A musical journey…
Apple Music, Tidal, Spotify and more. Here’s a short journey through the latest music streaming scene in the light of the Apple Music launch this week, this article was written for LetsTalk-Tech.com.
Apple’s flashy website (http://www.apple.com/uk/music/) goes on and on; Discover, Radio, Connect,Membership, and it is very jazzy; the issue is there is not a word on streaming quality, it is mass market, we know this so rumours propose the service will be 256kbps as per iTunes but this is below Spotify’s 320kbps and well short of Tidal’s CD quality service, 1411kbps (16bit, 44.1khz).
Apple Music launches tomorrow in a very crowded market space; streaming services, radio, playlists, curated services, offline listening, etc. These services are available everywhere; Google Play, Deezer, Rdio, Tidal, Spotify, Qobuz, Beat Music, Napster, Mog, Last.fm, Pandora, Rara, Blinkbox, shuffler, SoundCloud, YouTube, X-Box, Sony Unlimited on Play-station, Chickenlisten. Chickenlisten! Only kidding, I made that up but it does serve to illustrate the choice that is out there.But I think Apple has missed this boat, they lead the way in portable music but many of its users have grown up, moved up and are better educated in music and we now want higher quality music. I myself have moved away from iPhone, gone Android and I play lossless music anywhere and everywhere on better headphones than ever before that are comfortable and affordable (sort of…) on a device that is half the price with twice the storage.
So if you’re not sure where to go, browse through this short taster of Apple v Tidal, v Spotify, it is all about Price, Quality and Choice.
First up must be price, the combination of price, choice and steaming quality will inform us on value for money. What you must do before you embark on this streaming journey is ask yourself how much music do you listen to, and where? Most of the platforms highlighted have a free trial period so you could probably get a years’ worth of streaming free anyway if you flick around these platforms.
Apple will be free for three months starting June 30th so go there and play with it. There after Apple Music will be £10 per month or £15 for a family pass of up to six people.
Tidal is £19.99/month for the premium service that is lossless and ad free, they offer a rather measly 7 day free
trial. Spotify is £9.99/month or free with limited catalogue and ads. There is a free 30 day trial for Spotify (it goes quickly mind you).
In this space, you get what you pay for. CD quality or lossless services cost more, Qobuz is another CD quality service at around £20/month and Deezer offer the same product, but only in conjunction with the Sonos product, at
£10/month. They do, in fairness, have a 30 day free trial.
Qobuz is quite an interesting proposition in that they do offer annual subscriptions that provide a nice discount on the monthly fee and they have different subscription plans for different genre of music; classical music, for example is £15/month.
What about song choice and the catalogue available. Spotify claim to have 30 million tracks available and are adding 20,000 tracks a day, Tidal claim to have the same, 30 million, up from the 25 million seen earlier in the
year. These tracks are claimed to be CD quality. Apple Music will claim to have 30 million songs too, next week. In addition there is much play on the availability of the service to new artists, we’ll see how that goes.
Interestingly Deezer claim to have 35 million songs, which is quite a hike in the catalogue size. Qobuz claim 28
million minimum 320kbps tracks on their site.
Of interest here maybe the catalogues of various artists here, for example Taylor Swift is not on Spotify, a big downer in this household, but she has her back catalogue on Tidal (not 1989 though, another downer). Led Zeppelin, however is everywhere, usually remastered and blisteringly clear which is great. This maybe another good reason to have a free play to make sure your favourite music or artist is on your chosen platform.
And so the key question, for some, quality. Remember CD quality is 16 bit and 44.1kHz sampling which equates to 1411 kilobitspersecond (kbps). OK music quality (on a bus with awful Apple earbuds) is minimum 128kbps, good quality digital music is generally 256kbpsand above. Hi Resolution is generally quoted as being 24 bit and 192kHz sampling (upto 9216kbps, [2channels x 24bits x 196000 samplespersecond / 1000]). There are many ways of encoding this data; high resolution means a larger file usually, so AAC, FLAC and ALAC and Ogg Vorbis are commonly referred to as file codecs. We all know, of course, the sound quality is only as good as the source, in same way that good music is only as good as the artist!
