Standalone NUC, Mini-PC, Raspberry Pi, Tablet Music Streamer?

I think I want to grab a nice standalone piece of hardware that I can use in different parts of the house than my monstrous PC.

I’ll use it with my RME ADI-2 DAC, so either USB or Coax out would be agreeable. I want to be able to stream music from it, so it would need to run something like TIDAL without issue.

What are the best options these days?

I’ve seen some praise for the DigiOne Signature. Would a mini PC be a good idea, or is it wasted money? What about a Chromebook or something along those lines?

I wouldn’t really need to be able to do much else on it. Basically, I just want to play music from it.

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I had a Pi and ran it with Volumio and it worked well whenever it decided to cooperate. Pi is just so darn slow, that it can frustrating to use sometimes. If you are going to use the RME ADI-2, you should try to find a Chromecast Audio unit and use a digital toslink cable from its 3.5mm jack to the DAC. If you need hard drive capability, then perhaps a cheap mini PC would be perfect. They are pretty cheap now for an Atom-based PC, and they are infinitely times faster than a Pi, as much as I love fiddling with a Pi unit.

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I really like my Mac Mini running ROON and TIDAL. Plus it can double as a PC if needed. Not for everyone, but it’s solid and the form factor is decent.

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I use the Raspberry Pi with Digi One Signature and doubt I would be swapping to anything else in the foreseeable future. It is small, easily hidden and sounds darn good. I use it with Picoreplayer.

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How about a DAP? That would be very portable.

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It’s not clear to me, from your question, if you’re looking for some kind of fully-self contained source-solution or something that acts as an end-point/streamer that can be placed in various locations.

My experience with the Pi-based stuff is that they make for nice enough headless end-points, but otherwise are too slow and cumbersome to deal with on a regular basis.

This is one of those cases where Roon is really nice, as there are so many options for viable end-points (especially if you only need to play to one at a time and don’t need output synchronization across multiple endpoints as you can use things like Chromecast Audio units there). Your library and server (which can just be your laptop or PC, which can also be your controller/UX) sits in one place and you just control what goes where from a PC, phone or tablet.

Other players can deal with a server/endpoint model as well, but they’re generally rather less fluid, more work to setup and maintain and a bit less polished feeling.

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Yes, that’s one reason that the Mac Mini works for me. It’s where ROON lives, plus it has good DAC connectivity. While I like the ROON interface, my wife gets frustrated by the combinations presented by our SONOS, ROON, and her music preferences.

Sometimes too much choice is as bad as not enough.

Thanks all! I still don’t know exactly what I’m after. I’m leaning toward a fanless mini PC as a self-contained solution that can be extended to different endpoints in the future.

Right now, the most common use would likely be me shutting down my main computer, closing my door, and using this next to my La-Z-Boy chair. Then there is the question of amp/DAC, though.

I like the idea of achieving near silence in the room when listening. My computer is super quiet, but I can perceive a difference in background noise when I turn it on and off. It’s also monstrously powerful and generates a lot of heat.

If you use an Atom or even an M3 processor (like in the Surface tablet), those miniPCs are fanless typically, so it’d be essentially near-silent operation. Just make sure you have good venting.

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I use DAPs, small tablets, or an iPod Touch for this scenario. Bluetooth is extremely convenient and the hand-held interface makes for ‘remote control’ double duty.

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As much as I like fiddling with my Pi, you can’t go wrong with a used Mac mini. Quiet and easy to operate. A micro PC would be my next choice I guess. With something like Roon, you could set something nice.

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I use a Pi (the old Pi2) and all it does is run Raspotify. The HDMI out goes into an audio extractor with optical out, that then splits 3 ways and runs to 2 Marantz
CR611 receivers (one in the dining room and one in the kitchen) and to the optical input of another DAC in the lounge.

The Pi is old but this system is great for having three players playing Spotify in perfect sync, and the Pi never fails to show up in “Available devices” on Spotify (where the Marantz need to have all the stars aligned).

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I have two Pi 3B+'s running Volumio 2. One feeds a Topping D30 via USB for the loudspeaker rig, the other feeds an onboard Allo Boss 1.2 DAC for the headphone system (pictured below). Both Pi’s have been running without any issues, and are rock solid reliable in my configuration. I leave them on 24/7. 3 B+ is the latest version, and there is no slowness or lag associated with Volumio 2.

I’ve gone as far as to down clock the CPU/RAM frequencies so they match (CPU=800MHz, RAM(DDR2)=400MHz), undervolted them, turned off the video pipeline entirely, and am really pleased with this setup. I’d be happy to share the config file if you went this route.

