Like many Spotify users, I've been reflecting lately on if I want to continue using it. While I don't know where I'm going to end up listening to music in the future, Spotify's making some good arguments for why I shouldn't stick around, with the latest news being the nail in the coffin.
That news isn't about the main Spotify Joe Rogan controversy, nor is it that one of my favorite artists is pulling their catalog of music, but that Spotify still can't provide a date for when it will introduce its long-promised HiFi subscription tier for higher quality audio.
Spotify had already admitted it didn't have a timeline for introducing HiFi quality (opens in new tab), but now CEO Daniel Ek has himself said during an investor call (via 9to5Mac (opens in new tab)) that while the company's in "constant dialogue" to make the feature happen, there's no specific answer just yet.
I've happily been using Spotify for about four years (about as long as I've been commuting to work via public transport), but to be honest I'd been wondering about what I was missing by listening to the service's lower-quality audio. That and how I've read about the (marginally) better payouts per stream for artists on other services. So with there being a huge amount of chatter about what exactly rival services offered in the aftermath of artists leaving Spotify in protest, there seemed to be no better time than the present to branch out.
Trying Apple Music and Tidal
And so I signed up for the free trials of both Apple Music (three months) and Tidal HiFi Plus (one month). I have yet to explore either service deeply, mostly listening to songs and artists I'm already familiar with, mainly Thundercat and Interpol, pre-Carlos Dengler's departure. What can I say, clearly I have a thing for eccentric bassists.
The difference in quality between Spotify and Apple Music or Tidal was immediately obvious. Trying out the HiFi, Apple Lossless and Master format versions of songs like "Lava Lamp" or "Obstacle 1" made listening to them on Spotify again sound like the track was missing parts. Sure the overall sound was still the same, but details like the multiple layers of Thundercat's falsetto harmony or just how many unnecessary but wonderful flourishes Dengler puts into his basslines just weren't there on the Spotify versions. If listening to these songs on Apple Music was like hearing the band playing around you, Spotify adds in dense foam pillars in certain spots that just eat up parts of the recording.
To make matters worse, Apple Lossless and Tidal HiFi are included with your basic subscription, while Spotify's HiFi tier will allegedly be another level above Premium, competing with Tidal's HiFi Plus subscription that gives access to Master recordings and other high bit rate formats. Even if Spotify launched HiFi tomorrow, it would still be hard to justify the extra expense on top of my existing subscription rather than paying the same amount with Apple Music or Tidal and getting the highest quality options thrown in for free.
The only thing I didn't like about my test drives is the interface of Apple Music and Tidal. Part of this is going to be due to how familiar I am with Spotify's way of doing things, but there's some unintuitive stuff like having to swipe from the top of the screen to leave Tidal's now playing menu. And the larger card sizes on Apple Music make browsing songs and playlists more tedious. I think I could quite easily learn to live with this though, as a price for enjoying even the most familiar music so much more.
Spotify still being unable to say when its high-quality audio will be available to users is a comparatively minor problem compared to the possibility it is broadcasting dangerous misinformation. However, even if it does the impossible and manages to offer a solution that pleases both existing supporters and those who've left, I can't see myself going back now. I really like the higher quality available on other services, and without Spotify being able to say definitively when it will be able to match them, I don't see any reason to hang around.
I've yet to decide which out of Apple Music or Tidal I'll be sticking with long-term, and fortunately I've still got most of my free trails left to make up my mind. If you're facing a similar decision, why not read the thoughts of other TG writers on who wins the bout between Apple Music vs Spotify and why switching to Tidal from Spotify has its ups and downs.