Amazon Music HD - major external DAC frustrations and limitations

Jules Tohpipi

Well-known Member
The Quest
Listen to Amazon Music HD and Ultra HD via a digital input (e.g. a DAC or digital input on an amplifier) ... whilst... wait for it... preserving the original Amazon streamed bit depth and sampling rate.

My quest has been mostly fruitless so far, even though my DAC accepts digital signals up to 24 bit and 96kHz (and will report the incoming sampling rate)

The Issues
These are in no particular order. All in the context of transferring a digital signal to a DAC.

1. Amazon Music HD app on iPhone
- Chromecast Audio: The CCA refuses to appear in the devices list hence casting from the Amazon app is not an option. Spotify casts fine to my CCA at 44.1kHz

- AirPlay on Apple TV: Amazon states AirPlay is constrained to a 16-bit signal max, so you can forget about Ultra HD. You can also forget about 44.1kHz because all Apple TVs (for example) output everything at 48kHz

2. Amazon Music HD desktop player (for Windows computers)
- Zero AirPlay or Casting options as far as I can see
- Suppose I could use a digital cable to my DAC but my laptop doesn't have a digital output - nor do I want to use a cable

3. Amazon Music Web Player
- When using the Amazon web player all mention of HD or Ultra HD disappears from the interface. So what you are hearing is your guess!

- Used in Chrome browser, this allows me to cast to the Chromecast Audio. But there's glitching every few seconds and the DAC reports all tracks at 48kHz (not 44.1kHz)

SUCCESS! (sort of, maybe not)

4. Amazon Music HD app on Android

My work gives me some Android phone thing, so in complete desperation I installed the Amazon Music app on it.
- Yes, I can cast to the CCA at 44.1kHz (as reported by the DAC). Hurrah!

- But it won't cast at Ultra HD quality. Try that and the yellow Ultra HD symbol in Amazon's own app gives you a little wink and drops down to 'HD' instead. But HD might actually mean SD if you read here.

Conclusion
Well, I'm a bit lost really. Had been hoping it was going to just work. Was looking forward to listening to Ultra HD. The above has somewhat taken the sheen off the otherwise good news from Amazon.
 
Last edited:

NYCFCFan

Banned
I just got the Amazon New Music HD and wondering if I am using the BT on LG SL10YG soundbar via iPhone 11 Pro Max am I getting the 24 bit 96 or just the 16 bit ?..
 

Fergal82

Distinguished Member
I think the bluesound nodes are supporting this? I read that Bluesound have just released an update to allow streaming of Amazon hd.
 

NYCFCFan

Banned
Found this on Mac forum:

Most iPhones and iPads released since 2014 (devices running on iOS 11, or later) can support HD/Ultra HD (up to 24-bit, 48kHz) without any additional equipment.
Noticed it doesn't mention 24-bit, 96 khz.
 

Fergal82

Distinguished Member
I’m guessing whatever you’re streaming to has to support amazon hd as well although I’m not entirely sure
 

Jules Tohpipi

Well-known Member
Found this on Mac forum:

Most iPhones and iPads released since 2014 (devices running on iOS 11, or later) can support HD/Ultra HD (up to 24-bit, 48kHz) without any additional equipment.
Noticed it doesn't mention 24-bit, 96 khz.

That's true for listening using the iPhone's internal speaker - but it's a much more complicated matter if trying to listen via another device like a DAC or wireless headphones.
 

Dune

Active Member
I have an audioquest dragonfly USB Dac. Plug it into the iPad and amazon music reports the device capability as 24 bit 48khz which it (the Dac) isn’t, it will do 24 bit 96khz.

So Amazon is reporting the capability of the iPad, not the Dac.

If I use the Onkyo music player app with the audioquest and play some high res tracks downloaded onto the iPad I get the full 96khz.

So for example I have a copy of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory album which is 192khz 24 bit. I have the Onkyo app configured to downsample anything greater than 96khz to that and that is what the Dac reports as what it is receiving.

Play the same album on Amazon music and the best it will do is 24/48 despite the album being “ultra hd”. 192/24.

