the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Monthly Archives: August 2018

hifiberry dac+ pro

Now that I’m committing to Roon as a music server, I’d thought it would be nice to take a look at my streaming hardware. I like the idea of using my preamp’s analog stage, because it has a great analog stage; I can also output directly from my computer (where my music resides) via optical or USB. So rather than spending money on a Bluesound or Auralic device, I think I’ll go DIY.

The old Squeezebox 3 is of course a cherished relic, and in the living room it will sit forever. I also have a Chromecast Audio there, both connected to a Schiit Modi 2 DAC. In the man cave, I have plenty of options. Roon is very good at dealing with heterogeneous outputs; it recognized most every device on my network. But I am looking for a dedicated device, because, well, just because. I had an old Hifiberry DAC running PiCorePlayer – a very worthy software package – from the days when Raspberry Pi’s didn’t have the “+”. Yep, that’s the one to upgrade.
RoonHifiDac
The good thing about Hifiberry is that they are Roon Ready partner, and have their own Roon Bridge image for their hardware devices. I decided on the DAC Pro +, which adds “integrated dual-domain low-jitter clocks and gold-plated RCA connectors.” Coupled with a new Raspberry Pi 3+ board, I was completely surprised at what a musical player it was: crisp, detailed and very easy on the ears, it’s an absolute delight to listen to.

Hacker note: It’s easy enough to ssh into the Hifiberry/Roon Ready image. Touch a file named “ssh” into the bootloader partition, then login with the user “pi” and password “hifiberry”. Oddly enough, if you do an apt-update/distupgrade, the thing shows up a little differently in Roon’s audio settings (see below image). Why do this? I can think of a couple reasons, including doing updates, turning off HDMI output (/opt/vc/bin/tvservice -o) and of course, changing the default password. Is the Hifiberry/Roon image any better than using a standard Raspbian image with Roon’s Bridge installer script? Maybe I’ll ask Hifiberry.
Hifiberry

I went cheap on the acrylic case, which unfortunately snapped when I went to put heatsinks on the rPi, so I’ll be upgrading to the metal case shortly. Also, I’m going to upgrade to a low noise switching power supply, because that’s really the last thing to do get the best sound from the Hifiberry/rPi combo. Or spend $$$ on a linear power supply!

All-in-all, a very impressive digital streaming device for under $100.

On the web:
HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro | HiFiBerry

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rippin’ good time?

Now that I’ve started my 14 day trial to Roon, I have begun digitizing my record collection in earnest. What fun! Not really. Pretty boring to be honest. There’s no real fast way to do it; I guess I could use one of those services – pack up my CDs and mail them to someone who will rip them – seriously, no way. So it’s to the grind: take a bunch of CDs off the shelf, open the case, open the drawer, insert, press rip, get artwork, eject, repeat. About 4,000 times.

A couple of things: First, don’t use “CD Paranoia Mode” because it’s slow. Just let them rip and deal with potential errors later. Ripping is a marathon and it isn’t pretty. Second, check metadata as you rip: titles, dates, artwork, m3u file, etc. Remember, you’re building a Library, and it’s much easier to do now than later. Third, the CDs I am ripping were all entered into discogs.com. I can sort my collection by “date entered” which approximates the listing by what’s on the shelf: very convenient for collecting artwork, checking dates etc.

Finally, rip everything, even that crappy Badfinger live CD on Ryko. If you don’t want to rip it, ditch it (and delete the files, lest you be in violation of copyright laws!). Seriously, this is a good time to pass judgment as to what is “on the shelf.” It’s also a great time to look for holes in the collection, especially with that discogs page open.

This will take substantially longer than the 14 day trial to Roon!

roon labs

Roon is paid software. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Roon. Roon is software for managing and accessing your disk-based music library. There is a server aka “core” element, as well as “endpoint” apps for (nearly) every OS, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, etc. Some like to think of it as a component of your audio system, albeit one of the software variety.

roon

Why use Roon? I have to admit a directory tree isn’t the most elegant way to view ones digital music library. And that’s what Roon does: it scans your digital music, applies rich content – pictures, text, weblinks, etc – and puts it all together for a paid subscription-like experience. It even fills in the blanks on missing artwork, etc. I don’t use Spotify or iTunes, but Roon provides a very similar interface.