For the $35 just for the Pi, it’s an awesome price to performance. Of course cases, power supplies, heatsinks, etc. can add to the cost. But overall it’s a cost effective little powerhouse.

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I like Raspotify’s implementation more than Volumio’s spotify which seems to work when it wants to. It seems more stable. I am using my Pi 3+ with Aiode ESS9018 DAC with Raspbian + Raspotify in my garage now for when Im working on random projects on my work bench.

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I like Volumio … in specific circumstances.

Unless something has changed since I last fiddled with it (late last year), getting TIDAL or Qobuz to work with it either required a paid subscription to Volumio (which makes it easy) or an unholy amount of arsing about with the free version, additional third-party software/devices, and a lot less than reliable end result.

Even on the latest Pi 3 B+ it does seem to get intolerably slow/laggy when dealing with large libraries. Granted that my definition of large is likely rather different to most (my paired-down “mobile/travel” library is larger that most of the “large” libraries that I’ve seen discussed on their forums).

While the equation will be very different for everyone, depending on the value you put on your time, the amount of time I’ve spent fiddling with various Pi-based solutions (as anything other than endpoints - where they do a really nice, easy, job) would pay for my lifetime Roon subscription and a couple of years of both TIDAL and Qobuz top-tier subscriptions.

Still worth checking out if your inclined to fiddle with things … and at some point in the not very distant future I’ll have a walkthrough article on several ways to use such devices, including pre-built configurations and images.

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All excellent points. Pi is not for everyone. It’s a tinkerer’s toy.

I have no lag issues with my library. It might be how the files are accessed differently? Who knows. I access my library via wireless from my NetGear Nighthawk router, hosting a 512gb Samsung SSD via USB 3.x. No issues whatsoever, no lag, fast indexing. But again, how these files are accessed (usb, ethernet, wireless) probably accounts for a different experience as I came to read on the internet. I have found my configuration to be fast and reliable. BUT, it took some time to get familiar with Pi, volumio, and it’s nuances.

Now that I have the experience with all of this, setup is a breeze and no performance or reliability problems for my implementation. Linux experience is a big plus here too, for what it’s worth.

I don’t do Spotify any longer, just my own ripped CD library on the SSD NAS, but I did test Spotify initially and found the Spotify plug-in cumbersome with Volumio to say the least. But it worked… But that may have changed since I last messed with it about a year ago. It could be better now.

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I suspect the biggest factor here is in library size, though the other elements would certainly have their own effects. If I use one of the microSDXC cards from my portable/travel library (each is 512GB and about 14,000 lossless/hi-res tracks, and there are three that comprise that library) then it’s all fine and smooth.

But on my main library? Well, now we’re talking hundreds of thousands of lossless/hi-res tracks (many of which are needledrops), across tens of thousands of albums. And that’s just the local stuff (all legal, before anyone asks) and doesn’t include stuff marked as “in my collection” within TIDAL and Qobuz.

Yes, that’s an extreme example. And the sort of thing that happens when you have ~40 different performances of, say, Mahler’s 1st or Beethoven’s 6th (and so on), covering different venues, conductors, orchestras and so on.

Out of morbid curiosity, a while back, I worked out that if I limited my listening to what I own (rather than stream), and listened for 8 hours every day, 7 days a week, every week, it would take me almost 7 years before I had to repeat an album.

In reality, if I wasn’t listening by album, there’s a non-trivial amount of repetition in there (repeated tracks on different albums, compilations and so on) as well as a decent chunk of stuff that, while I own it, would probably never listen to it again (stuff I didn’t care for after buying it, going back to the days were you had to buy it to try it, or albums that only have one good track on them etc.).

It’s all about the right tool for the job and most libraries are likely within the realm where Volumio (etc.) doesn’t suddenly fall off a cliff in terms of performance.

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Wow! That’s a ton of music. Nice collection!

There are other SBCs out there with more power than the Pi too. Odroid, last I looked into it, was the most powerful and may be up to the task better. But I think a fan on the heatsink is required for the Odroid, and a deal killer for me. I wanted no noise, uber low power. It works for my use case.

Thanks for sharing. Good to know where the bottlenecks are on the extreme end.

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Oh quite a bit more than a ton of music. If we guess that @Torq has 400,000 high-res tracks, and that there are 8 high res tracks on a single 180g long-play record, that comes to 9000000g of vinyl (not counting cardboard jackets) or 19,841 pounds, or 9.92 US tons.

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Wow what a great collection. You must have worked very hard to amass such a huge library. Plus all the hours ripping them into digital form. Respect.:fist:

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