by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, February 1, 2020
Amazon Music HD promises to fulfill nearly all my current wishes for a streaming music service. The main ones are:
- Provide sound quality equal to CDs
- Provide every song ever recorded, or let me upload music into its system
- Let me try super-high-resolution music
- Have playlists that work across all music services
Streaming music has always been more convenient than listening to CDs or LPs, but audiophiles have bitterly complained that its sound quality was a compromise. With Amazon Music HD it’s now possible to stream music in CD quality. Audiophiles need to stop sneering at streaming music. This also means I can forget about physical media (if streaming always offered what I want to hear). And for years I’ve been chasing the idea of high-resolution music. I’m not sure I’m capable of hearing it, but so many audiophiles claim the difference is night and day and I’d hate to miss out.
To play Amazon Music HD or Ultra-HD tracks requires having the right equipment. My iPhone, Denon, and Yamaha systems can all handle the HD setting of CD-quality of 16-bit 44.1kHz. My iPhone and computer can play 24-bit 48 kHz songs, which is the low end of Ultra HD. So Amazon HD music lets me check off one of my streaming music wishes.
Another great aspect of Amazon Music HD is it always tells you about the quality of the streaming file. Actually, I’ve yet to find a 192kHz file. Of course, I’m not sure I can tell the difference between 16bit 44.1kHz and 24-bit 48kHz music.
Amazon Music has always let me upload my files to their system, so I can put songs on my playlists that Amazon doesn’t offer. Spotify doesn’t let me do that. That checks off another wish. I have 1,900 CDs uploaded to Amazon Music. So my collection is with their 50 million songs.
It’s my last wish that is so frustrating. Amazon offers the super-high-resolution files that I’m anxious to try (24bit 96 or 192 kHz files). Could I really hear a difference? I don’t know, because I don’t have the equipment to play them. And I’m not sure what equipment can. I know I could add a Dragonfly Cobalt DAC to my iPhone to get up to 24-bit 96kHz files, but what about those elusive 24-bit 192kHz files? Am I chasing a non-existant Holy Grail? I keep reading articles like this one that argues selling high-resolution music is a complete con. Still, I want to try the snake oil for myself.
However, to play the 24bit 192kHz files will require having a DAC that’s Amazon Music HD aware. And what I really want, is hardware that I can remotely control. I have a Yamaha WXA-50 streaming music server amplifier. It works great with Spotify, but its MusicCast software/app is the pits for any other service. I tried it with Tidal and its built-in interface to Tidal music was atrocious. So I canceled Tidal. Theoretically, the WXA-50 could be upgraded to handle Amazon Music HD but everyone is saying Yahama is terrible about upgrades. I feel I’m getting my money’s worth out of the WXA-50 now for Spotify, but I don’t plan to buy Yamaha equipment in the future.
I’ve read the Denon HEOS will handle Amazon Music HD, but I’m afraid if I buy one of its receivers I might be disappointed like I was with Yamaha. To work properly, I need a receiver that can serve all the Amazon Music HD files, and it has to have an iPhone app that works well with Amazon Music’s catalog of songs. The reason why Spotify works so well with the Yamaha is it uses the Spotify app itself. And that’s possible because the WXA-50 has a Spotify Connect awareness. Before I buy any new hardware to listen to Amazon Music HD I’m going to wait until stereo equipment has the equivalent of Amazon Music HD Connect. This is true of Amazon’s Fire/Alexa products, but I’m not sure if any of the present hardware can handle 24-bit 192 kHz files. My current Fire TV only handles 16-bit 44.1 kHz.
Spotify Connect is truly awesome. The Spotify app on my iPhone sees my computer, the Yamaha WXA-50, Denon AVR-X1000, as well as my Roku Ultra and Amazon FireTV Gen 2. The music doesn’t stream through my phone, but my phone controls the music streaming through all these hardware devices. It’s this app/server relationship that I want for Amazon Music HD. Theoretically, the DACs in all my devices could handle high resolution if they were upgraded with the right software, but I get the feeling I need to wait for new hardware to be specifically designed to be Amazon Music HD aware. So I’m getting close to the third wish.
