Ron eats Pi

S0und Dragon

Moderator and Circus Hand.
Staff member
So after having our amazing Digital forum Ring master and all around awesome audio bud save my bacon. And a gentle prod and ahem from said bud. I thought it was high time to chat about my time with the RPI4 based streamer. Or maybe just about streamers and streaming in general. But let’s talk about the Pi4 as a streamer.

first, it’s slightly larger than a deck of cards and does the Job quite well. For what these cost to buy, I cannot find fault with it. I am kind of at odds with it to be honest. I feel like I should love it and be extolling it’s virtues of which it has many. Using the M-connect app on my iPhone makes the magic happen. Not the best for searching and no real frills to speak of, it it slightly better than the bare bones Lumin app which I am No fan of. But Roon it is not. That said for the princely sum of like $5 or so? It works and works well.

The Pi has been my streamer for the better part of a few months and I could absolutely recommend it for someone who want to get into streaming and not go down the rabbit hole of offerings currently on the market. But it is my opinion that the PI is not for those who are looking to scale up the ladder of HiFi. Not without a more Luddite friendly audio focused interface aka Roon. And if you are already on the Roon path, there are higher end devices that honestly do streaming better.

Now before I am accused of tanking the Pi, which I am not. Take note that my preferred streamer costs multiple times more and it’s associated app is even worse, albeit free. But I am seriously in no way impressed with it either. At the end of the day, Roon has value because it offers users a real tangible service. That’s all I will say about it in this initial post. I actually think that from a visual standpoint, BlueOS may have both Mconnect and Lumin OS beat. Sonics are another matter though as I find BlueOS to sound average at best.

The Lumin used it’s own DAC, until I broke it. It is now working as a streamer awaiting my decision on if I am going to send it in for repair or not. The Bluesound Node while on always went to an external DAC here. For the most part an external DAC has been my preferred method, as this Pi has no DAC hat on it, that’s how I use it here.

One sets it up and could just leave it on indefinitely as it is very no fuss. That is a feature worthy of mention. It has arrived here and just worked without one single hiccup. Haven’t had to reboot it or update it or anything. That has not gone unnoticed by me and is a check in the plus column for sure.

So where do I stand no with it? That’s kind of my issue and why this has been so hard to write up. I do not dislike or hate the Pi. But I don’t exactly love it either. I think it is super capable and convenient, not to mention affordable. But it has not exactly wowed me either. It’s vexing as I would much prefer to feel one way or the other about it.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
Batten down the hatches Ron, hurricane Henri approaches!

One thing to note here is the RPi 4B I sent you is running the Moode software configured to be only a DLNA/UPnP endpoint/renderer. More specifically, it is setup to access the Qobuz cloud-based server instead of a local server, because as I understood it, your Roon Core server had been shut down and that subscription discontinued and pending, until such time as the Lumin repair situation could be worked out.

So any comparison to either Roon (or BluOS) would only be in the context of Qobuz playback, as the RPi 4B is not accessing any local server library at the moment, only Qobuz via that $5 mconnect HD app.

For it to access a local server library, you'd have to have either a DLNA/UPnP local server such as JRiver, Audirvana, or Foobar 2k for example, or a Squeeze Server, in which case the Squeezelite renderer would be activated and the DLNA/UPnP renderer deactivated. The RPi 4B cannot to the best of my knowledge access any local BluOS server, for example your Bluesound Vault, as that is a closed/proprietary system.

So the user experience is then limited to the Qobuz implementation in mconnect HD, with no local server library in the mix. While mconnect HD is excellent for all of $5, it is not Roon as you said, however to compare it to Roon would be unfair when the Roon iOS app isn't really the brains behind what is happening there, it is merely a Control Point app accessing the processing of a Roon Core (server) running on a much more expensive and processing heavy computer, an Intel NUC at a minimum is required for a Roon Core server.

But mconnect HD and an RPi 4B does get the job done with Qobuz or TIDAL for those not looking to do an expensive or elaborate local server library, for example in the setup that @marantzfan did for his Dad some time back, where the music is all in the cloud, just add a USB DAC to the RPi 4B and you're in business assuming either a Qobuz or TIDAL subscription is active/available.

One of the very flexible aspects of the RPi 4B is it's ability to change clothes easily and inexpensively. So for example if your Lumin were to return from sickbay and your Roon Core server subscription reinstated, the RPi 4B could easily be refreshed with different software (in the form of RoPieee) to become a Roon endpoint. Many of our members use the RPi 4B exactly in that way, if not in their main system, then as an additional endpoint/renderer in a second system somewhere else in the house. So if the Lumin does eventually resume top line duty in your main system, the 4B can then become another Roon "zone", just by refreshing its microSD card with the aforementioned RoPieee software.

