House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP


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    I recently pulled speaker wire all over the house and installed a bunch of speakers. Now I am struggling with a good way to get audio from computers to the receiver over wireless means.

    I tried a few different items that promised to work. They were all pretty shit though. We have a bluetooth audio adapter that works reasonably well, if you are within range, but we have a pretty large house with brick walls, so the range is pretty shit.

    So now I am to the point of wanting to roll my own, or get an Airport Express. I have CAT6 cable run to where the receiver is, so I want something that allows streaming over the network. To that end, the other night I went in to my office and rummaged through my stuff there and found a 1st gen Raspberry Pi and an 8GB SD card. Installed Raspbian, installed and configured shairport-sync and after it was configured our Apple devices immediately picked it up as an audio target. Nice.

    Yeah...not so much...the audio quality is shit. It turns out that the analog audio out on a Raspberry Pi is an 11-bit PWM DAC.

    OK, these damned things have all sorts of shit you can add on to them. So I look around and I can get DAC HATs for a Raspberry Pi, but most of them fit the Raspberry Pi 2 and up. I have a Raspberry Pi 2 that is currently in the middle of a project on the workbench that I have NFC what it is anymore, but I am sure I will remember as soon as I gut it to use it for this. And besides, I will need 3 of them in total. General house audio, living room area, and my workshop. The living room will be split out because it will have home theater, so I might as well recycle that ability for that room. My workshop is split out because there is no way in hell I am going to listen to Norah Jones while I am using power tools, so I need to separate from my wife's usage for those times. For parties and get togethers, I need to be able to play one source to all of them.

    Now, am I missing something here? Is there a cheaper way to go about it than to buy a $37 RPi 3, and a $35 DAC, plus another ~$20 for a case and power supply? That puts me within a few bucks of just buying an Airport Express.

    Is there some other, easier option that I am missing? I am not even tied to using the RPi. I am open to other options, if they exist. Except Sonos. I know I could drop $10K on Sonos gear and be done with it, but I am too much of a cheap bastard for that.

    Also, while we are on the subject, what is the best way to play audio from a Windows machine or an Android phone to a networked location? DLNA? Other options? Being able to play from a Windows machine to the house audio would be a nice to have, but not a requirement. Airplay functionality would be sufficient.




  • sockdevs

    @Polygeekery have you looked at these things?

    fantastic little device, pretty cheap. i know it works a treat on android (and windows after a bit of fiddling) i'm also about 60% sure it's supported by ios too, but not having access to any apple devices i can't test.


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    @accalia You have one? Can you play arbitrary audio to it? Or are you restricted to only approved applications/services?

    I tried another product that looked a hell of a lot like it, but I was restricted to only the sources it supported. With Airplay, it streams all audio output from OSX to Airplay devices just as if they were plugged in to the headphone jack.


  • sockdevs

    @Polygeekery had one, not sure where it went (it's in a box somwehwere in my room)

    as i recall it was pretty much unrestricted play.

    i'll see if i can dig it up tonight and give it another try

    but if you're not up for waiting while i try and find mine again you might try something like this, it's not the fanciest USB DAC on the planet but it has a better DAC than the raspberry pi so it should sound a lot better than the pi. and bonus you can still keep using the original pi (assuming you have the spare USB port)


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    @accalia Do they sound better than the onboard audio? I saw them, but was skeptical about the low price point. I figured it might be the same sort of issue with a 11-bit PWM DAC.

    I don't need audiophile grade, because I don't spend $1,000 on snakeoil HDMI cables. :) I just want something good enough for casual listening while we hang out in the yard or cook, etc. Something that doesn't sound like total rubbish, decent quality sound.


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    @accalia Also, how is the wifi reception on it? The receiver that runs our two sets of outdoor speakers, porch speakers and the speakers in the kitchen is in the garage and the other receiver that I plan on putting out there for my workshop speakers will be in the garage also, obviously. Wifi reception out there is not the best for low-powered devices. I have full signal strength on something like a laptop, but phones, etc. can have a little trouble due to the concrete block wall that makes up part of the garage and the chimney for the fireplace in our kitchen.


  • sockdevs

    @Polygeekery said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    @accalia Do they sound better than the onboard audio?

    FUCK YES THEY DO!

    i own that little device. and i can attest they are amazing. not super professional grade, but absolutely listenable.

    @Polygeekery said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    @accalia Also, how is the wifi reception on it?

    the chromecast audio? about on par with the raspberry pi 3, or most cellphones. there's not that much room for a big antenna in there. it does better than my raspberry pi 2's USB wifi receiver, and about as good as my pi 3's. my cellphone does a bit better but it is the monster nexus 6p



  • @Polygeekery I read "House Audio" as "Horse Audio", and immediatly thought it was about :disco: :horse:


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    @accalia said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    FUCK YES THEY DO!
    i own that little device. and i can attest they are amazing. not super professional grade, but absolutely listenable.

