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    Amazon Music HD With iOS, macOS, Windows 10, BluOS, and a Sonos Port

    Now that Amazon Music HD has been live for about one month, many in the Audiophile Style community have had a chance to test it on numerous platforms. The results have been all over the board. Some have said the sound is different than other services, possibly even louder. Others have expressed frustration over getting music to output to a DAC without running it through a virtual spaghetti of operating system audio paths. I decided to gather up some devices, run some tests, and write down the current status of using Amazon Music HD. 

     

    The interface, to me, is a work in progress and I hope a ton of progress will be made. However, I'm not going to focus on usability in this article. Many audiophiles are willing to suffer a bit with respect to usability, if the payoff is better sound quality. Thus, I'm going to dive deep into Amazon Music HD to show people how to get the best sound quality from the service and what platforms to steer clear of, if sound quality is critical. 

     

     

     

     

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    (Lenbrook brands NAD, Bluesound, etc...)

     

    Let's start with one of the few platforms to integrate Amazon Music HD into HiFi products, BluOS. I have an NAD C 658 DAC and a Bluesound Pulse 2i speaker. Using the BluOS app for iOS I easily added Amazon Music HD to the list of music sources. Streaming music to the Pulse 2i speaker, the only indication about music format a listener has is a little logo that says either CD or HR (screenshots below). Like most services, there are multiple versions of albums. Using Neil Young's Greatest Hits as a test album, both available versions on Amazon Music HD indicated HR when played via the BluOS iOS app. This HR logo only appears once the music has started playing. Via the Amazon Music HD desktop app, I can see this album is only available at 24/192, so I can only guess that's what's streaming to the Pulse 2i. I have no idea if the audio is bit perfect as the Pulse 2i doesn't feature a digital output for me to connect an analyzing device. The sound quality from the Pulse 2i is terrific, but that's a story for another day and review.

     

    IMG_0099.jpegStreaming Amazon Music HD through the NAD C 658 running BluOS was a similar experience to the Pulse 2i in that almost no indication of music format was given. I say almost because there is one screen on the main physical display of the C 658 that offers a bit of information but it's confusing. Selecting DISP on the C 658 remote scrolls through some information including screen that says "Quality." When streaming CD quality music from Amazon, music that Amazon calls HD, the NAD says CD. When streaming high resolution music from Amazon, music that Amazon calls Ultra HD, the NAD says HD. Whats more, the BluOS iOS app says CD or HR based on the music being streamed. I know these are early days for Amazon and its integration partners, so this is really just information at this point. There's nothing wrong with the Pulse 2i or the C 658, just some leading edge quirks. 

     

    The BluOS devices I have, both hardware and software, don't indicate a sample rate and don't indicate with the music is being streamed without alteration. That's neither good nor bad, it's just how the devices and apps work. The really positive thing is that Amazon Music HD is fully supported by all the BluOS devices, even a really old P300 speaker I have sitting around my house. 

     

     

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    I used the new Sonos Port for testing Amazon Music HD. I figured the newest hardware, that replaced the old Sonos Connect, would be the best option. Sonos, to me, is like the Fred Couples of audio. Freddy always went for the center of the green and played the odds, versus a player who went for the pin and took chances. I know, a golf reference. That's a first for me here on Audiophile Style. Anyway, Sonos plays it safe by supporting 16/44.1 CD quality and nothing more. In addition, it supports a pre 1998 802.1D STP protocol that should've been updated years ago on its devices. This causes many problems with Ubiquiti based networks like mine. Anyway, middle of the road Sonos streams Amazon Music HD without any fanfare. Add the service and start streaming and it all comes down to the Sonos Port at 16/44.1/ Yes, it all streams at CD quality even if the track is 24/192.

     

    For example, Neil Young's Greatest Hits is only available at 24/192 on Amazon Music HD. Streamed through Sonos it plays at 16/44.1 and isn't bit perfect. Streaming Pearl Jam's Live on Two Legs album, that's only available in CD quality, playback is bit perfect every time on Sonos. That's the Sonos steady CD quality for ya.

     

    I'm unsure where the Neil Young and other high resolutions albums are altered or if an MP3 version is what's actually sent to the Sonos device. Addition testing will be required. I also streamed this album from Tidal and Qobuz. I found out Qobuz has the 24/96 and 16/44.1 versiosn of the album while Tidal had the 16/44.1. Both Tidal Qobuz play bit perfect through Sonos for DC quality. Selecting the high resolution Neil Young on Qobuz and streaming it to the Sonos Port, the music is downsampled and not bit perfect. The bottom line is that Sonos is bit perfect with Amazon Music HD, as long as the content is CD quality 16 bit / 44.1 kHz, what Amazon calls HD.

