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    The Computer Audiophile

    UPDATE: Amazon Music HD Is Still Lossy*

     

    Last month I wrote about Amazon's issues with streaming lossless audio (link). The company advertises high definition, yet doesn't offer lossless CD or HD audio. At the encouragement of a few Audiophile Style readers, I obtained a Bluesound Node 2i for testing. The Node 2i enabled me to test streaming from Amazon without using any of Amazon's applications for Windows, macOS, or iOS. The audio routs from Amazon's servers, through the Bluesound Node 2i's coaxial digital output and into my DAC. I could've use analog outputs in the Node 2i, but for the sake of testing the digital outputs were required. Below are my testing methodology and my findings. 

     

     

    Testing Methodology 

     

    I use a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 that identifies and decodes HDCD on all sample rates. When an unaltered HDCD file is played, the HDCD indicator on the DAC is illuminated. The HDCD flag is on the 16 bit for CD files and the 24th bit for high resolution files. Any alteration, DSP, volume leveling, etc... changes this least significant bit and won't enable the HDCD indicator to illuminate. That's the hardware piece. 
     
    With respect to source files, here's what I do. 
     
    I have a list of roughly ten known HDCD albums (although I could use more if needed). Many of these albums were only released as HDCD encoded CDs/files. There is no alternate lossless version. For example, Reference Recordings only releases music that's HDCD encoded. 
     
    I set a baseline by playing my own local copy of the albums and make sure the HDCD indicator illuminates.

     

    I used the Bluesound applications on iOS and macOS for playback during this test. Outside of the Amazon native apps, that I tested previously, the Bluesound app/ecosystem is one of the only systems to integrate Amazon Music HD and stream content up through 24/192. 

     

    Through the Bluesound app and Node 2i combination, I streamed my known HDCD releases first through Qobuz, then through Tidal, and finally through Amazon Music HD. I wanted to use my local file baseline, then two streaming service baselines, before testing Amazon.  

     

    Absolutely there are possible holes in my methodology, but I believe I've minimized them as much as possible. The two major ones are source material. Sure Amazon could have different source material from all other lossless streaming services, but after checking with labels, I highly doubt this is the case. The second one is Amazon's adaptive bit rate. Amazon could be sending me lossy versions of the files and sending other people lossless versions, but I think this is highly unlikely as well. I have a 1 gigabit upload/download unmetered fiber internet connection. I routinely check the speed and see between 800 Mbps and 940 Mbps. If Amazon doesn't think this is a fast enough connection for lossless audio, then I doubt anyone else is going to receive lossless audio, thus making the platform lossy. 

     


    Results

     

    Good news for Bluesound! The Bluesound Node 2i successfully streamed lossless audio from Amazon Music HD from 16 bit / 44.1 kHz up through 24 bit / 192 kHz. Amazon's own apps are unable to do what the Bluesound ecosystem can do with respect to playing the highest quality lossless audio. 

     

    I used the following music to test, and discovered a couple interesting items along the way. 

     

    Neil Young's Greatest Hits, Harvest (2009 Remaster) and After The Gold Rush (2009 Remaster) were all bit perfect at 24/192 from Amazon. 

    Pearl Jam's Live On Two Legs, Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, and Minnesota Orchestra's Bolero! (Reference Recordings) were bit perfect at 16/44.1 from Amazon.

     

    Jewel's album Spirit never illuminated the HDCD indicator on my Berkeley Audio Design DAC through Amazon, but the same Album lit the light through Qobuz. 

     

    The Chicks album Wide Open Spaces was an HDCD master when originally released at 16/44.1. Neither Amazon, Tidal, nor Qobuz streamed a version that illuminated the HDCD indicator on my DAC. There is a 24/96 non-HDCD version available for streaming and I wonder if the 44.1 version is derived from that or if the streaming services have a "bad" copy of the original, or if when the 96 kHz version was done, a 44.1 version was also made and delivered to the services. 

     

    I also found what may be the effects of watermarking on a couple albums I tested. The album No Name Face from Lifehouse and the album Pull My Chain from Toby Keith were originally released as HDCD masters on CD. Playing these albums from Amazon Music HD, the HDCD indicator illuminated for about 1 second, then went dark. I've talked to a few people about this behavior and the agreement seems to be that there's a watermark placed on the albums. The watermark didn't effect the first second of the track, but kicks in shortly after, destroying bit perfect playback. 

     

    Upon further investigation I found:

     

    • Qobuz plays these albums perfectly and lights the HDCD light on my DAC. 
    • Tidal plays the Toby Keith album perfect, but not the Lifehouse album. 
    • Amazon plays neither album perfectly, however Amazon offers a second version of Pull My Chain that does stream perfectly and illuminates the HDCD indicator. 

     

    If the watermark is done at the label level this makes a little more sense. The versions that don't playback perfectly are all labeled SKG / Dreamworks. The Amazon version that doesn't have issues is labeled UMG / Dreamworks. Yes, I realize this is a tiny difference in metadata that may mean nothing, but it's the only difference between the albums that playback perfect the those that don't.

