Berry Hifi Galore

This (worst)post was updated March, 2021. (Strike throughs.)

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 hat also running HifiberryOS and functions as a streaming endpoint that I feed with iPhone, Mac or iPad. 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. 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 RPi and 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 has a Hifiberry DAC+Pro and is a Plex media player OSMC player. It’s attached to a flatscreen 40″ TV 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 software abounds. And, if you ask worst-moi, Plex has become too complex. (Pun intended.) Plus I hate subscription software. Anywho. I mainly use Plex OSMC with RPi and with AppleTV for for viewing my ripped movie and TV collection. When playing music I simply stream to it via OSMC shairport. Btw. All my media is stored on a simple samba server 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 operating systems. I’ve been switching between HifiBerryOS and Volumio with it trying to figure out which player I prefer–and HifiberryOS is winning on account Volumio seems to be going down a path of greed-mongering. 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 via 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 opensource software…?

This stuff is a no-brainer. Nuff said.

Rant (and listen) on.

-T

SBC Rundown

As I’ve stated here and there in this worst-blog, Steve Jobs had it right. Long live the post-PC era. Long live… Steve?

With that in mind, as of the end of 2019, I’ve got two too many SBC’s in my abode. You know, post-PC stuff galore, dear worst-reader. Oh what to do, what to do, what to do?

Have I ever been more tickled with so much tech gluttony? There was a time, don’t you know, when I had too many Macs hanging around. What a time that was, eh. The good news is: unlike the old school computer world, to which I’m kinda bound heart and soul, when you have too much of anything, Macs included, it’s easy to use them all as a kind of tech filler in a life of early retirement fanboy boredom. The thing is, Macs, unlike PCs, can’t just fade away. In my experience a ten year old Mac can do as much as when it was new, whereas a PC of the same age can only be useful if turned into a linux machine–and even that has extreme limitations. But let me move on as my pretentiousness might be getting out of hand.

In my case, not only was I able to find purpose for most of my ageing Macs, as in, you know, a file server here, a Plex media server there, but I also let my better half take one of them and slowly claim that she too is a Mac user (when in reality she’s still stuck in the corporate issued PC world). After a decade or so of maintaining all those machines, though, and thereby accumulating a relatively vast library of digital media–and waking up to the reality of streaming media which is also part of the post-pc era that I’m failing at avoiding, circumventing–I got bored as hell waiting for files to copy, data to process, backing it all up, lifting a forty pound Mac Pro from one room to the other, etc. And so. Welcome to the new world of SBCs, especially Raspberry Pi. Indeed, dear worst-reader. Where would I be today without these little miracle devices that have been a long time coming and have finally provided the means to break away from the old guard truck-PC world of wasted digital everything?

But. Again. Before I get too far off on my pretentious sailing yacht named tech-no-nevermind, here’s where things stand with worst-writer’s post-pc era household. Here’s a rundown of my SBCs and their usefulness galore.

RPi3B + HiFiBerry Amp2 + Volumio

Been dabbling in this–dare I call it–cheap-audiophile setup for going on two years now. Other than a few glitches here or there, it works like a charm. Of course, it also sounds great in any room hooked up to Audioengine P4 speakers or Pioneer BS22’s that I stuffed in a suitcase and lugged across the Atlantic last year on account I couldn’t buy them in #Eurowasteland. In fact, as far as I can tell, it works with any set of speakers. Considering its cost, especially if you already have digital media and server capability in your life, and, perhaps, a few speakers from the good old days laying around, I don’t understand why any #okboomer doesn’t have one of these just for the fun of it.

That worst-said, since using this as my go-to audio player, a question has arisen with my better half: as an Apple household, is it time to go (aghast) HomePod? Indeed. But the biggest turn-off with Apple’s HomePod is the simple fact that I cannot use it with my current music library setup–unless I integrate that setup into Apple’s greed $hit$how music subscription service, previously known as iTunes.

First of all, iTunes sucked bat balls, including its new iteration “Music”. The only place I use it is on my iPhone–and only because I transcode and install MY music manually from my Mac, from my home music server, to my iPhone. The HomePod is basically an extension to Apple’s subscription Music service. It doesn’t really work without that service. Although I’ve battled internally with accepting this as the future, there’s simply no way that I can currently go for a subscription music service. I’m not well informed as to how the HomePod is selling for Apple, but the entire concept is such a deal-breaker to me simply because Apple 1. doesn’t support FLAC and 2. I can’t just play my music on its fancy pseudo smart speaker. In other worst-words, have I reached the the point of… I can’t give Apple my money?