    That's enough for me. Ordering right now. I think that also solves my question for now as that drops the price point significantly on a unit cost basis. The DAC HATs I was looking at were all around the $35 price point. I don't need super professional grade for this application as all listening will be done with the background noise of people talking, kitchen appliances running and kids crying and/or screaming.

    @accalia said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    the chromecast audio? about on par with the raspberry pi 3, or most cellphones. there's not that much room for a big antenna in there. it does better than my raspberry pi 2's USB wifi receiver, and about as good as my pi 3's. my cellphone does a bit better but it is the monster nexus 6p

    I have a Galaxy S6 Edge and coverage in the area where the receiver is at is just adequate. Enough for general web browsing, but I don't think it is adequate for streaming audio without issue. Plus, I prefer a wired option whenever possible. Luckily, our house is a ranch style home with easy attic access, a basement with an unfinished ceiling and I obviously have all the kit necessary to pull cable. :)

    The next people that move in to this house will wonder if we were running a call center out of this place.





  • @Polygeekery

    Does your receiver not have a DAC?

    Can it not handle raw audio coming from the HDMI out of the Raspberry Pi?

    Why invest in a DAC for the pi, if you have one in your receiver.


  • mod

    @accalia said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    i'll see if i can dig it up tonight and give it another try

    I'm interested in the answer to this as well. I have a raspberry pi that plays my media on the TV and I'd like to be able to put some wireless speakers around the place but I haven't the faintest idea how to do that effectively.



  • @Polygeekery said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    Also, while we are on the subject, what is the best way to play audio from a Windows machine or an Android phone to a networked location? DLNA? Other options? Being able to play from a Windows machine to the house audio would be a nice to have, but not a requirement. Airplay functionality would be sufficient.

    This is one of the rare cases where even I would suggest VLC.

    On the subject of DACs, I'd ask my friend, but he's of the 'if it doesn't have vintage russian vacuum tubes, it's not worth buying' variety,



  • @Magus said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    On the subject of DACs, I'd ask my friend, but he's of the 'if it doesn't have vintage russian vacuum tubes, it's not worth buying' variety,

    I sit next to a Russian who has one of those.


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    @TimeBandit said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    To support DLNA audio rendering on RaspberryPi, I use this

    Do you have any idea how well that plays with shairplay-sync on the same machine? I do not think there would be a problem, but it doesn't hurt to ask. I know I cannot play to both services at the same time, of course. Also, is that fine running on a 1st gen, or does it need one of the later multicore Pis?


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    @lordofduct said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    @Polygeekery

    Does your receiver not have a DAC?

    Can it not handle raw audio coming from the HDMI out of the Raspberry Pi?

    Why invest in a DAC for the pi, if you have one in your receiver.

    The two receivers I currently use are old enough that they do not have HDMI. I am pretty sure they probably have Toslink, or Optical/SPDIF, or whatever was in fashion 15 years ago. But no HDMI.

    But, that is a good point that when I finally get around to outfitting the living room I will not need to worry about a DAC as I will be buying a new receiver for that room.


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    For anyone else who is wondering, whole house audio really does not have to be prohibitively expensive. Just like anything else, you can spend as much as you want. But, beyond a point the ROI drops off precipitously.

    Currently, I have two sets of outdoor speakers mounted under the eaves, two sets of outdoor speakers mounted in the ceiling, and two sets of indoor ceiling mount speakers installed. Our house is very wide, hence the two sets under the eaves. Roughly in the middle is a screened porch that has a patio table that we eat at in the good seasons. That has one set of the ceiling mounted outdoor speakers and the other is in the garage.

    So, in total I have the two sets of outdoor ceiling speakers:

    $49/per, so $98 total

    $39.86/per, so $79.72 total

    $61.11/per, so $122.22 total

    There is also a Monoprice speaker selector, 8-channel

    https://www.amazon.com/Monoprice-108230-8-Channel-Speaker-Selector/dp/B005E2YIAC/ref=pd_sim_107_10?ie=UTF8&dpID=31phuBtqR6L&dpSrc=sims&preST=AC_UL160_SR160%2C160&psc=1&refRID=6NT0KB6H2S99W89MYNDP

    $40.33

    I also ordered two spools of 500' of 14ga speaker wire.

    https://www.amazon.com/Conductor-Copper-Oxygen-Free-Speaker-Cable/dp/B00C402W3W/ref=pd_sim_107_56?ie=UTF8&dpID=31Rq5KRf2PL&dpSrc=sims&preST=AC_UL160_SR160%2C160&psc=1&refRID=77J1NKBJEQA2XQ344Y8F

    $99.99/per, $199.98 total.

    The receivers I already had, but they are 15+ year old models so they could be picked up on Craigslist for a song.

    So for $540.25 I have 6 sets of speakers in my home. Honestly though, I am going back through and putting in volume controls:

    $21.99/per, $131.94 total. Plus some conduit, LV boxes, faceplates, which I already have.

