Amazon today announced Amazon Music HD, an extension of their paid music streaming service offering 50+ million tracks in lossless FLAC format, and “millions” of tracks in high-resolution formats. (It’s also available from Amazon UK.)
Amazon, the music streaming service that is probably not used by that many serious music fans, hopes that this can get them to be a serious player in this market. But I’d expect that many if not most people who use Amazon to stream music probably use an Alexa device, in most cases devices where lossless audio won’t sound better than the MP3s that they serve.
Amazon has used all the audiophile tropes to try to sell their service, and this graphic sums them up:
First comes the stair-step graphics attempting to suggest that higher sample rates are better. Amazon has shamelessly ripped this off from Qobuz, who has been using this graphic for more than two years.
They then discuss bit rates. MP3 is “up to 320 kbps,” or what most people can hear correctly. But for the “high definition” audio – lossless, or CD quality – they say “up to 850 kpbs.” Anyone who understands lossless compression knows that the bit rate of a lossless file depends on the density and volume of the music, and higher bit rates are not better. In fact, it’s not uncommon for lossless files to have bit rates above 1,000 kbps, such as with this Clash album:
Or even well below 320 kbps, as with this album of piano works by John Cage:
And for “ultra HD,” or what is more commonly known as high resolution, saying “up to 3750 kbps — more than 10X the bitrate of standard streaming services” is disingenuous at best. If you have magical bats’ ears, you might hear the difference, but whether the bit rate is 3750 kbps or half that makes little difference if you don’t have high-end audio equipment, and especially if the music isn’t mastered well.
“So,” you are thinking, “Isn’t it time for Apple to offer something similar?” I doubt it. While providing lossless streams would fit well with the niche the company is trying to create for the HomePod (a mono device, mind you, where lossless or high-res music won’t provide a full stereo experience), most people who listen to music don’t care, and it is not very useful for mobile devices. I’m sure that one day Apple will offer a lossless plan for Apple Music, but I can’t see it as a priority.
In any case, if Apple does offer lossless streaming one day, I hope they won’t use the same type of deceptive language that Amazon is using.