Amazon HD Music launches, But Questions Remain

Amazon launched Amazon Music HD this Tuesday, and it promises to be quite interesting. The service is available for Prime Subscribers for $12.99 USD and non Prime subscribers for $14.99 USD. There is even a family plan available for $19.99 USD, or an additional $5 on top of your Amazon Music Unlimited subscription. Amazon Music HD is available in the USA, UK, Germany, and Japan, and offers albums in qualities up to 24/192. 

This is fairly big news for the audiophile world, that, up until recently has been served by Qobuz, and a few other services such as Deezer which has a limited catalogue, or TIDAL which only offers 16/44.1 and MQA files. Amazon Music HD promises to offer Amazon’s comparatively massive catalogue, about 50 million songs, in what it is calling ‘HD’ defined as 16/44.1 FLAC, and ‘millions more’ in ‘Ultra HD’ which is defined as 24-bit FLAC files with sample rates between 44.1khz and 192khz. 

On a quick perusal of the catalogue it is indeed extensive and there seems to be a pretty good selection of 24-bit music. The desktop application and web app are both well designed from a UI and UX standpoint, though with a few odd and notable exceptions. The Desktop app lacks some of the normalization features of the mobile and web apps, as well as being less feature rich when it comes to external DAC usage as compared to something like Qobuz, Roon or Audirvana. Likewise, in the mobile and web apps, while I like the lyrics feature and queuing system, there is no way to tell what bit-depth or sample rate a file is playing at – which seems like a pretty huge oversight for a service clearly attempting to cater at least a little to audiophiles. 

It will be interesting to see if Amazon’s push to offer high-resolution will help them catch up to the other ‘Big three’ streaming services, Spotify and Apple Music. Neither of those services has yet committed to high-resolution streaming, and while the topic is much discussed amongst audiophiles, I suspect the prosumer market will ultimately be the deciding factor in how successful this move by Amazon is. As usual, catalogue, marketing and ‘cool’ factor will come into play here. For the audiophiles at least, another big factor will be integration with popular player software such as Roon or Audirvana. Integration with these services is a critical component to success in the audiophile markets, not just the offering of high-resolution files. 

Ultimately Amazon Web Services host both TIDAL, Qobuz and many other smaller streaming players’ catalogues, so it remains to be seen how the the competitive nature of the audiophile streaming world will play out. I’d like to think there’s space for several different approaches, but only time will tell. Certainly Qobuz’ support of recent audio festivals such as CanJam, AXPONA, Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Capital Audio Fest and The Home Entertainment Show and Florida Audio Expo has not gone unnoticed, and that commitment to the community makes me hopeful for their success. Whether Amazon Music will affect them or not is a question that remains to be seen. For now, all I can say is give that 90 day trial a shot and see what you think. For now, I’m still making up my mind, but generally feeling positive about the service. The More high-resolution music we have easy access to, the better our gear will sound. A rising tide lifts all ships. 

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COMMENTS
SalvorHardin's picture

I tried Amazon Music for a trial period, and found their music selection to be rather scarce. I'm surprised to hear that they have over 40-million tunes; let alone anything in CD quality. And what about the authenticity of actual so-called ultra HD?
I'll probably sit this out 'till I hear a bit more about it. At least they're going where Apple won't.

gnahra's picture

In the mobile app, if you click on the “HD” or “Ultra HD” yellow logo just under the album art, you can see the bit depth/sample rate of the track being played.

JRT's picture

I like that it is using FLAC, and is not locking music data in DRM protected proprietary formats such as MQA. I want proprietary formats like MQA to fail in the marketplace sooner rather than later.

gsuen's picture

I bluetooth my laptop into a sprout connected to my old Spica TC60s and it was definitely an upgrade to normal Amazon Music, noticeably "CD" quality versus what i was getting before. It skips a bit more, but let's blame that on my uverse.

maelob's picture

Just signed up and downloaded the desktop app on my IMAC not liking it so far, not very intuitive to find music, i think so far i prefer Tidal app, also was clicking on all the ultra HD albums and almost all of them were 24/44 - but again i am just starting with it. Also trying to figure out if the app would change the midi set up but so far i have to change it manually. When i installed the program asked me to give it permission to control the computer setting, i did but nothing seems to happen. I dont like to leave my audio set up at 24/192 all the time. Will keep playing with it.

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