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TLDR: Tidal ‘HiFi’ is not lossless. It just streams the MQA version of tracks with some metadata removed to prevent most DACs from recognising it as MQA and limits streaming to 16 bit.
A while ago I posted a video which discussed how MQA was not lossless, and additionally, how there was actually no way to stream the lossless version of any track on TIDAL that was marked with the ‘MASTER’ label, even if you had all settings configured not to use MQA.
The issue was that depending on your settings, one of a few things happened:
– ‘MASTER’ quality setting – Track streamed in MQA. Tidal client or your DAC can do the unfolding depending on setup. MQA is not lossless.
– ‘HiFi’ quality setting – Track streamed in what was claimed to be ‘lossless’, but it was actually seemingly just the MQA version without any MQA flagging or metadata, so it would not be unfolded. And is also not lossless.
– ‘High/Normal’ – Track streamed in compressed format.
If you want some info on why MQA itself is not lossless and probably should be avoided, watch this video:
However, recently TIDAL has released a new pricing structure, and you can now opt to pay half as much as the MQA ‘Hifi plus’ tier and not have MQA.
You will have access to the ‘HiFi’ tier which TIDAL still claims is lossless.
I wanted to find out if along with this new pricing structure, TIDAL had put back lossless versions of tracks, or if it was still the same ‘hidden MQA’ versions.
To check this you can either rip the file from TIDAL (I will not mention any software as I do not condone piracy), or you can record the bit-perfect audio stream using a tool such as VB-Hifi cable and recording software such as Adobe Audition. Then compare the files using a tool such as DeltaWave.
So, let’s take a mainstream track, and compare the lossless version that is available on Qobuz, Deezer, and Amazon HD, to the version on TIDAL.
Starting with a track that is NOT marked as ‘master’, I used “Save me from myself” by Louis the Child.
Comparing the TIDAL version, and the Qobuz version using the DeltaWave software, we can see that they are bit for bit identical. No difference whatsoever.
Meaning for tracks WITHOUT the ‘MASTER’ tag, Tidal does deliver lossless files as long as the one provided by the artist/label was lossless in the first place.
But, what about tracks that DO have the master tag? As those were the ones that were troublesome in previous testing.
For these tests I used Louis the Child’s ‘We all have dreams’. I chose the version from the explicit-deluxe version of the album just in case the different album versions had different masters.
The very first thing to check is if ‘hifi’ serves 24 bit files for tracks that have a 24 bit master.
In Roon, logging into my Hifi Plus account and selecting the master tier meant that the track streamed in 24 bit, whereas on my ‘hifi’ account it streamed in 16 bit.
(This can also be verified by recording the digital output on a 24 bit virtual cable and checking if any of the last 8 bits have any content but it’s easier to show this way).
This is a bit concerning, as the track itself IS a 24 bit master, and on other services such as Qobuz or Amazon HD, it is in 24 bit.
This means that right off the bat we can say that the Tidal ‘hifi’ tier isn’t lossless for tracks which have a 24 bit source file. It seemingly restricts you to 16 bit.
Let’s check what happens on a track that was from a 16 bit master.
For this, I used ‘Adderall’ by Max Frost as the source file is 16 bit 44.1khz, it’s available in 16 bit on Qobuz and other services, and it is available in ‘MASTER’ quality on TIDAL.
There are a LOT of tracks on TIDAL that are available in MQA even though there was never a high-samplerate master in the first place.
Comparing the Qobuz version to the Tidal ‘Hifi’ version:
NOT a bitperfect match, and there is quite a bit less high-frequency noise on the Qobuz version as indicated by the pink regions. This is consistent with my previous testing on MQA files which showed that there is added noise in MQA versions of tracks.
However the Amazon HD, Deezer, and Qobuz versions all matched with eachother.
This result was the same for all other tracks I tested. In each case, other streaming services would match bitperfect, but Tidal would have a file that did not match and was not lossless.
This means that unfortunately as it was before, TIDAL does NOT stream lossless files for any track that carries the ‘MASTER’ badge, regardless of your settings or subscription tier. You can ONLY stream lossless on tracks which do not have an MQA version at all.
Additionally, we can see that there is still some MQA data present in the ‘HiFi’ version as Roon picks it up as an MQA version:
The ‘HiFi’ version is seemingly just the MQA version, but limited to 16 bit and with some (but seemingly not all) MQA flagging/metadata removed.
