How to build a Raspberry Pi jukebox

Last Updated September 2020
By Jaime Vázquez

If you’re an audiophile or you’re just really into music, chances are you’ve seen network media players that stream local music files and online music services to your Hi-Fi speakers — and you’ve also seen the price tags, which can easily climb into the thousands. If you’re looking for a network media player — a digital jukebox filled with your own music, if you will — but you don’t want to spend a ton of money, we’ve got good news for you: You can build your own for around $150, and it’s a lot easier than you might think.

Digital jukeboxes typically produce superior audio quality because they rely on high-end Digital-to-Analog-Converters, or DACs, to deliver the full dynamic range of your music. When it comes to hearing digital music at its best, the most important factor is the DAC you’re using. When you listen to music on your phone, you’re using your phone’s built-in DAC. Most phones have solid DACs on board, which is why they can sound so good over headphones — but nothing beats the quality of a standalone DAC.

A digital jukebox built with a high-quality DAC can transform your listening experience, and if you’re willing to try a project with a Raspberry Pi computer, you can build your own in an afternoon.

What is Raspberry Pi?

Raspberry Pi computers are modestly powered machines that are about the size of an Altoids tin. Raspberry Pi kits cost anywhere between $30 and $150, and they include almost everything you need to have a fully working computer (typically, you’ll need to supply the keyboard, mouse, and monitor). They’re perfect for dedicated, low-intensity tasks, like emulating retro video games, functioning as a weather station, or even hosting a Minecraft server.

Raspberry Pi enthusiasts have thought of countless uses for these tiny-but-mighty machines and setting up a digital jukebox is one of the most popular starter projects around.

How to build a Raspberry Pi jukebox

If you’re not the technical type, there’s no need to worry: If you’ve put together IKEA furniture or assembled a LEGO set before, you’ll feel right at home here.

What you’ll need:

Pick up these supplies ahead of time. We recommend spending about $150 total — and making sure the components you buy are compatible. You’ll need:

  • A Raspberry Pi kit. You can use a Raspberry Pi 3B+ ($59.99), a Raspberry Pi 4 ($99.99), or even a Raspberry Pi Zero ($28.99) for this project. We like the 3B+, as it hits the sweet spot of speed and price. If you expect to be trying out multiple Raspberry Pi projects, consider a Pi 4 with 8GB of RAM ($149.99).
  • A high-fidelity audio DAC. Add-on cards for Raspberry Pi computers are called “hats,” and they’re specific to each model — so if you have a Raspberry Pi 3B+ and you’re looking for a DAC hat, you’ll need one that’s made for the 3B+. You can also pick how you want to connect to your stereo; for example, some DACs have optical digital outputs, while others have traditional RCA outputs. Most also have 3.5mm line-out jacks. We like the HiFiBerry DAC+ ($39.99), which works with the Pi 2 and Pi 3B+ models. If you’re working with a Raspberry Pi 4, use innomaker’s HiFi DAC ($29.99).
  • A Raspberry Pi case with extra room. Most Raspberry Pi kits come with cases, but if you’re attaching a DAC, chances are the original case won’t fit. Pick up a case with extra headroom for your fancy new DAC! For the Raspberry Pi 3B+, we like the HighPi Case ($17.95), and for the Raspberry Pi 4 we recommend innomaker’s Acrylic Case ($9.99).
  • A microSD card. You’ll need a memory card to store your operating system and files, and not all kits come with them. Check to see if the kit you’re buying comes with a microSD card, and if it doesn’t, pick up a 128GB SanDisk Class-10 card ($19.99). 

Building your jukebox

With all of the parts in hand, you can start building! Follow these steps to get up and running in no time.

1. Prepare your microSD card. Begin by downloading the operating system you’ll use to power your jukebox; we recommend the free version of Volumio, although Moode Audio is also a viable option. Using a separate computer, connect your microSD card, and load the Volumio image you downloaded onto the card (you can use the Raspberry Pi Imager application to do that).

2. Assemble your Raspberry Pi kit — but skip the case. Putting your Raspberry Pi computer together is a lot easier than it sounds. You’ll stick on a few heat sinks using included stickers, and for now, that’s it. Most kits come with a case, but in this instance, you’ll need a separate case, so don’t bother with any included cases.

3. Attach a high-fidelity DAC. The DAC you use needs to be compatible with your model of Raspberry Pi. To connect the two together, take the black slots on the DAC and slide the exposed pins on the Raspberry Pi main board into them.

4. Put everything in a case with enough room. The DAC you attached makes the whole computer taller, so you’ll need a case with adequate space. Get a case with extra space (again, checking to make sure it’s compatible with your model of Pi) and follow the included assembly instructions. Be sure to insert your microSD card that includes your operating system. Connect the Raspberry Pi to a mouse, keyboard, and monitor, and power it on.

5. Configure your jukebox to play your local music files. It’s time to set up your new network media player! If you’re using Volumio, you’ll need to connect your Raspberry Pi to your network using an ethernet cable, then use a web browser to access Volumio’s main interface. From there, you’ll have the option to load your music files locally or indicate where your music files exist on your local network. (You can find more information about setting up Volumio on their website.)

6. Optional: Enable the Spotify plugin. In Volumio’s plugins section, you have the option to integrate your paid Spotify Premium account if you want to stream music from Spotify as well as from your local digital music collection.

7. Connect it to your stereo and enjoy! With your player configured, you’re ready to connect it to your stereo and enjoy your music in its high-resolution glory. You can access and manage your jukebox from any web browser — and there is also a dedicated, inexpensive Volumio app.

Best audiophile accessories

Now that your digital jukebox is up and running, it might be time to upgrade all of your other listening components. After all, you saved so much money on building a jukebox, it only makes sense to invest the savings in more listening upgrades, right? Here are a few essentials.

  • Audiophile headphones. If you do a lot of listening in headphones, make sure you’re investing in the right ones. High-quality headphones can make all the difference when it comes to reproducing music faithfully and keeping unwanted noise out. Our pick: Sennheiser’s HD280PROs ($99) offer incredible audio at a price point that’s well below the competition.
  • Powered speakers. If you don’t have a lot of room, it can be easier to get a set of powered speakers instead of buying a separate receiver/amplifier and passive speakers. Powered speakers have amps built inside and deliver audio that can easily fill up an apartment. Check out the Edifier R1280DBs ($129.99) for a complete solution that includes Bluetooth that can deliver respectable sound. If you need powered speakers for a larger space or want to level-up your speakers, check out AudioEngines A5+ speakers ($399).
  • Quality cables. Your music will only sound as good as your weakest link — so, in other words, don’t let cheap cables dampen the experience for you. Gold-plated RCA are the standard, and AmazonBasics’ RCA cable brings affordable fidelity.

Jaime Vázquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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