female duck came in with a very poor prognosis, but instead impressed us all!
She had a few pellets in her chest, from being shot, and had a completely
shattered knee. Even if those injuries seemed bleak, she had been coping very
well in the wild.
She is still with us, resting and gaining weight in the
rehabilitation pool. She should be released in a few days on a nice lake with an
Animals are so resilient! Being able to almost fully use her leg
after such a bad fracture is very impressive. Well done duck!
The first artist owned streaming service that beams CD quality music to your mobile
Tidal is a superb music streaming service, ideal for anyone with a penchant for hi-fidelity audio. For everyone else, it's worth taking up the one week trial to see if the added quality is worth the extra cash.
Fantastic sound quality
Lots of music videos
Easy music discovery
Lots of early features
Costs more than its rivals
Library has holes in it
Search needs optimising
Some iOS niggles
Changes are afoot at Tidal, not least of which is the takeover of mega-music mogul Jay Z. The service has recently relaunched itself under new management and has one clear goal in mind: change how artists get paid for their work.
While Spotify may use ads to pay a pittance to its artists, Tidal aims to eliminate the middle man by having users pay artists directly for the music they love.
At one time, the only way to get a subscription for Tidal was by paying $20/£20 for the CD quality streams. But, starting in April, Tidal will offer a two-tier system.
"Tidal Premium" now matches Spotify's Premium price at $9.99 (presumably £9.99, though we've asked Tidal to confirm). That's a full 50% price cut, and it puts one Tidal tier in-line with its main competition. But that low price comes at a cost: inferior music quality.
The new subscription offers only "standard" quality audio: to get the "lossless high fidelity" sound Tidal hangs its hat on, you'll need to shell out $20/£20 for a "Tidal HiFi" membership.
The hi-fi difference
Tidal is a brand new music streaming service and it's got a secret weapon – a USP that makes it stand out from the crowd.
On the surface it looks just like Spotify. It's got an excellent Chrome-based web player as well as decent iOS and Android apps.
It offers comprehensive playlist functionality, sharing of music as well as offline listening. And the library is off to a good start with 25 million tracks.
But instead of only serving up compressed music formats like MP3 and OGG – as do Spotify, Google Play Music and most of the others – Tidal offers music at CD quality.
Yes, there's finally a fully-fledged music service that streams FLAC at 1411kbps. And I can tell you now, it's brilliant.
Tidal is more than just a FLAC streaming service though. It's been designed from the ground up to be the ultimate music resource for fans of hi-fidelity music, offering playlists and recommendations curated by experienced music journalists, not to mention 75,000 music videos.
If you're struggling for space or using sub-hi-fi devices, you can also stream or download compressed formats.
For the privilege of all this, Tidal Music will set you back double the outlay of a typical music streaming subscription - £20 a month instead of £10.
For the uninitiated, FLAC is the format of choice for many people who want to listen to music files without having to put up with lossy formats like MP3.
When you compress a music track into an MP3, you have to shave off a lot of detail in order to achieve that miniature file size. Other formats like OGG (as used by Spotify) do a highly commendable job of limiting that shaving mostly to parts of the audio that might be considered 'inaudible'. But the truth is that all compression formats are a compromise, a victory for convenience over sound quality.
FLAC tracks are also compressed but in a totally different way. They're a lot more like a zipped file, so when they're played back, they can be decompressed to their original glory without any loss of fidelity.
Thus, while a CD track might take up anywhere between 60 and 100MB, a FLAC file will be more like 30 to 50MB. MP3s encoded at the maximum bitrate of 320kbps are typically only about 5-10MB in size, and there's no way to get back the information you threw away during compression. That's why MP3 is described as a lossy format while FLAC is not.
The upshot of this is that FLAC is the perfect format for delivering CD-quality music down an internet pipe. And it's about time it turned up in a truly decent streaming service.
There are several other music services that offer FLAC, most notably the French service Qobuz which also offers buy-to-keep options. But arguably none that truly match Spotify for functionality and features.
Tidal launches to the public today with 25 million FLAC tracks in its library and that's a good start. I used my CD collection and Spotify account to guide my search for all the music I would consider 'mine' and most of what I searched for was available. But also it wasn't hard to find some omissions.
One of my favourite bands, Wolf Parade, is completely absent. And there are plenty of bands for which you'll only find one or two albums instead of the full roster. There were only two Bright Eyes albums available, The Strokes are completely absent, The Smiths's catalogue is lacking some big'uns.
This is disappointing, but it's just how these services work in the early days. It takes time to get the tracks up and available, but new music is being added constantly so I would expect the omissions to be fixed sooner rather than later.
It works in exactly the same way, allowing you to go through all your favourite bands and 'star' any album you'd like to add to your own personal music library. Once you've done this, they're all waiting for you in your 'My Music' area.
Remember to star the bands themselves at the same time, though, because unlike Spotify, Tidal won't automatically add the tracks from those albums to 'My Tracks' and the artist isn't auto added to 'My Artists' either.
I also had issues with some music being mislabelled, a problem Spotify also suffered from in its early days.
For instance, a search for 'ELO' yields just one album – Time. Search for Electric Light Orchestra, though, and you get the rest of the catalogue.
This problem will sort itself out and really it's not a big deal. The headlines are that most music I searched for – even obscure stuff – was ready and waiting for me.
Using Tidal Music
The fear with a brand new music service like this is that it starts off looking quite basic and feature-light.
