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As many of you may know, the Raspberry PI is a credit card sized miniature computer that can be used for tons of things. I actually started playing around with the first gen of the PI back in 2012 and it certainly looked promising for music server projects. Unfortunately, I felt that the 700 Mhz ARM CPU of the 1st generation was simply too slow for my taste. The LINUX derivatives of the time weren’t really up to the task, too. So I initially ditched the project and moved on.
Fast forward to 2015, I decided to re-visit the whole thing and bought the lasted Raspberry PI Revision 2. It is not only much faster thanks to a quad core ARM processor but the software has matured dramatically. For less than $100 I personally built a high-end music streaming server that I can remote control from my iPad. I now no longer need my Mac for music playback duties. It also does AirPlay without a hitch. Better yet it consumes little energy making this a downright steal for the price!
Here’s a picture of my own Raspberry PI Rev. 2 setup:
I decided to share with you the actual steps to get a working Raspberry PI with Runeaudio (a specialized Linux distro for audiophiles).
Before we get started, buy this starter kit for under $70 from Amazon:
This contains the actual Raspberry PI, an enclosure, the SD card, a WIFI dongle along with a power supply.
Feel free to purchase the components individually but it is much less hassle to get a complete working package. You can of course choose a different case to suit your personal taste. In case you’re wondering, this is the one I personally use.
Software Setup Guide
Step 1: Download the Software
Go to http://www.runeaudio.com/download/ and pick the appropriate version of Runeaudio for your Raspberry PI. You are also going to need a software to flash the SD card. If you’re on Windows, use Win32DiskImager. On the Mac it’s a bit more complex but I discovered a fantastic tool that is just as easy. It’s called PI Baker and works just like you’d expect it. Download it here. Both tools are free of charge.
Step 2: Flash the SD card
Using the downloaded operating system image, use Win32DiskImager or PI Baker to write that image to your SD card.
Figure 1: Pi Baker Screenshot
Step 3: Get it up and running
Insert the SD card. Connect your PI to mains power and wait for about 20 seconds for everything to boot up. If you notice that both red and green LEDs remain solid. there’s something wrong with the SD card image and your PI won’t boot. Make sure, you have your Raspberry PI intially connected to your router using Ethernet. This is because you need to configure WIFI manually.
Open your webbrowser and go to runeaudio.local. If you’ve been successful so far, you should see something like this:
Next configure WIFI:
Choose a location where your music files are stored on a NAS. If you want to attach a powered harddisk via USB, this even gets much easier.
Finally, tell RuneAudio how you have connected your USB DAC (or USB audio interface):
You actually won’t need a USB DAC if you purchase the Hifiberry Digi+ add-on board for your Raspberry PI. This produces a nice optical Toslink or Coaxial SP/DIF output signal. To make it even simpler, an add-on DAC board is available based on the ESS 9023 DAC chip which I believe is the same as the one used on the mightily popular ODAC. Check out my other DAC reviews if you are in the market for a new DAC.
How To Remote Control Your New Music Server
You can either use the default web interface or install a third-party app like MPad or MPod (for iOS devices). You can find similar apps for Android, too. A dedicated app makes a lot of sense because its more responsive than the web interface and it does support album covers.
Here’s another quick tip if you cannot get album art to display on MPad or MPod:
1.) ssh firstname.lastname@example.org (from terminal window)
2.) ln -s /mnt/MPD/var/www/covers
3.) Set URL to http://runeaudio.local/covers
4.) Set cover filename eg. folder.jpg
5.) Clear cache and restart app if needed
There must be a folder.jpg file in each music folder otherwise the app won’t be able to show them. At this time, MPod cannot extract the covers from the file metadata.
If you’re suffering from distorted audio via AirPlay, here’s the fix:
1.) ssh email@example.com (from terminal window)
2.) nano /usr/lib/systemd/system/shairport.service
3.) Look for the line below and correct the bold entry
ExecStart=/usr/bin/shairport -w –name=runeaudio –on-start=$ON –on-stop=$OFF –meta-dir=/var/run/shairport -o alsa — -d plughw:1,0
4.) Save and exit nano
5.) Reboot your Raspberry PI
Configure your app as follows:
How Does it Sound?
I was absolutely thrilled when I hooked up the PI to my SMSL M8 DAC. It sounds even clearer and more dynamic than music played from my Mac using Audirvana. I definitely won’t be going back anymore. From now on, the computer will just manage my iTunes library. Unfortunately, I had huge problems with Airplay initially. Music came out with unpleasant distortions and Tracy Chapman sounded like Mickey Mouse 😉 I suspect this is a bug in the underlying Airplay implementation which has been reverse-engineered. When I connected my ODAC, everything was back to normal again. Fortunately, I can continue to use my Apple TV for Airplay but anything CD quality and above is now the job of the Raspberry PI.
I hope you will enjoy yours, too!
UPDATE March 18, 2016 I’ve had great results with the Hifiberry Digi+ daugther board for my Raspberry PI 2 Rev B. Please check out my review here.