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Amazon Pulls the Rug Out From Under Tidal With New HD Music Streaming Service

ExtremeTech

There are numerous music streaming services, most of which have largely similar offerings. Amazon has just rolled out a new version of its own with ultra-high fidelity audio. For as little as $12.99 per month, you can get access to millions of songs at higher quality than other services, but that won’t matter much unless you’ve got the audio gear to truly enjoy it. 

With most music streaming services, the “high” quality options are around 320kbps. So, we’ve sacrificed some quality in exchange for having easy access to almost every song in the world. For many music listeners, that’s a fair exchange. Tidal, and now Amazon, cater to the few consumers who want more. There’s even a 90-day free trial. 

Amazon Music HD is tied into the company’s Prime offering, but it’s not included like Prime Video. Amazon Prime subscribers pay $12.99 per month for Amazon Music HD, and non-subscribers can get access for $14.99 per month. Existing Amazon Music subscribers pay an additional $5 per month to get HD audio. Compare that with Tidal, the other major player in Hi-Fi streaming, which runs $20 per month. That puts Amazon in a position to siphon away much of Tidal’s already small subscriber base. 

Amazon’s HD audio offerings come in two flavors. There are already more than 50 million songs in what Amazon calls “High Definition.” That means something approaching true CD quality at 16-bits with a 44.1kHz sample rate (up to 850kbps total). Then there’s “Ultra HD” tracks, of which Amazon has several million (but no exact count). These songs are 24-bit with sample rates ranging from 44.1kHz to 192kHz (up to up to 3,730kbps total). Both types of HD audio will stream as uncompressed FLAC rather than the MQA format used on Tidal. 

To experience Amazon’s HD music streaming, you’ll need at least 1.5Mbps of download bandwidth, which isn’t a problem these days. A more vexing requirement is hardware support for 16-bit/44.1kHz playback. Not all devices will manage that, and you also need headphones or speakers that can do the same. 

Amazon’s Music HD is an ambitious offering that will probably draw in audiophiles. However, you shouldn’t upgrade your Amazon subscription just because you can. Most people are listening on cheap headphones and speakers that won’t take advantage of the extra quality. Even Amazon’s Echo speakers will be left out.

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September 17th 2019, 3:43 pm
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