Do I need an inexpensive DAC?

Hi, complete newbie here. I purchased an annual subscription to Roon within the past couple of weeks. I was interested in the database, UX and Tidal integration first and foremost. The audio transport capabilities of the product were actually secondary to me when I first evaluated the product.

I have mostly inexpensive “mid-fi” consumer products in my cabinets. I was familiar with streaming as a concept, having struggled with early products like the Phillips Streamium close to 15 years ago. I have tried a number of software products over the years and have eventually abandoned all of them for one reason or another. I am currently using Plex for video streaming, primarily because client software is integrated with my Roku and Sony BDP devices. Prior to that I had been using JRiver for audio and video, but I disliked the UI and the amount of granular tweaking required to use it.

We found our selves short of HDMI connections on our older Yamaha AV Receiver, and so I just purchased a Pioneer Elite VSX-LX301 AV Receiver. It has lots of HDMI connections, accepts USB input front and back, has integrated Tidal Streaming, AirPlay and other network-enabled features. I knew it wouldn’t serve as a Roon endpoint, but I hadn’t yet spent as much time reading forum posts about Roon architecture and RAAT yet at that point.

We find the sound of the Pioneer to be distinct from our Yamaha, but we’re fairly satisfied so far. We have Fluance fronts, center and satellite channels supplemented with old Athena Micra satellites for rear surround and the Athena sub. I was actually surprised when Roon detected the Pioneer as a networked device and gave me the ability to create a zone for outputting audio to it. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the audio is transported over Airplay. Both the Sony BDP-S7200 and the Pioneer will see Plex serving up a DLNA connection, but the media server feature does not see Roon. (I understand why, it’s just an observation). It also has a reasonably capable DAC. I was able to stream DTS multichannel audio to it from JRiver running on my main computer in another room, and it will do DSD over HDMI and up to 192 via USB input.

The A/V receiver has an AK4458 DAC and will supposedly output 384 kHz/32Bit, but I have yet to identify what input sources will result in that level of performance.

But neither of those DACs will talk to Roon (beyond the AirPlay connection). And therein lies the problem.

I don’t have a lot of free cash lying around, so I was thinking about a Raspberry Pi-based endpoint as a solution. But I’m still a little confused about what I’m accomplishing by going down that path. I have these available HDMI ports, but I gather HiFiBerry would output to RCA instead? If I use the HDMI interface on the main Pi board, do I defeat or circumvent the HAT DAC? If the A/V receiver accepts USB connections, would that be a better pathway? And to the point of the question in the title, I feel like committing to Roon has created the need for another piece of hardware in my audio chain that I didn’t realize I needed. I realize that I won’t get multichannel audio from the RasPi. And I’ll need to sneakernet USB keys or go back to JRiver to get the BDP to output multichannel audio. Besides the fabulous experience of using Roon with my audio files and Tidal (which I kind of get now with AirPlay), do I really need a RasPi DAC to get more out of the experience?

Looking forward to your feedback…

Hi David,

You can use a Pi or an Allo Sparky as a network Roon endpoint with a USB digital output to your Pioneer A/V receiver. No need for another DAC and it will be multichannel capable.

Just install DietPi with RoonBridge or Ropiee (a RoonBridge image) on the Pi or Sparky and connect it by USB to the front USB input of the Pioneer (the front input is streaming A/V, the rear USB appears to be memory only. I would have reversed that personally, but there you go). Connect the Pi or Sparky by Ethernet and you’ll be good. You can use a Wi-Fi dongle with DietPi, but Ethernet would be preferable.

Either the Pi or Sparky will be fine with PCM. If you wanted to do any upsampling to DSD in Roon I’d go with the Sparky as the Ethernet/USB has a common bus on the Pi, they’re separate on the Sparky so less bandwidth constrained.

Lastly I don’t think the HDMI out on the Pi will carry a digital audio signal. If you didn’t want to use USB then there are inexpensive boards for the Pi that will enable a coaxial RCA or Toslink digital out.

Many thanks @andybob. I’ll pull the manual from online on the A/V receiver (open box discount!) to verify which USB port will work. I agree with you that prioritization is bass-ackwards. I run an AC wifi extender from my office and so will make an ethernet connection to it. I’ll look into the Sparky. I’d only looked at the Pi solutions so far. Bummer about HDMI.

Best, David

Raspberry Pi is a good device, and comes with digital output, or with its own built in DAC using RCA analog. Its an inexpensive device and is compatible with Roon. It’s a very good inexpensive solution. I have the HiFiBerry DAC + Pro version running direct to my Anthem MRX receiver. About $150 give or take a couple of bucks. It sounds very good. Welcome to the forum.

Thanks, @rrwwss52! @andybob, apparently I imagined a rear USB. There’s only the front. There’s optical SPDIF, HDMI, Coax and RCA. The USB is on the front, as you mentioned. The manual cautions that the limitations of USB2 may cause some playback to stutter. It also seems to max out at 192 over USB (and I’m assuming that comes with the stuttering). Time to do some more research, I guess, on the plusses and minuses of optical versus RCA. I’m not sure the “wife acceptance factor” extends to running a USB cable around the front of the receiver. :wink:

Best, David


There is a reference to a USB DAC but it may be that the front input is memory only. That’s what it seems to say in this manual.. I thought the reference to a front A/V input here might mean streaming.

