Are You Getting The Best Out Of Tidal HiFi?

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Are You Getting The Best Out Of Tidal HiFi

UPDATE 14-Feb-2017
MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) Tracks

You could call Tidal the Spotify for audiophiles.

The music streaming service owned by Jay-Z and a variety of other successful music artists distinguishes itself by offering uncompressed (lossless) 16-bit 44kHz audio quality and a selection of MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) albums in 24-bit up to 192kHz to its subscribers if you’re willing to pay the $20 monthly fee.

How to get the Best Sound out of Tidal HiFi?

When you’re paying the extra for Tidal Hifi it’s important that the signal is kept as clean as possible when going from source (Tidal) to your DAC. Otherwise, you’re better off paying $9.99 for the Premium (320Kbps) subscription.

Wait…!? What are you talking about?

Alright, this might sound confusing right now. I know. Why wouldn’t the audio signal be clean when playing music through your computer? Even when you’ve hooked up an external DAC to your system so the audio isn’t subject to electrical noise from the internal computer parts. It’s about what happens to the audio before it gets to your DAC.

Although this guide is primarily written with Microsoft Windows in mind, it also applies on Apple MacOS.

When you use the browser version of Tidal, the audio is put through the Windows mixer before it goes to the DAC. Therefore there’s the chance the audio is altered (resampling, volume control, filtering). To keep the audio “bit-perfect” (none-altered) you can use WASAPI in exclusive mode. This makes sure Tidal is talking directly to the DAC without being affected by the various Windows mixing stages. This also means that you’ll get no sound out of any other application as long as Tidal is active.

Get the Tidal desktop app!

That’s right! Although Tidal advocates the use of Chrome as the only browser option capable of lossless streaming, it still must go through the Windows mixer. The desktop version is the only way to make a direct audio path via WASAPI exclusive mode. Also, if you want to take advantage of the MQA tracks, the desktop app is the only way to go.

Get the latest Tidal desktop app at http://tidal.com/us/download.

If you don’t have a Tidal subscription you can get a 30 days free trial for either Premium (320Kbps) or HiFi (lossless) at http://tidal.com/us/try-now.

Enable WASAPI Exclusive Mode

  1. Start Tidal Desktop App and go to Streaming settings by clicking on HIFI or Master on the bottom right (or via Settings)
  2. Make sure you’ve selected MasterSet Tidal App to Hifi Master
  3. Select your DAC (I have the Dragonfly Red v1.0) and click on More settingsSound Output Tidal Desktop App
  4. Enable both Exclusive Mode and Force VolumeSet Exclusive Mode on Tidal Master

If you have a DAC like the Dragonfly Red or Black that supports MQA, then you want to mark Passthrough MQA. This makes sure that your DAC will do the decoding instead of Tidal (Hardware Decoding = faster!).

That’s all there is to it! Tidal is now operating in WASAPI exclusive mode. This ensures you get the best sound quality out of your Tidal HiFi subscription.

Possible Issues

This issue seems to be solved with the latest version of the Tidal Desktop App, but I will leave it in the article for people who would still like to output the Tidal stream through Jriver Media Center.

It is possible you get the following message when marking Use Exclusive Mode:

tidal_requires_you_to_set_your_system_sound

Remember, Tidal uses 16-bit 44.1kHz for everything except 24-bit MQA tracks and by using Exclusive mode, the audio cannot be altered. This means you’ll have to change your sound output settings to the appropriate settings.

Some DACs like the Audioquest DragonFly v1.2 only operates in 24-bit. Therefore if you have a DAC that only operates in a certain bit mode, you cannot use this with Tidal’s Exclusive Mode for songs that are 16-bit. Essentially this means you can only listen to 24-bit MQA tracks.

However, you can use certain software like JRiver Media Center v21 or above to send the audio stream to.

Output through JRiver Media Center

Doing this using JRiver Media Center there will be a direct path from the Tidal App to JRiver Media Center. When your DAC is 24-bit it will output the 16-bit stream (in case of non-MQA tracks) to 24-bit by adding 8 empty bits to it. Although the output is not bit-perfect, this will not change the sound quality.

If you don’t have a copy, you can download a free trial at https://www.jriver.com/download.html.

First, we need to check some settings in Media Center.

