Saturday, November 2, 2019

Digital audio without tears

In earlier posts I described systems I was using for listening to lossless (FLAC) digital audio. A lot has changed in my various audio setups that would take too long to explain, but I wanted to update you on a really nice lowish-cost transport for DACs and integrated audio devices with S/PDIF or AES digital inputs that I strongly recommend. The ingredients (most used in a previous setup):

  1. Pi 3 SBC
  2. PiTouch 7" touchscreen
  3. SmartiPi stand
  4. Pi2AES audio shield
  5. Power supply for Pi2AES
  6. Pi 2 Design supplies (5) with a straight barrel adapter that is too long for the stand (3), but this elbow adapter fits (thanks to Michael Kelly @ Pi 2 Design).
  7. Whatever miniUSB 5V power supply you have around to power the PiTouch (I'm using an otherwise idle Chromecast power supply)
  8. moOde Audio Linux-based digital music software
I set this up on my home network, which allowed me to configure moOde through a Web browser on my laptop, but I run it at work disconnected from the network, with all the music on an SSD. If your system is always networked, I'd skip (2), (3), and (6) and buy the nice Pi2AES case from Pi 2 Design instead. The same hardware can be used with other Linux-based audio distributions. I used to favor piCorePlayer, and I still prefer its lean, fast UI, but it has become unusable for non-networked systems, unfortunately.

For those of you who have USB DACs or integrated amps, I've heard good things about the Allo USBridge Signature, which can also be bought as a complete box with a Pi and pre-installed software.

I've used quite a few more expensive transports in different configurations, with different DACs and downstream audio chains. Pi2AES is definitely competitive with many times more expensive transports, if you are willing to do the hardware and software legwork, and I suspect Allo USBridge Signature will be too.

Pictures of the Pi2AES-based transport feeding a nice Soekris dac1541 sign-magnitude R-2R DAC from Denmark followed by the now discontinued HP-1 headphone amp from Neurochrome in Canada.