If you want to stream lossless, other services such as Qobuz and Amazon HD are better choices.
65 thoughts on “Tidal ‘HiFi’ is NOT lossless”
If only Qobuz and Amazon HD were available in Canada… Roon still does not support Amazon… too bad…
Amazon HD is available in Canada. I’ve used it for some time and I live in Montréal
Yeah, but it’s not lossless on Linux. Deezer is.
Amazon hd is in Canada my friend. As is apple. Lossless.
Qobuz just launched in Canada
Great review! I really appreciate someone like you taking the extra steps and showing us what we’re really getting out of those services.
I’ll be doing a video comparing the various options once spotify hifi is out. Unfortunately there is no one ‘best at everything’ option currently as they all have drawbacks. But I think it’d be a good video
I’m extremely excited about this, as I feel as though I notice audible differences in AMHD and Qobuz. My wallet wishes I didn’t.
Hope we don’t have to wait on Spotify HiFi much longer. It’s starting to feel like they’ve backed out.
Amazon Music HD is supported in Canada.
Can you explain how you’d “check if any of the last 8 bits have any content” with software?
If the last 8 bits are all 0, that means that there is no content there.
You can store 16 bit info in a 24 bit file by just making the last 8 bits all be 0.
Tools such as MediaInfo will tell you the true bit-depth of an audio file
I’ll have to check out MediaInfo. Will opening up an audio file in TexEdit or similar array the file in its 16 or 24 bits to show if the final bits are zero?
I for one am shocked…shocked I tell you…that a goldensound post has an MQA related theme.
There are 29 posts so far on this website, only one of which (this one) is MQA related.
I’ve made 32 videos so far, 2 of which are MQA related.
This is an excellent post and called for by the implementation of “changes” by Tidal. Top notch content, thanks to GS for keeping us in the know!
Grow up Goldensound. This is getting beyond pathetic.
Isn’t it more “pathetic” to go to the effort to log into a site to post a comment defense of large corporations when Golden is simply providing objective consumer information that’s unflattering to said corporations?
And why are you so sure this is all “objective”?
There’s no question of judgment here. You download two files, then compare to see if they are bit-identical.
I’ve used download tools to pull files from Tidal and Qobuz, then put them into DeltaWave and found exactly what Golden has found.
Downloading files from Tidal is restricted to HiFi not Master! You could check that, cause in this case you can not make comparisons!
You can record the bitstream/digital output of the player. Which is what I did
Prove to us your software can record true lossless if it heard it. I think you’re full of it. I think if you had a lossless file your recorder and software would record it as 24 or show the end zeros. You are showing no proof that you captured the file. Basically, you a clown!
You are incorrect Dan and Rusty. Besides recording the bitstream, there also are ways to pull files directly from the server with tools that can be found on GitHub. I’ve done it with Tidal and Qobuz, then run both tracks through DeltaWave. What Golden has found is correct.
Aside from MQA (and some UI issues), I like Tidal quite well. Best discovery options I’ve used over 10 different services.
But I am greatly disappointed in how they appear to deal with the ‘Hi Fi’ tier.
And I have to say that the obvious MQA shills and partisans mostly hurt their own position.
Thanks to those like Archimago and Goldensound willing to investigate these issues.
Found the placebophile
my thoughts exactly
I also find it very tiring
No it is not. I do not have many options for supposedly lossless content where I live, but want to know if I am being ripped or lied to, so should everyone as a consumer, so no, it is always an issue and they have to be called on that..
I have no specific knowledge regarding MQA or Tidal. Still I do know from my many years in business that it’s a common practice for companies to hire firms that specialize in discrediting, discouraging, and disparaging anyone who effectively exposes information they deem objectionable. At first, they might not have seen you coming, but it’s entirely possible that by now, they have a plan and team in place. At least this was my first reaction when I saw the last two reply’s that seem unusually snarky and out of place given your calm, objective, and remarkably restrained approach. Do NOT let this “noise” keep you from doing the important work of reminding decision makers that claims made that can be tested will be tested.
Some are professional disgracers. My thoughts go to those who paid the subscriptions, bought the expensive “origami rendering” gear only to learn that its BS. I would be in denial too..