     

    Last, I found some MQA content streaming through Amazon Music HD. It's bit perfect as MQA was displayed on my DAC.

     


    Bottom Line

     

    The bottom line is twofold. First, it's great that Amazon Music HD can be streamed to a HiFi system losslessly in high resolution. Amazon's own applications are incapable of this, but fortunately the indispensable Bluesound Node 2i handles it with ease. If readers want Amazon Music HD, the Node 2i is a requirement in my book. Second, all of this testing indicates that streaming can be a mess for those of us who like high quality and care about the best sound possible. I think of all the conversations I've had with people who say one streaming service sounds better than another or their local copies of albums sound better than the identical versions when streamed. I completely understand. It's a mess out there.

     

     



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    1 minute ago, Ottoa62 said:

    My thought is, to my knowledge Could another solution or alternative to Bluesound( which I have no gripe about), be waiting for software apps like JRiver ,Ardrivana, and others to start offering to handle the higher Rez streaming services. Now their interface would bypass Windows and iOS all together.  If I'm missing something,  my bad. 

    I'm not totally following your question / comment, but if I understand correctly, technically JRiver, Audirvana, Roon, etc... could integrate with Amazon Music HD and output bit perfect audio very easily. However, working with Amazon is like pulling teeth. Getting in touch with someone there, getting them to actually respond in a timely manner to get work done, is as difficult as it gets. Th company just isn't that interested in working with others unless you can offer them Sonos type numbers. 

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    Yes I was surprised with using a Node 2i to see my DAC's sample rate lights jump correctly from rate to rate, whereas feeding the my DAC USB from my MacBook Pro's AM app defaulted to a continuous 192k.

     

    I've been using an Auralic Aries G1 for the last week now (I sent the Node 2i back as its basic DSP EQ fell just short of my fully tweakable multi band parametric desires) and I am also looking at a Weiss 501. 

     

    I (was) a big Amazon Music fan until I started to read that it wasn't bit perfect (thats mystery now cleared up above - thanks) and all the devices I was looking at seemed to support just the two Tidal & Qobuz and I was with Qobuz for the last 5 or 6 years...

     

    But it would be nice to be able to go back to AM - I do prefer it but I dont think its available on Auralic or Weiss.  

     

    A question - Is AM available via upnp?  I have read the Bubble Upnp app only works on Android? And I am on Apple..

     

    Thanks 

     

    Meanwhile, its back to Qobuz AGAIN.....😑 I am getting tired of platform hopping...

     

     

     

     

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    16 minutes ago, Pro Jules said:

    A question - Is AM available via upnp?  I have read the Bubble Upnp app only works on Android? And I am on Apple.

    Amazon HD is not compatible with UPnP, BubbleUPnP can't play it.

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    I just ordered a Paradigm PW Link. It uses DTS Play-Fi which will provide bit perfect output of Amazon Music HD.

     

    I'll connect it to my DAC via the Toslink output. The PW Link also has a Toslink input where I plan to connect a Chrome Cast Audio.

     

    The PW Link is currently on sale for 45% off at CA$249.00 on the Paradigm website.

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    1 hour ago, Daren F said:

    I just ordered a Paradigm PW Link. It uses DTS Play-Fi which will provide bit perfect output of Amazon Music HD.

     

    I'll connect it to my DAC via the Toslink output. The PW Link also has a Toslink input where I plan to connect a Chrome Cast Audio.

     

    The PW Link is currently on sale for 45% off at CA$249.00 on the Paradigm website.

    How do you control Amazon Music, the Play-Fi App? Do you know that Play-Fi streams everything through your mobile device rather than straight from the cloud?

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    4 hours ago, audiobomber said:

    Amazon HD is not compatible with UPnP, BubbleUPnP can't play it.

    Thanks 

     

    I was just fooling around with Mconnect & Qobuz 

     

    My LG TV came up as a device. I was able to hear it via optical out to my DAC or the TV speakers. 

     

    I have no plans to this again it was just an interesting UPnP exercise before the Weiss 501 gets here. 

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    21 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    How do you control Amazon Music, the Play-Fi App? Do you know that Play-Fi streams everything through your mobile device rather than straight from the cloud?

    Yes, you control with the Play-Fi app. I didn't know that it streams through the app but does that really matter? 

     

    Options are limited with Amazon Music HD so at $249.00 I though it would be worth trying. If Qobuz was officially available in Canada my choice would be easy. I have a French account but at 19.99 Euros per month that's over CA$30.00.

     

    I really don't want to support Tidal and MQA especially since they started replacing CD quality with MQA as well.

     

    I have Play-Fi on my Anthem processor and bit depth and sample rates change accordingly. Don't know if it's truly bit perfect as I have no way of testing but if the Node 2i tested bit perfect I would say that it's a pretty good chance that the PW Link will be too.

