Allo Reclocker, DAC & Amp for Raspberry Pi


(Janis) #1

Hi,

This week I had chance to put together and test amazing Allo DAC & AMP on Raspberry Pi 3. As we have quite a lot discussion in Roon Community on DACs & Raspberry Pi solutions, I thought to share my impressions.

https://www.allo.com/sparky/bundle-kali-piano-volt.html

It is whole stack of 4 great performing products created by Allo team:

  1. KALI reclocker that buffers 0.7s of I2S stream discarding the incoming quite innacurate Raspberry Pi clocks and using own 44/48Mhz oscillators to reclock accurate I2S signal to feed DAC. The same reclocker cleans 5V power from switching power supply and feeds DAC and Raspberry Pi with nicely filtered power.
  2. PIANO DAC based on PCM5122 with integrated stereo headphone amplifier on TPA6133A2, and PIANO DAC 2.1 based on PCM5142 with crossover to feed stereo or mono subwoofer.
  3. VOLT 2x max 50W amplifier running on TI TPA3118 chipset and Würth Inductors.
  4. CAPACITANCE MULTIPLIER that reduces the 19V switching power supply output ripple/noise to almost negligible levels and feeds VOLT amplificator.

While testing, I was using GRADO Statement Series GS-1000 headphones, and comparing two Allo DACs sound quality vs. Antelope Zodiac+ and Audiophonics I-Sabre V3 DAC running of ES9023.

Antelope Zodiac+ is certainly setting threshold very high, and Audiophonics I-Sabre V3 DAC has very good reviews as one the best Raspberry Pi DACs out in the market even outperforming both HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro and Mamboberry DAC.

Following were my findings:

  1. Allo DACs together with reclocker (127$/ 153$) are certainly much better than Audiophonics I-Sabre V3 DAC ES9023 (83$), and almost on the level of Antelope Zodiac+ (2500$).
  • Both Allo DACs with reclocker were substantially better than Audiophonics I-Sabre V3 DAC ES9023, which has flat soundstage, low dynamics, poor clarity, and weak bass in my opinion. I tested I-Sabre V3 DAC with Audiophonics own Linear Power Supply, that supposing should give the best performance. After listening to Allo DACs the difference was so big, that I returned I-Sabre V3 DAC back to Audiophonics. However, I just ordered the new Audiophonics I-Sabre DAC ES9018K2M, and will write review after testing it.

  • For me Piano 2.1 PCM 5142 DAC sounded better than Piano PCM 5122, and was almost impossible to differentiate Piano 2.1 PCM 5142 DAC form Antelope Zodiac+ with exception of high frequency handling.

  • Piano PCM 5122 DAC has very good sound, good dynamic range, great 3D sound image, but lacks some clarity and elegance

  • Piano 2.1 PCM 5142 DAC has excellent and very rich sound, excellent dynamic range, great 3D sound image, strong consistent bass, very nice clear natural and present voice.

  • Both Piano PCM 5122 and Piano 2.1 PCM 5142 DACs unfortunately slightly lack high frequency tones, and high tones transparency & precision (not only highs are lower in level, but subtle nuances like breath of singer, touch of instrument strings are missing)

  • Issue I had on both Piano DACs was “krakrck” click at the moment when DAC was accessed to start Playback or released when Playback was stopped. According to Allo team it is due to implementation of the PCM DAC IC and the way driver is accessing it.

  • Another issue I had - Roon doesn’t recognise these DACs as 384 kHz/ 32bit capable, and is down converting 352,8kHz 24bit files to 176.4kHz. Don’t know what is the issue.

  • Finally, I wish Allo DACs had a DSD playback. Currently DSD decoding unfortunately is missing, and I ended up with Roon down converting DSDs to PCM 352,8kHz and then to 176.6kHz.

  1. Quality of Piano PCM 5122 DAC headphone amplifier was very positive surprise to me. I initially didn’t expect much, but the performance was on the level of very high quality two stage headphone amplifier I have in Antelope Zodiac+. The only few minor limitations were due to DAC performance itself I described above. For me having this integrated headphone amplifier is a major benefit!

  2. Quality of VOLT amplifier is also good. I could not only drive small stand speakers like Monitor Audio Radius 90 and Yamaha NS-M525, but also large power demanding 250W Avalon Ideas. With max 2x 50W it perfectly fills the room with rich dynamic and powerful sound, and for class D it has very pleasant and natural sound. My preferred level is at 1/3 of max volume.

Set-up of the system was fast and easy – 10 minutes and I got stylish open-work design on my home-office table. The build quality of all boards and acrylic case is solid. My only critics is plastic screws and standoffs, as the screws when tightened tend to jump over turns. It would be better, if Allo would supply metal black plated screws and standoffs.


