Raspberry PI 3B or 4 for sound quality?

Volumio Information

Volumio Version:
Hardware:
DAC: Chord Mojo

Hi there

I am looking to setup a new streamer. I am currently using an Intel Atom setup running the latest Volumio X86 version.

Looking for a raspberry PI with an Allo dii one HAT.

Can people tell me if there is any audible difference between the 3B and 4 versions of the raspberry Pi. There some commentators saying the old version sounds better than the the new?

Thanks

RPI4 has better I/O capability and can manage the Ethernet and USB data ports simultaneously at any audio data rate without clicks, pops or interruption. So it’s the best solution for a USB dac if you don’t want to buy a HAT USB bridge for a RPi3 - which would end up costing more anyway.

RPi3 can manage the Ethernet port and address a HAT DAC, or a HAT USB bridge without interruption because it does not have any contention with the (unused) USB ports.
RPi3 has less digital activity than the more compute capable RPi4 so might generate a little less USB ‘noise’. So potentially lower noise levels injected into the DAC.
There may be some merit in using a better power supply if you’ve got a HAT DAC. People often use a switch mode power supply from IFI (sensible). Some people even buy expensive linear power supplies and end up spending more on the power supply than they might on a decent USB dac with its own built in power!

Having said that I run a RPi4 with the standard power brick and a stock USB cable into a Topping D90 USB DAC and cannot hear anything other than background recording studio noise on a near silent section of a 24/96 recording. Nothing on a ‘scope either.

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Many thanks for the feedback

I appreciate the technical superiority of the Pi 4 especially in managing the Ethernet and USB ports. What I was hoping to find out is how using volumio with the Allo Digi One HAT sounds between the two Pis running volumio?

I am not a Pi user (yet) but what I have read is that the 3b has enough bandwidth for running audiophile applications. But if there is no audible difference between the two then I may as well get the more powerful PI 4 board.

Audio quality is the key for me here not absolute technical performance/technical specs or scope measurements

Thanks

the pi 4 you can get a lot faster with some tweaks but we have to wait untill volumio get’s 64bit
it will be really a fast pi…(running 64bit / usb ssd with latest eeprom update to run from ssd)

The Raspi4 gets hotter than the Raspi3. If you stack something on top, the CPU is confined to a small air volume where no commercial vent solution is available. Temperatures reach 62C just by playing simple PCM streams. Common wisdom is, that such temperatures are Ok and will not do any harm. I am not so sure. Running the Raspi4 without a HAT DAC and with a top vent might be a sensible solution.

Yes I forgot to mention the RPi4 heat issue. You make a very good point. Just running Volumio it runs pretty hot. I also intend to run bruteFIR for room equalisation which with the Volumio will increase the CPU load and hence the heat generation. I use a FLIRC case which has a thermal pad sitting on top of the CPU connecting the CPU topside to the aluminium case structure, thereby keeping things cooler. No fans, so no noise :). But any HAT DAC would have to be connected on a flying cable form as there is no room in the case for a HAT. Not so nice. If you are going down the HAT route a RPi3 should be OK so overheating is not so much a problem. I haven’t seen seen any objective measurements of HAT DAC noise differences between RPi 3 and 4. Subjective reviews need to be carefully filtered, but some suggest that the 3 is better than the 4. They are nearly always never done as a blind test and therefore sometimes just serve to confirm the prejudices and pre conceived ideas of the reviewer. At least in my opinion :).
Bottom line though: with a HAT DAC the RPi3 will do a good job, with less heat dissipation and a slightly lower cost.

I positioned a fan on the small side. Not pretty, but temperature is in the 40s

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Good solution!
Malcolm was concerned about sound quality. So a few questions which could be important:

  1. Could you detect any digital breakthrough into the sound?
  2. Can you hear the fan if, for example, you are more than 1m from the unit?
  3. Do you use the standard Raspberry power supply or have you chosen a possibly quieter option from a 3rd party supply like IFI?

