Fun with the Raspberry Pi

I ordered a Raspberry Pi kit earlier this week, and it showed up in the mail yesterday. I ordered this kit from Amazon. It’s a nicely-packaged kit, with the Pi, a case, a power supply, a wifi dongle, an SD card, and a few other things.

The SD card comes with the standard NOOBS image on it already. My intention was to wipe that out and install Volumio, but I thought I’d give the standard setup a try, just to see how it worked. To do that, I had to hook the Pi up to a USB keyboard and mouse, and an HDMI monitor. My normal computer monitor doesn’t have HDMI, so I had to use my TV instead. That was a little awkward, since I don’t have a good surface for the mouse close enough to the TV, but I managed. The standard setup is quite easy, and doesn’t require an internet connection. Basically, it just allows you to set a few parameters, then it installs Raspbian Linux onto the SD card. From there, you can use the command line or start a GUI shell. I messed around with that for a while, then unhooked everything, so I could get Volumio installed.

To do that, I had to download the Volumio install image, and write it to the MicroSD card. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do that, since I don’t have a MicroSD slot on my PC, but I managed to find a MicroSD to SD adapter in my pile of random memory cards, and used that to get the MicroSD card into my PC. From there, I followed the simple instructions on Volumio’s site, cross-referencing this useful blog post. You can set up Volumio without hooking up a monitor or keyboard. You just need to plug the Pi into a wired Ethernet connection to get the initial setup done. So I did that, and got it set up through the browser interface at volumio.local. I set up my wifi card, then unplugged the Ethernet cable, rebooted, and all was well. To test it, I copied a Paul McCartney album to a USB thumb drive and plugged it in. I also plugged headphones into the audio out jack. Volumio had no trouble seeing the USB drive, and the audio played through the headphones, no problem. The audio quality coming out of the standard output jack isn’t great though. (I also plugged it in to my receiver, to try that out, and it sounds OK there, but still not great.)

So I ordered a DAC with RCA output jacks from HiFiBerry this morning. And a new case from them too, since the one from CanaKit isn’t going to work with the DAC on top of the Pi. I’m hopeful that this will give me acceptable sound quality. Between the kit from CanaKit, and the stuff from HiFiBerry, I’ve now spent more than $100 on this project, so I’m going to feel a little stupid if it doesn’t sound at least as good as a $100 CD player.

The next part of the project is going to be figuring out how I want to get my music collection hooked up to the Pi. The USB thumb drive I used for testing was formatted as FAT, so I’m glad to see that I don’t have to use an EXT4 formatted drive, or jump through any hoops to get the Pi to recognize a FAT drive. I had bookmarked a good writeup on dealing with different file systems on the Pi, but I don’t think I’ll need to worry about it. So I should be able to use either a USB thumb drive, or a USB hard drive for my music. The thumb drive would be easier, since I won’t have to worry about power. I have a 32GB thumb drive that I’m not using, but that’s not quite big enough for everything. A 64GB drive would only cost about $20 and would be big enough to fit my main MP3 collection. I also have several USB hard drives gathering dust in my apartment, including a small 120GB drive that would probably be perfect for this. I’m not sure if the Pi would provide enough power for it though, so that could be an issue. So I guess the next part of this project, while I’m waiting for the DAC to get here, will be to experiment with hard drives and thumb drives.

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