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Apple and Amazon ignite hi-res music streaming battle

The code leaks this weekend may have spoiled the surprise, but Apple Music is bringing higher quality music to its streaming service. But rather than charge extra for an ‘HD’ or ‘HiFi’ tier as rivals have done, Apple Music’s lossless audio feature will be available to all of its subscribers from June – for no added cost.

Reaction from one of those rivals, Amazon Music, was instant. The company announced that from now on, its Amazon Music HD tier will be available to its standard Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers, also at no extra cost. Current HD subscribers will pay the price of a regular subscription too.

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Tidal adds millions of WMG hi-res tracks using MQA technology

Tidal is swelling its catalogue of hi-res music, announcing yesterday that “millions” of Warner Music tracks in the MQA format have been added to its HiFi tier.

Tidal also announced that “since 2019, MQA users have doubled on Tidal, and Tidal HiFi users now stream 40% more tracks in Master Quality than last year” – although it did not give baseline figures for either of those percentage increases.

Tidal is also adding a ‘Master Edition’ option for its artist and track radio feature, which will enable listeners to only hear MQA-powered tracks when using it. There’s also a MQA version of the service’s ‘New Arrivals’ playlist, to help HiFi subscribers see what’s new on the service.

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Sonos goes HD with subscription-based radio service

Sonos is kicking its streaming ambitions up a notch, with the launch of a subscription-based radio service called Sonos Radio HD.

Available in the US and UK, it costs $7.99 / £7.99 a month, and promises ‘high-fidelity audio’ of the Sonos Sound System radio station. There will also be exclusive artist-curated stations (Dolly Parton being the first) and a range of genre and activity-based stations that won’t be available on the existing, ad-supported Sonos Radio service that launched in April this year.

This is an extension of Sonos’s partnership with Napster – Sonos Radio HD is a ‘Powered by Napster’ service – but there’s another partner involved that’s interesting. Startup Super Hi-Fi’s technology is being used across the free and paid tiers of Sonos Radio, and heralds the company’s rebranding of its AI-powered tech as a package called ‘Conductor’.

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Deezer has a new ‘HiFi Room’ to showcase its hi-res music

Deezer wants to help users of its top-tier HiFi subscription to explore its catalogue of hi-res music beyond the obvious jazz and classical content.

It has launched a section of its service called ‘HiFi Room’ offering 15 playlists covering a wider range of genres including rock, Latin and K-Pop. The hub also highlights the top albums available in FLAC-quality from each year and decade, as well as spotlighting prominent remastered albums.

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Apple’s HomePod will soon support Dolby Atmos… for home cinema

People have been wondering when (or even if) the likes of Apple and Spotify will get into hi-res music streaming, even if opinions still vary on how you define ‘hi-res’.

Here’s some interesting news from Apple, then: its HomePod smart speaker will soon support Dolby Atmos audio. There’s a caveat: this isn’t for music streaming, it’s for home cinema.

The speaker (but not its new little sibling the HomePod Mini) will support ‘home cinema with Apple TV 4K’, so the Dolby Atmos will be for watching films and shows on an Apple TV paired with the HomePod, rather than for listening to music.

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Futuresource pinpoints five obstacles for hi-res audio adoption

From Amazon Music HD to MQA and its various partnerships, there is plenty of activity going on around ‘hi-res’ music. Still, it’s fair to say the technology isn’t quite mainstream yet.

Research firm Futuresource has some ideas about what the remaining obstacles are, which it has outlined in an article.

A limited content library is the first: “The current size of the High-Res music catalogue is under 3 million songs on most High-Res streaming services as opposed to over 60 million on mainstream streaming platforms,” it claims.

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Amazon Music gets an HD tier, starting in the US, UK, Japan and Germany

Amazon Music has become the biggest music-streaming service yet to add a higher-quality tier. Amazon Music HD launches in the US, UK, Germany and Japan this week.

It will cost $12.99 a month for Amazon Prime members and $14.99 a month for non-members. That’s $5 more than the cost of the existing Amazon Music service in each case, while undercutting the $19.99 price for Tidal and Deezer’s higher-quality tiers.

“The way the industry heretofore has priced this has been basically saying ‘we want this to be niche’. But I think the industry understands that sound quality isn’t niche,” Amazon Music VP Steve Boom told Music Ally ahead of the launch.

“We’re in the music business: why wouldn’t audio quality matter! And why would we want to reserve it just for a small group of people who are going to pay twice the cost of a regular subscription?”

Amazon will be offering a three-month trial of Amazon Music HD, including to existing Music Unlimited subscribers. The tier has more than 50m songs available in ‘HD’ quality – CD-quality, 16-bit 44.1kHz tracks – including “millions” of tracks in ‘Ultra HD quality’. The latter category covers a range of 24-bit tracks with sample rates from 44.1kHz to 192kHz.

“It will have what we believe to be the largest catalogue of lossless, uncompressed files in the industry,” said Boom, who described the HD / Ultra HD branding as an important sign of Amazon’s intent.

“It’s very important for us to demystify and simplify this area. It’s been difficult to understand! The first time you go on a website and try to look into lossless audio and are presented with all these different numbers. ‘I don’t know what any of that means!’” he said.