So RCA digital or Toslink. The HiFi Berry Digi+ Pro or Allo DigiOne are what I’d look at. Rene (@RBM) has played with a few and may have a reccomendation.

Once you’ve got it configured it can just sit out of sight behind the Receiver on a short RCA cable and you can leave it on and ignore it. Toslink likes a longer cable I think. I have even been known not to seek feminine approval for similar invisible components; but that could be regarded as living dangerously.

@andybob, I don’t concern myself with invisible problems. A USB cable snaking around the front is highly visible. :wink:

Toslink would be my preference, but I need to call Pioneer about input mapping. One of the two Toslink inputs is taken by the audio output from our older Panasonic Plasma TV (mapped as TV). The other is mapped to BD/DVD. We already use the BD/DVD on HDMI; so I need to see if we just rename the input or if there’s more complicated remapping that needs to take place. Otherwise, it’ll be RCA.

At first glance, it looks like Digi+ Pro Transformer is the option I’d choose.


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For a year or so, I used a RPi3 + HiFiBerry Digi+ to feed my Denon 3808 AVR via RCA (I could have also used Toslink). I was very pleased with the results. The only drawback being that it was 2 channel only.

I’ve recently moved my Roon Core to a fanless ROCK build, which is now directly connected to the Denon via HDMI. This gives me stereo and multichannel support.

@David_Mathias just note that ropieee is not supported on Sparky. But on RPi its painless with no terminal commands to setup, no wifi support tho.

@Geoff_Coupe, you’re touching on what I was going to leave for a follow-up question. My other option is to rearchitect my computing and storage solutions. I have a Core 2 Duo laptop and a third gen i7 laptop that I could repurpose as you described. The C2D has D++ on Nvidia out. The i7 has HDMI on Nvidia. Both have SSD’s, and I could run my libraries off of USB3 drives. I’d assume I could figure out how to run them headless with a Bluetooth keyboard or Harmony remote. Or, I could see about trading them for a used NUC if the used computer store half a block away still has some.

if you’re going to run headless, then why not put Roon Server on the laptop? You wouldn’t need a keyboard or harmony remote so long as you have a separate computer tablet or smartphone as a Roon control…

Also, I’m following the chatter now about ROCK versus Roon on Windows. That interests me because of the “what do I do with my video” question. I should add that I recently purchased a used Dell Venue 11 Pro 7140 tablet and use it overwhelmingly as my control point. I need to open another thread about problems with the Roon UI on that device.

@Geoff_Coupe, our notes are crossing. I think I just raised questions about that strategy. :grinning:

I think that you need to consider the choice of your Roon architecture in tandem with the choice of your preferred OS(es).

Roon has three architectural components: Core, Control, Endpoint. They can all coexist on one physical device, or be connected over a network on separate devices, each of which may be running a different OS.

My approach was first to plan the architectural layout - where my Core would be, and what devices I would use for Controls and Endpoints (or both), and then associated with that, make my choices for OSes. Sometimes, I had a choice, e.g. should I use Windows 10, Linux or ROCK for my Core, and in other cases my choices would be proscribed. For example, if I had an iPhone, then I could only use it as a Control running iOS…

As I say, I ended up with putting my Core on ROCK, basically because I wanted it to be an appliance, not a computer. I also put it in a fanless case, because I wanted to use it as an Endpoint and use HDMI to connect to my Denon. My home network has evolved over the past year. Currently, it looks like this:

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Very nice! I had started working on my diagram with pen and paper last night. What program do you use for creating this map?

In the meantime, I’m wandering through the forum sections and reading more deeply the posts from other users. I think all my questions have been raised and addressed elsewhere by others . Each solution comes with its upsides and downsides. You’re correct that I need to look at my collection of hardware and decide on architecture first.

BTW, I see we have the same Grado cans. I’m very fond of mine.

I use Grapholite (the Windows 10 app version). It’s a Visio clone, but an order of magnitude cheaper.

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@Geoff_Coupe nice diagram…what app did you use for that?

Look up above your post…

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So, my used computer friends were asking too much for their NUC units, so I snagged one of these. I put in a 120 GB SSD and proceeded to put a clean install of Win10 on it. I spent most of the day messing with it, putting Roon Server and Plex Server on it. Configuring the audio drivers was a pain, as they seem to lose their settings with each reboot. I crashed Roon Server several times until I figured out how to match the 7.1 settings in the drivers to the 7.1 settings in Roon. Finally did see nice purple RAAT pathing, but I’m not thrilled with the SQ so far. I think I need to only configure 7.1 when the source is MC, but drop it back to 2 when the source is not. I’ll try that tomorrow and see if it will help.

I suppose my next option will be to wipe Windows and see if a *Nix solution can sound better still.