Talkin’ ‘bout a revolution. On 29th February 2012 the UK’s Raspberry Pi Foundation launched its first product, the eponymous Raspberry Pi PC board, designed primarily to promote computer science skills in UK schools and developing countries. The v1 Pi arrived as a smartphone-sized bare board to which the end use would add storage media, power supply, casework and Linux-derived operating system.
Low wallet damage, US$20-35 (depending on RAM size and storage type), meant that demand often outstripped supply in the months that followed the Pi’s debut. Hardly surprising when a fully functioning PC could be configured for less than US$50.
The introduction of a v2 model this time last year saw Raspberry Pi sales figures tip the five million mark soon thereafter; it is now officially the fastest selling British-made computer of all time. So far, so Wikipedia.
On its leap year birthday this week, the Raspberry Pi 3 comes to market. The updated version maintains its forerunner’s board size and US$35 price point but offers more wallop for your dollar: WiFi, Bluetooth and a faster quad-core ARM processor are now also part of the deal.
In the DIY space, the Raspberry Pi is the toast of hobbyists. Narrowing our filter further we see have-a-go audiophiles developing DIY Pi-based digital audio streamers on a shoestring budget. The compromise in saving quids is the need for a little Linux command line knowledge. In more extreme cases, one might need to recompile a kernel or dance with bootloaders. The software world of Linux that underpins the Pi isn’t without its own configuration challenges. Time and hair can easily be lost.
The UK’s IQaudIO want to pull on our collective coats about an alternative approach that involves adding a board to an existing Pi, one that’s configured to rock n roll out of the box – no end user software config required. Adding extra sweetness is Roon Readiness.
Company founder Gordon Garrity says this: “We’re tremendously excited to offer our customers the ability to enjoy Roon’s immersive music experience on IQaudIO’s DAC and DigiAMP.”
Let’s peel back the introductory layers one by one.
IQaudIO have been selling audio accessories for the Raspberry Pi for around a year. Their Pi-DAC+ (£31.50) and Pi-DigiAMP+ (£55) are boards that plug directly onto the riser pins of an existing Raspberry Pi, turning the latter into a fully network-connected D/A converter or digital amplifier. Both boards are 24bit/192kHz-capable, are based on Texas Instruments’ Burr-Brown chipsets and are designed and manufactured in the UK.
The Pi-DAC+ takes its digital audio stream from the Raspberry Pi motherboard and outputs a decoded audio signal either via RCA connectors or a “pretty good” (according to Garrity) 3.5mm TI-powered headphone amplifier socket. Digital volume attenuation is baked into its design. Best of all, the Pi-DAC+-appended Raspberry Pi will show up on your home network as a Roon Ready Endpoint.
Similarly, the Pi-DigiAMP+ builds on the Pi-DAC+’s capabilities by providing 35wpc Class D amplification to an attached pair of loudspeakers (bare wire only here thought). It too plugs into an existing Raspberry Pi. It too will show up on a network as a Roon Ready Endpoint.
One major advantage of the IQaudIO approach is its turn-key nature. No command-line config or kernel knowledge is needed. Simply flash your Raspberry Pi with IQaudIO’s version of the RPi operating system – one which includes the Roon code – and any attached Pi-DAC+ or Pi-DigiAMP+ will be automatically recognised and configured.
IQaudIO also offer a range of power supplies that sell for £5, £21 and £29. A further £15.90 gets you a smoked acrylic case to house your Raspberry Pi + IQaudIO board.
Let’s add it all up to bare minimum total cost in American dollars: US$35 for the Pi 2 or Pi 3, ~US$45 for the Pi-DAC+, US$5 for the cheapie SMPS and ~US$22 for the case. That sums to a Roon Endpoint with on-board D/A conversion for a venti cappuccino above one hundred clams.
As someone who unsuccessfully went through the pain barrier in attempting to get a certain USB DAC to play ball with a Linux-powered VortexBox some years back, I’m aware of the anguish that Linux can bring to newcomers.
For those who want no part in the DIY aspect of configuring a Raspberry Pi to talk to an existing DAC via USB, the IQaudIO option/s – along with their super-sharp pricing – could be worth a long hard look.
Further information: IQaudIO