  1. Go to Options – Tools
  2. Under Audio select your DAC in WASAPI modejriver_wasapi
  3. Under Device Settings select Exclusive Mode. (Only if you control the volume on an external device I suggest you enable Maximize device volume during playback.)jriver_exclusive_mode
  4. Go to General – Features and select WDM Driver
    JRiver WDM Driver Install

That’s all you need to do in JRiver Media Center, so let’s go back to the Tidal Desktop App.

  1. Go to the Streaming settings and select JRiver Media Center XX and click on the wheel
    tidal_sound_output
  2. Make sure both settings are enabled (Again Passthrough MQA only when your DAC supports it)
    Exclusive Mode Tidal App Jriver MC
  3. Go to your Windows Playback Devices
    windows_playback_devices
  4. In the Properties of Jriver Media Center device go to the Advanced tab and select 16 bit, 44100 Hz (CD Quality). Also, make sure both options under Exclusive Mode are selected.
    windows_playback_16bit

Remember you always need to have JRiver Media Center started when using this method.

Your mileage may vary!

Whether or not you’re going to hear any difference depends on multiple factors. The most important thing is that you need a good pair of headphones or speakers. You’re not going to hear any difference using the built-in laptop speakers or the standard iPod/iPhone earbuds. Check some of my reviews if you need inspiration.

Secondly, you’ll need to listen to the music. Not just hear the music, but really listen to it. Sometimes it’s about subtle changes. A more open soundstage, a tighter sound overall, a bit more clarity… Small things you’ll unlikely hear when you’re focusing on something else and are using your music as background.

That’s all! You’re good to go. Listen to your favorite music and see if you can hear the difference! If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.

 

51 thoughts on “Are You Getting The Best Out Of Tidal HiFi?”

  1. Do you know what a musician should upload to Tidal (Via for example Tunecore)? If you upload music mastered to 24 bit, what happens when someone is listening to MP3s? Do you have to upload a version of each or is the conversion done automatically somewhere? I’ve asked this question of Tidal, Tunecore and Distrokid (another Tuncore type agent) and had no answer.

    1. Hi John, not sure about this. Since Tidal offers uncompressed 16-bit 44.1kHz you should a least upload it in that format. For MQA, I’m not sure how to qualify for that. A Tidal representative should be able to help you with that. Tidal creates compressed files for people who listen in lesser quality, so no need to worry about that. Good luck!

  2. Hello, Jurgen,

    Thank you for this simple explainer. I have moved my session listening from a small, dedicated room (basically our tiny guest room/library) to my home office, where my DAC and my electrostatic headphones (and their amp) now all reside right next to my computer station. I use Tidal from the Windows Store (as far as I can tell, it’s identical to the desktop app.) This article really helped me understand what was going on with the Tidal settings.

    But I still wonder – how do you know that the audio stream is going through WASAPI when we set Tidal to exclusive mode and force volume? Is there a way to check? The Cambridge Audio driver shows nothing (it indicates ASIO is off – I assume I’d need separate drivers for ASIO and I don’t know how that would work with Tidal anyway). Is there a way to show what’s going on, say, through PowerShell?

    A related issue is that now that I have Tidal set in the way you suggested, my DAC recognizes different sample rates coming from Tidal. It’s 44.1 for CD and 88.2 for MQA (my DAC can’t decode MQA files, so I let the Tidal app do the “first fold” as the MQA people call it). That’s fine. But before, I had the system sound set to 24/192 (USB Audio Class 2), and all audio passed through to the DAC was at a 192k sample rate. In this case, is Windows upsampling? If so, how (in what manner)? Unexpectedly, it sounded pretty good to my ears.

    I’m just curious about these things but I lack the technical background. Any help with me figuring this out would be appreciated. Thanks again for a very helpful post!

    1. Hey Andrew,

      First of all, if you’re using exclusive mode then you are using wasapi. It’s the only way that Windows can use exclusive mode.

      Now that you’ve setup Tidal as I recommend, you’ve made sure no upsampling is being performed. It is always better to play music in their original sampling rate. When you setup your DAC to play everything in 192kHz even if the source material is only 44kHz, you’re actually telling your DAC to add more info, info that isn’t available in the source material. Whether you’ll be able to hear the artifacts is a different thing and depends on a few variables (complexity of the song, quality of headphones/speakers, quality of the DAC). But you get the point, right?