Back to my current wondrous pseudo-audiophile setup. As far as glitches with Volumio, most have been caused by my fiddling around with settings thinking I could get more out of both the RPi and the HiFiBerry hardware. As usual, I was fiddling all for naught. In fact, after most recent update to version 2.692 at the end of 2019, things kinda went haywire. The update seems to have bricked the thing. Although the UI worked after the update, library access didn’t. There was also no HiFiBerry configuration in the “Playback Options”. The digital volume control only went from 0 to 100, which meant I had a few almost speaker exploding moments trying to figure things out. To save the day I did a factory restore which returned the system back to version 2.389 (which is from 2018). And get this. Maybe it’s my ears playing games, but the old software version sounds better than any of the updates. The UI isn’t as clean and there are few add-ons that are no longer available, but I’m good with that on account it seems to sound as good as ever when playing Bowie, Beethoven or the friggin Bee-Gees. I love it–glitches n’all.

If you can, and you like good audio, get yourself one of these, dear worst-reader.

RPi2B + HiFiBerry DAC Pro + Plex Client

This thing has been working like a charm since day one. Ok. Wait. It ain’t all roses here. I need to hard restart it every once-a-once. My guess is it freezes up because of memory cache issues, or the like. But that’s no big deal on account it reboots quickly. After almost three years of consistent use, though, and considering the price of this thing, like the Volumio device above, all worst-readers (of age) should use one of these things as a media player.

By-the-buy, it’s connected to an old Sony 1080p flatscreen. Controlling it is done mostly by using the Sony remote and HDMI-CEC. It’s like a TV but on steroids, baby. Keep in mind that we have no broadcast TV in our home. We just use Plex, an AppleTV3, which also gives us Amazon Prime, and, as previously mentioned, Volumio. Anywho. Sometimes I’ll use the iPhone app to control this Plex client but, like most tech stuff with any lifespan these days, Plex has gotten a bit complicated and it’s easier to just use the cheap Sony remote to control it.

This is my go-to device if you have or want a home media player that’s as simple as eating pie–and not baking it–and don’t want to rely solely on AppleTV or any other streaming box, let alone rely on krappy broadcast TV. Although it can do things like photos, I’ve never used it for that as I just use Apple’s Photo app along with a few iOS devices. And get this. Since this Plex client works so well, I’ve put off getting a new Apple TV even though the newer ones are capable of running a Plex client. The thing is, I love the RPi + HiFiBerry DAC as a music player as much as I love the Volumio player (RPi + Hifiberry Amp2) that I use downstairs (as previously mentioned). As far as I’m concerned, as a cheap audiophile, the sound of these things in combination with my TEAC amp is darn tooting’ good. Nuff said, baby.

Oh. By-the-buy. Again. The difference between Volumio and Plex, as far as audio is concerned, is that Volumio works headless. Although I’ve read that Plex can be used headless, I don’t quite get the point of doing that since it is being used with a flatscreen. So. Indeed. Again-again. Even though Plex is getting unnecessarily complex, these devices are so cheap, why doesn’t everyone have one? Oh yeah. The tech stuff. Flashing an SD card, etc., etc. Speaking of tech stuff…

Pine64 Rock64

I use the Pine64 Rock64 device as a test device as I’ve not quite found a steady digital purpose for it. It’s been a pihole adblocker, a Volumio tester, a distro fun-maker, etc. Unfortunately for Pine64, the Rock64 and RockPro64 (below) might be the last devices I buy from these guys. Although the the boards are excellent, they are a bit too techi for me, unlike Raspberry Pi. I’ve been battling with software installs, distros, etc. since day one with these things, which is mega disappointing. Right now, the only software that I’ve found to work is DietPi and whatever I can install from that–but that doesn’t always work without tech tweaking that is usually over my head. Yeah, these things are my SBC disappointment. That said, I still kinda recommend them.

