Just a decade ago, I would spend my weekends sitting between library aisles, thumbing through cracked CD cases to find new music. With the advent of streaming services, however, the process has been streamlined. While I miss the days of camping out at the library, I revel in the convenience of a virtually endless music library in my pocket. Amazon Music HD takes this a step further by offering more than 50 million CD-quality songs at a hard-to-resist price. Whether you’re an audio purist or casual listener, Amazon Music HD will serve you well.
Editor’s note: this post was updated on July 8, 2020, to include information about streaming quality support in the FAQ section.
What is Amazon Music HD?
Amazon Music HD is a high-quality music streaming service and is something Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers can easily upgrade to for a small price hike. Since its launch in September 2019, Music HD has grown in popularity, particularly among the audiophile crowd, and has already accrued 55 million listeners. Anyone whose pride and joy rests in their music collection will rejoice at how Amazon Music HD delivers lossless FLAC audio at 24bit/192kHz.
While it may not have the same cultural clout as Tidal HiFi, which is backed by music power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z, it does what Amazon is known for: undercutting the competition. For anyone looking for the best value in lossless audio, your search ends with here: the service costs $14.99/month or $12.99/month for non-Prime members and Prime members, respectively.
Who should get Amazon Music HD?
- Amazon Prime members get a great deal on Amazon Music HD for just $12.99/month, making it an absolute steal for listeners in search of a lossless audio streaming service.
- Fans of FLAC swill enjoy the high-resolution streaming quality afforded by Amazon Music HD and its library of Ultra HD songs.
- Everyone will enjoy Amazon’s vast music library which covers the oldies, classics, and modern-day hits. Plus, the interface is easy to intuit even for the less tech-savvy among us.
Related: Amazon Echo Buds review
Lossless streaming quality
Amazon Music HD affords two types of streaming: high definition (HD) and Ultra HD, both of which are encoded by the lossless FLAC codec . HD audio streams up to 850kbps, which is more than double the bitrate of lossy streaming services that cap at 320kbps. You can enjoy more than 50 million songs in 16bit/44.1kHz CD-quality, which is a huge lossless library to have at your fingertips.
Amazon Music HD delivers some of the best streaming quality among competitors like Tidal, Deezer, and Qobuz.
In order to take advantage of Amazon Ultra HD hi-res quality (lossless 24bit/192kHz resolution), your device must support it. This is something my desktop is unable to do as it maxes out at 24bit/44.1kHz playback. To see the best playback quality your device is capable of, click the track quality button next to a song title; my Samsung Galaxy S10e, on the other hand, may stream 24bit/48kHz audio.
Streaming quality is about more than kilobits per second
When looking at streaming services, it’s easy to judge audio quality by a file’s transfer rate (kilobits per second). However, this is an oversimplified—and often inaccurate—way to understand quality. Instead, we have to take file type into account when discussing audio compression. File compression comes in all different flavors and file types, like the MP3 format, to account for human hearing limitations. These formats don’t just randomly discard data; instead they take psychoacoustics into account to intelligently remove information the human ear and brain are incapable of processing. If you don’t have time to see our deep-dive on the differences between audio and file compression, that’s ok: Amazon Music HD encodes via FLAC anyway, yielding lossless data transfer.
|Streaming Service||Max Mobile Quality (kb/s)||Max Desktop Quality(kb/s)||Supported Formats|
|Amazon Music HD||850||3,730||FLAC|
|Tidal||1,411||1,411||FLAC, ALAC, AAC|
|Google Play Music||320||320||MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, or ALAC|
What devices support Amazon Music HD?
Almost all iPhones and iPads released since 2014 running iOS 11 or later support HD and Ultra HD, limited to 24bit/48kHz playback. Anyone who wants to listen to higher sample rates needs to invest in a DAC that can support those rates. Apple AirPlay also supports HD playback, meaning devices like the Sonos One (Gen 2) and Apple HomePod are great devices to pair with Amazon Music HD. Mac users whose devices are from 2013 or later can listen to HD and Ultra HD music from the desktop app. Granted, this takes a bit of tweaking in the audio settings: enter the Applications folder, open Audio MIDI Setup.app, and update the speaker or headphone format to the highest available sample rate (24bit/96kHz or 24bit/192kHz).
Android users with a device from 2014 or later with Android 5.0 and on can listen to HD and Ultra HD, limited to 48kHz. As of publication, Amazon Music HD is not yet supported on Chromecast. Seeing how Windows is more confusing, you’ll have to check to see if your laptop or desktop’s integrated DAC can support Amazon’s HD and Ultra HD qualities.
