An introduction to Raspberry Pi hi-fi


Can a 30 Euro credit card computer reproduce
serious hifi?
Does it need anything else to do so and is
it easy to set up.
All questions that were posed to me over the
last month.
Let’s answer these questions and more, using
the Raspberry Pi.
Nowadays there are many credit card computers
and some of them are more powerful than the
Raspberry Pi.
But the Pi is by far the best supported.
If you’re very handy with Linux – the operating
system that is mainly used on this type of
computers – be adventurous.
If not, stick to the Raspberry Pi.
For normal music reproduction the Raspberry
Pi 2B and 3B are well suited.
The current 2B, version1.2 lacks radios for
Bluetooth and Wi-fi, which is good for the
sound and less if you need either.
The 3B IS fitted with both Bluetooth and Wi-fi.
The 2B cost slightly under 40 euros, the 3B
slightly above.
Then you need a microSD card.
This is a tiny memory card that acts as the
‘hard disk’ of the Raspberry Pi and you
later have to copy the program to it.
Don’t be frightened, it really is a piece
of cake.
Depending on the size and speed it will set
you back 5 to 10 euros.
Next you will need a sound card.
The Raspberry Pi does have an audio output
but that sounds horrible.
Here there are four ways to go: use an external
sound card – a so called d/a-converter – connected
over USB to the Pi, use a sound card mounted
on the Pi, that outputs the digital signal
– the so called SPDIF signal – to a digital
input on your stereo, a sound card mounted
on the Pi that does the digital to analogue
conversion or a sound card mounted on the
Pi that not only converts the digital signal
to analogue but also contains a simple amplifier
so you can connect your loudspeaker directly
to it.
The best quality can be achieved with the
SPDIF option, provided your stereo has a digital
input and does the conversion properly.
Second best is the digital to analogue conversion
done by the sound card if you choose a quality
sound card.
They vary from 30 to 130 euros but it’s
difficult to say what you will need since
it depends on your stereo and how critical
you are.
Sound cards with integrated amplifier provide
a relatively low quality, although, when combined
with 200 euro speakers, better than many bluetooth
loudspeakers.
Using the external sound card over USB is
limited by pollution of the USB connection
caused by the Raspberry Pi.
No problem for the cheaper options but not
really suited for better ones.
So, we’re adding up 40 plus 5 plus 30 euros
makes 75 euros for the cheapest option.
Or 40 plus 10 plus 130 voor the top notch
sound card with digital to analogue conversion,
adding up to 180 euro’s.
And we’re not there yet.
For we need at least a simple power supply
and a simple housing, both costing a tenner.
So the simplest version will set you back
95 euros, the top notch version 200 euros.
The 10 euros costing power supply does have
a negative effect on the sound.
That’s ok for the low cost option but the
top notch option the extra money payed for
the sound card would be a bad investment.
A proper power supply would set you back about
90 euros.
See the link to the review of power supplies.
A really good power supply would even cost
250 euros but let’s go for the 90 euro version
and now we are at 280 euro’s.
That is already more than the Teufel Raumfeld
Connector.
See the review, the link is in the show notes.
If sound quality versus money is the only
factor, only the combination of a Raspberry
Pi with an SPDIF card and proper power supply
is a winner at about 150 euros.
But then your stereo has to have a digital
input free or you have to add a separate d/a-converter.
As said, this does potentially offers the
best sound.
But you might wonder what’s making the Raspberry
Pi attractive as a music player.
Of course, to some putting a Raspberry Pi
player together is just fun.
To others the apparently low price does it.
A remark I frequently heard is: I use that
30 euro credit card sized computer for my
music.
You know better now, although some McIver
types might be able to spare a bit by making
their own housing and power supply.
Then it’s not about the money but about
being a happy DIY’er.
And that’s fine.
For most the appeal of the raspberry Pi as
music player will lie in the versatility.
You can have the Pi emulate a Squeezebox,
play over Airplay, be a Roon Ready endpoint
or just a stand alone player controlled by
your smartphone or tablet.
And you can do it all with the same hardware.
Simply change the microSD card for one containing
other software and you’re set.
There are some caveats though.
Like with Windows hardware of old, drivers
are essential and not all sound cards are
supported by all software.
So check that before you start.
That leads to the question what software to
choose and how much will it cost?
As with all software, there is far more available
than I have experience with.
But I do have experience with several types
of player software.
Let’s start with using the Raspberry Pi
as a stand alone player.
Most software will be based on the standard
Linux music player, called Music Player Deamon,
MPD for short.
It is a so called command line application
that has no graphical user interface.
A programmer just uses the MPD and builds
a user interface around it.
My favourite program using this approach is
Volumio.