I have a quobuz subscription and their iPad app will also send 96khz music files to the Dac @ 96kz (and also downsamples 192khz to 96khz automatically).

So it seems when using an iPad, the Amazon music app is pretty dumb compared to other apps that can send what Amazon terms ultra HD out full fat when the Amazon app can’t. It is seemingly unaware a Dac is connected to the iPad whereas the other apps are not.

Note I am using an iPad Pro with USB C socket and connect the Dac via a suitable short USB A to USB C cable (ironically an Amazon Basics one which which works fine with the Dac and the non-Amazon apps).
 

Fergal82

Distinguished Member
I wonder if it’s worth trying one of those amazon inputs at £20 for streaming hd music
 

martin 39

Well-known Member
Arcam SonLink DAC for Sonos Zone Players I'm using this to my arcam avr 400 no idea how I find out what sound quality I am getting
 

Jules Tohpipi

Well-known Member
Sorry it’s an echo link @ £190


Thank you very much for the suggestion. I looked into it. But thwarted again because the Echo Link support page says the following:

Amazon.com Help: About Playing Music with Echo Link or Echo Link Amp

Supported Digital Connection Formats
  • Digital Audio Inputs (optical TOSLINK and coaxial RCA) - Uncompressed PCM audio (16bit/44.1, 48, 88.2 or 96kHz)
  • Digital Audio Output (optical TOSLINK and coaxial RCA) - 16bit/48kHz Uncompressed PCM stereo
From the above it would seem:

- The Echo Link is restricted to 16-bit only and cannot support any Ultra HD music i.e. no 24-bit via its digital inputs or output

- The Echo Link cannot output a proper HD signal either i.e. 44.1kHz. Instead the sampling frequency gets shifted to 48kHz
 

Fergal82

Distinguished Member
Thank you very much for the suggestion. I looked into it. But thwarted again because the Echo Link support page says the following:

Amazon.com Help: About Playing Music with Echo Link or Echo Link Amp

Supported Digital Connection Formats
  • Digital Audio Inputs (optical TOSLINK and coaxial RCA) - Uncompressed PCM audio (16bit/44.1, 48, 88.2 or 96kHz)
  • Digital Audio Output (optical TOSLINK and coaxial RCA) - 16bit/48kHz Uncompressed PCM stereo
From the above it would seem:

- The Echo Link is restricted to 16-bit only and cannot support any Ultra HD music i.e. no 24-bit via its digital inputs or output

- The Echo Link cannot output a proper HD signal either i.e. 44.1kHz. Instead the sampling frequency gets shifted to 48kHz
Yeah it seems a bit of a non starter. I wonder if it will be updated in the future to support uhd?

seems crazy that amazon don’t have a device to support streaming of their uhd music. Although I understand they have a new speaker coming out soon which will
 

hyde1969

Active Member
Yes it is very strange indeed. I also am very frustrated trying to get the most out of this service. I have a denon dnp-800ne streamer which supports upto 24bit/192khz. Now I can use the HEOS app on my phone which plays everything fine, but the heos app is very clunky and frustrating to use. I decided to enable the HEOS 'skill' on my echo device and linked it to my denon as the main speaker so by asking alexa to play something it uses my denon feeding into my pioneer VSX-LX70. But it seems going this route is just the same as casting and limits the output to standard quality. Seriously what are Amazon thinking of,,they release a premium music service with very limited use...I am hoping that they get chromecasting sorted very soon so I can just use amazons own app to select and send 'Ultra HD' music to my denon ….fingers crossed
 

ReekyDrop

Member
I'm hoping they iron out these issues by time the 90 day trial ends then I know if I want to stick or go back to Tidal and spend 8 quid extra 😊
 

Pogg

Member
I received the Audioquest Cobalt yesterday which includes a 2 month TIDAL HIFI subscription.
Plugged into my iPadPro and using Focal Clear headphones - I did the following A/B tests, again and again:

1. Diana Krall - Album = "The Look of Love".
- Amazon Music HD = 24bit/96KHz.
- Tidal HIFI = Master.
I verify these are output by the colour led on the Cobalt = light blue and purple.


