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    Amazon Music HD Is Still Lossy

    Just over one year ago Amazon launched its Amazon Music HD streaming service. Many people uninterested in the success of small businesses and good customer service cheered the new offering from the 1.7 Trillion dollar company. At the time Amazon's $14.99 per month plan was the lower than all the other lossless or above music services. Not long after Amazon launched, Qobuz matched its pricing and now offers a $14.99 /month plan and $24.99 /month family plan. Let's take a look at Amazon Music HD, one year later. 

     

    I've been an Amazon Music HD subscriber since day one and have used the service off and on since signing up. Most of this use has been on my mobile phone or desktop. There just aren't many options for listening in another way, such as integration with Lumin, Aurender, Auralic, JRiver, Roon, etc... Given that Amazon is notoriously difficult to work with, it's no surprise that we have so few options. One year on, the landscape is still Sonos, Bluesound, and Denon HEOS (I'm sure people will let me know if I missed any). 

     

    The limited number of options for playback isn't a showstopper in and of itself because many audiophiles use computers directly attached to their HiFi systems. A USB cable between the computer and one's system is all that's required and Amazon Music HD will send along its highest quality. 

     

    What is Amazon Music HD's highest quality? I started testing where I always start testing, with bit perfect playback. If a service or app can't output bit perfect audio, then I have big problems because I don't know where the losses are happening and how big the losses are. The quick and dirty truth is that I can't play bit perfect audio from Amazon Music HD on Windows 10, macOS Catalina (10.15.7), or a Sonos Port using coaxial S/PDIF digital output. 

     

    rr.jpgI can match the sample rate of the audio sent from Amazon Music HD, but the stream or the file is being altered somewhere before it hits my house. In other words, when Amazon says it's playing a 24 bit / 96 kHz file, I can get my DAC to say 24/96, but the stream doesn't pass bit perfect testing. 

     

    Note: Not to toot my own horn, but I've been around the bit perfect block a few times and understand what's required to obtain bit perfect playback. If there is something special about Amazon Music HD, that isn't required for Qobuz and Tidal, I'd appreciate someone pointing it out to me. These other apps played bit perfect when I ran them through the exact same tests this morning. 

     

    Furthermore, the Amazon Music HD applications for Windows and macOS will not change the same rate automatically. For example, if I set Windows 10 to output 24/96 audio and set it to give exclusive access to Amazon Music HD, the music will always be output to my DAC at 24/96. Even though Amazon says the file is 16/44.1 or 24/192 etc..., the Amazon Music HD app can't change the sample rate of the audio output. This is problematic for people who think they are streaming what Amazon calls Ultra HD, but are really listening to a CD quality stream because that's what their computer is set to play. Apps that take control of the sample rate have been around for over a decade. There's no excuse to advertise and offer content at multiple sample rates, yet require users to manually change their control panel / audio midi settings between tracks just to hear the native quality. 

     

    It's hard for me to even think about looking further into Amazon Music HD as an option for people who care about sound quality and customer service. The company has had one year to fix issues, but based on its responses to users' request for these basic features, I won't hold my breath that the service or app will improve. There really isn't a reason to look at user interface and catalog if the company can't even stream the lossless audio it advertises. 

     

    One last note. I'm sure some people have seen the newly announced partnership between Amazon and Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group to release new high resolution remasters of albums from Eagles, Marvin Gaye, Nirvana, Tom Petty, Diana Ross, Linkin Park, J. Cole, Waylon Jennings, Ramones, 2 Chainz, Lady Gaga, The Notorious B.I.G., Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, and more. While this may seem like a good thing, I'm unfortunately not optimistic. It isn't often that remasters actually sound better when created for the masses. I hope those in this partnership don't cross the audio DMZ and cause the loudness wars to flare up once again. 

     

    nevermind.jpgLast week, and again this morning, I went looking for these new remasters. I was able to see some of the albums because Amazon placed a convenient link to them on the Amazon Music HD app's main page. This link is no longer on my main page, so I went searching. What I found is a soup sandwich. For example, I looked for Nirvana remasters and found a single album labeled Remastered. I clicked into Nevermind (Remastered) and hoped to see an indication that this was the new remaster touted in all the press releases. Unfortunately the only date I can find on this album is "copyright 2011 Geffen Records." This is the same as the Deluxe remaster released in 2011 for the albums's anniversary. Think this is a one-off issue? Think again. I went through many other releases and found the same thing. There's no way to tell if an album has been newly remastered unless you find a link from Amazon, stating it's the new remaster, to the album. Even those albums have incorrect dates on them however. 

