HiFi Streamer : Build thread

I’m hoping to build my own HiFi streamer based around Volumio and using one of the very high quality DACS now available for the Raspberry Pi. I’m planning on using a decent low noise linear supply and I’m going to be designing a very high end case to fit in with some Naim components. If anyone is interested I’ll post build progress and research here.

So first up to bat is the IQaudio Pi-DAC+
Available here: http://iqaudio.co.uk/hats/8-pi-dac.html

All of my listening to digital so far has been with Spotify Connect set to High, Chromecast (analogue out) > Naim Nait XS2 > Royd Atom so my comparisons will be based on this system and switching in and out the DACs to review.

Overall Impressions
I chose this one first as it’s comparable on price for the DAC, however as you build a system using a Pi the costs suddenly doubly in comparison to the Chromecast. In theory then we should hear some interesting differences in favour of the IQ… So after a couple of days listening I find myself straining when listening to the music. It’s veiled in comparison. It has detail but not the depth of the CCA or the resolution. Bass has a little less punch a bit more wooly. Not quite as layered as the CCA. Instrument separation is probably the same, soundstage probably also the same. Scores on the doors:

Bass
CCA : 5
IQA : 3

Definition and clarity
CCA : 4
IQA : 3

Soundstage
CCA : 3
IQA : 3

Next up will be a comparison when I get my test linear supply…

The chassis
Take a good look, this is the Naim ND5 XS2. Their new entry level streamer and it costs an eye popping £2,299.00. Say that slowly… My build is going to emulate the case design, minus the front badge. I may add a front facing USB but at the moment the way the Pi will be mounted means that all the sockets will be on the rear including RCA outputs and HDMI.

Naim cases are built like tanks. The front fascia is 12mm solid aluminium, machined and then anodised. The side and top panels are 3mm aluminium and the base is 2mm steel. I will be using Autodesk Fusion 360 to model the case and fixings then using the brilliant guys at https://www.protocase.com/ intend get this bad boy machined, coated and built. My total build cost including DAC/Pi hardware is aiming to be a modest 20% of this world class streamer and hopefully be close to it’s capabilities and performance.

The power supply
I will hopefully be calling on the services of my genius engineer Nigel to whip up a world class linear supply for the final build but in the mean time I’m eyeing up the THEL NT5-HQ http://www.thel-audioworld.de/module/NT-HQ/NT-HQ.htm to drop in once I’ve tested the waters with a cheaper Chinese version. The THEL units seem to get repeatedly good reviews and it’s low noise configuration and compact size is exactly what we need for our application.

So the case design is nearly complete. A slight change to the linear supply. While hunting around on Art Of Sound I stumbled across a small outfit in the UK that build high quality linear supplies. Suggesting we use two for future flexibility I’ve included these in the case design. They should be good for 5v ~ 3A each which should cope with both the Pi and any DAC combinations.
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So next up to bat is the Allo Boss DAC
Available here: allo.com/sparky/boss-dac.html

Again listening to digital is with Spotify Connect set to High, Chromecast (analogue out) > Naim Nait XS2 > Royd Atom so my comparisons will be based on this system and switching in and out the DACs to review.

Overall Impressions
So this DAC has quite a few rave reviews, 1.2 is the latest version. This time I downloaded a handy sound meter app to set the volume levels or at least approximate the same level for each DAC. Really I need to get my other half to do some blind listening but no one said this would be scientific. The overall impression is that it is very similar to the CCA. The only difference is that I think it isn’t quite as rolled off in the upper frequencies. Someone described an analogue sound or “grain” I’d certainly say there is grain not unwelcome but it’s not an analogue sound per say like vinyl or valve. The added extension for me made it a little fatiguing perhaps also with the fact my speakers go well beyond 20Khz anyway. I’d need to live with this a bit to get used to it.

It has detail like the CCA and is maybe a little sharp? Bass has the same punch and is as layered as the CCA. Instrument separation is probably the same, soundstage probably also the same maybe a smidge wider or perhaps a layer more. So scores on the doors:

Bass
CCA : 4
BOSS : 4

Definition and clarity
CCA : 4
BOSS : 4

Soundstage
CCA : 3
BOSS : 3

Final word
Do the scores reflect that it’s even pegging? No, I still prefer the presentation from the CCA. The Boss, even though the scores reflect it on par with CCA is too strident in naked form for me and leads to some listening fatigue. The Linear supply has arrived so the next round will use that.

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25VA 5V Low Noise Linear Supply
Round two with this cheeky little number in black. I wasn’t expecting much but I got a pleasant surprise. It’s evened out the high end, the overall sound is more defined, solid and broad. Bass is nice and solid, is it deeper and more overpowering than the CCA? Initially I thought so and thought maybe it was the filtering on the Boss. Now I think it’s dependant on track and recording on Spotify.

eBay link to the supply:
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/25VA-Ultra-Low-Noise-linear-power-supply-output-DC-5V-3A-upgrade-Raspberry-pi-3/142731699776?ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT&_trksid=p2057872.m2749.l2649

Scores on the doors

Bass
CCA : 4
BOSS : 4

Definition and clarity
CCA : 3
BOSS : 4

Soundstage
CCA : 3
BOSS : 4

Final word
I wouldn’t believe it until I heard it but a linear supply does make a difference. Is it huge? No, is it subtle, no it’s detectable and it does firm up the soundstage, it shapes the music very well, it is worthwhile IMHO and takes the BOSS ahead of the CCA in a couple of areas.

