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Three months with Tidal: what I like, what I don’t, and problems

At the end of January, I switched from Spotify to Tidal for my music streaming. It’s been a bit of a disruption to my listening habits. Some things I’ve adapted to, but overall I’d say the interface is harder to use than Spotify. It’s definitely more challenging to make playlists. I haven’t gone back, but definitely think Tidal needs work if it wants users who want to make their own playlists.

I’m probably an outlier in playlists, having several hundred going back more than ten years, so what’s an issue for me may not be an issue for others 🤷‍♀️ For a “power user” Tidal is not pulling its weight — which seems weird because with their focus on music quality I’d guess they’re going for audiophiles who are going to listen to a lot of music? Sigh, probably another of those design-for-the-lowest-common-denominator-screw-power-users that generalized software falls into (yes I’m still mad about the ribbon).

There are a few things I like about Tidal better than Spotify:

  • It’s easier to access the play queue and adjust that on the fly
  • It’s easy to see the credits on any song
  • They show “credits” for songwriting etc which can make it easier to find covers of artists you like
  • I like the home screen / discovery suggestions better than Spotify’s
  • The personalized mixes seem pretty good and you get 8 versus 6 on Spotify (though I’m lol-ing that one of my mixes is classical? I listened to the whole Max Richter Four Seasons Recomposed so that probably skewed its perception of my overall habits, or maybe it wants to differentiate )
  • On desktop, when you’re adding a song to an existing playlist by right clicking, it shows a handful of recent playlists but also lets you search 👍👍👍

Some Tidal problems:

  • It has severe connectivity problems. I live in a major metropolitan area yet somehow have not great internet a lot of the time. Tidal’s buffer length must not be long enough because it’ll start playing a song, then stop at ten seconds and buffer for for-ev-er before playing the rest of the song and freezing on the next song again 😠 (The internet fix I found for mobile which has worked intermittently is clearing the cache for the Tidal app.)
  • The transition time between songs can feel long (I mean, in the scheme of internet long), and you can’t hit pause while it’s transitioning — so for someone like me who’s like, oh I’ll just finish this song then stop the music and go to bed you have to either catch the last song at the last second or wait for the new song to load and pause it hopefully before it plays too much
  • The slight pause between songs can also disrupt the music experience when you’re listening to a whole album
  • The program seems to go nonresponsive way more often than Spotify did, or be very slow to respond, especially when switching windows back to it
  • Dragging songs to move them doesn’t work above “the fold,” so if you have a long playlist and want to move a song from the bottom to the top you have to do it in multiple steps

Minor complaints:

  • No album art view on playlists so it’s harder for visual folks like me (to be fair IIRC this was added to Spotify relatively recently?)
  • When it starts auto-playing recommendations, it bases them on the last song played rather than the whole playlist
  • Daily discovery playlist is kinda short — and I prefer a weekly discover list to a daily one — my process on Spotify was to listen to the playlist at the start of the week, block any obnoxious tracks, then give it another try a few days later to see if there were any gems I should save

Some differences I’ve encountered that make Tidal harder to use than Spotify:

  • It’s way too easy to accidentally start playing something you just wanted to add to a playlist or look at to queue up — and then it’s kinda hard to get back to what you were playing
  • Folders of playlists can’t be manually organized or nested, but sorted by three options, one of which (created date) is essentially worthless to me since I ported all my playlists over on the same day — and even worse, because the program ported in my Spotify playlists from top to bottom, my oldest playlists were created most recently on Tidal so my 2003 playlists are hangin out at the top 🤦‍♀️
  • On mobile, when you try to add a song to an existing playlist, there’s no way to sort or filter the playlists and they aren’t organized into folders so if you’re like me you have to scroll through hundreds of playlists and find the one you’re looking for 😥 (My cruddy workaround was to make a playlist called “new from phone” that I manually transfer to my “2022 new music” playlist on desktop.)
  • It locks in play order when you start the song, and if you move songs around in the playlist while it’s playing, it won’t reflect that move — this makes it super hard to make playlists because I listen to the last 20 seconds of a song five or ten times in a row to hear how it segues into the next track, sometimes making adjustments at the last second — so now I have to manually start the next song I want to try
  • Recommendations for a song/playlist appear to stay the same once they’re generated, so if you finish out a playlist a lot you’re going to hear the same recs a lot so hope you like them 😉

Not Tidal’s fault probably but annoying:

  • Last.fm couldn’t scrobble from Tidal on my phone, so I had to install a third party app (Pano Scrobbler) to get those listens
  • I don’t think all of my favorite songs ported in 🤔
  • When my playlists ported in, some songs were matched weirdly — like several Smashing Pumpkins songs on playlists were subbed in by karaoke covers even though Tidal has their catalog, the Knife pulled in live tracks instead of album versions, and some songs (Air Sexy Boy IIRC?) it matched the song title to the artist name instead so those have been some surprise wtf-is-playing moments

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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