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

Desk Rig While Migrating To Linux

desk setup Feb 2020.jpeg

In worst-writer’s quest to eventually (when exactly?) dump MacOS, I’ve been dabbling in Linux for quite some time. The problem, of course, is that I’m a very slow learner. Add to that the relative slowness of previous RPi’s, I’ve not yet felt comfortable with Rasbian or any other Linux distro on the RPI3, with the exception of Dietpi, but that’s not really a desktop option. Besides, as we all know, eh dear worst-reader, there’s no place in this worst-world for slow learners or pure CLI. Hence I am worst-writer and I’m destined to live as such–slow CPU here or there albeit with a desktop environment. And so. Since Windows is out of the question, the alternative OS for worst-moi can only be Linux with a fancy desktop distro. My only regret with facing such a reality is that I have to wait till my current MacBook is ready for the dung-heap before making the change. The laptops from System76 are looking pretty right now. Reason for the wait, though, is simple: that fcuking pink MacBook was fcuking expensive and to make matters worst it fcuking works great as a worst-writer daily driver, USB-C dongle or not. I’m mean, it is one of Apple’s smallest and weakest computers. Yet I love the thing, krappy keyboard n’all. And for fourteen hundred painful Euros… I can’t believe I paid that much for such an underpowered device. What’s wrong with me? Goo-goo, ga-ga. Bling, bling. Anywho.

The reason I’m eventually (when exactly?) changing to Linux is the open question of the day, of course. What’s clear is that I’m really NOT interested in paying the über high price for Macs anymore. Considering how the company is going full iOS, plus the Apple tax, i.e. the made-up cost (arbitrary) of Apple + intel that is bordering on STUPID, when considering the power and usability of something as cheap as an RPi (ARM processors), it all only reminds me that the whole industry is, not unlike #Trump and the LAND OF FREE TO BE STUPID, waaaaaaaaaay out of whack. And as we all know, I’ll tolerate an iPad as a hand-me-down from my wife for viewing media and reading digital books but boy oh boy do I hate touch screen computing–and I’ll never (in this case never say never may or may not apply) buy another iPad for as long as worst-live. But let’s not get tied up on the tablet thing and me making promises worst-writer might not be able to keep, eh.

As you can see in the pic above, I’m currently running my Mac world on the right side of my desk and on the left my new RPi4 world. Since I’m also not ready to splurge on a new monitor, I’m using an old TV that has two HDMI ports as my RPi monitor. And although a TV is not a computer monitor, this one works pretty good on account it’s desktop small. At the least, it’s good enough for fiddling around with Raspbian-Linux (a Debian distro). To my surprise, even after only using it for a few weeks, the whole desk setup, including those new infancy monitor arms, works pretty good. Considering I didn’t have to buy a new keyboard for the RPi4, which I thought I’d have to do to use two computers systems on one desk, the setup is looking even cooler. My old Apple keyboard and mouse work just fine on the RPi4. As you’ll note in the pic above, there is also a second RPi, an RPi3b+, that I’m currently using as a retro game tester, which is plugged into the TV’s second HDMI port. I did splurge on a cheap knock-off PS3 controller for that one, though. I may or may not post something regarding RPi retro gaming but that’ll have to wait since I’m still trying to figure out how it works.

As far as desktop setup and duel monitor arms, I splurged on a you-know-who Basics offering. Although there is no vertical movement of the monitor arms, you can easily adjust height via the centre poll. It’s all not as uppity and fancy as those more expensive arms that seem to float in the air but I suppose that’s the reason this one only cost 35,-€. And since I can rotate my Dell monitor 90° when needed, as I sometimes use it in portrait mode when working on longer draft worst-writing, this is all über-good, baby.

Yes. All in all this is a cool desktop solution for lots of worst-writing, including lots of continued worst-writing procrastination. Combined with my Ikea height adjustable desk, I should be good till the next urge to consume-to-survive hits and I have to buy something else that I don’t really need but is, well, cool. Speaiing of consuming things needed (or not), I’m really digging the idear of getting back into motorcycling. Maybe this year I’ll be able to worst-post something about getting back on two (powered) wheels again. Or maybe not.

Rant 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.

