Tidal
March 31, 2015 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, Jay-Z's streaming music service Tidal was launched. The press event featured over a dozen celebrity musicians as signing "owners" of the service (each reportedly received 3% equity in exchange for exclusive content), and, by some accounts, was a bit awkward and content-free. At $19.99, the subscription plan is double the cost of competing services like Spotify, and no "freemium" plan is offered. The justification is two-fold: 1. Artists should be compensated fairly for streaming; and 2. The service's high-fidelity, lossless streaming is far superior to the current standard (320 kbps AAC, as Spotify and Rdio currently provide.) You can take an online blind test between 320 kbps AAC and Tidal's lossless streaming, to see if you have the "equipment and ears" for lossless music. Is there really a noticeable difference, or is this snake oil? Will the artist-forward approach change the conversation and ingrained habits of streaming music listeners? Is Tidal a sort of streaming for the 1% rather than for struggling independent musicians? Is it a walled garden for artists at the expense of fans? Or is this all simply a great vertical move for Jay-Z's Roc Nation label? So many questions.
posted by naju (90 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
My initial takeaway from this is mainly just how profoundly stupid the Deadmaus and Daft Punk masks look when they're being worn outside of their usual context.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:49 PM on March 31, 2015 [17 favorites]


Ahh the video has Kanye and Thomas Bangalter hugging
posted by hellojed at 2:51 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


They also have a $9.99 plan, just like everyone else. Not sure why the "OMG you have to pay $20" keeps driving the narrative in the media.

Also, I wonder what the contracts these artists have with their labels say about giving Tidal (or anyone else) exclusive content.
posted by sideshow at 2:52 PM on March 31, 2015 [5 favorites]


(The launch video is in the "Tidal" link, in case you get lost in my maze of links.)
posted by naju at 2:53 PM on March 31, 2015


I'm not sure I can justify the extra cost fire something that hasn't been proven to be an issue(streaming compensation woes) and something that can't really be heard easily(or at all)
posted by Twain Device at 2:53 PM on March 31, 2015


I'm waiting for Har Mar Superstar's verdict. He tends to be a no-BS kind of independent artist.
posted by jillithd at 2:56 PM on March 31, 2015 [5 favorites]


I just took the test on very good studio monitors and there was only one where I thought I could tell the difference. I guessed on all the others and only got one right (which was not the one where I thought I could hear the difference).
posted by jonathanhughes at 3:00 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I remember hearing about this, but not sure how it will work out now that Lucious is in jail. Here's hoping Cookie sees some of the cash from the deal, though; god knows she deserves it after all she's been through.
posted by koeselitz at 3:00 PM on March 31, 2015 [11 favorites]


I love the "do you have ears to tell just how high quality our streaming is compared to the rest of the rabble" sales technique.

WELL IF YOU'D JUST UPGRADE TO A BETTER SOUNDCARD AND GOLD-PLATED CONNECTORS YOU WOULD KNOW THE AUDIO BLISS OF TIDAL
posted by Existential Dread at 3:01 PM on March 31, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm happy to switch from Spotify if the service is good. The UX feels second-rate, however, which is a bummer. That feeling is emphasized by how similar to Spotify Tidal's interface is.
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:06 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


For most users it would be like watching a 4k video on a 1980 CRT TV.

Smart would be also bundling nice headphones with the service, the way cell carriers bundle phones.
posted by idiopath at 3:08 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you go with the $9.99 "lower fidelity" plan, what exactly sets this apart from Spotify? Have they revealed the streaming compensation formula - how can I be assured more money will go in the right pockets?
posted by naju at 3:08 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


WELL IF YOU'D JUST UPGRADE TO A BETTER SOUNDCARD AND GOLD-PLATED CONNECTORS YOU WOULD KNOW THE AUDIO BLISS OF TIDAL

The unfortunate thing about the audiophile lunacy is that it's caused folks to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are lots of variables in audio fidelity that do actually make a significant difference - lossless and lossy compression of files is one of them. It's a completely different thing than the whole gold wires business* and I wish folks wouldn't jump right to wtf audiophiles stuff.

*to be fair, gold wires may make a difference if you are running your audio cables over a distance of, say, 1000 miles.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:10 PM on March 31, 2015 [13 favorites]


Oh, and I tried the fidelity test with a good pair of Grado headphones, and got 1 out of 5 right. (The smirking response is: "Whoops! Are you sure your audio system is connected properly?")
posted by naju at 3:11 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a digital music business expert. One of the people that literally invented the music subscription service business and product.

Tidal is offering nothing new. They have exactly the same catalog, product, features, even names of tiers the same as everyone else, with the exception of the $20 "lossless" feature. Even that's not defensible, because every other service can and will offer it (and probably for less), and the $20 is not reflective of any real costs. It's totally arbitrary pricing.

Aside from being audio overkill, lossless isn't even a new or unique idea. This has been on every service's roadmap for a while...but streaming lossless is pretty dumb, at the moment. Many people don't have data connections fat enough to support it, and on mobile it's silly.

Tidal can claim somehow they're "more fair" in paying artists, but they've been completely opaque about what that actually means. Given Tidal's deals are almost certainly identical to every other service out there (Rhapsody, Spotify, Beats, etc.), it's hard to believe their payment structure is going to be any different either.

The only difference as I see it is the presence of the select celebrity co-owners, who are either silent partners (in which case they're just like any other investor, likely to be disappointed in Tidal's returns) or are actively involved in development and management (in which case I pity the poor teams at Tidal that have to work with them).
posted by Jinsai at 3:11 PM on March 31, 2015 [59 favorites]


Going from white earbuds to a good pair of $100 headphones is like upgrading from eating dirt to eating a hamburger. After that the prices get high fast, and the improvements get smaller and smaller.
posted by idiopath at 3:12 PM on March 31, 2015 [17 favorites]


For most users it would be like watching a 4k video on a 1980 CRT TV.

And yeah, if you're listening to FLAC vs. mp3 over earbuds, then it won't make any difference whatsoever.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:12 PM on March 31, 2015


I'm with Phonte. The launch of this the other day just reminded me to listen to more Fiona Apple.
posted by cashman at 3:12 PM on March 31, 2015 [5 favorites]


The problem with streaming services seems, to me, to be that they are unfairly cheap for that sizeable group of people like me, who listen to quite a bit of music by a fair range of artists (maybe anyone who used to buy ~20+ albums a year, so a lot of people), and pointlessly expensive for people who like listening to their 10 favourite records and whatever happens to be on the radio (again, a lot of people). Which irritates me, because I love streaming. I love library style services and being able to pick what I want. I don't want to own stuff, I just want to pay a fair rate to be able to use stuff.

If the real challenge is getting more money out of people like me (and I'd happily just pay more for Spotify, but I suspect most people wouldn't), then maybe the idea of "improving the quality of streaming", snake-oil though it undoubtedly is, isn't so bad in its effects.

But, of course, lots of people who like music aren't audiophiles. So this is really only going to hit a pretty small minority, I suspect. Personally, I want to see a fully implemented micropayment system that allows me to tip and buy merch and tickets from within my smartphone app.

