Apple Music vs Tidal

AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,684
I've been an Apple Music user since the day it launched. During that time I've tried Tidal a couple times but have spent the last month giving it a more serious evaluation and have been asked to do a writeup for an article elsewhere, thought I'd share my notes here as well.

There is no TLDR version unfortunately, there are enough nuances in comparing these two that you cannot sum it all up into a sentence.


Sound Quality
It's no surprise that Tidal HiFi sounds better than Apple Music since you're comparing a compressed codec with lossless (and in some cases even MQA Hi-Rez) files. The differences aren't earth shattering gaps in sound quality, but they're also not so subtle that you have to strain to hear them. I'd say it's on the level where it's easy to hear on a HiFi system or headphones but in a car driving down the road the two sound similar unless you're trying to pick out the differences.

There's a clear and noticeable gap in sound quality, it's just not monumental though sometimes that gap widens when you bring MQA into the picture. Tidal is also more likely to have multiple versions and masters of an album, last night I enjoyed the Steven Wilson remix of Chicago 2 which is unavailable on Apple Music.

All in all, Tidal is the clear and obvious winner here if you have even decent gear.


Features
The Tidal app isn't horrible as I've seen mentioned numerous times, but it's not great either. It works, but it's not organized very well. I won't go into all the flaws, but as an example when you search for a band or musician any playlists are listed in a whole separate screen and not on the artist page...that's an incredibly stupid design decision.

I find Apple Music much more intuitive to use, the app is laid out more logically...when I search for Muse all the things are are related to Muse appear on a single page and I scroll vertically to view them.

The big issue I have with Apple Music is that you cannot control the desktop app (iTunes) from a mobile device. You can control the basic playback functions using their remote software which is fine, but you can't browse and select music using that software. There is basically no way to sit in your chair using an iPad and browse Apple Music and have that play on your computer system, or in my case the KEF LS50 Wireless system. That's completely idiotic and was unacceptable in 2015 when Apple Music launched, I literally cannot think of a word strong enough to express my displeasure with that still being an issue in 2018.

Comparatively Tidal also works with many more devices than Apple Music...virtually every streaming device out there works with Tidal whereas Apple Music is limited to a very small handful.

I don't know that Tidal allows direct control of the desktop app via iOS, but they have many partnerships with other software and hardware companies. It may require some extra cash, but if you want to use an iPad to control playback and browse Tidal on your main system it's incredibly easy to do.

Tidal has Roon support! I finally drank the Kool-Aid and picked up Roon, there are still things that seriously piss me off with Roon but overall the things I like now outweigh those that piss me off. I think it'll always be a love-hate thing, but those tend to be the most interesting relationships. The fact that Roon has Tidal built in is a huge bonus, and that's what ultimately made the decision for me to purchase both of those...if Tidal disappeared from Roon I'd likely uninstall both. The general concerns about the ongoing financial viability of Tidal are why I'm using the annual subscription of Roon instead of buying the lifetime.

There are plenty of other features where the two services could trade blows, but most of those are a wash and I think the important bits are covered above. So the interface itself is better in Apple Music, but the feature set is better with Tidal.

They both have their advantages but overall Tidal gets the win here as well.


Music Discovery
This is where Apple takes the win, and it's not even close. There are essentially two ways that music discovery works in these apps, via a general recommendations screen and via artist playlists...Apple Music is subjectively better at both and objectively better at one.

Recommendations - Tidal and Apple both have sections where they recommend music to you based on what you listen to. I find that the recommendations in Apple are much more suited to me, but I've also been using that service longer so it has had more time to learn me. That being said, Apple Music was better at this for me on day 1 of using that service than Tidal is even after 30 days or so. This is the subjective one though, it gets it more right for me but I'll grant that some could prefer the titles Tidal offers up especially if you like hiphop and rap.

Artist Playlists - This is the killer feature for Apple Music and where it's actually objectively better than Tidal. Both services have a "Top Songs" section for artists, but that's essentially a popularity contest as those are the songs most played...I don't consider that to be the best way to discover an artist's work. What you really need are human curated, thoughtfully designed playlists and that's where Apple excels. Let's take an example:

Pick a band or musician and try this, I'll use Muse for this example. Do a search on Tidal and you'll get a nice artist page with top songs, albums and some related artists. Those are nice and way better than what we had a few years ago, and the related artists page and Artist Radio in particular are great ways to find new music. Do that same search in Apple Music and you get all those same features, but you ALSO get artist driven playlists.

