Berry Hifi Galore

This (worst)post was updated Sept 16, 2020.

Title 2: No such thing as Hifiberry overkill. Or?

Gotta say a few worst-words about my Hifiberry collection, dear worst-reader. Not sure if you can tell, but I’m a Raspberry Pi fan. I love these these little SBCs (single board computers) and when combined with DACs, IMHO, there’s no better way to enjoy audio without breaking the bank. Speaking of which, this equipment allows me to avoid krapp like Apple’s HomePod or whatever branded ridiculously priced streaming device, sound bar, etc. Also. As far as I’m concerned, Bluetooth ain’t quite there yet when it comes to quality audio streaming. On the other hand, I am an Apple fanboy. That means, I always have to compromise something when it comes to compatibility. I also have some legacy audio equipment that includes active and passive speakers, plenty of cables, connectors, and few really cheap Chinese DACs (smsl, etc.) The thing is, even though these devices are cheap and require a bit of maintenance, they do not lack in audio quality. But let’s move on.

As you can see from the pics above I currently have four RPi’s with HifiBerry DAC hats. I use them mainly as media players or streaming endpoints. If you can do some basic linux stuff, you’re in the green with these babies. Although there is a swath of audio DACs from other makers for Raspberry Pi, I’ve never bothered with any of them, so this is obviously a one-sided pseudo-review. With that in worst-mind, let’s run down my use cases.

Let’s start with the old and weak, shall we. In order to make use of my oldest RPi3 (from 2014), which was collecting dust in a drawer, I ordered the HifiBerry analog DAC with the 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s running HifiberryOS, which makes it a streaming endpoint (if I’ve got the tech vernacular correct). I use it mainly as the audio output for my AppleTV4k via shairport. The AppleTV drives a 1080p Beamer. Connected to the phone jack of the HifiBerry DAC–because the onboard headphone jack of the RPi really, really does suck–is a pair of Bose Companion 20 powered speakers. These are my trusty play-anywhere, use-anytime speakers for the past fifteen or so years. These old Bose’s are perfect for TV (instead of a stupid soundbar) or desktop PC use. Heck they even suffice for outdoor use if a party or a cook-out needs tunes. Also. Keep in mind. I live in a very rectangular townhouse with an inner loft-like atrium that is surround by kitchen, dinning area and living room. The living room and dinning room merge at a corner of the atrium. The main wall at the end of my living room, with bookshelves, is where I have what I consider my music speakers. Hence, I have a room with two disparate sound systems. More on that in a sec. The beamer projects on a perpendicular wall. As you can see in the pic below, the Bose speakers are on a high wall table and they project whatever audio comes out of my AppleTV, which is also hidden away atop my bookshelves.

A second RPi3 has a HifiBerry AMP2 DAC. It’s currently my only remaining Volumio device hidden away behind books at the top of my bookshelves (see pic below). It provides my living room with… you guessed it: music only. Even though I love the old Bose Companion speakers, they are nothing compared to the AudioEngine P4s that resonate beautifully in the most expensive bookshelves I’ve ever owned. Also. The reason this is my only Volumio device is because 1) my wife’s not ready to learn new player software and 2) it works better than HifiBerryOS when it comes to accessing SMB shares. More on that in a sec. The AMP2 drives the AudioEngine P4 speakers with enough quality to make me grin ear to ear every morning while drinking earl grey and waking up to jazz.

Btw. Morning jazz is a worst-writer ritual.

My third RPi3 also has a Hifiberry DAC+Pro and is a Plex media player. It’s attached to a flatscreen 40″ TV upstairs in my work room (not pictured). For audio it is connected to a TEAC (ice powered) integrated amp via RCA cables and powers Pioneer BS22LR speakers. I think it’s my second oldest Raspberry Pi (from 2015 or 2016). When I started using Plex back in the day, btw, I thought it would be my streamer and player of choice. Turns out better players abound. And, if you ask worst-moi, Plex is too complex. Anywho. I mainly use Plex with RPi and with AppleTV for my ripped movie and TV collection. It’s rare I use it to play music. The Plex server is on a Pine64 RockPro64, which is in my basement. This is my minimalist, go-to, as audiophile-as-it-gets, setup. I absolutely love it.

The last RPi in my collection is an RPi4. I’ve been using it mostly as a testbed and/or fiddle device. It has the HifiBerry DAC+Pro and is currently connected to my TEAC’s second RCA inputs. It’s currently running HifiBerryOS and I’m really digging how it functions as a streaming endpoint. The RPi4 is the most powerful device here and it shows–especially when loading SMB shares or fiddling with software. I’ve been switching between HifiBerryOS and Volumio with it trying to figure out which player I prefer. More on that in a sec. What’s become very clear to me while fiddling around with all this stuff is that the day is nigh when these little things will easily replace modern desktop PCs. As far as media players go… they’re already the bomb.

HiFiBerryOS vs Volumio?

My only gripe with with RPi + HifiBerry is the software. I’m still, kinda, in the experimental stage of how to setup all these devices. Although I would like something similar to what iTunes used to be, I stopped using iTunes years ago because of proprietary issues, including the fact that Apple doesn’t support FLAC. Currently I’m pretty happy with webradio and direct streaming (shairport). The only thing missing is to be able to do it all with one software. But which one? I’ve got HifiBerry OS on two devices, Volumio on one device and Plex on the others (including my basement Pine64 server). Anywho…

I’m starting to dig HifiBerryOS more and more. Even though HifiBerryOS on the older RPi3 seems to have fewer capabilities than when on the RPi4 The OS works so well with shairport (open source version of Apple’s Airport streaming software) that I’m actually streaming more and more music from my Mac and/or iPad–as opposed to accessing music via SMB shares and Volumio, which I can’t getting running on HifiberryOS anyway. Update: using info provided here, I managed to get HifiBerryOS connected to my SMB shares. It works like a charm! Hopefully they’ll fix the bugs soon. Right now I’m streaming The True Loves Live Performance from KEXP (YouTube) and it is rocking’ cool!

It’s time to admit the obvious. I’m becoming more and more disappointed with Volumio, which has been my go-to music player for a few years now. Also, since Volumio has decided to go down the cost-path of subscription fees in order to monetise, plus it thinks it’s OK to charge for Bluetooth access…. Come on Volumio, subscription fees suck. And how is it that HifiBerry doesn’t charge for its Bluetooth access?! Just charge a flat fee for your software. Or not! But heed this: as a streaming endpoint, I’m really digging HifiBerryOS.

IMHO. Raspberry Pi and Hifiberry have really done a number on an industry that is obsessed with cheating consumers. Am I referring to the so-called audiophile industry? Or just the Denon and NAD makers? Yeah. Something like that. What’s important is that if you don’t want to be owned or miss out on modern music consumption and have a bit of tech knowledge plus you are willing to fiddle around with open source software…?

This stuff is a no-brainer. Nuff said.

Rant (and listen) on.

-T