My Thoughts on the new Amazon HD/UHD service

What’s offered?

Amazon launched its new Amazon Music HD/UHD service recently which adds a lossless music tier to its existing lossy service, Amazon Music.

It promises up to 50 million tracks in what it calls HD music. A bit misleading as this is not Hi-res but CD quality with a bit depth of 16 bits, a minimum sample rate of 44.1khz and an average bitrate of 850 kbps. About similar bitrates to what you get with the Tidal CD quality ‘Hi-Fi’ service. Tidal was the first to offer a CD quality service in 2017.

Qobuz and Tidal are the main players in the lossless space for audiophiles or audiolovers? and Spotify and Apple Music offer lossy services.

At $12.99/£12.99 month for Prime members or $14.99/£14.99 month for Amazon customers, this is cheaper than Tidal’s $20/£20 per month CD service

There is ‘Ultra HD’ music from Amazon too which has ‘millions of tracks’ with a bit depth of 24 bits, sample rates ranging from 44.1 kHz up to 192 kHz, and an average bitrate of 3730 kbps. In other words hi-res.

new Amazon HD/UHD service
new Amazon HD/UHD service

Amazon Music reaches all those Amazon TV’s, Android and Apple phones and tablets plus a host of devices already established on the platform. It’s reaching the mass market TVs and soundbars and mobile devices too.

What about us?

Currently supported devices are as below, but where does this leave traditional Audiophile users?What about the plethora of brands like Naim, Auralic, Innuos, Aurender etc in adopting an Amazon HD service. Roon integration too? Well unsurprising most of these brands aren’t on the Amazon service given previous lossy credentials. Amazon music was available on bluesound devices back in December 2017.

Uptake of Amazon CD Quality and above services can only mean licensing deals with firms like Roon and HiFi manufacturers to keep customers happy. Time will tell.

Whether many existing ‘mass market’ Amazon customers move over to the HD service to the extent we then see more adoption of Amazon HD services on premium audio gear, is yet to be seen. I question this based on previous trends of the market for streaming being dominated by the 100 million subscribers to only the lossy Spotify service (catalogue of songs over ‘40 million’). However let’s not forget Spotify numbers are based too on being the original established streaming service which has happened over time. So these numbers may not be truly reflective of a good market desire for lossless streaming. Where do things sit now?

new Amazon HD/UHD service
new Amazon HD/UHD service

We will of course continue to enjoy Qobuz and Tidal on our Audiophile devices until we see what the mass market does with Amazon Premium services.

Amazon seem ready for the demise of new CD production which might not be too far away. Extrapolating the trend in the UK, CD production has two more years left. Amazon may be taking a tactical decision to exploit the fall of CD. Mr and Mrs Smith will need to buy a streamer for their HiFi when they can no longer buy CDs. Most people won’t then bother with downloads but will just subscribe to a streaming service. Handy for the music industry as I’ve heard it said most people don’t buy one CD a month, being around the price of a normal monthly lossy subscription. This is certainly the case in the UK and US, maybe not in Japan where you’d expect a technologically skilled nation to adopt streaming. They don’t – physical formats still preside.

It only really becomes an issue of price for audiophiles I think. What could tempt us to change from Tidal or Qobuz to Amazon will be price dependent and due to the economies of scale that Amazon can offer. If you are paying $20 for a single sub on Tidal or even £30 for the family sub, as I do, it wouldn’t take much to go over to Amazon with a similar catalogue size of around 50 million (60 million with Tidal). You are basically get the same thing for less wonga. Tidal only have 3 million subscribers but there are currently around 30 million subscribers to streaming Amazon services.

Now much pervades discussion with audiophiles about which streaming service offers the better sound in systems, but its so system dependent, to make no odds. See this article about improving your DACs. And as people invest in digital audio and DACs to serve need for streaming, which just gets better all the time as well, it becomes less of an issue. It’s the case music quality is mostly always DAC and not format dependent.

new Amazon HD/UHD service

So I won’t be itching inquisitively to know what flavour Amazon HD or Ultra HD is to my HiFi and a rush to buy a compatible device. Its worth trying for the purposes of mobile audio and exploring Amazon interfaces- a free 90 day trial at the moment is available.

The writing may be on the wall for Tidal against the mega giant of Amazon. If decent numbers of users subscribe to these higher tier Amazon services, then unit prices of Amazon streaming services can come down in the battle for market share. There will certainly be more temptation towards Amazon rather than Qobuz or Tidal prices.

And I say good luck if Amazon can get the Smith’s onboard. It will then be cheaper for all us audiophiles. Buying different or better DACs and digital transports, we are basically in the same position whatever the hell lossless music service we have. It’s inevitable future services will have big catalogues to suit a shift away from CD when it dies, anyway.

Audirvana, PC software used by audiophiles to exploit better music from computers, have said they are open to integrate this new service into Audirvana. I’m sure Roon would too!

Watch this space……..

Written by Simon Price

I'm an audio lover who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE, BALANCED and ENGAGING way. I’m interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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