I’m probably not the only one who has shelves full of CDs, folders with between 10 and 100 GB of MP3s and is now consuming his music mostly via streaming services like Spotify. The latter two clearly aimed to personal use initially, on a MP3 player, iPod or your smartphone and some headphones. So If you want to play music on you Hifi, you perhaps still revert to ordinary FM radio or a CD. In the meanwhile all kinds of solutions for playing MP3 on your HiFi have been developed. Tuners/Amplifiers with USB or network input and WiFi connections that support DLNA, so that MP3s in a folder on your computer or network storage can be played.
I myself purchased the Logitech Squeezebox Duet, for this purpose, back in 2009. This solution consists of two devices. The receiver box to connect to your HiFi set and the controller, a remote with an iPod-like jog button to go through the different menus. The two devices talk to each other using Wifi (or wired network connection in the case of the receiver) and a PC with your MP3 collection, running a special server-software. This set-up was at the start not a very easy configurable and stable solution.
However if you also want to use streaming services on your Hifi, you need to make another step. (In the case of the Squeezebox this was a small one, but I will perhaps cover this in another post.) You can of course connect your smartphone directly to your Hifi, but that is not very practical. You can invest again in new streaming ready devices. There are a lot of wifi and streaming enabled speakers available these days, with SONOS as maybe the best known but certainly not the cheapest example. However a lot of tweakers have come up with cheap and workable DIY alternatives.
Especially the arrival of the Raspberry Pi seems to have been a catalyst for all kinds of solutions to stream your audio in a simple way to your Hifi. For those who do not know: The Raspberry Pi is a relatively inexpensive mini-computer (~ € 35 without a housing) of credit card size. We now arrived at version 3 of this computer, that has a micro-SD card slot for the software and also an HDMI output, audio/video jack, 1 micro usb for power and further a LAN port, 4 full size USB ports, WiFi and Bluetooth. Furthermore, the Raspberry Pi has the so-called “general purpose input / output pins” or simply GPIO pins. These pins can be used to control all kinds of stuff. In the case of Hifi there are beautiful solutions such as high-quality digital to analogue audio converters boards, that give superior sound quality compared to the standard audio chip of the Raspberry. Examples of this are the Hifiberry range and Pomorino’s Phat DAC.
Nice pieces of hardware you might think, but what about the software? The Raspberry Pi has a fantastic community of tweakers who develop both hardware and software, mostly as open source, freeware. When it comes to so-called “standalone” or “headless” audio players, there is choice. There is Max2play, who also offers multi-room speakers support and three other packages, which have a shared history: Moode audio, Rune audio and Volumio. Max2play, Mood and Rune audio are all focused on just the Raspberry Pi and similar minicomputers, Volumio however, has two bonuses: Support for Intel computers, or in other words: Any old PC or Laptop may have lying around, and a Spotify plugin .
In my case I still had an early netbook lying around and I was wondering if Volumio would run or not, on such a underwhelming machine. I am talking about an ASUS EeePC 4G, see here for its specification. The existing 500 mb of RAM, I replaced for 1Gb. The internal storage of 4GB is also tiny, but we do not need it, in this case, as we run Volumio from a SD card. It should be possible to install Volumio on the internal storage, but this is (still) a bit cumbersome.
In itself, the installation is fairly straightforward and clearly explained on the Volumio website. I also made a YouTube video where I run through the required steps, which you can watch below. First of all, you must download an SD disk image, the Intel (x86 / x64) version in this case, from the Volumio website. Then use a software tool like Win32imager or Rufus to write this image on an SD card of at least 4Gb and speed class 6. Generally it is advised to use a class 10 card, but I had only a class 6 SD around and it works well. Now it’s just a matter of booting from the SD card. This requires some modifications to the BIOS settings. After that, it takes some time for Volumio to get ready for its first use. After this lengthy initial start-up, reboots are going much quicker.
Volumio is primarily intended as a “headless” audio player, which means you control it via a web interface on your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. You can use this interface by entering the URL: /volumio.local or IP address of your Volumio machine in a webbrowser. The laptop has a screen so you can also control it using this. This is especially useful for the setup of you Wifi connection for the first time. I also noticed that the interface on the laptop itself was a lot slower than the webinterface on another PC or smartphone, which is striking. Via the (Web) interface, you can also configure other things such as the connection to your music folders and of course installing and setting up the Spotify plugin. You’ll need a Spotify Premium account for that. As you will see in the video, Volumio is working properly on this underwhelming mini laptop. So if you’ll be using a newer model, there is no reason, for it to work as well.
The only minor thing I run into was, that for a true headless audio player, you would like to use it with the lid closed. You can then connect to your hifi and hide it. Unfortunately, many laptops go into a sleep mode if you close the lid and then the music stops. This is not convenient, but for this I have found a “hack” to solve this. Volumio is based on a Linux operating system and you can use the software tool PuTTY (Windows) to create a so-called SSH connection. You can than give commands to the Linux backend. In this way, you can disable all sleep and suspend modes and it will continu to play the music, when you close the lid. This is also shown in my Youtube video below. After logging in via SSH (Putty) using the IP Address of your Volumio machine with user: Volumio and password: Volumio. You should than enter the following command:
systemctl mask sleep.target suspend.target hibernate.target hybrid-sleep.target
Followed by pressing <Enter>. This will disable all sleep modes in your settings. In this case it is important to always keep your laptop plugged in, the battery will otherwise run out of juice a can damage your SD card.