Music Technology

Review of Tidal after a year: hot garbage

In early 2022, I migrated from Spotify to Tidal for my streaming music service. I’ve given Tidal a full year trial, and I’ve had enough. Tidal is garbage music software, and I would not recommend it to anyone.

I’m not going to rehash all the problems I called out after three months of use (tl;dr it’s terrible for making playlists and it’s hard to manage your music library). Here, I’m focused on how non-functional Tidal is as music listening software and subscription service.

Soundtrack for this review

Here’s some weird discordant music that reflects how I feel about Tidal, except that I actually like these songs while recognizing they are acquired taste, and Tidal is Not.

“Eight year beta”

Tidal’s been out since 2014 apparently, but it barely offers beta level stability. I expect more from a service I’m paying $130 a year for. I’m convinced there’s a team of one and a half staff responsible for keeping the software running. (I’m sure those staff people are great but they really need some more support.)

Constant glitching

Tidal is buggy as hell. Just now, I stopped listening on my phone downstairs and closed Tidal; I walked upstairs, opened my desktop, and tried to play a new playlist. It refused three times, telling me that it had paused playback because I was listening on Desktop. No shit Sherlock! That’s what I’m trying to do! I had to restart the program for it to recognize that my phone was no longer playing music, and it could in fact allow me to listen on my desktop.

[Editor note: eight songs into the playlist, it “encountered a connectivity error” and stopped playback. These errors happen constantly, and it doesn’t restart when the connection is fixed; you have to manually restart it. Obnoxious when you’re, say, listening to music while cooking and have dirty hands. Today, I manually restarted the song twice, but it kept glitching. No prob, let me just restart Tidal again, that’s normal to need to reboot software every half hour right? 🙄🙄🙄]

It glitches so often I downgraded my listening quality from “HiFi” to “High” even on desktop so it can handle consistently playing music over my (hardwired not wireless) internet connection. Who knows whether that helped or not lol

Pathetic session control

Listening to music on Tidal is a constant series of frustrations like this. Hope you don’t want to use it on two devices (not at the same time, mind you, just two at all).

Aside from trouble recognizing switches in playback between desktop and mobile, it also has terrible syncing of playlists. If you add songs to a playlist on mobile, your odds seem to be 50/50 that’ll be reflected when you open it on desktop. If you then try to add songs to the same playlist on desktop, it’ll suddenly realize it’s got a sync problem and erase all the changes you’ve made. Hope you notice that little popup before it goes away, because I didn’t! I feel like I’ve even encountered this solely on desktop, not even alternating between desktop and phone, but I’m not going to try recreating the issue to get more pissed off 😉

If you pause your music, leave for a while, and try to resume the song when you get back, it restarts the song from the beginning instead of where you left off. That’s annoying, but an improvement from what it used to do: give you the spinning wheel of death before erroring out.

Poorly executed features

I presume desperate to compete with social features on other music programs, Tidal recently released a new mobile feature: live sessions. There’s no information, but I surmise that I can hit “live” while listening and anyone can listen along. The mobile app homepage lists a handful of ongoing live sessions, with no details about what type of music they’re playing, or how they were chosen to be displayed. Are these live sessions it thinks I’d like to listen to — people with similar listening habits? Are they nearby geographically?

Or… is this everybody? Are there literally only 12 people streaming their listening session live on Tidal in the whole world? 🤨 [Sorry, they’ve improved it since last week, now there’s a “view all” button so you can see all *59* live sessions lol *sparkle fingers* (Or maybe there were only 12 when I looked then 🤔)]

As a social feature, it’s barely executed. There’s no search ability for other users, though if you click into someone’s stream, you can go to their profile and follow them, whatever that means. You can’t see what’s up next or what they played last, just what’s currently playing.

Shitty library management

There’s no reconciliation for duplicate artists with the same name. One of my favorite bands, Islands, is on permanent hiatus. An album from another band called Islands appears on their artist page 🤷‍♀️ There are also a number of questionable credits that make me suspect a third band called Islands 😂

Just enough of their library turns over regularly that a substantial number of my playlists — imported in January 2022, a mere fifteen months ago — have broken links to songs that they used to license, but no longer do. (In the past, Tidal would stop playing if it hit a dead track and give an error message, but at least now it jumps to the next song. Maybe one of those one and a half technical staff actually uses this software occasionally and notices obnoxious bugs.)

Except often Tidal does have that song if you search for it, which looks identical but apparently is not, and their database is incapable of cross-referencing song versions for playlists. (I’m not talking an EP version of the song, which would be understandable, I’m talking literally the exact same song from the exact same album but somehow it’s Different.) So you need to manually update your playlists all the time if you actually want to hear all the songs on it. I guess that’s better than not having the song at all? But FFS Tidal I’m paying you to license music, please manage your catalog.

Summary: Tidal fucking sucks

Don’t waste your time or frustration; don’t bother subscribing to Tidal. I’m not going to tell you anything that’s good about Tidal because the software is incapable of actually playing music. It does seem to gradually be addressing some of its literal numerous failures to play music; maybe in five years they’ll have ironed out the technical problems and it’ll be ready for a public release 🙄

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

7 replies on “Review of Tidal after a year: hot garbage”

@leonp I agree with this assessment. The problem is, Tidal is by far the best sounding streaming service available. I don’t subscribe to Tidal anymore because I no longer care to subscribe to two different services, but for a long time, I did simply because the sound quality of Tidal is so good. The software, on the other hand, is everything this author describes.

For the record, Amazon Music also sounds very, very good (especially its Atmos implementation) but its software is also dreadful.

@gdp I guess the promise of better sound does matter, but perhaps not enough. cf Neil Young and Pono. Does it sound markedly better than, say, Spotify? Anyway, without good software, it’s a moot point.

@leonp Yes, it sounds markedly better than Spotify, which is the bottom spot of the sound quality list. I would think the difference is noticeable even by untrained ears. But wrestling with bad software is almost certainly not something listeners will do for very long when other services are good enough.

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