It is becoming pretty clear that there are going to be lots of little solutions to the problem of making money from music and other creative labour, rather than one big fix. I guess it will end up being no worse than the old state of the industry, and possibly a bit better in some ways, for some people at least.
posted by howfar at 3:13 PM on March 31, 2015 [5 favorites]


Jinsai: “I'm a digital music business expert. One of the people that literally invented the music subscription service business and product.”

Oh, so you're the person we should blame. Heh.
posted by koeselitz at 3:14 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


and on mobile it's silly.

But think how awesome it'll sound out of my new $500 bluetooth speaker!!!!!
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:15 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's just streaming at CD quality, nothing revolutionary. Neil Young's enterprise is much more ambitious.
posted by w0mbat at 3:15 PM on March 31, 2015


So this was a purchase by Jay-Z, not really something he founded per se:

Jay Z’s 100th problem – Aspiro’s minority shareholders are blocking his bid to buy it

Aspiro, the company behind Tidal, has been around since '98 it seems. Aspiro was delisted from Nasdaq Stockholm just a couple weeks ago so I guess he got it although the whole ownership is pretty fuzzy at the moment, to me at least.

Anyway, it's going to have to do a hell of a job to stand out from the current crowd of streaming music services. Streaming uncompressed audio seems silly and for people on mobile it may kill their data caps instantly. For people on uncapped wired connections I'm sure it will seem .01% better than 320kbps AAC streams.

Although, funny enough, most of these services still can't do gapless playback, especially in web browsers. So don't expect to really enjoy streaming Dark Side Of The Moon at any bitrate.

There's certainly lots of room for improvement in how streaming services calculate their artist payouts but I'm not sure if any one service will ever have enough critical mass to make it worthwhile to cut exclusive deals. The biggest of the big artists may get limited exclusive deals from time to time, but it won't be a sustainable or wide-spread practice.

So good luck against Spotify, Rdio, the myster upcoming Apple service, Google Play Music All Access Double Cheeseburger, YouTube Music Key, Deezer, Rhapsody, SoundCloud and the otehr bajillion identical services I forgot.
posted by GuyZero at 3:18 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


All this does is remind me how, as much as people like to complain, Spotify seems to correctly assign the value to the music in the form they're giving it to you. Tidal is an obvious rip-off.

If you actually care about compensating the artist and you want them to make more -- buy the album. You can still use Spotify simultaneously for the convenience.

Not only that, but the artist will then actually have an idea of who/how many people like their work, and you'll actually have a digital copy that won't disappear on you when you stop paying the subscription fee, or the service goes under.
posted by smidgen at 3:20 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


I thought Dave Pell had an interesting take on it this morning. I don't know enough to figure out whether his premise - that the limiting factor on phone, where most people listen to their music, is the AD converter - is true or false, but it adds to the pile saying that it's not necessarily about the file quality.

And what would this do to your data plan?
posted by sauril at 3:21 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


For most popular setups, based on seeing people on the bus and on the street, the biggest bottle neck to quality is the shitty headphones people are using. Shitty earbuds. Overpriced junk that looks cool. Apple tends to have good DACs actually, but yeah improving the DAC is likely to improve things before upgrading your bitrate does.
posted by idiopath at 3:30 PM on March 31, 2015


There are lots of variables in audio fidelity that do actually make a significant difference - lossless and lossy compression of files is one of them. It's a completely different thing than the whole gold wires business* and I wish folks wouldn't jump right to wtf audiophiles stuff.

Sure but the difference between high-end lossy and lossless is minimal for listening purposes. You just have to beat Soundcloud/Youtube quality levels by a couple notches.

It's just streaming at CD quality, nothing revolutionary. Neil Young's enterprise is much more ambitious.

Ambitious is not a synonym for "a better idea," though.
posted by atoxyl at 3:31 PM on March 31, 2015


People that want to actually spend money on music buy records, go to shows, and buy merch. They pay for tangible objects and memorable experiences. This service is attempting to appeal to the people that don't want to spend real money on music and who treat it as a sort of ephemera. I don't think that will work.
posted by destructive cactus at 3:34 PM on March 31, 2015


YouTube streams 4K video and probably has better quality masters/mezzanine files than anyone out there, so for things like official videos on Vevo I think it's going to be pretty competitive in terms of audio quality versus other streaming services.
posted by GuyZero at 3:35 PM on March 31, 2015


Smart would be also bundling nice headphones with the service, the way cell carriers bundle phones.

Would also need to bundle a headphone amp to drive the headphones.
posted by gyc at 3:35 PM on March 31, 2015


How in 2015 does a new Web product launch with a Flash UI? Here's what Tidal looks like in my web browser. Yes, I'm being a bit future-forward in blocking Flash without a click, but only a little. I guess they're gambling that Flash will live awhile longer on desktop browsers and that for mobile they'll have a custom app. Or maybe they need Flash for the codec or some sort of DRM?

I'm blessed with non-audiophile ears, 128kbps AAC or 160kbps MP3 sounds fine to me. OTOH bad video drives me insane, particularly posterization in black levels. It's not just fake-HD YIFY torrents that look like shit; even Amazon high quality streams are really badly encoded. Video's a lot of bandwidth though so the problem is somewhat understandable. As for audio, I'm really surprised at how much extra bandwidth 5.1 surround adds to a movie file over stereo. (Another YIFY compromise; they downmix to 2.0).
posted by Nelson at 3:39 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Uh...can anyone explain how to do the audio test? After it loads the song, you click "A" or "B", right? Then music starts playing. If you click the other letter, does it immediately switch to the other version? Because A) that's pretty amazingly seamless, and B) I can't hear any difference whatsoever, and while I'm not on a high-end sound system, I am running my computer into a regular stereo amp and into regular speakers, not computer speakers or laptop speakers or anything.

So I'm wondering if I'm just doing it wrong. Maybe it's not switching on the fly, but in fact I'm supposed to listen to the whole track, and then click on the other letter, and then it will start playing the other track? So if you click on the other letter while the track is playing, nothing actually happens? Am I just doing this wrong?
posted by Bugbread at 3:40 PM on March 31, 2015


1. I love that Daft Punk sent the models in helmets instead of actually appearing at the event.

2. I love to imagine the look on Zimmerman's face when, standing at the crossroads at midnight, he signed his name in blood and the devil handed him a mouse helmet instead of a guitar because read the fine print, man.
posted by The World Famous at 3:42 PM on March 31, 2015 [11 favorites]


the $20 is not reflective of any real costs. It's totally arbitrary pricing.

This doesn't seem accurate to me. I mean, I'm sure that the primary point of the additional tier with a premium gloss is to give something for those with greater disposable income or enthusiastic music fans to opt into.

But lossy compresses more than lossless (in the range of 90% vs in the range of 50%). So streaming a lossless-encoded song is going to involve moving roughly 5 times the data of a lossy-encoded song, and while the marginal cost of moving data probably gets smaller at large scales, as far as I know it isn't free.