  3. This is not true “The music streaming service owned by Jay-Z” because Tidal is owned by many artists: Madonna, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Natalia Kills, Kanye West, etc…… They are the owners of TIDAL.

  4. I just got Tidal and couldn’t figure out how to get it to properly talk to my DAC. I was messing around in Sound Settings without avail. This article had all the right details and told me exactly what to do. Thank you! 🙂

  5. What if I set the DAC settings to max (384kHz) and therefore let Tidal play at the highest quality all the time (knowing songs might play at different hi fidelities)?

    1. Tidal MQA tracks support up to 192kHz, so your DAC will either automatically choose the right sampling rate or upsample to 384kHz. In most cases, it’s recommended to use the correct sampling rate. Unless you have something like the Hugo M Scaler, which is a standalone upsampling device that actually does a good job of improving the sound. This is of course subjective… 🙂

  6. I had a weird issue and solution I found.

    When I go in exclusive mode my receiver tells me the songs are being played at 44.1kHz ..

    I go back to regular settings window and change the playback device to “Communications – AV receiver” ( the AV receiver is my playback unit ) it’s just the word Communications in front of it what changes from the other setting.

    I checked back at my receiver and yes finaly now songs were being played at 192kKz

  7. I’m still a little confused. Are you saying that if you use exclusive mode in TIDAL it is automatically using WASAPI (in Windows 7)?
    And in my case, I need to use the internal IDT codec, which does not mention WASAPI when you go into it’s settings. (I CAN use the WASAPI apps in Foobar2000 and Audacity, but they are separate- is this correct?)
    And the third question- do I need to change the bit depth and sample rate in my settings between listening to regular (16/44) music and MQA music (supposedly 24 bit, 96K usually) in TIDAL, even though I am using exclusive mode?
    I’ve asked them this and have gotten no reply…
    I also have an external audio recording interface that I sometimes use, but the same question applies about setting the rates. Thanks.

    1. The Tidal app can be a bit wonky sometimes, so bear that in mind. First of all, if you marked both exclusive options in the playback settings of your internal soundcard and selected exclusive mode in Tidal, it will use wasapi. You won’t actually see it, but that’s because Tidal just does not show that you use wasapi, unlike Foobar or Jriver.

      Your third question was an issue in the past but seems to be solved a while ago. However, as I said, Tidal can act a bit strange, but I managed to keep it on 16-bit in my windows playback settings and when playing an MQA track, my Dragonfly Red lighted up in the appropriate color.

      Hope this helps. Cheers!

  8. Good Article!

    I have a windows PC running JRiver and I have a Marantz SR7009. Whats the best way to connect the windows PC to the Amplifier?

      1. Hi Jurgen,

        Appreciate the quick response. To clarify my question, I was looking for the connection between the PC and the Receiver. Currently its connected via the HDMI Cable from the PC’s vide card to the HDMI IN on the Receiver, but I believe there could be a better audio connectivity either via coax or USB or pre-out. I maybe wrong, but wanted to ask it out.

        Thanks.

        1. Not an expert here, but hdmi is pretty good. It handles high-resolution audio and all, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. So in my opinion it’s the preferred option to use.

  9. steve hansen

    What is the best way to connect a Macbook pro 2014, do I use my headphone out to my preamp RCA cd input and use the built in dac of the pre amp.

  10. If you download the “Captune” app from Google Store (not sure if there’s the same on iOS) and sign up to Tidal via that app, you’ll get 3 months of free trial instead of 1.

    1. That’s right! Not sure how long this promotion will last, since I always thought it was a very temporary thing, but it’s been running for months now. Currently using it 😉

  11. Thanks for the post. I´m a mac user and I was trying to get tidal through Jriver without success. Do you know if it is possible on mac? Cause the wdm driver it´s windows only right? I did manage to enable the wdm driver on Jriver but it won´t appear on the tidal streaming options!!

    And using the tidal app with my dragonfly 1.2 with exlcusive mode and forced volume won´t get me the same quality as listening to local flac on jriver!!

    I would love to have real cd quality at least with tidal but so far it is not happening….

    1. You’re correct, the wdm driver is windows only, so it will not do anything on Mac. Honestly, I have no idea if there is an equivalent to the wdm driver as so to make Jriver act like a soundcard on Mac.
      When you use Exclusive Mode in the Tidal App you are bypassing all internal mixing and so are sending a direct unaltered stream from Tidal to your Dragonfly. So essentially this is what you want to achieve.
      If you’re claiming that the sound is not of the same quality as it is on Jriver, it might be that your local source file is from a different master, or you are using some EQ on Jriver maybe?
      Try streaming the exact same album you have in your local collection to make sure you’re comparing apples with apples. As you know there are different versions of the same albums and they don’t necessary sound identical.