2. Album = "Ready Player One = movie soundtrack".
- Amazon Music HD = 24bit/96KHz.
- Tidal HIFI = Master.
I verify these are output by the colour led on the Cobalt = light blue and purple.


Based on my A/B testing to me TIDAL HIFI for the above tracks and format sounds:
- just that little bit sweeter.
- less harsh.
- just a little more depth.

if i did a blind test I probably could not be able to tell the difference, but because i was deliberating doing A/B in 10 second clips I could hear the above 3 areas of advantage to TIDAL.


In addition to the above test I also tried a 24bit/44.1KHz Album which Amazon is going to upsample to 96KHz.

For this format vs TIDAL MASTER there is a big difference. The TIDAL MASTER sounds much better, so the upsampling by Amazon is rubbish.

Basically for my experience Amazon Tracks in actual 24bit/96KHz are quite good, but every thing else is upsampled and I will not listen to it.

Like others noted on this thread, maybe Amazon will fix it.
If reminds me of when AppleTV4k was first released and everything was forced into HDR, people complained and within 8 weeks Apple fixed it with firmware and feature update.
 

Pogg

Member
Ugh - really? Better just leaving them as 44.1K.
Purely speculative, but I think they will probably fix this in future updates. Will that be this year, I hope so otherwise people may not subscribe again after 90days trial is up.
 

roadster2019

Novice Member
It sounds like one component that would give you more options is a USB digital audio interface which would allow you to output from your chosen type of computer/tablet/phone. One of the best I have used is the M2-Tech HiFace 2 but there are plenty of cheaper ones which could provide 96KHz/24bit output to feed your DAC or Digital amplifier. You just need the appropriate model to suit your operating system and match up the USB plug type.
 

Pogg

Member
Anyway Amazon MUSIC HD has just completely failed after October 14th iOS update. After about a minute the quality drops from ‘24bit/96KHz’ to ‘Standard’ [can see this on yellow label and hear it].

This ‘Standard’ quality is much worse than even Spotify or Apple Music. It sounds compressed.

So if they don’t fix this, there is no HD, ULTRA HD, HIGH RES - it’s all mush.
 

ArcticWolf710

Active Member
Anyway Amazon MUSIC HD has just completely failed after October 14th iOS update. After about a minute the quality drops from ‘24bit/96KHz’ to ‘Standard’ [can see this on yellow label and hear it].

This ‘Standard’ quality is much worse than even Spotify or Apple Music. It sounds compressed.

So if they don’t fix this, there is no HD, ULTRA HD, HIGH RES - it’s all mush.

I noticed this happening an awful lot about 2 weeks ago too, (Android & Windows in my case). After 1 minute the quality was dropping down to SD with every single track I played. Sometimes the audible difference was immediately apparent & it sounded bloody awful, other times it stated a drop but it wasn't as easy to pick up.

However, it was always happening to me at peak times. Other times, it wasn't happening at all & everything was working as normal. This issue has vastly improved again over the past week or so though.

I think it's another case of Amazon rolling this service out without adequate preparation & ending up getting caught out for the increased demand. They're playing catch up (as usual).

It was a pretty sneaky & sh*tty thing of them to do, however. Make it appear like all of the tracks were playing in HD during the first minute when most users were more likely to check the quality, then drop it down to SD automatically after 1 minute!! Seriously, why don't Amazon just "moon" us all & then turn around & flip us the finger too????

Keep checking during hours of less demand, see if you still constantly get the quality drops.
 

ArcticWolf710

Active Member

Pogg

Member
AMAZON MUSIC HD - audio quality comparison to TIDAL HIFI

....................................................................................
Source Hardware Device:
iPadPro 12.9inch 2019.
Supports 24bit/192Khz via USB-C output.
Latest iOS version as of 28 Nov, 2019.
Audio Music - Apps/Software:
Amazon Music HD [iOS APP - version 9.3.2]
TIDAL HIFI [iOS APP - version 2.8.4].
Both Apps are the Latest iOS version as of 28 Nov, 2019.
External DAC: Audioquest Cobalt [24bit/96Khz, MQA renders].
Headphones: Focal Clear
....................................................................................