Thanks a bunch. I used to use Amazon HD and it was a great value for the whole family, but the lack of Roon integration and the fact that it didn’t support and respond to my DAC made me move away to Apple Music for general streaming and Qobuz for integration with Roon and for serious listening.
I would love to see an analysis of apple music sometime, and their lossless tier. It sounds identical to Amazon HD to me, but a proper test would be very cool!
I have an RME dac and the complimenting Digicheck software shows true bitdepth. Tested some “hires” files ive bought. Supposedly 24 bit files are 16 bit audio plus 8 bits of nothing. This shit is nothing short of fraud. About fraud, Tidal has a history of it. Kanye, jay-z and Beyonce manipulating their streaming numbers, and now this MQA hassle. An applause to Goldenboy here who exposes it!!!
Kanye? JayZ? Beyonce? boy you need to be brought up to speed. They have sold the company. You din’t hear?
A corporate culture established by founders almost always persists long after they exit. Every M&A acquisitions professional and acquiring entity/investor understands this and a very big part of any acquisition strategy is to determine; do you want to change the culture and if you do, will you be able to (which most often the determination is that you can’t).
Tidal has a store where you can buy music, both in mp3 and flac (https://store.tidal.com)
I assume your tests/conclusions were against the streaming version of tidal, not the downloadstore?
Do you know if the flac versions of the download store are also affected
Even before Tidal introduced MQA, they have been using very lossy algorithms for their streaming service. It has always sounded completely inferior to Qobuz, and even also inferior to a normal cd. I knew friends who paid for Tidal’s so-called HD streaming, and they didn’t seem to hear how dry, lifeless, constrained the music sounded. Even when just switching to a cd, you could immediately hear how all the ambience and the lower end was gone in their streaming output. Tidal is for deaf people…
Placebo. You wouldn’t hear any difference in an ABX test. 24 bits is absolutely USELESS, except for recording audio. I agree that this issue is annoying since it’s not bit-perfect and lossless, but anyways the difference is probably not noticeable at all.
Thanks for this review. As someone interested in subscribing to Tidal, such information is neither pathetic nor tiring – I appreciate knowing what I’ll get for my money. It’s is unfortunate Tidal themselves do not provide this information but continue to mislead. Keep up the good work.
Same here, I really appreciate knowing what’s going on with a product I can barely afford.
MQA was bad, but don’t mess with my lossless!
I have unsubscribed from Tidal.
Thank you Goldensound.
Thanks for the work you are doing. Since Apple Music is sending AAC 256 over Airplay 2, Deezer via Chromecast is the only option for me for lossless audio in my country until spotify hifi is out.
Could you please post a comparison graph for Qobuz vs Deezer? I am asking because people on ASR showed that Deezer had less energy in high frequencies due to slower filter. Is this true?
Just to double check, did you end up logging in both HiFi and HiFi Plus for the Adderral track? In HiFi Plus, if you perform all the unfolding, do you then get back the 16 bit file found on Qobuz, Amazon, etc?
Appreciate the hardwork, just wondering what conclusion to draw.
Thanks for this Golden One. I have been running both Tidal and Qobuz subscriptions for a while, mainly because Tidal makes the most current music more accessible and the interface in Roon is better. I had hoped to drop to a hifi subscription to save a bit of money and still get lossless but seems this is not the case, which is disappointing, but at least I now know.
I’m wondering which is better? Spotify @ 320K lossy or Tidal “lossy”
Tidal bitrate is still higher, it’s still objectively better than Spotify lossy AAC (and not the Apple AAC). If Spotify starts to use ogg vorbis @320K, I’ll unsubscribe from Tidal. 99% of the time I wouldn’t hear the difference, but I don’t understand why Spotify doesn’t use Vorbis since it’s better than AAC. Tidal offers better features to me (go on the artist page directly from any track, artists bio, full credits informations about producers, etc.).
I use Cambridge Audios CXN V2 to stream Tidal and take the digital out to their MQA DacMagic 200M. If you use Cambridge’s own software, StreamMagic rather than Tidal Connect, you can see the file resolution. I can confirm that the MQA light comes on for some files which are showing as 44.1kHz/16bit. When streamed though Tidal Connect they show as HiFi not Master.
Correction. These files are showing as Master in Tidal Connect Just checked Tidals Candlelit Dinner playlist.
