Pi2AES Impressions only thread

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by rhythmdevils, Dec 6, 2020.

  1. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    This thread is for impressions, experiences, recommendations, guides and pictures of the Pi2AES digital transport only. Please keep questions and discussion to the Pi2AES thread here. Comments about posted impressions are ok of course but keep it on course.

    I’d like to encourage you to copy/paste previously posted impressions, experiences and pictures into this thread to help make it more complete.

    Thank you!

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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    Last edited: Dec 7, 2020
  2. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    Google images often don't work. Can't see them.
     
  3. Metro

    Metro Friend

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    The images are linked to the pi2design website. For some reason the forum software won't display them directly.
    http://www.pi2design.com/uploads/4/8/5/3/48531975/img-0040_orig.jpg
    http://www.pi2design.com/uploads/4/8/5/3/48531975/img-0042-2_orig.jpg
    http://www.pi2design.com/uploads/4/8/5/3/48531975/img-0082_orig.jpg

    I'm not a web expert, but I think it may have something to do with the pi2design website using only http, not secure https protocol. @Michael Kelly you should look into this. Any web commerce site should be using https.
    https://www.markbrinker.com/secure-https-website
    Screen Shot 2020-12-07 at 11.16.09 AM.png
     
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  4. Michael Kelly

    Michael Kelly MOT: Pi 2 Design

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    The store uses https. Not the general browsing portion of the website. But, you make a good point and I will look into changing it.

    [edit] turns out there was a button for that! It is now a secure website. Thank you so much for bringing that to our attention.
     
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    Last edited: Dec 7, 2020
  5. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    God fuck me now this thread is just about the images. I will download them and host the fuckers myself!
     
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  6. tommytakis

    tommytakis MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    found mine for ya

    Original post: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...ay-your-pc-or-laptop.8878/page-10#post-289306

    Copy Pasta below

    Wow this thing sounds fantastic! Thank you @Michael Kelly for creating such a wonderful product!
    [​IMG]
    Listening chain: pi2AES (coax to BNC)> Bifrost 2 > SW51 | Black Widow > JAR600
    - the setup was super easy even for a technologically -challenged dummy like me (Thanks @purr1n !!) Currently I’m using it to stream Spotify, but eventually I want to be able to stream all the FLAC files I have stored in my gaming PC. I’m too sleep deprived right now so maybe another time haha
    - I basically followed all the same steps using my macbook pro and it was EZPZ. Oh and I can confirm that both Etcher and Fling worked perfectly on my mac/iphone.
    - Volumio works fine for me, but one issue I found was that I have a playlist of all the “liked” songs on spotify that has over 2000+ Songs only shows the first 50 ish songs?? Not a huge deal breaker tho!
    - this is just first impressions but I immediately noticed an increased in clarity. One of the nitpicks I had with the Black Widow was that it rounds the transients a bit much, but through the pi2AES it sounds very lively and pristine. Music is rendered beautifully with very good instrument separation and precise placement. Bass and dynamics improved as well, but I think I need to listen more to say more about it. I’ll still use USB/Unison for convenience factor but pi2AES will be my “serious” listening tool from now on :)
     
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  7. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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    ^That setup is long gone and only less than an year ago.

    I love the PI2AES because it kept the warmer sound sig that I like on BF2 but less goo when using SPDIF from Unison USB (still great thou, but I want less goo). Also having it as an endpoint where I can use both UPnP and Roon and have stuff stream into it. I don't really need my CD Transport anymore, or really need to keep buying tons of CDs. I can stream stuff that I purchased in FLAC or stream Qobuz and for the most part it sounds great. Not going to shit you that this can beat streamers with better PSUs in the four and five figure range. But price/performance/quality you can go around with any PI HAT setup IMO, but I'll keep PI2AES for long term benefit since it is super flexible on top of being a Pi box where I also use it as a music storage device.
     
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  8. Metro

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    For Spotify on Volumio, it is best to use Spotify Connect. You will be able to run the full Spotify app on computer or phone and select Pi2AES as the output device.

    In Volumio plugins, install "Volumio Spotify Connect2". Then go to the Installed Plugins tab and open the Spotify Connect2 settings. Enter your Spotify account and set initial volume to max.

    Now when you open Spotify on phone/desktop/web player, you should see your Pi2AES as an available device. Not sure if you need to restart Volumio.

    Screen Shot 2020-12-07 at 3.12.25 PM.png
     
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  9. Empyah

    Empyah Facebook Friend

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    I am coming from a purpose built mini audio pc with a Lynx AES16-e which sounded good, and could immediatly notice the extra clarity, soundstage and especially the better layering. Best upgrade I made all year.
    Everything just sounds better, fuller, smoother.