     

     

     

     

     

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    Amazon Music HD in combination with Windows 10, is a complete joke. There's no exclusive mode, WASAPI, or ASIO available. I thought I'd be able to squeeze bit perfect playback out of Windows by using a little trickery, but I was unable to do so. Nothing that streams from Amazon Music HD on a Windows machine, using the Amazon desktop app, is bit perfect. It's all altered. Need I say more?

     

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    Correct bit depth and sample rate showing, but not playing bit perfect.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    I used an iMac Retina 5K and MacBook Pro, both running macOS Catalina 10.15, with the Amazon Music HD desktop app. One annoyance I found was that the Amazon desktop app on both machines said it was the newest version, but the version numbers were different. There was nothing I could do to update the app (short of downloading it again), other than wait for about 30 minutes. After this time, the app said there was an update. Anyway, with both machines on the same Amazon Music HD desktop app version and both machines outputting audio to a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB and Alpha DAC RS3, I was able to test quite a bit. 

     

    Neil Young's Greatest Hits was bit perfect on both machines through Tidal (16/44.1), Qobuz (only the 16/44.1 version is verifiable), and Amazon Music HD (24/192). The thing with Amazon Music HD on macOS is that the user must manually set Audio Midi to the sample rate s/he wishes to play. Herein lies another issue. How does the user know which sample rate is being streamed from Amazon? It's all a guess. Given that Neil Young offers all hs music at 24/192 I took a guess and set Audio Midi to 192. I got luck the first guess and it streamed bit perfect. Ultra HD according to Amazon means anything above 16 bit and 44.1 kHz. Thus, one can't just look at the Ultra HD logo and immediately know what to set in Audio Midi. 

     

    The b bottom line with Amazon Music HD on macOS is that it's bit perfect, as long as the user sets the correct sample rate for the music. If one just streams 16/44.1, it won't be an issue. But, for those of us into true high resolution, this is a big pain and it's what spurred  the development of iTunes add-ons like Amarra, Pure Music, and Bit Perfect way back in the day. I have no desire to go back to the manual sample rate switching days. 

     

     

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    I tested iOS with my iPhone 11 Pro running version 13.1.3. I connected my phone to the same Alpha USB and Alpha DAC RS3 for testing. Setting a baseline, I played all sample rates via Qobuz bit perfectly through my iPhone 11 Pro. Just browse, click, and play. Switching to Amazon Music HD for iOS showed a major design flaw in this app. The Amazon app queries one's audio device, in my case the Alpha USB, EMM Labs DV 2, and dCS Rossini, for its highest sample rate and sets the audio output to 192 kHz if the highest rate is at or above 192 kHz. Thus, whatever music was played via the Amazon app, it was sampled at 24/192 because that's the max of the Alpha USB, and the other two DACs support higher rates. This same behavior can be witnessed using an AudioQuest DragonFly as well. The Amazon Music HD iOS app will set the DragonFly to 96 kHz no matter what's playing.

     

    In this configuration, playing Neil Young's Greatest Hits worked perfectly. The album streamed bit perfect through my iPhone. Switching to any other album that wasn't available at 24/192 meant that the audio was altered / resampled before getting to my audio system. There's no way to manually set this sample rate int he app, like there is in macOS. I suppose one could get a D to D converter that supports a max rate of each sample rate and connect it to an iOS device based on the music selected. Oh wait, audiophiles are a strange bunch, but that is a bridge too far. 

     

    The bottom line is that the Amazon Music HD app is majorly flawed with respect to its inability to switch sample rates. The Qobuz app can switch sample rates without an issue. Tidal doesn't offer anything other than 16/44.1 (sure there's lossy MQA but this article is about bit perfect lossless), so I couldn't test for sample rate switching ability. If using Amazon Music HD on an iOS device, only some of one's music will be bit perfect.

     

     


    Wrap Up

     

    Given that these are early days for Amazon Music HD, I expect things will improve. However, I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't. Communication with Amazon has been nearly impossible and the company has shown zero interest in the consumers of its HD tier. There isn't a platform I know of that works perfect with Amazon Music HD, although BluOS likely has the best shot at getting things right. I need to get a Bluesound Node 2i for further Bluesound testing. For now, all other platforms are severely limited in either capability or usability with Amazon Music HD. 


     



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    There is a thread commenting on Amazon Music HD active for one month now at the Amazon forum. Posters have been complaining about sound quality on Windows 10 and lack of exclusive mode from the start and Amazon keeps posting the same polite canned responses thanking for feedback with no indication they are actively addressing the problems we have with the service. It looks like posting has slowed down as readers are realizing Amazon does not appear to be really interested in correcting problems audiophiles have with Amazon Music HD.

