The HD streaming business just got a lot more interesting.
Amazon just announced that they are coming to market with a $15 per month ($13 for Prime members) music streaming subsciption plan that is loaded with 96/24 master quality files. This service will directly compete with smaller players such as Tidal and Qobuz who charge more for their HD streaming services.
That lower fee, while appreciated, does raise one key question: How can Amazon offer studio grade movies and Emmy Award-winning video original content in 4K as a part of the $120-ish per year that Prime members pay, yet somehow catalog music in its best digital form comes with yet another additional fee?
Audio enthusiasts should rejoice to have a bigger player with more negotiating might now providing music. Upon the announcement of Amazon's HD music service comes rumors that Qobuz might be lowering the cost of their service to remain competitive. It is unclear how another smaller player, Tidal, complete with MQA files, will compete going forward with juggernauts like Amazon in the game. The bigger question is how will Apple respond, as they have had years to make the upgrade to HD music while sitting on a dominant position in the streaming marketplace. One might argue that Apple will have to get in the HD music game at some level or another. They are playing catch up with Netflix, Amazon Studios, and Disney on the streaming video front. They now need to catch up on the music front, which they have dominated for more than a decade now.
Or do they? There's no denying that the video side of the streaming marketplace dominates the discussion right now. Disney not only has its vast catalog of movies and TV shows, but also the properties owned by recently acquired Fox to compel you to pay them for their content. Netflix is an industry leader with their original content, which took them from a DVD rental company to a legitimate content provider that can favorably compete with the best Hollywood studios and network TV providers. Amazon Studios just opened a $620,000,000 studio next to Sony Pictures in Culver City, California to host their video content business. (Full disclosure: I know because my wife works there.) There is no question that Amazon sees providing content as a compelling way to keep their 100,000,000-ish repeat clients happy and buying from them day-in and day out. But why isn't music being treated as part of that arsenal?
It could be because enthusiasts haven't jumped onto the HD streaming bandwagon as hard as some expected however. Love for the "silver disc" is still strong among home theater enthusiasts and audiophiles. Hell, some audiophiles are still clinging on to vinyl for what must be nostalgic purposes. Some say that the experience of streaming music, even in HD, just isn't the same. Holding a disc and reading liner notes still holds some appeal even when the other side of the coin is basically unlimited access to damn-near every album ever recorded at what is safe to call "master tape" quality. That's a game changer, especially with a player like Amazon behind it.
How music in HD will play out with consumers is to be determined. As the Internet pipeline gets bigger and bigger (and compression gets better and better) it can more easily accommodate such large music files with ease. The complication of which streaming service to use is still unclear, as Pandora choked on their chance at HD music a few years back but could possibly get in the game with new muscle behind them via Sirius-XM. Spotify has excellent AI for picking playlists and a great user interface, but seems to have no real interest in offering HD streams right now.
Ultimately, though, Amazon's moved to high-res will either prompt further competition in the area or it won't. The one thing we can't deny, though, is that it's a great time to be a music aficionado. Consumer choice is a great thing, and given that we now have even more access to studio-quality streams, it's hard to complain about the services who still haven't made the upgrade.
You can read more about the launch of Amazon Music HD at the New York Times, including Neil Young's thoughts on the move. You can also sign up now for a 90-day free trial of Amazon Music HD to hear for yourself the difference it makes.
• Visit Amazon for additional information.
• Why All AV Enthusiasts Should Be Upset About Roku Losing Twitch at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• The Real Reason AV Enthusiasts Are Clinging to Their Silver Discs at HomeTheaterReview.com.