Amazon Music Goes High-Rez

The era of streaming in CD-quality and hi-rez music has arrived at one of the world’s major subscription streaming services, complete with a free 90-day trial.

Amazon Music has introduced a CD-quality (confusingly called “HD” by Amazon)-plus-hi-rez (which Amazon calls “Ultra HD” so as (not) to confuse the masses) music tier at $14.99/month ($12.99 for Prime members). That price undercuts Tidal and Qobuz the two subscription streaming services most popular among audiophiles: Tidal charges $19.99/month for the tier that includes MQA, and Qobuz costs $24.99 for its Studio tier, the cheapest plan offering high-definition streaming.
Amazon HD offers some 50 million songs in 16/44.1 FLAC format, with millions claimed available in hi-rez, up to 24/192 FLAC. Tidal claims a somewhat larger number of total tracks—56 million—with an unknown number in MQA. France-based Qobuz says it has about 40 million tracks online, including about 170,000 high resolution albums or some 2 million tracks.

The Financial Times, in a story posted July 10, estimated that Amazon’s music services have 32 million subscribers altogether. Tidal claimed just 3 million subscribers in 2016; it isn’t clear whether the needle has moved much since then. Qobuz, which entered the U.S. market just seven months ago and has said that it isn’t competing with “the big guys,”, reported on 15 August that it had 25,000 U.S. subscribers and some 200,000 subscribers in all its markets. In a press release issued earlier today, Qobuz welcomed Amazon to high-resolution streaming.

The entry of Amazon into the high-rez streaming market impacts manufacturers of music-related hardware; several audio brands, including McIntosh, Sonus Faber, Paradigm, MartinLogan, and Sennheiser, were described in the Amazon press release as offering “compatible … third-party devices.” Others will likely sign on. Music server software provider Roon, which has already integrated Tidal and Qobuz into its software, remained tight-lipped about their plans—if any—for integrating the Amazon service.

Rock icon Neil Young was not so reticent. “Earth will be changed forever when Amazon introduces high quality streaming to the masses,” he said, quoted in the company’s press release. “This will be the biggest thing to happen in music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.”

We’ll see.

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