Jump to content
bluesman

Article: The Value Proposition In Computer Audio: Nuts, Bolts, and Building Blocks - Building a Home for Your Player Software

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

Lots of info, but likely to intimidate a newbie to computer audio. I know next to nothing about computer operating systems, yet I play music off the net and from my NAS, through two Chromecast Audio dongles, a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ and an SOTM sms-200. 

 

"I’ll run you through the installation and audio setup process so you’ll get an idea of the work involved."

 

Linux doesn't need to be complex. Here's what I did with the Pi: 

I downloaded Volumio, flashed the SD card, went through the guided setup screen and played music.

 

The sms-200 was no harder, Chromecast Audio was even easier. You don't need to know much of anything about operating systems to play music through a computer.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, bluesman said:

So with tongue only halfway in cheek, please help me to understand this. On what scale does one measure SQ? Is it a linear function? What’s the unit of measure? With what do you measure it? And, most importantly, if you’re already at 100% (which must be the case, unless you’re either suffering mightily while using your own system or not listening at all), will you be using your current system forever?

 

Pretty straightforward ... how close is the SQ to the point where you are no longer conscious of the 'machinery' in your room doing its thing, and where the captured musical event dominates your awareness of what's going on, soundwise. 100% means that you've got that happening ...it can get better, because this level of subjective presentation requires the brain to compensate, unconsciously, for misdemeanours that stop it being 100% accurate in a technical sense - better means the brain needs to do this even less.

 

Yes, the problem if you are sensitive to these aspects is that conventional quality ambitious sound is highly irritating - you become aware of what it's doing wrong, and you "can't stand it!". And, yes, the answer sometimes is that you give away the game of high end sound entirely; this is something I did for about 10 years, some time ago - you drop back to mid fi listening, because then you are no longer concerned about SQ; it's "kitchen radio" listening.

 


Frank

 

http://artofaudioconjuring.blogspot.com/

 

 

Ahhh, Mankind ... Porsche intellect, Trabant emotions ...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, audiobomber said:

You don't need to know much of anything about operating systems to play music through a computer.

Right you are - as I said in the last piece in this series, "A Raspberry Pi 4 with 4G of RAM is an amazingly powerful little box that will run some great players from simple MPD to a full instance of JRMC - for $55 plus a power supply.  SQ is excellent, and it takes less than an hour from the time you walk in your front door with it to be playing music."  The piece before that one has a simple table with info offered to help uncertain audiophiles choose a player for the Pi.  It includes both player software running on named Linux distros and players that come with dedicated JEOS like your Volumio instance (which I reviewed, included, and use myself).

 

But even for those who, like you, are using simple little boxes that require little active management, knowledge is power.  I'm in your camp - I'm currently running music software of some kind (including Audacity and Ardour for live recording) on two Pi 3bs, two Pi 3b+s, two 4 gig Pi 4s, and a Zero W.  The 3B+ can't hold a performance candle to the Pi 4 (which I document in the next piece, which is on SBCs and includes links to performance testing of the Pi family). So you may someday find yourself wanting to upgrade, in which case you'll want to know something about software related problems in the 4 gig Pi 4.  Start with the fact that it won't access more than 3 of the 4 gigs of RAM right now because of software bugs (at least on Raspbian).  And this affects USB connectivity, which came as a huge surprise to me and does not affect 1 and 2 gig Pi 4s.  The workaround is to limit RAM use to 3k in one of the configuration files - but I want the RAM I paid for 😉 

 

There are a few patches out there to try to fix this, but it remains a problem and I have it - Roon Bridge drops and reconnects it as a zone in a cycle lasting roughly a minute per drop & add, and it appears to be because the USB connection to the DAC is being lost.  I don't know yet if this bug affects the 4 regardless of OS, so I'm testing it with several to find out.  So as long as your Volumio instance runs fine on your 3b+, you don't need to know anything else about your operating system.

 

Remember too that your use of computers for audio is only one of many possible roles they can serve.  If your needs or preferences suggest that an x86 or other big box is the best home for your computer solution (or you want to use an older computer you already have but can no longer run its legacy OS), some kind of guide or information for decision support may be very helpful in choosing your new music platform - and that's why I'm writing these.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 hours ago, bluesman said:

Right you are - as I said in the last piece in this series, "A Raspberry Pi 4 with 4G of RAM is an amazingly powerful little box that will run some great players from simple MPD to a full instance of JRMC - for $55 plus a power supply.  SQ is excellent, and it takes less than an hour from the time you walk in your front door with it to be playing music."  

 

 The 3B+ can't hold a performance candle to the Pi 4 (which I document in the next piece, which is on SBCs and includes links to performance testing of the Pi family). So you may someday find yourself wanting to upgrade, in which case you'll want to know something about software related problems in the 4 gig Pi 4.  Start with the fact that it won't access more than 3 of the 4 gigs of RAM right now because of software bugs (at least on Raspbian).  And this affects USB connectivity, which came as a huge surprise to me and does not affect 1 and 2 gig Pi 4s.  The workaround is to limit RAM use to 3k in one of the configuration files - but I want the RAM I paid for 😉 

 

 

I have a Pi 3 B+. I would not describe the sound as "excellent", more like "good", as long as your DAC is separately powered from the terrible Pi USB port. When separately powered, the 3 B+ sounds better than CCA but I don't think there's anything you could do to a Pi to match the SQ of an sms-200.