I installed RoonServer on my linux box with ease. When I ran the “easy install” script (remember to chmod +x first), it alerted me that I needed cifs-utils installed first. That corrected, the script downloaded and installed the server software, and set itself up as a service. But that’s it as far as linux goes. It’s a headless game, no native app, no web interface, from here on out I’m off to my phone or computer to control my music.

On the Roon app for Android, I logged into my Roon account and gave them my credit card number. Viola! it all worked. I then setup a music “zone” (an odd choice of word), which is an audio player. I was a bit shocked by how many appeared: my Pixel 2 phone, the (four) audio outputs from my linux box, Roon Bridge which I installed on a new RaspberryPi (more later), all my Chromecast devices, and lo and behold, my Squeezebox3 and Squeezelite players. In order to use the latter, one must enable Squeezebox support AND stop the LMS (Squeezebox) server. Once you select something to play, you can then choose where – including simultaneously – to play it.

I’ll write up another post as after a week or so of my free 14 day trial, but initial thoughts are mostly positive. It is a great interface, and it brings the whole digital music experience up a level. However, I really am disappointed there is no native linux app, and I still haven’t figured out how to add my own rich content, other than pictures to artists and albums to the library. (Hey, of course I’d like to add my Strawberry Bricks reviews to my collection!) The Android interface could sure use refinement (separate player from config mode, easier access to artists) but I suppose this is a forever work in progress.

Screenshot (Aug 22, 2018 5_10_04 AM)

Roon all sounds fine, and it all looks great; the question however is simple: is it worth $119 per year, let alone $499 per lifetime?

On the web:
Roon Labs

android 9 pie… in your face

System upgrades are a tricky thing. You do them, mostly because you have to, but when they change things, it takes a while to get used to. Especially Google’s latest Android 9 “Pie.”

  • Time is now displayed on the left, in what was previously for every Android version the so-called “notification area.” So while our brains have been trained to not worry if something was there, we now need to be retrained that the time will always be there (reportedly because “notch” design doesn’t leave enough room on the right). Bad.
  • Bluetooth doesn’t work with my — and a lot of others — Fitbit. I have to go to bluetooth settings, pair the device, then quickly return to the Fitbit app to sync. This appears to have been going on since Pie’s debut over a week ago. And there’s no bluetooth icon in the notification area. Really bad.
  • To close unwanted apps, I still click the square button on the left bottom of the home screen, but now I have to swipe up to close. Is this better?
  • Notification area is now huge blue for on, grey for off icons. Is this better?
  • I have to admit that my Pixel 2’s out of the box experience with Android 8 was hands down the most elegant experience I’ve had on a smart phone. This latest upgrade however seems more change for change sake, and, pie in Google’s face.

aries mini vs node 2 | roon

Two very popular streaming devices, one from Auralic, the latter from NAD/PSB affiliate Bluesound, are very tempting to purchase at $499. While neither have displays, they have all the guts of a good streamer, perhaps an update to my decades old Squeezebox, or better version of my Hifiberry Pi. I’m a bigger fan of streaming every day, because, it sounds just as good if not better than CDs, and is so, so convenient. Plus, playing music directly from my computer is getting… passé?

But there are some downsides to these streamers: Foremost, no display; to get visual, I’d have to spend more money. Also, each of these players has a serious fault: The Aries Mini has no native Android app, while the Node 2 doesn’t support UPnP/MiniDLNA. Sure, I could fork of some $$$ for a Roon Core, which both support, but I’m not sold on that either. I’d like to use an existing music server (UPnP, Logitech), and I have only Android devices in my home.

I’ll admit, Roon is tempting. At $499 for a lifetime license, it could be the future of my streaming server. Or at least, another one. It supports Linux, it’s got a good UI, combining the rich content of the web to file names and folders. But wouldn’t it be even cooler if I could pull up my music collection via Roon on my TV and use that as an interface, instead of a little phone screen? Tell me it’s so Roon, and I might sign up!

On the web:
Node 2
aries mini
Roon Labs