It would behoove every listener-collector — vinyl freaks and Hi-Fi heads included — to consider subscribing to a streaming service, politics be damned. Yes, royalty payments to your favorite musicians are paltry at best, insulting at worst. But artists make zero dollars from Discogs sales; however rare, once a record gets on the secondary market the profit stream is dead for everyone except the seller.
But this isn’t an op-ed in favor of the streaming model, which seems fundamentally broken, at best. Rather, we’re looking to bridge the seeming divide between vinyl-only enthusiasts and the format-neutral collectors who use streaming services as one tool in the endless quest to feed the musical beast.
Which is to say, if you’re going to stream, the experience may as well sound as close to incredible as possible.
At the end of 2020, we highlighted the French-born high-definition streaming service Qobuz, which launched in the U.S. two years ago. To start 2021, we’re focusing on Amazon Music HD, which the mega-retailer launched last year as an add-on to its Amazon Music streaming service.
Who: Amazon Music HD
What: The high-definition tier of the mega-retailer’s Amazon Music service, Amazon Music HD offers CD-quality streams for 70 million songs. As well, the platform has an ever-expanding bunch of albums given the “Ultra HD” treatment — 5 millions songs. Though light on editorial, the service taps into the company’s database to offer a bounty of playlists.
Price: $12.99/month for Amazon Prime members and $14.99 for non-Prime customers.
Sales pitch, per Amazon Music HD: “Amazon Music HD offers lossless audio in two quality ranges: HD and Ultra HD. HD tracks are 16-bit audio, with a minimum sample rate of 44.1 kHz (16/44.1 is also referred to as CD-quality) and an average bitrate of 850 kbps. Ultra HD tracks have a bit depth of 24 bits, with sample rates ranging from 44.1 kHz up to 192 kHz and an average bitrate of 3730 kbps.
“In comparison, most standard streaming services currently offer Standard Definition (SD) with a bitrate up to 320 kbps. These audio files use lossy compression, where details of the original audio are removed in order to reduce the file size. By contrast, Amazon Music HD preserves the original recording information to deliver the highest quality sound available, more than 2x the bitrate in HD and more than 10x the bitrate at the highest Ultra HD bitrate.”
View from the inside: “Amazon Music HD is really meant to provide that premium-listening, lossless sound experience to as wide an audience as possible,” says Amazon Music’s Stephen Brower, who handles artist relations. “It’s something that I think is super exciting for music streaming in general because there’s always been this trade-off of quality and convenience. And I think at a high level, what we’re hoping to sort of accomplish is eliminating that trade-off and providing quality sound and convenience at the highest level available.”
Catalog: As expected, the company has tons of offerings in HD, but what’s more stunning are the Ultra HD recordings, which provide so much wildly remarkable depth and clarity that at times it’s hard to imagine any file sounding better. Listen to Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times” or Janet Jackson’s “Control” in Ultra HD and be transformed.