Amazon Music HD. If you think Amazon isn’t serious about music, think again – this value-added streaming service is there with the best. Believe it or not, Amazon has been in the music listening industry for over a decade. Over the years, a free streaming level has launched a simplified service for Amazon Prime subscribers and a rival service to Apple Music and Spotify under the name Amazon Music Unlimited.
But now the retail and technology giant has decided to go further, attacking players like Tidal and Qobuz with its own CD quality and high-definition music streaming service. It’s called Amazon Music HD and it’s a serious competitor.
Much of its competitiveness comes from its pricing; Amazon Music HD charges £12.99 / $12.99 for those already Amazon Prime subscribers and $14.99/$14.99 for non-subscribers.
And yes, that includes an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription, so those who already pay £7.99 will only need to add five more per month.
Ease of use
When evaluating a music streaming service, you tend to take into account three elements in addition to the price: the user experience, the content library and, of course, the sound quality. The user experience revolves around service design, ease of use and ease of finding the music you love. And we can point out that Amazon Music HD works very well in all areas.
By borrowing a lot from Amazon Music Unlimited, you can access Amazon Music HD via three different channels: a web browser, a dedicated desktop app or via a mobile app (available for Android and iOS devices). However, it should be noted that you cannot stream CD-quality music or high-resolution tracks through your browser. This can only be done through dedicated applications, which is not a bad thing.
If you’ve used Spotify or Tidal, you should get familiar with the Amazon Music HD desktop app fairly quickly. It’s actually more of an extension of Amazon Music Unlimited than a brand new service, so Unlimited users will find the layout extremely familiar.
The desktop app has four main tabs: Browse, Recent, My Music and Store. Browse displays your main home screen and displays various playlists, albums and tracks, including a selection of recently streamed music, recommended radio stations based on the artists you like, and a number of recommended songs and albums to listen to.
The “Featured for This Week” section at the top of the homepage, for example, includes launches of new albums and organized content like Best of the Month and Hot Singles. There are also themed playlists, if any, such as 100 Greatest Christmas Songs, if you feel like it.
My Discovery Mix is the equivalent of Discover Weekly on Spotify and it’s a playlist of new songs created from what you tend to listen to and your favorite songs. We found that even though it didn’t quite have Spotify’s success rate, it still managed to come up with enough new tracks that piqued our interest and should improve over time.
When you browse the home page, you’ll see songs called HD and some songs and playlists labeled Ultra HD. This is a feature of the service that deserves a quick explanation.
In a confusing and rather boring way, Amazon Music HD doesn’t use the term HD when it talks about high-resolution audio. Where you see tracks labeled HD, it actually means that they are CD quality.
Amazon’s decision to designate and label high-resolution music as Ultra HD (Ultra High Definition). What for? Presumably, it seems that this labelling will prove clearer for a mass audience – and this may be true.
Amazon refers to HD tracks as having a ’16-bit depth, a minimum sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz (also known as CD quality) and an average binary rate of 850 kbps’. UHD tracks, meanwhile, “have a bit depth of 24 bits, sampling frequencies ranging from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz and an average binary flow of 3730 kbps.
To Amazon’s credit, it pushes ultra HD content extremely the service with dedicated playlists and clear labelling, for example Best of Ultra HD, Ultra HD: New Arrivals, Ultra HD Hip-Hop and Ultra HD Jazz. It doesn’t take long to find a steady stream of UHD music to listen to.
Click on the bright yellow HD or Ultra HD logos that accompany each track (on either app) and you’ll see the sampling frequency of what you’re playing with your machine’s playing abilities. The desktop app will even invite you to change your computer’s audio settings to take advantage of the improved audio quality. It’s a smart and thoughtful touch, especially if you want to connect an external DAC that can natively handle all available sampling frequencies and make the most of Amazon’s high-resolution library.
If you have Echo (2nd generation and newer) devices, Fire TVs, and Fire tablets, they all support HD audio quality. And, if you have an Amazon Echo Studio, you’ll also be able to access Amazon’s catalog of 3D audio tracks via Amazon Music HD. Currently, Amazon claims that there are more than 750 3D tracks encoded in Dolby Atmos or Sony 360 Reality Audio.
Features of Amazon Music HD
The playbar at the bottom of the desktop app displays information about the track and artist and includes control icons on the right that allow you to add tracks to your favorites, playlists or play queues.
A foldable sidebar on the right gives you access to playlists and there’s a smart feature that lets you drag and drop tracks directly into playlists or a playback queue while you browse.
In the bottom left corner, you will see a circular excerpt from the album illustration. Put your cursor over it and the illustration expands slightly, showing you commands to read/pause, skip a track or enlarge it so that the illustration is magnified in full screen.
Before you start broadcasting, you need to make sure the service is configured for optimal sound quality. This involves clicking on your username and then accessing preferences. Click on the “Advanced” tab and you can then adjust the audio quality and download quality to the best of your ability.
The Amazon Music mobile app (Android, Amazon, and IOS) is just as intuitive and user-friendly. The format is a dense adaptation of the work area application, with tabs at the base to switch between home screen, search, music assortment, and Alexa voice search. The album covers are bright, colorful, and very sharp. It occupies half of your mobile’s screen, with the playback controls occupying the lower part. Again, you’ll need to set up your preferences for broadcast and download quality, so you always listen to Ultra HD or HD if possible.
To be fair to Amazon, they’ve created an easy-to-follow FAQ page that covers a number of useful points on how to get the most out of the service, from setting up your computer’s audio output to the amount of SD space, HD and UHD tracks take when downloaded to a computer or smartphone.
The first thing to say about Amazon Music HD is that there is an excellent selection of music available. We recruited six or seven different artists with whom we knew other services were struggling and Amazon’s library delivered the goods, embarrassing Tidal on more than one occasion.
We also found a huge amount of high-resolution music. Amazon and Tidal don’t release exact figures, but by using the service for a few weeks, it feels like Amazon Music HD has a larger catalog of high-resolution music to use. There were a number of occasions when we found an Ultra HD version on Amazon, but we couldn’t find it as a Masters track on Tidal.
And, overall, the tracks on Amazon Music HD are very listenable. Play No Church in the Wild by Jay-Z and Kanye West and the level of detail is impressive throughout the track. The bass is penetrating and powerful – there is a real texture to each note while the bass line makes its way. The voices are detailed, clear and expressive.
It’s a similar case with The Beatles’ Come Together. Listening to the 24-bit/96 kHz version on Amazon Music HD, the track seems accurate and accurate. The drum kit gives the rhythm of the track with the electric guitar making its way to the side. You can isolate each hearing element with the open sound stage and the information available. You can log in or just sit back and have fun with this Beatles classic.
But how does Amazon Music HD compare to Tidal? That is a difficult question to answer. Often Tidal seems to have a slightly more musical and rhythmic sound, but listening to Charli XCX’s 2099 in Ultra HD (24 bits / 44.1 kHz) on Amazon compared to the same track in Tidal Masters, the first seems more open, more detailed, and more interesting to listen to. Although TIdal does a little more rhythm of the track, it also sounds more compressed and less open and lively. This can really vary from track to track.
If you’ve liked high-definition streaming before, but have been delayed due to related costs, Amazon Music HD makes perfect sense, especially if you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber.
Even those who can’t get Amazon Music HD from an equivalent Tidal subscription for £5/$5 a month.
Combine a more complete library of high-definition, CD-quality music, and a pleasant user experience, and you have a serious new candidate for the world-class music streaming service crown.