Low budget build for secondary system?


Please bare with me, complete noob to DIY audio.

I’m looking to build a fairly cheap volumio based system for my bedroom. I’d like it to sound decent, but don’t care about audiophile level sound, etc. The alternative would be to buy a standalone smart speaker like Google Home Max (though it is very expensive).

I can buy components from ebay, aliexpress, amazon.

Thought about using polk t15 or Micca MB42 as speakers, but have no clue about the rest (pi3 w or pi zero w, which dac/amp, psu, etc).

Would appreciate any help.

If I wouldn’t have had a spare cubox-i and a HiFi receiver to connect it to, I’d have done my volumio setup on the following system:

  • raspberry pi zero W (+ 4GB SD card)
  • pHAT DAC
  • since you mentioned passive speakers in your post, maybe get a mini power amp (google “nobsound”, I haven’t tried these myself but it seems this kind of amps is cheap, decent and compact. Of course there will be many brands out there offering exactly the same with similar price but different brand name)

Alternatively to the speakers you mentioned, you could consider getting active speakers, it’ll be (a bit) easier cabling, slightly more expensive but possibly better sound, especially in the >€100 range, where the power amp characteristics matched with the speaker hardware may start to be noticeable.

You can easily get all this (including the amp, excluding the speakers) for around €50.

It should be quite easy to connect it all up, there’s tons of great instructions on the net.

Good luck!

Thank you for all the details.

Are there any noticeable performance difference using the Pi Zero rather than Pi3?

Also, I’m trying to stay low budget (part of the fun in this project). Would pairing the zero, dac and bookshelf speakers together with a Class-D amp board (I see these run for 10-15$ on ebay) work and sound well?

Also - what about a recommended low budget PSU if I’m going on the passive route?

Yes, but it’s partly dependent on your definition of a performance difference. Most obviously, the Pi Zero has a far longer bootup time for Volumio: put simply, a long bootup for Zero versus a short bootup for Pi 3. If you’re in the habit of shutting down and booting up for each listening session, that might bother you; then again it might not.

If you mean the music itself, there is no difference between the audio capabilities of the Pi Zero and the the Pi 3: if you feed the signal out over HDMI, you can have digital sound up to 24/192 fed to a DAC fed in turn to an amplifier in a high end audio system. (Alternatively you can add a digi+ board directly to a Pi Zero or Pi 3 and feed out a digital signal over coaxial cable to a DAC; my preferred method.) The (potentially) weakest link in that chain is not the Pi, it’s the DAC. Place a great DAC in the chain and you’ll get great sound. The Pi itself can never transcend the downstream DAC, so the DAC is far more important than the Pi or other upstream device. A Pi into a truly high end DAC should perform extremely well, and the Pi model should be immaterial.

In terms of things like freeze ups, dropouts, or wifi issues, I’d say there’s no noticeable difference. However, if you write data (music files) to the internal SD card while playing music, it will probably affect the Zero more severely, causing a lot of dropouts.

The final thing I would consider - you can decide yourself whether you call it performance related or not - is “plug-and-playability”. The Pi 3 has all the USB ports you need, plus a full size HDMI out and an Ethernet port. It’s fully plug-and-play. But if you want Ethernet with the Zero, get a USB adapter. If you to want to use any USB device or adapter with the Zero, first get a mini-to- full size USB adapter for the Zero’s USB-B port, and if you need to add more than one USB device to the Pi, get a USB hub as well. For a non-wifi Zero, you need two hub ports just for wifi and a hard drive; add Ethernet capability and you need to use three. There is a mini-HDMI port, so you need either the cable with the right connectors at each end (one mini connector, one full size) or yet another adapter. So the Zero is the opposite of plug-and-play, but if you don’t mind doing what it takes to get it running, its audio performance is as good as the Pi 3.

The remaining question really, is what is all that miniaturization actually for, especially as you can’t get the thing to sit flat on a desk with the cable connectors being heavier than the actual unit. The Pi 3 is already small enough. My reason for doing a Pi Zero in addition to the 3 was to see how it worked, and if you have the same idea of experimentation, then it’s fine. But you don’t really need a player this small. That said, I can plug it into a serious audio system and it is the equal of any other component I put in there - the CD player, turntable, etc. But it has to go through a DAC to achieve that - all Pi models are sonically lousy if you rely on line out.

My “Porchlumio” uses a Raspberry Pi 3 ($30+sd card and power supply), Volumio ($donate), mica speakers 42x ($90), a Lepai 2020 amp ($25), a no name USB DAC dongle from Amazon ($6) + speaker cable and a 3.5 to RCA cable. Works great. Won’t rock out the neighbors, but I can hear it from the hammock anywhere in the yard. I have a friend who has used those class D amp boards and likes them, but the Lepai amps are so cheap, it’s hard to argue with them. They do ok as long as you get one that plays. The Micca speakers aren’t great, but they work fine. They did ok for computer sound in my classroom, and for how cheap they are I can’t complain. We’ll see how a few months of below freezing nights treat them. If start Volumio and open my window, I can hear they’re still going at 14F.

You don’t mention it so I’ll check. You understand the Volumio is designed to pull music off a hard drive somewhere on your network either through wifi or ethernet? If you are planning on plugging a drive directly into the Pi, I would also budget for a powered USB hub.