This is Sony’s HAP-S1 High-Resolution Audio HDD Player. It’s beautiful to look at with superb audio specs, stores 500 GB of music internally, can be controlled via PC or mobile apps and can play music in a wide variety of formats: DSD, WAV, AIFF, WMA, FLAC, MP3, and AAC (and a few others).
But what if you don’t want to spend $1,000 for Sony’s solution, which is actually one of the more affordable on the market? Good news: there is a much cheaper alternative, that gives up almost none of the HAP-S1’s features, for less than a tenth of the price.
This is the HiFiBerry DAC+, a “shield” PC board that connects (no soldering or engineering expertise required!) to a Raspberry Pi single board computer. As the name suggests, this little board is a Digital-to-Analog Converter, that converts the digital audio processed through the
Raspberry Pi to an analog signal that you can send out through the stereo RCA jacks to y
our home audio amplifier (or amplified speakers, etc.).
The HiFiBerry DAC+ costs about USD $29 and is available directly from HifiBerry or other online retailers. It’s compatible with most of the Raspberry Pi models — the original, 2 and 3 series, and features a 192kHz/24bit Burr-Brown digital-to-analog converter (it’s a Texas Instruments made DAC chip that has been around for a while). While I can’t compare the specs of this DAC directly to what’s inside the Sony (and similar) audio players, I’ve got it connected to my home stereo system and, to me, it sounds great.
OK, so back to the original idea of this post: pair this DAC with a $35 Raspberry Pi series 2 or 3 and for less than $100 you have all the hardware needed to stream your digital music collection to your home stereo or amplified speakers. You’ll probably want a case to house everything. I 3-D printed this case (there are dozens of different designs available for free on ThingiVerse) or you can buy a plastic case on Amazon for around $15, or even a metal case from HiFiBerry for much more.
So all that’s missing is software. I’m using the excellent, open-source RuneAudio software running on a Raspberry Pi3. It’s amazing how much capability the Rune project developers have given their app, not the least of which is the ease of installation and use.
Installing the RuneAudio software involves nothing more than downloading the appropriate image for your hardware (Raspberry Pi3 in my case), writing the image to a microSD card, plugging the card into the RPi, connecting RCA audio out patch cables, power and an ethernet cable (you can also configure wifi connectivity, but it’s easier to set up the RuneAudio player with a wired network connection) and booting up the RPi. You’ll find a step-by-step tutorial on the RuneAudio web site.
The software supports a wide range of digital audio formats — FLAC, WAV, MP3, AAC and others, supporting steaming from a network storage device (my music collection is stored on a Western Digital My Cloud NAS), streaming from local storage (a USB drive plugged into the Raspberry Pi), and listening to Internet radio stations.
Setup and configuration is simple and everything “just works”, similar to Apple’s products long ago. The player software can be controlled via both PC and mobile web browsers, with Android and iOS apps on the development futures list.
All-in-all, a very cost-effective alternative to dedicated home media players.