Pine64 RockPro64 + DietPi

Even though I’ve been disappointed with the software available for Pine64 devices, I’m kinda tickled with the RockPro64’s server performance–and my ability to actually get it to function. It has been quite a fight, don’t you know. Remember: this thing replaced a 2010 MacPro (the cheese grader) but there have been moments… What saved it from the dung-heap? The minimalist Linux distro known as DietPi. If you’re a newbie and not afeared of a bit of Linux CLI, this is my distro recommendation for the RockPro64 as a do-everything linux server. It works ALMOST like a charm. So far it has been running as a Plex server, a samba server (for my household Macs) and I’m even using it as a ad-blocker (pihole). Heck, I even installed a WordPress install on it so as to maintain a copy of this blog. Indeed. For the past 18 months or so it’s never crashed once. Whaaaaaaa?

The most disappointing thing from Pine64 is the fact that I have yet to get OMV to work. OMV is an open source NAS system that is supposed to emulate and/or compete with those stupid-expensive NAS boxes, aka Synology, Drobo, etc., which I refuse to buy. The problem is–as with most software I’ve tried on Pine64–I couldn’t get OMV to work. It would boot, I could access it via my network, I could dabble here or there with it. But as soon as I started messing with “shares” or add-ons (like Plex), it was crash time galore. Now that I’ve kinda gotten use to the CLI of DietPi, I’m not even watching out if OMV gets out of beta for this thing. The heck with it. DietPi works–and I’ve learned to live with a basic Samba file server! All in all, this home server project has turned into a reliable home media and file server device–that has, again, replaced at 2010 Mac Pro. Whaaaaaa?

Indeed. All is good in the land of the SBC, glitches n’all.

Rant on.

-T

PS Oh yea. I started this worst-post ranting about having two too many SBCs. So get this. Waiting in the wings for some purpose is another RPi3 and for Xmas 2019 I received the new RPi4. I’m considering the RPi3 for another audio project, perhaps with something other than analog audio outputs. The RPi4 is a different story. Currently the RPi4 is my Raspbian Linux training station which I use headless. It has already proven that there is no need to buy any other SBC again. (Sorry about that Pine64.) The RPi4 is finally a fcuking great little computer. Needless to say, I’m excited about fiddling with it as 2020 progresses.

Prepping For In-between Years And New Remotes That Leave Us On Couch

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3 hrs, 48 minutes and 42 seconds of tunes, baby. Enough wine, too?

Tonights playlist with first glass of wine after day full of basement cleaning… Hold a sec. That’s right. That’s how I roll between Xhrist’s birth-death-day and the beginning of yet another worst-year: I clean, at the behest of my better-half, HER friggin’ basement. And not just clean, don’t you know. Indeed. Two car loads of what-not being thrown away, stuff taken to the-needy-store, and I even returned crutches and a knee-brace to a local hospital (telling them to give it to someone without charging for it). Dust, cobwebs and other grime have almost totally been removed. Now for the chore of selling all the consume-to-survive krapp that has been relegated to consume-to-throw-away but maybe still worth a buck or three. You have no idear how much I hate selling shit and interacting with other consume-to-survivors on krapp like ebay-$hit. And on top of all that, in order to enjoy the evening’s first glass of wine, don’t you know, dear worst-reader, I had to order a new remote for my TEAC A-H01 amp on account the cheap $hit they sent me was, well, cheap $hit–and it arrived today in packaging that was ten-times its size. Which means I have more krapp to throw away. Now I have a  fully functioning remote. It’s like a new world has opened up. And you know what? It f’n works. I’m so tickled to go down that road of lazy on account I don’t have to get up any more to change…

  1. Volume
  2. Inputs between USB, Optical (ATV3), Line-In 1 (HifiBerry Dac+Pro).

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Still my fav amp ever! And the remote finally works.

Yeah, baby.

Rant on.

-T

Learning How Good The Crunge Really Is And Other Songs

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TEAC no longer in business? Bought by Panasonic? Glad I got one when I did.

Potential sub- or alternative title: Oh how pleased I am with current status of (my) audio consumption and still being able to get it on at my age.

