Just with the title itself, I can already see the Spotify mob with pitchforks coming in. It’s a bit of a funny story why I use YouTube Music rather than Spotify and it simply has to do with how songs sound.
For all intents and purposes, there isn’t anything wrong with Spotify. They’re both locked in at MP3, 320kbps and they basically offer almost the same thing. I just happen to prefer how YouTube renders the soundstage. It’s just like how I don’t quite like how Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) sounds either.
Now that I’ve appeased the proverbial mob with an explanation, we can proceed with this discussion of YouTube Music vs. Tidal.
Why I Use YouTube Music
Remember how every person in 2012 watched everything on YouTube?
That included everything from the range of hardly laughable prank videos, animals doing dumb things, music videos – everything. It’s why you’ll see hundreds of thousands of lyric videos of any song you search.
It’s undeniable that YouTube kind of juggled between its video content while also birthing a demand for music on the platform. After some years, YouTube unveiled a separate entity where music will now thrive solely. YouTube Music was born.
YouTube Music allows you to skip wading through large brushes of video content to find new music. It was perfect.
In a way, YouTube managed to compartmentalize and pave the way for more distinct demand to be provided for, all while keeping the algorithm in check. What do I mean by that? It means if you decide to listen on YouTube, YouTube Music syncs itself to your watch history so that it suggests songs that might be up your alley.
So in a way, you’re not being blocked off by choosing to use the main over YouTube Music. You don’t ever have to worry about switching back and forth because the algorithm is tuned right.
It’s no surprise to say that YouTube has single-handedly monopolized online media by being a very well-known site that caters to it. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t use YouTube, so that’s why, by extension, it isn’t that farfetched to down the line eventually use YouTube Music.
It’s also free, so there’s that. Ads do pop up once in a while but, hey, there’s no monthly fee – can’t complain.
Now, as much as I’d like to sing praises of YouTube Music all day, I’d like to outline that it isn’t the focus of this article. In a way, I thought that this might turn into a mini-review of Tidal but seeing as how I want to stay objective, I think I’ll stick to the original plan which is to compare them.
YouTube Music vs. Tidal
So what in the world is Tidal?
Simply put, it’s like Spotify but more niche. It’s a music streaming service launched in 2014 and it caters to the vast community of audiophiles around the world that prioritize lossless music streaming.
It’s a very typical story of how budding audiophiles tend to gravitate towards Tidal apart from having one or two daps with terabytes of local FLAC files in them.
The main difference that you can easily point out between YouTube Music and Tidal is highlighted in the word “lossless”. YouTube Music is capped at 320kbps on the MP3 format and, as you know, MP3 is a lossy file format.
Part of Tidal’s allure is that it delivers CD-quality 24-bit lossless audio, as well as MQA, and now very recently has started to roll out FLAC. The choice is very apparent when presented simply as lossy vs. lossless. Everyone wants the highest possible quality, right? Well, naturally.
Though I agree with this, I don’t think it constitutes everything to be had with either music streaming service. Multiple factors make an experience and I think it’s important to consider all of them before crowning any favorites.
When it comes to accessibility, YouTube Music easily takes the bag. Part of it is mainstream exposure and perhaps with Tidal, a lack thereof.
Seven figures isn’t light if we’re talking five million people using the service but considering YouTube Music has users by the billions, it’s more than an understatement to say that Tidal isn’t as famous or well-known.
It plays through with what I previously said as Tidal being more of a niche. Aside from the obvious ones like exposure though, Tidal isn’t as available as YT Music. Having a Google Account is the bare minimum for YouTube Music, so basically anyone can make an account. For Tidal though, it’s more akin to making an account on Spotify or streaming services like Netflix or Prime.
The clincher here is that although it’s no different from having a Spotify account, it’s not accessible to every country. It’s easy to know because installing it through Google Play on your phone tells you if it isn’t available in your country or not.
The quick fix for this is getting a VPN but then again, it adds to the cost of already running something that has a monthly bill rolling in.
YouTube Music is free but if you absolutely hate ads popping up while you queue sad songs to cry to, it’ll be $10 per month or $100 billed annually for a Premium Subscription. This isn’t too much of a shocker since YouTube has the same model for ads. It’s optional though since most of us can just wait it out.
Tidal on the other hand is billed as $10 per month for the HiFi plan and $20 per month on HiFi Plus, with the only difference being streaming quality from 16-bit CD quality to 24-bit and access to MQA tracks.
Calm down though, as Tidal isn’t the devil. It’s called capitalism, yes, but look on the bright side – if you’re in the U.S., then you get to access the free tier. I just saw your eyes twinkle. Yes, you read that right – FREE. The catch? You have limited skips just like a certain music streaming platform and it’s exclusively for users in the U.S.
In any case, you can probably weigh in the costs of getting either service but if you’re leaning towards Tidal, you’d probably have to get a VPN and churn out $20 per month for HiFi Plus if you’re going that route.
#3: File Type
I guess the deciding factor for some would be the file type. In this regard, with every factor aside, Tidal wins. Anyone would take lossless any time of the day over lossy, right?
Now, let’s re-introduce some of the factors you might want to consider. Adjusting the bitrate to either 16 or 24-bit on Tidal uses more data. Of course, you can always choose AAC at either 96 or 320kbps and it’ll still be better than MP3 at 128 or 320kbps.
The true deciding factor would still be if you can even hear the difference in the first place. Something is always better than something in paper but when it comes to audio, you’ll have to play it by ear. Ultimately, although it’s a highly subjective deliberation, you’ll come to settle on either practicality or doing something for the sheer novelty of it.
#4: User Interface
Aesthetics – I think that’s an important part of the user experience. Ask any UI designer and they’ll probably agree. It’s one thing to make a site look pretty but it’s another thing to make it appear streamlined and optimized.