Some artists have more or fewer options, but the standard set of playlists you get for most artists in Apple Music are Essentials, Deep Cuts, Next Steps, Influences, and Inspired By...those playlists are where the magic happens and are where I've personally discovered some of the best music. With Tidal you're lucky if you get a single Essentials playlist.

Someone mentioned Kate Bush to me the other night, I'd never listened to her and had no idea where to start. The Top Songs section of Tidal was just a random collection of her most popular songs with no thought given to what was included or how they were ordered. There was no playlist at all for her, not even an Essentials playlist. How the hell am I supposed to work with that? I pull her up in Apple Music and there are multiple playlists to get me started, one of which is an Essentials playlist that's been crafted to represent her career not just a dump of her popular songs. It turns out I'm not a Kate Bush fan, but you get the picture.

So yeah, like I said above, Apple wins and it's not even close.


Conclusion
So after all that which do I prefer? Both. HA! What a waste of time, after writing all that the answer is seriously both? Lame.

Tidal sounds better and works natively with way more devices and plugs right into Roon to create a seamless(ish) interface between your local music and theirs. But for me these services are just as much about discovering new music, and Apple wins by such a huge margin here that I can't let it go. You'd think for the $30 a month I shell out for Tidal they could afford to hire a few curators to create those artist playlists, and if they ever did I'd drop Apple Music...but until that happens I'm stuck with both. I use Apple to find new music and Tidal to listen to it.

Oh, and customer support from Tidal is via email only, I like the fact that I can pick up the phone and yell at Apple employees about not being able to control their desktop app using their own mobile products. Again, you'd think at twice the price Tidal would be able to produce a human for me to talk to, but I guess not.
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Comments

  • DSkipDSkip Posts: 14,581
    edited May 11
    Tidal sounds horrible when run off a computer. A streamer really steps up the sound quality.

    Also, $30? My subscription is $20?
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  • alucidideaalucididea Posts: 98
    I’m stuck in the same battle. I’ve been an avid Apple Music subscriber and heavy user since they launched and love the interface and how ubiquitous it works in my home/car.

    You’re absolutely right about music discovery. Apple wins in every way. Curated content and weekly updated playlists win, hands down. I will say that among a few of my favorite artists, Tidal actually had a tiny bit more and some newer music, including some older/more exotic EPs and definitely more live albums (specifically some Grateful Dead and other jam artists).

    It’s actually only been in last few days that I’ve decided to explore Tidal (and Deezer actually). I like the sound quality of Tidal, though I’m only able to stream the FLAC versions at this point. Part of the reason I enjoy Apple Music so much is the wireless aspects of Airplay and the potential for seamless multi-point sound via Airplay 2. What I’m concerned about is whether I’m still, in fact, getting the full FLAC quality via Airplay. I know it’s SUPPOSED to be able to handle it. I’m just not convinced it truly is. I KNOW my Yamaha RX-A3070 streams the full quality (FLAC not MQA). But having to deal with interface on Yamaha’s MusicCast app is thoroughly infuriating.

    The reality is that until I have a way to actuality listen to MQA audio, the extra $20/month doesn’t seem quite worth it. Though after spending thousands on a system, why should I worry about $20? Seems kind of silly when I think about it that way.

    On another note, I’ve been reading about Apple recently adding FLAC support to their Homepods. Based on this, there is a lot of speculation about whether Apple may, or may not, be getting on the lossless bandwagon. My guess is no, but I can hope they’ll get that far and maybe even support MQA eventually (probably a pipe dream). Hopefully Airplay 2 will come out with the next iOS update (11.4) and some better exploring will begin to take place.

    My next step is to do a bunch more research into MQA and decide how I want to pursue the new standard. I’d love to just spring for the the new NAD M17 V2 when it comes out. That would satisfy my desire to upgrade from the 3070 and in my quest for MQA. I suppose I’m also going to need an MQA source too, le sigh.
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,684
    DSkip wrote: »
    Tidal sounds horrible when run off a computer. A streamer really steps up the sound quality.

