Can a non-audiophile still hear great audio? Can a music-lover of old music still get some jams through his/her head in these digital times without breaking the bank? Do those guys that spend all that money as “audiophiles” give you the creeps? Indeed. Money. Audio. How much you got?
Because I spend too much money on other expensive stuff, I’ve never really prioritised audio in my life–even though I love listening to music. I learned a long time ago that you don’t have to dish out huge sums of cash to hear good replicated music. That said, I can’t go more than a few days without listening to something that either soothes me, rocks me or moves me. A good drink and some Jazz while cooking is heaven. Am I wrong? And so. Unlike most young folk today, I can’t listen to music through headphones–whether in-ear or over-ear. If you see me out and about with Beckett, the killer pug, and I’ve always got earbuds stuck in my head–I’m listening to podcasts! The problem with headphones and earbuds is the feeling I get with so little space between my ears and what moves air. Headphones make music not only sound weird but feel weird, too. If that makes me old fashion, then get this. I have come to love today’s modern digital music consume-to-survive world. Even though I don’t buy much music anymore–and I can’t stand most all of the music made nowadays, I’m good. Reason? I have a digitised music library that contains everything I need. Whether it’s The Beatles (the greatest album ever is Abby Roads), Beethoven (9th!) or some esoteric Jazz, I’m good. Really good. Seriously. And that’s not all. For all practical purposes, dear worst-reader, I completely missed the CD revolution, too. I couldn’t afford the equipment back then. Since the 70s I have consumed music by borrowing, sharing or trading. In fact, till about fifteen years ago, I had never even owned a sound system with speakers. But I digress.
As digital music took over by the mid 90s–along with the Internetwebs–I was still catching up on the CD revolution. Of course, at least two-thirds of the CDs I have, were all acquired pre-owned or traded. Like in the days with cassettes and albums, digital music was made for sharing. For those who consider sharing piracy, first: fuck you. Second: I still have most of the CDs I ripped in a box in my basement. I never once downloaded anything from Napster–even though I admire greatly what they were trying to do. (Note: I will never buy anything Metallica for what that $hitty band did to young people who just wanted to share music.) I did make a few downloads from BitTorrent, though. (Note: it was all part of research!) Anyhoo. I have a nice digital library of music that spans most of the 20th century. Oh, and I have two version of that library. One version is in FLAC and the other, to appease me wife’s demand for media singularity and simplicity, is iTunes compatible.
Let’s move on to the pseudo-review, shall we?
As you’ll note in the pic above, I am currently using two streaming devices for our home media. For amplification (and in order to avoid those awful sound bars, which my wife wanted after I got rid of our AVR krapp) I’m using a TEAC A-HO1 integrated amp and DAC. Here’s a review of it. I got it last year after selling my hundred pound multi-channel AVR system, 7 speakers, and one 700 watt subwoofer. I’m not even gonna worst-write how little money I got for all that krapp–which says a lot about the state of the audio equipment industry. But get this. I would have almost given it away. If I ever have to wire up five, six or seven speakers again and then try to configure an AVR for a room… I’m gonna shoot myself with your gun.
Amp and sound.
The TEAC is connected to some really, really cool Audioengine P4 speakers (not pictured). We have a fairly small living room and I’ve never once regretted having these “bookshelf” speakers–which are actually in bookshelves that surround my flatscreen TV. They are fantastic speakers and I got them on a über-great-deal from shopping on the Interwebnets. They move the air more than enough to make sound very, very enjoyable.
For iTunes we have the AppleTV(3) connected via HDMI to the TV. The optical-out of the TV is connected to the optical-in of the TEAC. This works fine–except for the fact that one is locked into the Apple world. Which also means no high-end audio and/or limited access to my own higher-end audio files. The ATV can’t play FLAC files.
Also connected to the TV via HDMI is my RaspberryPi 2 Model B+, and connected to that is a Hifiberry DAC+Pro. This is a bit more complicated than the ATV. The HDMI of the RaspberryPi also delivers audio to the TV, and, as with the ATV, the TV converts audio signals to the TEAC’s optical-in. Again, for simplicity, I have chosen not to use the ATV’s optical out–which does produce better audio than the TV. That said, we want something more than any of these optical options, don’t we?
Analogue Audio Galore.
The Hifiberry is where the real magic happens. For less than a hundred Euros–the software, RasPlex, is free btw–the Raspberry Pi is a fantastic DAC. It actually converts and, where applicable, upscales audio and then delivers that as analog right and left stereo to the TEAC’s analog-in cinch ports. The Hifiberry DAC+ and “pro” designation means that it has the same type of chips used in high-end DACs. You can opt for a non “pro” version of the Hifiberry if you prefer to save a buck or three. But I couldn’t resist the gold cinch connectors! Nomatter.
Btw, I’ve had the RaspberryPi+Hifiberry for two years or so. I gave up on it when I first got it because I couldn’t get the drivers to work properly. Even though the HDMI of the Raspberry Pi spits out audio, it’s not half as good as what this thing spits out with the Hifiberry card attached. And so. The other day, while bored out of my early-retirement mind and while fiddling through a junk box of old gadgets, I decided to google whether or not they finally fixed the driver issue. Alas! They did. I re-installed the newest version of RasPlex on a 16GB micros SD card. I also had to fiddle with the config.txt file a bit. Then you have to tell RasPlex, using the UI, to route audio through the Hifiberry daughter card… Boom, baby! That little green light (pic above) lights up bright and shinny.
From a ripped blu-ray of Guardians of the Galaxy, the Raspberry Pi + Hifiberry streams from my Plex server via LAN crystal clear 1080p video including up (or is it down?) scaled DTS 5.1 audio to stereo and the TEAC releases what will make even an ageing grouch like me smile from ear to ear. Also. I’m really glad those boys at RasPlex got their software to the point that even I can set it up. Cool. Über cool.