  12. I must be missing something. By following these directions, there does not seem to be any place in the playback chain to change the volume. I am listening to Tidal via JRiver through my Audioquest Dragonfly Red, according to your set up, and I cannot adjust volume to my headphones. (Sennheiser HD 600s and NAD HP50s). Neither the Windows volume, Tidal volume or JRiver volume does anything. Even when I have unchecked Force volume it still plays full blast. What have I done wrong?

    1. Hey Jeff, I see what’s causing this issue and I’ve immediately updated the article. Head back to Step 3 for Jriver settings and unmark Maximize device volume during playback. I must have missed that because I’m using an external amp to control the volume, but if you only use the Dragonfly you need to unmark it. Sorry for the trouble! Thanks for the feedback and sorry again.

  13. HI there. Very informative article. I sincerely appreciate that people take the time to give such detailed instructions. I did exactly as you laid out. I however have a new problem. Please let me know if you may have a solution. I have Jriver set up, I have Tidal set exactly as you said.
    Thing is using my Dragonfly Red… and playing the new Masters Tracks, there is a heavy lag of about 9 to 10 seconds before a track actually plays. On some tracks where there is no lag, you get a 1-3 second skip. I am on a T1 line and speed and loading is not an issue. i would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks in advance.

    1. Hmm, I’ve not encountered this myself. However, I have to admit I only used the Hifi option as MQA was not available at the time of this article.
      Do you also have this issue when not playing a Masters Track? I was planning to get myself a new trial to test the MQA tracks, and so I can update this guide a little bit. I will let you know in the next few days, alright.
      btw how’s that Dragonfly Red working out for you? I’m still using the Dragonfly v1.2 and I have my eye on the new Red for quite some while.
      Cheers!

      1. Jurgen, Thanks for the quick response! FYI, I just tried the Dragonfly Black 1.2 …..same issue on Masters. The regular HiFi tracks are also affected. (I’ve tried on 2 different PC’s, Windows 7 and Windows 10).
        Another note. Once closing JRiver, the masters tracks are no longer played back at 96Khz (Magenta) rather played back at 44.1 Khz (Green) on my Dragonfly Red. But that stops the lag and the skip.

        Seems like Jriver would be the issue or at least a setting maybe?

        BTW. There is definatley a noticeable difference from 1.2 Vs. Red to the better.

        Hope this helps.

        1. Hey Aldo, just got a new free trial (90 days via Sennheiser’s Captune app on Android if you’re interested).
          First thing I noticed was that for the MQA tracks you don’t need Jriver anymore as these are 24-bit. The issue with 16-bit tracks stays unfortunately, since Tidal needs 16-bit on the DAC which is not possible with the Dragonfly.
          Still need to test with Jriver, but just wanted to let you know that you can play those MQA tracks directly from the Tidal app. The colors on my Dragonfly light up correctly.
          Just make sure you select Exclusive Mode. Passthrough MQA is not needed atm, until AQ brings out the promised firmware update for your Red.
          Let me know if this works for you.
          btw, you’ve just given me an excuse to buy a Red 🙂

          1. I did see that it will pass through the Dragonfly, and light up correctly, however only using Jriver which of course has the faults. When I turn off Jriver and use the Dragonfly as the main output in Control Panel and Tidal. Tidal will not hold the setting and reverts back to the onboard output. The sound still comes through the dragonfly and sounds far superior than using the native 3.5mm, unfortunately it is still at 44.1Khz.
            That being said, I assume we just have to wait on the DF software update that was promised in January.
            Thank you once again and enjoy your new Red!

          2. The Tidal app is kinda wonky. When you play a 24-bit track thru Tidal and it reverts back to the onboard device or default device, you need to click on Master and select something else (NOT your DragonFly, but for example the Jriver output, remember Jriver does not need to be open for this) After that select the DragonFly. Normally the led should turn purple or orange and it should work, but only for as long as you’re listening to MQA. Oh and when you close Tidal, there’s a chance you need to repeat this process again. I know it’s kinda stupid, but that’s the way it is atm. Cheers!