    ~$672.19 for 6 rooms of audio. Amortize it out and it is roughly $112/room. If you have a smaller house or lighter needs, or are just not a yuppie bastard who needs audio through that many spaces, adjust to your needs. What I will say though is that we are not wanting. It is more than sufficient for our needs. Pyle and the other brands may be shunned by the audiophiles, but it is more than enough for our needs. If we had went with Polk outdoor speakers we would have spent 3x as much and not enjoyed it any more.


  • mod

    @Polygeekery My plan is to start wireless because I rent, and invest more in wired when I buy a house.



  • @Polygeekery said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    Do you have any idea how well that plays with shairplay-sync on the same machine? I do not think there would be a problem, but it doesn't hurt to ask. I know I cannot play to both services at the same time, of course. Also, is that fine running on a 1st gen, or does it need one of the later multicore Pis?

    Should not be a problem, I installed Shairport (https://github.com/hendrikw82/shairport) as a convenience for guest who are stuck on using Apple devices. It worked well when I tested it, but I don't really use it since I don't have an iDevice.

    As for using it on a 1st gen Pi, I have it running on a very 1st gen with only 256mb.



  • @Polygeekery said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    @lordofduct said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    @Polygeekery

    Does your receiver not have a DAC?

    Can it not handle raw audio coming from the HDMI out of the Raspberry Pi?

    Why invest in a DAC for the pi, if you have one in your receiver.

    The two receivers I currently use are old enough that they do not have HDMI. I am pretty sure they probably have Toslink, or Optical/SPDIF, or whatever was in fashion 15 years ago. But no HDMI.

    But, that is a good point that when I finally get around to outfitting the living room I will not need to worry about a DAC as I will be buying a new receiver for that room.

    So hey, I'm actually working on my own Raspberry Pi audio project right now. I setup the environment on a pi model 1 as a proof of concept, but didn't actually test the analogue audio on it (didn't think much of it at the time). After reading this though, it has me a little concerned.

    So I'm putting a pi3 with the new touchscreen into my car as the receiver there. The screen fits the hole for the stereo perfectly, and my buddy has a CNC machine, so we're going to machine up a chassity for it.

    But if the analogue audio is crap, I'll most likely notice it in my car where I blast my music.

    What DAC hats were you looking at? Do you have any suggestions? I'm currently looking at a couple, but finding any reviews is near impossible.


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    @lordofduct hifiberry.com has a few. Other than that, you can search Amazon for "Raspberry Pi audio" and get a ton of results for HATs with reviews and the hifiberry.com stuff is on there also with reviews.

    But, @accalia linked a USB audio device upthread that looks promising and it is only $6, so cheap enough to give it a go.


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    @TimeBandit said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    Should not be a problem, I installed Shairport (https://github.com/hendrikw82/shairport) as a convenience for guest who are stuck on using Apple devices. It worked well when I tested it, but I don't really use it since I don't have an iDevice.
    As for using it on a 1st gen Pi, I have it running on a very 1st gen with only 256mb.

    How are you outputting sound in your setup? HDMI?


  • sockdevs

    @Polygeekery said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    But, @accalia linked a USB audio device upthread that looks promising and it is only $6, so cheap enough to give it a go.

    Specifically this one:

    It's a nice little DAC, very cheap, pretty reliable (much better build quality than you would expect for the price and kickass manufacturer support)

    it's not the fanciest of DACs (i'm pretty sure it's a 12 or an 16 bit DAC, not a 24 Bit per channel super DAC) but it's way way way way better than the built in 11 bit PWM DAC that's built into the raspberry pi. and should be more than good enough for a car stereo (unless you are one of those super customized cars with the quad 400W amps in the trunk, but if you have that much money you don't need to cheap out on the DAC you plug into the Pi)


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    @lordofduct said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    But if the analogue audio is crap, I'll most likely notice it in my car where I blast my music.

    Elaborating further, my research led me to believe that the analog audio on a RPi is run by an effectively 11-bit PWM DAC. So yeah, pretty rubbish for music. Enough to spit out system sounds and probably MIDI, but that is about it. Frequency output above 15khz is basically nonexistent. Low-frequency response is similar, not sure of the cutoff though.

    Yeah, you would notice it on a car stereo project.



  • @Polygeekery said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    How are you outputting sound in your setup? HDMI?

    Analog audio. Maybe I have bad hearing, but I don't find it sound that bad.
    This was in Debian7, but I remember I needed to do some tweak. From my notes:

    Default sound is really bad, make GStreamer use PulseAudio rather than directly ALSA
    gconftool-2 -t string --set /system/gstreamer/0.10/default/audiosink pulsesink
    gconftool-2 -t string --set /system/gstreamer/0.10/default/audiosrc pulsesrc

    I will probably order what accalia suggested and see if it makes a difference.
    But that $6 US, when delivered to Canada will probably cost as much as the Pi itself :p


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @Polygeekery said in House audio, Raspberry Pi, DACs, Airplay and FWP:

    $1,000 on snakeoil HDMI cables.

    I hear $1000 snakeoil HDMI cables actually improve the quality of music streamed over RPIs.


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