MQA is all about profit. Always keep in mind when discussing why Tidal is reacting so defensively when MQA is challenged, it’s not about differences in perceived music quality. That’s a red herring. It’s about lossless (compression) and the costs of providing a stream. One of the largest costs facing streaming companies, if not THE largest cost, is the bandwidth/streaming/hosting charges, which are significantly lower if your stream is compressed in any way to any degree (i.e., not lossless). MQA was always about improving music quality while maintaining lossless to save streaming costs. When streaming costs were paid by both the provider and consumer, this made some sense
MQA was developed right about the time it became apparent that the consumer was not going to continue to pay the higher costs of lossless. The market changed whereas the consumer was just going to pay a flat fee for enough bandwidth to not need (or save money via) stream compression (i.e, the music being lossy). If they’ll not saving any money by listening to lossy music, consumers would quickly no longer accept lossy music.
But if you were providing the stream, your cost would go up significantly to deliver lossless streams. This is why MQA was so quickly and widely adopted by Title and others, precisely because MQA was lossy. A compressed stream simply uses less bandwidth and reduces your AWS (or whatever) bill.
Tidal’s apparent answer to this tectonic shift in the market? Confuse weather MQA was lossless or not, and whether lossless even mattered with the MQA’s claim it’s reproduction quality equaled the Master recording (hence the MQ in the name MQA stands for Master Quality). Unfortunately for Tidal, and all that embraced MQA, the truth came out that MQA is not lossless and therefore could never equal the Master recording. This is why Golden Sound’s work is so impactful by clarifying what MQA is and is not.
IMO (and Apple, Amazon, Qobuz, etc.), the future belongs to lossless, and the streaming companies that embrace it and deliver it from a robust catalog at a competitive price. It’s basic math and physics… and economics… the longer Tidal clings to MQA, the further behind they will fall, which is too bad since they do have a great catalog and interface. They just need to change MQA around a bit to AQM (Actual Master Quality).
Correction: “MQA was always about improving music quality while maintaining *lossless” correct to “MQA was always about improving music quality while maintaining lossy”
Tidal hifi subscription equal/better than spotify premium (1411kbbs vs 320kbbs). Tidal hifi + (9216kbbs) What’s the fuzz? Personally i find 16bit 44khz cd better quality than spotify premium or Tidal hifi +. ( I haven’t heard dsd streaming).
I’ve been a Tidal subscriber for 3 years. I listen through to their HiFi Plus via Tidal Connect with my Cambridge CXN V2 and its internal DAC, no MQA unfold (into a Finale Audio F208B integrated and ZU DW II speakers. While it sounds pretty good, I agree that it doesn’t sound as detailed as my CDs played through the CXN’s DAC. I’ve briefly tried Apple Lossless and Amazon HD – frustrated by the UI enough that I never got into listening comparisons with Tidal. I would try Qobuz but I live in Canada so its not available – annoying. I’m thinking of getting an external MQA DAC, to see if that improves my Tidal experience. Interested in other’s thoughts. Thanks.
I have a CXN, it’ll shortly be for sale. The DAC in my Panasonic DP-UB9000 is noticeably better. I’ve upgraded to a Gustard R26 which is better again, if you’re evaluating MQA music I’d suggest you’re not going to hear the difference on your current equipment.
I’ve been a Tidal subscriber for 3 years. I listen to their HiFi Plus via Tidal Connect with my Cambridge CXN V2 and its internal DAC, no MQA unfold (into a Finale Audio F208B integrated and ZU DW II speakers). While it sounds pretty good, I agree that it doesn’t sound as detailed as my CDs played through the CXN’s DAC. I’ve briefly tried Apple Lossless and Amazon HD – frustrated by the UI enough that I never got into listening comparisons with Tidal. I would try Qobuz but I live in Canada so its not available – annoying. I’m thinking of getting an external MQA DAC, to see if that improves the Tidal sound. Interested in other’s thoughts. Thanks.
I found most redbook stuff I listend to got the mqa harassment and sounded awful.
I left, got Qobyz, Apple and lived happily ever after.
Occasionally some reaches out and says “hey Tudal CD teir is lossless dude. Check out this link.” The link is a screen shot of your article where you prove there is one lossless track. DOH!