    *Was listening out of Yggi RCA on Studio Junior 2A3 and Vali 2+. With Verite, LCD2.2 pf, HE500 modded.
    Upgraded cables, CBS3000 power cleaner, DC Blocker with EMI/RFI/Common filter.
     
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  10. tommytakis

    tommytakis MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    oh yeah this is a super old post haha already do that now but use Moode instead of Volumio :)
     
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  11. tommytakis

    tommytakis MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    Yet pi2AES has survived many of my purges :p what a great product
     
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  12. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    Sorry for derailing your thread :p. Now that the images in the OP are fixed ...

    It's been quite a while, but when I first got it I remember PI2AES>S/PDIF straight to Modi Multibit having more clarity and slightly more dynamics than USB>Eitr. After that I stopped nervosa-ing and just used it happily. It's now feeding AES to DEQ2496.
     
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  13. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    Currently I have a Roon endpoint with iPower, waiting for Pi2AES to replace Digi+ Pro. Is there any benefit in powering Pi separately from the Pi2AES? It is possible, but would I gain anything in terms of SQ?

    Does the PI2AES power the PI?
    A: Yes, the PI2AES delivers 5V @ 3A to the PI. A jumper plug (marked PI5V) on the PI2AES allows the power to the PI to be enabled or disabled as desired.

    Q: Can I power the PI separate from the PI2AES.
    A: Yes, simply remove the PI5V jumper plug and provide power to the PI via it's usb power input as normal.
     
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  14. loadexfa

    loadexfa Friend

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    My understanding is there is no benefit to powering the Pi separately. I think @Michael Kelly can provide more details as to why that is the case.
     
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  15. Michael Kelly

    Michael Kelly MOT: Pi 2 Design

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    one thing I learned in audio is that I try not to make too many definitive statements! what I can say is that we don't measure any change in the jitter or noise on the output streams with linear versus switcher, or pi being powered separately or not. Now we have not tried the most expensive linears, just some basic ones that are in the 50 to $100 range. There may be benefits that the only show up with the complex interaction between the music, the streamer, the DAC and the final amplifier whether headphone or speaker..

    what I have pretty much said all along is that if it's within your budget and capability to try different power supplies or different powering schemes, then try it. Just do yourself a favor and maybe have somebody else listen to the music without knowing what setup there is, so that you can avoid the placebo effect.
     
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  16. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

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    Just as an FYI, I happened to recently obtain a very good 5V linear power supply (Sbooster BOTW MkII) which I plan to try out powering the RPi board, along with my other Sbooster (MK1) on the Pi2AES board, just to see if I can notice any difference/improvement. My previous experience with other/lesser power supplies on the RPi board was that the improvement was very minimal to none (and in the case of using an Apple switcher on the RPi, actually worse), so I really don’t expect much improvement, but will report back what I find.
     
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  17. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    I tried both ways: using a cheap 5V 1A linear wall-wart for the Pi and a cheap 24V 500mA linear wall-wart for the HAT, and - after changing the jumper - just the 24V to power both. I thought the latter arrangement might have been slightly better, but the perceived difference was small enough that it could have been expectation bias. See here and here.
     
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  18. scblock

    scblock Friend

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    Thanks to @loadexfa @rhythmdevils and @Michael Kelly for pitching in to get this loaner off the ground. Although I own two HifiBerry Digi+ Pro hats I’ve been looking at the Pi2AES for months as a possible upgrade to my existing streamers, or the digital hat for a new one I’ve been thinking about building. A week with the loaner and chance to do some side by some comparison was extremely helpful.

    Overall discussion and impressions

    My overall impressions of the Pi2AES are very positive. I like the use of a larger power supply, and running the RPI board off it, rather than having a cheap USB supply power both the RPI board and the hat. I also like the option to use an LPS with the system instead of a switcher, though I have no complaints about the Mean Well supply provided with the loaner.

    The setup as provided was 100% plug and play. I plugged into ethernet and power and was up and running immediately. I have experience installing audio operating systems on Raspberry Pis, but not having to work through that with the loaner was a nice experience.

    I tested out the TIDAL integration (thanks for providing that out of the box!), Qobuz (used my own account), streaming locally from a NAS over wired and wireless connections, playback from a USB SSD, streaming from Roon, and AirPlay.

    TIDAL and Qobuz worked flawlessly, though the Volumio interface isn’t great for that. I imagine it’s a better experience if you’ve set up favorite artists, albums, playlists, and so on already in the desktop or phone apps.

    Streaming from a NAS set up on Volumio worked well over a wired connection, up to 96/24 with no issue. I don’t have higher bit rate music to try. Streaming from a NAS over a wireless connection with the built-in wifi was hit or miss. Fine at 44/24, fine about 80% of the time at 96/24, and the rest of the time very frustrating.