    Also, $30? My subscription is $20?
    I'm running Tidal through Roon and through KEF directly, agree that it sounds worse using the desktop app and that got uninstalled minutes after I set it up.

    $30 is for the family subscription

  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,684
    Airplay is lossless up to CD quality, but high resolution content gets downsampled. I'd say the chances of ever getting MQA over Airplay are virtually zero. I wouldn't hold your breath on Apple getting lossless streaming anytime soon...
  • alucidideaalucididea Posts: 98
    Airplay is lossless up to CD quality, but high resolution content gets downsampled. I'd say the chances of ever getting MQA over Airplay are virtually zero. I wouldn't hold your breath on Apple getting lossless streaming anytime soon...
    Oh, I’ll definitely never expect to be able to use MQA via Airplay. That’s literally insane. The rest, well, I’ll just silently sit in the corner hoping.

  • BC6BC6 Posts: 51
    Nice write-up. I'd say 'ditto' to everything here. I've used Apple Music forever and now have Tidal running through Roon.
    Because of the sound quality, I listen almost exclusively to Tidal, but I can't get rid of Apple. I find myself weekly checking out the new music recommendations on Apple, finding the ones I like, and then listening to them on Tidal.
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  • voltzvoltz Posts: 4,946
    Thanks for the write up Danny!
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  • JaybeezJaybeez Posts: 675
    Great review. We're an all-Mac household so Apple Music works well for us. Streaming whatever I want wherever I want is hard to beat.
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  • mantismantis Posts: 14,909
    Nice write up.
    I use Apple Music and I really like it a lot. I think it's a really good solid all around music service. They have most of the worlds music and when you have all apple stuff it's seamless. Sonos is the only streamer for your home that works with Apple Music and thats a limitation I don't care for.

    I still buy music for when I want to sit down and listen. Driving in the car, working around the house or washing the trucks Apple Music is just fine.

    I do wish they would release high rez music but I'm not holding my breath. I just rip CD's into iTunes and enjoy that. Thats not High rez but it sounds really good.
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  • Mikey081057Mikey081057 Posts: 5,289
    There is a low res version of TIDAL with SQ like that of Apple Music and Spotify Comparing.

    Tidal and Apple music price plans are equal at comparable sound qualities no? $10/$15 single and family for low res.

    For me Sound quality is the decision point and since I don't use any Apple TIDAL is the clear choice.-

    But if you had to pick 1 service and not pay 2 subscriptions you would choose Apple Music?

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  • recoveryonerecoveryone Posts: 544
    Very nice write up, I have thought about Tidal (I even did a short free trial), but I don't get the opportunity to listen enough to justify the cost. My 2nd issue would be the type of random music that gets selected. I don't like to be surprised with F bombs and other language not appropriate for family listening. I don't use cans so everything goes out for everyone to hear. Its sad that even mellow type music has lyrics that can make you do a double take. I need a "for radio play" filter to feel comfortable to relax and let a streaming service choose my playlist.
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  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,212
    Very nice write up, I have thought about Tidal (I even did a short free trial), but I don't get the opportunity to listen enough to justify the cost. My 2nd issue would be the type of random music that gets selected. I don't like to be surprised with F bombs and other language not appropriate for family listening. I don't use cans so everything goes out for everyone to hear. Its sad that even mellow type music has lyrics that can make you do a double take. I need a "for radio play" filter to feel comfortable to relax and let a streaming service choose my playlist.

    I don't let a music service choose my playlists, I put together my own, from music available on the service or from my own library or a combination of both.

    When you let a service choose your playlist, doesn't matter if it's Tidal/Spotify or whatever, you'll get the songs with the f-bombs and such. Especially for more modern music. If your letting the service choose a playlist from like classic rock, then you should have little to worry about.

    Your in control, of how you use these services.
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  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,684
    Letting the music service put playlists together for you though is how you discover new music, probably obvious by now but that's a core benefit for me.

    I'm not sure about Tidal but Apple allows you to restrict explicit lyrics on their service.

