Multiroom Audio System Based On Raspberry Pi And Hifiberry

Originally posted in French by Cédric Locqueneux on maison-et-domotique.com; translated and slightly updated to the current installation process of Max2Play by HiFiBerry.

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For a while now, I’ve wanted to overhaul my multiroom audio system completely into something that better fits my needs, while keeping budget under control. In case you don’t know about multiroom audio systems: They allow you to play back sound in different rooms of your house, so you can listen to your music no matter where you are.

I had my current multiroom system installed a couple of years ago. During the construction of my house, I asked the plasterer to install a duct in each room’s ceiling, all ending in the garage. I then bought 150m of audio cable (1.5 mm diameter = approx. gauge 15) for about €60, half its usual price, which was enough to wire the 7 main rooms of my house.

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Additionally, I bought 6 standard built-in speakers and a sealed one (originally made for boats) for the bathroom. These are not high-end speakers, but they were good enough for my intention: to have background music in all rooms. I used the SPE 178WT, which were €19.95 at the time (the price has increased quite a bit since then).

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Its specs:

  • Impedance: 8 Ohm
  • RMS power: 20 W
  • Bandwidth: 80–21000 Hz
  • Sound pressure: 90 dB
  • Mounting diameter: 150 mm
  • Mounting depth: 48 mm

Finding the right loudspeakers is a very individual choice and depends on many factors—including budget. Some people use speakers like the Yamaha NS-ICS600 for  €230 each, which adds up very fast for the whole house. There can be also an evolution in quality and price: I will surely upgrade certain rooms, like the living room, eventually; but this is something I will look into later…

To play back audio, initially I was using a 5.1 sound card, and I fed the 6 channels to 6 loudspeakers with foobar. The constantly running PC was as noisy as a gas turbine.

Later, I used 4 Squeezeboxes and 3 Raspberry Pis with Squeezeplug installed, since Logitech decided to discontinue its Squeezebox system. In between the Squeezeboxes and the loudspeakers, I used small amplifiers from computers, since the sound needs to be amplified. In the end, it looked like this:

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But I must admit, it really was a big mess of cables, and there was a lot of room for improvement. The sound wasn’t that great (my friend Max got me infected with the “good sound” virus), and the amplifiers were audibly humming when no music was playing. In the end, we used this system much less then we expected in the beginning—which was fine, since my wife found operating it to be too complicated.

So with all the developments made since then, I decided to start everything from the scratch. The requirements were simple:

  • The Squeezebox system, since it’s the most open and the easiest to integrate in a home automation system. The leading alternative obviously would have been Sonos, but that was clearly out of my budget.
  • Spotify support, since our family has had a premium account for a few years now.
  • Airplay support, since we have multiple Apple devices in the household and it’s very easy to use.

Searching forums and blogs, I discovered the company Hifiberry, who makes audio boards for the Raspberry Pi.

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It’s well known that the Raspberry Pi’s phone audio output isn’t that great. Additionally, the humming of my old system was most likely related to these low-quality outputs (only the HDMI output of the Raspberry Pi is fine). So a Swiss company is specializing in addressing this issue, with products such as a DAC and even a board that combines a DAC and an amplifier! After a successful test of this setup, I decided to base my complete system on Raspberry Pi and Hifiberry Amp+.

To make things easier to follow, the setup tutorial is split into several parts:

1. Hardware installation of the Raspberry Pi/HiFiBerry

2. Rack Design

3. Powering

4. Installation in the switch cabinet

5. Software Installation

6. Using the Multiroom system

7. Summary