YouTube Music UI
On YouTube Music, the menus are pretty clean. You have tabs on the side designated as Home, Explore, and Library.
Home presents you with music you listened to last time with some quick picks to start an artist radio, new releases, and some recommended playlists. If you ask me, the Home menu is everything you’ll need.
What I tend to do all the time is play a song I’ve been listening to and leave autoplay to choose the next song. Eight out of ten times, it’s a hit. If I don’t like that current song, I just skip it. There are also community playlists that you can check out and, let me tell you, I’ve found so many good music through these playlists.
If you want a more proactive way of finding new music, the Explore tab is your best friend. You have new releases and charts, as well as moods and genres to broaden your listening horizon. Then you have Library, where you can see all your playlists and liked music. When I just want to chill with my recent finds, I just fire up my liked music and let it play indefinitely. Endless bliss.
YouTube Music is pretty barebones. I think part of why I like it so much is because of that. It’s easy to noodle your way around and do stuff, and I think many people will resonate with that.
Tidal isn’t that different in terms of its user interface. Its all-black theme imbibes a sleekness in its identity.
Though there are differences between the mobile and desktop versions, the Home and Explore menus remain a consistent element in navigation. I do find that Tidal does UI a little bit better due to more fleshed-out menus.
My Collection houses separate tabs for different things like Mixes & Radio, Playlists, Tracks, and more. What’s more, is that the option to create and move playlists is also separate under the tab Playlists. A very conspicuous plus sign succeeded by the word create should clue you in.
YouTube Music condenses all of these tabs in its Library tab, which makes you navigate a little more to do what you want. This isn’t something too major but for me, Tidal comes in neater in this regard.
What stands out with Tidal is that you have a tab at the bottom that lets you choose your bitrate. This makes sense to have, seeing as you can choose to use less data on streaming if you want to.
Tidal isn’t at all that different from YouTube Music in terms of its user interface. I find that this is a good thing as there are elements that must remain universally familiar to a user to aid with navigation. Whether one’s UI is better than the other is subjective. Personally, I think they’re tied.
Music discovery is the heart of every music streaming service. To me, this trumps even lossless and bitrate selection. So yes, it’s up there.
There isn’t any way to tell you that an algorithm is good. I mean, really. I’d say any algorithm is doing its job if it doesn’t try to pull off that modern voodoo trick where it keeps recommending you only pop music despite your liked songs and your searches. In this way, both YouTube Music and Tidal succeed.
I’m very impressed with how both their algorithms point me more and more to music I enjoy. It’s thanks to YouTube Music that I’ve found my ride-or-die indie band but it’s thanks to Tidal that I’ve found more artists that put the soul into R&B soul.
I’m inclined to say that both services have excellent music discovery algorithms. A good algorithm obsoletes the skip button, I must say.
YouTube Music doesn’t have much for show in terms of features aside from a lyrics tab and the ability to watch music videos on less-than-ideal screen real estate. Tidal on the other hand switches things up with things like Tidal Magazine, Movies, and also the ability to watch videos on less-than-ideal screen real estate.
There’s a pleasant intrigue to these elements of Tidal that always manages to surprise me every time.
The Credits tab is also interesting as it lets you view an artist’s label, producer, composer, and even music publisher. This creates a sort of transparency to the artist you’re listening to and imparts a newfound appreciation for those involved in making the song behind the scenes.
These little things make Tidal’s landscape distinct from other music streaming services, which gives it its unique soul.
#7: Local Playback
If there’s anything that bugs me with Tidal is that there’s no local playback, meaning your terabyte of FLAC files become nomads and eventually you’ll have to settle for a third-party music player – or just YouTube Music.
Personally, I’d get something like Neutron or anything with features like DSP or equalization rather than use built-in music players, so I don’t consider a music streaming service bad if it doesn’t offer local playback.
YouTube Music has access to every video on YouTube. You can literally listen to any video on your audio player – even the ones that don’t make sense unless you watch it while you listen. You can make anything a podcast, to either its merit or detriment.
In a way, YouTube Music’s charm lies in its latent YouTube DNA crossed with music streaming genes. It remains one of the most popular and most used music streaming services for a reason, and I’m glad to have it around.
Tidal, on the other hand, is a service that builds on the familiar music streaming blueprint but innovates with novel features centered around the artist-listener experience.
I really wanted to spin this article to become a mini-review of Tidal but the truth is that I still mainly stick to YouTube Music. As I said, it has access to every YouTube video out there, making underground artists more reachable.
Sure, Tidal can be the same in this regard with its curated playlists like Tidal Rising but it banks more on exclusivity than inclusivity. Also, despite Tidal’s big library of lossless tracks, many tracks have yet to roll out in FLAC.
I do use Tidal but I mainly stick to local FLAC files while I’m rooted and YouTube Music for when I’m on the move. I guess this old setup of mine has really grown on me. You could say that I really like my tracks but to be fair, I always do veer towards Tidal whenever I try to explore deeper cuts and more underground artists.
It’s interesting how easily many people would consider Tidal as superior to YouTube Music, including myself when I decided to get it. The truth is you’ll never really know until you try it.
As much as I love Tidal and its slew of interesting features and exclusive music, I just gravitate more towards YouTube Music.
In the end, I think there are benefits to using both services and that’s why I use both of them. The world of music streaming is diverse, and our choices, however convoluted, remain ours. Running four music streaming services can be your choice just as well as sticking to one. There’s no definitive right or wrong here.
Gavin is a college student who has a lot going on. From collecting IEMs and modding mechanical keyboards, to different hobbies like digital drawing, music mastering and cooking. It is safe to say he is a complete multi-faceted geek (and he's kinda cool too)