Home Tech Apps Amazon Music HD review – SoundGuys

Amazon Music HD review – SoundGuys

13
0
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
WhatsApp

Just a decade ago, I would spend my weekends sitting between library aisles, thumbing through cracked CD cases to find new music. With the advent of streaming services, however, the process has been streamlined. While I miss the days of camping out at the library, I revel in the convenience of a virtually endless music library in my pocket. Amazon Music HD takes this a step further by offering more than 50 million CD-quality songs at a hard-to-resist price. Whether you’re an audio purist or casual listener, Amazon Music HD will serve you well.

Editor’s note: this review was updated on April 22, 2021, to address Qobuz, another high-resolution streaming service.

Related: Amazon Music HD vs. Spotify Premium

What is Amazon Music HD?

A picture of the Amazon Music HD mobile app Ultra HD Songs listed.

Amazon Music HD costs $12.99/month for Prime members.

Amazon Music HD is a high-quality music streaming service and is something Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers can easily upgrade to for a small price hike. Since its launch in September 2019, Music HD has grown in popularity, particularly among the audiophile crowd, and has already accrued 55 million listeners. Anyone whose pride and joy rests in their music collection will rejoice at how Amazon Music HD delivers lossless FLAC audio at 24-bit/192kHz.

While it may not have the same cultural clout as Tidal HiFi, which is backed by music power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z, it does what Amazon is known for: undercutting the competition. For anyone looking for the best value in lossless audio, your search ends with here: the service costs $14.99/month or $12.99/month for non-Prime members and Prime members, respectively.

Who should get Amazon Music HD?

A picture of the Amazon Music HD mobile app "now playing" page on a Samsung Galaxy S10e.

The “now playing” window is plainly designed and easy to understand.

  • Amazon Prime members get a great deal on Amazon Music HD for just $12.99/month, making it an absolute steal for listeners in search of a lossless audio streaming service.
  • Fans of FLAC swill enjoy the high-resolution streaming quality afforded by Amazon Music HD and its library of Ultra HD songs.
  • Everyone will enjoy Amazon’s vast music library which covers the oldies, classics, and modern-day hits. Plus, the interface is easy to intuit even for the less tech-savvy among us.

Related: Amazon Echo Buds review

What streaming quality does Amazon Music HD support?

Amazon Music HD affords two types of streaming: high definition (HD) and Ultra HD, both of which are encoded by the lossless FLAC codec . HD audio streams up to 850kbps, which is more than double the bitrate of lossy streaming services that cap at 320kbps. You can enjoy more than 50 million songs in 16bit/44.1kHz CD-quality, which is a huge lossless library to have at your fingertips.

Amazon Music HD delivers some of the best streaming quality among competitors like Tidal, Deezer, and Qobuz.

In order to take advantage of Amazon Ultra HD hi-res quality (lossless 24-bit/192kHz resolution), your device must support it. This is something my desktop is unable to do as it maxes out at 24-bit/44.1kHz playback. To see the best playback quality your device is capable of, click the track quality button next to a song title; my Samsung Galaxy S10e, on the other hand, may stream 24-bit/48kHz audio.

Streaming quality is about more than kilobits per second

When looking at streaming services, it’s easy to judge audio quality by a file’s transfer rate (kilobits per second). However, this is an oversimplified—and often inaccurate—way to understand quality. Instead, we have to take file type into account when discussing audio compression. File compression comes in all different flavors and file types, like the MP3 format, to account for human hearing limitations. These formats don’t just randomly discard data; instead they take psychoacoustics into account to intelligently remove information the human ear and brain are incapable of processing. If you don’t have time to see our deep-dive on the differences between audio and file compression, that’s ok: Amazon Music HD encodes via FLAC anyway, yielding lossless data transfer.

Streaming Service Max streaming quality Supported Formats
Qobuz 24bit / 192kHz AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WAV, WMA Lossless
Amazon Music HD 24bit /192kHz FLAC
Tidal HiFi 24bit / 96kHz AAC, ALAC, FLAC
Deezer HiFi 16bit / 44.1kHz FLAC
Google Play Music 320kbps AAC, ALAC, FLAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WMA
Deezer Premium 320kbps MP3
Spotify Premium 320kbps AAC, Ogg Vorbis
Apple Music 256kbps AAC
YouTube Music Premium 256kbps AAC
SoundCloud Go+ 256kbps AAC
Slacker Radio 320kbps MP3
Pandora 192kbps AAC
Spotify Free 160kbps AAC
Deezer Free 128kbps MP3

What devices support Amazon Music HD?

An aerial photo of an LG V40 ThinQ in black next to an Apple iPhone XS Max in space grey.