 

I had Pi 4 in my sights until I read this Hans B review. I've also heard concerns about overheating.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You’ll read more about temp control & overheating in the next chapter.  And there’s more on this in the following one (being prepared now), which is about hot rodding SBCs for audio with a focus on the RPi. Cooling is essential if you overclock, but a good fanless case like the Flirc (my favorite) is all you need for a stock Pi 4.  Placed in an area with good ventilation at an ambient temp below 25C (about 80F), even a stock plastic case should be fine for most audiophile use of a stock 4. I strongly recommend using heat sinks though - they’re tiny, cheap, and effective. The life of Pi is shortened by running often at temps close to the throttling threshold.
 

The stock 4 throttles CPU speed down to that of your 3b+ when its temp hits 80C.  I’ve pushed one hard with live multitrack recording and real time monitoring, and it peaked at 73C in the standard plastic case. A Flirc brings that down to about 60C, and a $7 fan cooled case lowers it to a max of 43C no matter how hard I flog it.

 

Playback of DSD files with DSP and other added CPU stresses may push temp too high to ignore. If so, this would justify a case with good cooling (active or passive), but I haven’t yet run these scenarios and will provide my findings when I do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, bluesman said:

The life of Pi is shortened by running often at temps close to the throttling threshold.

 

Yes, the Richard Parker mod is not recommended.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/25/2020 at 10:29 AM, bluesman said:

You’ll read more about temp control & overheating in the next chapter.  And there’s more on this in the following one (being prepared now), which is about hot rodding SBCs for audio with a focus on the RPi. Cooling is essential if you overclock, but a good fanless case like the Flirc (my favorite) is all you need for a stock Pi 4.  Placed in an area with good ventilation at an ambient temp below 25C (about 80F), even a stock plastic case should be fine for most audiophile use of a stock 4. I strongly recommend using heat sinks though - they’re tiny, cheap, and effective. The life of Pi is shortened by running often at temps close to the throttling threshold.
 

The stock 4 throttles CPU speed down to that of your 3b+ when its temp hits 80C.  I’ve pushed one hard with live multitrack recording and real time monitoring, and it peaked at 73C in the standard plastic case. A Flirc brings that down to about 60C, and a $7 fan cooled case lowers it to a max of 43C no matter how hard I flog it.

 

Playback of DSD files with DSP and other added CPU stresses may push temp too high to ignore. If so, this would justify a case with good cooling (active or passive), but I haven’t yet run these scenarios and will provide my findings when I do.

Amazon, search:

Jun-Electron for Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Case, Dual Cooling Fan, Enclosure Aluminum Alloy Case with Heatsink Pillar

 

I've seen others similar, but passive only:

Geekworm Raspberry Pi 4 Armor Case, Raspberry Pi 4 Computer Model B Armor Aluminum Alloy Passive Cooling Case Compatible with Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Only

(Virtually the same case available from The Pi Hut for $15)

 

A very detailed and credible article which is a good start to your series- looking forward to the next installment. I'm currently using J River for my audio and video needs, with a server and backup server, and put several small ITX FF computers I had lying around doing nothing into service as renderers in 4 rooms with a full version of JRiver on each, but sharing the server's library of roughly 800 blurays, 50 (and growing) 4k discs, 250 cds, and a growing collection of SACDs, all served at full original resolution, all on Win 7 SP1.

I built my first computer in 1975 or 1976, am conversant in Windows, OS X, Linux and somewhat in Raspbian, which, under the hood have many similarities, which isn't surprising because they all have their roots in Unix. I would not dispute that some of your comments about OS X were true at some time, even within the last year or two, but newer tools are available and are continuing to be developed that make it easier than ever to build a Hackintosh that is enabled to do almost anything a Mac can do, including Continuity, Hand-off, Airplay, full Power Management, use of high-end GPUs, analog audio, bitstreamed audio over HDMI and DPI connection, USB, Firewire and Thunderbolt interfaces [selected compatible hardware required for all features]. It will cost you some time, research and patience. You can also opt for a build that doesn't do everything I just mentioned (many of which are not necessary for an acceptable audiophile-capable computer) and can be done in a couple of hours, depending on your previous computer skills. The first Hackintosh I built was with Snow Leopard (late 2009). The system was less complicated and took a lot more time. Today, the system is more complicated and takes less time. I build workstations because Apple hasn't built an acceptable workstation for my needs for quite some time, and the recently announced new Mac Pro is ridiculously over-priced, a bare-bones model costs $5.5k, a system minimally outfitted as a workstation costs over $15k, and maxed out it costs $53,658 US plus tax (all hardware is now proprietary form-factor, so you can't even buy GPUs from Nvidia or AMD to add on anymore). 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/25/2020 at 10:29 AM, bluesman said:

You’ll read more about temp control & overheating in the next chapter.  And there’s more on this in the following one (being prepared now), which is about hot rodding SBCs for audio with a focus on the RPi. Cooling is essential if you overclock, but a good fanless case like the Flirc (my favorite) is all you need for a stock Pi 4.  Placed in an area with good ventilation at an ambient temp below 25C (about 80F), even a stock plastic case should be fine for most audiophile use of a stock 4. I strongly recommend using heat sinks though - they’re tiny, cheap, and effective. The life of Pi is shortened by running often at temps close to the throttling threshold.
 

