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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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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