Which Sounds Better, HDtracks or Tidal?

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Q In the early days of high-res audio, I downloaded loads of music from HDtracks and played it on my laptop with JRiver Media Center. More recently, I took the plunge on a Premium subscription from music streaming service Tidal.

Here’s my question: Which has better sound quality, music downloaded from HDtracks or streamed from Tidal?  I did listening comparisons using the same songs from each service but couldn’t tell a difference. (HDtracks downloads had slightly better clarity, perhaps?) I’m also wondering if one service offers higher resolution than the other. —Timothy Hatfield

A First, let’s review the various subscription tiers offered by Tidal. While you’d think that a subscription labeled as “Premium” would offer the best quality, Tidal’s $9.99/month Premium sub only lets you stream music in a compressed format (320kbps AAC). To access the lossless, 16-bit/44.1kHz (CD-quality) streams that the service also provides, you’ll need to double-down on a $19.99/month Tidal HIFI sub.

Let’s now talk resolution. The resolution for HDtracks downloads generally ranges from 24-bit/44.1kHz up to 24-bit/192kHz. Tidal, too, provides a limited library of tracks with better-than-CD resolution, which are streamed using MQA technology and can be found under the Masters tab in the Tidal app. To hear these in high-res, you’ll need a Tidal HIFI account and also use the company’s desktop app for playback. When played with the desktop app, resolution for Masters tracks tops out at 24-bit/96kHz. If your computer is connected to an MQA-certified DAC, however, you’ll get the option to hear select albums with even higher resolution.

So, to answer your question, Tidal and HDtracks currently offer similar quality levels — if you listen to Tidal Masters tracks using the company’s desktop app, that is. I wouldn’t define quality strictly in terms of resolution, however. While HDtracks does offer the larger library of high-res files, Tidal has a significantly larger music catalogue — all of it available to stream in lossless CD-quality with a HIFi-level subscription. In my opinion, Tidal’s extensive catalogue, CD-quality streams, and growing library of high-res Masters tracks makes it an easy sell for music fans.

pw's picture

Running Tidal on my MacPro laptop with MQA on the USB A to B into my Tube Preamp with a 24 bit 96khz chip.. I hear a very slight tone and now know it is the Power Supply of the Mac.. Looking at a Schitt Wyrd to decrabify the USB output..