The stock 4 throttles CPU speed down to that of your 3b+ when its temp hits 80C.  I’ve pushed one hard with live multitrack recording and real time monitoring, and it peaked at 73C in the standard plastic case. A Flirc brings that down to about 60C, and a $7 fan cooled case lowers it to a max of 43C no matter how hard I flog it.

 

Playback of DSD files with DSP and other added CPU stresses may push temp too high to ignore. If so, this would justify a case with good cooling (active or passive), but I haven’t yet run these scenarios and will provide my findings when I do.

Not sure if you watched the video I linked. He said the Pi 4 sounds inferior to a 3 B+ for audio. Several comments below agreed with his assessment, which is the opposite of your recommendation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, audiobomber said:

Not sure if you watched the video I linked. He said the Pi 4 sounds inferior to a 3 B+ for audio. Several comments below agreed with his assessment, which is the opposite of your recommendation.

I've seen and read a lot of Hans B's output, and I simply don't agree with much (maybe even most) of what he hears and describes.  FWIW, his self-described background and qualifications to offer the opinions he holds are, to me, more than a bit specious:  "Before starting his carreer [sic] as a professional tech journalist, he sold hifi and recording equipment for ten years."  You'd think a "professional tech journalist" (even a self-described one) could spell correctly and/or proofread what he posts, which is not nit picking - if I paid him to write something for me, I'd expect it to be perfect on delivery and so (I hope) would you.  That directly quoted misspelling from his main website has wrankled me since the first time I saw it, and his other errors simply compound that.  If he's that unconcerned about detail and accuracy on his website (especially in his bio), why would we expect more accuracy in his audio reviewing? 

 

I'm also more than a bit disappointed that he virtually never provides clear descriptions of what he hears or objective testing to support his contentions.  The presence of test equipment behind him in his pictures is misleading if he's not going to provide any results.  You're obviously of a different opinion, and that's fine - there's room for all of us, especially if we're civil in our expressions of disagreement.

 

I'm not alone in my opinion about the Pi - in fact, I'm far from alone, and there is objective testing to support what I believe is the excellent SQ of a well set up Raspberry Pi 3 or 4.  For example, read this Pi 3b review with test data from Archimago.  Further, he's apparently unfamiliar with the USB bug in 4G Pi 4s right now, and it definitely affects audio.  I tested a few operating systems on a 4Gig Pi 4 to see if the USB problem is ubiquitous, and it's not.  Ropieee does not seem to display it - I've had no disconnects or sonic aberrations at all after 72 hours of connection.  Roon repeatedly drops and reconnects the Pi USB zone when running Bridge on Raspbian Buster.....but not Stretch, which works and sounds fine.  So there's an inherent problem in the 4 that is known to the development team, who are promising a patch "soon".  I only wish Hans had actually provided some technical info so we could know what he actually tested - was it Raspbian Buster, Stretch, or something else?  If I missed it, please let us know.

 

Hans B offers 95+% unsubstantiated opinion, and I simply disagree with a lot of it (as do many others).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, BluRay444 said:

Amazon, search:

Jun-Electron for Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Case, Dual Cooling Fan, Enclosure Aluminum Alloy Case with Heatsink Pillar

 

I've seen others similar, but passive only:

Geekworm Raspberry Pi 4 Armor Case, Raspberry Pi 4 Computer Model B Armor Aluminum Alloy Passive Cooling Case Compatible with Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Only.  Virtually the same case available from The Pi Hut for $15

My favorite is the Kupton case with fan for $6.95 (with a 3A wall wart similar to the “official” Pi PS but with a switch in the line - it’s fine if you interrupt the power through USB and power your DAC directly & independently).  It comes with 4 little heat sinks and keeps an overclocked (2.3) 4 gig Pi 4 at an average of about 40C while recording live stereo or playing 2 ch DSD128 - the highest temp I’ve seen was a brief period at 43C.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

First, thanks to bluesman for an excellent read!
However, I must admit that most of it went above my head. I found this article, because I am looking for the ideal setup to combine my Kef LS50W speakers with a new Samsung smart TV ("The Frame"). I currently have all my music on an external usb hard drive, and I have been using JRiver MC for some years and very much like that software. I thus read this article to find out if I should use a computer to connect these devices, and if so which one, or if I should buy some other device (the speakers are great at reproducing sound, but they do leave quite a bit to be desired regarding their streaming capability, so I was thinking that if some type of standard pc solution cannot solve my needs, than perhaps I need a proper server, which could be something like an Innuos mkIII?).

I am still in as much doubt now as I was before reading this otherwise highly informative article, so If anyone here would be so kind as to help me with some advice as to how I can best solve my doubts and connect my devices for the optimal compromise between sound quality and convenience, I truly would be most grateful.

My new tv has not arrived yet, and at the moment I am connecting my laptop directly to the speakers via usb, but I know it is far from the ideal solution.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, bluesman said:

I've seen and read a lot of Hans B's output, and I simply don't agree with much (maybe even most) of what he hears and describes.  FWIW, his self-described background and qualifications to offer the opinions he holds are, to me, more than a bit specious:  "Before starting his carreer [sic] as a professional tech journalist, he sold hifi and recording equipment for ten years."  You'd think a "professional tech journalist" (even a self-described one) could spell correctly and/or proofread what he posts, which is not nit picking - if I paid him to write something for me, I'd expect it to be perfect on delivery and so (I hope) would you.  That directly quoted misspelling from his main website has wrankled me since the first time I saw it, and his other errors simply compound that.  If he's that unconcerned about detail and accuracy on his website (especially in his bio), why would we expect more accuracy in his audio reviewing? 