Android Authority Both the LG V40 ThinQ and iPhone XS Max are compatible with Amazon Music HD.

Almost all iPhones and iPads released since 2014 running iOS 11 or later support HD and Ultra HD, limited to 24-bit/48kHz playback. Anyone who wants to listen to higher sample rates needs to invest in a DAC that can support those rates.

Apple AirPlay also supports HD playback, meaning devices like the Sonos One (Gen 2) and Apple HomePod are great devices to pair with Amazon Music HD. Mac users whose devices are from 2013 or later can listen to HD and Ultra HD music from the desktop app. Granted, this takes a bit of tweaking in the audio settings: enter the Applications folder, open Audio MIDI Setup.app, and update the speaker or headphone format to the highest available sample rate (24-bit/96kHz or 24-bit/192kHz).

A photo of the Google Pixel 4a's camera.

Google Pixel 4a owners can stream high-resolution audio from Amazon Music HD.

Android users with a device from 2014 or later with Android 5.0 and on can listen to HD and Ultra HD, limited to 48kHz. As of publication, Amazon Music HD is not yet supported on Chromecast. Seeing how Windows is more confusing, you’ll have to check to see if your laptop or desktop’s integrated DAC can support Amazon’s HD and Ultra HD qualities.

Amazon has a laundry list of preferred brands that support its Music HD playback including Echo Studio, Bose, Sony, Sonos (HD only), Klipsch, Pioneer, Polk, Sennheiser, and more.

How does Amazon Music HD work?

A picture of the Amazon Music HD mobile app notification shade.

Basic playback controls are available from the notification shade.

Amazon Music HD is supported on both mobile and desktop; the interfaces for each are very similar, making it easy to switch between the two. Amazon’s app isn’t the same beauty as Tidal’s, but it would be an exaggeration to call it ugly. Sure, it’s one of the plainer designs and feels outdated compared to Apple Music and Deezer, but I always appreciate a function-before-form philosophy. Animations like rising and falling volume level bars are overlaid atop a playlist header image on both apps, which may be neat to some.

Navigation is clear cut

Both apps use an intuitive design language. On mobile, the bottom row divides access into “home,” “find,” “my music,” and “Alexa.” The home tab resembles all other streaming services’ home tabs: users are greeted with suggested albums and songs, popular playlists, and featured releases. Amazon Music HD also provides a set of curated Ultra HD playlists, so you can instantly access hi-res audio files without digging through the app.

A picture of Amazon Music HD vs Spotify Premium music streaming services pulled up on two smartphones against a wood headboard.

Amazon Music HD (right) displays streaming quality right from the playback screen.

The “find” tab has a search banner with descending broad categories below: playlists, stations, new releases, and charts. Search functionality is similar to Spotify; once you begin typing, suggestions populate and continue to do so the more you type. It also saves recent searches, which can easily be cleared. When you select to search by playlist, you can filter results by mood and genre. I liked searching by mood as a way of switching up my workout playlist.

In order to make use of Alexa, you have to agree to the terms and conditions which include granting microphone access. Although I’m wary of granting any application microphone access, I do appreciate how quickly Alexa registers and responds to commands. It’s significantly faster than when I use Google Assistant to skip tracks on YouTube Music or Spotify. I find it fascinating, yet unsurprising, that Google Assistant access is blocked when using the Amazon Music app. In order to ask Google anything, you must first exit the Amazon Music app which can remain running in the background. You can, however, stream your music from Amazon Music to a Google Home device such has the Google Nest Audio by using Chromecast from your smartphone.

Google Assistant access is blocked when using the Amazon Music app.

The settings menu may be accessed by hitting the three stacked dots in the top-right corner of the screen. Within the menu, you may toggle things like loudness normalization, hands-free Alexa access, automatic downloads, a sleep timer, and more. You can also designate where downloads are stored, be it locally or on an external microSD card.

Music playback, creating playlists, and more

A macro picture of the Amazon Music HD mobile app options menu.

Users can easily create playlists, download music, and view albums from the mobile app.

Immediately upon selecting a song to play, the “now playing” window pops up and provides you with basic playback controls, including shuffle, loop, and view queue. On the same screen, you can select devices to cast to like the Amazon Echo. You can even view lyrics; and the display syncs up with the song, kind of like karaoke. It’s a nice addition but not as intriguing as Spotify’s Genius Lyrics feature, which includes partial interviews with artists about the current song.

By tapping the menu setting (three vertically stacked circles), you’re given a drop-down of options among which is the ability to add a song to a playlist or to your library. You can also view song credits; though, the results are disappointing. I commend Tidal for how it encourages subscribers to explore certain song contributors through its credits information, something that Amazon Music lacks. In fact, you’re really only shown songwriter credits, whereas with Tidal you’re informed of producers, composers, lyricists, featured artists, and other contributors like engineers and marketers. It would be nice to see this information bolstered, because I’m confident that more than one person worked on The Tone’s and I’s song Dance Monkey.