The don’t bother to read your tldr section or the article.
I switched to Deezer, it’s a real lossless CD quality.
I used to love tidal for the great UX and UI, lyrics and song credits and how much it pays the artists and alleged audio quality but now I am really torn apart between wich streaming service to use.
I already knew about the bad business practices MQA had over copyrights and fees and exclusivity but knowing they LIE to the user about the audio quality got me really mad. I’m not paying twice as much for a streaming service that just upsamples 16 bit CD quality audio, I wanted actual high resolution 24 bit audio goddamnit, I record mix and master audio on 24 bit 48khz and I expect to listen to music on that same quality or higher so I can have a good reference, it’s not just audiofile preciousness, it is a professional matter for me.
I tried out Deezer, Apple Music, Qobuz, Amazon Music Unlimited, Youtube Music, Spotify and all of them have pros and cons I’l point out:
-Deezer gives real lossless and high-res lossless files streaming but it does not inform you the bitrate of what you’re listening to, it just says this is good quality and this is regular quality: I want to know what bitrate I’m being offered so I can set my DAC to that bitrate as well, so I ruled out deezer.
-Apple music is transparent about the bitrate it’s giving to you, it’s cheap (the cheapest I think), it gives you real lossless and high-res lossless files and has siri integration and the social media integration is great, but it has a lot of bugs and crashes often on desktop (even though I use a modern up-to-date M1 mac), with a LOT of audio skips and speed changes wich was a major turn off for me. The user interface for desktop really sucks also, it makes me feel like it’s 2008 and I’m using iTunes again, it really is not made for people who don’t listen to playlists and radio and algorithm generated playlists. It takes a lot of clicks to show the actual artists’ pages. And the desktop app is ugly AF. Also it doesn’t have integrated Last.fm scrobbling, I have to open the last.fm desktop app and update the scrobbles manually everytime, wich really sucks.
-Amazon Music Unlimited appeared to be the best alternative to me due to the transparency over the audio quality it’s giving to you, great user experience, really good looking user interface and lyrics access and info about the songs. The alexa integration is really good, both in english and portuguese, and the social media integration is OK too, BUT it does not scrobble on last.fm on desktop wich almost made me cry ‘cuz I thought I’d finally found the one. Last.fm integration is really important to me.
-Youtube music sucks donkey ass, google should just give up frankly…
-Spotify is complete garbage in all senses, bad UX, ugly UI, EVIL business practices, they milk every penny they can from artists and spotify’s owner is one the biggest arms dealer in the world, it really makes me disgusted to use it. And also because it is the industry standard, they don’t try to bring no new features, related to audio and UX and UI, they just focus on marketing and cool looking end of the year graphs. And don’t get me started on the audio quality… Screw Spotify.
-Qobuz is the absolute best over audio quality and transparency and the fact that it automatically sets your DAC to the bitrate of the song you are listening to is AWESOME. Complete catalogue and good, but not great, user experience and user interface. It does scrobble wich is great but it does not have Siri or Alexa integration and does not have social media features like posting what you’re listening to on instagram stories, for example, also I don’t know absolutely no one who uses it. I think it doesn’t have those nifty end of the year stats graphs that everyone loves on spotify wich would be cool to have. That lack of non audio-related features doesn’t really bug me out that much but the major problem with Qobuz is that it is the most expensive of all streaming services (at least in brazil) and it does not have student discount, wich is a major point for me.
So after spending over a month testing them all I decided to use Qobuz despise it being expensive. I love high-res lossless audio, on loudspeakers it really brings those psychoacustic effects both from the low and high frequencies, wich is really important to my experience, I love feeling my cranium vibrating with ultra high frequencies even though I can’t listen to them and I love feeling the bass on my stomach.
The moment Amazon Music Unlimited integrates Last.fm scrobbling on the desktop app I’ll migrate to it back.
That’s it. Abuse the free trials and actually test what’s better for you, don’t believe the marketing all the time.
Thank you so much Golden Sound Audio for shedding light on this topic, it really means a lot to a lot of people who can’t actually test MQA for not having MQA decoding DACs to know what’s going on and where your money is going to.
P.S.: If there’s any FREE software that monitors the bitrate/quality of the audio that’s coming out of an app I’d be really grateful to know it. Thanks in advance.
Long live .flac and open source stuff.