          3. Jurgen, you are the man!! I now know what to do based on your description. The work around makes me extremely happy, though not as AQ or Tidal intended, but great while we wait for the proper update.
            Thanks again!

  14. This is certainly a helpful setup guide, sadly I own neither a Windows computer, nor a set of HI-FI headphones to try it out. I do have a couple questions: Is WASAPI an acronym? If so, then what does it stand for? I currently own a Mac and 2 Google Chromebooks, would this work as well with a either setup?

    1. Hey Becky, WASAPI stands for Windows Audio Session API. Now I’m nog going to bore you to death with the technical aspects 🙂 but let’s just say this is Windows way of talking to your soundcard.

      You can use this guide on a Mac. Just download the Tidal app and enable exclusive mode as laid out in my instructions. It’s not available for Chromebook, since the Tidal app is only for Win & Mac.

  15. A very informational article you have here. Many consumers ignore these little details when streaming music on their computers. They just assume that it’s the best sound they can get.

    I would add that it takes a pair of “seasoned” ears in order to discern the difference in quality. I’m afraid most consumers won’t be able to tell the difference, and would be better off paying for the premium subscription.

    Great guide!

    1. Hi Farhan, yes you’re absolutely right. I only recommend doing this if you have Tidal HiFi subscription.

      On a sidenote. Tidal recently released some numbers on total subscriptions they have, and the crazy thing is that almost half of these subscriptions are for the more expensive HiFi one. Who would have thought that! I’m positively surprised that so many people actually care about High-Fidelity. 🙂

      Cheers!
      Jurgen

  16. Wow! What a comprehensive post. I love Tidal so far, although I’m primarily an Apple Music user, but I had no idea that I could be getting much better sound quality if I switched up my headphones (I’ll look into your other reviews- thanks!) and settings. I definitely need to download the desktop app as well.

  17. Hey I never knew how much work goes into an sound in earphones. This is very informative and has really got me thinking about the earphones when I am listening to music. When Beyonce released her latest video album it was only available on Tidal, people had to pay to be able to view her online album and I found out through media that JAYZ owned Tidal. Talk about a great business outcome for the both of them. They walked away with a lot of money. That is as far as my knowledge goes with Tidal. My question for you is, can you apply these HIFI settings to other online music streaming sites? Thanks Regards Grace

    1. Hi Grace, the Hifi setting is only a quality setting in Tidal. Therefore it only applies to Tidal itself. The Hifi setting provides full 16bit cd quality instead of compressed 320Kbps quality you get from the Premium setting in Tidal or other streaming services. For example Spotify Premium also uses a 320Kbps compressed music format.

      Maybe I’ll do an article to better explain different music formats someday!

      Cheers!

  18. I’m so used to using movie and TV/Drama streaming, I never thought twice about music streaming until this post!

    Sure, there’s Pandora, Sirius XM, Last fm and so on, but I didn’t know music content of such high quality has been presented this way. I will definitely look further into Tidal, since I’m an audio-nerd and use all headphones I possess to the point their literally hanging by a string. Thanks for sharing this info and even breaking down the settings, if someone should need a step-by-step reference.

    1. You’re welcome. Be sure to try the one month free subscription! You can activate it and cancel it immediately and still keep your full month for free 🙂

  19. This is great information on setting up the Tidal App. I have thought about going to them for music streaming. Right now I just use Pandora. How do they compare as far as setting up music channels, etc. Pandora is “ok” as some times you have to deal with the music not playing or the commercials. But it’s 4.99 a month commercialess, and Tidal is 9.00. Now if the quality is better, than I would think it would be worth it to switch.

    1. I like Pandora’s simplicity. I love it when I’m in the mood for some passive listening as I can just type in a genre or theme and Pandora plays the music that fits my mood at that time! However when I really want to handpick the songs I want to listen to, I use Tidal HiFi.

      It all depends on what kind of listener you are. Pandora is awesome for the passive listener, while Tidal is great for music lovers who demand the best streaming quality available.

      Hope that helps 😉 Cheers!

  20. I just bought a pair of headphones for video recording bands . I will be reading your reviews because I am going to want to upgrade in near future. You seem to be very knowledgeable about headphones. I am doing 4 channel audio and HD video recording need pure sound no boosting of bass so I can setup the audio recording part. Do have any suggestions for this?

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