The basic premise of Spotify and Tidal is the same. Both allow you to stream music, create playlists, download songs for offline listening, and discover new tracks based on your personal taste, among other things. However, there are loads of big and small differences between the two services.
Read more: Best music streaming apps
To help you decide which streaming service comes out on top in the Tidal vs Spotify battle, we’ve rounded up all the major differences between them. These include everything from audio quality and pricing to music discovery and social features. Let’s dive in.
Tidal vs Spotify: Music discovery
When it comes to finding new tracks to listen to, both streaming services do a great job. You can browse music by genres (dance, country…), moods and activities (party, relax…), and use the radio feature to discover songs and artists that are similar to the ones you’re into. Both are also good at suggesting brand new tracks based on your personal taste.
The two services are similar when it comes to music discovery, but not the same. Spotify has the popular Discover Weekly feature, which is basically a curated playlist containing the songs from artists and genres you’re listening to. You get a new one every Monday that contains 30 tracks. Additionally, the service also creates up to six daily mixes for you based on your listening habits.
Tidal Rising connects you with up-and-coming artists from around the world.
Tidal, on the other hand, doesn’t have a weekly playlist. But it does offer up to eight playlists, each of which revolves around a specific genre you’re into. The service also has a feature called Tidal Rising that shows you the tracks and albums from up-and-coming artists from around the world. Then there’s the “Top” feature that gives you access to Billboard’s top songs by genre and a selection of the best tracks, albums, as well as songs of the last decade.
Again, both Spotify and Tidal do a great job at music discovery. However, I think Spotify does it a bit better. The main reason is that it offers a lot more playlists for more or less every genre out there. Even though Tidal is very hip-hop heavy (the service is owned by Jay-Z), it has just 32 hip-hop playlists, while Spotify has 54 of them. Spotify also has way more top charts available that list the best songs by country.
So the Swedish streaming giant wins this round, although the difference between the two isn’t massive. I’m a Tidal user and am happy with the music discovery features that are available, although I’d love to see a feature similar to Spotify’s Discover Weekly as well as more playlists.
Tidal vs Spotify: Content
Tidal has a leg up on Spotify when it comes to library size. It boasts over 60 million tracks, which is 10 million more than its biggest competitor. However, quantity isn’t everything. It’s the quality that counts, which is where the two are neck and neck in my experience. All of my favorite songs and artists are available on both platforms.
Tidal does a better job when it comes to exclusives, though. Thanks to Jay-Z’s connections and influence, a lot of famous artists like Beyonce and Rihanna released their albums/songs on Tidal first, before publishing them on competing services months down the line.
However, the main difference in content you have to be aware of is that Spotify is great for podcasts, while Tidal is great for videos. You’ll find over a million podcast titles on Spotify. Popular or niche, there’s a good chance the podcasts you’re into are on Spotify. This is great news, as you don’t need a separate app for podcasts.
In fact, Spotify is actively buying the rights to certain podcasts and making them exclusive for the service. That includes the highly popular The Joe Rogan Experience, which the company reportedly paid $100 million for the rights. Other exclusive podcasts include the one hosted by the former First Lady Michelle Obama, among others.
Tidal also offers podcasts, but its selection is small to say the least. There are less than 20 of them available, and a lot of them are very hip-hop centric. You won’t find popular podcasts like This American Life on Tidal.
What you will find are a bunch of videos — more than 250,000 of them. And they are front and center, thanks to the “Videos” option in the main navigational tab. The selection of content includes music videos, live performances, and various music-related movies and documentaries — a lot of which are exclusive to the service. You also get access to your very own Video mixes (up to eight of them) that list the songs/music videos you’re into.
Spotify also has videos, but they don’t play as significant a role as with Tidal. There’s no dedicated section for videos, for example. You can come across videos when searching for an artist or song, and that’s about it. I wasn’t able to dig up exactly how many videos are available on Spotify, which likely means there aren’t too many of them. If there were, Spotify would promote them a lot more.
Tidal vs Spotify: Sound quality
Sound quality is where Tidal has Spotify beat. The streaming service offers four audio settings: Normal, High, HiFi, and Master. Normal is designed to reduce data usage and comes in handy with those on a cellular network with a limited data plan. The High setting strikes a nice balance between audio quality and data usage by streaming at 320kbps over AAC.
Then there are HiFi and Master, both of which are part of Tidal’s most expensive plan — more on this in the next section. HiFi recordings are CD-quality lossless FLAC files, which means you’re benefiting from 44.1kHz/16bit audio files. Recently, the company added Tidal Connect, a feature that lets users cast HiFi recordings to connected devices. Some of the companies that offer supported connected devices include Bluesound, Cambridge Audio, DALI, KEF, iFi audio, Lyngdorf, Monitor, NAD, and Naim Audio.
Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), on the other hand, promises high-resolution (96kHz/24bit) audio delivered via FLAC or WAV file. Any media labeled as MQA under Tidal means that it was directly authenticated by the artist. Recently, the service added millions of MQA tracks from publisher Warner Music Group. But keep in mind that not all songs are available in this quality. Also, you’ll need high-quality headphones to take advantage of the HiFi and MQA settings — the cheap earbuds that shipped with your phone won’t do the job. Tidal Connect also supports casting of MQA recordings, as well as Dolby Atmos.
Spotify tops out at 320kbps.
Spotify offers five audio settings: Automatic, Low, Normal, High, and Premium. Audio quality tops out at approximately 320kbps (Premium setting), which is the same as Tidal’s High mode. Spotify doesn’t offer lossless streaming like Tidal, so it’s not the best choice for audiophiles.
