My Budget Audiophile Music Streamer Build Your Own For $112.71

I really enjoy music, both digital and analog. I was a relatively early adopter of wireless streaming high quality lossless files (flac) to my stereo system via a Squeezebox Classic. So when my 10 year old Squeezebox died a couple weeks ago I was pretty bummed :-( After a short mourning period I began researching an affordable replacement.  I wasn't ready to spend almost $1000 for one of these (though they do get good reviews). I figured there had to be a solution for less than a couple hundred bucks. After a bit of Googling I came upon a solution that made sense from both an audiophile and dollars standpoint. The result was that I replaced my dearly departed Squeezebox with a budget audiophile-quality music streamer that cost me all of $112.71 and 30 minutes of my time. It was easier than I thought and it's something that anyone who can plug in a audio cable or send an email can do themselves.

Time For Some Pi

The solution I ended up implementing is a streaming player based on the popular Raspberry Pi system. Raspberry Pi is a linux-based "all in one" computer that is affordable and very customize-able. This affordability and flexibility has spawned any number of variations/uses for the board, music streaming being one of them.

The Squeezebox I had was based on a custom music server originally called Squeezeserver. The software sits on your computer and serves up your digital music to the Squeezebox. Squeezeserver (now called Logitech Media Server) has a reputation as a high-quality, audiophile focused piece of software that can stream high-quality lossless files such as flac. The software was quickly adopted by music geeks as a sort of "gold standard" in music server software and with the software code being released as open source it has been improved over the years as well as being the source of many player apps, such as the one that was built for the Raspberry Pi, called piCorePlayer. piCorePlayer is free software that is easily installed on the Raspberry Pi, turning it into a streaming device capable of playing the music sent to it by Logitech Media Server. I really enjoyed using the Logitech Media Server setup I had and saw no reason to change. So I decided to build my player to work with the Logitech Media Server system. Here's a listing of the items needed to set up a wired (dirrectly connected to my router with ethernet cable) player:

-Raspberry Pi 2 Model B - Purchased from Amazon for $41.87

-HiFiBerry Digi+- Purchased from Cameron Tech for $35.00- The HiFiBerry Digi+ is an "add on" board for the Raspberry Pi that allows you to route your music to an outboard DAC via an optical connection. This was the perfect choice for me since I have a decent DAC (the Beresford Bushmaster Mk II) that accepts digital input. The board literally "clips" onto the Raspberry Pi in about 30 seconds.

- Micro 8Gb SD card - Purchased from Amazon for $5.85

- Power Adapter - Purchased from Amazon for $7.99

Nifty Acrylic Case - Purchased from Cameron Tech for $17.00

-WiFi Dongle-(optional)-If you want to stream wirelessly you will need to add a WiFi adapter to your Pi. These can be purchased for between $5 and $12. Here's a number of them from Amazon that look pretty good.

- Logitech Media Server-Free- My preferred music streaming software. You install this on your computer and it scans the folder/drive where your music is located. Once that's done you can send your music to any number of players that are connected to your network (both wired and wireless)

piCorePlayer-Free- This is the software that you need to load on the Raspberry Pi to link up with Logitech Media Server on your computer. The site has fairly comprehensive instructions. Basically you just download the software to your computer, burn it to your Micro SD card using Win32 Disk Image (see below), insert the SD cart into your Raspberry Pi, power it up, configure the software and you are good to go!

Win32 Disk Image (windows only)- Free software used to write the PiCorePlayer software to the Micro SD card

Shipping $5.00

Total Cost  $112.71

The Build

Once I got all my pieces/parts it took me about 30 minutes total to assemble the Raspberry Pi, download and burn the piCorePlayer software to the card, install the card, power up the Pi and configure the basic settings so that it would work with my network. Trust me on this, if I can do it, just about anybody can do this. There's no crazy coding or tweaking required.

The end result is I now have my digital streaming setup working again and the quality of the sound is fantastic! Here's a photo of the final product sitting on my Beresford DAC:


Other options

If you don't want to use Logitech Media Server as your software, the Pi will work with other music streaming software. Two additional ones I found in my research (there are probably more) are Volumio and Runeaudio. Both of these seem to be basically the same setup as I'm using but with different interfaces, etc. I didn't dig to deep into them as I'm very happy with my current setup but I may try one of them out in the future just to see how they work.

