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No. 165 February 2018

TIDAL – CONFESSIONS OF A QUESTIONABLE CONVERT

am not one hundred percent sure that this "convert" is a good term in this case. It means, according to The Dictionary of foreign words by Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 'a man who has recently adopted a new faith' - which seems right, but also 'a new, fervent devotee of some science or ideology', which does not fully reflect what I wanted to say. But - let it be.

In the description included, among others in Apple's iTunes store, which is implicitly a competitor, Tidal is referred to as "the world's first music service offering High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music clips, including the so-called. Curated Editorial, or texts written by journalists, artists and experts, in order to guarantee the best quality for users." "High Fidelity" in this case means that the files have the CD quality, i.e. 16 bits and 44.1 kHz. Previously existing music services, including iTunes, offered compressed AAC or MP3 files, so Tidal's appearance was almost a revolution from our point of view.

In this way, it was possible to move forward and from music wallpapers, because mp3 compression makes the music only suitable for this purpose, one could build an offer that has a real impact on the audiophile market, intended not only to threaten Compact Disc collections, but also collections of high resolution audio files stored on local media.

And that's because its it includes also an offer called Masters, that delivers high resolution files with 24 bits and sampling frequencies of 44.1, 96, 192, and even 352.8 kHz (DXD quality, 2L label). Such large files are difficult to stream in real time, because they require high bandwidth and clog Internet. Therefore, this service only makes sense combined with another solution, which we have already mentioned several times, MQA (Master Quality Authenticated, more HERE). It allows to pack a high resolution files in a smart way so that they have a much smaller volume, and yet the sound quality does not deteriorate.

I've known Tidal from the very beginning, I took part in several presentations that promoted it and for a long time I was not really interested. I have never been a fan of listening to music from a computer before, I am a fan of physical media and I know that they provide - for the moment - the best sound quality. It changed with time, when some of my friends and acquaintances, including Dirk Sommer (hifistatement.net), confirmed that there is something to those MQA files, that deserves attention. Using Tidal with two Lumïn players - D2 and T1 was a good opportunity to verify my "state of knowledge" about the service streaming music in "CD quality" and higher.

After a longer time spent listening to music both through loudspeakers and headphones, comparing selected tracks with CDs, Master CD-Rs and SACDs - including SHM-SACD - I assume that I can say a few words about it. First of all, the sound quality of the streamed material using a good streamer is really very good (I listened to both Lumins using their analogue outputs but also digital ones with the Ayon CD-35 HF Edition as a DAC). It is a lively, open sound with high dynamics. Both band's extrems are nicely extended, just like the energetic character of the presentation. One can listen to it comfortably.

Secondly, it's not as high quality as offered by the corresponding CDs and SACDs. The main point is the higher resolution of physical media, and thus much better differentiation. The bodies are fuller with them, bigger, and the sound as a whole is more natural. It is not until the direct comparison that one can hear that the upper treble in Tidal is not too colorful, just like the midrange. Tidal causes all recordings to have a common denominator, something like "patina". But it's also good enough to show that 24-bit recordings sound better, deeper, more accurately than those of "CD quality" (now I guess you know where the quotes come from).

Third, it does not really matter. The service turns out to be a unique way to popularize music and for a small price. It is enough to realize that the subscription allowing you to listen to CD and hi-res files costs as much as the average CD. One! You can use it in two - at least - ways: as the only source of music, and - as I do - as a complementary one to listening sessions from discs. Already on the first day I saved a lot of money and I spent just as much on shopping just because I could listen to the titles that interested me on Tidal before I bought them.

Whatever one says about it, it is a great addition to music collections and a great partner for audiophile. It will not replace our Cds and records, but it doesn't have to - it is enough for us to treat Tidal as described. I see, however, a few things that would be worth thinking about. Above all, descriptions of the recordings, so-called metadata, they are very coarse. Displaying, for example, boxes with Depeche Mode singles, I read that they came from 2016, which is a double untruth. In order to make sense, the date of the original release of the single should be given, the year of the release of the given remaster, and a clear indication of exactly which remaster it is. I could only dream about situation when all versions of a given CD were available.

I did not find - but that could be my fault - description of the recording, i.e. where it was made, what musicians were involved and who is responsible for the recording, mix and mastering. And this is from our point of view a basic information, complementing the knowledge about the album. Music lovers understand the recording as a whole, i.e. the sound is only one of the elements of the message. Tidal is not perfect in this respect. And one more thing - it would be useful to be able to share a given song over the phone, and not just - as now - via Facebook and the Tweeter.

I do not want it, however, to turn it into a list of complaints, because the streaming service in question does not deserve this. It offers an extremely valuable help and now I see that every music lover should make some use of it. You do not have to give up your albums, but now yu can buy them with greater awareness. And still, I think, you will listen to the music more often from Tidal than physical media. It does not offer all the music I listen to, but it does offer so many of albums that interest me, that it's hard to complain.

And the metadata? This is a difficult issue, but not impossible to control. In addition to the Tidal and MQA logotypes, also the Roon can be found on more and more devices. It is an application used to organize network stored content, including Tidal, integrating all the sources of files in our system in one application, which not only copes well with metadata, but also improves the sound quality. It can be used just as a playback control application, but also a software player (something like JPlay), installed on a computer, and increasingly also in the file players themselves - all they need is "Roon Ready" funtion. But this is a completely different story we will soon return to.

Chief Editor
WOJCIECH PACUŁA

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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

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ALL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE TESTED DEVICES ARE MADE USING THE EQUIPMENT OF THE COMPANY



Digital camera:
Canon EOS 5D MkIII

Lenses:
EF-16-35/L II USM
EF 100 mm 1:2.8 L IS USM


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