Amazon makes its lossless music streaming service a free upgrade

On the heels of this morning’s announcement of Apple’s next-generation music service featuring lossless audio and spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos, Amazon is making a move likely aimed at retaining its own streaming music subscribers. The company says that going forward, its high-quality streaming tier, Amazon Music HD, will be made available to all eligible Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers at no extra cost.

Amazon first announced Amazon Music HD in fall 2019 with access to over 50 million songs that would stream in what Amazon is calling HD, with a bit depth of 16 bits and a sample rate of 44.1kHz (around CD-quality). It also promised “millions” more songs that would stream in Ultra HD, or 24-bit, with a sample rate of up to 192kHz (or better than CD quality).

Today, Amazon Music’s HD catalog has grown to more than 70 million songs and there are over 7 million Ultra HD tracks available. Amazon Music HD customers can also access a growing catalog of songs remixed in 3D Audio formats such as Dolby Atmos and Sony 360RA, which can be played back on Amazon’s own high-fidelity speaker, the Echo Studio.

Music in 360RA can also be streamed via Amazon Music HD on Sony’s RA5000 and RA3000 speakers by using Alexa Cast, the company notes.

The launch of HD streaming was seen as a way to counteract the threat from the music streaming service Tidal, which had been catering to audiophiles with higher quality streams, as well as a way to differentiate its service from larger streaming rivals, like Apple and Spotify — the latter which recently announced a high-end subscription of its own, Spotify HiFi, whose pricing and launch date is yet unknown.

Before today, Amazon Music HD was priced at $12.99 per month for Amazon Prime subscribers and $14.99 per month for anyone else. Now, Amazon says that new and existing subscribers to the Amazon Music Unlimited Individual Plan ($7.99/month for Prime members and $9.99/month otherwise) or the Family Plan ($14.99/month) can upgrade to Amazon Music HD at no additional cost — essentially a $5 per month savings.

The changes will kick in at the next billing cycle, and are supported in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Canada, France, Italy and Spain.

“When we first launched Amazon Music HD, our goal was to lead the industry by enabling music fans around the world to stream the best quality recording, the way artists intended their music to be heard,” said Steve Boom, VP of Amazon Music, in a statement about today’s news. “We’re thrilled now to make Amazon Music HD available to everyone at no extra cost. All music fans should have access to this quality of music, and now they do,” he added.

The move by Amazon to make its HD catalog a free upgrade follows this morning’s announcement from Apple that it will add lossless audio to Apple Music at no additional cost, starting next month. Apple touts over 75 million songs in lossless audio. The upgrade will also bring spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos. Given the shift in the market, the pressure is on Spotify to make its HiFi music service competitively priced, as well.

Amazon Music Unlimited has been seen as the dark horse of music streaming, given its potential to grow to a larger size simply based on its ties with Amazon’s popular Prime subscription. The service had 55 million subscribers since early 2020, but Amazon declined to provide an updated figure today. For comparison, Apple Music announced 60 million subscribers in 2019 and was estimated to have grown to 72 million by early 2020 and likely more than 80 million by now. Spotify, meanwhile, has 158 million paid subscribers.