Linux music server?

billfort

Administrator
Staff member
#1
A friend of mine wants me to build him a music server for his home audio system and I'd like to keep the cost down for him. Since my comfort zone with this stuff is Windows and higher priced players like Roon & Jriver, I thought I'd ask here for some advice on what is out there for Linux, as that seems more appropriate (we won't be considering anything Mac).

He tells me he has an older laptop with a hopelessly crippled install of Windows so we'll probably start with a clean install of Linux of some flavor - whichever works with the player software we try. I may add an SSD for the OS/player but the idea would be to have the laptop connected to the Internet and use a connected external drive for file storage. To start, we'll connect the analog out of the laptop to his Denon HT receiver but a low-cost external DAC might get added at some point.

The shopping list;

- playback of wav, flac, mp3 and perhaps, DSD files
- simple start up and easy to use interface (he is not a 'computer guy')
- need to be able to play Internet radio streams including flac streams from Radio 2 and Radio Paradise
- remote control might be nice - this will sometimes be used to play music through the Denon receiver to remote speakers on his patio or other parts of the house, so the ability to control with a (Android) phone app would be huge

Would love to hear what you Linux guys would recommend.

Thanks.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
#2
Based on how surprisingly super well JRiver runs on the Raspberry Pi (so-called Id Pi on the Raspbian Debian Linux variant), I'd highly recommend consideration for either that, or a JRiver for Debian 9.x (Stretch) Linux install on that re-purposed Windows laptop machine.

While I'm sure you could also use Ubuntu, Mint, and others, I think the only officially JRiver supported distros are Debian Jessie 8.x, or Stretch 9.x.
 

airdronian

Junior Member
#3
Based on how surprisingly super well JRiver runs on the Raspberry Pi (so-called Id Pi on the Raspbian Debian Linux variant), I'd highly recommend consideration for either that, or a JRiver for Debian 9.x (Stretch) Linux install on that re-purposed Windows laptop machine.

While I'm sure you could also use Ubuntu, Mint, and others, I think the only officially JRiver supported distros are Debian Jessie 8.x, or Stretch 9.x.
That may be the best option. I just looked at packages to connect with MPD and didn't see much that appealed. If that laptop has an optical out you might be able to use toslink into the HT receiver for it's DAC.
 
#4
Some of the audio server distros have local play capabilities. I can't remember which offhand, I think Daphile does, IIRC. I've tried a bunch of them over the years and keep coming back to the simplicity and quality of a Raspberry Pi solution.

A new pi 3 is ~40-50$ USD, I think that's with a wall wart power supply
A DAC 'hat' like HifiBerry Dac + pro, or Kali, etc. are usually <$100 USD

You can then use volumio, or similar distro to stream from internet radio, play files from a local NAS, or usb drive, or even Tidal and Qobuz (Volumio supports this now).

While your friend has the laptop already, it sounds like it may be on it's last legs. It would be rather unfortunate to spend the time setting it up for him, only to have it fail soon after.

There are less expensive PI DAC 'hats' than the ones I listed. I haven't kept up as I'm building a dac for mine. I suspect a bit of research online and you could find some great options.

I have a box in my lab closet full of dac hats and pis I've tried over the years. They aren't difficult to setup, though there are a few steps to go through. It is all very well documented on many forums and blogs, etc.

You can upgrade the pi's and dac's power supplies from the iFi stuff to all sorts of different regulated supplies. My 'current' test bed has a handful of regulated supplies for the pi, the dac, and a kali reclocker. In fact, I was working on it tonight, adding in a new regulated dual supply, trying to find room for everyone in the case. Also realizing I need another transformer, which I can't seem to find in my lab closet..... :D

So, tl,dr; There are many options, haha.

Cheers,
Gable
 

billfort

Administrator
Staff member
#6
Now I am remembering why I don't mess with Linux. Managed to get recent Debian 9 loaded on the laptop and all looked good for a start (when on wired Ethernet); reasonably recognizable desktop interface and system performance looked good - this just might work for him...

But, the WiFi doesn't work, get 'device not ready (firmware missing)'. So off to endless searching on google, tales of distros that require special powers or zork to resolve problems with proprietary hardware using non-free firmware packages...and what the hell is a package anyway and why/how do I want/get/load/configure/genuflect to it to make it do something? It looks like I first have to learn an entirely new cryptic language to play with at a command prompt or I DO NOT pass 'go'...

I'm going to play a record.
 

airdronian

Junior Member
#7
Now I am remembering why I don't mess with Linux. Managed to get recent Debian 9 loaded on the laptop and all looked good for a start (when on wired Ethernet); reasonably recognizable desktop interface and system performance looked good - this just might work for him...

But, the WiFi doesn't work, get 'device not ready (firmware missing)'. So off to endless searching on google, tales of distros that require special powers or zork to resolve problems with proprietary hardware using non-free firmware packages...and what the hell is a package anyway and why/how do I want/get/load/configure/genuflect to it to make it do something? It looks like I first have to learn an entirely new cryptic language to play with at a command prompt or I DO NOT pass 'go'...

I'm going to play a record.
Depending on the wifi module it may or may not be an issue. I have an older Acer laptop that has a Broadcom chip with a proprietary driver. Never could get that to work.

Debian is really good, although you may want to try a different flavour of it, with a distro that is more complete at hardware detection. Something like Linux Mint or Ubuntu. Both are designed to be easy to install.

