Unless you are still one of those holdouts with a dial-up modem, you’ve probably heard about and perhaps considered trying Amazon Music and Amazon Music HD. This streaming service, like all things Amazonian, wants to be the 500-pound gorilla that stomps into the quiet forest glen of high-resolution music streaming and claims it for chimps everywhere. Amazon has priced its HD music service at $12.99 per month for Prime users and $15.99 for everyone else, which places it under Qobuz’s and Tidal’s monthly fees if you are already a Prime user. If not a Prime member, then Qobuz new “Studio Premier” at $14.99 per month is currently the least expensive true high-resolution-capable streaming service.
The question of whether Amazon Music would be a better option for you depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is how you feel about Amazon, Alexa, and smart devices in general. Since we are an audiophile publication, we will look not only at ergonomics and catalog accessibility and depth, but also at sound quality differences, if they exist.
What this article will not be is a tutorial for Amazon Music HD.
Amazon Music HD Is Not For Audiophiles
I’ll begin with something that may or may not surprise you. Amazon music and Amazon Music HD are not designed for audiophiles, but for pop music fans! Depending on your musical tastes, you may find it a welcoming bastion for pop, but less welcoming for roots, Americana, classical, jazz, and small-label releases. While I saw many novel offerings from international artists that I have never heard before, I also found it harder to find and populate my Amazon HD playlist with many of my favorite older and less well-known folk, blues, classical, and jazz artists. While Amazon HD does have “genre specific” options for its search, just like other streaming services, the closest I found to the bluegrass and roots genres was “folk,” which was populated by far more international roots than domestic roots offerings. While Tidal’s streaming service is often accused of being tilted too much toward current pop music, Amazon Music HD’s home page can be accused of the same thing—the primary spots near the top of the page were all for new pop music or albums you have played recently. You must go to the very bottom of the page to find new HD and “Ultra HD” music options.
Playlists are popular these days. Amazon Music HD has entire pages of pre-prepared playlists for streaming. Under “Playlists for You” Amazon Music HD had 99 playlists available for me. Naturally I was flattered that Amazon took such an interest, and it was much easier to find palatable playlists than individual albums. So if you are devotee of playlists, Amazon Music HD has plenty for you.
Amazon Music HD—When HD Is Not HD
OK. Amazon, you may be big, but even you aren’t big enough to go reinventing the meaning of technical terms without some serious pushback. Amazon HD simply is not HD! When you click on the cool “HD” logo next to an “HD track” you will find it is 44.1/16, which is Red Book CD, but not HD quality. To find a track that is really HD quality, you have to look for the “Ultra HD” logos. For anything above Red Book 44.1/16, this badge will read “Ultra HD,” but many may be only 44.1/24. Compare that with Qobuz where every track is at least 44.1/16, and many are true higher-resolution tracks, and you begin to see that Amazon Music HD is not as fully fleshed out as other services. HD is there, but not in the quantity or with the ease of access you find in Qobuz or Tidal MQA. If your sole reason for joining Amazon HD is for true high-definition music, I suggest you look elsewhere.
No Streaming Service Is An Island, Is It?
For anyone with a large digital music library on his/her local hard drive, having a centralized playback methodology that lets him/her access that library as well as his/her streaming services would be preferable to individual apps and services that do not integrate with each other. Roon, and for OSX users Audirvana+, offer this kind of cross-platform integration, so that one playback app can locate and play everything in your musical eco-system from hard drives to high-resolution Internet streaming services. Roon and Audirvana do not currently support Amazon or Apple Music streaming platforms. Neither playback app has announced any plans for future integration of Amazon or Apple. Roon currently supports any Roon-aware device on your local network, as well as Tidal, Qobuz, and Dropbox, while Audirvana supports Tidal and Qobuz. Making it easy to access any of your music is one of the promises of digital music, but if you want that kind of integration you can’t get there from Amazon or from Apple Music. However, if you have never acquired a library of music and want only one source of music for both portable and home devices, then Amazon HD’s apps and players should be sufficient for your needs, but you may find it constricting when you do begin to develop your own home library of digital music.
So, Who Will Enjoy Amazon Music HD?
If you want a streaming service primarily for your smartphone or tablet, Amazon Music HD will work fine, because those are the platforms it was designed for. Desktop integration was less WYSIWYG. The OSX version of the Amazon Music HD App has the annoying habit of not changing the bit-rate automatically to match the best possible resolution available for a particular track. Instead, you have to make the adjustment manually via your Mac’s midi control panel. That is so 1990.
Is Regular Amazon Music Without HD Good Enough?
The simple answer is, no. When I first signed up to Amazon Music, I did some listening and was disappointed to discover that I could easily hear the added IM distortion and grain on every track I auditioned compared to Tidal, Qobuz, and my own ripped CDs. Even at merely background levels the added sonic nastiness would be enough to turn me off streaming forever if I had no other options.
Amazon Music HD was sonically worlds better than Amazon Music. When I compared tracks that had the same bit-rate and length (that’s as close as an average consumer can get to seeing if files are identical) they did sound comparable in sound quality. After spending a hour doing comparisons, I was thankful that (since I’m a Roon and Audirvana user) I can easily find and play a track at that track’s native bit-rate without all the midi control adjustments Amazon HD Music requires on many tracks.
Will Amazon HD Be A Gateway To Audiophilia?
If Amazon has its way, that answer would be a resounding no! Amazon’s goal, just like Apple and Facebook, is to keep you involved in its content to the point where it becomes your exclusive digital ecosystem. Amazon wants you to buy Amazon devices for Amazon HD, not some esoteric third-party hardware.If you are already using network devices and streaming services, I suspect that, like me, you will find no compelling reasons to add Amazon Music HD.
Will Amazon Music HD create a new generation of young “woke” music lovers, hip to the delights of high-resolution music? Yes and no…it will create awareness of that something called “HD Music” exists, but except for those who put in the extra effort required to hear it at its maximum potential, which does require some digging, most new users may not even get it, which would be a shame.
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