First RPi4

rpi4

Thought I was gonna wait a bit longer, dear worst-reader. You know, being the never-buy first iteration consume-to-survive guy that I am, at the least, I was gonna put off getting this till the thermal problems were dealt with in version 2.0. But then it was required of me for Xmas that I post some sort of wish list–at the last minute, don’t you know. Which raises this worst-question: What does a man who already has everything wish for? Especially when such a rational thinking man (worst-moi) wishes he could wish for that used ten metre sailing yacht that’s just waiting for me on the baltic shores.

Screenshot 2020-01-04 at 19.33.37.png

Or perhaps there’s that thought or three that been lingering with me for sometime now about getting back into motorcylces. You know, motorcycles for old guys. I’m really digging Kawasaki’s W800 retro bike. Although I think it’s priced a bit high considering the cost of an Enfield. Also. Considering western world demographics, there’s plenty of new old guy motorcycles on the market these days. Am I wrong?

Screenshot 2020-01-04 at 19.37.45

Anywho. Other than a pair of gloves that also work with touch screen interfaces (iPhone, Apple Watch), the only other wish I could came up with (again, at the last minute, at the behest of my better half), which was on the tip of my tongue, was a Raspberry Pi 4 w/4GB–including case. Lo and behold, my better half delivered–on the RPi. (Or was it Santa Claus?) The case my better half ordered wasn’t up to worst-writer specs, though. She ordered a case that included some cheap cooling fan. It’s also some kind of push-together plastic case. Cheap, push together stuff a big turn off, eh.  Although I think I’ll keep the case for future RPi4 orders, on account it’s so cheap, I’m gonna fiddle with the new RPi4 first without a fan. And so. I ordered the FLIRC aluminium case, which has some pretty good reviews and, because of its design, seems to circumvent the need for a cooling fan.

All in all, so far, I’ve been impressed with the new Pi.

Let’s run down the issues after first few days of use and some minor testing, shall we.

Pros

  • Fast, fast, fast
  • Finally can boot and run Raspbian via VNC without obnoxious lag on client machine (this Mac)
  • USB-C power socket, finally away from flimsy mini-usb power (see con below)
  • Networking feels fast and sure (wifi and ethernet)
  • USB 3 provides great speed making this a definite alternative to the non-NAS I’ve been working on in 2019 that has also left me disappointed (on account of Pine64 software offering)

Cons

  • It’s un-understandable why there are two obnoxious Mini HDMI ports that are so non-backward compatible (since this is a cheap alternative to expensive PCs and NAS devices, why over do it with these connections???)
  • Mini hdmi does not work with (my) 1080p Dell monitor via display port > hdmi adapter, which means I have to order yet another adapter to try and connect it via DVI
  • USB-C power socket feels flimsy and probably won’t last a bunch of in-out connections
  • Heat – the FLIRC alu-case gets surprisingly warm even with my minor testing

Rant on.

-T

Pseudo Tech Test 1: RPi OMV NAS Is First Step To Freedom?

RPi OMV server
RPi-3B+ OMV NAS (sorry for worstwriter’s lack of photo skills).

Would you believe, dear worst-reader, that I spent the last few weeks reading up on SBC’s (single board computer) because…

  1. these little (miracle) devices are so silly-inexpensive AND extremely useful that I can just keep buying them in order to busy my early-retirement existence,
  2. I already have three of them in full use so why not change-up a bit w/ something different like a Rock64?
  3. I’m all poo-poo on Apple on account it’s going full stupid w/ its iOS Krapp.

But I digress.

As of a few weeks back I now have a rockin’ OpenMediaVault NAS running on a RPi 3B+. Connected to it are 2x2TB USB external HDDs that I’ve had lying around. One of the drives is currently being tested as a TimeMachine backup server for all my Macs–and it’s been working great so-far! FYI, even though I possess the capability of offering TM backups on my ageing MacPro with Apple’s MacOS Server App (and only that app), after various attempts using it, I’ve decided it’s a no-go. TM, Apple Macs, home network, etc., don’t really work well together–even though such a claim is sacrilegious as an Apple fan-boy. The reality is, I have never been able to set up my home network–most likely due to krappy networking of ISP issued home router–so that any of my Macs at any given time can access the network for a TM backup. For whatever reason (beyond my comprehension) there has always been network access issue prohibiting TM from working. Put another way: the MacOS Server App, combined with krappy ISP routers, sucks bat-balls!

