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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.