When you install it and set it up for use
with your sound card, you only have to add
a storage device containing music.
That can be a memory stick or hard disk connected
to the Pi iover USB or a shared volume on
the network, like on your PC or NAS.
You can operate Volumio from an internet browser
on a PC, smartphone or tablet.
The Raspberry Pi itself need not have a monitor,
keyboard and mouse connected.
For both iOS and Android devices you could
also use an app that is MPD compatible and
there are many of them with names like MPoD,
MPaD, Coble MPD, MPDLuxe, reMPD,…
You get the idea.
Comparable programs are for instance Rune
Audio and MoOde Audio Player.
Another approach is to use the Raspberry Pi
only as an output device and have the catalog
managed by another computer or by a NAS.
Very popular is the Logitech Media Server
program that does the catalog while the Raspberry
Pi is sent audio and metadata.
The Logitech Media Server – LMS for short
– has been developed for the Squeezebox renderers
so you have to use Squeezebox emulation software
on the Raspberry Pi.
A good example is PiCorePlayer that was used
in the review of the Audiophonics RaspTouch.
In that case the LMS can be controlled from
the touch screen of the RaspTouch but also
using a browser or smartphone and tablet app
like with Volumio.
Any Squeezebox compatible app will work.
Alternatives are Squeezeplayer and Squeezelite,
The least attractive way – at least for me
– to use the Raspberry Pi for music reproduction
is DLNA, an archaic protocol made up by the
big consumer electronics companies to view
video, photos and music over the network a
quarter of a century ago.
It is slow, doesn’t support gapless playback
and knows all kinds of implementations, including
a number under the UPnP AV name.
Therefore I have no recent experience using
DLNA.
The most attractive way to use the Raspberry
Pi is as a Roon Endpoint.
See the link to the review for more on Roon.
When the Roon image is written to the microSD
card, it is almost fully controlled using
the Roon control app on your computer, tablet
of smartphone.
Given the price of Roon it is highly unlikely
that it will be used with a Raspberry Pi as
main system, but here it is ideal for the
study, garage, kitchen or other less critical
applications.
In general all player software is free, although
there are some that cost a little money.
The programs I mentioned are all free and
work like a charm, including the Roon Bridge
software.
But with Roon you do have to subscribe to
use the server software: € 120 per year
or € 500 for a lifetime subscription.
The Raspberry Pi’s mentioned have a 20 pin
extension connector for connecting extra boards
like a sound card.
To install a sound card, you first screw on
the spacers that should come with your sound
card, then carefully push the sound card on
the extension connector and finish with fixing
it using the supplied nuts.
If you also have ordered a housing – which
you should – follow the instructions that
came with it and mount the Raspberry Pi in
the housing.
The next thing you should do is download a
so called image of the player you have selected.
This must be done on your Windows computer
or Mac.
An image is the content of a hard disk or
– in this case – the microSD that acts as
the boot drive for the Raspberry Pi.
This file will have a name that ends on dot
img.
Windows users now have to download Win32Diskimager,
Mac users should download PiWriter.
Links to both are in the show notes.
Install this program and run it.
You now have to stick the microSD card in
your computer.
Some computers have a slot for microSD.
If not, you should use an adaptor to full
size SD or USB, depending on your computer.
These adapters are available from the same
source you get your microSD card from.
Win32Diskimager or PiWriter will ask you what
SD card to use, then what image to use and
ask you if the copying can be started.
After a few minutes the program will report
it has finished.
Take the microSD card out of the computer
and stick it in the card holder on the Raspberry
Pi.
Connect the power supply to the Raspberry
Pi and wait for it to boot.
Depending on the player chosen, you might
have to start the browser and type in a name,
like volumio.local to get the user interface.
Sometimes you need to type the IP address
of the computer that indexes the music, followed
by colon 9000.
For instance 192.168.0.12:9000.
If you use an app to control it , you might
have to point the app to the server software
or the Raspberry Pi.
To know what to do exactly, see the website
of the player software.
A review of the Volumio player is already
on line – see the link below this video in
Youtube – other players mentioned here will
follow.
So if you want to stay informed, subscribe
to this channel or follow me on Twitter, Facebook
or Google+.
See the show notes for the links.
If you have a question, post it below this
video but please don’t ask me for buying
advise.
See my About Questions video to find out why.
If you liked this video, please consider supporting
the channel through Patreon and see super
exclusive videos too.
Just one dollar a month will do.
The link is in the show notes.
And don’t forget to tell your friends on
the web about this channel.
I am Hans Beekhuyzen, thank you for watching
and see you in the next show or on theHBproject.com.
And whatever you do, enjoy the music.