I personally prefer the flexibility offered by having the endpoint/streamer be a separate unit from the DAC, because if you decide to change out or upgrade one or the other, you can do just that, where an all-in-one streamer/DAC combo unit requires changing out the whole thing.

My big rig is that way with the Sonore microRendu as the endpoint streamer, if I decide I want to try a different DAC, I just swap out the DAC only, and the endpoint/streamer stays constant. For me that kind of flexibility is preferable to an all-in-one, though I do understand some folks' preference for having just one box, or for that matter the sound quality on offer with something like your Lumin.

But the RPi 4B offers that same kind of flexibility, it can be used with any number of different DACs, and also various different free software distros, anything from Moode, to Volumio, to DietPi, piCorePlayer, or RoPieee, and you aren't married to any proprietary software. You don't even have to wipe the software in use to try another, all that's needed is an additional $6 microSD card, flash a different software distro onto it and simply replace that card in the RPi 4B, boom, you're in business with a different software to try for $6.

Additionally, that deck of cards size and form factor of the 4B also lends itself well to these kinds of changes. Making these kinds of swaps with an RPi is a simple and easy lift, it all fits in the palm of your hand excepting the DAC, though that too is now available in sizes that would astonish only 10 years ago. I am blown away by how good a Topping D50s, or D30Pro DAC is, given their tiny form factor. This stuff is easy to handle and situate in almost any room, even a bedroom, it all just hides away if need be, no real rack space is necessary to dedicate.

I also firmly believe the RPi 4B can have it's sound elevated by a better power supply, thats my experience anyway, though I have no measurements or double blind testing to prove that. But the $14 Mean Well switching psu I included with the RPi 4B is nothing special and does not offer the very best sound from the Pi, though it doesn't suck either. But things can and do scale up with a better psu, if the rest of the chain is up to the task of fleshing that out. Quantifying that difference in terms of cost is a different matter however.

Which USB DACs have you tried with the 4B?
 

S0und Dragon

Moderator and Circus Hand.
Staff member
I thought I had stated the Mconnect app was what was being used, but to your point. I should have emphasized that more. I think for me personally, I like what Roon brings to the table overall. That said, the Pi is absolutely amazing and capable for what it costs.

I am currently DAC light here as I am redoing the main rig almost entirely. I have pulled some serious favors and have had some of the absolute best of the best here on short stints. Including what I suspect will be my next DAC. A Kitsune edition Holo audio May DAC! A Denafrips Venus was here for an afternoon also and it too was lovely! I have become a fan of R2R dacs after hating them and preferring Sabre Dacs prior. These latest iterations of R2R dacs are superb.

I also have the venerable Marantz CDA-94 with the beloved S1 TDA1541’s. I have a Topping And a few SMSL dacs to play with also. The best DAC here though is not a DAC exactly. It’s my DSPeaker X4. I wasn’t thrilled with it initially, but I have learned how to use it better and most of what I didn’t like was my own error. It is probably going on the block however as it is more device than I need and I think someone else could use it more than me….and I need to start looking for a new preamp. Yes the X4 is a preamp but it won’t work for my needs.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
I thought I had stated the Mconnect app was what was being used, but to your point. I should have emphasized that more.
You did, and so maybe my post wasn't entirely clear then. My point was mconnect HD is merely a Control Point app, it is only directing traffic from the Qobuz cloud-based server to the 4B as endpoint/streamer.

Thats a very different thing from a Roon Core server on a number of levels, though I understand if what you were saying is you prefer the UI and overall experience of Roon. But apples-to-apples would be the Roon iOS app as a Control Point, vs mconnect HD as same. I know you know that, but I'm just making that point here for others that may read this and not understand it perfectly well.

The Roon Control Point app cannot function on any kind of stand alone basis, it requires connection over the network to a Roon Core server and a Roon subscription, at substantial hardware and software cost. The mconnect HD Control Point app can function on a stand alone basis with either Qobuz or TIDAL, with no other server hardware or software cost beyond the initial $5 spend. Both of course require an endpoint "streamer" to connect to a DAC.

I am currently DAC light here as I am redoing the main rig almost entirely. I have pulled some serious favors and have had some of the absolute best of the best here on short stints. Including what I suspect will be my next DAC. A Kitsune edition Holo audio May DAC! A Denafrips Venus was here for an afternoon also and it too was lovely!
I've heard great things about both, in particular that Kitsune Edition Holo, though I've never heard one for myself as yet, and it looks like RMAF is going to be a no-go for me again this year due to this mess of a situation we're still in. Perhaps Holo have a NY dealer I could pay a visit to at some point.