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    Thanks Chris,

    As long as Amazon doesn't offer an exclusive mode for the Win10 app it's a non starter for me. That's a shame since there's so much potential at hand to offer HD level music at a very reasonable cost.  :(

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    I have a Bluesound node 2i directly connected to a AustinTrew power amp and Focal speakers.

     

    Really simple to navigate and sounds great, no interest in bit perfect, exclusive mode etc, etc, I listen to and enjoy the music not chase numbers and technical details that don’t prove that you will enjoy what you are listening to, isn’t that the whole point of music?

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    Thank you Chris. I also hope Amazon improves the service. I've had a pretty good experience so far and will continue using it when my trial ends. I don't love the UI but I'm getting used to it. Nor do I much like Bluesound's integration. A Bluesound support dude on their forum stated once Amazon releases some new code (which they are currently working on) Bluesound will update their integration.

     

    I've been going back and forth between my Bluesound Node 2 and Sonore microRendu. The Node 2 is very convenient. I have it wired via analog out and digital out to my DAC. Both sound quite good with the digital connection edging out the analog. I like that both outputs are active at the same time .. sometimes I just don't want to fire up the DAC.

    For the microRendu I use Shairport (AirPlay emulator) in conjunction with Amazon's iOS app/AirPlay on my iPad. Shairport is limited to 16/44.1 (according to a member here who enlighted me) thus everything above that rate is down-converted. The sound quality is fantastic nonetheless. In fact, I'd venture to say it's better than the Node 2 at any bit/sample rate.
     

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    For Sonos, it would be interesting if someone could clock the Sonos device on their router while playing "HD" and "Ultra HD" tracks to determine if both are in the right bitrate range for 16/44.1 FLAC.

     

    I figured that Amazon Music would also have a "HD" 16/44.1 version of every track they have in "Ultra HD", rather than doing real-time downsampling to each Sonos device, for example...unless Sonos can downsample.

     

    Heos (at least built-in Heos) supports "HD" and "Ultra HD" at their native bit depths and sampling rates.  But, as I've mentioned before, the Amazon Music app within Heos in clunky and lacks My Music. 

     

    Not sure if the Heos Link HS2 will do 24/192 from the digital outs, but I would guess it can.

     

    If Heos adds My Music, it will become a great platform for Amazon Music HD.  The $350 Heos Link HS2 is not "too bad" of an add-on cost, IMO.

     

    I'm surprised Amazon does not make a streaming box that can decode and digitally output the full native native bit depths and sampling rates.  Seems like they should have had this available at the time of the launch.  However, if such a box existed, it's not clear how it would integrate with the Amazon Music app, since Alexa Cast only directs the "SD" lossy stream, IME.

     

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    I have used Tidal and Qobuz before with a node2i running both optical and analog out to my Outlaw rr2160 for comparison of the DACs in the node2i and the receiver.  They sound pretty much the same to my 61 year old nonaudiophile ears.  I am trialing Amazon HD and find the sound quality to be just as good as CD or MQA or PCM (Qobuz) from the other services.  I can find all of the music I want but the Bluos app on Android isn't as efficient in finding music on Amazon as it is on Tidal or Qobuz.  Maybe it will improve?  My receiver does flash the sampling rates on an optical input so I know I'm getting 192k when it's available.  Frankly I can't hear the difference between sampling rates anyway.  I do think the sound is a touch more detailed on 24bit as opposed to 16bit but it also depends on the quality of the recording.  My bottom line is I'm committed to streaming as my main listening mode and Amazon sounds as good as Tidal and Qobuz at a significantly lower cost.  I'll stick with Amazon after the trial with an annual subscription which is even more cost effective.

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    Amazon certainly knows that both Tidal and Qobuz offer exclusive mode playback. Who enters a market without checking out the competition?

     

    Considering they aren't addressing complaints on their own forum they may feel that the current product is "good enough" at the price. I think the best chance we have for bit perfect playback on our computers is if they open their API to Audirvana or Roon, and I don't believe we will hear about that until it happens.

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    In my Philly apt for the work week I have a Yamaha RN-303 with a Marantz Cd Player and Focal 716 speakers - I also have a Gen 1 Amazon Fire TV box.  The Yamaha has integrated pandora and Spotify but alas no Amazon music app.

     

    WRT the Amazon music Ultra HD= hi res- I have 2 data points to share in case they are helpful to someone in the forum:

    Content that Amazon says is 24/196 is transmitted via toslink from the fireTV to the Yamaha at 16/44.
    The same content transmitted via airplay from an iPad using the Amazon music IOS app to the Yamaha plays at 16/44.  
    16/44 still sounds pretty good, to me, though it seems to drain the batter of my iPad about 4X.

