As you might know, Tidal differentiates itself from the competition with its audio quality. Unlike Spotify and Apple Music, it aims to give its subscribers studio quality audio from any device. However, before you sign up for Tidal, be aware there are few steps you need to take in order to stream such high-quality music.
Tidal uses a proprietary audio codec called MQA that they refer to as "Tidal Masters." What makes this format unique is its ability to deliver 24-bit, 96 kHz audio at a file size that can still be streamed. This is some of the highest quality music available, as the sound output is much closer to what was generated in the studio. For context, Spotify Premium delivers sound at 16-bits, 44.1 kHz, which is around CD quality. Tidal even has some songs with up up to 24-bit, 354 kHz audio.
Access to Tidal's high-quality audio requires the highest tier of their subscription. For an individual, that means $19.99 a month. However, this cost also includes Hi-Fi audio distributed using FLAC. While Tidal Masters is limited to only a portion of Tidal's catalog, the majority of the catalog supports Hi-Fi audio so you will always enjoy top quality.
To save a bit of money, you do have a few options. First, if you are a student, the price reduces to $9.99 a month. Tidal has to confirm your eligibility, and you will need to verify your eligibility again every 12 months. There is a similar discount for military members who pay $11.99 a month, but must confirm eligibility.
If you are not a student or in the military, the other option is to subscribe to the family plan. Including the main account, six accounts can all access Hi-Fi audio and Tidal Masters for only $10 more than the individual cost. This by far the best option if you have five people to share the cost with.
Now, open Tidal and select the My Collection tab along the bottom. Choose the gear icon in the upper-right corner and locate the Quality subgroup. Select "Streaming" and tap "Master" under the WiFi grouping. If you have an unlimited plan, you can also enable "Master" under Cellular (note that this can quickly eat up data plans).
As I previously mentioned, not every track supports the MQA format for top quality audio. While this list was pretty small initially, it has grown tremendously, including many of your favorite new songs playing on the radio. What you are looking for is tracks with an "M" next to their name. This indicates they are part of Tidal Masters and use the MQA format. You can also search for "Masters" using the Search tab and find different playlists containing on MQA music.
Tidal uses a software decoder to play MQA files. With this decoder, audio quality is limited to 24-bit/96 kHz. However, if you are using a phone with MQA hardware decoder (or a supported DAC), Tidal can deliver audio up to 24-bit/354 kHz, depending on the source. Only a handful of phones include this feature, which you find you find below:
- Essential PH-1 w/ Audio Adapter HD
- LG G8 ThinQ
- LG V40 ThinQ
- LG G7 ThinQ
- LG V35 ThinQ
- LG V30/V30+
You will know the track is Masters because the seek bar will now be orange, matching the color of the "Master" icon in the bottom-center.
This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' special coverage on streaming, listening to, and creating music and podcasts on your smartphone. Check out the whole Music and Audio series.