How to use it
Amazon Music HD is supported on both mobile and desktop; the interfaces for each are very similar, making it easy to switch between the two. Amazon’s app isn’t the same beauty as Tidal’s, but it would be an exaggeration to call it ugly. Sure, it’s one of the plainer designs and feels outdated compared to Apple Music and Deezer, but I always appreciate a function-before-form philosophy. Animations like rising and falling volume level bars are overlaid atop a playlist header image on both apps, which may be neat to some.
Why I’m an avid Spotify user despite dubious audio quality
Both apps use an intuitive design language. On mobile, the bottom row divides access into “home,” “find,” “my music,” and “Alexa.” The home tab resembles all other streaming services’ home tabs: users are greeted with suggested albums and songs, popular playlists, and featured releases. Amazon Music HD also provides a set of curated Ultra HD playlists, so you can instantly access hi-res audio files without digging through the app.
The “find” tab has a search banner with descending broad categories below: playlists, stations, new releases, and charts. Search functionality is similar to Spotify; once you begin typing, suggestions populate and continue to do so the more you type. It also saves recent searches, which can easily be cleared. When you select to search by playlist, you can filter results by mood and genre. I liked searching by mood as a way of switching up my workout playlist.
In order to make use of Alexa, you have to agree to the terms and conditions which include granting microphone access. Although I’m wary of granting any application microphone access, I do appreciate how quickly Alexa registers and responds to commands. It’s significantly faster than when I use Google Assistant to skip tracks on YouTube Music or Spotify. I find it fascinating, yet unsurprising, that Google Assistant access is blocked when using the Amazon Music app. In order to ask Google anything, you must first exit the Amazon Music app which can remain running in the background.
Google Assistant access is blocked when using the Amazon Music app.
The settings menu may be accessed by hitting the three stacked dots in the top-right corner of the screen. Within the menu, you may toggle things like loudness normalization, hands-free Alexa access, automatic downloads, a sleep timer, and more. You can also designate where downloads are stored, be it locally or on an external microSD card.
Music playback, creating playlists, and more
Immediately upon selecting a song to play, the “now playing” window pops up and provides you with basic playback controls, including shuffle, loop, and view queue. On the same screen, you can select devices to cast to like the Amazon Echo. You can even view lyrics; and the display syncs up with the song, kind of like karaoke. It’s a nice addition but not as intriguing as Spotify’s Genius Lyrics feature, which includes partial interviews with artists about the current song.
By tapping the menu setting (three vertically stacked circles), you’re given a drop-down of options among which is the ability to add a song to a playlist or to your library. You can also view song credits; though, the results are disappointing. I commend Tidal for how it encourages subscribers to explore certain song contributors through its credits information, something that Amazon Music lacks. In fact, you’re really only shown songwriter credits, whereas with Tidal you’re informed of producers, composers, lyricists, featured artists, and other contributors like engineers and marketers. It would be nice to see this information bolstered, because I’m confident that more than one person worked on The Tone’s and I’s song Dance Monkey.
Want a social feed and collaborative playlists? Get Spotify instead.
Within the same menu, you may see what customers who listened to the current song have also shown interest in. This is one of my favorite features, and I wish it were more prominent. Music discovery is easily accessible with the advent of streaming services, and this is a unique way to discover new artists.
Listen to 3D audio
Amazon Music HD includes 3D audio playback on Echo Studio products. This means you can enjoy a full immersive audio experience with over 1,000 songs mastered in Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio codecs. This support makes sense, seeing how Amazon and Fraunhofer IIS, the company behind Bluetooth LE Audio and the new LC3 codec, partnered so Amazon can now use the MPEG-H audio decoder in its software, including the Echo Studio. For those unfamiliar, MPEG-H powers Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format.
Are local media files supported?
Yes, Amazon Music HD allows for access to local audio files directly through the app. This is great news for listeners like me who have a few Bandcamp downloads floating around their Android folder app. Device files are accessible and clumped together with music downloaded onto your device from Music HD.
Save data by downloading music
You’d be wise to invest in a microSD card, because lossless audio files are storage-hungry beasts. I advise against throwing caution to the wind and streaming over your cellular network. After all, streaming such large files can quickly eat away at your data plan, leaving you at a loss before the end of the month. Anyone whose smartphone lacks expandable storage should still download music, just remember space is much more finite.
How much does the subscription cost?
