Roon-ready dac-less endpoint streamer recommendations

i’m currently using a mac mini as a roon endpoint in my office system. the mini has an ethernet connection and connects to the dac via USB. no real issues, hardware or software, but i’m curious as to whether a dedicated music streamer will represent an improvement over the mini.

i’m entirely satisfied with the dac i’m using in my office system (a line magnetic 32), so i’m only interested in dac-less streamers.

i’ve got the roon client running on my primary machine, and use that to select the audio device for playback - either through the main system or through the mini in my office system.

i’ve read reviews of what seem to be the most popular streamers – ifi zen, bluesound, pro-ject, sotm, and of course sonore. users are mixed regarding the first three, especially w.r.t. roon compatibility. the term “buggy software” crops up too often for my taste. in this regard, the mac mini is rock solid. i’ve had some experience with sonore products, but that has been mostly negative. still, i’m willing to give them another chance. as to sotm, i’d like to hear from actual users.

of course that leaves the raspberry pi, but i’m wondering if that wouldn’t be – from a musical standpoint – a downgrade from the mac mini.

opinions welcome

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Not at all. I am using a RPi 4 in a Flirc case as endpoint with USB connection to my DAC and it works great and is very reliable. I am running RoPieee on this Pi and it just works. Sound quality to my ears is fine. So, as bridge device to receive RAAT over the network and output on USB or, using a HAT, on AES or S/PDIF, I am very much convinced that nothing more is required.

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Allo USBridge would be worth looking into.

Allo USBridge

the options are somewhat overwhelming.

e.g. the usbridge sig offers choices for OS.

presumably a power supply and a case would also be required.

so e.g. is the following a reasonable package?

usbridge sig running (pick an OS) + Shanti LPS + aluminum case for usbridge sig.

+1 for the Pi4 running Ropieee.
Superb combo.

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+1 for the Pi4 …

thanks.

any opinions on the Pro-Ject streambox?

I’d skip the parade of options and just go for the Pi4/RoPieee. It works well, and is really all that’s needed. Run the bits from it into your DAC and enjoy the music.

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Before some of the die-hard audiophools jump in; let me say I concur 100% with @Bill_Janssen. The streamer’s job is to serve up a bit-perfect digital data stream from your Roon core to your DAC. Unless it (or your network) is broken, any streamer will do just that. Until it has passed through a DAC, digital audio isn’t music; It’s just data.

Outside of expectation/cognitive bias, there’s no reason why one streamer should sound different from another, unless both it and your DAC have such awful design that excessive noise levels from the streamer infiltrate the analogue output of your DAC.

The RPi4 works wonderfully as a Roon end-point feed - objective measurements show just how good it can be. Load it up with Ropieee, fire it up and enjoy the music!

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I use a Raspberry Pi 4 in a FLIRC case running RoPieeeXL. I run XL so it also works with Audirvana over UPnP.

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+1 yet more. Pure awesomeness, and (assuming you can build a Lego), you’ll feel cool afterwards. Flirc+Pi4. Or get a Pi2AES if you want you run SPDIF, AES or anything else other than USB. Follow the directions at SBAF on how to build. It’s not idiot proof but it’s pretty simple.

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thanks for the lengthy response.

in that case, do i have any reason to believe that a mac mini endpoint is sonically deficient? that i will experience subjective improvement with a Pi4 or any other dedicated audio streamer?

what the data seem to be saying is that a general purpose machine like the mac produces high levels of musically significant noise (whatever that means).

believe me, i am already “enjoying the music”. (why do people keep giving me that advice? frankly, i find it a bit annoying.)

A Mac Mini as endpoint might not be sonically deficient, but it seems just a waste of computing resources. A Roon Bridge endpoint needs very little resources. Here as example my endpoint running on a 4 GB Pi4 with RoPieee, operating at the moment of the screenshot as active bridge:

Screen Shot 2022-01-08 at 8.16.51 PM

You see, even a 1 GB or 2 GB Pi is enough, and the Pi’s ARM processor isn’t stressed at all. I would think it consumes less energy than a Mac Mini, is easy to set up, runs stable for weeks and months at a time, is easily updated and requires absolutely no attention for OS maintenance.

There are quite a lot of users running Roon Core on a Mac Mini… but I feel that there are better options for setting up Roon Bridge as endpoint.

perhaps. i quite like the minimalist aesthetic of a just-enough-computer-resource for the task at hand. but if there’s no sonic advantage to a dedicated audio streamer then the case for the latter doesn’t seem all that compelling.

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The advantage of your MAC Mini is you already have it and it works. I see no reason to do anything unless you have some other use for the MAC Mini and could replace it with a RPi4 setup for less than $100.

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In your original post you mentioned that your are using a Mac Mini as Roon endpoint. Your post doesn’t make clear, though, if you give other use to that same Mac Mini. If yes, than I agree with you. I am using my iMac as a second Roon endpoint, and that same iMac is my primary personal computer these days.

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Well, only you can say, about that. But I doubt it’s actually sonically deficient.

The mini does have a fan, which can come on at times, and if you can hear it, it may distract from the music. But if it’s not bothering you, why change it?

I very much doubt that. What data are you referring to? General-purpose computers like the Mini have to follow federal regulations on the amount of noise they can emit. People who look for noise from them don’t seem to find any. Are you hearing something amiss?

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again, thanks for weighing in.

i think the consensus is that, apart from fan noise, which is a problem at times, the business about electrical noise on the mac mini USB bus is overstated, and probably sonically irrelevant.

if i feel like exploring this further i’ll probably drop a few bucks on a Pi4, but that money is probably better spent on a dozen CD’s.

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I think that’s right. There are a number of “traditional” beliefs about audio which probably at some point lost in the misty depths of the past had some kind of validity, but are now irrelevant. Unless you’re using antique gear, of course.

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Well, it depends on the implementation of USB on your own particular DAC, how bad the electrical noise is on your particular USB given all the other stuff going on in the machine running the core, how resolving your system is, and how much you like the sound of your DAC fed with USB vs SPDIF, AES, etc. As with all elements as you get closer to the transceivers, people can hear more. I prefer AES off of a dedicated streamer with little else going on. But it was also short $ and an interesting project to build a Pi2AES and try the different connections. My DAC cost ~ $2k, it felt worthwhile feeding it well and experimenting with the diet.

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