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Amazon Takes On Spotify, Apple With ‘Ultra-HD’ Music

Amazon Music has beaten Apple and Spotify to the punch announcing “Ultra HD” music, it’s lossless streaming tier that promises better-than-CD quality playback.

The new service is a high-quality music-streaming plan now available in the US, UK, Germany and Japan, for an additional $5 per month for current Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers.

No word yet when the upgraded service will be made available to Australian Amazon subscribers, however.

Amazon Music listeners can stream over 50 million songs in lossless HD quality and over 2 million songs in Ultra HD quality across a range of devices.

In a press release, Steve Boom, VP of Amazon Music, heralded “Ultra HD” music by quoting Rock n Roll legend Neil Young, saying ‘Earth will be changed forever when Amazon introduces high-quality streaming to the masses. This will be the biggest thing to happen in music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.’

The new service competes directly with Jay-Z’s streaming service Tidal, but at a significant discount of $5 to $7 depending on whether you are a Prime member or not.

According to Digital Trends, Amazon has clarified that it uses the FLAC format for both its HD and Ultra HD quality levels.

Most on-demand streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify use a lossy compression format to keep file sizes down, therefore reducing quality.

According to its website, ‘Amazon Music HD preserves the original recording information to deliver the highest quality sound available’.

‘We spoke with many artists while developing Amazon Music HD, who were excited about the potential for fans to be able to stream their favourite music, and hear it as it was originally recorded,’ said Mr Boom.

This is very similar to Tidal’s ‘Masters’ 16-bit audio quality setting for audiophiles, which plays back at 96 kHz.

In comparison, all Amazon HD tracks stream at 16-bit audio, with a minimum sample rate of 44.1 kHz with an average bitrate of 850 kbps.

“Ultra HD” tracks play at a bit depth of 24 bits, with sample rates ranging from 44.1 kHz up to 192 kHz, and an average bitrate of 3730 kbps.

When compared to typical 320 kbps MP3s the sound quality level equates to roughly double the bitrate for HD tracks and ten times for Ultra HD.

One catch with any high definition format is file sizes, which could blow out to 153 MB for one three and half minute Ultra HD song.

HD music streaming will require a steady internet connection of 1.5 to 2 Mbps for HD streaming and 5 to 10 Mbps for Ultra HD streaming.

In terms of data usage, the upgraded streaming service typically consumes up to 5.5 MB of data per minute for HD music and up to 12 MB for Ultra HD.

Alexa-enabled Echo devices, Fire TV’s and Fire Tablets all support the HD quality format, along with any speakers/headphones that support a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

The streaming service is also compatible with other third-party devices including products from Denon and Marantz, Sonos, Sennheiser, as well as desktops, and both iOS and Android mobile devices.

As Amazon, ‘ushers in a new listening experience’ for its customers,’ the company hopes to combine the ‘convenience of streaming with all of the emotion, power, clarity and nuance of the original recordings’.

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