Want a social feed and collaborative playlists? Get Spotify instead.

Within the same menu, you may see what customers who listened to the current song have also shown interest in. This is one of my favorite features, and I wish it were more prominent. Music discovery is easily accessible with the advent of streaming services, and this is a unique way to discover new artists.

Listen to 3D audio

Amazon Music HD includes 3D audio playback on Echo Studio products. This means you can enjoy a full immersive audio experience with over 1,000 songs mastered in Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio codecs. This support makes sense, seeing how Amazon and Fraunhofer IIS, the company behind Bluetooth LE Audio and the new LC3 codec, partnered so Amazon can now use the MPEG-H audio decoder in its software, including the Echo Studio. For those unfamiliar, MPEG-H powers Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format.

Are local media files supported?

A picture of the Amazon Music HD mobile app play queue page next to a Samsung Galaxy Plus case.

Listeners can ask Alexa to play music, skip tracks, and more.

Yes, Amazon Music HD allows for access to local audio files directly through the app. This is great news for listeners like me who have a few Bandcamp downloads floating around their Android folder app. Device files are accessible and clumped together with music downloaded onto your device from Music HD.

Save data by downloading music

You’d be wise to invest in a microSD card, because lossless audio files are storage-hungry beasts. I advise against throwing caution to the wind and streaming over your cellular network. After all, streaming such large files can quickly eat away at your data plan, leaving you at a loss before the end of the month. Anyone whose smartphone lacks expandable storage should still download music, just remember space is much more finite.

How much does the subscription cost?

An aerial image of Spotify Premium vs Amazon Music HD on two smartphones laid atop cash.

Amazon Music HD is more expensive than Spotify, but offers a discounted rate for Prime members.

Amazon Music HD offers a few payment tiers: individuals with a Prime membership pay $12.99/month, while non-Prime members pay $14.99/month for an individual account. If you want an Amazon Music HD Family Plan, it costs $19.99/month. Currently, there aren’t any discounts available to students or military service members when subscribing to Amazon Music HD.

On Amazon Music HD’s individual plan, you may only stream from one device at a time. In order to stream from multiple devices simultaneously, you have to get the Amazon Music HD Family plan, which permits six devices at a time.

What’s the difference between Amazon Music HD, Amazon Music Unlimited, and Prime Music?

A picture of the Amazon Music HD desktop app.

The desktop app is just as easy to use as the mobile version.

Amazon has successfully confused consumers with its three-pronged approach to streaming services. Without rehashing everything, Amazon Music HD is Amazon’s answer to high-resolution streaming services with 50 million-plus lossless songs, and its library is only expanding.

Amazon Music Unlimited provides 320kbps lossy streaming quality for over 50 million songs. This is the standard streaming quality used by Spotify and outperforms YouTube Music’s 256kbps quality. You’re afforded all of the same functionality of Amazon Music HD; the only difference is that streaming quality isn’t ridiculously high (Ed. note: it’s still perfectly fine, however). Prime Music’s library is much smaller and provides access to just 2 million songs, and the selection rarely includes trendy hits.

Amazon Music HD, Music Unlimited, and Prime Music are all ad-free streaming services.

Pricing is vastly different across Amazon Music’s services. Amazon does not make their pricing options clear and they make it very difficult to cancel your subscription, so we’ve put together a few tables to help you navigate through it all.

  Amazon Music Free Amazon Music Prime Amazon Music Unlimited Amazon Music HD
Individual Plan Free N/A $9.99/month $14.99/month
Prime Individual Plan N/A Included with your Prime membership $7.99/month OR $79/year $12.99/month
Family Plan N/A N/A $14.99/month (OR $149/year if you have Prime) $19.99/month
Single Device Plan N/A N/A $3.99/month N/A
Student Plan N/A N/A $4.99/month N/A