Bottom Line And Resources

The bottom line with all of this is that it doesn't have to cost a fortune to build a true audiophile-quality digital music streaming setup. All you need is a Raspberry Pi, a computer and a bit of time and you too can have something that provides a high-quality steam of music at a budget-friendly price! Here's a couple more resources you might want to check out:

How I Turned A Raspberry Pi 2 Into An Audiophile Music Streamer

Computer Audiophile Article on Raspberry Pi 2

Raspberry Site

Thank You Colby Brown And WACOM For My New Intuos Tablet

I'm A Winner!

Back in December I entered the BIG HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY over on Colby Brown's Blog. I've been an admirer of Colby's Landscape, Travel and Humanitarian photography ever since I got back into photography. He's done a great job of becoming an internationally recognized photographer and has done a lot to promote photography and educate others.

For the last few years he has run the Holiday Giveaway. I dutifully entered but didn't win anything....until this year! My name was picked on the final week and my prize was a WACOM Intuos tablet. It showed up via UPS this week and now I am the proud owner of an Intuos Creative Pen & Touch!

Now that I have the tablet I need to get it setup on my computer, play around with it and learn how best to integrate it into my regular computer usage and photo editing workflow. I think it will be a benefit to me but I'm interested in hearing about how all of you are using these tablets.

Feedback and help appreciated

Here's where I beg for your help :-) I'm interested in learning how you are using your tablet to enhance your photography, and any other stuff for that matter. Please don't hesitate to leave a comment or suggestion

Once again, thanks so much to Colby Brown and WACOM for the fantastic prize! If any of you aren't familiar with Colby's site you need to check it out!

Dial In Your Stylus Tracking Force To Get The Best Sound From Your Vinyl

In the 2 months that I've had the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC turntable I've had a lot of fun spinning the various vinyl records that I've managed to acquire so far. I'm really enjoying the sound and the "ceremony" that goes with playing music on a turntable. I have also spent some time tweaking the turntable to try and get the best sound out of my spinning plastic discs and have learned a lot in the process. One of my biggest "ah-ha" moments came when I took the time to properly adjust my stylus tracking force. The difference in sound quality was fairly dramatic.

How I discovered this

The reason I started to look at the tracking force of my stylus was because I was having problems with the stereo imaging (sound was mainly coming out of the left speaker) on a few records. My initial thought that maybe it was the record itself. But after the same problem happened on 5 or 6 records I figured something else was wrong because I knew I wasn't buying that many crappy records! I did a quick Google search which indicated that the stylus tracking weight might be the cause. Based on this I went back to the turntable setup instructions to make sure I had done things correctly. I re did the tonearm balance and tracking force setting and the result was a little better but not what I thought it should be. A little further Googling suggested that I should use a more accurate measuring device to make sure that the tracking force was within the range indicated by Ortofon for the 2M Red cartidge (15-17.5mN). I did some searching for "digital stylus tracking force gauge" and came up with a few options, ranging in price from $10 to several hundred dollars. I settled on this one:

Signstek Blue LCD Backlight Digital Long-Playing LP Turntable Stylus Force Scale Gauge Tester

I got the gauge for $19.99 which was very affordable, much more so than the others I saw for upwards of $250+. Now the test was to see if my $19.99 gauge was going to work.

The weigh in

Once I got my digital stylus scale from Amazon I set it up on the platter of the turntable and let the stylus down slowly to see what it measured. The result was 1.09 grams, well under the minimum of 1.5 grams that Ortofon recommends. "How did that happen?" I thought to my self. I thought I had followed the setup instructions correctly. Obviously I redid everything again and got a lot closer (1.4 grams) to the suggested force but I was still off. I carefully redid the setup procedure yet again and really paid attention to how the numbers on the tonearm's force scale lined up with the markings. The result was a 1.6 grams force measurement on the scale. The interesting part was that the markings on the tonearm indicated 1.7 grams to my 50-year old eyes so there was a 1/10th of a gram discrepancy between the digital scale and the tonearm markings. I fiddled around/adjusted a bit more and got this measurement:

The 1.63 is almost exactly between the 1.5 and 1.75 grams tracking force that Ortofon recommends for the cartridge. The result was a much better sound with a nice stereo image and a bit less "pops and crackles". My guess is that the slightly heavier tracking force keeps the stylus in the groove better, reducing "slop" in the tracking across the vinyl.