(FWIW, though, I totally agree with the critique of the claim to be "more fair" in paying artists -- as far as I can tell, this is simply impossible for a buffet streaming service to do at the current prices.)
posted by weston at 4:00 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


I tried to get the $9.99 plan and it said it would renew at $12.99. Not sure what that says about me.

I've tried all the larger streaming services, and I think Beats is the best. But it could be much better. In particular, its search function isn't great. But they've gone some way towards helping one with the "you've got 20,000,000 songs at your fingertips, what do you want to listen to?" problem.

I spend far more on music now ($120 year for Beats, $60/year for Pandora, plus vinyl) than I ever did during the CD-age.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:00 PM on March 31, 2015


by some accounts, was a bit awkward and content-free

Apple showed that people will happily pay for music, if the content is there. Further, the technology at that time was good enough, such that sound quality was a secondary concern for the majority of listeners. Thirdly, once the labels pulled the DRM restrictions, Apple was able to sell a product that people could ultimately keep. Does Jay-Z or any of his fellow investors have the same leverage to bring compelling content, to make higher quality and ephemeral sound something that they can get away with charging more for? These do not seem like easy hurdles for Tidal to clear.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:02 PM on March 31, 2015


I want to own my music, store it in the cloud and selectively sync with my devices, never have to worry about losing access to it due to DRM, and have no issues outside the US and across platforms. I have not yet found something perfect to do this. I am distressed that so much movement seems to be toward paying for music without owning it only to get access to catalogs with pitiful and inconstant selection.

I was excited that this seemed to give at least lip service to better artist support, but I couldn't find much detail on it. I didn't really understand if it was going to help artists who weren't already bazillionaires. One thing I do like about streaming is the idea of supporting artists every time you listen to a song. I've been excited by micropayment options like Flattr which could be connected to Last.fm to give money to artists of music you "heart" or listen to many times. Since Flattr saw very little adoption, this obviously didn't go anywhere.
posted by congen at 4:05 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


I want to own my music, store it in the cloud and selectively sync with my devices, never have to worry about losing access to it due to DRM, and have no issues outside the US and across platforms. I have not yet found something perfect to do this.

I can't speak to every single one of your criteria, but I buy almost all of my music through Amazon's mp3 store, and that covers ownership, cloud storage, and syncing (and I believe no DRM or access issues since you get the bare mp3 files but it's possible I'm missing something there). I wouldn't describe using their Cloud Music App as delightful, but I'm willing to deal with some overdone UI if it ticks the rest of my boxes.
posted by Copronymus at 4:30 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah Amazon MP3 has pretty much all the features I want in buying music, the day it came out I pretty much stopped downloading unlicensed music. Warp's pioneering store Bleep does this too, and has the audio-hipster lossless option. They were quite pioneering, beating out Apple and Amazon to providing a useful online music store. See this 2003 Metafilter discussion. Apple's iTunes Store came out about the same time but was really terrible at the start, with proprietary formats and terrible DRM. Warp just sold MP3s and FLACs.
posted by Nelson at 4:41 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


[REDEF] Michael Nelson – Behold The Half-Assed Hubris Of Tidal.
posted by unliteral at 4:57 PM on March 31, 2015 [6 favorites]


Pfft - I run my cables underground in a hypercold SuperConductive Cabling setup. Fuck "gold" I got SUPERCONDUCTIVITY!

Also - fuck these artists. I could give two shits about their music as it is, and it's not like they're really hurting for cash.

Like Nelson says - bleep is where it's at. It's my go to. I mean, granted, my top artists are all on Warp, so.. But they've always provided good prices with no DRM bullshit. I do kinda wish they didn't mix up all the kinds of releases, though. Really hate seeing so many fucking singles mixed in with full albums. Anyways. Piratebay and bleep for me, thanks. Oh I use spotify, the free version. Used to use last.fm before CBS turned them into utter shit. And that's about it.

If you make good music, I like it and think you deserve my money - rest assured you have a way for me to get you that money. If you don't have a way, then I feel bad for you, I guess. But if you're fuckin' Jay-Z and Madonna doing this? No pity. May as well get Metallica and Prince to sign up while you're at it, guys.
posted by symbioid at 5:05 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


symbioid: "Pfft - I run my cables underground in a hypercold SuperConductive Cabling setup. Fuck "gold" I got SUPERCONDUCTIVITY!"

Am. A. Teur.

I have vacuum tubes through which energy is passed by laser. There is no physical material whatsoever, which means no impurities, which means no imperfections. Nobody listens to the soundtrack to Ernest Goes to Camp in higher fidelity than me.
posted by Bugbread at 5:11 PM on March 31, 2015 [11 favorites]


You're really not hearing the music if you don't listen in a hyperbaric chamber. Just sayin'.
posted by The World Famous at 5:20 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


Do most people *really* listen to music on their phones? Does this just mean that most people with smartphones listen to music on them sometimes (which I guess I have done)? Or does it mean that most people are doing most of their music listening through their phones? Because I have a hard time picturing a universe in which my phone is my primary stereophonic listening device. That it is for anyone boggles my mind. Which I guess means I am now, finally, at long last, Old.

Vox writing about Tidal highlights some research that shows the ideal price for streaming services to create profit is $6/month: "It appears (from the data) that the largest pools of music service revenue — and therefore music service royalties — could be found at dramatically lower prices".
posted by crush-onastick at 5:25 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


I happened to catch the release commercial (primetime television commercial event? primemercial?) as family members were watching The Voice. Boy did that ever look Important and Principled.

But yeah, color me skeptic with many others that a bunch of a-list artists, even though some of them have proven business chops, can change the rules of the game.

(Also, 0 of 5 correct on blind. I guess that means I can tell the difference, but prefer 320 to FLAC? I dunno.)
posted by Room 101 at 5:40 PM on March 31, 2015


I wish someone would setup an easy, efficient way for you to "tip" a band online.

I listen to most music on Spotify now, still buy a few CDs of my absolute favourite bands, but that's because I still want the physical product in those cases, not really to give the band more money (as they're probably lucky to get even 10% of the price).

I wish I could easily throw a few £s at an artist I like to support them, if on Spotify I could load up extra money £10 at a time, and then chose how I split it between the artists I've listened to that month I'd do it, and that seems a way more fan and artist friendly model than the confusion Tidal are "discussing".
posted by chrispy108 at 5:42 PM on March 31, 2015 [7 favorites]


crush-onastick: "Do most people *really* listen to music on their phones?"

I don't think you're getting old, but you may be envisioning the situation wrong.

I love music. I work at home, so I listen to a shitload of music played over a stereo. But when I used to work outside the home, I would listen to maybe an hour of music on the way to work, and an hour of music on the way back. So two hours a day of listening to music on an iPod. Maybe I'd listen to an hour of music on my stereo, but it was more likely after coming home that I'd watch TV or a movie or play a video game. Then I'd go to clubs on a Saturday or Sunday, so maybe 5 hours of listening to music there. And then over the course of the weekend I'd maybe listen to two or three hours of music at home on my stereo while cleaning or cooking..