Spotify assert the majority of their catalogue is 320kbps in an Ogg vorbis file codec. This is a pretty good quality file format and usually sounds OK (in my experience). However, Tidal is CD quality, if you have the right equipment and ear for it, it does sound better than Spotify; you pay for it though. Qobuz offer CD quality too. Qobuz offer 24 bit hi resolution downloads too on their platform too which is interesting.
Apple is expected to be 256kbps AAC although this is not confirmed officially anywhere I have looked. Indeed they have recently listed a hi resolution file as a new release download on iTunes which is very good news for some. Some people will assert that 256kbps AAC presents a better sound than 320kbps format used by Spotify. Also the Apple file codec is a smaller data file which means your mobile or broadband data plan is not put under pressure by
the larger files associated with higher quality music files.
Unique Selling Points of each Service
Tidal’s wide ranging CD quality offering is clearly the USP for them. Most of these platforms offer curated services, artist playlists and other mood playlists which always work well. Exclusive session recordings are also a neat feature that I have enjoyed greatly. I have found the Tidal curated content to be superior to that in Spotify generally having had both for over 8 months. I suppose another USP of Tidal is the recent interaction of Jay-Z, et. al, if you’re a hip-hop dude?
Spotify’s USP is probably its accessibility on multiple platforms, phones, stereo systems and the like. It really is a simple platform to operate and stay in touch with. I’m imagining that their experience in this platform and early years of experience has benefited the platform. Another feature I really like on Spotify is the plug-ins, particularly the Pitchfork plug-in which allows me to listen to new music often and to stay ‘current’.
I will say that most of the platforms, and I’ve used many of them, are very accessible and user friendly, building on
the market leader, Spotify.
I am guessing the Apple Music USP will be its legion of Apple fanatics who are not dialled into streaming as yet. The family package makes sense here, kids putting pressure on adults in the household to support their love of music. Beats 1radio, the new radio station from Apple will attract many new users I’m sure.
What is everyone doing out there when it comes to streaming; we all like to back the right horse right? My latest numbers are 20 million subscribers for Spotify with 75 million interactions, free listens(?), in the last month
(Wow!). Deezer has 6 million subscribers and 16 million interactions. Tidal has had quite a slow uptake but it was near 500,000 in March after just a few months live and must surely have received a boost after the Jay-Z take
over. Or not as the case may be!
Platforms and Control
THE joy of streaming is in its convenience; wander into the kitchen a put some music on from your phone, that kind ofthing. I have used streaming services frequently in the last year and I do like it a lot. I do, however, buy the CD because I need/want to rip it at a higher levels than most streaming services allow, Tidal is changing this for me strongly.
Most of the services are available on Windows/MAC with some, like Qobuz and Spotify, offering a downloaded player for the computer. Tidal uses a web player which is fine except you do need to use Chrome for the CD quality service, not a big deal if you’re not familiar with it; I use Chrome exclusively for Tidal with it as the home page.
I note that the free Apple Music period is iOS mainly and will not be available for Android until the autumn. Apple Music will arrive on Apple TV in the Autumn too.
Many of the services have compatibility with hardware and other hi-fi stereo equipment, for example Spotify has
compatibility with Bluesound, Bose, Pioneer, Sonos, Naim, and many more. Tidal similarly has high levels of
compatibility with hardware like Anthem, Linn, Bluesound, Denon HEOS, Sonos and many more. I’m sure the other services are similarly embedded but there is such a lot here, I’ll have to come back to it another day.
Sadly there is no link to ChickenListen! I’m working on it.
My main sources and figures for this article were: deezer.com/company/press, Jun ‘15 my own Spotify subscription press.spotify.com, Jun ’15, napthineporter.com & the Tidal site, May ’15 and Qobuz.