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Amazon Music Unveils HD: the ‘Highest Quality Audio’ for Streaming

Amazon Music today became the first of the three major streaming services to offer high-definition sound with the launch of Amazon Music HD. According to the announcement, the service offers recordings that are encoded with FLAC (free lossless audio codec, which means they can be compressed without a loss in quality) with more than 50 million songs in High Definition, and millions of songs in Ultra High Definition, which it claims is the highest quality streaming audio available.

Amazon Music HD is available now for $12.99 per month for Amazon Prime members and $14.99 per month for customers, or an additional $5 per month for current subscribers on Individual or Family Plans. The service is available to stream in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan. New subscribers to Amazon Music can receive a 90-day free trial, and current subscribers can test Amazon Music HD at no additional cost for 90 days at amazon.com/music/unlimited/hd.

While Tidal and Deezer have both offered high-quality audio for years and Qobuz, a French high-quality-only service, launched in the U.S. earlier this year, Amazon Music is the first of the three top streaming services to offer this option; its launch has been an open secret in the industry for several months.

The company says that its Ultra HD service offers recordings that available uncompressed, revealing nuances that were once flattened in files compressed for digital streaming (further details are below). It stresses that the service is high definition, not hifi or hi-resolution.

Remarkably, the company got none other than legendary fidelity snob Neil Young to offer a testimonial. “Earth will be changed forever when Amazon introduces high quality streaming to the masses,” Young said. “This will be the biggest thing to happen in music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.”

Spotify VP Paul Vogel was less impressed when asked about the service on Tuesday morning, saying that sound quality has “not been a big differentiator” between streaming services. He said Spotify does not have plans to release its own high-quality service any time soon.

However, Amazon Music VP Steve Boom tells Variety that according to the company’s research, the three options that are most important to users of music streaming services are catalog, ease of use, and sound quality.

Variety received a demonstration of the service last week, and although it was played through a jaw-dropping sound system at the World of MacIntosh in New York that only a multimillionaire would have at home, that system was plugged into a cell phone. A range of music was played, and while the more recent recordings had more clarity and pop to them, even Miles Davis’ 60-year-old “Kind of Blue” had an intimacy that combined the warmth of vinyl with the definition of a CD.

“With Amazon Music HD, we’re thrilled to make it possible for our customers to stream their favorite music the way artists intended their fans to hear it,” Boom said in a statement. “From rock to hip-hop to classical and pop, we believe listening to music at this level of sound will make customers fall in love again with their favorite music and artists. As we usher in a new listening experience for our customers, we’re combining the convenience of streaming with all of the emotion, power, clarity and nuance of the original recordings.”

Amazon Music HD offers customers more than 50 million lossless HD songs, with a bit depth of 16 bits and a sample rate of 44.1kHz (CD quality). In addition, customers can stream millions more songs in Ultra HD (better than CD quality), with a bit depth of 24 bits and a sample rate up to 192 kHz. Download options are also available.

Amazon Music HD will play the highest quality audio the customer’s device and network conditions will support, and is compatible with a wide variety of devices, including desktop, mobile (iOS & Android), select Echo devices, Fire TV, and Fire Tablets. Amazon Music HD is also compatible with many third-party devices, including most products from Denon and Marantz with HEOS Built-in, Polk Audio, Definitive Technology, Sonos, McIntosh, Sennheiser, and more.

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