So that breaks down to:
10 hours via iPod
5 hours at club
4 or 5 hours on home stereo

You could therefore say that I listened to most of my music via my iPod. Nowadays I work at home, so I never bring out my iPod, but if I were to listen to music on the go again, I wouldn't bother carrying a smartphone and an iPod, I'd just use the smartphone to listen to the music. So I would technically be listening to most of my music "on my phone", but that wouldn't mean that I wouldn't also listen to it on a proper sound system, nor does it mean I would listen to it via the crappy smartphone speaker.
posted by Bugbread at 5:54 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


3 for 5 on the work setup (USB DAC, Audioengine speakers), 4 for 5 at home (optical-out from the HTPC, Marantz amp, vintage Advent speakers). That was probably half luck--my ears are decent, but not great--I can usually only hear the difference between HQ lossy and lossless on well-recorded acoustic stuff. I'd run another test with my home headphone setup, but I don't want to hear those snippets again, and I'm not the target audience for this thing anyway.

(And, like most big rappers, this would not be Jay's first moment of hubris.)
posted by box at 6:02 PM on March 31, 2015


What's amazing to me about this is Tidal launched in the US months ago. It made a small blip and the desktop and mobile apps were second if not third tier. The differentiating feature, lossless streaming and syncing, is useless for most people and until I have an iPhone with 500GB storage, useless for me too. Now Jay-Z is involved, supposedly "owns" it, but is probably just the street face as usual, and it's a OMG BRAND NEW MUSIC CHANGING EVENT with media and PR circus. I'm so sick of this clown. He's been corny for almost 15 years.
posted by milarepa at 6:09 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can't he live?
posted by box at 6:15 PM on March 31, 2015


I'm a digital music business expert. One of the people that literally invented the music subscription

I have questions about how to make it so streaming my mixtape can make ppl's computers actually start smoking. I will MeMail you.
posted by discopolo at 6:21 PM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


Do most people *really* listen to music on their phones?

I don't know, but a common piece of wisdom I've heard in sound engineering circles is that a HUGE amount of people these days listen to music on crappy laptop speakers, and you have to master the sound for those people. Which I find rather depressing - for some music, it's like watching Lawrence of Arabia on an Apple Watch - but far be it from me to judge.
posted by naju at 6:23 PM on March 31, 2015


Because I have a hard time picturing a universe in which my phone is my primary stereophonic listening device. That it is for anyone boggles my mind. Which I guess means I am now, finally, at long last, Old.


Haha you're like Marc Maron in his show when he bought that crazy expensive whatever it was and hooked it up to his record player.

I mostly listen on my iphone with $13 headphones or my car which has Bluetooth audio player.
posted by discopolo at 6:27 PM on March 31, 2015


Meanwhile, as somebody who commutes via the subway, streaming services remain to be mostly useless to me. Nothing beats an offline file.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:27 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


How in 2015 does a new Web product launch with a Flash UI?

It's worse than that. The desktop client is a fucking AIR app. Lord help us.
posted by Talez at 6:29 PM on March 31, 2015 [9 favorites]


Meanwhile, as somebody who commutes via the subway, streaming services remain to be mostly useless to me. Nothing beats an offline file.

Not into caching music to your device for offline play? That comes standard with both the Rdio and Spotify mobile apps. I always make sure to do that for airplane flights and it's a lifesaver.
posted by naju at 6:36 PM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


crush-onastick: "Because I have a hard time picturing a universe in which my phone is my primary stereophonic listening device. That it is for anyone boggles my mind. Which I guess means I am now, finally, at long last, Old."

Also, if it makes you feel any better, during the 00's the primary stereophonic listening device was probably the iPod, during the 90's it was probably the Walkman, and during the 80's and 70's it was probably the car stereo. If you feel old because you're thinking of the hi-fi as the primary stereophonic listening device, then you're likely hearkening back to the 1960s or earlier, meaning you were likely born in the 1950s or 1940s. So you may not be Old, but you may be getting there.
posted by Bugbread at 6:41 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was born in the 70's, Bugbread, but I think you've hit my disconnect. I guess I'm just old-fashioned or odd, in that it's never been desireable to have music with me, everywhere I am. I want to listen, pay attention, not have background noise. Portability is way down the list in what I want in my music collection (plus, I don't drive, so it's not like I'm listening in my car).
posted by crush-onastick at 6:57 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


So don't expect to really enjoy streaming Dark Side Of The Moon at any bitrate

I don't expect to enjoy Dark Side Of The Moon at any bitrate, but still, Thank God for technological marvels, eh?

Anyway, I find free Spotify sufficient for "radio" purposes and if I want to hear something more clearly or more audiophile-friendly, then I'll buy the record and play it at home. OTOH, this is Jay Z. Maybe I'll give him 20 bucks just for being Jay Z.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:01 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


So I'm wondering if I'm just doing it wrong. Maybe it's not switching on the fly, but in fact I'm supposed to listen to the whole track, and then click on the other letter, and then it will start playing the other track? So if you click on the other letter while the track is playing, nothing actually happens?

Yeah, for me it was definitely not switching on the fly, it plays all of whichever you've selected, then resets so you can try the other one.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:31 PM on March 31, 2015


So wait, of my monthly $20, each of the artists up on stage gets some %, the company itself gets some %, and all of the other artists on the planet split the rest?

I want to start a new service called buck-a-month where you can sign up to pay a dollar a month to any artist you wish to support.
posted by mantecol at 7:45 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


w0mbat: "It's just streaming at CD quality, nothing revolutionary. Neil Young's enterprise is much more ambitious."

Yes. And total snake oil.

(Not saying this lossless thing here isn't also snake oil, but it's more reasonable on its face.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:08 PM on March 31, 2015


I was thinking of how to "solve" the streaming problem and provide generous compensation for artists, and the solution I arrived at is something vaguely like:

1. Create a distributed, scalable music streaming platform, using torrenting as a model. The bittorrent folks seem to be tackling this for live video streaming so I assume audio has either already been doable, or can be implemented with a bit of R&D. Having a "bittorrent for streaming" lets you keep server costs and scaling costs at a minimum, and server load strikes me as the main expenditure from an upkeep standpoint w/r/t music services.

2. Once you have that platform ready, create as few barriers between the artists and the listeners as possible. Like Bandcamp, this should be as close to 100% artist-run as possible, with the middleman providing streaming royalties in a fair, generous way, and leaving things open from there: a tip jar, easy access to non-DRMed music files at whatever fidelity the artist wants, etc. The cost of subscription should be able to go almost entirely to artists, with the middleman taking a small cut.

3. This part sounds nuts, but the streaming royalties can be paid out in a tiered socialist fashion: you need to get to a certain number of streamed listens to fall into the lowest tier, but once you do you get paid in such a way that a fraction of the vast sums of the Beyonces are going towards supporting the struggling but promising artists at the bottom. This is not about compensating in a strictly fair market way, which still tends to leave low profile artists screwed - this is aiming for something more ambitious, providing a sustainable ecosystem for music consumption and patronage, such that all artists from the billionaire Jay-Zs of the world to those with a tiny cult following feel like participating in the system is highly worthwhile, and worlds different from the penny royalties of the current streaming model. This last part isn't just about a cool streaming service, it's as lofty as saving the music industry (you know, the kind of thing that Tidal claims it's doing but really isn't.)
posted by naju at 8:11 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


The desktop client is a fucking AIR app.

