In my earlier posts, I mentioned Euphony gives the best sound quality. However, Euphony is not free and is not cheap either. For someone who builds their own music streamer/server and keen to know which playback and streaming software should be used, this post has some answers.
Commercial streamers come with their own software. The two streamers I currently have are Sony HAP-Z1ES and Innuos Zenith Mk2 2TB. Sony HAP-Z1ES software is proprietary. Innuos version 1.xx is based on Logitech Media Server (LMS), an open source software by Logitech. Most Linux-based playback software is based on LMS with additional custom codes, and typically headless, i.e. no need to connect screen, keyboard and mouse except during setup. In the case of Euphony, it is headless even after the USB boot drive has been created.
I am not a fan of Windows-based playback software since most of them are not headless, i.e. a laptop is required during playback. If laptop USB output is connected to DAC, then the sound quality is compromised. It looks ugly too as the laptop requires a space in the hi-fi rack/shelf.
I was impressed with one software under Windows 10 called HYSOLID. Developed in Japan by Mr. Tatsuo Yamaguchi, the president of a software company, Component Design Corporation (source), near Akihabara, it was offered free for download (Windows software and its tablet/phone app). However, it is no longer actively supported. It only works with Android version 4 to 6 and IOS 8 to 9. It supports playback from internal drive only, but that is okay since the best sound quality is achieve that way. It is headless after the setup in Windows is done.
For HYSOLID to sound the best, Windows should be optimized for background services with user account and password created. All Windows background apps should be disabled. Windows should also be setup so that the front power button of the music streamer, when pressed, will shutdown Windows. When the music streamer computer boots, Windows starts but remains at login screen. That means many other unnecessary apps and programs are not loaded. The HYSOLID phone/tablet app selects DAC, controls music selection and playback. Album art (folder.jpg) should be saved at each music album folder so that album graphics shows up in the control app. It supports high-res PCM and DSD up to 4x. However, gapless playback is not supported. In my experience, this is the best sounding Windows playback free software, but please take note of the older tablet/phone OS versions supported.
Moving on to Linux-based playback software, there are plenty of free playback software available, most of them based on LMS. I am not a Linux person, but downloading ISO image to create a bootable USB drive can be easily done from Windows. Please take note however that not all motherboard manufacturers officially support Linux. In my experience, ASRock clearly states that the ASRock J5040-ITX and J4105-ITX motherboards that I have purchased and used only supports Windows. However, I did not experience any compatibility issues when trying a few Linux-based playback software with the ASRock motherboards. I have tried Volumio, Daphile, and Euphony (not free). I have not tried other Linux free software like Audiophile Linux and wtfplay which requires Linux command line when setting it up or when using it.
Volumio is “Free and Open Source Forever” as stated in their website. It is a multi-platform software with support for Raspbery Pi, PC (x86/x64) and Asus Tinkerboard. It was founded by Michelangelo Guarise from Firenze, Toscana, Italy. Volumio states that there are almost 20 team members with 10 of them developers. Volumio does not use LMS but LMS plugin can be installed/enabled. I personally think Volumio is not optimized for PC. For example, I have a 2TB Samsung SSD with music files inside the PC (separate SSD from Volumio O/S SSD), but it is impossible to setup Volumio to read music files from the internal SSD which is separate from O/S SSD. When I tried Volumio recently, it has the same exact ‘feature’ of not able to read from separate internal SSD like 2 years ago. Volumio can add music folders from network drives and external USB drives. The balance space of Volumio O/S SSD can be used for internal music files, but the music files need to be manually copied after O/S was installed. For this reason alone, Volumio is not an option for me, even though the sound quality is acceptable. In my streamer build, multiple internal SSDs can be used to store terabytes of music files.
For first time installation, Volumio bootable ISO image is huge at 3.61 GB compared to Daphile at 241 MB. In its documentation, Volumio recommends Etcher software for preparing bootable USB drive. The Etcher software is huge in download size and has plenty of unnecessary advertisements. It is not necessary to use Etcher software. Many other compact software like Rufus can do the job fine.
Despite Volumio’s limitation in attaching internal SATA music drive as a Source, I did try it. After boot from USB drive, I installed Volumio into a 1 TB Samsung SSD. After Volumio can boot from SSD, I copied my music files through LAN (almost 1 TB) into Volumio internal folder. That took almost 4 hours with 1 GB/s wired LAN connection where both the streamer and my laptop are connected to the same network switch. Playback control is using web browser, and it looks pretty neat.
Daphile is not an open source software. It is based on LMS but the custom codes are proprietary. The developer is Kimmo Taskinen from Helsinki, Finland, who provides updates in Daphile facebook page. Based on his LinkedIn profile, he has worked in technology companies like TDK, Nokia, and Espotel and is currently working with Murata. It is amazing 1 person can develop a free playback and streaming software with a lot of capabilities. Daphile runs on PC (x86/x64) only, so it is indeed optimized for PC. Recently I tested Daphile RT (realtime kernel) and it works flawlessly. Adding internal music SSD to the music library is not a problem at all, the indexing is very fast for a library size above 1TB. If Squeezer Android app is used for playback control, then it feels like using Innuos since to control Innuos playback with Android, Squeezer is required. Playback control can also be done directly through web interface like Chrome, but using Squeezer is easier and fonts/graphics look larger.
Advanced users can tweak CPU speed, RAM buffer size for playback, view CPU temperature, and many more. There are many optional LMS plugins already installed.
Please note Daphile license below. It is free only for private use.
