Editor's Note: TIDAL is Not For All

In a now much maligned press conference held Monday, hip-hop mogul and artist Jay Z (Sean Carter) along with a few of his famous colleagues, vaguely alluded to plans for his new company, Sweden-based TIDAL.

A high-fidelity music streaming service, TIDAL has been integrated into several custom integration-grade music distribution systems, including Sonos, Bluesound, Linn, and Meridian. Carter acquired Aspiro, TIDAL’s parent company, in early March for a reported $56.2 million, and of as Monday, is the only streaming service completely owned by musicians.

Tidal-Logo-400x266TIDAL, in addition to offering a library of 25 million tracks, 75,000 music videos, and “expert editorial from experienced music journalists”, has an unique value proposition in a sector that has been dominated by Spotify and other streaming music services with tiered paid structures: all of its music is CD quality—it streams lossless FLAC at 1411kbps, unlike Spotify and Google Play, both of whom only offer compressed MP3 formats.

For audiophiles, TIDAL is the ultimate sonic promise land, allowing them access to a vast library of music that sounds extraordinary on their high-end music and music distribution systems. And that is the point being missed in the hoopla of Alicia Keys’ nervous speech likening streaming music and its content to free water (what?)—the target audience isn’t former teen music pirates or music fans who want to financially support their favorite pop stars, but people who have a deep appreciation of quality sound delivery and playback—music fans who have already invested money into TIDAL subscriptions via their Sonos players or Meridian AV receivers. I

In the case of Jay Z and his awkward co-owners, pitching TIDAL the way they did on Monday not only confused pop culture critics, many of whom have no idea what TIDAL actually means to audiophiles, it might signal confusion among the owners themselves as to what they have in their hands and who exactly they should be marketing it to. With so much star power in one place to sell a product they see as a financial life raft for their own careers, perhaps the myopia can be forgiven. Let’s hope that they get around to understanding that the challenge isn’t so much getting people to invest in TIDAL as a service, but rather, getting them to understand what a difference a FLAC file can make.

Llanor Alleyne has reported on the custom integration market for more than 10 years and is the Editor of HiddenWires.