Wait, really? What a joke.
posted by Nelson at 8:39 PM on March 31, 2015


Pandora is an AIR app too (at least on OS X), and it doesn't seem to have hurt them much.
posted by weston at 8:55 PM on March 31, 2015


God damn the intro video for this is creepy as hell. I paused the going clear documentary to watch it and it legit looked like some kind of scientology or other weird business-cult like, silicon valley indoctrination event kind of thing.

It's just streaming at CD quality, nothing revolutionary. Neil Young's enterprise is much more ambitious.

Have you heard how bad most streaming audio is? The default mobile quality for spotify? it's like 96kbps or 128. It's TERRIBLE. It sounds noticeably bad even out of the worst earbuds i own that came from a lost and found bin at my work. Any service that defaults to better than that is going to seem like a massive improvement to most people. The thing is, you get the same noticeable improvement on a mobile device going from crap quality stream to local V0 encoded Mp3. You can even hear that difference instantly on a bluetooth boombox or the awful connection to an older-spec bluetooth car head unit.

3 for 5 on the work setup (USB DAC, Audioengine speakers), 4 for 5 at home (optical-out from the HTPC, Marantz amp, vintage Advent speakers).

To be fair, the only system i've been able to consistently identify FLAC or CD audio as a clear difference with was my setup with a ginormous HK 505 amp(it's the size of a desktop PC! it weighs like 50lbs!) and my restored original advents. Even just on the built in audio output of my older iMac, you can instantly tell.

Most compression nowadays is done with "optimizations" or "smart adjustments"(as itunes calls them) which rolls off under 20-40hz, and rolls off at the high end somewhere as well. These are the zones in which the advents show true prowess. Tight, noticeable very low end sub bass. Smooth sizzling high end.

I plan to sit down and try this out. The easy test is usually to play something like Have A Talk With God off songs in the key of life. The high end on the FLAC or CD version is instantly identifiable as having more extension over compressed. You can hear it at CD quality, and you can hear on a not overly hugged vinyl copy, but in an MP3 it's just gone.


That said, i think if something like this is going to succeed they need to do two things. Mostly the first one.

1. Broker a deal with all the major carriers and some of the prepaids that, like tmobile started to do with a few services like spotify, their data doesn't count towards your cap*. That, or develop some really badass new superior compression technology and have that be the crux of their service

2. As was mentioned above, you sign up and you get some sort of awesome headphones or playback system for really cheap. Something like a really nice wifi-direct type airplay box that also works as a bluetooth speaker when not using their app("so you'll notice the difference!"), or an audioengine-level sub-sat setup. Maybe offer something like the headphones for free, and have 99/199 deals on the speaker setups or something. You need people to have the hardware to really notice the difference.

Inversely, and apple is in a position to do this, "Buy the new beats studio plus+ and get a year of free itunes select!".

Most people don't really have the hardware to notice, even if they would. This isn't a $1000 speakers or headphones thing, more like a $1-300. You could tell the difference, albeit not as blatantly, on my couple hundred dollar m-audio studio monitors that were similar to the cheap-ish audioengines mentioned in posts above.

*I'm aware this is bad for net neutrality type reasons, but i'm just spitballing here. And hey, tmobile is already doing it.
posted by emptythought at 5:39 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


LOL @ being a grown ass person and standing on a stage signing some doofy pledge while you and all of your rich friends act like you're emancipating slaves all while wearing a mouse or future-man mask. Also LOL @ Madonna.

If I like your shit I'll gladly paypal you some bucks via bandcamp. If I just wanna check it out I'm just going to download it wherever I find it and listen to it a few times on my knock off Samsung phone through my $15 earbuds and fucking love every minute of it and then delete it.
posted by still bill at 6:38 AM on April 1, 2015


Have you heard how bad most streaming audio is? The default mobile quality for spotify? it's like 96kbps or 128. It's TERRIBLE.

Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis so the numbers don't exactly match up with equivalent MP3 quality. The default mobile quality setting is 96kbps Ogg to save your mobile data (roughly equivalent to 128kbps mp3) but you can easily switch that in the app to High (160kbps aka same as the default desktop default or roughly equivalent to 192kbps mp3) or Extreme (320kbps aka 'essentially' the same as lossless).

I work as a recording/studio engineer enough of the time to feel that I have a decent understanding off this and nowadays I'm off the opinion that anything well encoded at 192kbps or higher is going to be essentially the same as lossless to the normal listener regardless of the file format. Exceptions do exist but they are exceptions imho. You may be able to notice a slight improvement switching to 320kbps but nowhere near as much as getting better headphones or speakers or even a cheap outboard DAC would.

It blows my mind that the audio quality from the output stage in a $40 Sansa Clip is so good for the money. Imagine if Tidal had been: sign up for a year and we'll send you a Clip sized device that will store and playback your synced tunes and act as a massively improved DAC/headphone amp for your computer? You could remote control it via the Tidal app or some other sexy thing... That would totally be putting your money where your mouth was with regards audio quality for consumers and it's importance rather than all this ridiculous competitive snake oil about bit rates.
posted by Mr Ed at 8:00 AM on April 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I got 5/5 on the test. I write music and DJ so like a lot of people doing that I've trained myself to be able to focus on particular sounds in the mix and hear precise differences in tone, and I have great Sennheiser headphones that provide a lot of detail in the upper midrange.

To do well at this test you can focus on the cymbals or sounds of similar timbre and frequency to see if you can hear a certain harshness. Here's the thing - even though I got 5/5, the difference between the tracks is miniscule. I spent minutes replaying each track and comparing the tiniest of variances until I could hear (or convinced myself I could hear) a difference, and even then I'm sure I just got lucky on which was meant to be the higher quality. In other words, I "won", I'm their target audience, and frankly the whole test convinced me once and for all that under normal conditions (anything other than the most intense comparative A/B testing) there is essentially no difference between the lossless and high bitrate lossy.
posted by iivix at 8:31 AM on April 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


If Tidal really does give the musicians a larger cut - and by musicians I mean the artists associated with the tracks I listen to, not just Jay-Z, Madonna , Daft Punk, et. al. that are investors - then I would be interested in switching from Spotify. But other than snappy catch-phrases, I don't see anything at all that talks about how Tidal is different. And my fear is that to compete with Spotify and Apple, you have to have available cash like Spotify and Apple, especially when you are late to the table. There are only two ways to do that - either bring more cash in or send less cash out. The $20 tier helps with the former, though I would guess a lot of people will go with the $10 tier. And the only major way to manage expenses is to pay less for the product you sell, i.e., the music. I will be much more inclined to consider it when artists other than the initial investors talk about how it benefits them.

BTW - I don't think they are doing themselves any favors with the AB test. I got 3 out of 5 on the test with good IEMs and my laptop DAC. One of those was a complete guess. I could probably do better on a good home system, but mostly it just convinced me that any differences are not very noticeable.
posted by rtimmel at 9:09 AM on April 1, 2015


I get frustrated when I hear all of this "I can't hear the difference" talk.