Yesterday’s evening conduit? It began with a glass of Weißburgunder and a few tunes from greatest-band-ever randomly discharged from my home network wifi to my  2015 MacBook Air that is connected with a five-metre, gold-plated USB cable to a TEAC A-H01 that is behind my work-desk powering Pioneer SP-BS22L speakers and… and it’s fcukin magic, baby. The direct connection between my computer and the software that drives the DAC of this little amp, is simply outstanding. But this ain’t a hardware post. Or is it?

The tunes in the list above are somewhat randomly chosen from each of Led Zeppelin’s eight studio albums that have been my source of rock heaven ever since ripping them from AAD CDs that I bought twenty years ago. The sound is so crisp and clear that I often find myself weeping–and not only because I’m privileged enough to have learned to reproduce music at this level (cost) without breaking the bank.

Actually… a random selection, btw, isn’t exactly random. It’s more like a list of songs that I rarely pick when I’m in rock-need, except Dazed and Confused and In The Evening. In The Evening, FYI, is probably my all-time fav from greatest-band-ever. But that’s neither here nor there. Or? It’s just that In The Evening has to be part of any conduit evening of rock pleasure and other pleasures (thanks to my wife). The thing about this list that I really want to worst-blog about, though, is that The Crunge has emerged out from the black-hole of my listening preferences. Indeed. Until yesterday, especially half-way through second glass of Weißburgunder, and having finished prep for dinner, The Crunge finally sunk in as a new greatest-band-ever song. I just had no idear how good this song is. Why is that?

Did I mention that the sound is so good I can hear Plant breathing while counting the beat at the beginning of Tangerine?  For some that’s probably no big deal. But those who understand that Robert Plant is the greatest singer ever… But I die-gress.

Rant and rock on.

-T

When Your Tickle Goes Bling Bling And Your Ears Say Ahhh

It took me a while. And it also took one of my micro-SD cards along with various installs, network wiring configs, a new fancy case and fun, fun, pure listening/audio fun. But before any of that, first things first. I’m finally NAS ready and my R-PI with Hifiberry Amp2 is the bomb! The initial install of OpenMediaVault, which I’m using as my NAS/Share source for my audio library, didn’t actually go all that well. Continuing my tech confusion streak, I made the mistake of tossing the first OMV install on account I found it too complicated. At the least, I wasn’t ready for the OMV interface. So while I proceeded to learn from OMVs website, you know, to get a bit informed about their software and how it works, I re-flashed the SD card back to RasPlex and suddenly the card was broke. At least I think it was broke. It was a 16GB card and after re-flashing it a utility tool informed me it had only 500MB of space. I tried everything. Erase. Partition. Erase and re-format in x-Fat and then in MS-DOS (or what ever’s available via Mac Disk Utility) and nothing happened. There was always only 500MB of space on what was supposed to be a 16GB card. Whaaa? Nomatter. I don’t have time for this. Plus I spent a few hours studying-up on the OMV site and after about two weeks (of casual reading of their doc pages), I was finally ready to give it another go. But then, out of the blue, I decided to support local retailers (as opposed to ordering from you-know-who online retailer from hell!) and jumped on my bike and road off to a local electronic store to buy a new micro-SD card. And get this, dear worst-reader. Would you believe that one of Germania’s largest tech stores doesn’t even carry a micro-SD card smaller than 32GB? Are you serious, I asked one of the store clerks. He informed me that I might have a problem getting such a small card anywhere. Ok. Fine. So I broke down and paid 16,-€ for a 32GB card–4x more capacity than I need for a OMV instal. I biked home, fought with the stupid mass produced packaging to free the card, slid it in the side of my 2015 MacBook Air (i7) and flash, flash, flash. I then proceeded to install the card in the R-PI 3B board. I hooked up ethernet cable and then the 5V 3amp dedicated micro USB power cable. According to OMV one is supposed to be patient as the software goes through the initial install. The readme.txt says I should give it at least forty minutes depending on speed of SD card and internet connection. So I set a timer and went off to be productive elsewhere. After about 36 minutes exactly, I woke up my MacBook Air, searched my network for a new IP address titled “raspberrypi” and… Boom! Long story short. I then hooked up an external 700GB Samsung HDD (which has got to be ten years old; which is also housed in a Icy-Box ext powered case) that has a copy of all my audio files (FLAC and MP3). I set up the network share with Samba and then opened Volumio. Again. Boom! Volumio immediately recognised the share and began indexing my music library. Oddly, Volumio seems to perform better with my music library using a network share. Previously I had the Icy-Box USB drive connected directly to the R-PI’s USB. Although Volumio worked fine with it, there were always hick-ups and duds. My guess is that Volumio wasn’t able to index the directly connected HDD as well as it can when connected by a network share. But that’s just a guess. The thing to remember is that when you have a house full of R-Pi’s, put them to good use. Btw, I’m really digging the R-PI3B+ as my new NAS device. Will be testing it by adding another HDD soon to see how it works as a backup system. And for those interested in how the Hifiberry Amp2 sounds? I’m tickled to-death with it. Together with the R-PI3B it is a fantastic low-cost audio device that delivers incredible audio, especially on high-sounding low-cost speakers like a pair of Pioneer BS22. And btw, even though I have rough beginning with some of this tech-krapp, the end result I’m experiencing is what tech should be all about.