 

I'm also more than a bit disappointed that he virtually never provides clear descriptions of what he hears or objective testing to support his contentions.  The presence of test equipment behind him in his pictures is misleading if he's not going to provide any results.  You're obviously of a different opinion, and that's fine - there's room for all of us, especially if we're civil in our expressions of disagreement.

 

I'm not alone in my opinion about the Pi - in fact, I'm far from alone, and there is objective testing to support what I believe is the excellent SQ of a well set up Raspberry Pi 3 or 4.  For example, read this Pi 3b review with test data from Archimago.  Further, he's apparently unfamiliar with the USB bug in 4G Pi 4s right now, and it definitely affects audio.  I tested a few operating systems on a 4Gig Pi 4 to see if the USB problem is ubiquitous, and it's not.  Ropieee does not seem to display it - I've had no disconnects or sonic aberrations at all after 72 hours of connection.  Roon repeatedly drops and reconnects the Pi USB zone when running Bridge on Raspbian Buster.....but not Stretch, which works and sounds fine.  So there's an inherent problem in the 4 that is known to the development team, who are promising a patch "soon".  I only wish Hans had actually provided some technical info so we could know what he actually tested - was it Raspbian Buster, Stretch, or something else?  If I missed it, please let us know.

 

Hans B offers 95+% unsubstantiated opinion, and I simply disagree with a lot of it (as do many others).

IME, technical qualifications have no bearing on someone's ability to judge sound quality. You do realize that English is Hans B's second language, right? I would have liked to hear your experience with SQ of the Pi 4 vs. Pi 3 rather than three paragraphs of Hans B flames.

 

Greater computing power is not necessarily an advantage for music reproduction, and in fact can be the opposite. Measurements have limited value in assessing SQ. I expected the Pi 4 to be superior to a Pi 3 for playing music, but that is not what I've read thus far, except in your article. Below are a couple of expert opinions. 

 

HiFiBerry says no advantage, but they do have a potential conflict of interest, since they sell Pi ancillaries.

"If you’re using the Pi for music playback, there is no need to upgrade. We still know people using the first Raspberry Pi board that has been released 7 years ago. Music playback doesn’t require a lot of CPU power and/or bandwidth. Therefore, the music playback experience won’t be better with a newer Pi. Even older systems are powerful enough! If you still have a Pi1 or 2, use them. One advantage these systems have is the lower power consumption."

https://www.hifiberry.com/blog/the-raspberry-pi-4/

 

Dimdim is a computer engineer and DIY'er with no commercial interests:

"We listened using the RPi3, then shut it down and booted up the RPi4, listening to the same material. Much to our surprise, we actually preferred the sound of the RPi3! The RPi4’s presentation had something of a “fatiguing” effect. The sound was a bit more “coarse” that that of the RPi3. We are not talking about big differences here, but they were there."

http://www.dimdim.gr/2019/07/the-raspberry-pi-4-model-b-game-changer-for-audio/

 

I am looking forward to reading your next article on the RPI, especially for suggestions on how to maximize SQ.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, MeMa2010 said:

First, thanks to bluesman for an excellent read!
However, I must admit that most of it went above my head. I found this article, because I am looking for the ideal setup to combine my Kef LS50W speakers with a new Samsung smart TV ("The Frame"). I currently have all my music on an external usb hard drive, and I have been using JRiver MC for some years and very much like that software. I thus read this article to find out if I should use a computer to connect these devices, and if so which one, or if I should buy some other device (the speakers are great at reproducing sound, but they do leave quite a bit to be desired regarding their streaming capability, so I was thinking that if some type of standard pc solution cannot solve my needs, than perhaps I need a proper server, which could be something like an Innuos mkIII?).

I am still in as much doubt now as I was before reading this otherwise highly informative article, so If anyone here would be so kind as to help me with some advice as to how I can best solve my doubts and connect my devices for the optimal compromise between sound quality and convenience, I truly would be most grateful.

My new tv has not arrived yet, and at the moment I am connecting my laptop directly to the speakers via usb, but I know it is far from the ideal solution.

And thank you - I really appreciate the kind words.  The "Value Proposition in Computer Audio" series is focused on pure audiophile use, so it looks in depth at critical issues for music listening (e.g. sound quality, music library management, album art display, tagging, external data search and retrieval), ease of use (e.g. downloading, installing, configuring, listening),  skill & effort levels required, and choosing a computer platform for your music software.  To this end, each article has a table or other summary suggesting the pros and cons of commonly used platforms for different music-related needs. 