The second drive of my OMV NAS has a copy of my digital music library, which is my entry-way to perhaps creating a media server for the future–that will replace my ageing MacPro. To play that music I’m using a RPi3 with a Hifiberry Amp2 connected to it (see pic below). My music player -of-choice is Volumio. FYI, I am currently experiencing the best audio/stereo listening of my life with this set-up. Obviously I’m old school when it comes to listening to music which also means so-called smart speakers are not on my consume-to-survive radar anytime soon! Yeah. Smart speakers suck bat-balls, too.

 

 

(Pics of my 3 RPi’s: w/ OMV (ext HDDs left); w/ Hifiberry DAC+Pro used as a Plex client for work-room TV; w/Hifiberry Amp2 and Volumio.)

I have a third RPi as a RasPlex client which is attached to my TV. FYI we don’t have any sort of TV connection to the outside world. I use the TV as a screen for work (presentations) and for streaming w/ Plex and sometimes AppleTV. I guess that means I’m a cord-cutter. Keep in mind, for the last ten or so years we’ve been an Apple household but recent Apple product announcements (especially from 2018), not to mention the rip-off of iTunes, have convinced me to stay the course in my choice of maintaining my own media library.

The pseudo-tech-test.

The question I’m currently asking is how capable is an SBC? Up to this point, using a RPi 3B+ for NAS, experimenting with old HDDs connected via USB 2.0, figuring out Openmediavault, etc., has proven to be viable. Although skeptical of the RPi’s limited ethernet bandwidth that is dependent on USB 2.0, at this point the system works without flaw. There were some glitches when I used an old duel HDD case set to JBOD. The RPi/OMV was unable to access the drives. Since then I’ve acquired two HDD cases with separate power sources. Such a setup is space consuming and requires lots of electric sockets; luckily I have both in abundance.

Indeed. Linux here I come!

I was on the verge of ordering a Rock64 SBC the other day thinking that the RPi’s network capability was too weak. The Rock64 has true gigabyte ethernet–whereas the RPi, dependent on USB 2.0, has only around a third of that. But then I came to my senses. According to my worst-research the Rock64 might be a bit too much for my NAS needs. Up to now I’ve just gotten over certain learning curves of both the RPi and OMV. And even though I’m not using RPi/OMV for streaming video, it has passed with flying colours both backup networking and audio networking.

In short, so far, I am able to backup three Macs, stream music to my Volumio client and also stream HD audio (96khz-24bit) to my Mac using VLC and then playing that music through a TEAC amp (very loudly) via USB–all at the same time. That means I had multiple devices streaming from the RPi-OMV NAS–with its limited Ethernet–and everything worked great.

OMV sys info.jpg

Conclusion (so-far): there is no need to run out and by a higher-end SBC. At least not yet! As soon as I can figure out how to do it, I’ll install Plex on OMV and then do the same test but with video. Needless to say, I am encouraged so far w/ everything SBC. My limited tech skills are able to fiddle-faddle with these Linux devices and even connect hardware (RPi + Hifiberry) here and there to make things not just work but work really, really well. The main task at hand is to find a viable ersatz for Apple. Why, you ask? Because, well, Apple is seriously starting to suck once again–just like it sucked before Steve Jobs returned. As long as I can easily and conveniently backup my Macs, have access to a file server, and have great audio from my digitised music collection, I can’t imagine having to stick with Apple and it preposterous über-expensive shinny unicorn stuff in the future.

Rant on.

-T

Apple v Pi Or How I Slowly Got My Computing Future On

I tried to become a watch-nut once. Not a real watch-nut, mind you. Of course not. A real watch-nut spends lots of money on watches. Heck, I don’t even like money. Anywho. A watch-nut knows what a complication is. In fact, that’s the only thing that made watches interesting to me. The simpler the complications, the better the watch. That’s why for years I wore a cheap, mechanical watch that within a twenty-four hour period lost at least two minutes of time. But it was a cool watch. Every morning I had to get up and wind it. Which brings me to the worst-subject of the day. As in super expensive and it works or something quite a bit cheaper and maybe, well, it loses two minutes of time a day. You in, dear worst-reader?

