Amazon Music Introduces Lossless, High-Definition Streaming — Spotify Says It’s Not What People Want

Amazon Music introduces HD-quality lossless streaming audio

Amazon Music HD launched today, undercutting several other high-definition streaming services.

A new HD streaming plan has been rumored to be in the works for a few months now. The new plan will cost $14.99 a month for the HD tier, or $12.99/monthly for Prime subscribers.

By comparison, Tidal’s Hi-Fi plan starts at $19.99/monthly and has several tiers.

Amazon Music says it has a catalog of over 50 million HD songs. It defines HD as CD-quality 16-bit and 44.1kHz sample rate. The service has “millions” of UltraHD tracks of 24-bit and sample rates from 44.1kHz up to 192kHz. Amazon Music HD will deliver the files in lossless FLAC instead of Tidal’s MQA format.

Amazon VP of Music Steve Boom says Amazon is looking to bring HD and Ultra HD streaming to the masses. Amazon Music HD isn’t aiming for niche audiophiles like Tidal and Qobuz ⁠— Amazon Music HD is going for the mass approach.

Amazon Music’s latest subscriber numbers appeared to be around 32 million in April.  Spotify hit 100 million paid subscriptions in that same period.  Amazon might have an easier time with conversions though, thanks to cheaper pricing for Prime subscribers.

Amazon Music HD might be a reason for some people to switch away from Spotify.

Spotify has tested lossless audio in select markets in the past the past but has determined there’s no mass appeal there.  Apple is flirting with its own AAC format with high-definition but has stopped short of a lossless commitment.  Amazon stepping into those waters is significant, but it’s unclear if the move will pay off.

“We haven’t talked much about [introducing an HD tier],” Spotify VP and head of investor relations Paul Vogel recently shared at Goldman Sachs’ Communicopia conference. “But if you go back and look at it, it’s not really something that’s been a big differentiator among the different services.  It’s really about user interface, algorithms, playlists, discoverability and those type of things.”

“So I wouldn’t say never, but we think that in terms of what consumers are looking for, it’s not something that’s really resonated.”

There’s also the question of capacity and bandwidth.  Lossless audio delivery demands much more streaming bandwidth than standard definition streaming.  Even most unlimited plans in the United States have a soft data cap of around 22GB.  Until the 5G future is here and can support HD audio by default, many consumers will shy away.

We saw the same thing with adoption rates from SD to HD TV signal in the 2000s.

7 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Voice of Reason

    “HD” audio is probably one of the biggest farces in the music industry. I worked in the industry for over a decade, and I do not understand why executives in the music industry think that consumers want this. Newsflash… the overwhelming vast majority DON’T CARE. There are 50k (read: a drop of a drop in the bucket) people in the world that care and will pay the money for the upgraded formats and put the $1000s of dollars for the equipment to be able to hear the difference. The other 300 million people simply don’t care and won’t notice. They play their music from their phone, inside the car or on a bluetooth speaker, that is equalized to have 10x more bass than it should. Forget the the fact that 97% of music is mastered to eliminate practically all sense of dynamics. This will be (if lucky) just something else to brag about having, that people really don’t understand, like the vinyl craze right now. It’s hilarious to see people post on social media about the “warmth” of the vinyl (that was originally recorded to Pro tools) they’re playing on their $50 crosby turntable…

    Reply
      • Avatar
        Voice of Reason

        no, just someone who was in the digital music industry early on, and spent countless hours with DSPs (HD TRacks; Mastered by iTunes; etc.) and getting very little revenue. Execs for some reason think this is the next thing. It’s really nothing new. If you think I’m wrong, you just have to look back to the late 90s. The peak of the modern music industry, SACDs were introduced, in a sales environment where you could sell at least 100k of almost any CD, SACDs sales were abysmal. What was easiest to consume was good enough.

        Reply
  2. Paul Resnikoff
    Paul Resnikoff

    I will say, the data does support the argument that most consumers don’t care about audio quality, at least not higher-end audio quality. Outside of a minimum quality floor, most are totally apathetic about it.

    Hey, maybe that changes, though there’s not a market precedent, at least not ona mass scale.

    That’s what Spotify is firmly stating here. Their consumer research shows that subscribers care about other factors when it comes to their music.

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Paul Lanning

    New releases on Spotify sound great through my system (60w per channel through JBL 4312s). I wouldn’t trade Spotify’s charts, New Release Radar, New Music Friday, Discover Weekly, song credits, artist info, and overall ease of use for Amazon’s sonic upgrade.

    Reply

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