I had to convince a SO, a professional musician with perfect pitch, that there was indeed some value in the extra audio clutter that I was proposing for her minimalist mid-century modern home.

If you want to clearly hear the difference, as she did most certainly did to her surprise, here is the setup for my demo:

For the DAC output, an MBOX-2 Pro. I used this to feed two monitor setups with a hard A/B switch, that had resistor-ladder (passive preamp) volume adjustments allowing the two systems to be balance in volume when the A/B switch was toggled. The A/B switch was at the listening position, for interactive comparisons.

The reference system was whatever the "deluxe" desktop audio from Apple was. Two self-powered speakers with a sub, her home system.

The comparison was a system I put together for around $3K shopping carefully on Ebay, with home-built speaker enclosures.

The stereo signal was split in two (just regular higher end connect wires) and then fed into two old-school Soundstream 1000.2 Class A amps, each with 10 Farad Capacitors on the power input, powered by a 500 watt 12 volt professional CB radio power supply.

The subwoofer active crossover was a Rane rack-mount unit, just to combine the stereo and set the crossover point for the subwoofer.

No active preamp, other than the Rane on the sub, just audio straight into the amps.

The speakers were a pair of Soundstream Exact 6.2's and a single Soundstream Exact 12 inch.

The enclosures were heavily built no-port boxes, solid bell-wire on the stereo, 8 gauge copper woven on the bass.

I made a playlist of uncompressed and compressed files for the demo. They had to be preselected on the system to ensure they had something to reveal, many things don't have anything special in the audiophile range.

With well chosen test music, the superiority of uncompressed files on the better system is clear as a bell. In some cases one difference was that the music would kind of holographically fill the room, as if it became part of the actual atmosphere. Switching back to the Apple system it was just music coming from the speakers.

In some cases there would be a background instrument, like a harmonica down in a dense mix, that would appear out of nowhere when you switched to the high end system. Once you then switched back, you could now still sort of hear it on the Apple system having been tipped off, but it would be a weak ghost.

There were other only slightly more ineffable differences. When comparing single low notes from a tympany and a stand-up bass, in the high end uncompressed version you can hear not only the note, but get the sense that one source is long and thin, and the other is round.

In a cluttered mix with a busy bass performance, you can hear not just the pitched notes in the bass, but you can tell when an interval chord is played, and if that interval is a major or minor third, as opposed to just a slightly colored low note.

In vocals you can sense the breathing even if not quite consciously hear it. You can tell if the singers mouth is wet or dry.

I wish people would try a credible reference system before making pronouncements. The more you listen carefully to the better system the more you hear in the music, and not only that, you start hearing all the sounds around you more clearly.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:59 AM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I get frustrated when I hear all of this "I can't hear the difference" talk. [...]
I wish people would try a credible reference system before making pronouncements.


In other words, if you don't use a credible reference system set up in the finicky manner described here for all your music listening, you won't hear a difference, so save your money.

Doesn't sound like you're disagreeing with most of the thread.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:25 AM on April 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


StickyCarpet:

if Tidal could expect that their typical potential customer had a setup like you describe, their a/b demo would make sense

given the hardware their desired clientele are actually using right now, their own a/b test makes it sound like what they are offering is not worth it

whether their clientele wants to spend $3k in order to tell the difference between Tidal and the competitor is a whole other can of worms
posted by idiopath at 11:27 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


StickyCarpet: was this test blind?
posted by zsazsa at 11:41 AM on April 1, 2015


Ok, let me add another thing here. I learned a lesson from that demo for my SO. Once she heard the better system, she had to have one. But the process of trying to do that in her minimalist decor led to anxieties and conflicts that contributed not insignificantly to my no longer being with her.

I took a new audio direction, which is "cheap and fun." I found that I can make various systems for $100 per channel that while not technically accurate are still unusual and delight the listener. And I can capture music from WFMU at 128Kmbps that is still fun to listen to and gives me a much broader selection than I can find myself.

One turning point was when a well-known audio engineer looked at my whole monstrous setup and said, "Music is supposed to be fun, you have built instruments of war."

High end audio changed me forever, because I learned that even later in life I can discover whole new perceptual vistas. I would like to have that always, but for now anyway, it's a bit too much effort and expense to justify.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:54 AM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can tell if the singers mouth is wet or dry.

I'm... not exactly sure that I want to know this. If I did, it'd probably be worth what, $20? (SAIT)

Sounds like I'm coming out ahead on price here. Let's set up a proper ABX test to be sure, though. If you're confident enough that you can pick up the difference (for a price within one order of magnitude), that'll come out.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:55 AM on April 1, 2015


Tidal: How Great Can Music Sound? video

Some thoughts on it, from Peter Kirn (copy/pasting from Facebook):

Persuasion techniques and distortion used by lossless advocates to bend their argument:
1. Framing. Start with low-quality MP3s to illustrate bad lossless compression.
2. Ghost images. These illustrate sound information removed by lossy encoding. But if the application is just listening, this is misleading - it implies that you can perceive this same information in the final mix. If you could, lossy encoding would be more noticeably problematic.
3. Framing (part 2). Note that there's no A/B in this video of lossless to 320 kbps AAC.
4. Priming. Descriptions are attached to the sounds. In this video, they're attached to sounds you can't even hear (since neither Vimeo nor YouTube preserves lossless audio). I will give them the benefit of the doubt that at one point you could hear this video with the actual sound. The word labels are still suspect.
5. Using bitrate to imply quality - when it doesn't. Bitrate is a measure of data density, not audio fidelity. This is the worst so far - it's knowing deception. It's a lie.
6. Swapping the bitrate of a CD for a compressed lossless stream. Note that the number in the graph is 1,411.2 kbit/s. That's not even fair to call a lie - it's just $#&(*ing wrong. (and irrelevant, see #5, but also $#*&(ing wrong.) Tidal is not - should not, need not - streaming uncompressed PCM (as on a CD, which is where they got this number) over your Internet.
We need to toss all of this out the window. There are the questions to ask:
1. Using better material than the blind tests on Tidal (because no one cares about The Killers, sorry), we should do more blind listening tests between high-bitrate AAC encoding and lossless encoding.
2. We should evaluate preference here - is the difference enough that you would pay more for it? Keep a record in lossless on your hard drive?
3. For DJing, I think it could also be worth listening to the results on club PAs. (My guess is the difference will be even less noticeable, but I like testing, not guessing.)
4. We should also look at file interchange for DSP. Here, there are new issues: how great is the impact on things like mastering plug-ins when you swap files? Here, we're testing something different: effectively, testing the machines' "ears" rather than the humans', as these processes operate on data directly. I think we could get a definitive answer to the question of whether you really need to output 24-bit, 96k stereo to your mastering engineer. This has more dimensions, but it's still a set of objective questions.
I don't mean to beat up more on Tidal, but everything I see in this video I've seen repeated in other discussions of lossless encoding, and ... we are outside of the realm of verifiable fact.
posted by naju at 12:04 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


...whether their clientele wants to spend $3k in order to tell the difference between Tidal and the competitor is a whole other can of worms
posted by idiopath


If you want to get the same performance that I described above from an off the shelf home system, which includes a lot of fit and finish and the convenience of a preamp, then you'd be spending $20K to $50K. Some people spend that much incrementally to opt up to a higher performance car. Some people don't drive much and really like music.

