Tidal Offers Master Class

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Artist-friendly Tidal now incorporates Master Quality Audio. (Photo: Kevin Mazur)

Music service Tidal this week begins providing MQA  audio to subscribers, promising a “studio-quality” sound streaming experience for subscribers to its Tidal HiFi package.

The MQA, or Master Quality Authenticated, experience will be available only via desktop app, to those who pay $19.99 a month for Tidal HiFi. The MQA streams will be 96 kHz/24 bit, about double the standard Tidal HiFi of 44.1 kHz/16 bit (CD-quality).

Song streaming revenue more than doubled last year, topping $1 billion and surpassing physical media for the first time. Despite that, Tidal has been swimming upstream against rivals like Apple Music, Google Play and Spotify. This fall, the company — owned by Jay Z, his wife Beyoncé, and a consortium of artists including Jack White, Kanye West and Madonna — reported a prior-year net loss of $28 million (though its Swedish holding company, Aspiro AB). During the same period, revenue grew by 30%.

As of June 2016, Tidal reported 4.2 million subscribers, many accrued through its string of high-profile exclusives from artist-owners such as West, Rihanna and Beyoncé. By comparison, Apple Music has about 17 million paying subscribers, while Spotify has some 30 million.

The UK-based Spotify reported a net loss of about $195 million in 2015. Apple doesn’t break out numbers for Apple Music, which is part of a services portfolio that includes App Store, Apple Pay and iCloud; company CEO Tim Cook calls the music service a growth-driver.

Spotify, Vevo, YouTube and, for the most part iTunes, utilize “lossy” compression formats (256kbps, 320kbps, AAC, MP3 or Vorbis). Apple does offer an ALAC option, Apple Lossless Audio Codec (.m4a), which supports 24-bit, but it’s not widely used (conventional wisdom has it that on phones and other low-fi devices, the difference is indistinguishable).

Tidal has carved a niche as a purveyor of lossless streams (in which category services such as Deezer Elite and Qobuz might be considered competition). Now, with MQA, Tidal takes it up a notch.

 

 

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