  Amazon Music Free Amazon Music Prime Amazon Music Unlimited Amazon Music HD
Amazon Prime membership needed No Yes No No
Functions – Limited skips
– Shuffle mode only
– Can only play from some stations or playlists
– No offline playback
– Alexa interaction
– Unlimited skips
– On-demand playback
– Offline playback
– Alexa interaction
– Unlimited skips
– On-demand playback
– Offline playback with Individual and Family Plan (not Single Device Plan)
– Alexa interaction
– Unlimited skips
– On-demand playback
– Offline playback (except for 3D audio)
– Alexa interaction
Ad-free No Yes Yes Yes
Catalog – Some playlists
– Some stations
– 2 million songs
– Playlists and stations
– Personalized stations
– 60 million songs
– Playlists and stations
– Personalized stations
– 60 million songs in High Definition
– 2 million songs in Ultra HD
– Over a thousand songs in 3D on Amazon Echo Studio
– Playlists and stations
– Personalized stations
Supported devices – Supported Echo devices
– Some Alexa-enabled devices
– iOS
– Android
– Fire TV devices
– Fire Tablet
– Amazon Music for Web
– Supported Echo devices
– Some Alexa-enabled devices
– iOS
– Android
– Fire TV devices
– Fire Tablet
– Amazon Music for Web
– Supported Echo devices
– Some Alexa-enabled devices
– iOS
– Android
– Fire TV devices
– Fire Tablet
– Amazon Music for Web

Single Device Plan:
– Echo devices
– Fire TV devices

– Echo devices
– Sonos speakers
– Fire TV devices
– iOS
– Android
– Desktop
Streaming limits – One device at a time – One device at a time – Individual Plan: One device at time
– Family Plan: Six devices at a time
– Single Device Plan: One compatible device at a time
– Individual Plan: One device at time
– Family Plan: Six devices at a time

How does Amazon pay artists?

According to The Trichordist, Amazon Unlimted pays $0.01175 per stream. This is significantly better than payouts from Deezer and Apple. Amazon effectively cloaks its royalty program for Amazon Music HD; however, we’re awaiting comment and will be sure to update upon receiving a response.

Digital Service Provider $ Per Stream
Qobuz $0.04390
Peloton $0.04036
iHeartRadio $0.01426
Amazon Unlimited $0.01175
Napster/Rhapsody $0.01110
24/7 Entertainment GmbH $0.01050
YouTube Red $0.00948
Tidal $0.00927
Deezer $0.00567
Google Play $0.00543
Apple $0.00495
KKBox $0.00435
Amazon Digital Services Inc. $0.00395
Spotify $0.00331
Loen $0.00205
Pandora $0.00155
Vevo $0.00109
Yandex LLC $0.00051
YouTube Content ID $0.00028
UMA $0.00013

Should you get Amazon Music HD?

A picture of the Amazon Music HD mobile app with the streaming quality information pulled up on a Samsung Galaxy S10e.

You get a live view of playback quality from both the desktop and mobile apps.

Amazon Music HD is a fabulous value for anyone looking for a vast selection of high-resolution music.

At just $12.99/month for pre-existing Prime members, it’s the most affordable high-resolution streaming service available. Even for non-Prime members, Music HD remains a great deal, rivaling that of Deezer and undermining Tidal’s pricing options. When you subscribe to Amazon Music HD you’re afforded an insanely vast library of music from world-renowned bands and bar-hopping bands alike. If you don’t care much for app design and prioritize audio quality and accessibility over all else, Amazon Music HD is a very difficult offer to turn down.

What are the best alternatives to Amazon Music HD?

The Qobuz music streaming service app's Artist page open on a Samsung Galaxy S10e smartphone with red Noble Kaiser 10 IEMs next to the phone.

The highest streaming rate Qobuz offers is 24-bit/up to 192kHz.

Qobuz is a great alternative to Amazon Music HD, especially for listeners embedded in the Sonos ecosystem. Qobuz is the first music streaming service to support 24-bit audio streaming on Sonos speakers. Qobuz’ catalog lists 60 million tracks and growing, though listeners with more niche indie music taste may find the catalog underwhelming.

Amazon Music HD’s library is barren of podcasts and music videos; you’re getting exactly what the name suggests: music. This is when it may make more sense to invest in Deezer HiFi, another high-quality streaming service that has been supporting podcast playback since 2015. It streams high-resolution FLAC files and has a music library of over 53 million songs and costs just $14.99/month.

Pictured is an iPhone 11 Pro running YouTube Music next to a Pixel 3 running Spotify.

Spotify and YouTube Music both have their strength and weaknesses when it comes to UI design.

If you’re more of a music video fanatic, then YouTube Music Premium is a better investment. Its extensive music video library separates it from the rest of the streaming services, which is much needed seeing how audio quality really falls to the wayside. Relatedly, Amazon Music HD is devoid of social features. Anyone who wants music to be social should invest in a Spotify subscription instead. Again, audio quality isn’t great (320kbps Ogg Vorbis), but it takes a generalist approach to music, and is therefore pretty good at nearly everything.

Related: Apple Music HD vs Spotify

Just like picking out what type of headphones to get, each streaming service has its advantages and disadvantages. However, those who appreciate a no-frills approach to high-quality music will appreciate the affordable nature of Amazon Music HD and all it has to offer.