     

    And finally, these new remasters are exclusives to Amazon Music HD. Say what you want about exclusives, but I hate them. Dan Mackta, the Qobuz USA Managing Director, believes these exclusives won't last forever and we should see the new remasters come to other services in due time.

     

    As it stands today, one year after launching, Amazon Music HD isn't for anyone who cares about customer service,  audio quality or about using streaming services through integrations with numerous hardware and software vendors. If things change I'll be happy to reevaluate Amazon Music HD. For now I highly recommend Qobuz as the number one choice for streaming lossless high resolution audio. 
     

     



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    6 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    My guess is that the Node 2i can’t make a lossy stream lossless if you know what I mean. 

     

    I def get what you mean but how do you know the stream itself is lossy?

     

    From what I understood from your article, you haven't been able to confirm bit perfect playback with the stuff you have to playback (and I see that is a common frustration with people using the desktop and mobile apps for Amazon Music HD).

     

    But that doesn't mean the stream itself is lossy?

     

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    4 minutes ago, asdf1000 said:

     

    I def get what you mean but how do you know the stream itself is lossy?

     

    From what I understood from your article, you haven't been able to confirm bit perfect playback with the stuff you have to playback (and I see that is a common frustration with people using the desktop and mobile apps for Amazon Music HD).

     

    But that doesn't mean the stream itself is lossy?

     

    I manually setup macOS, Windows 10, and tried a Sonia Port (more on that in another article). With manual setup, I should be able to get lossless for a single sample rate if the stream is lossless. If the stream is lossless but the apps can’t reproduce a lossless stream with any configuration, this would be the first time I’ve ever seen this. 
     

    The issues usually come about when switching sample rates or getting the sample rate of the output to match the input stream. Once this is manually set and all the other gremlins are tended to (no EQ, volume to 100%, etc...) the app just passes along what’s sent to it. 
     

    As it stands now, if one can’t get lossless audio from a service through any known/tested means, I have to conclude its lossy. I wish there was other hardware integrated with the service.

     

    If I can get a node 2i for testing I’ll get it done. 

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    2 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    if one can’t get lossless audio from a service through any known/tested means, I have to conclude its lossy. I wish there was other hardware integrated with the service.

     

    All noted. I would completely agree with this conclusion if you had also confirmed with a Node 2i. 

     

    It's possible you may need to do a major update to your article after testing with a Node 2i (or maybe not).

     

    3 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    If I can get a node 2i for testing I’ll get it done. 

     

    Ok cool.

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    Just now, asdf1000 said:

     

    All noted. I would completely agree with this conclusion if you had also confirmed with a Node 2i. 

     

    It's possible you may need to do a major update to your article after testing with a Node 2i (or maybe not).

     

     

    Ok cool.

    Absolutely.
     

    It would be strange if the company providing the stream offered no way of hearing it unaltered, but it’s possible. 

     

    Sonos Port couldn’t play Amazon bit perfect, but it also couldn’t play bit perfect from Qobuz or Tidal. My old Sonos Connect had no trouble with this. If I can find my Connect and stream Amazon through it, this will provide an additional data point. 

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    1 minute ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Absolutely.
     

    It would be strange if the company providing the stream offered no way of hearing it unaltered, but it’s possible. 

     

    Sonos Port couldn’t play Amazon bit perfect, but it also couldn’t play bit perfect from Qobuz or Tidal. My old Sonos Connect had no trouble with this. If I can find my Connect and stream Amazon through it, this will provide an additional data point. 

     

    Even if I don't entirely agree with your current conclusion, I really don't blame you for giving up on Amazon Music HD for now, given there is the Qobuz option.

     

    There are so many ways to enjoy bitperfect with Qobuz, so I definitely get ya.

