Category Archives: Audio

Roon Take 2

Abstract

Over the past several months, I fell in love with Roon, its ability to stream my digital music collection in pristine full definition audio, the Allmusic artist and album commentary, and Roon Radio, the ability to play other things from my library like what I had been listening too. Nothing offers this combination of features. Nothing appears to have the commercial traction of Roon.

This article serves several purposes. First, it is my working notes from rebuilding my Roon environment, an iohyve managed FreeNAS behave VM. Second, I offer this in the hopes that it might inspire others to home brew. This article is a bit advanced. You really need to have a year or two of Unix system integration experience to pull this off. It is not a character by character, click by click recipe to build a Roon Server.

Those who don’t have system integrator chops but want a quality music server should consider the Roon Nucleus described in Reference [4]. Roon has developed these robust system specifically for the music serving task. They have adequate storage and computing resources to run Roon Server and are designed not to sneak crud into your audio system over the USB ground. If you’d like a fancy panel with that, Bryston, Linn, Naim, and others, will make pretty metal for you.

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The Moocher bakes a Raspberry Pi

In poking about audio sites, I discovered Roon Labs Roon music server product. Roon is the music server I’ve been looking for for 20 years. Roon Labs has its origins in the Meridian Audio Solooes product over in the UK. This is a highly regarded embed music server organized in proper client server fashion. This post describes Roon, my Raspberry Pi build of a Roon Transport, and the commissioning process. Though not a step by step (see the references), this post includes some lessons learned during the build and setup, and the bandaging of my knuckles.

Listening Experience

After several weeks of living with Roon and the HiFiBerry Digi+ transport, I’m seriously taken with the product.

  • The composer, composition, and performance reviews are of high quality, written in an engaging and informative style.
  • Roon Radio is helping me rediscover records and tracks I had forgotten I had. Starting with a Thile-Meyer track, it worked through the album, into Fleck & Meyer, then to Nickel Creek, and Punch brothers and back to Thile-Mehldau. Poor dogs had to listen to acid grass and acid folk while I was shopping.
  • The Digi+ kit just works with the metal case and HiFiBerry standard power supply. There’s no need for expensive linear supplies or unobtainium wire cryogenically aged in unicorn blood. The DAC is going to jitter buffer, retime, and reformat for rendering and any exotica outside this final device is unable to improve the sound. Save your money.
  • Parasound got things right with the P5. The Optical and Coax inputs work well. USB input is reserved for disk mastering off my old Mac Mini and Parasound Z-Phono USB. This device has an ADC with line level and moving-mangent/moving-coil phono preamp. And it works as well as the P5 preamp and DAC. John Curl is a wizard!.

I really love the sound of this rig. If the album is well recorded and the mix is phase coherent, Brad Mehldau’s piano notes dance in space from string to string with a Brad and his Stienway are in the lounge sound.

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Introducing Roon Audio

I’ve been using Plex as my audio player for a while. Noodling around on the Internet looking Raspberry Pi stuff, I stumbled across HiFiBerry and from there Roon Audio. Roon Labs is a spinoff from Meridian of their multi-room digital audio player. These folks have done something right by starting with a client server open architecture which organizes the system as

  1. A music server process
  2. A music management service that builds metadata for your library
  3. A control service that determines what plays where
  4. And endpoints that play content or deliver content to an audio system

They’ve made the endpoint easily embeddable in high fidelity and home theater components. They’ve made the server run as a service so a machine need not be logged in to make your music available. The control runs on Linux, MacOS, and Windows and as iOS and Android applications on phones and tablets.

Where I’m At

I have a two week trial running on my new Mac. In August, I’ll subscribe and build a dedicated Roon Bridge using HiFiBerry parts. This Roon Bridge will replace the AppleTV 3 serving the HiFi. I’ll keep the TV and ChromeCast TOSlinks initially but will likely retire the ChromeCast.

Listening Impressions

It works with less fuss than Plex, a superior user interface, better library material encouraging music discovery, and potentially, state of the art digital audio as a result of removing first-mover constraints from the protocol designs and software architecture. I find Roon very listenable using the iMac’s built in speakers. They image surprisingly well in the near field when playing good source material. The sound is also good through an AppleTV and Parasound P5 built in DAC. This combination sounds less good than the Chrome Cast Audio feeding the same DAC. There seems to be a bit more image via the Chrome Cast than the AppleTV.

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nVidia Shield TV First Impressions

A few days ago, I wrote about setting up an nVidia Sheild TV set top box and configuring Plex Media Server on it. Now that I’ve had a chance to live with it for a few days, I thought it would be appropriate to share my first impressions of this piece of kit.

Left to right: game controller, media player remote control, pedestal and computer.
nVidia Sheild Android TV Components

Why nVidia Shield?

  • It runs Plex Server! It’s that simple.
  • And it is the most expansive walled garden.
  • And it is hackable with nVidia folk spilling the beans on the nVidia Shield developer forums
  • It is cheap enough to buy one to experiment on.
  • It is capable enough to use for other appliance tasks about the Moocher’s cave.

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New Kid On the Block

For some time I’ve been wanting to move media serving off of my Mac Mini because the design of the available servers requires the machine to be running and logged in which vastly increases its attack surface. I’d been looking for a number of alternatives, particularly one that was energy efficient, had a low footprint, and would be doing what it was designed to do. nVidia came to the rescue about a year ago with nVidia Shield TV, an Android TV. So I’ve allowed the Android camel into my tent.

References

  1. https://support.plex.tv/hc/en-us/articles/221099988-Setting-Up-and-Managing-Plex-Media-Server-on-NVIDIA-SHIELD retrieved 2 December 2017.
  2. https://shield.nvidia.com/support/nvidia-android-tv/faq/1
  3. http://www.practicallyefficient.com/2011/03/18/rsync-automator.html

Before you buy

Do two things. First, read the fine manual at [1]. Go through the FAQS at [2]. I didn’t include any video links as most are long on talk and low on information density. The links above will take you to the setup screens so you can review them.

You will need internet service. Shield has both WiFi and Ethernet interfaces built in. Both work well. If you have Ethernet available in your media cabinet, wired service works well. Shield just knows what to do. A wired interface speeds firmware updates. WiFi is adequate for media playback.

What’s in the box?

nvidia-shield-tv-stock-photo
nVidia Shield TV System Components

The base kit consists of a game controller (left) and the Shield machine (right but just the fin part). The nice aluminum base and the nice aluminum Android TV remote are optional extras. The kit also includes a power adapter, HDMI cable, and USB cable for recharging controllers and remotes. And there is a quick start guide and all the warranty and compliance statements.

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Hi Fi Updates

Last spring, I boxed up the stereo and put it in storage for the duration of the lounge remodel. When I unboxed it and powered up the system, my trusty Conrad Johnson PV1 preamp failed. After considering its age, accumulated problems, and the technical evolution occurring since I had bought it in 1980, I elected to replace rather than to repair.

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Audio Bit Schlepping

I’ve been an audio hobbiest for 40 years. I began by building a Dynaco Stereo 70 power amplifier and PAS-3 preamp from kits in 1967. Over the years a Conrad Johnson PV-1 preamp, Gas Ampzilla power amplifier, and Dhalquist DQ-10 speakers have come to stay. Sources have come and gone over the years with a Cambridge Audio 610 tuner and Cambridge Audio DacMagic being my current sources. Much of my music lives on a Drobostore storage array connected to a Mac Mini running OS X Lion (10.7). How do the bits get from the Drobostore to the DacMagic?

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