There’s a lot to like about streaming directly from a service like Spotify, Tidal, and Amazon Music Unlimited. No middle man for starters.
Of course your hardware device of choice needs to incorporate said service, which you can think of as being very much like Roon-Ready — Spotify Connect-Ready, Tidal Connect-Ready, and/or Amazon Music Unlimited-Ready. The recently reviewed AURALiC ALTAIR G1 Digital Audio Streamer, with a recent firmware update, offers all of the above including Amazon.
For people looking to get into hi-res streaming, or High and Ultra High Definition as Amazon Music likes to call it, Amazon seemingly offers the best deals starting at a mere $3.99/month for a single device plan (Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Show, Echo Studio, Echo Input, Echo Spot, Fire TV), $9.99/month for an individual plan (that drops to $7.99/month for Amazon Prime Members), and $14.99/month for a family plan. I said seemingly because the thing about going streaming service direct is we’re then married to that service’s interface. Not to mention sound quality.
This is what you see when using Amazon Music Unlimited within the Auralic Lightning DS App (on an iPhone) when you browse by Genre — Playlists. As regular readers know, I’m not a Playlist kinda guy — I prefer albums — so I find this feature less than appealing, especially when something like Classical For Meditation shows up under both “Classical” and “New Age”. Bach for Bloating. Ick.
Moving to the “New” category, the selection is geared toward a demographic that does not include me, which is a wise move seeing as my tastes in music can clear a room faster than a persistent cough. This is what “Recommended” is for, but I haven’t been using Amazon Music long enough to make this very meaningful, which is not a fault of the app, just a matter of time.
When we get to playing music, the play screens look pleasantly familiar. To clarify, “Smooth” in the screen shot on the left refers to the selected digital output filter in the Auralic G1 (not to a music genre). You’ll also see that this particular album, L’Rain’s Fatigue, is shown as a 32-bit/96kHz file. Note – all files show up as 32-bit which is the internal processing rate applied by the ALTAIR G1.
The Search feature in Amazon Music works pretty much as you’d expect, offering results grouped by Artists, Songs, Albums, EPs & Singles, Playlists, and Stations.
A search for “Nico” and selecting her from the “Artists” results, resulted in a mixed bag of artists, not all of them the Nico I’m interested in. To be fair, Roon also trips up when browsing Singles & EPs for “Nico”, mixing in other Nico’s with the one that’s worth listening to (imo).
On the Good News front, Amazon Music Unlimited offers Gapless playback, meaning it does not insert silence between tracks that shouldn’t be there. You may be wondering, why the hell would an app insert silence between tracks that do not belong there, and the answer is — crappy technology, imo.
When I first saw that bitrate data in the screenshots above (2.112Mbps/1.92Mpps/2.08Mbps), I thought I was seeing an adaptive bitrate stream. Yes, I can be pretty dense at times. The Lightning DS App shows the streaming bitrate for Amazon Music (and Qobuz, etc.) which varies along with the music — the more dense the music, the higher the bitrate — when streaming FLAC files, and we see this play out in real time in the Lightning DS app.
All in, I can see the appeal of Amazon Music for its price coupled with the ability to play direct to compatible hardware (of course you’ll still need to use an iPhone or iPad to run the Auraclic Lighnting DS app). With Amazon music we’re looking at access to more than 75 million lossless, High-Definition (HD) songs, with a bit-depth of 16 bits and a sample rate of at least 44.1 kHz (CD quality)…and more than 7 million songs in Ultra HD (better than CD quality), with a bit-depth of 24 bits and a sample rate up to 192 kHz. That’s a lot of music for less than $10 a month. The idea that we can add an 80 million song lossless library to our hifi for $7.99/month without having to add anything else is a pretty dreamy proposition. Interface nitpicking aside.
Everyone I know who is less than 30 is a devoted Spotify user, as in don’t you dare take it away. This is due to Spotify’s interface, algorithms, and the ability to share music, i.e. playlists. The fact that Spotify has yet to turn on lossless streaming doesn’t even show up on this radar.
The Amazon interface is acceptable, especially after some mileage is put on, allowing the “Recommended” offerings to become more relevant. Of course Amazon Music and the related app are no substitute for Roon, which mixes and mingles music from locally stored music, Tidal, and Qobuz while also offering a host of features that make music discovery a breeze. But this full package costs about $50/month and my best guess is we’re looking at different types of users when it comes to a choice between Amazon Music and Roon/Tidal/Qobuz.
The fact that you have all of these choices within the Auralic universe is what I like to call a very good thing.