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    Thanks for the article.  
     

    in my case, in my system,  it works through my Mac mini connected to my DAC which required change of but rate through midi.  But compared to Tidal through Audirvana + on the same machine, there is no contest.  Audirvana + through microRendu is even better.

     

    I listen to it in my car now until the free trial runs out.  After that I will get it if it is incorporated into Audirvana +.  I have posted a massage to Amazon saying that and they thanked me, saying my comments are important to them and have been forwarded to their tech group for feasibility.

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    2 hours ago, zacster said:

    I guess I'm surprised that anybody thinks letting Amazon control music would be a good thing.  Don't they control enough of what we buy already? 

    I don’t disagree. 

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    1 hour ago, bluesman said:

    "Communication with Amazon has been nearly impossible".....and typical of their interaction with stakeholders who aren't major players in their business plan.  I've been building an internet startup for about 2 years now, and signed the business up as an Amazon Affiliate over a year ago so we could host ads on our website for relevant items and generate some operating revenue along with exposure. 

     

    Their requirement for maintaining Affiliate status is at least one sale by click-through within the first 180 days.   We had 5 - but they canceled the account anyway.  When I asked why, I got a bizarre response that they don't count purchases made by anyone already known to our business because they have this program to generate new customers.  My response was that the purchases were made by individuals from IP addresses easily verified as independent of us and on the other side of the country, and that so many people already have Amazon accounts that it's almost impossible to find customers truly new to Amazon. I got no response to this.

     

    Amazon has some of the finest, most creative minds on the planet working for them, along with world class solution designers, coders, etc.  And their IT infrastructure is among the best in the world.  I migrated my entire web presence (5 active sites at present) to AWS about 2 years ago because it's so good and such great value. They must also have some experienced audiophiles among their ranks.  So they really ought to be able to come up with a more elegant solution than this one, given that they have the entire music supply chain covered from source material through delivery.

     

    they might let you "chat" with a 12 year old in India

     

    or, you can Email Jeff - that worked for me

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    18 hours ago, jdjaye said:

    In my Philly apt for the work week I have a Yamaha RN-303 with a Marantz Cd Player and Focal 716 speakers - I also have a Gen 1 Amazon Fire TV box.  The Yamaha has integrated pandora and Spotify but alas no Amazon music app.

     

    WRT the Amazon music Ultra HD= hi res- I have 2 data points to share in case they are helpful to someone in the forum:

    Content that Amazon says is 24/196 is transmitted via toslink from the fireTV to the Yamaha at 16/44.
    The same content transmitted via airplay from an iPad using the Amazon music IOS app to the Yamaha plays at 16/44.  
    16/44 still sounds pretty good, to me, though it seems to drain the batter of my iPad about 4X.

     

    Also - from my ipad (2018), either from the internal speakers or the 3.5 mm headphone jack, the same 24/192 track is reported as playing out at 24/48

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    "How does the user know which sample rate is being streamed from Amazon?". 

     

    I don't understand. If you click on the Ultra HD square it tells you. It also tells you what your device is capable of. So if I play from my iPhone using the Apple dongle it recognizes it's only capable of 48/24. If I plug in my Dragonfly it recognizes it's capable of 96/24. And it always says it's playing at the resolution it was downloaded at--unless it's 192/24 and it has to downgrade it to my device's upper capability. So if I download a 96/24 album it says it's playing at 96/24 with the Dragonfly but only 48/24 when I rely on Apple's dongle or my Bluetooth headphones.    

     

    I'm not an audiophile expert, but I'm not understanding the issue. Unless Amazon is lying, aren't these tracks already playing at the resolution they are supposed to be playing at?

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    On 10/16/2019 at 2:11 PM, The Computer Audiophile said:

    I agree with some of what you say in that we never know how close a recording is to the actual event, if there was an actual event, because we weren't there. However, to use an extreme example,  we could take one's favorite music and keep reducing the quality until it isn't recognizable. Then go back up the quality scale. There are points on this continuum where music is more enjoyable than others. That's my point. Music can be more enjoyable for many if the quality is increased. This has noting to do with accuracy to an event, but accuracy to the recording as delivered by an artist. 

    +1 

    Without an available exclusive stream path, who knows what SQ you'll end up with at the speakers after the stream navigates whatever digital paths your individual system may be putting it thru.

    In the end you might be better off with the still cheaper Spotify Premium with which "Spotify Connect" can send it's stream directly into many of todays media players. Spotify still has arguably the largest catalog of music and best UI of all the current streamers.

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    I see that (amongst a number of others) that Arcam are displayed as a 'preferred brand' for Amazon Music. Does anybody know what support for Amazon they are bringing to their line-up of streamers? Or is it more vaporware?

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