    Streaming from Roon was similar, excellent over wired, less excellent over wifi. But it had fewer sound hitches and drops over wifi, preferring to flat out fail to stream and give useless error messages instead. Maybe an external wifi adapter or antenna would help a lot, but the built-in wifi, even when reporting 80 or more mbps (plenty for an uncompressed audio stream), was not reliable enough for me.

    I had no issues with AirPlay, which is 44.1 kHz 16-bit ALAC.

    I tried the Pi2AES on my main 2-channel setup (Modi Multibit, Saga, Vidar, Vandersteen 2c), alternate speaker setups (swap Bottlehead S.E.X. in for Saga and Vidar or swap Modius for Modi Multibit), my desktop speaker setup (Bifrost Multibit, Chinese JL Hood Amp, Klipsch R-51M), desktop headphone setup (Same Bifrost, Lyr 3, new production Tung Sol tube), and the Liquid Platinum setup in the living room (Modius, LP, stock tubes). Compared to USB I hear an improvement, largely a clearer sound with a less harsh feeling, especially in the upper mids. I hear less difference on the Modius with Unison USB than the Modi Multibit and Bifrost. Possibly my equipment isn’t enough to resolve the differences, or my hearing is not sensitive enough. Overall I had a strong preference for playback through the Pi2AES over straight USB whether from a PC or a Pi.

    I tried all the inputs available to me, which were coax, optical, and AES. I could not reliably distinguish between them even on the same DAC. Again, could be no observable difference, or could be me.

    Comparison to the HifiBerry Digi+ Pro

    I mentioned that I have two Raspberry Pi 3 boards with HifiBerry Digi+ Pro hats that I built a few years ago. I haven’t had a reason to complain about the HifiBerry boards, though after having both setups here I would probably choose the Pi2AES over another HifiBerry board in the future. Partly it’s because conceptually I prefer the use of a stronger power supply and running the Pi off that, rather than powering the Pi and hat (and display, for one of my systems) off a 5V 3A USB switching supply. Also partly because having access to the AES, BNC, and I2S outputs is very appealing for future use if I were to upgrade my system to more capable DACs with those inputs.

    And because @Michael Kelly is active and helpful in this community, and publishes fairly detailed information on the board, which is a nice change from the approximately zero technical information I’ve found on the HifiBerry boards.

    After about a week comparing the two systems though I admit I can’t reliably hear a difference between them on any of the setups I tried. Could just be my lack of sensitivity, YMMV.

    For fun, some pictures of the two boards.

    Pi2AES
    [​IMG]

    HifiBerry Digi+ Pro
    [​IMG]

    Both streamers (top of the steel case removed from the HifiBerry).
    [​IMG]


    Discussion of Volumio

    This is getting slightly off the topic of the Pi2AES, as I could reasonably run other software of my choice, including RoPieee which I use on my other streamers. But as it was included on the loaner system and as I have some strong feelings about Volumio after a week using it, I wanted to spend a little time discussing it, especially considering possibly plans for pre-loading it on a standalone streamer device that may come in the future. Most of this comes from using the loaner system, but I also loaded Volumio on one of my own streamers to keep poking at it as well.

    But I’m going to bury it in a spoiler tag because it’s not 100% relevant to the Pi2AES, which is excellent.

    Of the various systems I’ve used Volumio is one of the nicer looking ones and has good official RPI touch screen support (tested on my own unit). It’s probably the best of the available options for playing local files. Unfortunately that’s not high praise. There are several design decisions that to me range from simple head scratching or eye rolling to flat out wondering if the authors really give a crap about music libraries.

    I’ll start with sorting, which is critically important to me. Artists should be sorted alphabetically by local language rules, and the system should optionally support the Artist Sort tag field as well (if for example you want David Bowie under B rather than D). It’s also incredibly frustrating when artists like The Beatles and The National end up under T, when linguistic sorting places them appropriately in B and N, respectively. Even worse, the Volumio UI clearly uses a naïve unix-like sort function, so lower-case artists end up at the very end of the list, as do names with diacritics, like Ólafur Arnalds. So things aren’t where you expect them to be.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Albums under a given artist or the full Album List are similarly sorted naively by name. I have a strong preference to sort by release date (optionally based on the original date or the re-release date). This is how I sort my CDs and records, and how I can set up MusicBee, Roon, foobar2000 on iOS, etc. Not so on Volumio, and it was a drag to deal with every time I browsed the web interface.

    [​IMG]

    This certainly doesn’t affect raw functionality, and I acknowledge that my personal preferences aren’t the only way to do things, but it really feels like this part of the interface was simply built, considered good enough, and left. At least put in the options to choose sorting methods beyond just calling sort(). (And if they are there and I completely missed them, I would be happy to learn it and update this.)