On that note, I saw something interesting today when researching who the local Piega dealers are. The map showed someone in White Plains, NY which puzzled me as I thought the last of the dealers there was the now closed Lyric HiFi location. In zooming in I see that Piega has some sort of deal with Gucci in The Westchester mall! I doubt Gucci has any real portion of the full line, in fact I'd be surprised if they have more than just a pair of speakers on hand, but it appears you can listen to and order Piega speakers from the Gucci boutique in White Plains, NY.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
I do not dislike or hate the Pi. But I don’t exactly love it either. I think it is super capable and convenient, not to mention affordable. But it has not exactly wowed me either. It’s vexing as I would much prefer to feel one way or the other about it.
Well I'd suggest the fact that it can stand-in for a Lumin at all, and more than hold it's own in delivering the digits to such high-end DACs as a Holo or Denafrips R2R is proof enough of the value proposition, it doesn't exactly embarrass itself sonically does it?

The freeware it runs is a different thing to consider, I love it and think the value there is off the charts, even if it will never offer the polished UI and overall experience that a full-on Roon Core server and subscription does. But I guess once you've had Roon it's probably kinda hard to go back.
 

S0und Dragon

Moderator and Circus Hand.
Staff member
Well I'd suggest the fact that it can stand-in for a Lumin at all, and more than hold it's own in delivering the digits to such high-end DACs as a Holo or Denafrips R2R is proof enough of the value proposition, it doesn't exactly embarrass itself sonically does it?

The freeware it runs is a different thing to consider, I love it and think the value there is off the charts, even if it will never offer the polished UI and overall experience that a full-on Roon Core server and subscription does. But I guess once you've had Roon it's probably kinda hard to go back.
That last part is what I am also wondering. And that is not necessarily a reflection of the Pi. As I find the Lumin as a streamer without Roon equally lacking. So the next step would be to renew Roon and try it using the Pi as an endpoint. Not sure if the timing would work but I am curious.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
That last part is what I am also wondering. And that is not necessarily a reflection of the Pi. As I find the Lumin as a streamer without Roon equally lacking. So the next step would be to renew Roon and try it using the Pi as an endpoint. Not sure if the timing would work but I am curious.
I'm sure that would work out just fine if you were to pony up for Roon again. You'd just swap out the microSD card for one with a Ropieee image, and after a few configuration clicks, you'd have a Roon endpoint in the form of an RPi 4B.

That would then give you both the same UI and user experience of the past setup, and also the RAAT network distribution technology too, so apples-to-apples with the old setup, the only difference then is the 4B as endpoint, and a different DAC.

If it were me, I'd rather spend more on the DAC, and less on the endpoint, but thats just my opinion. However you can only do that when they are two separate boxes. The Sonore microRendu also fits that bill for those that can't get past the idea of using a sub $100 endpoint/streamer in a multi kilobuck system.
 
The Lumin T2 has a decent DAC in it and I feel it is worth its salt, which I often don't feel is the case with all-in-one streamer/dacs. I do think Lumin's strength though is in the streaming so using the T2 is a great option, but I'd highly recommend getting away from Roon if you are looking for sound quality. At minimum, integrating it with HQPlayer seems to be a big boost in sound quality.

The new InnuOS 2.0 app is wonderful and a breath of fresh air and has lifted the sound quality of their streamers fairly substantially. Prior to 2.0, I couldn't in good faith ever recommend it and told the distributor I was waiting for 2.0 to release before a final decision was made. Innuos delivered the goods and I can now honestly say they are a good option to Lumin, albeit a different sound altogether.

A Pi or similar device will not compete with these products given the system can resolve the differences, but it doesn't take away from their value. To talk objectively about the sound in subjective terms (makes sense, right?), the Lumin streamers have an organic flow to them that is intoxicating and a true treat. Innuos now has a very clean sound but borders on 'hifi' sounding. Some pairings I have with this are sublime, while others still prefer the Lumin. Both products will exhibit less digital hash and better clarity but tonal differences are preferential to the listener/system when compared to the 'deck of cards' offerings. If you are using Roon, these differences will become much less apparent and possibly nonexistant as the endpoints are a slave to the Roon software which critically degrades the quality.

I love the Pi options on the market as it allows streaming to reach the masses and begins a journey. The ability to build a full-fledged system that sounds good is becoming cheaper and cheaper and its super exciting to see the trickle down happen. Put a Pi with a Dayens Ampino and a pair of Polk S20, or hell, even the T50, and you've got a damn good system for under four figures that can access damn near any CD-quality material ever made for another $10-20/month.

That last part is what I am also wondering. And that is not necessarily a reflection of the Pi. As I find the Lumin as a streamer without Roon equally lacking. So the next step would be to renew Roon and try it using the Pi as an endpoint. Not sure if the timing would work but I am curious.

If you are finding the Lumin lacking using its own software, we should talk and figure out what is going on. I've sold many Lumin products and only one has been sold by the owner. He is now coming back to me six months later to buy another one because he realizes how good it was.
 
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