The nights are drawing in, it's getting bitter outside walking the dog and its dark, not much to look forward to, apart from Xmas eh? Wrong! If you appreciate proper Hi-fi not wireless or bluetooth speakers or any of the other offerrings from the integrated speaker/amp enclosed combos on the market then you're in for a treat! I've just taken delivery of the Pi-AMP+ from IQAudIO, the Pi-AMP was somewhat delayed by the sudden announcement of the Raspberry Pi B+ back in August. Back to the drawing board for Gordon and his team at HQ. I was certainly one of many who were frustrated but fully understood that it was wise to concentrate on the new incarnation of the Raspberry Pi.
I had been promised a best in class componentry setup a couple of weeks prior to getting it delievered.
Having only seen pictures of the new Pi-AMP+ from twitter feeds and the odd murmur from IQAudIO that the sound was something to look forward to – hard to convey to twitter followers, but I took the hint! Apart from that I had little else to go on apart from my sixth sense telling me that this Hi-fi sandwich was going to be something special. Consisting of a Raspberry Pi B+ base, a 24bit Burr Brown DAC (PCM5122) with dedicated headphone amplifier as the filling. Then to top it off the Pi-AMP+ powerhouse Class D 2x20w amplifier slotting into the Pi-DAC+ below. My intuition had already told me that I was going to like it. Well the proof of the pudding is in the eating!
I plugged the Pi-AMP+ in and selected my playlist, being cautious not to have it too loud – I had been warned by IQaudIO. This is a Full HD Class D amplifier with an attached 24bit 192khz capable kickass DAC.
I'd already experienced the unpleasant feeling of near perforated eardrums after listening briefly to the integrated headphone amplifier at volume level 90 on the Pi-DAC+ - ouch!!, my mistake i may add, i'm not some kind of masochist!
Volume was set conservatively whilst listening to the Six feet Under Volume 1 soundtrack, well at around 50 at mid-way, ok this sure does pack a punch. Turning this player up to full volume was always going to be essential but not really necessary as this easily fills a very large room with a very nicely balanced sound. The sound from the AMP+ really belies it size at no more than 4” x 3” x 3”! A complex track with fairly muted vocals on other setups was easily picked out by the Pi-AMP+ without having to concentrate too hard – track 15 (Thomas Newman) “This is what you've been running away from your whole life, buddy boy”, check it out.
I always try to reserve judgment for the first two days of listening to new equipment, as I was glued to my seat in my livingroom with my ever growing playlist in Orangesqueeze for the next 90 minutes. Well someones got to do it – right?
Initial impressions were very good, I found an amp that would give me the same sound levels that I would listen to on my seperates hifi amplifer, but with volume to spare. I also liked the sound that was coming through my floorstanding speakers, however I wasn't blown away just yet!
I wanted to test the amp and give it time to bed in with my system, well speakers I guess, as that Is all you need to connect to this little integrated music streaming dac and amplifier. Together with a nice 15v xppower power supply, delivering 2x20 watts, if you should need it.
Really I mean burn in time, in the first couple of days the amp was really doing a good job of replacing my big grey breeze-block amplifier, maybe I didn't have the complete range through all the songs on my playlist quite yet, to satisfy my fussy ears! However nonetheless some tracks really stood out and I thought this or that track sounded better than the amp it has just replaced!
I thought the soundstage on 'One Step Beyond' was great as I could hear the echoing clarity of Chas Smash right at the front of it saying 'Don't watch that, watch this, this is the heavy heavy monster sound' with the band and instruments clearly behind and to the side of the singer.
I also wasn't quite sure that the player was as accomplished at lower sound levels as of other amps I have tested in previous setups, but that was soon to change.
By day 3, listening to any classical or John Williams score in the evening at lower levels confirmed that the Pi-AMP+ will replay and convey your favourite scores in great detail and clarity throughout the frequency range and not putting the slightest strain on your ears whilst doing so.
Vocals and seperation were all clearly defined and no tracks seemed muffled whilst listening through my playlist. In short it's amazing that such a dimunitive little all in one device can sound the same as a seperate cd player/network streamer and amplifier system. Moores Law has certainly taken the Hi-fi world by surprise or specifically my Hi-fi world any way. This i'm sure is about to change the mainstream Hi-fi world soon when the general public get wind of what a micro-computer, hi-res dac and connected amplifier can do. These players to put into context can do all and more that commercial Hi-fi streamers can offer.
One of the best albums that I listened to was the '25th Anniversary of Thriller' by Michael Jackson, you can hear the quality of the production from the opening track of 'Wanna Be Starting Something' the bass on the opening drum beats are crisp, sharp and clean with just the right depth to do the track justice as it was meant to be heard. The songs on this album or any other tracks have just the right element of tonal frequencies from high to low to satisfy most of your musical tastes or certainly mine! If you did want to tweak the near perfectly weighted frequencies of the Pi-Amp+ then you could always install an equalizer to customize the sound required for the speakers that you attach to this little gem.
I would say there are no end of quality bookshelf speakers that will be the perfect partner for this music streamer, but really.....why limit yourself to bookshelf speakers? This will happily power a pair of floorstanders. I would love to get the chance to partner this up with some modern floorstanders, maybe a trip to the local hi-fi shop beckons, unless santa decides to bring me some this year!
In summary if you were to scour the Hi-fi/computer audio market would you be able to find a player that matches these attributes and does them as well as the Pi-AMP+
Hi-res capable audio music streamer up to 24Bit/192khz
Plays all major audio formats – Flac, MP3, Alac, Ogg Vorbis etc...
Compatitble with Logitech Media Server
Can be used with all the major internet streaming services – Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, Qobuz and the new hi-res streaming 'Tidal' – plugins are available for all these services on Logitech Media server
Partner with your own choice of speakers to tailor your Hi-fi experience
Has access to BBcIplayer app with catchup radio programs from the last 7 days
Apple & Android apps available to control using a smartphone or tablet
A user interface that allows easy playlist selection ,navigation and control such as Ipeng or Orangesqueeze
A choice of MPD software if you prefer a MPD client instead of running server software
Customisable software and hardware
What this player demands is your attention and it will hold mine for some time to come. Are there really any players on the market that accomplish all of these things and more – maybe at a price way beyond what the Pi-AMP+ will cost but even then will the software be as polished and capable?
I have listened to a variety of different genres from classical, reggae, ska and rock and this amp/dac takes them all in it's stride. The frozen soundtrack really gives a dynamic sound with a weighty verve displaying a superb attacking bass when playing the track 'Return to Arundelle' showing how it can handle an orchestra in full swing.
Ok the amplifier is not fussy what you throw at it, in fact ..........
There are so many different methods to play computer audio, but seriously this is one of the easiest, most energy efficient, cost effective, not to mention space saving devices there is to accomplish that one goal every music lover wants - real Hi-Fidelity sound!
This is the Hifi in the Present
Me personally, i don't want an Apple iMac and 3 breeze blocks taking all that space in my livingroom let alone take out a loan to pay for the behemoth!