The best thing to hope for for most people is that you can find a friend with a Ferrari who will give you a ride now and then. Just because high-performance is a serious commitment, though, does not mean it's a risible myth.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:52 PM on April 1, 2015


Most compression nowadays is done with "optimizations" or "smart adjustments"(as itunes calls them) which rolls off under 20-40hz, and rolls off at the high end somewhere as well. These are the zones in which the advents show true prowess. Tight, noticeable very low end sub bass. Smooth sizzling high end.

High-quality lossy doesn't usually do that kind of filtering - for example LAME V0 or its 320 defaults. Lower quality encoding certainly often does though - Soundcloud for instance is terrible about cutting off highs around 16KHz.

I'm not that interested in arguing FLAC/CD versus high-bitrate lossy, though, because it's all way less ridiculous than 192KHz.
posted by atoxyl at 1:04 PM on April 1, 2015


Sticky can you give me some advice on a cheaper system? I love your comments here, they are kind of over-the-top audiophile stuff to the outsider, but you also seem to really care. If you can recommend the $100 per channel items it would be useful.
posted by cell divide at 1:20 PM on April 1, 2015


In my living room I have a stereo pair of Sonos Play 5s with Spotify streaming at 320k. I also have an Audio Technica LP120 turntable plugged into the line in of one of the speakers. I have been playing music all my life and listening to music is a huge part of my life, and that's more than good enough for me. It sounds WAY better than my past attempts to cobble together a component system with decent speakers on my old "musician's budget". I guess if I heard a 5 jillion dollar system I might enjoy it, but I don't have any desire to own such a thing even though I have plenty of money these days.

Maybe something is wrong with me, but I suspect I would not notice a difference with Tidal. By the way, the two biggest things that (to me) improve sound quality are:

1) Don't be doing something else while listening.
2) Sit in the middle of the couch so you are in the middle of the stereo field.

But what do I know?
posted by freecellwizard at 1:32 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


> 2) Sit in the middle of the couch so you are in the middle of the stereo field.

Exactly - pick up a copy of Sound on Sound magazine and see what audio engineers and mastering engineers spend their time thinking about, and it's 50% the quality of the gear, 50% the acoustics of the room (including where you put your chair).
posted by iivix at 2:01 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


crush-onastick: Because I have a hard time picturing a universe in which my phone is my primary stereophonic listening device.

Most of my listening (~12 hours a day) is through a phone. Though in this case it is (almost always) it's an old smartphone plugged into a stereo system with good speakers. If I am listening to music on the phone not plugged into a home (or car) stereo system it is through decent headphones.

I rarely play CDs or vinyl because there's no way I can have all the music I want to listen to.


crush-onastick: I guess I'm just old-fashioned or odd, in that it's never been desireable to have music with me, everywhere I am. I want to listen, pay attention, not have background noise. Portability is way down the list in what I want in my music collection (plus, I don't drive, so it's not like I'm listening in my car).

I want to be able to pay attention to what I listen to, too, but I can't always get what I want. I'd rather have music playing in the background occasionally stealing my attention to silence. I abhor silence more than I am picky about ideal conditions for listening. I understand what I'm doing and avoid making significant judgments based on distracted listening. I will still take time to listen carefully, but that's never going to be the only time I listen to music.

I have recently decided to not bother trying to listen to music on BART (the subway/commuter rail system here); the background noise is far too great for it to be worthwhile. So I'm getting better; I used to listen to a walkman (with headphones) while mowing the lawn.
posted by mountmccabe at 2:14 PM on April 1, 2015


...can you give me some advice on a cheaper system?

For cell divide, and others interested, here is a suggestion for aprox. $100 per channel:

These, or similar, full range little speakers, with a chip-amp something like this.

Build your own speaker boxes, I like heavy, and sealed. Check the DIY sites for box designs, you can do fun things with PVC pipes, for instance.

The full range little speakers are delightful because there is no crossover between the tweeter and the mid. Crossovers always add a little blurring. Without the crossover, you can discover a lot of vocal nuances in music you already know. You just hook the speaker directly to the amp, nothing else required.

The chip-amps, only when played at low volume, have extreme accuracy to rival anything else, at any price.

If you are careful not to bend and break them, a fairly thick solid copper doorbell wire works excellently. Soldier the wire directly on to the speaker with no interconnect plug or terminal.

If your DAC is something like an Mbox, or other semi-professional unit, you're all set to impress your friends, and yourself. You can get an Mbox used on Ebay at a reasonable cost, if you are vigilant. Get one of the high-res ones. The old firewire ones are going more cheaply, and you can get a PC firewire interface.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:23 PM on April 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis so the numbers don't exactly match up with equivalent MP3 quality. The default mobile quality setting is 96kbps Ogg to save your mobile data (roughly equivalent to 128kbps mp3) but you can easily switch that in the app to High (160kbps aka same as the default desktop default or roughly equivalent to 192kbps mp3) or Extreme (320kbps aka 'essentially' the same as lossless).

+

1. Framing. Start with low-quality MP3s to illustrate bad lossless compression.

Ok so i realize this might be a fairly weak argument, but i think it's a fairly good point that a gigantic number of people don't even change the default ringtone or notification sound on their phones. Very, very few people even know you can up the quality on spotify. Maybe they'll notice it sounds better on wifi.

It's very similar to how most people leave their TVs in the default, massively overly blue, ridiculously saturation compressed "dynamic" mode that's used to demo the screens in brightly lit stores and never ever change it.

The reality is that most people use these services in the low quality mode that does illustrate bad compression, and sounds noticeably deficient even on a car stereo or bluetooth boombox at anything but very low volumes.

In this way, a service that default to high quality can be a difference many people immediately notice. It's not an unfair comparison when you realize that most people don't step outside of the default options.

I do agree that the difference between high and especially extreme and lossless aren't that big though. But "normal" quality is noticeably bad.

Sticky can you give me some advice on a cheaper system?

The best cheap system i've ever used was some of these small polks hooked up to one of these nakamichi stasis amps.

I'd put it up against anything but >$1000 stuff, even used stuff that's a good value for that much. He gave me money to buy him a stereo, and i went out and got that. I ended up sitting in his house several times just listening to albums i loved(or stuff he wanted to show me) for at least half a day.

Eventually he moved in with me, and even though he was a shitty roommate i used that system non stop. I missed it when i had to kick him out.

The suggestion of a T amp and small speakers is good, but the polk monitors and nakamichi could rock out and still be very controlled and defined. It worked great at anything from quiet background music levels to house party.

At some point when i have a big basement i'm going to buy the king size version of that setup, with gigantic polk 10s and one of the huge stasis power amps. It was just so good. Especially for under $200.