As you can see in the confused pics above, I consumed Apple’s #WWDC2018 the other day. Already dislocated from expectations, I was, as usual, disappointed in the show. Long worst-writer, pseudo-technologist, story short: #Apple sucks. The only consolation, as an Apple user, is that Apple will remain the best of the worst for the foreseeable future. That said, I’m not ready to fully go elsewhere for my personal computing needs. Or maybe I am. I’m especially not ready to go iOS. That’s for sure. And that’s what I got out of this year’s WWDC. In other words, if you’re an old-school Mac user like me, it’s probably time to move on or at least get ready to move over rover. That means, iOS is definitely gonna take over fairly soon. And even though the guy with the funny hair and plastic look (pic above of the iPad) claimed that there will be no merge of iOS and MacOS, I don’t believe him. Well, I kinda believe him. I mean, look at him. Compare him to the slimy, filthy ashtray that I refuse to clean behind him. The duschbags running Apple these days are definitely earning their weight in bull$hit. And that’s coming from a guy who has nothing but Apple products in his digital life. Aghast!

In order to prepare myself for the future I’ve been experimenting with what I consider the only true innovation in personal computing hardware in the past twenty years. And when I say personal computing I mean old school stuff as in a keyboard, a monitor and where necessary a mouse. And it doesn’t stop there. I’m also old school because I believe that when I buy a computer, what I do with it after purchase is all up to me. With that in mind, the thing I hate most about iOS and the direction computers are going is the touch screen interface and the fact that that it has exponentially increased the distance between human and the computer and device. Wow. I bet that’s worth a worst-thought or three, eh? Anywho.

Now don’t get me wrong, dear worst-reader. I’m not afraid of change. It’s just that I really do hate tablets. Nomatter how bright, clear and shinny they make those screens, for me there is something awfully wrong with my finger tips hitting a piece of hardened glass in order to interact with the/my digital world. Add to that the closed eco-system these new devices have ushered in to personal computing… at the behest of greed mongering corporations…

The thing to remember to keep in mind while reading this worst-post, dear worst-reader, is that nomatter what Apple does, worst-writer ain’t going to move to tablet computing anytime soon. In fact, so far, it looks like they’re gonna have to pry my dreams of old-school personal computing way of life out of my cold, dead, nightmare hands.

And so…

IMHO the most innovative personal computing product in years is the Raspberry Pi. Since its introduction as a code learning device for young people it has become a viable and versatile computer that has no rivals other than other single board computers, although it’s not quite ready to replace desktop computers. (But it is almost there.) And get this! It costs just under less than 40,-€.  Depending upon use and purpose, total cost of this device is around 100,-€, and that includes audio-boards, power supply and micro-sd cards. Considering what I’ve paid over the years for inevitably obsolete Apple products, that’s pretty impressive. FYI, I currently have three Raspberry Pi’s in full-time use in my house. And there’s this thought: I’m using R-Pis more than any of my Apple digital devices combined, except, maybe, my MacBook. In other worst-words, I’ve replaced what could have been Apple purchases–if Apple weren’t run by duschbags!–with some serious household cost-cutting purchases.

Enough worst-writer anger, though, eh.

One Pi is a Plex media client that has replaced one of my AppleTVs. It’s only a matter of time before another Pi replaces the other AppleTV. My second Pi is an audio streaming device using Volumio and a Hifiberry audio-board. It has 1) replaced iTunes for streaming music in our living room and kitchen and 2) will prevent us from having to buy any of those stupid little speaker thingies everybody and joe is pushing onto the music listening market. Sorry. Let me just put this out there:

Apple HomePod + iTunes + Apple Music + blah blah blah = fcuk you Apple.

That’s right. Finally. I can play my FLAC formatted music collection in its purest form–and with real air-moving speakers. Amen, brother.

The third Pi is the latest device available, the 3B+, and because it has increased ethernet capacity–although still via a bottlenecking USB 2.0 bus–I’ve been testing it as a NAS (network attached storage). Other than a few twerks and quirks here and there, these Pi’s work great and are slowly but surely proving themselves as alternatives to my ageing Apple home infrastructure and, more importantly, my unwillingness to accept Apple’s monopolisation of everything.

