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.


Roy said...

Really enjoy your comments on SBAF and now on your blog. I'm thinking of buying the Schiit Yggdrasil after it's been upgraded to Unison. I need to wait as I live overseas and it just isn't convenient to ship things around + it's expensive. I'm really interested in the pi2AES touchscreen approach you've taken. I use Roon but find it annoying that whenever I hear a track that I like, I need to turn on whichever screen I'm using to control playback or even to mute the music in case of a phone call etc. I'm a total and complete noob with Pi based stuff and am a retiree. May I ask if the screen is always on and readable from a distance of 6 to 8 feet? Also, do you have an idiots guide to building and setting up the transport you've created? Finally I heard the Moode is having financial difficulties; if it shuts down what implications does it have for a user? Thanks for sharing your article and enjoy the music mate. Cheers Roy

Fernando Pereira said...

Answers first:

1) Screen is always on, but not readable from 6 to 8 feet, at least not with my eyes.
2) I posted some earlier blog entries that explained how I put the hardware together with a 502DAC board from Pi 2 Designs. I replaced the 502DAC with the Pi2AES recently, but I've not updated the instructions.
3) I did not know about moOde's problems. It's working well for me, even if it does not get any further updates.

In addition:

4) Yggdrasil with Unison works very well with a good, inexpensive USB transport like the Allo USBridge, although as I wrote on SBAF, Pi2AES might be even better.
5) I have to use moOde because my music at work is on a local SSD. At home, I have a NAS with CD rips and digital downloads, as well as Qobuz, all through Roon with an Intel NUC core. The home streamer to Yggdrasil is an Allo USBridge running DietPi (no screen).

Roy said...

Thanks mate for the very detailed and rapid answers. I might just wait then for Yggdrasil with Unison to be launched. I'm using Roon core on a general purpose Intel i5 PC with CD rips & digital downloads + Qobuz with an external SSD and this seems to work well with my low budget chifi SMSL M8a DAC into my Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum 2 amp. There are many discussions about USB noise from general purpose PC sources; do you find Unison negates the need for a home streamer? Would my PC do justice to the Yggdrasil or do I need a NUC/bridge/streamer/player as well. I want to use the potential of the Yggdrasil but don't want to waste money chasing audiophile unicorns... Really appreciate your sharing and your time Fernando!

Fernando Pereira said...

Don't really know if PC>USB>Unison will do full justice to what the Yggdrasil can be. In your situation, I'd start with Unison Yggdrasil directly connected to the PC and go from there. If that doesn't fully do it for you, then a Pi-based streamer like the Allo USBridge Signature (USB) or the Pi2AES (AES) as a Roon endpoint connected by Ethernet to your current Roon core would get you even closer to Yggdrasil's full potential.