Rant on.

-T

Pseudo-Review: Pennies From Heaven Where Cents Make Great Audio

First. The newest Raspberry Pi was kinda hard to get till I happened across it. I’m worst-guessing this is due to limited supply, heavy demand. Some online shops were taking orders of the Pi but then not indicating delivery dates. Second. I bow humbly to #Hifiberry and their new Amp2 and the fact that I just happened to see they had new Pi’s available when I was gawking at maybe getting another of their audio boards–on account I’ve been so tickled with their DAC+ Pro board. Btw, I wasn’t interested in the RPI3B+ to even go with the new Amp2. I was ordering the Amp2 to put on my RPi3–which would give me two potential audio sources in my house. The RPi3B+ was a just because purchase. Here’s a rundown of my current Pi setup:

  • RPi2B – with Hifiberry Dac+ Pro (more on that here); currently being used as a Plex Client (RasPlex)
  • RPi3B – this one I’m now using with the Hifiberry Amp2 (more on that below)
  • RPi3B+ – just because–and to test if the newest Pi is finally a viable desktop alternative (it’s not quite there yet); also testing for NAS use (so far so good but I’m not ready to replace my old MacPro with it yet)

Now on to a pseudo-review of Hifiberry’s Amp2.

Wow! I was blown away with the first sound that came out of the Amp2. Using Volumio, I’ve been testing this little audio miracle on three different speakers (see pic above). The great news is, it doesn’t matter what speaker I was using. The Amp2 drives them all till a smile rolls off my geezer and curls back ’round into my ears. Of the three speakers I own, my favourites are the Pioneer BS-22–which I lugged across the Atlantic (on account I couldn’t buy them in Germany) in early March. And although my B&W 305s are currently being stored in my basement, I hooked them up just see if the Amp2 could power my ageing low-end towers. It powered them with gusto! Of course, the smallest speakers I own are the Audioengine P4s–which were, I thought at the time, the best deal I had ever made on speakers–but then I got the BS-22s. Nomatter. I’m a cheap-o pseudo-audiophile and I don’t mind admitting to it–especially considering the cost of some of those fancy speakers from Apple, Sonos, etc., which also limit your listening experience through stupid transcoding. So let’s move on.

My only gripe with the Amp2 right now is software, specifically Volumio. I run a Mac home network and Volumio cannot access Mac shares. Nor can it access Mac SMB shares. I’ve been reading forums, posting questions to support sites, reading more krapp, and to save my life I cannot get Volumio to access my 2010 headless MacPro which is a iTunes server, a Plex Media Server and, of course, a file server for a small household of multiple Macs and iOS devices. I’ve given up on networking with Volumio since I have a few old spinning 3.5″ HDDs lying around. So I bought a UBS external powered case and let the RPi/Amp2 access music files that way. Works great.

The Amp2 is nothing short of a little miracle audio board. It’s rated at 60w of power and I can say that it easily produces sound as good as my TEAC A-H01 amp. In fact, it’s better than my TEAC in that, when used with Volumio, I no longer have to get up to change the volume. Another gripe I have with the Amp2 is that when controlling it with Rasplex or Volumio, neither has an output/driver setting specifically for it. According to the Hifiberry website, you’re supposed to choose the Hifberry DAC+ driver because “the Amp2 is basically a DAC+ with an integrated power stage.” After fiddling with the DAC+Pro (on my RPi2) for a while, I realised that the biggest issue with this type of audio device is definitely the power source. I’ve since purchased two 5v 3amp micro USB power source/cables for my other Pis. Fortunately Hifiberry sells a small power brick separately so I went ahead and bought that for this setup. So far, the brick is the best way to power the RPi and Hifiberry. In fact, considering the flimsy-ness of the micro-USB in the RPi, I’m really digging the Amp2’s way of powering things.