Since this image was taken I have dialed in the tracking force a bit more by testing various settings with the offending vinyl discs and have settled on a tracking force of 1.69 grams which is at the high end of the range but still within spec. The result has been a much more consistent sound improvement across the entire range of records. Audible pops and crackles are now much less and imaging is much better.

What I learned

This whole experience/process has taught me that getting the best possible sound from your turntable takes a little bit of work. Just setting up the turntable right out of the box based on the user's manual will get you close, but not as close as you could be, to the level of sound reproduction that your turntable is capable of. It will take a small investment in your listening experience in order to get the most out of it. And having an accurate stylus tracking force is one of those things that can contribute greatly to the final sound. In most cases a "too light" tracking force will be worse for your listening experience (and records) than a heavier tracking force. So my suggestion is to invest in a basic digital tracking force scale (the one I link to above is a solid choice) and take the time to make sure that your stylus is putting the proper amount of pressure on the vinyl to get good sound.

Next up in my quest for the "perfect" vinyl sound is cartridge alignment............. Stay tuned for a post on my experiences with that.


Alert-Lenovo Used Superfish To Spy On Notebook Owners

If you own a newer Lenovo consumer notebook/laptop (Purchased in September 2014 or later) there's a good chance that you have been spied on by Lenovo. Just a few days ago Lenovo admitted that they had installed the "Superfish" adware (more like malware) on a number of consumer-grade notebooks as a "way to enhance the customer experience" when in reality the Superfish software was actually acting as a "man in the middle" allowing it to view any and all web traffic, including encrypted traffic, emanating from an infected laptop. So all that "secure" browsing you've done on your Bank's website, for example, could have been visible to Lenovo/hackers. Comforting, huh?

If you own a Lenovo laptop and weren't aware of this (like I wasn't) you might want to take some measures to protect yourself from any further potential damage. I first became aware of Superfish while listening to Leo Laporte's "The Tech Guy" while at work yesterday. Here's a link to show #1164 where Leo discusses Superfish (around 4 minutes into the show).  Here's a link from a story on ARS Technica discussing Superfish adware/spyware.

Also, if you Google "Superfish" you will find plenty of articles on the matter.

What Should You Do

What if you have a Lenovo laptop and think that it's infected? What should you do?

The first thing I would do is remove Superfish. You could go about it a couple of different ways, the quick and easy way or the "nuclear option". The quick and easy way is to use a tool provided by Lenovo to remove Superfish. Here's a link to Lenovo's support site where they discuss Superfish, the infected laptop models and how to remove Superfish using the tool.

The "nuclear option" would be do a clean install of Windows on your laptop. This involves wiping the drive that has Windows on it and re-installing Windows from a "known" clean Windows disk (not the disk or recovery partition that came with your Lenovo laptop. I know that's a pretty drastic measure but it might be the only way to truly remove Superfish.

What I Am Going To Do

In my case, even though my laptop model is on Lenovo's list of potentially infected models I purchased the laptop in March of 2014 so I supposedly don't have Superfish installed. I ran the tool from Lenovo's site and it indicated that Superfish wasn't on my laptop. I think I'm fairly comfortable with that but I also think my faith in Lenovo has been forever broken. Based on this episode I don't think I will purchase another Lenovo product in the future despite Lenovo's claims that they weren't aware of how bad Superfish was,

The bottom line is that I believe Lenovo knew exactly what Superfish was doing and did nothing about it until they got called out on it. I find that inexcusable but unfortunately in today's tech environment I don't think we really can expect truly anonymous computer/internet use, at least not without going to relatively extreme means. The convenience of always-on accessible anywhere internet comes at fairly steep price, and that price is our privacy. I've made the decision that I'm willing to accept the fact that the odds are that someone could potentially be "spying" on me whenever I'm using the computer. To counter that I do take certain precautions and make sure that I am comfortable with everything I am doing online before I do it. I have also taken some steps to "lock down" my information, by freezing my credit for example, to make it harder for the bad guys to have an impact on me. Am I 100% protected? No, not in the least, but I feel I'm knowledgeable/comfortable enough with the risks.

I think that each of us has to do our own evaluation and come to our own decisions regarding this issue because I don't see these types of "mistakes" going away anytime soon.

Enjoy your Lenovo laptops!