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Amazon Music launches CD-quality, hi-res streaming tier

  • And here it is, the Munich High-End rumours made real: Amazon Music has today announced the immediate availability of CD-quality streaming from its 50 million-strong song library via a new ‘HD’ subscription tier: US$14.99/month, discounted by US$2/month for Amazon Prime subscribers.

    A small percentage of this same lossless library will be made available as natively streamed hi-res audio – 24bits and sample rates up to 192kHz – and without the help of MQA. Amazon is calling this content ‘Ultra HD’.

    However, like all streaming services offering hi-res content, that “small percentage” of hi-res audio sits in the single digits. The remainder – over 90% – will stream in CD-quality where the sample and bit rates mirror that of a CD: 16bits and 44.1kHz. Why? Hi-res audio supply is determined by the record labels which, in turn, is determined by mastering and recording studio engineers.

    With an existing subscriber base of around 30 million users, Amazon Music is one third the size of Spotify but dwarfs the three other streaming services offering lossless tiers: Deezer (7 million subscribers); Tidal (3 million subscribers); Qobuz (0.2 million subscribers). Converting even a small percentage of their existing users over to the new HD tier will see Amazon Music move a good number of people away from lossy streaming and back to the uncompressed lossless audio that marked the CD era. Only the grumpiest of audiophiles would refuse to call that a good thing.

    The question of Roon integration will be raised swiftly but we should ask ourselves: is Amazon too big of a fish shark to deal with minnows? And what’s in it for Amazon Music? How many new users could Roon bring to the table? And would a streaming giant like Amazon Music allow their streaming service to be reskinned in return?

    Sonos is the only streaming hardware manufacturer to date to negotiate the folding of Amazon Music, Apple Music and Spotify into its own app. BluOS’ Amazon Music integration is different. It’s done via API calls. Any Roon integration would go way beyond streaming service-supplied code hooks. And that Roon integration is where, for now at least, Tidal and Qobuz hold audiophile trump cards.

    Furthermore, the Norwegian and French rivals might cede less audiophile ground to Amazon Music by licensing their own versions of Spotify Connect to more streaming hardware manufacturers (beyond Google Chromecast) because there is no Amazon Music ‘Connect’.

    And before alarmists ring the bell for Qobuz or Tidal’s imminent demise, it’s worth noting that Tidal’s exclusives, windowed releases and live video streams likely bring in as many (if not more) subscriptions than its HiFi tier. There are more Prince, BeyoncĂ©, White Stripes and Kanye West fans in the world than there are audiophiles.

    Amazon Music’s HD service launches today in the US, the UK, Germany and, perhaps most interestingly, Japan where streaming is in its infancy. A 90-day free trial is available in all four territories.

    Your move, Spotify and Apple.

    Further information: Amazon

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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