Seconding the older used high end audio interface route by the way. The best DAC i've ever used was a really old MOTU/mark of the unicorn i pulled out of a junk bin for free. High end recording interfaces of yesteryear had FAR superior op amps and such to cheapo DACs now. The noise floor and frequency response on that old MOTU(and even a cheapo yamaha, that was old enough to be usb 1.1) far exceeded anything else i've used that was under say, $300. And they both cost less than $100 to set up.

Even just out of the line out on a macbook though, that nakamichi+polk setup was monstrous. It sounded better than all but one pair of the high end IEMs i've had.
posted by emptythought at 4:11 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Omg can we continue talking about speakers setups?! I use to have a pair of awesome floor tower speakers that I got in a freebox that were from the 70's and they ruled. Can't remember what amp I used with them. Probably no where near the level that you're talking about though, emptythought.

I now have some sort of Kenwood amp and these two weird Sanyo SS-660 "twin bass reflex" speakers that sound okay but they don't work that well (I got them used from the SPCA).

Unfortunately I don't have my room setup properly to really take advantage of speakers, but I just got a job and I'm planning on getting a sweet setup because I'm sick of listening to music on headphones. For a small room where I'll be listening in bed, but will be upgrading to a bigger room in the future where others can listen and hang out as well, is a setup like emptythought suggested a good investment? I enjoy listening to music loud but I want to be able to listen at night as well and not piss everyone off. I listen to a wide range of music and I enjoy hearing details while also just feeling everything in the music clearly.
posted by gucci mane at 7:47 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


emptythought: I do agree that the difference between high and especially extreme and lossless aren't that big though. But "normal" quality is noticeably bad.

Noticeable to who, though?

That is, how many of the people who don't realize Spotify could sound better (for no additional cost) are going to notice enough of a difference on the equipment they're using (often the cheap earbuds that came with their phone) to pay twice as much for Tidal? And how many of those people are going to cancel Tidal after they get their cell phone bill for the first month and see the overage charges for data (since each song is several times larger)?
posted by mountmccabe at 7:47 PM on April 1, 2015


"Oh, so you're the person we should blame. Heh."
Well, one of them. Despite mythology, almost no tech product is the result of a single individual. I did play a significant role, but so did many, many other people.

And for posterity, we all love(d) music, many are/were musicians, and we were hoping to provide a legal, compelling alternative to (the illegal version of) Napster, which was devastating the music business at the time. We thought it'd help every artist provide alternatives to "hey go buy my album for $x!", since it was clear that model had economic problems.

"the $20 is not reflective of any real costs. It's totally arbitrary pricing.
...This doesn't seem accurate to me...lossy compresses more than lossless (in the range of 90% vs in the range of 50%). So streaming a lossless-encoded song is going to involve moving roughly 5 times the data of a lossy-encoded song, and while the marginal cost of moving data probably gets smaller at large scales, as far as I know it isn't free."


The data transmission costs are negligible, and not really an issue. Certainly not double the cost in any way. The overwhelming, vast majority of service costs go to paying the labels and publishers. The data is almost literally an afterthought at this point. However, CDN costs (so those giant files start playing right away) can be real and significant. Tidal may have to charge more because the labels demand more money for lossless (that's how the labels usually operate), but even then, no, not double.

One thing to point out is that at this point, the typical subscription catalog comprises 25-30 million songs. At the last service I worked at, only 8 million of those had ever even been played once. 4-5 million were played regularly. But your SLA means you have to make all 30 million available at the same speed.

"Tip jar."
The problem here is "who is the artist?" and "where do you send the money?". Maybe that's obvious for some artists, like Bob Dylan. But it's usually really complicated. What if the group is disbanded or the artist is dead? Where do you send the money? What if you want to tip for an album they recorded for label X and now they're on label Y?

It' s not like you can just drop a check in the mail addressed to "Radiohead, England, UK, Earth" and have it get there. Even if you do know where that goes, you may have already signed deals that say "hey, the labels/publishers/whoever get a % of ANY money you bring in." And even if you don't have those deals in place, the artists might as well.

"Middleman should take a small cut"

To date, no digital music service has been profitable. That's the equivalent of saying "since they launched 15 years ago, no record store has ever been profitable."

Pandora, Spotify, iTunes. All indisputably #1 in their respective flavors of audio service. Pandora's had one profitable quarter. Spotify has never made money (though they keep claiming they could). iTunes is (at best) a break-even business.

It is possible the people running these services are idiots. It is possible they are running at a loss to get big and crowd out competition. It's also possible there's not enough margin for them.

For music subscription services, the deals generally state that ~80% of gross revenue goes directly to the labels and publishers (and by extension, the artists). That leaves ~20% of gross revenue to fund a pretty expensive business. Setting aside the personnel, you have to ingest and store 25-30 million songs (and by the way, the labels charge you for THAT, too), and you have to make them available nationwide (or globally) with low latency. You have to write at least 3-4 software clients (PC/Mac/browser, iOS/iPad, Android/tablet), make them secure from most hackers, and then get servers up and running. Billing system, too. It's way simpler now than it was 15 years ago, but it is still a big, complex enterprise.

My point here is it's not like the digital services are raking in the dough. There's not one that is a financial success, and it's been that way for a while. People gripe that people like Daniel Ek or Tim Westergren or the people who work for them are making too much money and that somehow artists should be making more (of those salaries).

But if you want to hire an iOS developer, it costs a lot. The iOS developer doesn't care whether or not Kanye or Zoe or whoever is making a "fair" amount of money. The iOS developer knows how much they can get on the market and prices themselves accordingly.
posted by Jinsai at 5:50 PM on April 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


You have to write at least 3-4 software clients (PC/Mac/browser, iOS/iPad, Android/tablet),

Ha-ha.

Maybe native desktop. Probably not.
Web x3 because there's equal work to QA Firefox, Chrome & IE.
iOS. Not everyone even bothers with an ipad layout, as cheap as that is.
Android. And the 80+ phones you need to keep on hand to test on.

But that's not all.

XBox.
PS4.
Windows Phone or Blackberry if you need to get every. last. customer.
Roku
Kindle
Android TV
Fire TV
Chromecast

And then you get the really out-there ones...

Rdio is integrated into Tesla's custom head unit as well as Land Rover/Jaguar's custom head.
Pandora integrates with hundreds of car stereos through its custom protocol.
Spotify is trying to make Spotify Connect succeed and is mostly failing.
Samsung/LG/Vizio TV integrations.
Sonos integration.

Just look at iHeartRadio's platform support list. It's a nightmare. Imagine how impossible it would be to do all that if you weren't ClearChannel.
posted by GuyZero at 10:46 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh and... this is very, very true.

But if you want to hire an iOS developer, it costs a lot. The iOS developer doesn't care whether or not Kanye or Zoe or whoever is making a "fair" amount of money. The iOS developer knows how much they can get on the market and prices themselves accordingly.

The Rdios, Pandoras etc of the world compete for iOS & Android developers with Google, Facebook and Yahoo along with every other VC-backed company with burn rates that put a California wildfire to shame. I know people who work at music streaming companies and it is hard to hold on to people. Some lean on third-party developers which is fine as long as you don't mind paying $200 an hour for developer time.
posted by GuyZero at 10:50 PM on April 2, 2015


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