     

    If Amazon Music HD were available where I am, I would have tried testing with a Node 2i long ago. I tried to signup to Amazon Music HD via VPN but it ultimately needs a credit card with billing address in one of the 4 countries it has launched, so no VPN will help.

     

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    5 hours ago, jcbenten said:

    Amazon set up their music service to support their "smart", Alexia speakers...not to cater to a few hanging out in the corner messing around with cables, optical networks, and power supplies.  These little speakers are nifty and sound ok but are meant to be convenience devices stuck in a corner.  Much like Apple, Amazon is not going to mess around to satisfy the few even though Amazon probably has the power and $$ to make the labels create really good masterings of the music.  

    I agree, but why did they need HD and Ultra HD for their crummy Alexa devices? Maybe HD is just a marketing angle, or hopefully they will provide access to more capable systems later.

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    8 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    If I can get a node 2i for testing I’ll get it done. 

     

    The Node 2i is currently on sale for $449.00 USD. $100.00 off.

     

    I had one on order specifically for Amazon HD but canceled when I read this thread.

     

    DTS Play-Fi will also play amazon Music HD bit perfect.

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    I compared a few Amazon Ultra HD tunes to FLAC zero compression CD rips in my NAS, through my headphone system. In each case, the CD rips sounded better.

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    12 minutes ago, Daren F said:

    DTS Play-Fi will also play amazon Music HD bit perfect.

    There’s no way to test this. Given my other testing with Play-Fi devices, I’d be absolutely shocked if this was bit perfect. 

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    15 minutes ago, asdf1000 said:

    Even if I don't entirely agree with your current conclusion,

    No worries. I’ll get a node 2i one way or the other. I’d hate to have put out misinformation. 

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    Just now, The Computer Audiophile said:

    There’s no way to test this. Given my other testing with Play-Fi devices, I’d be absolutely shocked if this was bit perfect. 

     

    I say bit perfect in the sense that the bit rate and sample rate change on my preamp to reflect what Amazon claims the track quality is.

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    1 minute ago, Daren F said:

     

    I say bit perfect in the sense that the bit rate and sample rate change on my preamp to reflect what Amazon claims the track quality is.

    Ah, ok. 
     

    This means the right sample rate is being played, but it isn’t indicative of bit perfect playback. In my tests I duplicated this by manually setting the sample rate, yet it still wasn’t lossless. 

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    Hi Guys, I just put a request in to Lenbrook for a Bluesound Node 2i for testing. I explained what's going on and that I just want to provide this community with additional accurate information. If this falls through, I'll get one another way. 

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    2 hours ago, audiobomber said:

    I agree, but why did they need HD and Ultra HD for their crummy Alexa devices? Maybe HD is just a marketing angle, or hopefully they will provide access to more capable systems later.

     

    Does not really cost Amazon anything to put those words out...and who knows?...maybe a couple of influencers will jump on and obfuscate the landscape ala MQA.

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    On 10/13/2020 at 6:12 PM, The Computer Audiophile said:

    It likely depends on other things like billing address but you could try something easy like Tunnel Bear and see. 

    I'll try that.  I use a VPN when HDTracks or Acoustic sounds refuses to sell me materiel not 'licenced' for Canada.  It took me at least 16 years to get Ah Via Musicom 24-192.  If I was an artist, I'd be insenced that people are forbidden to buy my music because they live in the wrong country.  Kobuz should get off it's ... and open their service to those who will pay for it.

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    On 10/13/2020 at 6:17 PM, Daren F said:

    You can create an account with a VPN but payment will fail with a Canadian credit card or paypal account.

    I may try it with Paypal, anyway.  I use it, not my card, to pay for tracks bought from HDT, with no problem.  It might work.  And, to keep it relevant: with Kobuz or other services, who needs to put even more money in Amazon Jeff's pocket?

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    26 minutes ago, UELong said:

    I may try it with Paypal, anyway.  I use it, not my card, to pay for tracks bought from HDT, with no problem.  It might work.  And, to keep it relevant: with Kobuz or other services, who needs to put even more money in Amazon Jeff's pocket?

     

    Good luck, I hope it works for you. 

     

    I even sent a message to customer service asking for an exception but they refused it.

