Published 3:31 PM EDT Sep 17, 2019
Ever wondered whether your ears deserved to hear music streamed in higher resolution? Amazon wants you to give it a try.
The online retailing giant (and content provider) is flipping the switch on Amazon Music HD, which adds more than 50 million songs in CD-quality sound and millions in better-than-CD Ultra High Definition quality.
Like most music streaming services, Amazon Music’s current standard quality (up to 320 kilobits per second) is considered good for MP3, but not as high as compact disc-quality.
High Definition (HD) tracks will be more than double the standard streaming bitrates (up to 850 kbps), so the sound will be about that of a CD. Ultra HD tracks will have more than 10 times the bitrate of standard tracks and can surpass CD quality.
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Current Amazon Music subscribers can test drive the upgrade free for 90 days; to sign up go to amazon.com/music/unlimited/hd. After that, the Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers can add the higher-quality music tier for an additional $5 per month – that would make the monthly cost $12.99 for a Prime member (Family plan subscribers would pay $19.99) and $14.99 for non-Prime members.
For some listeners, standard streamed music is just not good enough, says Steve Boom, vice president of Amazon Music. “We’re thrilled to make it possible for our customers to stream their favorite music the way artists intended their fans to hear it,” he said in a statement. “From rock to hip-hop to classical and pop, we believe listening to music at this level of sound will make customers fall in love again with their favorite music and artists. As we usher in a new listening experience for our customers, we’re combining the convenience of streaming with all of the emotion, power, clarity and nuance of the original recordings.”
Among the albums available in Ultra HD are Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” and St. Vincent’s “Masseduction.”
Not all devices will deliver music at this high-res level, for instance, you will need second-generation or later Amazon Echo speakers. However, Fire TVs and Fire TV devices support Amazon Music HD. Most newer Apple and Android devices – iPhones and iPads released since 2014 and running iOS 11 or later and most Android devices released since 2014 running on Android Lollipop or later.– can support HD/Ultra HD (up to 24-bit, 48kHz). You must connect an external digital to analog converter (DAC) to play songs at higher sample rates (96 or 192 kHz).
Audio products from makers such as Denon, Marantz, Polk Audio, Sonos, Sennheiser and many others are compatible, too. For more information go to amazon.com/music/unlimited/hd.
Amazon talked with several musicians about their high-resolution plans music and got testimonials from many well-known acts. Neil Young, who five years ago launched his own Pono high-res music service – and streams high-res tracks on his Neil Young Archives site – gushed that ““Earth will be changed forever when Amazon introduces high quality streaming to the masses. This will be the biggest thing to happen in music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.”
In a short video posted on Twitter, Garth Brooks, who partnered with Amazon, said, “Anytime the listener gets to hear it the way you get to hear it in the studio that’s beautiful.”
The Raconteurs, which has some of its albums available in Ultra HD, released two live tracks and a behind the scenes video on Amazon Music to mark the occasion.
Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes) also talked about the single “Stay High,” from her upcoming solo album “Jaime,” out Friday, in an Amazon Music HD post.
While high-res streaming may sound better, mobile listeners may not buy in.
There’s already several options for those who want to try high-res music including subscription services Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz.
But quality isn’t the main factor when it comes to those who do not subscribe to a streaming service, says Zach Fuller, music analyst with MIDiA Research. When surveyed on why they do not presently use a music streaming service, only 4% said it was because the quality was not good enough, he says.
However, streaming services can see potential, because “a preference for quality certainly exists,” Fuller says. About 22% of consumers say they prefer to listen to high quality audio – a figure that spikes to 51% of paid music subscribers and 34% of free music streamers, he says.
The difference in sound “may just not be enough to convert existing streamers on to higher price points,” Fuller said. “While there is certainly an audience for high resolution as a niche product differentiator, for now most consumers seems at least reasonably content with the present offering.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.