 

The introductory article was a general discussion of how computer based audio systems turn performance into playback. It's process based - for example, here's the front end article suggests some players and music management programs for different wants and needs:

 

FOR

CONSIDER

FOR ITS

Musicians

Audacious, Sayonara

Flexibility, effects like control over playback speed & pitch

Jacket junkies

Jajuk

Comprehensive web sourced art & info displays

Techies on budget

Foobar2000

Full features if you’re willing to work a bit to get them going

Casual listeners who don’t want to have to fiddle with it

GogglesMM, Gauyadeque, QMMP, Rhythmbox

General layout, usability, stability, simplicity

Web radio listeners & other internet streamers (from web servers, not yours)

Cantata, Foobar2000, Kodi, Lollypop, Moode, QMMP, Sayonara

Excellent setup, display and selection of web radio stations & streams;

Streaming from your own server

Foobar2000, MPD clients

Ability to access your own music server remotely; Cloud services make this less necessary; takes some config work;

Those with huge music libraries

GmusicBrowser, MediaMonkey, QuodLibet

Ability to digest, display, and manage lots of files

Great tag management

MusicBee, QuodLibet

Tagging capabilities & flexibility

A simple system you can make with little work and less $

RuneAudio, Volumio on a Raspberry Pi

Great value in simplicity, reliability, sound quality, etc;

A simple player you can drop onto your PC

Daphile, MusicBee

Simplicity and ease of installation; versatility – play from computer’s audio out, drive USB DAC/amp etc; great & easy intro to computer audio

Most of what you get from JRMC, Roon etc without the cost

Foobar2000

Amazing flexibility and continued development over many years; it takes some work to learn about plugins etc, and configuration isn’t always easy or intuitive – but you can get fantastic sound from almost any source with just a bit of work

 

The series is organized to parse the various wants and needs into categories, to simplify the search for good solutions. Here's the first set of questions asked:

  • What computer will you use?

    • One you already have

    • A new one you plan to buy or build for multiple uses, one of which will be audio

    • A new one you plan to buy or build as a dedicated audio player

  • How complex do you want your system to be?

    • One box solution (player, server, etc)

    • Computer front end with NAS or other remote server

    • Other

  • What are your player access needs?

    • None – player to DAC to audio system at one location like the old days

    • Remote control only on LAN with mobile app

    • LAN – multiple endpoints / renderers on a home network

    • WAN – access to home server to stream remotely

  • What program sources will you access?

    • Local music files only

    • Web radio

    • Other internet streaming sources

    • Video material

  • What kinds of music files will you play?

    • mp3

    • High resolution FLACs

    • DSD

    • MQA

    • Multichannel

    • Other

  • What kind of computer will you use?

    • x86 etc

    • ARM based, SBC

    • Other

  • What operating system will you use?

  • Do you tend to stick with something you like for a long time or change around a lot?

Your inquiry seems to address a comprehensive media hub, which is a different kettle of fish that we're not frying in this series :) But you can take the same approach I used to hone in on good answers to your questions.  The Frame looks like a cool device - but it comes with a lot of functionality that duplicates what you may already have, e.g. voice control, web and mobile control apps.  It has its own "assistant" (named Bixby) but can also be integrated with both Alexa and Google Assistant.  If you don't have a home hub already, the Samsung SmartThings Hub offers integration among your Samsung devices and can help you create a "smart home" if that's something you want. But you have to know what you want before you can figure out how to best get it.  So you have to define your wants and needs.  Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What do you want to be able to do when you're set up and running?
    • listen to recorded music
      • files on your own device(s) and/or networked storage
      • internet radio
      • streaming services
    • watch videos (which can also have different sources requiring different equipment & functionality)
    • have unified control over media selection and playback, "smart home" functions like lights, thermostats, etc
      • through a home hub
      • through an "assistant" like Alexa or Google Home
      • through a web and mobile app
    • other - there are many, many possible answers to this question & only you know what they are
  • What do you mean by "...[using] a computer to connect these devices"?
    • to which devices do you refer?
      • just the speakers and the TV
      • your current laptop, the speakers, and the TV
      • more or other devices
    • what needs connecting - data sources, media outputs, other?
    • do you have or want to set up a LAN, WLAN, or both?
      • do you want a networked media system that will let you play audio and video through the new TV?
  • Are you sticking with USB storage for your files or considering networked storage?
  • What do you mean by "combine my Kef LS50W speakers with a new Samsung smart TV"?
    • Do you want TV sound to come from your KEFs but be controlled (volume etc) by your TV?
    • Do you want to integrate your KEFs into a multichannel home theater setup?
    • Do you want to play multiple media from networked storage through your TV? HT?
    • Do you want to use JRMC as a true media center for your network or only for music?
  • What are your future plans for all this?
    • Are you building a system today for the long term with no plans to upgrade in the foreseeable future?
    • Are you building a platform on which to expand your network and/or media system(s) over time?
  • What are you doing about backing up your media files?
  • How big a chunk of your resources (time, money, space, structural mods like electrical lines / outlets / conditioning, etc) will you dedicate to this?
  • How much assistance will you need in designing your system, selecting the components, setting it all up, etc?

This list could go on for days.  So you have to decide exactly what you want to have when you're done, which functions and factors are essential for your happiness, and what compromises you're wiling to make.  We have 4 Samsung "smart TVs" and each one has a different IQ.  I was amazed to learn (after I bought it) that our 2018 55" TV does not have the firmware to integrate with our Samsung SmartThings hub.  I'm no expert on smart homes and networked multimedia systems, but I've been a GE-certified Lean/6 Sigma master black belt for over a decade and I know a fair amount about process and system engineering.  Despite this, I failed to choose a new TV that was compatible with our desires.  If you don't define your needs up front, you'll never know if you met them.

 

Good luck!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, audiobomber said:

IME, technical qualifications have no bearing on someone's ability to judge sound quality. You do realize that English is Hans B's second language, right? I would have liked to hear your experience with SQ of the Pi 4 vs. Pi 3 rather than three paragraphs of Hans B flames.