Tidal wins this one hands down, but if you’re not a hardcore audiophile, you’ll be happy with streaming at 320kbps on Spotify. It sounds great and you don’t need expensive headphones to take advantage of the quality.
Tidal vs Spotify: Plans and pricing
First things first: you can use Spotify for free. Yes, the streaming giant has a free plan available that’s supported by ads, but there are many limitations in place. You can only play music in shuffle mode and can skip tracks up to six times per hour. You also can’t download music for offline listening.
If you’re serious about your music, the free plan won’t cut it. You’ll have to upgrade to a premium plan, which will set you back $9.99 per month, or $4.99 if you’re a student. There’s also a family plan available for $14.99 that allows for up to six accounts. Additionally, Spotify has a Premium Duo plan on offer aimed at couples, but that’s available in a limited number of markets for now — the US is not one of them.
Tidal doesn’t have a free plan. To use it, you’ll have to pay up. Its pricing strategy is similar to Spotify’s, but to a point. A basic subscription costs $9.99 per month, while a family plan for six accounts goes for $14.99 per month. Students also get a discount, with a monthly subscription costing them $4.99 per month. So, no differences here.
However, Tidal also has a HiFi plan that offers higher quality streaming — check the previous section for details — and costs around double. So, the basic subscription comes in at $19.99 per month, a family plan goes for $29.99 per month, while students have to pay $9.99 per month.
Additionally, Tidal also offers a discount to those who are or have served in the US military, which Spotify does not. A basic subscription goes for $5.99, while the HiFi plan is priced at $11.99 per month.
If you’re a military man or woman, Tidal is the best option for you, if price is the only factor. Otherwise, the two services cost exactly the same. If you want higher quality audio streaming, you’ll have to go with Tidal, but be prepared to pay double.
Tidal vs Spotify: Social features
Spotify is a lot more social than Tidal. You can check out exactly what your friends are listening to, which is a great way to discover new music. You can also share your favorite songs on social networks including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Another great social feature that I like is the ability to see how many monthly listeners a certain artist has. This can be used for comparison purposes, allowing you to figure out which ones are the most popular among Spotify users. You can also see how many followers playlists have, which helps decide which one to try out.
Tidal, on the other hand, allows you to share the song you love on social media. That’s more or less it. There are no other social features available. You can’t see what your friends are listening to or how popular certain artists and playlists are. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your preference, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
Tidal vs Spotify: Other differences
There are a bunch of other smaller differences between the two services — each one has a few features you won’t find on the other.
For example, Spotify has a sleep timer available that will stop playing music after a specified amount of time. This will make sure the music won’t play all night long while you’re sleeping. It also has a Crossfade feature that lets you create a seamless transition between songs, and gapless mode, which tries to eliminate the pause after one song ends and a new one starts.
Spotify also works with Google Maps and Waze — Tidal only supports Waze. This means that while you’re navigating, you can play, pause, or skip tracks without leaving the app. The last thing worth mentioning is that Spotify also lets you play local files that are on your device, which its competitor does not.
On the other hand, Tidal has better Credits pages for songs — they show more detailed info. The service also pays artists a lot more than Spotify, although not everyone cares about this.
Tidal has a better UI but falls behind Spotify when it comes to search capabilities.
Tidal’s user interface (UI) is arguably better. It looks nicer and is easier to navigate. It has a dark mode by default that looks striking, especially paired with the contrasting blue accents. Then there’s Tidal X, which connects people with their favorite artists via live-streamed concerts and other events. The service even let users get first dibs on tickets to certain music concerts and sporting events, although in this current pandemic, that feature is somewhat moot.
Another difference worth highlighting is the search capabilities. Here’s where Spotify is the clear winner. If you misspell the name of an artist or song (example: Avvici instead of Avicii), the app is smart enough to know what you’re looking for and will show you the relevant results. Tidal, on the other hand, will show you a few unrelated search results or nothing at all.
In terms of app support, Spotify wins hands down. In addition to its mobile apps for iOS and Android, you can get Spotify apps for a ton of other devices. That includes game consoles, including the recently launched Xbox Series X and Playstation 5. You will also find Spotify apps for a ton of smartwatches and fitness wearables. Tidal’s app support is more limited with no game consoles, and only one app for a smartwatch, the Samsung Gear.
And let’s not forget about availability. Spotify is currently available in 92 countries, while Tidal does business in 56 countries.
Tidal vs Spotify: Which one is right for you?
There’s no clear winner here — both Tidal and Spotify are fantastic music streaming services. Which one is best depends on the extra features that bring more value to you.
Spotify has a free plan, offers more playlists, is slightly better at music discovery, and is packed with social features. It also gives you access to loads of podcasts and comes with several great features including Google Maps integration and crossfade. App support is also more extensive. If all or just some of these things are important to you, Spotify is the way to go.
You can't go wrong with either one.
Tidal, on the other hand, gives you access to a ton of videos ranging from live performances to music videos. It also has better sound quality — if you’re willing to pay for it — offers a discount for those in the military, and sports a better UI. And let’s not forget about great features like Tidal X and Tidal Rising. If you find more value in these features than the ones offered by Spotify, Tidal is the way to go.
If you’re still undecided regarding which one is the better fit for you, take advantage of the free trials the services offer. Hands-on experience will help you make your purchase decision. Tidal currently offers a 30-day free trial, while Spotify is even more generous with its three-month free trial.
These are the main differences between Spotify and Tidal, although there are a few other smaller ones as well. If we’ve overlooked any major ones, feel free to let us know in the comments.