Updated

Tidal unveils a free music streaming tier while adding a cheaper hi-fi option

Besides its new free tier, Tidal now offers two hi-fi plans: CD-quality for $10 a month, and hi-res for $20 a month.

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Apple and Amazon threw down the gauntlet last May when they began offering lossless and high-resolution music streaming at the same price as their former lossy-only tiers. Six months later, Tidal is finally responding by launching a free tier and a new, less pricey hi-fi subscription.

The new Tidal Free tier offers access to 80 million music tracks and “expert curated” playlists. but with music streamed at a mere 160 kbps, the sound quality is a far cry from what paid Tidal subscribers have come to expect.

There will also be “limited” interruptions in the music for free users, but it’s not clear what those breaks will entail. The Tidal pricing page says there are “limited ad interruptions,” but a Tidal rep told TechHive that the breaks are not for ads but rather “Tidal-led interruptions” intended to “educate consumers on the music industry.” As far as the length and frequency of the interruptions go, Tidal "is implementing intermittent interruptions in line with similar existing offerings in the market of this type, in accordance with their licensing arrangements," the Tidal rep said.

Meanwhile, Tidal HiFi removes the "Tidal-led" interruptions, while adding offline listening, unlimited skips, Tidal Connect (for streaming music to supported speakers and devices), and access to roughly 350,000 videos. HiFi also ups the streaming quality to about 1,411 kbps, which is what you’d expect from lossless FLAC files containing 16-bit/44.1kHz audio tracks, or essentially CD-quality (but not high-resolution) tunes. Tidal HiFi costs $9.99 a month, the same as what Apple and Amazon charge for their individual plans (which include lossless, high-resolution, and spatial-audio tracks).

Finally, the $19.99-a-month Tidal HiFi Plus plan includes all of Tidal HiFi’s features plus high-resolution MQA (or Master Quality Authenticated) tracks that go all the way up to 24-bit/192kHz and spatial audio support, including Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio.

Why pony up $20 a month for Tidal’s HiFi Plus plan when Apple and Amazon are offering roughly the same high-resolution and spatial audio features for just $10 a month?

Well, Tidal is offering a few other benefits for its HiFi Plus members, including payouts of up to 10 percent of your subscription to your most-streamed artists, while “fan-centered” royalties will be coming next year. You’ll also be able to track how your streaming habits “impact” your favorite artists.

Tidal’s changes to its streaming plans highlight how Apple and Amazon scrambled the high-resolution streaming market by serving up lossless and high-res tunes to its paid individual subscribers for no extra fee.

Traditionally, music streamers have had to pay $15 or more for access to lossless and high-resolution tunes, versus the $10/month that the likes of Amazon and Apple used to charge for its lossy individual tiers.

But now that Amazon and Apple include lossless and high-res music in their $10-a-month music streaming plans, competing music streamers that offer pricier hi-fi and hi-res tiers have been struggling to respond.

Qobuz, another high-resolution music streamer, recently lowered its Qobuz Studio plan from $15 a month to $13/month, while Deezer continues to charge $15 a month for its CD-quality streaming tier.

Of course, the elephant in the room is Spotify, which announced a Spotify Hi-Fi plan way back in February but has yet to roll it out or unveil pricing details. Will Spotify’s Hi-Fi tier cost the same amount as its $10/month individual plan, which for now only offers lossy streaming? We’ll have to wait and see.

Updated shortly after publication with more details from Tidal about the "limited" interruptions in its new Free tier.

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