    To answer the question above about only choosing one, if I were in that situation it would only be because I couldn't afford to pay for both, and honestly if I'm that broke sound quality probably isn't a priority for me. In that circumstance I'd go with Apple because I can get it for $99 a year, only $20 a year cheaper than Tidal but again if I'm that broke ever dollar counts.
  • Mikey081057Mikey081057 Posts: 5,289
    So are you in essence saying if you can only afford $10/mo than Apple Music but if you can afford $20 get Tidal? But just putting your usual pro Apple spin on it?
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  • gudnoyezgudnoyez Posts: 6,204
    edited May 14
    I've had Tidal, & Spotify but not any longer. If you were to use a streaming service for critical listening only then Tidal would be my choice, if for background music and non critical listening spotify or Apple music would be my choice.

    The only thing I stream now for non critical listening is XM radio, and stuff on my computers and tablets, and XM streaming is included with our package on our vehicles. It got to the point with Tidal and Spotify that when I finally find time for serious listening sessions, I only need to find something from all the physical media that I have which will last a long time, I will never get around to listening to it all until I retire.

    If one is streaming because they lack a music collection then Tidal would be the way to go. My daughter streams Apple music and loves it.
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  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,684
    I don't appreciate the accusation Mikey, I've clearly put some effort into creating an unbiased opinion with my pros and cons of each service. If you don't agree with my points then let's have a discussion, let's skip the underhanded comments though.

    Maybe this is the answer you were looking for since you brought up the pricing. If I had to choose between the $10 a month Tidal and $99 Apple plans with equivalent sound quality I'd choose Apple Music because the sound quality advantage is out the window and it effectively comes down to music discovery vs what features are left of Tidal (if money is that tight I'd also have to nix the Roon subscription and that's a HUGE advantage of Tidal for me) and between those the music discovery is the more important by a decent margin. Apple is also by cheaper by $20 a year which probably matters if money is that tight.

    Hope that clears things up
  • recoveryonerecoveryone Posts: 544
    I hear you Tony, and that is why I stream my own collection (clean version only). But as Assim said you never get a chance to find new artist if you only play your own collection all the time. I like the modern Neo Soul style music along with my old school R&B and Jazz, but many of these new artist use lyrics that could make Redd Fox bluish. I have a Pandora account that I use when I'm home only, but on Saturday mornings when everyone is home doing house work I dare not let the service pick artist similar to my choice.

    Over the last few months I discovered:

    Ella Mau R&B
    Daniel Davis Jazz
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  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,212
    Not really, I get where your coming from and I guess it all depends on a particular services capabilities. To find new music, I simply play a radio station that has all new music. Though one isn't looking for new music when one wants to play background music with company over or kids around either.

    Sure, I can also hit Napster's new music and find a boat load, but again....are you doing that with kids around or guests over for dinner ? Chances are...no.
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  • Mikey081057Mikey081057 Posts: 5,289
    You want me to debate your Apple bias? I would rather put you on Ignore and save some time.
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  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,212
    I would argue, about the costs.....that if 20 bucks a year difference is "tight" for you, your not going to be subscribing to ANY music service and simply spinning discs again. That point is mute to me.
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  • txcoastal1txcoastal1 Posts: 9,670
    tonyb wrote: »
    I would argue, about the costs.....that if 20 bucks a MONTH difference is "tight" for you, your not going to be subscribing to ANY music service and simply spinning discs again. That point is mute to me.

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  • Mikey081057Mikey081057 Posts: 5,289
    I guess I am the biased one because I knew what the choice was going to be before I read the "review".

    You forgot to disclose at the beginning of your "review" that your income/livelihood is attributed to your Apple gig.

    None of my comments were underhanded; they are very plain spoken. If you don't like any criticisms of your "review" and need to get defensive over honest criticism then perhaps writing reviews is not for you.
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  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,212
    edited May 15
    txcoastal1 wrote: »
    tonyb wrote: »
    I would argue, about the costs.....that if 20 bucks a MONTH difference is "tight" for you, your not going to be subscribing to ANY music service and simply spinning discs again. That point is mute to me.

    Nope, we are talking regular service costs Ron, per year.

    " Apple is also by cheaper by $20 a year which probably matters if money is that tight."

    Which, like I said....if 20 bucks a year matters, your not subscribing to ANY music services.
    HT SYSTEM-
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  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,684
    edited May 15
    I'll clear a few things up and then be on my way...