     

    If the PW Link doesn't work out, I'll pay for French Qobuz until they hopefully launch in Canada. 

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    5 minutes ago, Daren F said:

    Yes, you control with the Play-Fi app. I didn't know that it streams through the app but does that really matter? 

     

    Options are limited with Amazon Music HD so at $249.00 I though it would be worth trying. If Qobuz was officially available in Canada my choice would be easy. I have a French account but at 19.99 Euros per month that's over CA$30.00.

     

    I really don't want to support Tidal and MQA especially since they started replacing CD quality with MQA as well.

     

    I have Play-Fi on my Anthem processor and bit depth and sample rates change accordingly. Don't know if it's truly bit perfect as I have no way of testing but if the Node 2i tested bit perfect I would say that it's a pretty good chance that the PW Link will be too.

     

    If the PW Link doesn't work out, I'll pay for French Qobuz until they hopefully launch in Canada. 

    I’d get a Node 2i. 
     

     

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    32 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    I’d get a Node 2i. 
     

     

    I had one and returned it. I used it only as a transport connected to my DAC. I found that there was large volume fluctuations between some tracks and the first fraction of a second was cut off when tracks would change. This was using it with Tidal. Tidal Masters would be approx. 5dB or more louder than HiFi. Even when set to HiFi only, the beginning of the tracks was cut off. Maybe a compatibility issue with the DAC or defective Node, I don't know.

     

    Edit: Just wanted to add that I have a LG V30 as a dedicated remote control point. It's in airplane mode with WiFi enabled. All sounds are muted.

     

    There is some delay when advancing tracks but it seems to work pretty good. It is very similar to using BubbleUPnP and qobuz with JRiver as renderer. 

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    On 12/13/2020 at 5:02 PM, Daren F said:

    I had one and returned it. I used it only as a transport connected to my DAC. I found that there was large volume fluctuations between some tracks and the first fraction of a second was cut off when tracks would change. This was using it with Tidal. Tidal Masters would be approx. 5dB or more louder than HiFi. Even when set to HiFi only, the beginning of the tracks was cut off. Maybe a compatibility issue with the DAC or defective Node, I don't know.

     

    Edit: Just wanted to add that I have a LG V30 as a dedicated remote control point. It's in airplane mode with WiFi enabled. All sounds are muted.

     

    There is some delay when advancing tracks but it seems to work pretty good. It is very similar to using BubbleUPnP and qobuz with JRiver as renderer. 


    Interesting.  I’m using the Node 2i as a transport as well.  I do notice the variation in track volume, but I elected to keep replay gain turned off.  I suspect turning on the replay gain feature would address the volume disparity between tracks.  
     

    I do not experience the issue of the first moment or two of a track being cut off.  

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    13 hours ago, whell said:


    Interesting.  I’m using the Node 2i as a transport as well.  I do notice the variation in track volume, but I elected to keep replay gain turned off.  I suspect turning on the replay gain feature would address the volume disparity between tracks.  
     

    I do not experience the issue of the first moment or two of a track being cut off.  

     

    I tried with replay both on and off and still got the variation in volume. I pretty much experimented with all the settings to no avail. I suspect that Tidal Master tracks are slightly louder than HiFi anyway to give the perception of sounding better but for some reason the Masters were quite a bit louder with the Node I had. 

     

    I thought that beginning of some tracks were being cut off due to my DAC not switching bit depth and sample rates quickly enough. I set Tidal to HiFi only so that there would be no switching sync issues and the beginning of some tracks was still cut off. It was a deal breaker.

     

    After Chris' comments, I did some some more research on the PW Link and Play-Fi and discovered that both the hardware and software have some serious flaws so, I canceled my order on that too.

     

    I've given up trying to find a solution to get bit perfect Amazon Music HD for now and have also dropped Tidal in favor of qobuz. I'll just have to buck up and pay the higher price for qobuz and Roon for now.

     

     

     

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    7 hours ago, Daren F said:

     

    I've given up trying to find a solution to get bit perfect Amazon Music HD for now and have also dropped Tidal in favor of qobuz. I'll just have to buck up and pay the higher price for qobuz and Roon for now.

     

    Agreed.  The more I learn about AmazonHD, and while it might be a great fit for a subset of folks looks to stream music, the more I'm convinced it’s little more than a vehicle for Amazon to score incremental revenue off the sale of their playback hardware. 

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    Have you tried any of the Denon/ Heos kit in a similar manner to the Node 2i? Their supporting app is pretty lousy (the Bluos one appears to be better but still unsure if it accesses your custom playlists/ library) but the Heos Link Hs2 I have seems to pass the track thru to my Linn DSM/4 at the correct sample/bitrate, unlike the Amazon Music app on my Windows PC, android phone and fire tv devices all reporting 24/192  (with recent Fire Os and app updates) on my amp.

    It's no doubt my limited grasp of what you deem bit perfect, but if I play a 24/192 track from AMHD and it says the device capability is that, and that's what the app and my amp say it's playing at, where's the issue? 

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