Amazon Music recently announced the launch of Amazon Music HD, a new tier of premium quality music with more than 50 million songs in High Definition, and millions of songs in Ultra High Definition, the highest quality streaming audio available. We spoke with Andre Stapleton, head of label relations in North America at Amazon, and others in the music industry, to understand the importance of Amazon bringing high quality music to customers worldwide.

This will be the biggest thing to happen in music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.
Neil Young - iconic singer/songwriter

We spoke with Andre Stapleton, head of U.S. label relations about Amazon's investment in HD music, read the Q&A below.

1. Why did Amazon invest in HD music?

We saw an opportunity to create a high-quality lossless music offering, available at an accessible price that we could deliver to everyone. We think everyone —whether you’re an audiophile, or an everyday music listener—deserves to hear music at its highest quality, the way an artist recorded it. Plus, the Amazon Music team is full of hardcore music fans. We are passionate about the artists we work with, and are inspired by their music every single day. So, if you truly love, for example, the latest Mark Ronson album—why wouldn’t you want people to have the full sensory thrill of hearing it at the highest quality possible?

2. How is this a customer-centric advancement?

First, Amazon Music considers artists to be a critical group of our customers. They are the inspiration and lifeblood of our business; and we take their opinions very seriously. In preparing for the launch of Amazon Music HD, we had many conversations with artists and their responses were incredibly supportive, and positive. Perhaps the single most exciting aspect of this work is that we are now able to deliver on the actual original artistic intention—and vision—expressed in the studio.

Second, we learned that the importance of high quality audio is not restricted to a small selection of audiophiles—virtually everyone we spoke with told us they find audio quality important. So, we created Amazon Music HD to meet that demand. Amazon Music HD gives customers the opportunity to hear music from the artists they love—the way it was originally recorded. And we’re thrilled with the feedback from customers who have tried the service so far.

3. How does this impact the current music experience for customers?

Well, we think we’ve really changed the game. Amazon Music HD streams music at a noticeably higher quality. At $12.99/month for US Prime members—which is just $5 more for existing Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers—our HD service is also priced very attractively. You don’t need to have a fancy sound system to notice the difference in audio quality with Amazon Music HD (although if you do that will obviously sound great too). The recent launch of the Echo Studio has also been fantastic for customers, as they will soon be able to listen to high quality audio on an affordably priced speaker, also with Alexa. And right now everyone can, and should, try it because we have a 90-day free trial offer for a limited time. We hope people will give it a go and let us know what they think. My personal experience of using the HD tier is that I am re-discovering records I already know intimately. The HD and UHD files sound a lot richer, clearer and have given me a greater feeling for the space and dynamics in the music, which is something I personally love as a listener. Plus, the 3D catalogue we have assembled introduces a whole new level of dynamics. These are genuinely exciting steps forward.

4. How did you work with artists to get their feedback on HD prior to launch? Is this something they’ve been asking for?

Absolutely. Our Artist Relations team in particular is in contact with artists daily and through that dialogue, we were able to get great feedback on what matters most to them. We had lengthy discussions with household-name artists who had strong opinions on a wide range of granular aspects relating to the launch of Amazon Music HD, and their comments were very important to us, helping to sharpen our thinking about the new tier in a significant way in the months prior to launch. As a general rule, we have found that recording artists care deeply about high quality audio. We’re able to bring their music as they were originally recorded to a mass market, and that’s an exciting development for the artist community.

5. What’s the most surprising piece of feedback you received from an artist?

One of the most gratifying parts of working on this project was being a fly on the wall as we demoed Amazon Music HD and the Echo Studio together to a number of artists and producers, whose excitement was palpable. Without exception, every artist and producer was stunned, not only by the evolution in quality, but also by the creative potential of the 3D experience.

The quality of the stream reminded me of the mixes we did when in the studio.
Clay Blair - Boulevard Recording

6. Can you share any insights from the music industry response since launch?

Artists are delighted because our HD tier presents their music the way they recorded it. We also couldn’t have asked for a better advocate than Neil Young, who has been campaigning for better audio quality for many years, so his public statements in support of Amazon Music HD was a wonderful endorsement.

“Earth will be changed forever when Amazon introduces high quality streaming to the masses,” said rock icon Neil Young. “This will be the biggest thing to happen in music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.”