I have to stick a finger into the fan to see if it running as I can not hear it. The bearings will wear out, so it may need replacement in 2-3years.
I use HDMI as Volumio output. There are rumors that it is limited to 16 bit. That makes the power supply a second order problem.
I never heard any stray noise, but this depends heavily on the overall grounding of the system and hence may vary. I use a default power supply.

Hi Malcolm

None of our usage cases has a HAT DAC. I originally misread Joachim’s posting and thought he might be using a HAT. There must be plenty of HAT DAC users out there - let’s hope one of them picks up the thread!

I use a HAT DAC-Adc for my Vinyls. The DAC part stays dormant at the moment as I apply Dirac after the Volumio.

At the moment, you will not find any difference on audio performance between RPi3 and RPI4 using a I2S DAC, I2S interface on both versions does not have remarkable differences

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I presently use a Pi 3B+ with a Hifiberry DAC+ and it sounds great. Only issue I’ve had is handling the size of my collection (40K+ songs). I have my media on another Pi 3B+ operating as a NAS with some huge hard drives connected to it. Connections to Spotify are great (320Mb streaming) using a hard wired ethernet connection.

IMHO, the Pi4 is probably overkill. I only run volumio on that one pi and it uses 835K of the 1GB of memory and load is next to 0.

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Agree, the RPI4 cpu is far more capable than needed. You have wisely chosen a HAT DAC to use with your RPI3 and so you do not have any issues with interruptions which can occur when streaming from the Ethernet port to the usb connectors on the RPI3.
My earlier explanation of the Ethernet usb problem on the RPI3 is probably a little over simplified. GitHub has a more complete set of threads across several pages which discuss the issue in more detail. I haven’t fully absorbed them yet!

A while ago, I came across a YouTube a video from the Hans Beekhuyzen Channel about the Raspberry Pi 4 for music playback. It’s informative. Basically he says that the pi 4 is more noisy than the Pi 3+, thereby decreasing the quality of the signal.

But if you can separate the DAC from the RaspberryPi 4 by mounting the DAC next to the pi and using jumper wires, i think it will overcome his concerns in the video. This is the approach I used for my pi 3+ set up anyways so I’ll probably do it again when I upgrade.

Most of the reviews I’ve seen on sound quality RPI3 vs RPI4 vs another much more expensive streamer with ‘audiophile’ digital outputs have been done with sighted evaluations i.e. the reviewer knows what equipment he’s hearing. And so the expensive streamer always wins! When done as true blind test with a good USB dac I would be prepared to bet that a set of trials would not give a statistically significant preference.
Measurements with high grade analysers such as the APX555, show no difference even when looking for differences significantly below the threshold of hearing.
Look at websites like Audio Science Review or Archimago’s Musings where some of the myths about digital audio, overpriced cables etc are laid to rest. Archimago did offer some useful thoughts on reducing cpu noise on a RPI though. He suggested reducing the clock frequency, which then allows a reduction in supply voltage to the cpu. A couple of his postings

The content does assume a certain level of knowledge and so may may not be very easy reading so it is for this reason that we get subjective reviews of ‘what it sounds like’ which are much easier to understand, are much easier to do as a blog, and are at the best much more prone to error!

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Coming to this late, but using Volumio on RP 3b+ without issues in terms of networking or response/performance. My DAC is the Nanomesher DAC2s. That said, if you don’t have a RP already, go with the 4: more memory, better CPU and other improvements.

I have tried both and come back to the raspberry pi 3 every time, I think the pi 3 sounds just a bit nicer, although the pi 3 three gives a little more noise than the pi 4.

my setup is, raspberry pi 3 or 4 allo isolator v1, kali reclocker, piano 2.1.
powered by three separate linear power supplies.

You can do that with a GPIO ribbon cable and get 8-12 inches of separation.

I like Pi4 it’s better connection with my USB DAC.