Volumio goes to x86…

…and I’m rather excited.

I’ve been a fan of the Volumio Project for rather a while now, since discovering it as a good platform for my Raspberry Pi audio player a year or more ago.  Several self-built MPD-based setups have come and gone since the Raspberry Pi arrived, but Volumio has been the mainstay for reliable playback with control from numerous devices.  The main draw for me has been the combination of its web interface, the fact the hard work has been done for me in terms of getting all the software components working together, and the fact that the whole package does seem to sound good.

On reflection I’m not sure that the various “audio optimizations” at the kernel or any other level really make an audible difference, but I do know that the whole package does seem to work more reliably on the limited resources of Raspberry Pi hardware than anything I’ve been able to cook up myself, at least without significant effort expended.

So why does an x86 port excite me so much?  Two reasons:

  1. More processing power availability opens the platform up to interesting things like DSP and dual-use such as streaming to remote machines and the like without falling over.  Presently I’d have multiple Raspberry Pi’s set up with dedicated tasks.  That’s been educational, but arguably a lot of hassle to set up and maintain. A single machine would make some of this stuff easier.
  2. Opening up the platform to more common (and more powerful) hardware fvastly extends the range of audio and storage hardware that can usefully be used with it, and perhaps extends Volumio’s exposure on the wider marketplace.

The Raspberry Pi is an amazing platform for what it is – and audio systems based upon its limited bus bandwidth are capable of sounding incredible. But not everyone has a NAS to throw their music onto, which makes the Pi’s USB2 storage a pain to deal with when using it for networking, local storage AND the audio device all at the same time.  And even those two do use it with a NAS are hampered by the 100MB Ethernet connection.  Sure, streaming even “HD” audio files  won’t tax it, but storing, backing up and indexing large audio collections will.  And THIS is where even an old Netbook could best it.

At some point where time allows, I’m looking forward to putting my elderly ASUS Netbook through its paces with a 192KHz-capable USB2 audio device and either a USB drive or “Gigabit” Ethernet adaptor (its own onboard Ethernet, like the Pi’s, is limited to 100MB), to see how it stacks up against the Pi running on the same hardware.  I know from running the RC download today that the distro works and plays audio even on the onboard audio, and the default setup to use the onboard display, keyboard and mouse to show the Web interface by default is a lovely touch.


CD vs Vinyl debate: Part 1

Posted the following few paragraphs to an online forum earlier when discussion turned to the usual ‘why would anyone bother with vinyl when CD is technically able to be so much better?’.

There are more listening sessions to be had I’m sure, but in the meantime I’ll leave a summary of first-impressions gleaned from my first month of vinyl use.

Based on my rather eclectic LP collection, it seems that anything recorded and mixed specifically with an analogue signal chain tends to result in the LP version sounding rather better than the CD version, whether the CD is specifically branded as a “remaster” or not. In my experience over the last month or so, this has specifically held true for works by Queen, Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre, ELO, Supertramp, ELP, Suzanne Vega and Mike Oldfield, as well as a bunch of random 80’s pop recordings. I was a vinyl sceptic for years having grown up in the age of CD and all that can bring. Yet having heard what vinyl can do, especially when the equipment considered is at a similar price-point to digital sources, I’m absolutely blown away by the musical and technical quality on offer. I certainly did not expect to end up preferring LP versions of so many well-loved CD recordings I’ve owned for 15 years or more!

I also have some wonderful 50’s and 60’s classical recordings on vinyl, the best of which completely surpass any digitally-recorded versions of the same works/tapes I’ve heard. The best so far is Giulini conducting The Philharmonia Orchestra playing Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony in London’s Kingsway Hall, circa 1961. I’m not a classical-phile by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m being won over with every black disc I play from my inherited collection.

In this day and age, anything that opens us up to a musical or technical education is clearly a Good Thing™ – and if it takes a technical regression to do it, with potentially better results, then I’m all for it.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Daylight Savings Time – Why?

This weekend saw the UK rolling back from BST to GMT. The Wikipedia article here can tell you more than you’ll ever need to know about what “Daylight Savings Time” is and why it’s put in place.  My question is simple:  Why do we bother any more?

With so many pressures on our time, anything that screws up our calendars can be a pretty Bad Thing™, not least when software such as iOS4.1 gets it wrong and sends recurring alarms an hour behind schedule, as happened to me this morning.  (More on The Register here).  The justifications I heard on the radio this morning don’t seem to ring true.  Sure, driving in daylight seems safer than at night, but surely all we’re doing is moving the problem to other areas of the day?  With shift-working and obscure working/living patterns made more possible by things such as air travel and even the availability of mains electricity, it seems to this simple-minded geek that the benefits of keeping this system far outweigh the disadvantages in these modern times.  Wanna Skype with relatives in the US?  Sure… now what time?  Uh… well we’ve skipped back an hour but they haven’t yet, so uh… 8 hours for another week.

Can’t we just stick with our alotted timezone according to where our countries physically happen to be on this blue marble and just live with it?