Is it because it’s a linear supply or because it’s isolated from the Pi and has a bit of filtering? Difficult to know, I do know it makes the DAC sound better to my ears, better than the official Raspberry Pi power plug.

NB I’ve tweaked the scores, initially I thought a 1 - 0 would be clear and definitive but it doesn’t reflect how close some of these differences are and I thought giving the CCA 0 on some of these was a bit mean, maybe I should change it to 1-5! Anyhow who cares I’ve only got one person reading so far :wink:

NBB Fuck it I changed it out of 5 anyway.

Where are we now?
Well I prefer the Allo Boss to the IQaudio DAC+. I prefer a linear supply to Switching and the standard power plug, and I prefer the Boss/Linear combo to the Chromecast Audio. Next stop is the Allo isolator…

Thanks for sharing Adam. I’m looking forward to the next instalment!

No problem, I’m enjoying the journey. One slight hitch, I’ve just realised that an A/B of the Isolator review will be tricky as I don’t have another Boss 1.2 or Linear supply. With an audio memory of say 10-20 seconds in order to compare, switching out the boards isn’t possible in that time!

Anyone want to lend me a Boss 1.2/Isolator for comparison?! :smiley:

Also enjoying these posts, good work

Hello Adam
Thank you for your comparisons, they are very interesting and they help others in their decision.
For me it is very clear that the clean ultra low-noise power supply brings advantages.
I use the DIYINHK (2x 5V, 0.8uV Noise) controller board and the ifi Audio iPower 5V power supply and for me it sounds fantastic. (see signature below)

DIYINHK:
diyinhk.com/shop/audio-kits … 15ax2.html

I have seen, there is an even better part:
diyinhk.com/shop/audio-kits … 14ax2.html

regards
rost21A

Nice! I also see you have an nCore amp - sweet setup!

:smiley: - nCore Amps are fantastic Amps!

So a small update while I wait for some cash monies so I can afford to continue. Nothing earth shattering but prepping for the power supply. I have a split decision, two Linear supplies, slightly customised off the shelf or one bespoke 60VAC supply with split outputs… Decisions, decisions.

In the mean time I’m pre-empting the biblically high Protocase quote for my enclosure with a more compact alternative. A while back a lot of people mentioned they like the old “shoebox” style Naim amps. Soon enough an intrepid entrepreneurial guy on the Pink Fish Audio Forums (I kid you not that’s what it’s called) stepped up to the challenge, dug into his own pockets and made a perfect reproduction of these cases.


The case is extruded 3.5mm wall aluminium. Powder coated in a two step process to match the original Naim finish perfectly.


The inner sled was made to match the old size Naim amps like Nait 2, and NAC 32.5, 42.5 and NAP 110 etc.

No one bought them, primarily because they are tight old fucks with no idea of how much manufacturing costs in the real world. I managed to use his cases for a few projects and they are fine bits of kit. Sadly he made a loss and didn’t make any more but I’ve got one lying around so I’ve based my “fall back” design on this.

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I’ll need to get the inner “sled” replaced and a fascia made. I’m aiming for a Naim NAP 100 kind of look. cutouts on the rear are all there, I just need final marking positions for the supplies when I buy them. I may also add a power LED on the front - in green of course…

Too bad it’s not a kickstarter project…I may have invested…very tempting…arghh.
Best of luck for you and your project.

I did kick this idea around (pardon the pun). Manufacturing a complete unit would be a compliance and insurance nightmare, but as a kit it might work. Find me 100 more good strong men like you and I’ll stick it up on Kickstarter :wink:

Price range?

Adam,

Are you planning a streamer with juts Digital Output or also with Analogue outputs?

Hi John, it’s analogue out only as it suits my needs but perhaps there is room on the case for digital out.

What would you pay for a machined case? Would you want the option of adding a Linear supply or have it already included? Do you want to be able to choose a DAC/Pi configuration? Do you want analogue and digital out? Lots of questions, I may start a Poll.

I’ll list the BOM and prices at the end of the build when I get there…

So the news from Protocase was that I’d need to sell my firstborn and possibly one if not both of my kidneys to afford it. I had a hunch it was going to be pricey but it was a blow nonetheless. However adversity drives innovation and fortune favours the bold. The new compact layout is complete and I await the cost, hopefully an order of magnitude cheaper as I’m only getting the inner sled and front fascia made, I’m reusing the case from another project.

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I debated about putting a power indicator for the supplies on the front, standard HiFi style but it’s another machining process on the fascia and it would push up the cost. I quite like a sleek clean look anyway so when my other half suggested I stick them on the rear of the case I thought why not. That way you can see them when you switch it on and they aren’t glaring at you all the time. Another idea is to put them on the bottom of the case at the front to get a nice glow underneath. I may explore that at a later time.

The test linear supplies have arrived and they look very well built and engineered. It will be very interesting to hear them perform when I get the enclosure back and can build everything up. In the meantime my erstwhile polymath friend Nigel is cooking up our very own version with his power supply magic.

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