Mastodon The Jury Is In: Spotify, Tidal Or Qobuz. Which One Is The Best - The Wagnerian

The Jury Is In: Spotify, Tidal Or Qobuz. Which One Is The Best

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 3 September 2018 | 5:47:00 am

Part one is here, offering an overview of streaming services
Part two  looks at Tidal's features in detail here
Part three looks at Qobuz features in detail here

We noted in part one of this, now a four-part feature, that we are unlikely to leave Spotify. However, for us this is a very specific reason: it allows us to share various recordings with the widest group of people, even if they are using the free Spotify service. When we started this meant that there was really only one other reason to even consider Tidal or Qobuz and that was that they offered lossless streaming - at an additional cost. However, having used both services now for some time, we have found an additional reason to move to at least one of them, but more of this later.

Available music

During our time with both services, we have never found a time where there was something that we wanted that was not on both - and was also on Spotify. There was a great difference in how quickly and easily we were able to find music, as we noted when discussing how each platform managed meta tags and how well they were clearly maintained and curated. Within classical music, Tidal was simply not as good as Qobuz. Indeed, given that it struggles with even playing some classical multidisc sets in the correct order, it was sometimes much worse than Spotify. But when it did work, which is most of the time, it did so well


As we have noted, both offer apps across a range of platforms and also allow web access via a browser. Both services take a very different approach to how these are laid out. Tidal is clearly closely inspired by Spotify, while Qobuz offers a cleaner, approach, where releasing screen space is key. Again, both work well across a range of platforms that we tested and which one you prefer will be a matter of personal choice. In our opinion Qobuz does have the edge here for two reasons: it offers the ability to view and read the CD booklets where available and it also allows you to click on a record labels name which will then bring up all of that labels recordings. The first is an impressive addition and one we greatly valued. The second is something that all services should have, but only Qobuz offers. 

Music Audio Quality. 

Both services offer streaming and offline playback in lossless format and both at the same monthly cost. While both are very good we noted a difference in that Tidal seemed to favour mids and highs while Qobuz seems to favour a more rounded, warmer sound stage natively (any of this can be changed to some degree with a graphic equaliser of course).  As to which one you might prefer is a matter of personal choice but as both offer a month's free trial this would be easy to decide. Tidal does have an advantage here, in that it offers to stream at greater than CD quality - studio master quality if you will - and this is included at the monthly price of 19.99. Qobuz also offers this but at what we consider an excessive annual only cost of 349. 99. Yes, it does give you the opportunity for significant discounts when buying studio master quality recordings but so does its more affordable annual subscription of  219.99 (which is also cheaper than the monthly cost of 19,99). There is, however, something that needs to be taken into account with Tidal's "Master" quality recordings. Because they use MQA, and because MQA needs a decoder at your side to play the tracks, this master quality is only available in the Tidal App. If you want to playback in a web browser or in Linux, then you can only do so at a maximum CD quality stream. Still, it is affordable

Music Discovery

To me, there are two main reasons for using a service like Tidal or Qobuz, or indeed any other: convenience and discovery. It's simply convenient that I don't have to access a particular drive that contains the music I want at home, or copy them to my music player when I go out or travel (21-century problems. Terrible isn't it?). But of course, there are ways around, even this - cloud storage for example. The second reason is not so easy to circumnavigate, however, and that is discovering and trying new music. Both services are good at this, but for different genres and one is simply better at all.
Tidal seems a Hifi service in search of an audience that may not need it.  As I type, Tidal's front page is trying to point me to its live stream of  Made In America 2018. The performer on the "Rock and Liberty stage (there are three different stages) has just stopped the audio track of her (I have come in late and it doesn't indicate, but I am certain it is Niki Minaj) "live" performance", telling her technical crew  "I'm feeling too sexy for this one. Let's move to the next" And so a highly appreciative audience is now singing along with her, while she clearly mimes something else from her new |CD (By the way, the opening track"Ganaja Burns" is the only good track on her new album. A classic modern pop song in my opinion,.If that doesn't appear on the soundtrack of the next GTA game I will eat my copy of  Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung) As another aside, we have  reached an odd place in popular music where the only people singing live at a concert are the audience. Apart from this, the main landing page recommends 5 different Michael Jackson playlists, one of Jean-Michel Jarre, one of Kanye West and the American Billboard 100. This represents how good Tidal is at highlighting and attempting to funnel you to the most popular of popular, American,  contemporary pop music while doing a much poorer job with Classical, Jazz, or experimental R&B, ECM or Rap. Or indeed, pop music that has not reached the USA  The trouble, if that is the word, is that these areas are already covered so well by Spotify. Worse, online sales and indeed piracy, tell us that most people that listen to this type of music are happy to do so in MP3. Most "lossless" quality sales are in Classical,  Jazz, Classica Rock, Metal and experimental music (Pop, Rap,  ECM or otherwise). Other music, especially Classical, is of course well represented on Tidal but you have to know what you are looking for in advance, especially what albums. And once you find them, Tidal gives you very little information about them, apart from track information, performers and brief review (Sadly it is not so good at telling you which recording you are listening to if you find, for example, a conductor who has recorded a cycle more than once. For example, according to Tidal, all four of its Karajan Beethoven symphony cycles, within its library, are his 1963 cycle - despite the fact they clearly are not. Tidal saddens me for this reason. An excellent audio quality service with a stable app, chasing a market that is most likely unappreciative of it. And if all you are interested in is listening to MP3, why move to Tidal's 9.99 MP3 only services while Spotify or any other numerous services exist, and with bigger libraries? 

Qobuz is a very different proposition, however. For example, upon landing on its homepage, it makes the following suggestions - when not filtered by a particular genre: 

A Kendric Lemar discography
A feature on "The paradox of Esa-Pekka Salonen studio"
A playlist and feature on Classical label Panclassics
A feature and playlist about Herbie Hancock
A feature and listening recommendation titled"Paul Van Nevel, the ancient music craftsman"

And so on, and so on.

And if I filter to Classical, a brings up not only new releases but official recommendations from Gramophone Magazine (updated monthly and in association with Gramophone) and other magazines. More importantly, to me at least, a wealth of feature articles exist on classical music and are well integrated with its music archive. Indeed, it is less like a straightforward streaming site but does this and combines it with a rather good music magazine. And the same attention to detail can be found in every genre. Indeed. it is this fact that would allow me to happily recommend changing to its 9.99 MP3 only services, from any other MP3 streaming. if you are not interested in its CD-quality streams service. The extra content is simply more than worth it, at least if you are interested in more than the UK Top 40 or Billboards 100. 

So, to conclude, while both services offer good quality sound streaming and a large archive, Qobuz easily beats not only Tidal but many other services. This is by understanding its audience and the many extras that it offers. But, if you are interested, it is easy to try both services as each offer a one months, unrestricted,  free trial, Alas, American audiences will have to wait till October when Qobuz launches there.