 

Greater computing power is not necessarily an advantage for music reproduction, and in fact can be the opposite. Measurements have limited value in assessing SQ. I expected the Pi 4 to be superior to a Pi 3 for playing music, but that is not what I've read thus far, except in your article. Below are a couple of expert opinions.

Yes, I'm well aware of Hans' origins.  I'm not flaming him at all - I'm expressing the opinion that the value of what he offers seems far less to me than it is to you, and I'm explaining why.  It's very hard to believe that his command of English is less than excellent if he's done everything he put in his bio, e.g. having written "for a large number of magazines in the UK".  Further, it doesn't matter if English is his second language or if he doesn't speak it at all.  What matters is his level of attention to accuracy and detail (which, I hope you will agree, is critical for a tech writer).  He could hire a translator, an editor, a bilingual web designer, etc if he can't write up his material perfectly himself.  As a long time professional tech editor, he should be well aware of the rigors of publishing technical material and the many ways of achieving excellence in his field of expertise.  The errors in his content and presentation suggest to me that he's not as concerned about detail as he should be (or isn't as much of an authority as he claims to be).  I also generally disagree with what he says he hears. This is not denigration - many people disagree with Robert Parker's taste in wine and Roger Ebert's movie reviews, too.

 

Hans was obviously either unaware of the current USB problem in Pi 4s or chose to ignore it.  He's in the same boat as the two experts you cite, neither of whom expresses awareness of the Pi 4 USB issue.  And if you read further down Dimdim's thread in which you found that quote, you'll find this from an otherwise anonymous contributor named Derek:

 

"Well, it’s been a few days (and nights) of listening to the RPI4 installed in a PCB – previously occupied by a 3B – and powered by the same linear 1A supply as powered the 3B. Both running Moode. Both I2S. So, a swap of the 3B for the 4.
Think I prefer the 4 in this configuration – linear PS and I2S out. Seems to have a hair more resolution, slightly better bass definition and a ‘feeling’ of more coherence. It’s not huge, it’s slight but I’m going to stick with the 4 in the unit."

 

There are also many rave reviews of the Pi 4's SQ using USB, e.g. this one by David Snyder from September 2019. His bottom line for a Pi 4 driving a few different USB DACs (all with separate power supplies) is "Well, it’s early in my evaluation, but it sounds great so far. Like the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, the RPi4 has 5 GHz Wi-Fi and 802.11ac support, so streaming DSD256 and 32-bit, 768 kHz PCM are [sic] no problem. The background is inky black on quality recordings, leading to impressive dynamics."  I agree with this. Sadly, neither Mr Snyder nor the authors of many other such web posts include which OS is being used. Sadly, neither Hans B nor Snyder tells us if the Pi 4 evaluated is a 1G, 2G or 4G RAM model - and this matters because the USB issue is largely a problem of the 4G RAM variant.

 

Higher CPU speed may actually affect SQ negatively for simple stereo playback, based on some experiments by Archimago and a few others. But CPU-intensive processes like DSP, transcoding, and sampling rate changes make a CPU work hard for a living. So pumping out DoP, DSD256 and other demanding playback modes can even affect SQ of some pretty hefty x86 devices when combined with DSP etc.  So you have to balance what you want to play and how with your choices of hardware and software to achieve the best compromise for your wants and needs.

 

The next piece in this series is an overview and general discussion of small boxes / SBCs with only my summary impressions of the SQ of individual devices.  I'm currently working on the one to follow that, which is focused on the Pi from stock ZeroW, 3b+ and 4 to a hotrod 4 with overclocked CPU and GPU.  This will include more detail and links to files recorded, edited, and converted from format to format entirely on the Pi4. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Once again, a thousand thanks for your thorough reply, Bluesman! You just made me realize how much I have not thought about, but that I should think about.

All I want is a decent, simple-to-use two-channel stereo setup centered around my Kefs. I hardly use any apps on my crappy and old (but still good enough for me) no-name mobile phone, and my main reason for getting a screen/TV is for managing JRiver. I never actually watch TV, and I haven't even had one since I moved out from my parents house some twenty years ago, nor do have I have any interest in a smart home (I would actually even prefer not having that, especially not having any microphones in the house, as that strikes me as being somewhat creepy). The reason for choosing "The Frame" is that it seems to be the aesthetically least intrusive screen that my wife and I have been able to find, since it can be put directly on the wall and almost looks like a work of art when not in use. We probably will get to watch a few movies on it too sometime on our external DVD drive or online, but probably not more than one or two a year, so its main purpose will be to enable the use of JRiver for music without having to open up the laptop. We did use to have a proper computer screen in our old house, but since we moved to another country a couple of years ago, we have been completely without screens apart from the laptops, and my old self-assembled i3 desktop computer has just been collecting dust. In our new and small home, a proper home office is however out of the question, and therefore so too is a traditional computer screen, as we agree that it would be ugly no matter where we would put it. Naturally, the idea now is that a screen will provide the image, while the sound shall be coming from the Kefs, so what we need is the connecting link to make it all possible.

I do have a proper high-end headphone setup, but at least initially I do not intend to connect it to the Kef+screen-setup that we are planning for the living-room. I just need to find out how to get the most out these Kefs, and for this purpose I want to be able to connect my external usb drive with 3gb of WAV music files to some device which lets me see and manage these files, while preferably also being able to use the setup for different kinds of youtube videos and possibly some internet radio too, which is something that both my wife and I do enjoy from time to time.