+ALL ALBUMS WERE DOWNLOADED TO IPAD PRO IN ULTRA HD.
+LOUDNESS NORMALISATION, GAPLESS PLAYBACK AND OPTIMISED PLAYBACK ALL WERE SWITCHED OFF.
+IPAD PRO SWITCHED TO AIRP PLANE MODE WITH WIFI/BLUETOOTH OFF - TO MINIMISE ANY INTERFERENCE.
+BOTH AMAZON MUSIC HD AND TIDAL HIFI APPS WERE SET IN OFFLINE MODE WHEN PLAYING BACK.
+Fortunately I could listen in a very quiet room without any audible background sounds.

...............................................................................................

Notes: The comparison Albums included are all 24bit.
On Amazon Music HD iOS APP there is upsampling happening. So for anything less then 96Khz it upsamples to 96Khz. If however Album is 96Khz it will play correctly as DAC is 96Khz - so in this case no upsampling happens. See below for Album details and I state if it is being upsampled.
Tidal plays at correct bit rate upto 96Khz in this set up - using Cobalt DAC.
For TIDAL HIFI - I have selected Master version of the Albums, because this according to TIDAL is the best quality available [according to TIDAL]. Tidal iOS APP decodes Master MQA on iPadPro and Cobalt will render it upto 96Khz. Some Albums might be 44.1, 48, 88 Khz - unable to see what Khz they are via iPadPro App/Cobalt.


ALBUM 1: “Paul Weller - True Meanings”
Amazon Music HD - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/44.1Khz]. UPSAMPLED TO 96Khz.
TIDAL - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/Master].
Audio Comparison:
+ TIDAL ADVANTAGE. Tidal wins for me as it is less brittle.
+ TIDAL ADVANTAGE. Tidal is slightly smoother, but without losing any resolution.
+ TIDAL ADVANTAGE. Amazon is bit more mid forward, which seems to be a flatter sound and less depth compared to Tidal.

ALBUM 2: “Spectre - James Bond Movie Soundtrack”
Amazon Music HD - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/44.1Khz]. UPSAMPLED TO 96Khz.
TIDAL - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/Master].
Audio Comparison:
+ TIDAL ADVANTAGE. Tidal is slightly smoother, but without losing any resolution.

ALBUM 3: “TALKING HEADS: 77”
Amazon Music HD - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/96Khz]. CORRECT BIT RATE PLAYED
TIDAL - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/Master].
Audio Comparison:
They sound slightly different, with Amazon a bit more forward in mids yet not in a negative way. No advantage in my opinion and both are equal.


ALBUM 4: “PETER GABRIEL - SO (SPECIAL EDITION)”
Amazon Music HD - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/96Khz]. CORRECT BIT RATE PLAYED
TIDAL - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/Master].
Audio Comparison:
Sound similar. No one has an advantage.

ALBUM 5: “ICONOLOGY - MISSY ELLIOT”
Amazon Music HD - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/96Khz]. CORRECT BIT RATE PLAYED
TIDAL - iOS APP [Album format = 24bit/Master].
Audio Comparison:
+TIDAL ADVANTAGE. Slightly more low end sub base picked up on Focal Clear.



CONCLUSION
There seems to be a more distinctive advantage to Tidal on the Albums where Amazon is applying upsampling - based on the above 5 Albums tested. For other Albums there is very little difference.

I hope Amazon decides to play bit perfect and I don’t see why it can’t, since it is able to show us correct information on both track resolution aswell as connected DAC capability.
Yet the actual playing resolution it shows is incorrect when using an external DAC. I got same results with my Chord Mojo where everything was upsampled to 192Khz, yet the yellow label incorrectly stated a lower track playing resolution.

For Amazon Music, If using External DAC I would not risk using anything higher than 96Khz, such as a 192khz DAC as the upsampling would be too much - taking 44.1 tracks all the way to 192khz. And there are plenty of 44.1 tracks on Amazon.
A horribly inconvenient solution which is a massive compromise is to only listen to 24bit/96khz tracks when using a 24bit/96khz DAC - such as Audioquest Cobalt would then all be played correctly.

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