On that note, a few words about NAS on the cheap.

As you can see in the large pic above, I’m using a 2010 MacPro as a headless server. In fact, I’ve been using it for almost ten years. It’s where all of my household data is stored and backed-up. Of course, I know it’s time is limited, especially considering what Apple is doing with MacOS. It’s currently running El Capitan and I’m not even gonna bother with Sierra or High Sierra for it or any other OS. What I’d really like to do with it is stop wasting it as a over-energy-consumptive server and re-install Snow Leopard on it and just use it as a awesome desktop computer. Any by-the-buy, the newest MacOS just released, Mojave, won’t run on it at all. Indeed. More obsoletism. And for those interested, I don’t favour going the commercial NAS route i.e. Synology & Co. on account they are just an added complication in something that should be simple, where do I go in the future with my home digital needs they all seem like over priced and over complicated un-neccessities.

The fact that I have to even ask such a question is proof enough that there’s something seriously wrong with the world–or at least Apple’s and its, what I consider, corporate dysfunction. And perhaps this relates to my silly little watch analogy at the beginning of this post because when I heard that the latest Raspberry Pi had increased ethernet speed, albeit not quite gigabyte, I thought it finally time to take the plunge. Indeed. NAS here I cometh–even if you’re off two minutes each day!

Conclusion after about a month of Raspberry Pi NAS testing?

It works but…

Using OpenMediaVault, a 32GB micro-sd card, and a dedicated 5v-3amp micro-USB power supply, and, of course, numerous available HDDs I’ve got lying around–including really, really old USB 2.0 cases–my new cheap NAS is a go-go works great so far. Currently occupying two USB (out of 4) ports I have an old 750GB HDD in a single case that is dedicated to audio. Another dual HDD case that has hardware enabled RAID-0 case and 2x3TB drives in it, gives me a total of 6TB as an experimental backup server. I’m using testing the big drive for shares where I’ll be copying most of what’s on the MacPro to it as an alternative to the MacPro. Btw, the MacPro is a great server but it is obviously wasted in this role. Also, I’m not able to connect any of the Raspberry Pi’s to it unless via a Plex server. Something about Linux file systems and Mac files system not getting along, don’t you know. Anywho.

Hiccups so far mostly occur when I stream music and perform large data transfers. The Pi just doesn’t have enough ethernet/USB to make it all happen. For example. Copying my movie collection, which is about 1.5TB of data, from my MacPro to the big NAS share, the Pi then cannot deliver audio files at the same time. This screws up Volumio quite a bit and has required more than a few restarts and a few frustrating evenings where I was attempting to enjoy music. I’m assuming that these hiccups will decrease once I get all my music, movie and photos copied to the NAS, which is about 4TB total and will take a few days at current i/o bus speeds. And to think I’ve still got two more USB ports on the Pi for more drives… Cool.

Update two days later: All big files have been copied and I’ve had no hiccups with Volumio anymore. Über cool!

In worst-conclusion: So far I’m pleased with the time and effort required to get these Pi’s doing what I want working. And that’s the ticket, along with the price, if anyone wants to free themselves from monopolisation and corporate dysfunction galore. Of course there is a learning curve here. And even though there are forums out there and what feels like a large user base, the Raspberry Pi is not at all like any of the devices that I’m replacing. Obviously AppleTVs worked from the point-of-purchase until Apple makes them obsolete. So I’ve had to do a bit of research, reading and fiddling to get these Raspberry Pi’s to work. Then again, listening to Beethoven through real speakers in FLAC at 24bit streamed from a tiny server in my basement to a device that is hidden, tucked behind books on book shelf in my living room… Fcuk yeah! There is some wow going on in my audio listening pleasure zone, baby. And so. Good ridden monopoly Apple. Hope you choke on your duschbaggery and greed.

Rant on.

-T

PS As far as the two other pictures included in this post, you’re guess is a good as mine. The one with the runners is kinda cool and reminds somehow of Apple’s dysfunction. Yeah, that kid running along the group looks like he’s trying to keep up with his daddy or stop his daddy from running away from his mommy, which is most likely, considering #eurowasteland greed mongering, inevitable. The picture of the smoke stack is Apple, too. Yeah, it’s gotten that big and fat and in the way of seeing a horizon.