I had some free time in the holidays and I wanted to replace my really shady way to stream Spotify into my nice bookshelf speakers. I use them mostly for my vinyl player, but I also want to have decent Spotify and a way to listen to some lossless media I own. My goal was not to spend too much money (roughly around $100), and had to be DYI, for fun.
Previously, my setup was:
Chromecast -(HDMI)-> TV -(RCA cables)-> Amp -(speaker wire)-> Passive speakers
After some internet searching, I found out that Raspberry Pi’s were good candidates for a media center, since it is used as a video media center with things like Kodi or as a gaming setup with Retropie. I did a quick lookup and I found a ton of seemingly good quality DACs that can be attached on top of the Raspberry Pi as a HAT (a term for plugging an extension to a Pi via the GPIO), avoiding transfering data over USB or other media that would run the Pi hot.
After looking up pros and cons of a bunch of the DACs available on raspi.tv I went with the IQAudio’s Pi-DAC+ for $62, including the case and shipping. It got home in NYC pretty fast ( a week if I recall correctly). I also bought the Pi 3 Model B for another $35.
For the complete setup, I just needed some extra RCA cables, which I got from Amazon, and an extra SD card I had lying around. To make things tidier, I also went a bit overboard and bought some banana plugs from Mediabridge. Way better than having speaker wire mess.
And here’s the flow:
Pi -(RCA cables)-> Amp -(speaker wire)-> Passive Speakers
Huge improvement, eh?
For audio-only, headless software, there aren’t a lot of options for the Pi. It seems RuneAudio is the best quality OS around but it hasn’t seen updates since 2016, which is unfortunate. For quality it seems Moode Audio is great, but Spotify support is lacking, and required a ton of manual patching, which I would love to do if I were 25 again, when I ran Linux with my own patches in the kernel. Today I am too lazy.
Finally I ended up with Volumio. The setup was a breeze, my DAC was supported out-of-the-box, and it had a wifi hotstop for me to configure everything. The headless setup was great, so I didn’t even had to plug a keyboard to the Pi. After configuring Spotify and loading my FLAC files, I just have to access its web page advertized via Bonjour or use Spotify directly. Pretty handy!
Here’s how it looks with the whole thing assembled: