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As many of you may know, I’m a huge fan of Roon as a music streaming solution. It integrates well with local libraries and it’s a dream to have Tidal (or Qobuz in my case) integrated natively. Unfortunately, Roon Labs raised their pricing for the lifetime membership to a whopping US$ 699 starting from January 2020 just when I thought I can cough out the previous US$ 399 cost. Just two days later my audiophile buddy Alex called asking me whether there was a better way to stream Tidal from his Raspberry PI. He certainly doesn’t want to pay for having Roon just to stream stuff off the internet. This got me thinking whether there was a better way to stream local content and also have access to Qobuz at the same time. This could help me save the current subscription fee of Roon which is US$ 119 per year.
Fortunately, I found the Italian company Volumio who has been making Raspberry PI distros for a couple of years now and boy have they made progress! While the core distribution still remains open source, you can add further premium paid-for features on an annual subscription basis. They also offer a hardware streamer called the Primo which I’ll get into later. Volumio essentially gives you UPnP, AirPlay and library management in their free tier. I opted to go for a 14-day trial of their “Virtuoso” plan which will set you back roughly 30 Euros per year. That gave me access to full Qobuz integration, CD playback and ripping services – wow! I also love the fact that you get literally hundreds of internet radio stations, too. Volumio is pretty lightweight and runs not only on my rusty-dusty Raspberry PI 3 but also on a range of more advanced low-power computing platforms.
Installation and initial experiences
After flashing the SD card, I was greeted by a pretty nice UI. To simplify the interaction, I also purchased their mobile app for my iPhone which was another one-time US$ 2,99 item but well worth it I thought because mobile safari is not really the greatest piece of software to work with. Honestly, I felt a bit disappointed with the mobile app because it’s merely a wrapper for their website but at the end of the day, I wasn’t expecting much for that low cost.
After mapping my NAS library, Volumio got to work immediately cataloging my 2.000+ CDs music library all in FLAC format. I then went to bed and let Volumio take over the work. When I got back the next morning, I still felt the UI browsing experience was a bit too sluggish for my taste. I could remedy the whole situation a bit after I had switched back to listview mode. That helped speed up the scrolling speed nicely.
Here’s what the Volumio UI looks like in full glory:
Bugs and Other Nuisances
What ticked me off the most though, was that it often displayed the same album twice unlike Roon which always displays everything neatly. On top of that, I found no option to sort my albums by “recently added” which is a must-have feature in my opinion. I just don’t get it why developers always think we music enthusiasts always want everything sorted alphabetically? But there seems hope in sight as the filtering feature has obviously been requested by other users on Volumio’s forums and apparently the devs are working on it.
I noticed a nasty bug, probably not Volumio’s fault but rather an MPD problem (short explanation: mpd = music player demon. This is the back-end audio engine of most Linux distros for the Raspberry PI). Once I hit play on an internet radio station that wasn’t broadcasting, MPD somehow hung and I had to restart Volumio because there seemed to be no way of getting audio back to life. It would have been nice if there was an “advanced” option to re-surrect MPD in an emergency without having to reboot. Maybe there is as I’ve been looking out for it but even if it’s there, I haven’t found it.
Five Star Qobuz integration
As far as Qobuz integration goes, it’s working marvelously well, light-years ahead of what I had previously seen on other Raspberry PI setups. While it doesn’t give you the nice UI and same level of display of music credits with Roon, I can totally live with it. And I didn’t need another “core” server sucking up electricity – everything happens right out of the cute little Raspberry PI. Volumio also offers a pricier tier called “Superstar” which apparently comes with album credits but I haven’t tested it and so cannot comment on whether it’s worth twice the cost of the “Virtuoso” plan.
Sound Quality Impressions
I have thoroughly compared my Volumio setup to my current Roon plan side-by-side. I had my Gustard X20 DAC hooked up to the Raspberry PI via USB, detection and setup were no problem and everything worked right out of the box including DSD streaming.
Let me clarify that Volumio sounds 100% as good as Roon, I could not detect a single difference. Everything is there, no clicks or pops – including internet radio. Although I had pushed the setup really hard, my PI just got slightly warm to the touch. It’s really fantastic and from a sonic standpoint, Volumio is a no-brainer.
I promised talking about it earlier so here goes. If you want a full-featured streamer, Volumio has you covered. For less than US$500 they offer a mini-computer with a DAC that’s ready to run with Volumio. Although I haven’t tried it, it sure looks like great value for money. You can check it out at https://volumio.org/product/volumio-primo/ This is NOT an affiliate link so I don’t get any material benefits.
I decided to cancel my trial for now which is more of a personal choice. First of all, I still have a couple of months to go in my annual Roon plan. Secondly the UI and navigation of Volumio were a bit of a let-down in terms of usability. While I could live with the Qobuz integration, I wasn’t satisfied how it handled my local library. But I’ll certainly keep my eye on future developments and I will surely be back as Volumio is the closest to a Roon experience but only at the fraction of the cost.