Saturday, 3 February 2018

Hi Res Audio - Think Tinker Board




It seems that streaming has already being accepted as a norm in the hifi world. While physical medium still rules the market, we can no longer deny that streaming has come a long way from those days of the stigma of 'if you can't hold it, then its not real'. Streamers can be owned at various levels. In the recent months, this particular petit streamer have making waves in the local scene. It is the smallest that I have reviewed so far. The Tinker Board is based on ASUS very own minimalist PC and Volumio set up to purely play music as the primary function. This Tinker Board was made more commercially available by Simon Sung in the local scene (at least from my FB feed). After seeing a lot of the usual suspects putting in this unit into their system, I started to wonder what this Tinker Board can do. And thanks to Simon, I get to experience streaming hi res music in a different way for about 3 weeks.


THE SPECS

The Tinker Board package by Simon comes in a 3 in 1 bundle together with the USB cable and and also iFi USB silencer. This is a plug and play unit with the following specs.
  • Minimal operating system, tailored for Bit-Perfect Audio Playback
  • Works with any USB 2.0 DAC
  • Raspberry PI and Odroid I2S DACs supported natively
  • Supports all filetypes: FLAC, Alac, Aac, Vorbis, Mp3, DSD etc
  • UPNP Playback
  • Airplay Playback
  • DSD Over PCM support, for non Direct-DSD compatible hardware
  • Integrated WebRadio directories
  • If a compatible wireless hardware is found, Volumio will create an hotspot network for first configuration
  • Mount CIFS and NFS Network Attached Storage, with an auto-discovery function
  • Custom playlist editing and creation
  • Plugin support with new functions available like Spotify and Digital Room Correction
  • Seamless update system: no need to reinstall when a new version is available
  • Multilanguage with a growing number of translations available
  • Image background support, even your favourite one
  • Alarm and sleep function
  • Item include:
    • 1 x Asus Tinkerboard
    • 1 x 8GB Micro SD card
    • 1 x Power adapter
    • 1 x Casing
THE SETTING UP

You can either connect the streamer via its mini jack (you will need a a 3.5 mm jack to RCA to connect direct to an amp) or via USB cable to an external DAC. I tried with both ways and for the latter, I connect it to Oppo Sonica DAC. It can only output either one at one time. The review here is based on direct analogue connectivity.

To control the unit, you need to download Volumio app from either Apple Store or Google Play. It costs me RM4.45 about USD 1. 

I also connected an ethernet cable to ensure a more stable connectivity even though it does have wireless capability.





The Volumio app reminds me of the Bryston BDP2 I reviewed many moons ago. Need a little bit of getting used to. Although it detected both my Western Digital NAS and also Sony HAP Z1 ES, it needs to scan and load the whole entire library the first time it is set up. This is all done via the app. For Spotify playback, a plugin is required to be installed. Again, this can be done via the app. All and all, it took me about 20 mins to set everything up.


THE COMPATIBILITY TEST
The first hour was just testing out different files from MP3 to ALAC to WAV to FLAC to DSD. All of them passed with flying colours. No issues at all. even the internet radio worked. I struggled a bit to set up the Spotify but after restarting the app and Spotify, it worked good.

 

THE STABILITY TEST

Similar to my previous reviews of Oppo Sonica and Arcam rPlay, this is one of the tests that I put through a sample unit. On wired mode, the Tinker Board worked flawlessly. No audio signal drop at all even when streaming DSD files. On wireless mode however, there was some buffering at times makes it a little bit struggling. The app control however was a little bit irresponsive regardless whether its on wired or wireless. Sometimes I am not sure whether the unit have received the command from the app or not and I re-clicked just to make the player to repeat the command twice.

On wired mode, the player was put on continuous playback for about 6 hours with no issues. I just had to wait for my library to be loaded initially but then, it played on random for a good 6 hours without being disconnected.


THE SESSION

The following tracks were used for this session similar to my review on Oppo Sonica DAC

1. Louisiana 1927 by Aaron Neville (16/44 ALAC)
2. Somewhere, Somebody by Jennifer Warmes (2.8 MHz DSD)
3. Take Five  by Dave Brubeck (2.8  MHz DSD)


Lousiana by Aaron Neville connected to Oppo Sonica DAC

Coupled with the Oppo Sonica, the Tinker Board sounded very airy and created quite a huge ambient in my hall. Its actually quite a good pairing between both of them if you like your sound to be big. Comparing the sound against direct analogue connection between the Tinker Board and amp, the Tinker Board provided a more upfront sound. Detail and clarity seems to be its virtue as the overall track sounded more controlled and focused towards Aaron's vocal.

On the Somewhere, Somebody track, the bass does not dig deep as oppose to connecting it to Oppo Sonica. However, it does provide a more solid twang on the bass line, a more natural and soothing to the ears. The percussion is more raw but quite enjoyable while Jennifer's vocal sounded  much more natural and upfront, like she is singing solely for me. Some may say that it sounded bolder than when connecting it to Oppo Sonica.

Playing Take Five reconfirms that the Tinker Board is more about details and clarity. I dont get a hard hitting bass line but a more soothing and natural bass line that can create the emotional ambient in a different level. It gives a more enveloping experience without a thudding experience in your face. The wind instrument sounded more focus and upfront, similar experience to the first 2 tracks I tested.

SO...DO I GO WIRELESS OR WIRED OR DIRECT USB?


I highly recommend to go wired on this unit if you are connecting this to your main hifi system versus a desktop set up. The wired mode provides better stability and also sounds much more engaging compared to wireless. Even better, play your music by connecting your USB thumbdrive directly into one of the four USB ports on this unit.


OTHER PERFORMANCE


Using Spotify was quite straight forward eventhough I experienced some hiccup in the beginning.  The SQ is not as per playing a real digital file but it delivers its duty to stream from online portal with great capability. 


CONCLUSIONS


At RM450 (unit alone) or RM 900 bundled with the above USB cable and ifi silencer, this Tinker Board unit must be the most minimalist-strictly-audio streamer in town. Now, as per what Tony says, Anyone Can Stream! If you have the following but dont know whether streaming is your thing, try this unit out.
  • Hi Res files either on USB HDD or NAS
  • Spotify account
  • Don't want to spend a fortune on streamer

Contact Simon Sung on Facebook or on Whatsapp +6012 4549923












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