Product name: Nanosound 2 DAC - A Raspberry Pi Add-on Board with Hi-Fi DAC with Volumio
Manufacturer: Nanomesher - USA
Price for Nanomesher Nanosound 2 (approx.): From $49.99 - (Currency conversion)
Price for Volumio (approx.): Free
Price for MyVolumio Virtuoso (approx.): $31.50/year - (Currency conversion)
Price for MyVolumio Superstar (approx.): $75.10/year- (Currency conversion)
Reviewer: Bevan Court - TNT USA
Reviewed: May, 2020
This is part two of my review for the Nanomesher Nanosound 2. My review of the Nansomesher Nanosound 2 DAC was very positive - it has become my go to, cost effective streaming device when paired with a Raspberry Pi other the last few months. I did however, leave some things for later as this compact product delivers so much.
This review is looking at the other two levels of functionality, that of a streamer, using Volumio as the OS, and that of a CD player and ripper. Nanomesher very kindly sent a Sony USB DVD drive to explore this.
In a lot of ways, this first part is in reality, a review of Volumio, rather than just of the Nanosound DAC2. In this, I have some internal conflicts. I primarily use Roon for my streaming and music software needs, as it integrates both my library and my Qobuz (or Tidal) library in a very nice package. I even went for the lifetime package, so I am comparing a free package in Volumio, with a $700 product. How does Volumio stack up?
I will be very clear out of the gate, I do not think that this is a match for Roon, Audirvana, or other premium applications. But it is free, with a $31.50/year fee to add Qobuz, Tidal, Shoutcast, and Highresaudio integration. I did not sign up for that, I just focused on the library management features. It also comes in with add-ons to integrate Spotify Connect, Youtube, Airplay, and UPnP and one of the better internet radio solutions that I have come across, with integrated WebRadio directories. For those wanting an OS for a Raspberry Pi Roon endpoint, that can be added using SSH as it is a linux distribution.
Volumio uses a web based control interface, so it is not limited to devices that can be used to control it. Find the IP address of your Raspberry Pi, type it into your browser of choice and away you go. I found it was a good idea to bookmark it for later use. Once using it, navigation is slick and simple, has customizable backgrounds and is nice to use. It comes with bit perfect playback, natively supports I2S DAC's. Not bad for free.
If you go for the Superstar version (at $75.10/year, starting to get expensive), it also adds Alexa integration and allows streaming to multiple devices.
I was impressed, it was easy to use, though not quite as pretty as other more expensive options available. I really did enjoy the web radio integration, that was really well done. The sound was good, no different from configuring it with the Roon bridge to my ears. Combined with the Nanomesher DAC, it enables a fluid, listening experience, that I suspect is unaffected by the bit perfect software implementation.
I connected up the CD drive, followed the instructions on the Nanomesher website for connecting up a CD player for playback and ripping, and started playing CDs. Here, the news is not as good. Maybe it was the Sony CD/DVD player that was the issue, maybe it was because it connected via USB, but CD replay felt flat and uninspiring compared to playing from the local library. My thought is that the shared bus between the ethernet and the USB is the cause here, and that is a limitation of the Raspberry Pi3, not the software or the Nanosound. The new Raspberry Pi 4 has addressed this, so it may be better. I don't think that this will replace a dedicated CD player, it will do in lieu of having anything else, but I would rip the CD and play it from the library.
Moving on to the subject of ripping, it is impressive that Volumio can handle this. The ripping functionality was fine, though, my preference would be to still use a more powerful Windows PC or Mac for ripping. Again, the more powerful Raspberry Pi4 may change this. I do not feel that this is a replacement for software like EAC, but if you are using this as a stand alone unit and do not have a PC available, it will do the job, just not quite as fast.
I want to start by saying that I really like this device - it is impressive that you can control such a unit and it be usable. However, small interface streaming devices like this seem awkward, with a small screen and by necessity, they take time to use with limited navigation buttons. Having volume control is nice, but, in truth, as an interface, the old iPod Classic still probably has this beat. I still occasionally regret selling my 5th Gen Classic. I find controlling this using a remote device much more preferable, it is infinitely more intuitive. As a desktop device, maybe there is some appeal, but in my office, I am usually working on my PC, so I would just hook up the web interface and use that.
I will give Volumio high marks for the free version, however, as you escalate up into the paid versions, I see more established programs like Roon and Audirvana giving a slightly more sophisticated option.
As a Roon Subscriber, Volumio didn't get me thinking about changing, but it did have me considering it as a Roon Endpoint software for some time. In the end, I migrated back to Ropiee, a fork of Linux that is a dedicated Roon Endpoint, as it is even more simple to setup and use than Volumio. It works with the Nanosound DAC, (configured as HifiBerry Pro) and gives a good headless option for an endpoint, especially as it now has Spotify Connect and UPnP compatibility added.
This is a truly excellent product as a Raspberry Pi DAC, one that I will use as a primary playback device for the moment. My advice would be to go for the Nanosound DAC 2 Basic if you want to add your own board, or the Standard if you want it in a case with a Pi and use the web interface for control instead of the built in controls. I really regret not requesting the one with the included case, my own DIY efforts were less than spectacular and I am currently running the Pi and DAC Hat sans case.
Volumio is a really well thought out streaming package that both compliments the Nanosound DAC 2 and keeps getting better and as a free streaming solution, one that I would recommend over a lot of other software if using a Raspberry Pi, regardless of the DAC that you use it with. In the end, I will stick with Roon - I have to justify the money I spent on it to my wife somehow and she has only just got used to using it!
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