After a few weeks of testing, the Amp2 works so well that I’ve actually replaced my living-room Rasplex client with it. My living-room TV now only serves as a monitor for my ageing AppleTV3, which we rarely use. In fact, the only time we use our TV is as a screen/monitor for Apple Photos slideshows via the AppleTV3. We’re no longer TV gawkers so we don’t miss NOT having a TV as part of music play. And to be honest, I’m really digging controlling all our audio needs with my iPhone. Besides, when my better-half watches her German TV stuff she does on her iPad. And so… why the hell am I worst-writing about how we watch/use a TV? Nomatter. I listen to music when cooking, when worst-blogging, and especially when I’m cuddling with Beckett the killer pug on the couch. If you can get through the minor hassle of the Amp2 not having a decent case (yet) or having to fix speaker wires to it, this is one heck of a purest audio device that can be easily hid in a shrank, book shelf, or even under a couch, etc. All you need to control it is a home network, a smartphone and a bunch audio files.

Brilliant cheap audio!

Rant on.

-T

Pseudo Review: Audio On The Cheap, Refurbised Used Speakers, Raspberry Pi HifiBerry Galore And Happy As A Pig In…

First pseudo-review of this sort of stuff here.

Been fiddling around with audio for a few years now. About a decade ago, well into my forties, I made the mistake of purchasing a surround sound system. It was some ginormous thirty-pound, seven channel, only God knows how to setup system and after a few years the only thing I got out of it was hate. I hated having to run some fancy automated sound test with a microphone to set up the speakers. Once setup I never had the feeling that the super fancy microphone that came with it even did the right job. I hated the crossover between the speakers and the amp, especially when it came to the seven-hundred watt subwoofer that I had attached to it. And don’t get me started on the hate I have for audio encoding whether multichannel, DTS, Dolby, HD, blah, blah, blah. All in all, I was glad to finally get rid of that thing, practically giving it away after only three people bid on it. The one thing I did get out of dealing with that krapp for a few years: I love stereo. I missed plain old fashion music coming out of two speakers. Indeed. Listening to great audio doesn’t have to be a big deal–and it doesn’t have to be expensive either.

Although there was a bit of a struggle for a short while regarding whether or not my future listening needs would be analog or digital, I quickly came to realise that I didn’t care about either. The only thing I was sure about was that I no longer wanted multi-channel and I don’t want to use headphones. That’s right. There’s only one other type of sound I hate more than multi-channel sound. I hate listening to music through headphones. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that headphone don’t sound great. I’ve heard them here or there. Some of them are mind-blowing. It’s just that the immediate connection between ear and source has always bothered me. There’s just something wrong with having my ear-drums so close to the source. I mean, when I’m at a concert I don’t put my ear up to the stage or even the amps. But there’s no reason to nitpick. I get it why some Das Volk love headphones. As far as I’m concerned, more power to y’all!

Btw, when I say analog or digital I’m referring mostly to amplification and media storage. With that in mind, I did side with the digital world even though I discarded my ageing CD player when I got rid of my multi-channel AV system. I consider myself digital because, well, I’m not getting a vinyl player or going back to cassettes anytime soon. And so… As long as I can rip CDs or download purchased music, I have no need for physical or analog media. (Wow. I hope I’ve gotten that right!) On the other hand, I haven’t bought any new music in years. Seriously. In the last five or so years, I think I’ve purchased three albums on Amazon. Otherwise, my music collection is basically ripped new, used, traded CDs from when I was young. The music is served with Plex and sometimes (my wife) iTunes.

Almost a speaker review.