I’m happy enough with Amazon Music HD to keep subscribing, but I’m not ready to cancel Spotify. I love Spotify, and it has a great interface, plus it works on so many devices. If Spotify offered HD music and the Spotify Connect servers in my Yamaha and Denon machines could handle 24-bit 192 kHz files, which I think they can, I might end up sticking with Spotify.
Plus, to switch to any other service would require recreating all my Spotify playlists. That would be a huge amount of work. My last wish is for a universal playlist format that would allow all my music services to use the same playlists. I doubt this will ever happen, but I can wish.
I follow a number of YouTubers who review Audiophile equipment. Three of them have had shows about audiophile burnout. They ask, “Are you into music for the equipment or the music?” I was passionately in love with the music I listened to in 1962 on AM radio played through a single 3″ speaker. My present equipment is lightyears beyond that. I shouldn’t think about hardware at all. Spotify offers millions of songs. What I really should be doing is trying to play all of them, and not worry about how theoretically perfect they might sound. But I do.
8 thoughts on “Amazon Music HD”
save yourself, stick with spotify, otherwise it’s just a matter of time before amazon plants you in a pod.
Amazon is insidiously taking over, but I have to admit their music service is among the best. On one hand, I hate monopolies, on the other hand I want to get the most for my buck. It’s an ethical conundrum.
I have around 3000 music CDs and listen to one or two of them each day. I’m not sure I need Spotify or Amazon Music HD or Pandora. There’s plenty of music waiting for me to listen to on my shelves.
I hear you. I have the WXC-50, and tried Tidal too…atrocious through the horrible MusicCast App.
The frustrating thing is that Tidal works with Chromecast the same way Spotify Connect does. However the Yamaha does not support Chromecast streaming. I wrote to both Tidal and Yamaha to no avail.
I use the WXC-50 with a valve amplifier and Linn Kan II speakers and while I had both Tidal Hi-Fi and Spotify I compared a few tracks side by side. Even on my fairly decent rig the different wasn’t so noticeable. I hear much more difference between some CDs and the equivalent track played on the streamer.
That could have been due to the way MusicCast streamed Tidal Hi-Fi though, it’s hard to make sure as it was just reported as Flac 44.1.
Don’t hold your breath about Amazon Music natively supported on the Yamaha, I think it’s best just to stick to Spotify. It’s a shame as the WXC series is great hardware.
Spotify is just too convenient right now. I canceled Amazon Music HD. I figured if in the future I buy another streamer that has native support for Amazon HD as good as Spotify I’ll try it again. And I don’t expect Yahama to upgrade our devices. Tidal isn’t really fully Tidal unless the device has MQA decoding.
I’ve thought of getting the iFi Hip-DAC Portable DAC and some balanced headphones. I figure they would be a test to see if Amazon HD or Tidal/MQA actually produces something that I can hear as actual HD music.
But so far, all my tests with trying to find something better than CD or Spotify has proven iffy. I’m just not sure I can hear the extra data in high-resolution files. And I’m not sure it’s worth spending any more money on either. The Yahama streaming Spotify controlled by my iPhone seems good enough.
The Denon DNP-800NE has original support for Amazon music hd. I was just wondering which one to buy Denon or Yamaha wxc-50. Does the wxa-50 DAC not support the Amazon music hd codec from the optical interface?
I’m not sure I’m technically savvy enough to answer your question. I’ve only used the optical port for my CD/SACD player. I know it evidently doesn’t support DSD/PCM streams from SACD discs because they won’t play, but CDs do. The WXA-50 will play Amazon Music, but I don’t think it hosts a decoder on the device like Spotify, but merely streams from my iPhone.
I just bought a Bluescound Powernode 2i and I’m having the same problem discovering if it plays Amazon HD/Ultra tracks. The Bluos App just doesn’t tell me at what bitrate a song is being played. However, since Spotify sounds better I doubt it.
I’m about ready to give up on Amazon Music HD. Until Amazon HD is built into devices like Spotify Connect I’m not sure anyone can tell if its better.
By the way, what is your optical source for playing Amazon Music HD?
I currently have a Deezer hi-fi, I use my laptop to play through the DAC. I am under the impression that Spotify or any other streaming applications can’t control the decoder, but the streaming device works independently when the playback is started.
I think Bluesound devices have the best support for different streaming services and play all formats.