Equally, the labels saw the potential of Amazon Music bringing this level of quality to the mass marketplace. We believe that Amazon Music HD moves the needle substantially for all of our customers. Plus—we have also received a lot of gratifying feedback from the industry commending the human and emotional component associated with being able to better deliver on original artistic creations. Colleagues in the industry have told us that they feel proud to work with us on this, because we are working together to better deliver on artistic integrity.

7. How do the new Amazon Echo devices, like Echo Studio, work with this format?

The launch of Amazon Music HD and Echo Studio is a pivotal moment. We’re pioneering the industry toward delivering a new standard. The Echo Studio was built specifically to provide customers with a way to listen to lossless music through Amazon Music HD. It delivers a high-end audio experience that supports HD, UHD, and 3D audio (Dolby Atmos and Sony RA 360 formats), all of which sound sensational on the device.

8. What can we expect in the future, following this announcement?

First, you can expect an avalanche of music delivered at the very highest quality possible. We are working with labels to ensure that new releases are delivered in Ultra HD, while also coordinating redelivery of priority catalog titles at higher quality levels. Second, we want to expand the growing library of music we offer in 3D formats, which will continue to be a major focus for us. Third, we plan to continue to work with a wide range of artists on storytelling, to help explain the HD experience while conveying their passion for audio quality; and perhaps to uncover some of the fascinating details of iconic music moments through their stories—details which would be hard to fully experience without listening in HD.

“Earth will be changed forever when Amazon introduces high quality streaming to the masses,” said rock icon Neil Young. “This will be the biggest thing to happen in music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.”

"After listening to Amazon HD over the last few days on my home stereo, I’m hooked. I went through some of my favorite records and was pleasantly surprised," said Clay Blair of Boulevard Recording. "On the same stereo I play my vinyl collection, mixes and masters, I felt that the Amazon HD platform held up sonically over [other streaming services]. The quality of the stream reminded me of the mixes we did when in the studio."

Want to listen at home?

Here are just a few curated tracks available in UHD our Amazon Music experts love most, revealing nuances to listen for that were once flattened in files compressed for digital streaming.

Led Zepplin's “Whole Lotta Love”

John Paul Jones's bassline sounds so rich and funky on the UHD version. We also love the free-jazz style percussion section in the middle. It gets kind of strange, and the pan effect makes you feel like you're spinning in circles while all of these instruments - bongos, string bass, brushed hi-hat, theremin, vocals; sound off around you.

Kendrick Lamar's “Alright"

Pharrell Williams' production on this track truly shines in UHD. He uses an accapella group as the sample—and although they are really tight, you can actually here the starts of the individual vocalists. Terrace Martin's sax line is much quieter than both the bassline and the vocal - yet you can hear every note.

St. Vincent's “Digital Witness”

One of the most incredible effects of 24 bit audio is that it takes a crunched instrumental line and gives each individual instrument its own swim lane. This track is a great example. The horns and sax can show off their funkiness. And on the chorus, the tremelo on the synth and guitar is an exact subdivision of the temp of the song. This is what makes St. Vincent a genius producer. She can give you a memorable hook—but once you start peeling back the layers there is whole universe of sound underneath.

Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain"

This song is one of the most heavily orchestrated songs on Rumors. It opens with a dobro - a type of guitar with a metal resonator. In UHD you can hear all of the twangs and hisses of this instrument—rather than just the front end of the string vibration.

Taylor Swift's "You Need to Calm Down"

In the first verse, the bass synth line feels full and rich. There is also an echo on the first verse that you might never have noticed before. The chorus has a great build to it. The vocals harmonies are the most noticeable part of this build, but there are a few other components that you can pick out in UHD: an repeated piano chord is one. Overall the production has these great "hits" and "booms" that sound so impressive in UHD.

Amazon Music’s newest streaming tier offers customers more than 50 million lossless HD songs, with a bit depth of 16 bits and a sample rate of 44.1kHz (CD quality). In addition, customers can stream millions more songs in Ultra HD (better than CD quality), with a bit depth of 24 bits and a sample rate up to 192 kHz. Sign up for Amazon Music HD, and learn more about the newest streaming tier here.