And its never a bad idea to spin a record. :smile:
 
#8
Now I am remembering why I don't mess with Linux. Managed to get recent Debian 9 loaded on the laptop and all looked good for a start (when on wired Ethernet); reasonably recognizable desktop interface and system performance looked good - this just might work for him...

But, the WiFi doesn't work, get 'device not ready (firmware missing)'. So off to endless searching on google, tales of distros that require special powers or zork to resolve problems with proprietary hardware using non-free firmware packages...and what the hell is a package anyway and why/how do I want/get/load/configure/genuflect to it to make it do something? It looks like I first have to learn an entirely new cryptic language to play with at a command prompt or I DO NOT pass 'go'...

I'm going to play a record.
I just did a fresh install of Windows 7, and had similar problems...no network, video drivers, etc...played with it for hours before I could get it up, and then it ate 20g of my hdd with friggin updates. It has now taken a 60g hdd down to less than 1g! This is why I hate windows...what a resource hog it is!
 
#9
Now I am remembering why I don't mess with Linux. Managed to get recent Debian 9 loaded on the laptop and all looked good for a start (when on wired Ethernet); reasonably recognizable desktop interface and system performance looked good - this just might work for him...

But, the WiFi doesn't work, get 'device not ready (firmware missing)'. So off to endless searching on google, tales of distros that require special powers or zork to resolve problems with proprietary hardware using non-free firmware packages...and what the hell is a package anyway and why/how do I want/get/load/configure/genuflect to it to make it do something? It looks like I first have to learn an entirely new cryptic language to play with at a command prompt or I DO NOT pass 'go'...

I'm going to play a record.
Debian insists on 100% FOSS and still has many of the old "hair shirt" traits Linux used to have.

Ubuntu and Mint are MUCH easier to install and both help you download proprietary drivers to get your WiFi working.

At least you didn't try to install Slackware. ;)
 
#10
I will echo THN's comments above. Debian is a wonderful distribution, but for someone new to Linux, Mint, Fedora, Ubuntu are likely going to be easier to get running out of the gate.

I was a Slackware user for awhile....long time ago, heh.
 
#12
I will echo THN's comments above. Debian is a wonderful distribution, but for someone new to Linux, Mint, Fedora, Ubuntu are likely going to be easier to get running out of the gate.

I was a Slackware user for awhile....long time ago, heh.
Apparently Slackware is still around, it's an old timer these days. I used that for a bit but never stuck with it. I spent a couple years with Gentoo, and later Arch which I really liked.
 
#13
Similar experience for me too, Slackware for a little while, then Gentoo, then Arch. I love Arch, used it for 5 or so years. These days I use Fedora on laptop/workstation and Debian on servers, generally speaking.
 

billfort

Administrator
Staff member
#14
A little stubborn and hate to give up but I am listening to you all - tried installing Mint and one of the first things it did as part of the installation was to get the WiFi working! Should have known better, Mint was one of the only Linux flavors I've gotten along with in the past and the only one I still use (on an old netbook). On to the next steps and thanks guys!

Now to find a player that checks the boxes.
 
#15
A little stubborn and hate to give up but I am listening to you all - tried installing Mint and one of the first things it did as part of the installation was to get the WiFi working! Should have known better, Mint was one of the only Linux flavors I've gotten along with in the past and the only one I still use (on an old netbook). On to the next steps and thanks guys!

Now to find a player that checks the boxes.
Mint is an excellent distro. One of the best and friendliest out there. Great driver support.

Hoping that things go smoother now.
 

billfort

Administrator
Staff member
#16
Mint is the deal - worked great from installation on through a couple music player install/un-installs, and this old tank of a laptop is stable and snappy with it - a whole new chance at life it seems after ditching Windows.

Read a little good about Deadbeef player and it looked good in some screen-shots so hacked away at it (for too long). Some success but nope - way too deep-geek for me me and never got as far as a remote that was supposed to work with it. Done trying to learn a new language and this one appears to require you to be fluent in it - ran out of coke so left the basement and moved on (and Mint made it easy to remove it).

I know I (and my buddy) would be happy with Jriver, but it's over $80 CDN right now and since I've been able to hold this to $0 so far, I'll save this for a last resort. Besides, I think he's going to have to buy a USB hard-drive to store his files so cheap/free is good right now.

Kodi...sure, why not, works well enough for video. Installation wasn't bad and aside from some weirdness with connecting it/Mint to my smb home network music server, I'm pretty much there. Maybe getting used to the still clunky interface will be frustrating but he should be able to live with this. Some online searching had me figuring out how to reference and play the streams from a couple good Internet radio stations too, so this is getting close. Not sure what Kodi does on playback (only listening to the analog out so far) but tried high bit-rate mp3, FLAC, wav and even a DSD rip - all worked with only the occasional stutter. Dawned on me that I'm still using this old WiFi - plugging the Ethernet in cured all stutters.

I also tried the Kodi remote app on my Android phone and after messing with some settings in Kodi, that works too! Just checked all the boxes for $0 - cool.

I have an old Muse Audio Mini TDA1543 NOS DAC that might take the analog-out up a notch but I don't have a SPDIF cable with a micro connector on one end yet to try it. Looks like Mint makes it easy enough to re-configure this old laptop to output digital through the headphone port. Not sure what Kodi will do to the digital on the way out though and maybe an external DAC is pushing things but hey - I'm getting there (without pulling the trigger on Jriver...yet).
 
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