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Why does Tidal sound better to my ears?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by SilverEars, Aug 3, 2019.
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  1. SilverEars
    I've been comparing different streaming softwares and Tidal always comes up at top in terms of what I consider the better sound quality.

    With Tidal, I also notice a difference when the software is in bit-perfect mode compared to running through the OS.

    Also, it's a sigificant difference in quality of what I hear on Youtube compared to Tidal. Youtube just sound less clear, and a bit hazy to my ears. Also, through Tidal the driver response seems much tighter as well.

    This has me wondering, is there any processing being done through Tidal I wonder. Didn't somebody post way back regarding an EQ being applied on Tidal? Can anybody link that post?
  2. Steve999
    YouTube video can process the signal in ways and under circumstances that are unknown to me, but I think it is fair to say that this is well known and makes audible differences.

    Youtube's for-pay music service (which is included as part of and cleverly integrated with the for-pay YouTube Premium video service) is encoded at 256 AAC so I think you'd be very hard-pressed to hear an actual difference between a YouTube Music Premium stream of a recording and the original lossless recording.

    As to what Tidal does with their audio signal, I have no idea, and I've heard too many stories of problems of search with Tidal for me to be interested in it.

    I've heard much better things about Qobuz in terms of user experience, and it also offers very high quality tiers (however I am not at all convinced that such super-high bitrate streaming services offer any audible benefits over Apple Music, for-pay Amazon Music, for-pay Spotiify, YouTube Music Premium, etc.).

    If you want to try to ABX an original lossless recording and a high quality lossy file of it, it is something you can do with a little effort in Windows. It's a good gateway into gaining insight into what are realistic claims of audible differences in audio.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
    Sonic Defender and pstickne like this.
  3. robert766
    I used to be a Tidal subscriber but then switched to Qobuz last year. I made the switch because I didn't like (the idea of) the MQA standard for high rest steaming. I have actually both Tidal and Qobuz at the moment and they're both fine.

    Depends on the recording I suppose. I like lossless streaming quality because it gives me some sort of peace of mind. I'm not going to spend thousands of dollars and then save 10 or 15 dollar a month on the quality of the music I'm listening to. 20 or 25 dollars a month is still ridiculously cheap too.
  4. castleofargh Contributor
    I remember the EQ cheat for their online listening test to "show" how tidal was different/better. but I don't remember reading about EQ on the actual stream(but I could have missed it).
    there is always the good old question of different masters, but otherwise you can try to record some songs and compare them to what you already have, or what is on youtube, by looking at a plot spectrum of each in Audacity. that would help show some EQ
    pstickne likes this.
  5. SilverEars
    Aww, ok. I thought it was Tidal EQing the stream. With any tracks, if I go from Youtube to Tidal, there's a large margin of difference. Looks like Youtube's bitrate is either 126 165 kbps, I'm not subscribed to any of it's premium services. Maybe that's what it is, but it would be interesting to know what happens if the bitrate went up.

    Speaking up just putting the bitrate up, I've tried every streaming service, even Qobuz. I've even used Qobuz on bit-perfect mode and compared, and oddly, Tidal sounded better. I don't know why, but Tidal just sounds clearer.

    Is it possible software can make a difference?

    This is the order of best sounding to the worst.

    1. Tidal
    2. Qobuz
    3. Apple Music and Spotify, can't tell really, and not sure if Qobuz is really better actually.
    4. Youtube, this is obviously the lowest quality for me.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
    pstickne likes this.
  6. bigshot
    Given the same mix and mastering, I bet they all sound pretty much the same. (except perhaps for YouTube which isn't really designed to be the same kind of thing).
    pstickne likes this.
  7. jagwap
    One or two of our engineers used to use Spotify for listening tests, and the default track or album found generally didn't sound nearly as good as the version I had. I strongly suspected that they offered the less dynamic/more recent version each time (see loudness wars). So when Tidal had a free trial I gave it a go and found they had in general better masters. No an exhaustive test, but I joined up and still like it.

    I also like that it is lossless or MQA rather than 320kb/s or less. I am not an MQA hater. For me I am undecided, and I am confident it is better than other streaming compressed services in terms of information theory.
    pstickne likes this.
  8. pstickne
    “Normal” YouTube quality is 128bps AAC.

    This is lower audio quality than any BT codec - even SBC with standard settings, and possibly on-par with the awful LDAC 330. Normal BT AAC is 250kbps, although quality can vary by BT transmitter* - so even red apples to green apples, “Normal” YouTube encoding quality is below-par for what is often considered ‘good enough’ quality.

    Apple Music is 256kbps AAC.

    YouTube Premium “High” quality is 256kbps AAC.

    I am skeptical of most people / equipment being able to ABX higher levels of well-encoded AAC. Can’t compare MQA to AAC directly on “higher is better” bit-rates because it’s a very different encoding. AAC is very efficient for human-consumed audio as it’s based on psychoacoustic models.

    Furthermore, there are also differences in final reconstruction between different encoding ‘errors’ - so the resulting PCM output will differ. If such can be noticed and/or which one is “better” is, more worms. Compare to DAC roll on/off filters; it’s too trivial to claim encoded bit-rate between different codecs.

    (*Non-BT AAC can also be generated “better” due to extensions and less resource constraints. Android devices are notoriously bad at encoding AAC.)
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
  9. SilverEars
    Being able to distinguish between streaming quality depends on equipment I believe. There was a time when there was a glitch on Tidal, and Tidal would change back streaming quality from Master setting (highest) to High (2nd lowest with 'normal' being the lowest bitrate), and I would listen for a short duration and notice something was off to the sound (sounding not as clear as it should sound), and I would check the streaming quality setting, and noticed Tidal would set it back on 'high' setting when the app would reset itself.

    I think with a certain quality of a transducer, and good precise sounding source, the difference will be noticeable. And there were few instances I have suspected the settings have changed, and it was.

    Lately, I've been listening to true wireless iems, and I've noticed that sound is not as clear as a wired iem driven properly with a strong amp. Sound is a bit loose, and lacks clarity, and with such hearing system, I would not be able tell the difference. So, if a quality transducer is being used, difference will be noticeable.

    What I also notice with listening to tracks on Youtube is that, it's similar to listening to a less quality transducer system that doesn't sound clear.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
  10. turbomustang84
    I have tidal and Deezer HIFI and being Deezer is CD quality and none of the files I've listened to on tidal has the MQA Codec there is not much of a difference .

    I did have Qobuz and their HD files sounded great but they were so limited on the bands I like it really was too expensive...

    So I'm going to keep both and decide at the end of the month which I will keep .
    TronII likes this.
  11. bigshot
    Well iTunes is AAC 256 VBR and Amazon is MP3 LAME 256 VBR. Those are both good enough to be audibly transparent on any equipment. I don't know about the others. I think a lot of the bitrate stuff is just sales pitch to appeal to people's OCD. That is a very effective sales tool for squeezing bucks out of audiophiles. They are willing to pay more for "peace of mind" that they can't hear.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2019
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  12. pstickne
    AAC 256 > MP3 256. Just saying :p
  13. bigshot
    In theory, but I bet you couldn't tell the difference between the two anyway. Fraunhofer MP3 CBR, perhaps. MP3 LAME VBR, no. I've been sharing a lossy test file with folks for a couple of years. At CBR, most people can't discern at 192. At 256 with LAME and AAC, it turns to random chance for everyone. Slap VBR on top of that, and you can be pretty sure it is audibly transparent for everyone.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2019
    pstickne likes this.
  14. gregorio
    It's not what processing Tidal are doing compared to YT but what they're not doing. If Tidal were streaming user "rips" and transcoding them to their format, I bet it would sound just as bad a YT!

  15. TronII
    I'd argue that Opus is the best
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