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    1 hour ago, asdf1000 said:

     

    This posted just last week:

     

    image.thumb.png.379f03f5a7f65375655d2f511ee7b382.png

     

     

    The crap UI via the BluOS app is a common complaint, but that's probably for a different article.

     

    https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/amazon-music-hd-weakest-link-my-streamer.955018/page-4#post-25135712

    Thanks for the info. However, it’s a common misconception that sample rate = bit perfection. Think about it this way, play the right sample rate but crank the digital volume control way down. That’s chopping off tons of bits, yet the sample rate is right. 
     

    I have a node 2i on the way. 

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    5 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Thanks for the info. However, it’s a common misconception that sample rate = bit perfection. Think about it this way, play the right sample rate but crank the digital volume control way down. That’s chopping off tons of bits, yet the sample rate is right. 
     

    I have a node 2i on the way. 

     

    All noted, I don't automatically agree with that guy's conclusion either.

     

    But correct auto sample rate switching on the Node 2i (if true) is already better than the official Amazon Music HD Windows and macOS and iOS apps.

     

    Agreed, it Doesn't automatically mean it is bit perfect... may be, maybe not.

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    No one answered, so I'll ask again. What is wrong with setting Windows to play all Amazon HD files at 24/192? Why is bit-perfect preferred?

     

    I did some sound checks and found Amazon HD doesn't sound as good as a CD rip, but better than Google Play and YouTube Music. How do Tidal and Qobuz compare? A friend brought Roon/Tidal over with his Mac and I was not impressed at all. PRaT was not good.

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    24 minutes ago, audiobomber said:

    What is wrong with setting Windows to play all Amazon HD files at 24/192? Why is bit-perfect preferred?

    This is where someone like @Miska could probably give a much better answer, but I’ll give you mine. 
     

    Setting Windows to 192 means some DSP is taking place. Is the resampling done by the Amazon app or Windows? I’m guessing by Windows but I’m not totally sure. Either way, the DSP is likely of very low quality compared to the advanced processing of something like HQPlayer or a dCS Upsampler. I prefer to have a real high end app or component handle DSP rather than something that’s designed to increase compatibility like Windows processing. 

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    40 minutes ago, audiobomber said:

    I did some sound checks and found Amazon HD doesn't sound as good as a CD rip, but better than Google Play and YouTube Music. How do Tidal and Qobuz compare? A friend brought Roon/Tidal over with his Mac and I was not impressed at all. PRaT was not good.

     

    I find that a locally stored files (rips) played with Roon or Jriver sound better than Tidal streams played with Roon.

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    3 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    This is where someone like @Miska could probably give a much better answer, but I’ll give you mine. 
     

    Setting Windows to 192 means some DSP is taking place. Is the resampling done by the Amazon app or Windows? I’m guessing by Windows but I’m not totally sure. Either way, the DSP is likely of very low quality compared to the advanced processing of something like HQPlayer or a dCS Upsampler. I prefer to have a real high end app or component handle DSP rather than something that’s designed to increase compatibility like Windows processing. 

     

    Setting default output format in Windows control panel to 192 for example means that is the format Windows audio engine doing software volume, mixing and rate conversion, outputs. It has certain output format because you could be playing hires content at the same time as email application needs to play "ding, you've got new email" notification and you watching a YouTube video on web browser. All three things mixed together into single output, although at different sampling rates from their respective applications.

     

    macOS has equivalent control for CoreAudio engine.

     

    Audiophile players use WASAPI Exclusive mode or ASIO driver to bypass this audio engine and claim exclusive control of the audio device. Also means that you won't get mixing of different source applications.

     

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    I agree about the frustration of using Amazon Music HD. I have tried comparing it to Tidal & Qobuz too.

     

    FWIW: Amazon Music HD sounds amazing while using the HEOS app (I use a Denon receiver as a pre-amp and a Parasound A21 as a power amp) - even better than Tidal does. However, its functionality in the HEOS app is extremely limited and buggy.

     

    I tried sending a note explaining my frustration to the guy in charge of Amazon Music HD at Amazon (Jack Rutledge) but no reply as of yet. I’m not surprised though - the audiophile community is very small and IMHO, it isn’t worth their while to spend time and effort trying to enhance their product to support Roon / all streamers. They shall try use this to boost the saleability of their Bluetooth speakers! :)

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