September 20, 2019
Amazon is debuting an HD version of its music service, which means its digital sound quality will henceforth be on a par with that found on CDs. Music executives, some who have pushed for different tiers of subscription beyond Apple Music and Spotify’s typical $9.99-per-month, said Amazon’s move is “a sign of the music-streaming market’s maturation.” Although Tidal offers an HD sound service, Amazon Music, at the No. 3 spot by subscription numbers, will be the first major service to offer comparable quality audio.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon’s new service is priced at $12.99 per month for Prime members and $14.99 per month for non-members. In comparison, Tidal costs $19.99 per month. The new tier, available in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan, is comprised of “more than 50 million audio tracks in CD-quality high definition” and millions of tracks in Ultra HD, comparable to Tidal’s Masters. Tidal houses 60 million audio tracks, of which 170,000 are Masters.
With 80 percent of recorded music’s revenue coming from streaming, Amazon vice president for music Steve Boom noted that “audio quality has suffered.” He stated that “enough customers now see audio quality as important enough that they will pay for it, so the move into the market is worth it … [calling it] the next wave in music streaming.”
“Music’s never been more convenient than it is today,” Boom said. “What’s been lost in that march forward has been this sacrifice in audio quality.” Rock musician Neil Young, who has long advocated for better quality sound, released a statement through Amazon that, “this will be the biggest thing to happen in music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.”
Despite the fact that Amazon is the No. 3 music streamer, with an estimated 34+ million subscribers (Spotify has 108 million, Apple Music has 60+ million and Tidal had about three million in 2016), “record business executives are more optimistic about Amazon’s prospects with high-definition audio, especially as it taps its appeal to the mainstream.”
TechCrunch reports that, although Tidal hasn’t been able to compete in terms of subscriber numbers with the big streaming services, “its continued existence suggests there’s a demand out there for better quality music.” What Amazon calls HD is 16-bit, 44.1kHz whereas Ultra HD is 24-bit, up to 192kHz. Those interested in Amazon Music HD can try it out for free for 90 days, either via streaming or download.