DAPHILE DISTRIBUTION IS MADE AVAILABLE FREE OF CHARGE FOR NON-COMMERCIAL PRIVATE USE. ANY COMMERCIAL USAGE AND REDISTRIBUTION OF DAPHILE IN ANY FORM ARE STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
If someone wants to buy my streamer and expects me to preinstall Daphile, that is not even an option I will provide. If you build your own streamer and use Daphile or Volumio, that is perfectly fine.
The question now is how much better is a paid software like Euphony compared to Daphile, Volumio and HYSOLID?
Euphony logo looks like Pac Man with many mouths. Free 1-month trial is available. Euphony uses the MAC address of motherboard network (choose one either LAN or wireless) for licensing identification, i.e. the license is assigned to motherboard fingerprint. The user base is relatively small, a few hundred paid users the most. Most Euphony users are very active in Audiophile Style forums. I purchased the first license in July 2019 after trials with 2 motherboards. Since then, many improvements were made with sound quality improvements.
Being a paid software, Euphony is not without problem. I experienced ENOTFOUND errors many times since 20210217v3 when they changed the method to communicate with their server. Euphony reported I don’t have internet connection even though I do have internet connection. When I log these issues with Euphony support, Željko Vranić who is the main person responding to Euphony Support tickets claimed I am the only person who had this issue. After I let Željko remotely debug my system, he said Euphony needs iPV6 in network communications with their server while my internet provider only has iPV4. I modified the router setting to have iPV6. I see less ENOTFOUND errors with iPV6 but sometimes the errors are still there.
Euphony establishes connection with their server during startup and logs the IP address of the machine. When Euphony app in phone/tablet is launched, it also connects to Euphony server and lists IP addresses of active Euphony machines for user to select. Every hour during playback, Euphony checks the validity of the license with their license server again. I believe they set the timeout to be too short, expecting perfect internet connectivity all the time. I have given feedback to increase the timeout before showing ENOTFOUND error, but they are not listening. I am pissed so that is why I am being very honest about the problems here.
When I purchased the second Euphony license for Build 03 which is used for reviews, I run into problems where my license cannot be registered properly. I have to retry Euphony registration more than 5 times. I have to reboot the router only then the registration works. All Covid-19 related lockdowns cause people to work and study from home, putting extraordinary burden to home internet performance.
Euphony claims it has CD ripping capability. Yes, it does when the music streamer has internal optical drive or external USB optical drive attached. CD ripping is done through Euphony File Manager. However, there is no setting for output in WAV; the output defaults to FLAC. There is no setting on FLAC compression rate which is available in Daphile. In Daphile, FLAC output can be set to no compression. Album metadata management is poor with Euphony CD ripping. Recently I tried a local album published in Malaysia in 2006 by Sean Ghazi – Semalam. Euphony CD ripping shows blank album metadata – all information like Album, Artist, Year, Genre, and each track title need to be entered manually, only then it can rip the CD. Daphile CD ripper uses Gracenote database, which is also used by Sony HAP-Z1ES. There is no issue with Daphile getting album metadata for that album, only the album artwork is missing. Big differences between a free and paid software on CD ripping capabilities.
Sound Quality Comparison
What about sound quality? My methodology for evaluating various playback software is as follows. I installed many SSDs into the same machine. Streacom FC10 Alpha maximum number of 2.5″ SSD without optical drive is 4, but I managed to squeeze 5 SSDs total! From left to right:
- 1 TB Samsung SSD for Volumio with music folder inside
- 2 TB Samsung SSD with music folders only (for use with Euphony, Daphile and Windows 10 + HYSOLID)
- 128 GB Pioneer SSD for Euphony O/S only
- 256 GB Samsung SSD for Daphile O/S only
- 256 GB Samsung SSD for Windows 10 O/S + HYSOLID (with red sticker)
When switching playback software, I need to shutdown the streamer and switch the SATA data and power cables to different SSD. Please note that very short SATA cables are used.
My ranking is Euphony > Daphile > Volumio. Euphony sounds the best when Stylus is used with RAMROOT enabled (all O/S loaded to RAM) and buffer before play is enabled (load all songs in playlist into RAM). Euphony sounds a lot more refined (pinpoint accuracy of sound stage) with very controlled bass. I can hear this difference more clearly when playing very high bitrate music files. Euphony also allows advanced users to do expert settings, like assigning different cores to different tasks, setting RAM buffer size and CPU speed, reduced network speed for better sound quality, and many others.
UPDATED: I enabled ASRock J5040-ITX Realtek ACL892 internal sound card, then use its optical out to record a song, Melinda Song, in 44.1 kHz 16-bit. The intent is to record digital optical output signal into Sony PCM-D100 so that can compare sound quality difference. With Volumio, Sony PCM-D100 is not seeing any output. Successful digital recordings when using Windows 10 + HYSOLID, Daphile and Euphony as playback software are here. Please listen yourself – they sound different.
The CPU temperature when using Volumio, Daphile, and Euphony is Daphile > Euphony > Volumio. Volumio, being a system able to run on low-power CPU like Raspberry Pi, puts less load to the CPU. I do not see how CPU speed can be controlled in Volumio, maybe the CPU does not run at the highest speed. Unfortunately, I cannot see the actual CPU temperature from Volumio. Daphile causes the CPU temperature to be slightly higher (around 2-3 degrees C) compared to Euphony when running at the same CPU speed, i.e. 2.0GHz for the Pentium Silver J5040 SoC used in my streamer.
If one has moderate quality hi-fi system which is not very resolving, Volumio, and Daphile may work fine. If one has very resolving hi-fi system, something like Euphony is required. Otherwise the money spent on expensive gears, including DIY streamer made with expensive components, will be wasted if the playback software options are limited to free software. Penny wise, pound foolish.
When my music streamers/servers are ready for sale, I will use Euphony as a stop-gap measure until I can develop my own playback software.