Amazon Music HD

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.

Ultra-HD 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.

JWH

 

 

Simplifying My Stereo

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, November 11, 2019

Does anyone ever call their music player a stereo anymore? A long time ago we’d call it a phonograph, a record player, later on, a Hi-Fi, stereo, or receiver. I guess people call them audio systems now? Actually, I don’t know what people call machines that play music in these modern times. Researching this article meant constantly changing the terms in my Google requests to find what I think I needed.

What I want is to hear my music at its maximum fidelity with the least equipment for the smallest price. I just want to own less crap. A long time ago I imagined the perfect music delivery system while I was stoned. What if we could just think of a song and then hear as if we were a character in a movie who could hear the soundtrack? Wouldn’t that be far-out! No equipment, just music, like having a stereo system integrated into our heads.

With Spotify and my iPhone, I come close to achieving that dream. However, I don’t want to always wear headphones. Basically, what I want is to tap my iPhone and hear the music fill the room.

What I believe I need is called a music streamer (sometimes called a network amplifier). But neither is precise or accepted. I appear to want an amplified music streamer. There are other music streamers that connect to an existing stereo amplifier. I’m currently thinking about buying is the Yamaha WXA-50, but I’m also wondering if it’s worth spending almost three times as much to get the new Denon PMA-150H. The Yamaha came out in 2016 and the Denon was just released. (I do think the Yamaha would serve all my needs but I am worried about buying technology that came out 4 years ago.)

 

I guess I should explain what these gadgets do. That will require a bit of backtracking. Right now my home office stereo is a two-channel receiver connected to a pair of Bose speakers. They are connected to my computer and CD player. Music sounds pretty good, especially when I crank it up. But this system is probably 25-30 years old. I can play Spotify, CDs, or MP3 files. I have a turntable, but that’s packed away, but if I wanted, I could play LPs.

I want to be able to control all my music from my iPhone. First, this means I don’t have to worry about another remote. Second, it means if I want to hear music that’s not on Spotify it has to be ripped. I don’t want to mess with CDs or LPs anymore. It also means I don’t want to depend on my computer. Right now I can use my iPhone with Spotify Connect to play music through the computer via the receiver, but I want to eliminate the middleman, the computer. Which then means I can put the music streamer and speakers anywhere.

I’d love to do away with speaker wire too, and wireless speakers are starting to catch on, but I’m not sure they are ready for prime time just yet. Probably if I waited for another year or two that will be the big selling point to new music streamers. If you know of a great solution now, post a comment.

Speakers are a big problem with creating my dream music system. Placement is critical, and I don’t have any good places to put them in my home office. Every inch of wall spaced is currently being used. I’d like a pair of Klipsch RP 600M speakers, but they have a rear-facing port meaning they need to be set away from the wall. I might have to settle for the Elac Debut B6.2 speakers that are not as exciting but have a front-facing port. I could put them and the Yamaha WXA-50 up on top of my bookshelves. They’d barely be seen, and that would free up deskspace too.

However,  would this solve all my problems? Can I use the WXA-50 to play audio from my computer remotely? Right now all audio/music comes through my computer. If I get this new seti[, music will come from one system, and computer audio from another. I’ll need two sets of speakers. I’ll be able to remove the large Pioneer receiver and Bose speakers from my computer desk, but I might have to put back my powered computer speakers. I’d rather not.

And if I rip my CDs to FLAC I could pack away my CDs, get rid of their shelving, and put away the CD player too. I’m almost to the point of using Spotify for all my music, but unfortunately, there are a few albums they don’t have in their library.

Having two sets of speakers in one room ruins my goal of finding a simpler way to live with less. I know I’ll never have an integrated music system in my head. Going digital means eliminating a lot of physical objects and technology, but it can’t eliminate everything. I absolutely have to have a monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, and a box to run them. If an all-in-one computer like an iMac had perfect internal speakers I could simplify my tech needs to a monitor/keyboard/mouse.

I could also achieve music simplicity if I accepted always listening to music while wearing headphones. But the half-ass audiophile in me feels over-the-air music sounds better. Also, I believe music sounds better not coming from a computer, but from a separate DAC/amplifier. Sure, high-end audiophiles believe in a whole array of separate components to get the best sound, but luckily I’m not that driven. If I’m not playing music through the computer, I can accept a very modest level of audio quality. That means I should consider music and computers as two different systems to simplify.

A music streamer and speakers could be the lowest level of tech simplicity for listening to music, especially if they eliminate wires. I guess its possible futures designs could build the DAC/amp into a pair of speakers for even more simplification. And, all-in-one computer (monitor/mouse/keyboard) will be the lowest level of tech simplicity for a desktop computer.

JWH