Amazon offers a few payment tiers: individuals with a Prime membership pay $12.99/month, while non-Prime members pay $14.99/month for an individual account. Upgrading to a family HD plan costs $19.99/month. Listeners can foot the bill all at once with annual plans, reducing the cost of an individual plan to $10.75/month and the family HD plan to $16.58/month for Prime members. Currently, there aren’t any discounts available to students or military service members when subscribing to Amazon Music HD.
On Amazon Music HD’s individual plan, you may only stream from one device at a time. In order to stream from multiple devices simultaneously, you have to upgrade to the Amazon Music Unlimited Family plan, which permits six devices at a time. If you’re from a large family, six devices may not be enough, but it seems the arbitrary standard chosen by the likes of Google Play Music, Apple Music, and Spotify.
|Streaming Service||Free Model Available||Basic Plan||Premium Plan||Hi-Res Plan||Family Plan||Student Plan||Military Plan|
|Amazon Music HD||No||–||$12.99 with Prime
|Amazon Music Unlimited||No||–||$7.99 with Prime
|Apple Music||Yes||Radio is free||$9.99||–||$14.99||$4.99||–|
|Deezer||Yes||Free with ads||$9.99||$14.99||$14.99||$4.99||–|
|SoundCloud Go/Go+||Yes||$4.99||$9.99||–||–||$4.99 for premium||–|
|Spotify||Yes||Free with ads||$9.99||–||$14.99||$4.99||–|
|YouTube Music||Yes||Free with ads||$9.99||–||$14.99||$4.99||–|
What’s the difference between Amazon Music HD, Amazon Music Unlimited, and Prime Music?
Amazon has successfully confused consumers with its three-pronged approach to streaming services. Without rehashing everything, Amazon Music HD is Amazon’s answer to high-resolution streaming services with 50 million-plus lossless songs, and its library is only expanding.
Amazon Music Unlimited provides 320kbps lossy streaming quality for over 50 million songs. This is the standard streaming quality used by Spotify and outperforms YouTube Music’s 256kbps quality. You’re afforded all of the same functionality of Amazon Music HD; the only difference is that streaming quality isn’t ridiculously high (Ed. note: it’s still perfectly fine, however). Prime Music’s library is much smaller and provides access to just 2 million songs, and the selection rarely includes trendy hits.
Amazon Music HD, Music Unlimited, and Prime Music are all ad-free streaming services.
Pricing is vastly different across Amazon’s services. Prime Music is included with Amazon Prime while Amazon Music Unlimited costs $7.99/month or $9.99/month for Prime and non-Prime members. Alternatively, Prime members can save $16.80/year by making an annual payment of $79.
How does Amazon pay artists?
According to The Trichordist, Amazon Unlimted pays $0.01175 per stream. This is significantly better than payouts from Deezer and Apple. Amazon effectively cloaks its royalty program for Amazon Music HD; however, we’re awaiting comment and will be sure to update upon receiving a response.
|Digital Service Provider||$ Per Stream|
|24/7 Entertainment GmbH||$0.01050|
|Amazon Digital Services Inc.||$0.00395|
|YouTube Content ID||$0.00028|
Why Amazon Music HD is worth it
Amazon Music HD is a fabulous value for anyone looking to a vast selection of high-resolution music. At just $12.99/month for pre-existing Prime members, it’s the most affordable high-resolution streaming service available. Even for non-Prime members, Music HD remains a great deal, rivaling that of Deezer and undermining Tidal’s pricing options. When you subscribe to Amazon Music HD you’re afforded an insanely vast library of music from world-renowned bands and bar-hopping bands alike. If you don’t care much for app design and prioritize audio quality and accessibility over all else, Amazon Music HD is a very difficult offer to turn down.
Why you may not want Amazon Music HD
Amazon Music HD’s library is barren of podcasts and music videos; you’re getting exactly what the name suggests: music. This is when it may make more sense to invest in Deezer HiFi, another high-quality streaming service that has been supporting podcast playback since 2015. It streams high-resolution FLAC files and has a music library of over 53 million songs and costs just $14.99/month.
If you’re more of a music video fanatic, then YouTube Music Premium is a better investment. Its extensive music video library separates it from the rest of the streaming services, which is much needed seeing how audio quality really falls to the wayside. Relatedly, Amazon Music HD is devoid of social features. Anyone who wants music to be social should invest in a Spotify subscription instead. Again, audio quality isn’t great (320kbps Ogg Vorbis), but it takes a generalist approach to music, and is therefore pretty good at nearly everything.
Just like picking out what type of headphones to get, each streaming service has its advantages and disadvantages. However, those who appreciate a no-frills approach to high-quality music will appreciate the affordable nature of Amazon Music HD and all it has to offer.