My 7 years old son was excited seeing it, and after “woow” named it computer in four levels; and my wife named it Japanese house. :slight_smile:

As SW I was using standard DietPi and Roon bridge installation.

Allo works with both in DietPi default available HiFiBerry DAC and IQaudiO DAC drivers. However, I wouldn’t recommend to use HiFiBerry DAC driver, as it doesn’t allow HW volume control functionality.

I found way to install Allo Piano audio driver with the below set-up, but didn’t find any incremental sound or functionality benefit of it.

To manually configure Allo Piano DAC driver, you need to do config.txt edit
sudo nano /DietPi/config.txt

First add line to the config.txt file:
dtoverlay=allo-piano-dac-pcm512x-audio

The save & exit:
Ctrl-O, Ctrl-X

Then restart and test if Allo driver has loaded:
aplay -l

Janis


INFO: ALLO audio boards 10% code
(Rene Bouwmeester) #2

Hi @Janis,

Thanks for the extensive write-up – loved reading it. Nice pics as well – I especially liked the floral arrangement. :wink:

I think the 384kHz issue is kernel-related. Moode will be releasing a version of their MPD distro soon, with a patched kernel for audio enabling 384kHz on a wide variety of boards (HifiBerry, IQ Audio and I’d guess the Allo boards as well).

As for the ‘krakrck-clicks’ – this could be related to the auto mute function. On my boards, I set the Auto Mute Time from 21ms (default) to 10.66s (max) through amixer or alsamixer, which gives a much larger mute window, avoiding the soft plops during normal use.

I’m running a HifiBerry DAC+ Pro > CSB503HTA Tube HAT > AKG K550 headphone chain to very satisfactory results, but your write-up makes me me want to get some Allo boards for good measure. Time will tell whether I’ll be able to constrain myself. :slight_smile:


(Janis) #3

@RBM, thank for info on moode. Lets see if dietpi or max2play do 384kHz too.

Can you please give the example of mixer command line you use for setting Auto Mute to 10.66s?

Yes, Allo stack is for me is top sounding RPI solution I have hear so far, and I like/ use all three functionalities coming from it: DAC, headphone amp, and speaker amp - all without compromise.

Only questions I would have how the Allo DAC with integrated case D headphone amp would compare with CSB503HTA Tube HAT… :slight_smile:


(Rene Bouwmeester) #4

These kernel patches will be more widely available over time I guess, but Moode may be an easy point of entry (it also has support for Squeeze, Crossfeed and DAC DSP baked in).

The amixer commands are as follows:

amixer sset ‘Auto Mute Time Left’ ‘10.66s’

and, not surprisingly,

amixer sset ‘Auto Mute Time Right’ ‘10.66s’

You can also set the controls via alsamixer:

I bought the Tube HAT off Kickstarter since I thought it was and outrageous gimmick that deserved support, but it actually sounds quite nice. (Disclaimer: I use my headphones for only 2-4 hrs a week while reading, so no really critical listening involved).

That’s why I’m kind of on the fence with the Allo boards: limited headphone listening time – and in my other zones (Meridian DSP5200 & F80) I’m all set digitally with a Pi/Digi+ Pro and a Cubox-i.


(Janis) #5

Thanks,
This indeed sometimes removes kicker on the start up play back, but not always.

Unfortunately, 5 seconds after playback has been paused there is still kicker, and sometime also on start of new playback.


(Rene Bouwmeester) #6

Hmmm. The HifiBerry is dead quiet in the 10 sec. time frame, as is the IQ Audio. You can verify in alsamixer whether the timings are the same for the Allo board (I guess they are).


(Andrej Kislovskij) #7

Hello Janis

Could you share your expirience with Audiophonics 9018M2K DAC? Does it provide a ‘better’ sound? Is there a linux driver for this chip? I could not find any review on the Internet.
I am considering using it together woth Kali, so your feedback is very much apriciated :wink:

Andrej


(Janis) #8

It’s finally shipped.
Will test and write separate review end of next week.


(Andrej Kislovskij) #9

Great. Thank you, Janis. Will be waiting for your review so I can make up my mind which DAC to use (piano 2.1 vs audiophonics 9018M2K). Do you know any other reviews of audiophonics 9018M2K? Any reason you have decided to give it a try?


(Janis) #10

Not aware of other review. Audiphonics started to ship it only this week after some FW updates.
It promises DSD playback, and in general (outside of Raspberry PI) the 9018M2K is highly rated…


(Andrej Kislovskij) #11

Yep, that makes sense. In fact these were exact same reasons I am considering 9018M2K as well. I saw several posts about poor driver support from linux. So much looking forward for you review :wink:


(Bernard chabrand) #12

Hi

Very interested by your feedback too. Specially about the es9018k2m harware volume control that is supposed to be working on this kit.

B.


(Janis) #13

Unfortunately, there is nothing to report.
I can’t get it working. No clarity and real support from Audiophonics team to set it up.