    The playback screens are also a disappointment. The phone screen sized interface is attractive enough, unfortunately the information presented is limited, and the album title and artist name are not links to the album and artist in the music library. The tablet sized interface is similar, with just a few small changes. Unfortunately I had a tendency to hit the scrubber when trying to press the play/pause button. Seems like the touch targets are poorly sized or the elements could be more widely spaced.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The real disappointment is the large desktop-sized screen. Given massive amounts of real estate the interface moves the now playing information to a bar at the bottom of the screen, then shows the track timer on the left (in a hard to use circular format), the album art, album name, artist name, and track title in the middle, and a completely useless circular volume bar on the right (the mixer is disabled on the loaner, and I would disable it on a system I set up as well). A second useless volume bar is on the playback bar, for no good reason. And the artist and album name are still not links back to the music library, and none of this ample screen real estate is used to show the rest of the playback queue or even the next track, which I would love.

    [​IMG]

    Similarly, the playback queue page shows very little information beyond track title, artist, and album name. No track lengths, or overall queue length, or clear visual indicator of which tracks were played and which were upcoming (there is a small play icon on the playing track). And I could find no way to reorganize the queue, just delete tracks.

    [​IMG]

    Related, the album display in the music library doesn’t show which track is playing. All together this ends up feeling to me like a nice looking system that doesn’t understand at all how the various playback and browsing screens can work together to create a coherent picture of what’s playing and what’s coming up. Roon in contrast always feels grounded to me because I’m just a click or two away from jumping back to exactly what I’m listening to, which album it's from, and what I’ve listened to before that no matter how far away I’ve browsed to other albums, artists, etc while listening.

    [​IMG]

    There’s more, but those were the biggest things that bothered me in the week I spent with this software. I’ve considered setting up a local development environment to poke at these, assuming I find some time and motivation, but it would certainly be easier to just load the RoPieee XL card back onto my Pi and keep using Roon.
     
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  19. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    Before getting Pi2AES I was using two Digi+ Pro Roon endpoints and have no complains. I cannot compare 100% apples to apples because I am using now AES/EBU with Pi2AES, instead of BNC on Digi+, but I prefer Pi2AES for three reasons, and that's just after few hours of listening:
    1. Blacker background, there is a slight difference but audible, the background noise level of Digi+ was higher. and that, I am just speculating, could be a difference in power supply.
    2. The second reason is improved performance of some headphones. For example I love listening to chamber music, or solo cello with my HE500, but did not enjoy orchestral pieces because there was not enough air, I had a sense of congestion. HE500 sound definitely more open listening with Pi2AES as a transport. I do not know why is that is but it was the first thing I noticed when I tried Beethoven 7th. That was similar to the effect of removing a grill mesh from the HE500 cups, which I did few months ago.
    3. I was concerned that I will be disappointed with Pi2AES after using Bryston BDP-2, which was my main player, and it was audibly better than Digi+. But comparing those three (Digi+<Pi2AES<BDP-2) Pi2AES is much closer to Bryston than to Digi+. I mean BDP2 is dead quiet, entirely transparent, engineered like tank and has 5 years warranty but I do not think that, in terms of listening experience, Pi2AES is very far behind, and it costs 15 times less.
     
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  20. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    Thanks to the wonderful SBAF Pi2AES loaner tour,
    having a week of listening comparing Pi2AES spdif into Bifrost2 vs. Bifrost2 Unison USB (from macMini 2018)
    am now the proud owner of (still unbuilt) Pi2AES with the black case from @Michael Kelly !

    after dumping all previous USB Regen, Mutec, Ambre and other bridge devices to use Unison USB in 2020
    (to simplify and save $)
    why Pi2AES now?
    Answer: High value Pi2AES product (low $, quality sonic gains) + Roon Bridge simplicity = worth it.

    The entire list of components, build steps and SD install advice from SBAF were CRITICAL to persuading me to jump back on board and try non-USB, SPDIF (in my case) to Bifrost2 again.
    Plus, the Pi2AES provides other streaming features and interfaces to try in the future as well. jack of many trades!

    the primary gains detected with Pi2AES into Bifrost2, was akin to slightly better focus and contrast.
    instruments had better lines of demarcation, sharp and accurate. like dialing in manual focus on a camera.
    others have mentioned a blacker background, which could also be a factor with better "focus" as yes- micro details and placement popped out, just a bit more. layering became easier to hear.

    were these large improvements over Unison USB? not really.
    were improvements noticeable? yes, more so on higher resolution files or lossless well mastered material.

    99% of planet Earth would / should be sonically satisfied with Unison USB with their schiit DAC.
    I still use Unison USB on a daily basis for streaming from Bandcamp and general work day listening.
    For serious listening from personal Roon library, will happily switch over to the Pi2AES and enjoy those subtle improvements thanks to Michael Kelly and SBAF.
    cheers!
     
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