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Music Streaming - Amazon Firestick Vs HEOS - Quality Differences?

mj30250

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For 2 channel music streaming, I've been using Amazon Music HD, streamed over Wi-Fi from my phone's HEOS app to a Denon X4500H.

I really don't like the HEOS interface at all, so I wanted to try streaming over the Amazon Music App, which is vastly better. In order to accomplish this, I picked up a Firestick 4K Max. From a usability / interface, perspective, it works great as expected. But after over a week with the Firestick, I'm having what appears to be a small issue, but I honestly can't tell if it's just psychoacoustic weirdness messing with me or not.

When streaming through the Firestick itself or via the Amazon Music app on my phone, I am seemingly losing a small amount of audio quality versus the same tracks played through HEOS. When using the Firestick, songs tend to sound ever-so-slightly more compressed / bit-starved. I took some quick and dirty SPL readings, and noticed no differences there, so it doesn't appear to be a volume disparity. It's difficult to describe, but when streamed through HEOS, tracks seem to sound just a tinge more full, effortless, and open.

I do know that there is an issue between the Firestick and Denon receivers, where the Firestick reads Denons as only 16 bit capable rather than 24 bit, so every track gets knocked down to 16 bit. I thought this might be playing a role, but I noticed the same quality disparity happening with native 16 bit tracks as well. Would there be any reason that this might actually be occuring, or am I just imagining things? Could there be a setting I'm missing? I have the Firestick outputting in PCM and I turned off volume equalization from the Amazon Music app. It's also set to stream in "Ultra HD".

Thanks.
 
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mj30250

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So should I take the (total lack of) responses to indicate that the differences I think I'm hearing are probably imaginary? :)
 
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mj30250

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It would be possible, but I'd have to get past lots of eye rolling from my wife. We'll see.

I guess the core question is, given my setup - would there be a technical reason that this might be occuring?
 

acbarn

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I guess the core question is, given my setup - would there be a technical reason that this might be occuring?
Perhaps, but it’s very difficult to answer your question definitively given the variables. For the types of subtle differences you’re describing, blind testing is the best way to determine if there’s a meaningful difference or if it’s placebo.
 
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mj30250

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I agree, it just might be somewhat difficult to pull off. At this point, let's say for argument's sake that I conducted a blind test and it proved that yes, there is indeed an audible difference. What might cause it given what is known about the Firestick, the AM app, and the Denon? I take it at this point at least that I am not missing anything obvious in terms of settings, connection, etc. I suppose that whatever causes the Firestick to read the Denon as only 16 bit capable could be related (EDID issue?), in which case there's probably no help outside of a software update that may or may not appear.
 

Beershaun

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Don't need a blind listening test for this. FireTV stick resamples everything to 16/48khz unless you specifically change the correct settings in Amazon Music app to enable Hi-res or whatever the bit perfect pass through mode is.

I also find that streaming direct to my Denon via IP is superior to streaming via hdmi or SPDIF from my firetv. It's not subtle. The levels I measure with my phone SPL meter are much lower and measurably lower for my system.
 
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mj30250

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Don't need a blind listening test for this. FireTV stick resamples everything to 16/48khz unless you specifically change the correct settings in Amazon Music app to enable Hi-res or whatever the bit perfect pass through mode is.

I also find that streaming direct to my Denon via IP is superior to streaming via hdmi or SPDIF from my firetv. It's not subtle. The levels I measure with my phone SPL meter are much lower and measurably lower for my system.
I belive the setting you are referring to is "Ultra HD Music", which was switched on during initial setup.
 

f1shb0n3

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FireTV cube and Echo Link are Amazon devices that I’ve confirmed support up to 24bit/192kHz with Amazon Music. Unlikely 16/48 to be significantly degrading, but could happen, get a device that supports highest sample rate to be certain.
Apple Music is really nice too btw, on the AppleTV 4k they support HiRes and Atmos music.
 

Bamyasi

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Don't need a blind listening test for this. FireTV stick resamples everything to 16/48khz unless you specifically change the correct settings
And it actually resamples everything to 24/192 with the UltraHD support setting enabled in the app (this becomes 16/192 with Denon AVRs due to a firmware bug). AVR's HEOS app, on the other side, plays everything bit-perfect. I doubt the difference can be audible but at least there is a real difference.
 

Beershaun

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And it actually resamples everything to 24/192 with the UltraHD support setting enabled in the app (this becomes 16/192 with Denon AVRs due to a firmware bug). AVR's HEOS app, on the other side, plays everything bit-perfect. I doubt the difference can be audible but at least there is a real difference.
Right. The biggest clearly audible difference I find is the levels. The audio stream sent from the Android based HDMI streamers send out much lower signal levels that in turn force me to turn the volume up to get back to the 70-75db listening level and my subwoofers often aren't auto-triggered to turn on when streaming from those devices vs. direct to the receiver.

