The Great $100 Home Audio Project*

 

(*Actually only  $70 if you already have an amp/receiver to plug into).

We’ve been in our house for almost 10 years and I still haven’t found a good way to take advantage conveniently of the speakers that were built into our Master Bedroom ceiling. The speakers feed into a selector box in the basement which is powered by an audio system in our living room.

The problem with this setup is if I lay in bed an put on some music via the central receiver, the music could also end up playing in the kitchen or living room or outside. At which point I need to  head into the basement to fix the speaker selection.

Also, the speakers have an in-wall volume control. And let’s face it, if you have speakers in your bedroom you mostly want a way to play music while laying in bed and not have to get up to dial in the volume from the wall.

So I’ve been thinking of ways to untie the bedroom speakers from the whole house audio system’s selector box in the basement. And I wanted to do so in a way that would not require that I dump a whole lot of money into new equipment.

Other requirements were:

  • Control music selection and volume from iPhone
  • Have locally stored music available via connection to networked drive
  • Play Spotify playlists
  • Play from my iPhone via Airplay/Spotify connect (so that if I’m listening to something on my phone when I get back from a bike ride I can just send that audio stream to the bedroom speakers when I step into the shower).

Raspberry Pi 3

For Christmas I bought one of my sons a Raspberry Pi and also picked up one for myself. It seemed like it could play a pretty key role in my bedroom audio solution. This kit seemed like the best deal:

Amazon: $52 Raspberry Pi 3 starter kit

I installed Volumio on the RPi and am really impressed by the feature set (Spotify, airplay, networked drives, etc.). However the on-board audio quality of the Raspberry Pi is really crappy.

After a bit of experimenting I noted that the Pi sounded great when I hooked up my $200 USB DAC to the Pi but that was only a temporary solution as I need that DAC for my living room stereo. Thanks to China and eBay, I picked up this DAC that was built for Raspberry Pi for $18. It took about 10 days to arrive from China and it sounds great (I would be hard pressed to hear the difference between it and my more expensive USB DAC).

EBAY:  $18 DAC+ HIFI DAC Audio Sound Card Module I2S interface for Raspberry pi 3 2 B B+

The DAC component looks complicated but it plugs right into the Raspberry Pi and has two RCA jacks for plugging into an amp.

It took a few minutes of tinkering to get the DAC working with Volumio but once I got that sorted I just needed an amplifier.

Again, I didn’t want to break the bank and as I was only powering two small in-ceiling speakers I didn’t need a whole lot of power, just something with enough juice to sound nice. I found this highly-recommended little guy on Amazon:

Amazon:  $26 Lepy Amp

This little amp sounds GREAT! Now I can lay in bed at night and queue up some music, adjust the volume, set a sleep timer — all without worrying that my Mozart or Miles is blaring through the backyard speakers.

For under $100 I am very pleased with this solution:

  • It’s compact – fits in a small shoebox.
  • extensible – new features are added to Volumio regularly
  • Cheap
  • Fun to build