    Just to clarify for anyone that didn't fully read the initial post, the summary was that both services have pros and cons and the end result for me is that I"m keeping both, Apple Music because I prefer the music discovery and Tidal because I prefer the features and sound quality.


    @tonyb
    I agree with your comment about the money, and that's why I didn't bring up the point to begin with. My point was, the only thing that would force me to make a choice would be a monetary concern, and if I were in that scenario I'd go with the cheaper option. Your point is ultimately correct though, if money were that tight I wouldn't have any service, which gets us back to where I started the tread in me not making a choice to begin with.


    @Mikey081057
    I don't get it, help set me straight Mikey, why are you turning this into a thing? I thought my initial post was thoughtful and balanced, I pointed out the things I liked and disliked about both services. I literally did not chose Apple over Tidal as you claim, and I explicitly explained why in the original post.

    You bring up a fair point though, I didn't mention my gig with Apple up front, wish I could go back now and add that in though I suspect that wouldn't satisfy you. It honestly didn't cross my mind since this wasn't an "Apple is better" thread or even a "review" as you state, just my thoughts on the services and why I'm keeping both.

    I'm sorry you didn't find my initial post meaningful or helpful, I wish you'd decided to provide constructive criticism on where I could have been more fair and balanced instead of just accusing me of the typical Apple bias because I don't feel like we've accomplished anything here other than you perhaps convincing a few people that my opinions here are not valid. That's a shame too because I thought I did a good job of being unbiased with my thoughts. Perhaps you're right though and best to put me on ignore.


    @MyAppleBias
    One last thought on my Apple bias, it's no secret that I do have a general preference for their products but it's not a blind bias and that predates me doing contract work for them. I've also been openly critical of them in this thread and in multiple other discussions here on the forum. In fact, me being openly critical of them on another forum is what landed me the gig with the, but that's a story for another day.
  • BlueFoxBlueFox Posts: 10,019
    I just wish all streaming services offered high-res, for a fee, instead of just low-res. I can't believe it would be much of a challenge to offer both.
    Bud - Silicon Valley

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  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,684
    Agreed on that front, to say I’m disappointed in Apple not having an option would be an understatement.
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,684
    I realized in the posts above I'd forgotten to add a couple more notes on Tidal, came in here to do that yesterday and got sidetracked with the pissing contest. Anyway...

    I keep finding more and more gems on Tidal HiFi, lots of MQA and High Resolution content and several remasters done by Steven Wilson. I'm way more a Wilson fanboy than Apple lol. I referenced this in my original post on the Chicago album, but I keep finding more examples of where the Tidal album sounds better than my CD Rip. This morning I stumbled across the Yes remasters and right now I'm streaming the MQA version of Hans Zimmer Live in Prague which is an upgrade from my rip.

    I'm actually of the opinion that Tidal HiFi is significantly underpriced for what you get. I'd easily pay $100 a month for what I get from Tidal, I pay more than that for the chance to watch bad television each month.

    I've heard Tidal is having financial problems, perhaps a price increase is needed?
  • GospelTruthGospelTruth Posts: 306
    Interesting article on Tidal and their business practices. If these allegations are true it doesn't help them.

    https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8455997/tidal-fake-streaming-norwegian-pro-files-complaint
    Speakers
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  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,212
    I wouldn't subscribe to either, just because of who owns them....no matter how good they are. That's just me though.

    Normally you buy a piece of gear for certain criteria, usually sound quality is right at the top of that totem pole. Maybe ease of use, user interface comes next, then looks. You may also have certain bells and whistles your looking for in a piece.

    Use that same criteria when choosing a music service or streaming platform. It isn't hard, put brand names on the side and judge for yourself.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    Tad 803 bookies
    Polk 500 surrounds
    Polk s35 center
    SVS SB-2000
    Sonos

    Music-

    Joule la-100 pre
    B&k 1403 amp
    Cary xciter dac
    Cullen modded Sonos
    ERA D5 bookies

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Analysis plus crystal oval ic's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable
  • mantismantis Posts: 14,909
    edited May 16
    You want me to debate your Apple bias? I would rather put you on Ignore and save some time.
    Dude get over yourself, who cares if he likes Apple or not. It's his opinion and if you agree cool if not cool.
    I didn't get any of that out of his original thread post. I thought it was a pretty good write up.
    Post edited by KennethSwauger on
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.
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