Give your sound system a $550 upgrade with a $50 addon

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Modern sound systems are pretty clever, they often come with some rather advanced functionality. Many home cinema receivers can take all manner of audio and video inputs and send it all to your entertainment system. You can have the luxury of being able to enjoy a whole range of music from all your audio sources.

You might be noticing that your audio sources are probably compatible with formats that play on computer such as MP3, MP4, ACC, OGG, FLAC. Maybe 5-10 years ago it was convenient to be able to connect a DVD, Blu-Ray, Computer, iPod, Radio, DAB+ all to your sound system. Now it’s more likely that your computer or laptop can bring all these together with less cables and no AV switchers required.

What happens if you have your sound system in a nice neat audio cabinet and no room for a computer or laptop to do the computer part of the music playing? If you have young kids or animals, you might also be wary of your electronics being pulled down by becoming interesting to little hands or wet noses. So where do you go from here?

Technology is changing faster than prices are reducing

If you want a sound system with the capabilities of some of the high end and equally high priced units, don’t through away your existing system just yet

If you like, Sonos will let you pay them $549 in order to give your sound system the ability to stream a select range of audio formats to your own amplifier, but if you want to stream UPnP or DLNA or if you have any Linux based desktop or laptop, good luck. According to the specifications sheet, you’re going to need to figure those protocols and compatibility issues out yourself.

If you’d like to also be able to play video because maybe your amplifier is also nearby your TV, that’s not going to happen with the likes of Sonos and co, you’d better boot up and connect your computer.

It might seem disappointing that only those who can justify $550 for an upgrade can have simple streaming to their favourite sound system, but you don’t need to despair yet.

Raspberry pi, the highly capable computer that’s the size of a pack of playing cards might just be the upgrade you are looking for.

Bringing your old but trusty sound system into the IoT world

The Raspberry pi model B is one of the earlier models. While it’s certainly not the fastest model available, it does a great job as an audio streaming device.

In 2002, some developers produced an open source media centre package that could run on the original Xbox consoles. The idea was to give users much more functionality from their gaming console. 18 Years, a name change and some dramatic feature increases later, Kodi is still being developed. It’s now able to run on the Raspberry pi with ease.

If you haven’t used a Raspberry pi, you might not be sure about how to install an operating system onto it with it’s SD card slot only. There are plenty of tutorials available to make this easy.

If you are concerned that your linux skills might not be up to scratch or completely non existent. Don’t worry because you don’t need to know a single terminal command in order to stream all your favourite music to your sound system or watch your favourite movies in all their Full HD goodness.

There are a few custom distributions that have been released which come with Kodi pre installed. Many of them have nothing else, so this means you can turn your Raspberry pi into a Kodi based media centre with very little effort or skill. All but the oldest and lightest Raspberry pi models also have wired LAN ports, and many now come with WiFi. This means you can easily give LAN connectivity to your stereo.

Whether you have your music all stored on a NAS or other large hard disk in your network or whether you use streaming music services like Spotify or SoundCloud, you can stream all of that to your Raspberry pi based Kodi device.

To stream the speaker output from your computer to your Raspberry pi, try looking for these utilities:

  • Linux – PulseAudio DLNA
  • Windows – Stream What you Hear

A simple upgrade to achieve a great result

This USB sound card has 2x digital and 1x analog audio outputs.

No matter how old your sound system is, its highly likely to accept one of these audio inputs:

  • S/PDIF with RCA (Digital)
  • S/PDIF with TOSLINK (Digital)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack, sometimes via stereo RCA (Analog)

For the CBD cafe sandwich price of about $10, you can give your Raspberry pi the ability to output its audio to digital surround receivers. Search on your favourite online electronics marketplace for USB sound cards. This means you can avoid the sometimes noisy audio circuitry in the Raspberry pi. Your amplifier simply needs to accept S/PDIF in via RCA or TOSLINK connector.

The beauty of many of these USB sound cards is that they are natively detected by Raspberry pi based Kodi. The Linux distributions that run it natively have so many drivers already installed. If you don’t know how to install drivers in Linux, that’s fine because they are already there for you.

You can do more than just being able to give your stereo the ability to play music over a network or be a DLNA/UPnP streaming target. If your sound system is also nearby a TV, why not make use of the fact that the Raspberry pi has an HDMI output? Yeah, there is no reason. Get yourself an HDMI cable and enjoy your Full HD movie experience with your $50 upgrade.

Take the upgrade potential as far as you want

Melbourne Computer Club member Stephen wanted to give his 17 year old home cinema receiver an upgrade. He downloaded the freely available LibreELEC distribution for Raspberry pi. This provides an operating system with Kodi only, if you know how to install a desktop operating system then you have the skills needed.

Another thing he did with an old car head unit, a car subwoofer and a 12V power supply was to build another streaming sound system for his garage.

He’s able to stream music from his Ubuntu desktop computer from sites like SoundCloud and Youtube thanks to the pulseaudio-dlna plugin. Who cares about streaming sound from Youtube? They have a surprising volume of

Another benefit of using Kodi is that he’s able to control music from anywhere with his Android phone. Kodi is compatible with a free remote control app called Yatse, you can find it in the Play store. Stephen’s able to play anything on either his garage or lounge room sound systems thanks to the Raspberry pi enablement.

One upgrade that he’d like to apply to his sound system is the ability to power the amplifiers on and off from the Kodi software. This would mean that every component is controllable via his Android phone. He’s not 100% sure about how to do this yet. He’s already been speaking to some other club members who have done this upgrade to their own sound systems.

Collaboration was the only way

The beauty of collaborating with other members in the Melbourne Computer Club is that many of them had tried similar projects themselves.

The members of the Melbourne Computer Club have a diverse range of backgrounds. This collaborative community plays a big part being able to start and complete your projects. Stephen found this ability to bounce ideas off others very helpful. Stephen might have been staring at a problem for hours. Someone would ask a simple question and help him quickly realise the solution to a problem.

If you’re interested to check out the Melbourne Computer Club, you’re very welcome to. We meet regularly at our clubhouse in Moorabbin and would be keen to see what project ideas you’ve got.

We’re also having an open day in on Sunday 17th June, you can find out more about it here.