However, Tidal impresses from the first second you fire it up. The Chrome-based web player is visually very similar to Spotify, with a homescreen that offers links to curated playlists and recommended hi-fi albums as well as top 20 charts. It looks great and there's no learning curve – it works exactly how you'd expect it to.
A simple click on the sidebar will take you to your 'My Music' area where you'll find all your stuff. And browsing music is very easy.
You can't search by genre, which might have been a great way to win over some Spotify subscribers, but there is a 'Genres' button you can click on in the sidebar which will take you to curated areas with playlists and recommended albums. A decent compromise.
Search generally isn't terribly smart - misspell an album or artist name even by one character or one piece of punctuation, and you'll be left with zero results. A bit of optimisation here wouldn't hurt, but as long as you're careful you won't have any problems with it.
And if you're a fan of the 'radio' function on Google Play Music or Spotify, you'll find an identical service ready and waiting in Tidal. You can select Artist radio or individual track radio, and it's a great way to discover new music.
In the settings, you can connect Tidal to Facebook which will allow you to share music with your friends. You can also extract a URL if you want to link someone to any album, playlist or track.
But the social features are nowhere near as mature as the ones in Spotify – it'll take a lot of work to catch up in that regard. But judging by the amount of care and attention that's gone into Tidal pre-launch, I would expect that side of things to be developed quite quickly.
In settings you can also change your streaming settings, so if you want to save bandwidth you can drop down a notch to 320kbps AAC or, if you've gone insane, all the way down to 96kbps AAC+.
It's important to have these settings, as I anticipate plenty of people using the FLAC service at home while opting for 320 AAC when they're out and about. Those files are big, after all...
As you might expect, streaming FLAC files is a lot more bandwidth intensive than streaming Spotify. Typical albums weigh in at around 400MB, so you're either going to need to download when you're on wi-fi or make sure you have an unlimited data plan for on-the-move listening. Either that or opt for the reduced-quality AAC versions.
Quickly downloading an album before you leave for work in the morning is a lot harder with FLAC – you'll be waiting a while, depending on your connection speed.
I found that even when listening on a PC in the web player, tracks did not start instantly when selected. It takes at least a few seconds to buffer up and begin playing when you skip through tracks etc. But when listening to an album or playlist, the next song is buffered ahead of time so you won't get any annoying gaps in Dark Side of the Moon unless you have bandwidth issues.
This is nothing to do with Tidal's server performance though, it'll be down to your own connection and how fast it can suck those FLAC files through the tubes.
As for the 75,000 HD music videos... I would call it a work in progress. A lot of the videos I specifically looked for were absent. I'm a big Queen fan and love a lot of the Queen videos, but there are none in Tidal. The system uses Flash as the video format, and I did notice some quality issues on a lot of the videos, but most of them looked at least 720p - there's no way to tell for sure.
It's certainly a great feature to have, though, and something the other services might like to copy, I would suggest.
As for sound quality, what can I say? It's brilliant. As you would expect from a FLAC service, sound quality is a lot better than Spotify and the other music streaming services. Hi-fi enthusiasts don't need to be convinced about the benefits of FLAC over MP3 or OGG.
But what about your everyday Spotify subscriber? Well the good news is that there's a free trial for Tidal so you can decide for yourself if you think it's worth it.
But certainly, you'll only get the very best out of Tidal if you have some decent audio gear and a willing pair of ears. This could be the perfect excuse to buy that pair of headphones you've been eyeing up.
I primarily tested at home with a PC plugged into a separate DAC and headphone amp. Into this was plugged a pair of Oppo PM-1 headphones and with this setup I would defy anyone to tell me Tidal doesn't sound absolutely incredible.
But what about laptops, mobile devices and headphones that don't cost £1000? I tested with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, an iPod touch 5th Gen, iPad 2 and several laptops with a variety of headphones and speakers at different price points. Results were great but each device imprints its own noticeable sound signature on the output.
The Galaxy Note 3's DAC, for instance, is like many Android devices, known for being quite feeble.
Android and iOS as operating systems aren't exactly the best for handling high resolution audio, either.
And that ultimately means that FLAC will never sound quite as good through an average mobile device's headphone jack as it does from a device with more competent audio hardware.
But even so, it's still a noticeable step up from a 320kbps Spotify stream on whatever device you listen on.
However, if you don't even know which quality setting your Spotify app is set to (320 is not the default!), and if you're happily using your Apple EarPods to listen to music every day, it's unlikely that Tidal is for you and that's fine.
On the whole, both the Android and iOS apps were very good. There's not much difference between them, frankly, but I found that the Android one seemed a bit more slick and responsive.
The syncing of playlists and albums for offline listening could be improved. You select 'Offline' to download, the button being exactly the same as the Spotify one, but you have to go into your sidebar, select 'Offline Content' and then swipe to your download queue in order to see whether something has finished downloading or not. I found this really quite annoying.
It's worse on iOS. Because on Android, the downloading files show up in your Action Bar in the same way as any other downloading file. But on iOS, there's just no way to see what's downloaded and what's not.
Tidal Music is the CD quality music streaming service that hi-fi people have been waiting for. For a brand new service, the level of detail that's been put in and the number of different ways to explore new music is simply fantastic. If it didn't cost double the price of a standard subscription, I would say it's well worth anyone switch over immediately.
Whether your ears care about the increase in fidelity, whether you have the headphones and playback devices to make the best of it, and whether the extra cash is worth it, only you can tell. But with a one-week trial for everyone, there's simply no reason not to at least give it a try.