakers or receivers or other streamers is the Spotify Connect which is a nice interface most of the electronics producers implemented – that allows you to use your phone as a remote for playing whatever you want (similar to the casting option in chromecast), whereas for Tidal, they had to implement an app embedded in the device that allows you to access the service, removing a bit of the flexibility you have when using your phone. For example, let’s say that you like a song/artist and want to start a radio from that particular song, which you can do on your mobile app (both for Spotify and Tidal) … for Spotify the next steps are simple, whatever you decide to play on your mobile, will be streamed via Spotify Connect to the devices; for Tidal, this option doesn’t exist when you’re not connected with a chromecast device because your local app on the device (Yamaha in my case) doesn’t know about your “dynamic” playlist generated on the mobile, so you can’t access it. There is the option of using the bluetooth or AirPlay for doing that, but you lose on the quality side and also on convenience, everything goes through your phone instead of direct streaming.

Bottomline, when Spotify announced (actually they didn’t make any public statement) their Family option (for 8EUR/month with up to 6 users), I re-evaluated my setup and compared the following:

ServiceTidalSpotify
Cost12 EUR/month HiFi Family
(6.20 EUR/month Premium Family)
8 EUR/month Premium Family
Features+ superb sound quality (HiFi and Master)
+ good discovery service
+ plays well with chromecast
– not supported on all devices (older Yamaha)
– considered premium feature for Volumio (for example)
– short list of supported podcasts
+ good sound quality (320kbps)
+ excellent discovery service and integrations with other apps (Shazam foe example)
+ very good support on all devices
+ wide variety of podcasts available
+ supported by Garmin watches for example
Short comparison between the services (from my perspective)

Basically, what the above table says is that convenience and all-roundness may win when compared with high quality niche. I will miss the high quality sound from Tidal, I really hope that Spotify will eventually launch their HiFi service (because they will lose some customers to Tidal, Deezer and Amazon HD), but for the next period I’ll live with the convenience of Spotify.

Also, this is another proof why convenience wins over privacy, security and sometimes quality. Tidal is a very good streaming service, with high quality sound (HiFi and Master), but sometimes that’s not just enough. If their partnership with the electronics brands will be further developed, maybe that Tidal could win me once again … or if I will invest in new equipment (and that will come for sure).

Enjoy music and your life!

Author: Liviu Nastasa

Passionate about software development, sociology, running...definitely a geek.

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