decades of fun

Amazon Music HD & Ultra HD: A Music Lovers First Review

I have to admit, I feel a bit lost and unsure of what to say. I want to do a dance and shout “I told you so!”. I have been on a crusade for many years and I finally got what I was asking for.

Amazon Music is the first of the big streamers to offer 24bit streaming. Tidal is lossless but stuck at 16/44. Also Amazon are using FLAC and true lossless, too, so no isn’t MQA still lossy? controversy or licensing fees needed.

I feel like Amazon’s product managers have been reading this site the last 6 years. You are our quality all-star Amazon — #SaveTheAudio ! I can also tell that Amazon enjoyed the short-lived Pono ecosystem, as their store, styles, and language sound very similar to Pono’s output.

The nomenclature they went with is:

Standard Definition High DefinitionUltra High Definition
CD lossless
24 bit/44 – 48 – 88 – 96 – 192k
hi-res lossless
bitrate up to 320k avg. bitrate 850k avg. bitrate 3730k

Perfectly clear to me. That’s where I had my lines drawn also. I know that Pono/Neil went with hi-res starting at 16/44, but I have always pushed for 24 bit as the bottom line and that’s where Amazon went.

If you are skeptical, just listen for yourself.

In fact, I want everyone who’s ever commented on an article or post regarding digital audio quality to go listen. Get your free 3 month trial and listen. Snark amazon if you dare.

Listen on everything you can. So far I’ve tried Amazon Music HD streaming to/from 3 of my devices:

1 – Lenovo Thinkpad X1, circa 2018
2 – Apple iPhone 6, circa 2014
3 – Apple Macbook Pro Core 2 Duo, circa 2010

All three show a noticeable improvement when streaming HD or Ultra HD music from Amazon as compared to lossy services. I’ve never heard the Thinkpad or iPhone sound better! The macbook, however, is my production computer and is hooked to a nice 24-bit audio interface from Focusrite, so it usually renders this nicely (I usually work at 24-bit resolution).

I have to admit I was wrong in saying that there’s no point in streaming 24-bit to mobile phones. My 5 year old iPhone actually rendered up to 24/48 and sounded pretty good! Not pono good, mind you, but better than lossy files. At least as good as most consumer CD players sound, and that’s better than AAC or MP3.

Blow that horn – master-quality music is finally streaming!

I also have only had 2 dropouts in several days of testing, so bandwidth has not been an issue. Of course, network coverage and data speeds have everything to do with your provider and your locations, and nothing to do with the quality of the files being served.

Bottom line – if you can stream Netflix/Hulu/Amazon/Youtube video, you can definitely stream high resolution audio.

The service itself is pretty standard – search, browse, click things to jump around and add to playlists or your queue. The desktop clients are pretty good, and stable so far.

I really like the transparency about each track. Each track has a popup that tells you:

  • Track quality – the best version Amazon has to stream to you
  • Device capability – the best this device can render
  • Currently playing at – what was decided based on the two above

I don’t know the details on their transcoding but I’ve seen several tracks that list as Ultra HD but my device plays them at a lower resolution or even HD only since the specs don’t quite match. For instance — a track at 24/96 played on the iphone will sometimes play at 24/48 (the max the iphone can play). Others will play at 16/44. I’ve also had about 1% of tracks stream to me in SD, or lossy.

Right now I’m streaming Prince to the Thinkpad. The track is available at 24/192 and the Thinkpad is playing it at 24/48. This same song would probably stream to my mac at 24/96 (it’s max). I don’t have anything that can stream 24/192… the PonoPlayer can render 24/192 but no streaming. Overall very smart and should help educate people about what they are hearing.

I’m not happy about the lack of a PS4 client. Amazon has free clients for many other platforms but I couldn’t find one for PS4. I’d love to hear the audio specs in that thing. Maybe it’s coming soon.

I also haven’t tested with my Echo Dot speaker thing yet. It will be interesting to hear what Bluetooth compression does to this service.

So yes, in summary, in 2019 you can FINALLY stream 16/44 lossless and even 24-bit audio right to your pocket, for under $20/month. It’s worth it. Goodbye lossy!

Even though I’ve been waiting for this upgrade since 1996, it truly is better late than never. No more fighting pseudo-scientists on message boards. Just hear for yourself!

Prince started putting his catalog out in 24 bit before his passing.