This worst-post, i.e. this pseudo-review, is supposed to be about having purchased a set of Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Andrew Jones speakers–but it’s also about having achieved my dream audio system… ON THE F’N CHEAP. According to the Interwebnets, the BS22’s are some of the best speakers you can buy for the least amount of money. And the Interwebnets ain’t wrong! The only problem with these speakers is they are not for sale in Europe. And I didn’t want to have them sent to The Old Country thereby taxing the heck out of ’em. After all these years of living in Germania and having to deal with import taxes, customs, etc, I never order anything from abroad anymore. It’s just a hassle galore, don’t you know. Since I frequently travel to The Homeland…

Full stop. Can you believe the US has a government agency named Homeland? I mean, Orwell anyone?

After reading about these speakers and their specs, measurments, etc., I thought I could easily transport them back to The Old Country on a return flight. And guess what? It was easy-peesy to do just that. I made sure I traveled with the largest suitcase I own, though, because these speakers are a bit bigger than I thought–especially when you first see the box they are delivered in. But after opening them, giving them a feel and hug, I realised discarding the original packaging and getting them in my luggage wrapped in the cushion of my dirty underwear and rotting socks, they should be fine. In fact, other than a very slight dent in the fake wood vinyl covering on one of the speaker’s edges that is barely noticeable, they made it without a scratch. Needless to say I was tickled to hear them for the first time when I got back to my expat home. That’s right, dear worst-reader. I had no way to test them in the US. But hey. For a set of refurbished speakers from you-know-who online, what the hell.

Speakers in use by worst-writer.

  • B&W 305 towers – I’ve had them for about ten years. Althoug I probably should, I can’t get rid of them. In the right room with a decent amp and when properly placed in front of me while I sit in a comfy chair with cup of tea, they are magnificant low-cost, entry-way audiophile speakers. I think I paid €250 for them used. Until I get the right room for them, they’re mostly in the basement and unused due to wife-approval issues.
  • Bose Companion 20 – Although I’m not a fan of most of Bose’s stuff on account of their arbitrary (i.e., Apple-like) product over-pricing, I got these powered speakers as a gift a long time ago. They really are very good if/when connected via audio-jack to a laptop and used on a desk–or used as ersatz TV speakers.
  • Audioengine P4 – I bought them via you-know-who warehouse deal at almost half-price which saved me from having to get a sound-bar or using the Bose speakers to replace krappy TV speakers. They are powered with a SMSL Q5 Pro mini amp and a standard, old fashion audio-jack from the TV to the amp, which lets my wife control volume using the TV’s remote. The TV gets audio via HDMI from a second Raspberry PI (model 3) w/ RasPlex and/or an AppleTV(3). These are fantastic speakers–but NOT worth their full retail price!

The Pioneer SP-BS22-LR speakers are cheap. I paid $90 for them plus tax. For that kind of money they are twice as good as the Audioengine P4’s and are a tick better than my ageing B&W 305s towers. I even have the feeling that the little Pioneers are better at bass than the much taller, beefier B&Ws that have six inch woofers. But then again, I’m not a bass fan.

As you can see in the pic above, the BS22’s are attached to a TEAC A-H01 amp. The amp drives the speakers beautifully no matter what the source. In my case I use either USB (PC), fibre-optic (Apple TV) or analog cinch (Pi). Which brings me to the other magic of this low cost audio system. Although the TEAC does have a USB DAC and I can easly attache my MacBook to it, my main audio delivery system is a Raspberry Pi (model 2 B) and a HifiBerry DAC+Pro with analog cinch cables streaming via Ethernet from a Plex server.

I stream music from a Plex server in my basement via ethernet. After sorting out the power needs of the Pi–problem solved with a dedicated 5v 3amp micro USB power source–these new speakers have given me a feeling of closer for this system. Although I have plans of fiddling more with HifiBerry’s and cheap Class-T amps in the future, this setup in my work room (also my main listening room) is now my audio galore dream come true.

Total cost of work-room audio system dream come true for a small office or bedroom.

  • TEAC A-H01: €300 (warehouse deal; no longer available)
  • BS22 speakers: €100 (warehouse deal; available cheaper in the US if/when on sale)
  • Raspberry Pi 2 B: €60 (including micro-SD card, dedicated micro USB power, steel case)
  • Hifiberry Dac+Pro: €45
  • Cables: €50
  • Plex Media Server, RasPlex client: free!

And so… Listen closely to Miles’ lips on that trumpet.

Rant on.

-T