41 thoughts on “An introduction to Raspberry Pi hi-fi

  1. Hi Hans, excellent video as always. I was thinking on buying a Mac mini but… so expensive to act as player…Would a raspberry pi be good to connect to a mytek Brooklyn to act as a tidal MQA player? If so spdif would be better to connect according to you? Which player would do the trick? So many answers on this video and I still manage to get additional ones) 🙂

  2. You could use a Dragonfly Black on a Pi. Yes you still need an Amp, but the Dragonfly will give you the D/A and quality output.

  3. Hans, have you tried the Allo USBridge? It is only available for their Sparky SBC but is supposed to clean up the USB output.

  4. Hi Hans. Thanks for you reviews. I want to ask if you ever considered or listened to the Allo DigiOne audio transport that outputs only COAX SPDIF, but implements a lot of isolation and power filtering tech, that seems to result in a much cleaner output signal than the compitition, by far. Why I am interested in this particular add on board for the Pi is because an expensve linear PSU seems to be unnecessary or makes almosy no difference. I bought the Allo DigiOne Player kit with Allo's switching PSU and it sounds very good to me. But I would like to know what you think about the sound quality vs the rest of the SPDIF boards. Would be nice if you can review it for us.

  5. Just wondering why Kodi is never mentioned as player software for the Pi, it has bit perfect audio and HDMI out so it can be displayed on a TV or by remote app.

  6. Hans, can you elaborate on the quality of the hdmi output? My pi uses OSMC (kodi) and outputs to a Marantz SR5004 receiver over HDMI. It sounds very good. I never heard any jitter.

  7. Great video. I decided to try Volumio on the new Asus TinkerBoard. It works just great. I output from TinkerBoard to my DAC via USB. TinkerBoard has some performance advantages over the Pi, but is new and has very little support whereas the Pi has massive support. USB out on the TinkerBoard is far superior to USB out on the Pi. For those who go the Pi route, I have heard the new Allo DigiOne is the best quality SPDIF out option. Costs a bit over $100.

  8. Hello Hans,

    Brilliant video as usual – Thank you.

    The Chord Poly should become available next week (at last!) – Do you have plans on doing a review?

    I'm hoping to get one on or around the scheduled release date of the 19th October. I'd be really interested in your comments.

  9. How would the cheap power supply make the sound worse? Sounds like audiophoolery. Its a digital signal to a converter so its not like its analog that might be susceptible to noise.

  10. I think, that with a soundcard with a digital s/pdif output, every powersupply, that can deliver 2.5A @ 5V should be sufficient. Since you stay in the digital domain, the noise of the powersupply doesn‘t matter.

  11. A 'Pi-Fi' setup is an excellent choice if you want to combine signal processing into the preamp stage and have interactive access to it's function, but it can only adequately replace equipment from the preamp section and below. It is perfectly adequate for headphone amplification for dynamically driven headphones that are of a reasonably low impedance, otherwise, you will need additional amplification.

  12. Speaking of other mini computers, you can get a V88 Mini III at gearbest for around $30. For only $30 you get a similar cortex A53 clocked at 1.5Ghz, 2GB RAM, 8GB flash with Android 7.1, built in SPDIF, USB 2.0 and 3.0, and a remote control.

  13. Very interesting, thanks. Early on you said that hdmi was second best after spdif, but did't develop that option. Is there a breakout box to get audio from hdmi?

  14. Shame. I was hoping you would go into detail with how different sound cards performed. How to build a Pi music system is information widely available, but nowhere can you see information about how the different cards are actually doing.

  15. What does Rune Audio use for a Library – I want to build this system using Rune Audio as the Player but I need help with how to rip the CDs to a library. It would be great to hook up a CD player to rip the CD and a SDD to store the music. Can anyone point me at documentation or suggest how I do this? (if reasonable am willing to pay for some consulting for help) Thanks!

  16. Hello Hans
    Great channel with a perspective from a fellow engineer!
    As a long time audiophile who has collected a huge music library of FLAC music files, I am interested in a solution for implementing a Windows 10 based media server with the ESS 9038 DAC in stand alone mode. There seems to be a predominance of focus on streaming from services and NAS in the info available in your videos. My question is, has Windows networking deteriorated to the extent that you no longer pursue or recommend this approach? I know I have wasted plenty of time adapting to the windows OS. Just curious about your opinion.

    As for my experience. I have enjoyed the 9018 DAC in a SMSL DSD and several iEast upnp streaming players on my ethernet LAN. The iEast players work well with the Plex media server app and several PC and phone player/casting apps. Thanks for keeping us up to date and poles and zeros to you.

  17. One can also use the HDMI port to connect to an HDMI-Receiver/Amplifier. High quality digital output with no extra cost (if you allready have that AVR at home).

  18. Thanks for your informative videos. I have been running LMS on a desktop pc for years, streaming music to various Squeezebox units and to Ipeng on my iPhone. Sadly the pc died. If I connect the harddrive from the pc to a Rasberry PI, will the quality of the data signal sent to the Squeezebox be equal to that from the pc or will the music sound worse due to the lower quality of the Rasberry PI components compared to f.ex. A 1000€ Dell desktop computer?
    Thanks for your time!

  19. Great video Hans! What about using the headphone jack than comes with the pi board? How does this compare with a HAT DAC?

  20. On my Pi3 B+ works an HiFIberry DAC Plus with VOLUMIO 2 Image from Nanosound. CD, Airplay, NAS or Harddisk no Problems. Powersupply DIY 5.1 Volts max 3A. An Valve -SE Amp plays the Music. Display over HDMI on Samsung and Action with Mouse without PC or Phone.

  21. Hans, since USB in Pi 4 is independent, I guess the onboard USB audio output is equally good as spdif option?

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