Sorry for all the text, but the market for these kinds of things seems to me an absolute jungle, and I feel completely lost in it, so I am glad to report that I have read your texts several times now, and feel that I am learning a lot from them, so once again thank you very much for that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, MeMa2010 said:

Onmy main reason for getting a screen/TV is for managing JRiver. I never actually watch TV, and I haven't even had one since I moved out from my parents house some twenty years ago, nor do have I have any interest in a smart home (I would actually even prefer not having that, especially not having any microphones in the house, as that strikes me as being somewhat creepy). The reason for choosing "The Frame" is that it seems to be the aesthetically least intrusive screen that my wife and I have been able to find, since it can be put directly on the wall and almost looks like a work of art when not in use. We probably will get to watch a few movies on it too sometime on our external DVD drive or online, but probably not more than one or two a year, so its main purpose will be to enable the use of JRiver for music without having to open up the laptop.

The Frame has a built-in media player. You could simply plug your USB drive into it and play music without JRMC, using your KEFs as the TV speakers. Or you could put JRMC on your i3 computer, use the Frame as your monitor via HDMI, and drive your KEFs with either the computer or the TV. You’d need a remote control if you don’t want to leave a wireless keyboard & mouse out.  Any inexpensive Android phone or tablet with a browser will work fine. I’ve bought 2 in the last year for under $50 USD on sale.

 

Enjoy!,

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, MeMa2010 said:

The reason for choosing "The Frame" is that it seems to be the aesthetically least intrusive screen that my wife and I have been able to find, since it can be put directly on the wall and almost looks like a work of art when not in use. We probably will get to watch a few movies on it too sometime on our external DVD drive or online, but probably not more than one or two a year, so its main purpose will be to enable the use of JRiver for music without having to open up the laptop.

Another simple alternative is to get yourself a Raspberry Pi 4. You can use its HDMI port to drive the TV, connect your USB drive to it, and power your speakers with either USB or Bluetooth from the RPi or from your new TV. JRMC runs well on the 4, although you’d have to pay for that version separately even though you already bought the one on your laptop. An inexpensive tablet would work fine as a remote for that too - but you need a WLAN to use a mobile device as a remote in any system you set up. There is a way to set up a a Raspberry Pi as a WiFi hub, but I think you’re better off using a simple ac wireless router.

 

JRMC on a Pi does not do quite as much as it does on an x86 PC. But for a simple 2 channel audio system, it’s quite fine.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That is some very practical and useful advice. I now know what I can and want to do, so thank you very much for that. I am very grateful to you, both for your articles and your replies to me here. I will keep reading.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, LOL! It took me a whole day to get my Pi4 to make music via usb to my W4S re-clocker and finally to my Bryston BDA-2 DAC. But, I am now happily playing Mahler's 2nd. It took me that long because I did all kinds of things wrong and did them wrong at least three times, then changed my mind about the OS a few times, and on and on. But I am very happy with the result. The only question I have is, is ALSA as good as WASPI or ASIO or what-have-you. But that discussion would be for another thread. Just know that I got it to work, and am looking forward to the next installment detailing SBCs. Thank you once again!

 

John J


JJinPDX

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 hours ago, JJinPDX said:

Well, LOL! It took me a whole day to get my Pi4 to make music via usb to my W4S re-clocker and finally to my Bryston BDA-2 DAC. But, I am now happily playing Mahler's 2nd. It took me that long because I did all kinds of things wrong and did them wrong at least three times, then changed my mind about the OS a few times, and on and on. But I am very happy with the result. The only question I have is, is ALSA as good as WASPI or ASIO or what-have-you. But that discussion would be for another thread. Just know that I got it to work, and am looking forward to the next installment detailing SBCs. Thank you once again!

 

John J

Congratulations and welcome to the club - you’re now an official Pi head!  Yes, ALSA is as good, with direct kernel-to-hardware communication and the drivers built into the kernel. But in the Linux sound platform, ALSA sits “below” Pulse and JACK, which are roughly the Linux equivalents of WASAPI and ASIO.  And, as in Windows, you don’t have to use them - but they’re there (if installed, as not all distros load both on installation) to help if you want / need them.

 

Although you can use ALSA without Pulse, most distros install it if there’s any audio software at all in them. Pulse does not replace ALSA, it helps you manage it.

 

JACK is a fancy patch panel with which you can “connect” the inputs and outputs of your Linux audio system, including MIDI and audio instruments and other sources, for complex recording and monitoring as well as mix down, mastering etc. I use it with Ardour for live recording, but you don’t need it just for listening to your music.

 

There are other audio packages you’ll see but not need, like Carla. Linux audio can be complex if you let it or if you need that level of sophistication. But most audiophiles do not. Have fun!

 

PS: what OS and music management system did you finally use?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, bluesman said:

PS: what OS and music management system did you finally use?

PPS: Is your Pi the 1, 2 or 4 gig model?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

6 hours ago, bluesman said:

Congratulations and welcome to the club - you’re now an official Pi head!

 

PS: what OS and music management system did you finally use?

 

I ended up with Raspian Lite downloaded from the raspberrypi.org website. I'm using Roon, so the Pi is setup with Roon Bridge. 