See status here


(Mr Fix It) #14

I was tossing up getting the VANA bundle as the Sparky looks to have better specs than the RPi 3 and maybe less heat issues. Anyone tried it?

Doesnt seem to be any DietPi version for the sparky tho which is a shame.


(Tony Reimann) #15

I bought the Vana Bundle. I couldn’t find any s/w for the sparky, apart from Max2play which you have to pay for, so I ditched the sparky and replaced it with a RPi 3. Loaded DietPi up and all works fine. Quite impressed with the sound for the $$$. I have absolutely no heat issues at all with any of my RPi 3s.

The Allo website leaves a bit to be desired and the documentation isn’t quite right in some areas and the pictures are sometimes wrong but you can work it all out. The good things I think are the Kali reclocker and maybe the capacitance multiplier (although i havent tested with and without it.)

Another thing to note is you will need to supply your own 19V power supply for the amp and the 5V power supply for the Kali isn’t supplied with a Aus plug. (and its not the micro usb attachment either so you can’t just use a RPi one)


(Mr Fix It) #16

I think I will perhaps be building a linear supply for both 19V and 5V if I do get this option.

As long as it works as a roon bridge I will be happy…so far the IQAudIO DigiAMP+ is giving me some output issues … looks like its all well but I can’t rid of the MUTE led being lit and thus no output.

That mute issue has since been sorted :stuck_out_tongue:


(Janis) #17

I haven’t tested IQAudIO and HiFiBerry products on switching and linear PSUs. Might be they need such to do quality DAC processing.

However, I tested both Audiophonics and Allo DACs with good quality switching PSUs and linear Audiophonics PSU.

Following, were my listening findings:

  1. Audiophonics I-Sabre V3 DAC ES9023 quality was so mediocre that it didn’t make any difference, if I used 6V good quality switching PSU or 100$ Audiophonics linear PSU.
  2. Allo Piano DAC has built-in power management & cleaning circuit. Quality of this DAC is amazing - 99% of 2000$ old Antelope Zodiac+ DAC, and multiple of times better than Audiophonics I-Sabre V3 DAC ES9023. But again there was no difference when Allo Piano DAC was used with 5V switching PSU (sold by Allo) or the 100$ Audiophonics linear PSU.
  3. I didn’t have 19V linear PSU to test Allo AMP, but in combination with Allo CM the sound quality in my view is just amazing for what can be delivered by such micro size D-class AMP. I think unlikely, any linear PSU will make it bigger & better than it is… But make sure, you purchase good quality switching PSU - I was taking this one from Audiophonics site as Allo yet doesn’t sell any…
    http://www.audiophonics.fr/fr/adaptateurs-secteur/adaptateur-secteur-alimentation-100-240v-vers-19v-47a-p-10067.html

But you can find it on eBay too

So, my conclusion from RPI tests with use of the Audiophonics & Allo RPI products - do not waste time & money on linear PSUs with these two brands. Allo Piano DAC with built in power-management circuit, and Allo AMP with CM gets as good as it can be.

If you want to be in the real game then go for 20,000$ set-up: Antelope Zodiac Platinum DAC with atomic clock and linear PSU, plus real amplifier.

Janis


(Janis) #18

Haven’t see any heat issues on RPI with Allo Vana bundle running on RPI 3.
It’s on my table running with DietPi, switched on all time, and just warm.
Unless you do some graphic tasks, server functions, or what ever else than playing music, then the RPI doesn’t heat up.

There is not really much load on RPI CPU with dozen tasks in DietPi, plus Roon server and separate DAC performing heavy tasks.

And if you really like to have cool look - you can always purchase and stick on RPI two radiators for 3$.

Janis


(Mar Jez) #19

Hi Janis

Thanks for great review.

However I would like to know if you can test Audiophonics I-Sabre V3 DAC ES9023 with Allo Reclocker? I think that it would be interesting to compare it with Piano + Reclocker to see which DAC board can play better. If I am not mistaken Audiophonics can work with reclocker.

Best regards, Marcin


(Janis) #20

Sorry. Can’t. As the performance was poor, I returned it back to Audiophonics.

The new ES9018K2M I just purchased was also not functioning:

  1. Faulty HW without any sound at all
  2. It is yet engineering sample, and can’t playback bit-perfect 16 and 24 bit audio with HW volume control from Roon via ALSA

So, I shipped also ES9018K2M back to Audiophonics. I asked them to return ES9018K2M to me, if and when they finish product development and create serial scripts to drive it from ALSA.

Anyhow, be very careful with Audiophonics products, and know what you take on before buying them. Customer service is very slow and non-responsive. Products are for DIY enthusiasts accepting engineering components, and investing days to get them to work. No documentation provided, and bare minimum information is in french.

Janis