Multi Room Audio Part 1 Overview and Hardware

So you want a multi room audio system – then go buy a Sonos.

Naaahh. I took the long way home 🙂

I had some prerequisites for a multi room audio system:

(a) It had to be cheap(ish) as Im a skinflint 🙂

(b) It had to be capable of being retrofitted into an existing home – Im not about to go ripping up floors and laying miles of cable in my house.

(c) It had to be easily controllable.

(d) It needed to to deliver superior audio quality from the software/hardware.

(e) It needed to do all of the usual stuff (syncronise music to all rooms, Internet radio, spotify integration etc).

(f) It had to be portable (wifi) so I could replicate the setup for friends.

Rather than leave you in suspense, I went for logitech music server and squeezelite as the software and raspberry PI’s as the hardware platform.

I then created a set of rules for myself as follows:

(i) Each room would be designated as a “High” or “Occasional” listening room.

(ii) I would never use the 3.5mm audio out from the raspberry PI (regardless of which model it was) as these are generally considered to be low quality.

(iii) If the room was designated as “High” listening type, then the PI would be connected via its HDMI output (which is only 16 bit) but was a special case for the living room which I will explain later, or via a PiFi DAC (more detail to follow) connected into an amplifier, or finally via a hifiberry oboard amp direct into speakers (more detail to follow).

(iv) If a room was designated as “Occasional” listening type, then it would be connected via Soundscience QSB 30W USB speakers (see the things I like page).

From this set of rules, I was able to determine what additional hardware I needed for each raspberry PI.

roomtypes

I will explain the different hardware combinations now.

HifiBerry Amp/DAC

The only reason I used the HifiBerry Amp/DAC combination is that I was decluttering the master bedroom and moved out an old hifi system which was replaced by this raspberry PI/HifiBerry Amp/DAC directly connected to JBL Control 1 speakers (see things I like page) and I saw one for sale on ebay. It comes with a case the makes the Raspberry PI about twice as large as normal but there are no other boxes so its tiny overall, but still drives my beloved JBL control 1 speakers for a full clean sound. The 18v PSU supplies both the amp and raspberry pi itself.

Here is a picture of the naked amp and then in its case. You plug the speakers into this and thats it.

You can find out more on the hifiberry amp/DAC at http://www.hifiberry.com

amp_plus-300x300

ampcase

 

 

 

and just add these for great sounding music

jblcontrol

HDMI Output (Living Room)

This was also a particular use case. In my living room I have a 4 input 2 output HDMI switch which also has 2 phono audio out connectors. The 1st HDMI output goes to my TV and the 2nd HDMI outout goes to the projector. In addition, the audio siginal is also routed to the 2 phono outputs in to my 5 channel stereo amp which drives 4 JBL control 1 speakers and a subwoofer. Its not true 5 channel sound but it works great for both movies and music. So in the case, I was willing to make a sacrifice for 16 but HDMI audio in order to accomodate the ease of use in changing inputs on the HDMI switch. They key point being that everything I see on my TV screen is also routed to my hifi and the projector. There will be more on this in another blog.

PiFi DAC+ v2.0

These are commonly available on Ebay and at dx.com (£24 for DAC and case). They seem to be a copy of the HifiBerry DAC. They simply sit on the gpio ports of the Raspberry PI B+,2 or 3. Please note if you have a Raspberry PI A or B with 2 ports then you need a slightly different DAC (but now might be the time to replace that old model A or B with a shiny new model 3 (and here is a helpful affiliate link to get you there) 🙂

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B 1.2 GHz Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A53 Motherboard – Green

raspberrypi3

pifidac and case

Note:Although you could save a couple of pounds by buying a raspberry pi b+ or model 2, the truth is for an extra £3 you can by the latest raspberry pi 3 with builtin wifi (which saves about £5-7) and bluetooth.

Go on spoil yourself. You deserve it 🙂

I use these DAC’s to replace using the 3.5mm jack on the raspberry PI. I then connect a phono cable from the amp to the DAC using a 24k gold platest phono lead (well thats what it says on the ebay listing for £2.99) and it sounds great to me.

goldplatedphono

 

The point is for a combined total of about £27 you have converted your raspberry PI into true high quality music player.

Soundscience QSB USB Speakers.

You can see more details on this on the things I like page. They have a USB connector (only) so wont work with your MP3 player. They also wont work with any raspberry pi with 2 USB ports (because those earlier raspberry PI’s couldn’t supply enough current to the USB ports).

However, assuming you have a 4 USB port PI, they will fine and sound fine in any occasional listening environment like a kitchen etc. The are also USB powered so a single USB port provides the power and music signal.

SoundScience QSB – 30W USB Desktop Speakers with NXT DyadUSB Technology Rated 5/5 by What HiFi

QSB1

All of the rooms can be independently controlled from my phone/tablet but I also liked the idea of having a dedicated controller in each room. This step is completely optional but if you want one, then go onto ebay and pick up an O2 joggler which can be converted to run as a dedicated squeezeplay controller. My advice is to pick up a 4 pack of 16GB small format USB drives on amazon (damnit who keeps adding these affiliate links) which will allow you to boot the O2 joggler from the USB port without affecting its normal operation (in case you want to sell them again later)

Kingston 16GB DataTraveler Micro USB Flash Drive – 4 Pack

kingston4usb

 

Finally, this blog in a multi room audio blog but I recommend picking up a a few HDMI cables for any PI that you may want to connect to a TV (to show the album art while playing). This is a completely optional step.

For each raspberry pi (room) you will also need

SanDisk Ultra Imaging 8 GB microSDHC Memory Card plus SD Adapter up to 48 MB/s, Class 10
Raspberry Pi Official Universal Power Supply Unit

8gbmicrosdraspberrypi psu

If you are using a raspberry PI 3 you wont need a wifi adapter (assuming you wont be using the ethernet port).

If you havent managed to click one one of my links and buy something at this stage, then you have foiled my dastardly attempt to become mega rich by earning pennies at a time from the affiliate program 🙂

The Logitech Music Server is installed one 1 Raspberry Pi (its the server) and also the squeezelite software (and possibly jivelite software if connecting to a TV so I recommend as raspberry PI 3 for the server as thats the one doing the most work.

The price difference between the different raspberry PI’s is so small that I would recommend a raspberry PI 3 for all of the rooms if you are buying them for this project as they can be reused (but you will be so pleased with the results that you wont reuse them) 🙂

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B 1.2 GHz Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A53 Motherboard – Green

This concludes part 1 and part 2 will cover the software and setup.

WhereThingsAreBorn 🙂

 

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