 

5 hours ago, bluesman said:

PPS: Is your Pi the 1, 2 or 4 gig model?

 

RPi 4 Model B/4GB. Probably overkill just for Raspian Lite and the Roon Bridge, but I have it hooked up to the TV and will eventually load Kobi so I can play all my ripped DVD's that are stored on the NAS, along with my music. I must mention that where I have my system cannot be reached by ethernet or coax cabling, which irritates me no end. So everything is by wifi. I'm using the 5 GHz band and so far there have been no hiccups with this. The highest I can go with the Bryston is 24/192, but that plays with ease. I cannot do DSD, so have no experience over wifi with that. 

 

Again, thanks to you for your great substantive essays and all the others who make this amazing hobby so accessible and fun. 

 

John J


JJinPDX

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, JJinPDX said:

RPi 4 Model B/4GB. Probably overkill just for Raspian Lite and the Roon Bridge, but I have it hooked up to the TV and will eventually load Kobi so I can play all my ripped DVD's that are stored on the NAS, along with my music. I must mention that where I have my system cannot be reached by ethernet or coax cabling, which irritates me no end. So everything is by wifi. I'm using the 5 GHz band and so far there have been no hiccups with this. The highest I can go with the Bryston is 24/192, but that plays with ease. I cannot do DSD, so have no experience over wifi with that.

I have a Pi4 in our living room running Bridge via 5GHz Wifi and it does DSD128 (actually DoP into a 2nd gen SMSL SU-8) just fine. If you're not already doing so, you might consider a good case for your Pi.  I have a Flirc passive case on the living room Pi and a fan cooled case on the hot rod with which I'm doing the work for the article on modding SBCs for audio (which will follow the next one, already completed & carrying more info on the Pi and other SBCs).

 

If you were unaware of it, there's a bug in the 4 gig Pi 4b that limits RAM access - we're not able to use the full 4 gigs with the current firmware.  This model also has intermittent USB problems that go away if you limit memory access to 3 gigs in one of the configuration files.  The development team is working on a fix, and I'm hopeful that it'll be available soon.  Roon drops and reconnects one of my two 4s running Bridge on Raspbian Buster over a roughly regular cycle of about 30 to 60 seconds - but I don't have this problem with Ropieee.  I'm about to try with DietPi and Bridge to see if it's peculiar to Raspbian.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
19 hours ago, bluesman said:

If you were unaware of it, there's a bug in the 4 gig Pi 4b that limits RAM access - we're not able to use the full 4 gigs with the current firmware.  This model also has intermittent USB problems that go away if you limit memory access to 3 gigs in one of the configuration files.  The development team is working on a fix, and I'm hopeful that it'll be available soon.  Roon drops and reconnects one of my two 4s running Bridge on Raspbian Buster over a roughly regular cycle of about 30 to 60 seconds - but I don't have this problem with Ropieee.  I'm about to try with DietPi and Bridge to see if it's peculiar to Raspbian.

 

I did not know about the memory limitation. I did try to expand the use of RAM to its max, and apparently it did. Using "free -h" I see that I'm at 3.8Gi, but only using 202Mi with 3.5Gi free. The unit has been playing now for over 6 hours with absolutely no hiccups at all. Bridge is the only thing it's doing; I haven't loaded Kodi yet. I've also unplugged its power supply and plugged it back in several times to see if it will boot back up and be usable. No problems there. For my simple needs, it appears to be the solution. 

 

I'm buying another and giving this one as a gift to an audiophile friend who has difficulty using a remote, so this will be perfect for him. The new one will have the flirc case. 

 

I'm also documenting every single step I used to get this up and to its current state, in case someone wants to avoid all the trial and error and just wants to have a printout handy that is specific for the RPi4 and Bridge. 


JJinPDX

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, JJinPDX said:

I did not know about the memory limitation. I did try to expand the use of RAM to its max, and apparently it did. Using "free -h" I see that I'm at 3.8Gi, but only using 202Mi with 3.5Gi free. The unit has been playing now for over 6 hours with absolutely no hiccups at all.

The USB and RAM problems with the 4GB Pi 4 are inconsistent - I have a USB problem on one of mine but not the others, and only with Raspbian Buster (even with the latest firmware). The problem is apparently in DMA (direct memory access) in 64 bit systems - here's a link to the technical description of the problem, and here's a link to the rapsberrypi.org forum thread about it.  I don't understand how you can access a full 4G of RAM with Raspbian Buster and maintain good USB connectivity, but this is a strange problem and I hope Canonical comes out with the fix soon.

 

Here's a link to the official Ubuntu communication about it. In a nutshell, the Ubuntu team says:

  • "official support [from the Ubuntu team] for this board is currently limited to the 1GB and 2GB versions. Due to a kernel bug, USB ports are not supported out of the box in the official arm64 image on the 4GB RAM version. Kernel fixes have been identified by Canonical engineers. We are currently testing these fixes extensively. We will push updates within weeks, following successful test completion.  In the meantime, developers can use a temporary workaround to enable USB on the 4GB RAM version. The temporary solution will consist in editing the file /boot/firmware/usercfg.txt to limit RAM to 3GB"

I'm using my problematic 4GB Pi 4 only as a test mule for now. Both the 3GB limit workaround on Raspbian and Ropieee work fine, so listening in our living room zone is uninterrupted until a proper fix is pushed by Canonical.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...