I don't know WHY that is the case. I don't know if that's a problem with HDCP/HDMI, Android, Firestick, or something else in the receiver. I would love to see some sort of analysis done on how signals are different coming in to these AVRs via HDMI and across the different streaming stick types.
 

Chazz6

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I use a Denon HEOS LinkHS2 to receive wi-fi. It also has optical input. For what it may be worth, the table below comes from the user manual.

The HEOS Android app is only a DLNA controller to initiate a file playback or stream play. In my setup the audio does not pass through the Android device. I prefer BubbleUPnP for a controller. Minimserver on a PC serves files from the hard drive and also initiates Web streams to the router, which broadcasts them to the Link.

HEOS_codecs.jpg
 

Poultrygeist

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In two channel using a Fire Stick 4K into an HDMI audio extractor my DAC display is consistent with what is shown here. The sound is close to what I get from a Node 2i also streaming Amazon Music Unlimited hi-res into a DAC. .

P1010006.jpeg
 
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mj30250

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So I let this topic go for a few weeks and have only been streaming Amazon Music HD over the Firestick 4K. I decided to spin up the same tracks on HEOS again, and dammit, they just sound better via HEOS. Am I 100% certain that it's not in my head? No, but I'm 95% certain. I tried switching between the two with the Firestick volume leveled up by anywhere between 1dB and 3dB versus the HEOS, and this did not address the discrepancies I'm hearing. Through HEOS, music sounds...cleaner? More open? More natural? It's not a dramatic difference, but I hear it all the same.

If Amazon HD would only allow custom playlists over HEOS (search by song would be nice, too) I'd be done with this nonsense, but nope, Amazon's gonna Amazon. Do I have other options for streaming? I'm not necessarily married to Amazon HD, but a cursory search of others such as Tidal seems to indicate that they don't offer the same quality.
 

Poultrygeist

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So I let this topic go for a few weeks and have only been streaming Amazon Music HD over the Firestick 4K. I decided to spin up the same tracks on HEOS again, and dammit, they just sound better via HEOS. Am I 100% certain that it's not in my head? No, but I'm 95% certain. I tried switching between the two with the Firestick volume leveled up by anywhere between 1dB and 3dB versus the HEOS, and this did not address the discrepancies I'm hearing. Through HEOS, music sounds...cleaner? More open? More natural? It's not a dramatic difference, but I hear it all the same.

If Amazon HD would only allow custom playlists over HEOS (search by song would be nice, too) I'd be done with this nonsense, but nope, Amazon's gonna Amazon. Do I have other options for streaming? I'm not necessarily married to Amazon HD, but a cursory search of others such as Tidal seems to indicate that they don't offer the same quality.

My Node 2i with external DAC may trump the 4K Fire Stick/HDMI extractor/DAC combo in SQ streaming AMHD but the graphics and lyrics of the Fire Stick combo are so worthwhile.
 

Brantome

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So I let this topic go for a few weeks and have only been streaming Amazon Music HD over the Firestick 4K. I decided to spin up the same tracks on HEOS again, and dammit, they just sound better via HEOS. Am I 100% certain that it's not in my head? No, but I'm 95% certain. I tried switching between the two with the Firestick volume leveled up by anywhere between 1dB and 3dB versus the HEOS, and this did not address the discrepancies I'm hearing. Through HEOS, music sounds...cleaner? More open? More natural? It's not a dramatic difference, but I hear it all the same.

If Amazon HD would only allow custom playlists over HEOS (search by song would be nice, too) I'd be done with this nonsense, but nope, Amazon's gonna Amazon. Do I have other options for streaming? I'm not necessarily married to Amazon HD, but a cursory search of others such as Tidal seems to indicate that they don't offer the same quality.
I must say I’m with you on this - I find the same, the Heos HS2 Link just sounds better to my ears than my Fire Tv Cube/ sticks. Shame the Heos app is so execrable.

I recently bought a WiiM Mini and I’m optimistic that its imminent support of Amazon Music HD will allow me to drop the HS2 and its app.
 

Chazz6

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"Shame the Heos app is so execrable." Yes, it is. However, in DNLA terminology, the HEOS Link 2 is the renderer. The HEOS app is the controller. The good news is that the HEOS Link 2 can be controlled by other controllers. I use BubbleUPnP on an Android tablet; there are other apps out there.
 

Brantome

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"Shame the Heos app is so execrable." Yes, it is. However, in DNLA terminology, the HEOS Link 2 is the renderer. The HEOS app is the controller. The good news is that the HEOS Link 2 can be controlled by other controllers. I use BubbleUPnP on an Android tablet; there are other apps out there.
Unfortunately not for bit perfect lossless Amazon Music HD afaics. Casting from the Amazon Music app delivers lossy SD at best.
 
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