primo | ˈprēmō |
noun (plural primos) Music
the leading or upper part in a duet.
adjective North American informal
of top quality or importance: the primo team in the land.
mid 18th century: Italian, literally ‘first’.
I am always on the lookout for exciting ways of getting music into my ears. I was following the coverage from Munich High-End and saw the announcement of the Volumio Motivo. When Chris announced the relationship with Volumio, it further piqued my interest in the Volumio hardware. Their current product the Primo is has some bright ideas implemented at a very nice price point.
I ordered my Primo from the Volumio website, and as noted on the website, it was shipped directly from Asia.
I do not think a lot of us have experience with a wide range of music playback systems, so I want to highlight the Volumio software first.
Developed by a team based in Italy Volumio is a complete music playback system based on a custom variant of Linux designed for high-quality playback. The OS runs out of RAM to improve audio quality. There is support for most file types; network attached storage, internet radio, and Spotify. The software add-on list is long. You can read more on their website.
Volumio has a new kid on the block: MYVolumio which is additional software as a service system that includes multiple device sync, and backup, remote control, Alexa integration, native Tidal, and Qobuz playback. They promise multi-room playback, CD ripping and playback and more. Again these additions are software as a service, and they charge subscription fees. (Read more about this at the end of the article)
I have added five brief screen capture videos later on presenting several parts of Volumio.
Next, let’s talk about the Volumio Primo hardware. The Primo streamer is an Asus Tinkerboard S computer with a custom interface card for the Digital to Analog audio work. Volumio supplies a 5V 3A external power supply that I used during my review. The Tinkerboard has all of the other connectivity: USB, networks, and digital out.
I started my listening using the S/PDIF interface to my Kii Three speakers. I have not made an overall conclusion, but with the few tracks I have listened to the Primo holds up very well. I plan on further listening on the Kii Three System.
Where I want to use the Primo is in my headphone system. I have it in my office and have both the USB output and the analog output connected to my LYR3 headphone system. My LYR3 has the Schiit Multi-bit DAC along with an analog input. I am listening with my HD-800 cans and my LCD-i4 monitors. I have Transparent Audio PLUS interconnect cables for the analog and a GHENT JSSG360 USB cable for the USB. The LYR3 is connected to power using a Transparent Performance Power cord.
Note that no Tubes were ROLLED in the Schiit for this review!
I am using my QNAP NAS for music storage along with Tidal and Qobuz streaming. I have connected the Primo to my network using ethernet.
I have been listening to the Primo off and on for a couple of weeks and have found one new software hint. There is a volume control system on Volumio. I have tried that in both the “hardware” setting and in the “off” setting. In my system, the “off” is a significant improvement. I wonder if it is disabling or bypassing the Linux Mixer?
I have used multiple software applications for music playback, and in many ways, I find the Volumio software refreshing. I can dance around the library by folder and filename quickly. I can create playlists. I have a couple of short videos below showing search speed.
Using the plug-in system, I have been learning about the Logitech Media Server software and how that works. I am not reviewing that here as I am concentrating on Volumio!
I have not used Apple AirPlay, which can also be used to set up the Primo as a Roon endpoint. Other reviewers have indicated that the folks at Roon and Volumio are working on getting the Primo setup on Roon.
Here are five short screen captures of the Volumio Primo software.
(there is no sound)
The first video is a screen recording of some basic operations in the Volumio Player interface on a Mac. Note how the web interface scales very nicely to varied window sizes.
This video is a QUICK tour of some of the settings. You can see the LMS and Squeezelite plug-ins and that HDMI setting.
The above video shows one of the neat little features of the Volumio Primo, the HDMI output where you can see the player on a screen attached to the Primo. It is an excellent way to see what is playing. Here is a picture of the Primo HDMI output during testing on my Kii Three System.
The following are three videos of the system user interface searching in my library, on Tidal and on Qobuz. You can see how long search takes and what the results look like. Remember that my local library is 4TB with 75000 tracks. I have a “good” internet connection (50MBPS) and the Primo is on Gigabit ethernet. Watch the green progress bar at the top of the display.
After listening to the Primo for a few weeks, I watched a couple of other reviews. While they are genuine, there are a couple of things that I do not feel were well addressed. The first is changing the setting to turn off the internal volume control. The second is underestimating the quality of the analog output of the Primo.
For me, the analog output to my LYR3 is makes for some “Primo Schiit.” They are a perfect duet! Listening with my HD-800 headphones I am genuinely happy with what I am hearing. In the analog out configuration, the dynamics are excellent, there is more bass extension, and it is less brash than other configurations I have tried. The HD-800 headphones are not forgiving, and there is very little to forgive here. It is more relaxing than some of the other systems I have used. For me, the only annoyance is the fact that the Schiit LYR3 needs 20-30 minutes of warm-up time to get to its sweet spot. Sometimes I love tubes!
A final note. Purchasing the Primo from one of their authorized dealers gets you a free ‘lifetime” subscription to the MyVolumio HiFi service. I know that in the USA this is going to be hard to do and I hope that Volumio gets that worked out soon. This product deserves to be on display in more places. And enjoyed by more of us!
UPDATE August 1, 2019
Primo at the Cottage
We regularly take vacations in Northern Wisconsin and stay at a friends lake cottage. In general there is very limited cell phone coverage and no internet there. To get “the good stuff” we have to drive half and hour to town! Most of the time this is a blessing. I still want some music so I have loaded up my iPad with a bunch of music of stuff from my Apple Music library and use a Bose Soundlink Mini for playback. While this works it is not satisfying or really engaging.
When I was packing for the trip and loading up my iPad with music I had an interesting thought that has turned into a much more satisfying experience! Part of it came from reading @bluesman articles here.
The Volumio Primo is a stand along streamer and a bit more. It can play from attached local storage. I have a pair of AudioEngine A2+ amplified speakers that are sort of hanging around. So I loaded up just shy of 1TB of CD and CD+ music on a drive. I grabbed a pair of Transparent Audio Plus interconnect cables and a single “The Wave” speaker cable to spice things up a bit. With my trusty iPad Mini as a controller I have a complete system in a nice transit case!
I set the system front and center beside by the picture window overlooking the lake on a couple of folding TV tray tables. HEY THIS IS RUSTIC FOLKS! Listen to music, watch the humming birds, the lake and the sunset. Ahhhh,....
I am using the analog out of the Primo to the A2+ speakers because I really feel it sounds better! The improved speaker cable is sort of a lark, and it is longer. Plus I cannot abide in zip cord for speaker wire any more. If I feel the urge I might try the USB from the Primo to the A2+ speakers....
Once things are connected all you have to do is connect the iPad to the Volumio WiFi hotspot and the UI pops up in the captive portal. If you tap the cancel the button on the portal control you will get a pop-up that has the selection “use without Internet”. Select that option. Then go into the info for the “Volumio” WiFi setting and turn on auto-join and auto-login.
NOTE: that you may want to remove this WiFi connection when you are using a normal router system as the iPad will connect to the Volumio when close to it.
This setup is SO much better sounding with real stereo imaging. The A2+ speakers are almost perfect for the space and They really sound great in this application.
There are other streamers and speakers that could be combined into a system like this for similar applications. The Volumio Primo and the AudioEngine A2+ Speakers are a nice paring! I may play with this some more in my home office...