Project Panther, a business controlled by Jay-Z, purchased the the Scandinavian music streaming company Aspiro last week, starting a thousand rumors of a looming East Coast v. West Coast (well, Hova v. Dr. Dre) battle for online distribution. Rumors are rumors, but the news is significant for audiophiles because it means that clarity may be coming stateside. Tidal marries the convenience of cloud music—25 million tracks in this case—with CD-quality sound. Where Spotify, Rdio and others stream compressed files, which eliminate highs and lows for the sake of saving bandwidth, Tidal uses the lossless FLAC format (much like Neil Young's Pono) and delivers 16-bit, 44kHz quality to your computer or mobile device.
And what a difference: bass thumps deeper on songs like D'Angelo's "The Charade," and strings resonate with realism on Joshua Bell's enthusiast violin solos. While there's debate whether hi-res audio championed by Neil Young offers any discernible benefits, there's no doubt you can hear what's missing from compressed MP3s when you compare it with lossless CD quality.
Quality costs, of course. In this case it comes in the form of cash—$20 a month compared to $10 a month for most streaming services—and bandwidth. Tidal will quickly eat up a weak data plan. Better to stick to WiFi or saving the files locally. But in exchange for the premium, you get curated playlists to help you discover beautiful sounds, and you'll find most everything you want to listen to (though no Taylor Swift or Beatles). Still, it's a small price to pay to not shortchange your ears anymore. [$20 per month; tidalhifi.com]
Photos by Getty Images