Hi Fi Raspberry Pi – digitising and streaming vinyl

Over at Mozilla HQ (where Firefox, a browser that many of you are using to read this, is made), some retro hardware hacking has been going on.

vinyl record

The Mozillans have worked their way through several office music services, but nothing, so far, has stuck. Then this home-made project, which started as a bit of a joke, landed on a countertop – and it’s stayed.

Matt Claypotch found a vinyl record player online, and had it delivered to the office, intending to tinker with it at home. It never made it that far. He and his colleagues spent their lunch hour at a local thrift store buying up random vintage vinyl…and the record player stayed in the office so everybody could use it.

Potch’s officemates embarked on a vinyl spending spree.

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What could be better? The warm crackle of vintage vinyl, “random, crappy albums” you definitely can’t find on Spotify (and stuff like the Van Halen album above that you can find on Spotify but possibly would prefer not to)…the problem was, once the machine had been set up in a break room, only the people in that room could listen to the cheese.

Enter the Raspberry Pi, with a custom-made streaming setup. One Mozillan didn’t want to have to sit in the common area to get his daily dose of bangin’ choons, so he set up a Pi to stream music from the analogue vinyl over USB (it’s 2016, record players apparently have USB ports now) via an Icecast stream to headphones anywhere in the office. Analogue > digital > analogue, if you like.

The setup is surprisingly successful; they’ve organised other audio systems which weren’t very popular, but this one, which happened organically, is being used by the whole office.

You can listen to a podcast from Envoy Office Hacks about the setup, and the office’s reaction to it.

Mozilla, keep on bopping to disco Star Wars. (I’m off to see if I can find a copy of that record. It’s probably a lot better in my imagination than it is in real life, but BOY, is it good in my imagination*.)

*I found it on YouTube. It’s a lot better in my imagination.

26 comments

Alex Bate

Just to make you all aware… you’ve missed all my birthdays so far. I won’t say no to that Galactic Funk vinyl as an apology.

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I always thought that people listened to vinyls because digitized sounds lack the little nuances that get lost once you convert analog to digital. O_o

Alex Bate

All the system is doing is streaming the music from the player… so I would assume all the nuances still remain. There’s no mixing involved to bring about the clarity of modern, digitally recorded music.

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The digitizing itself is already a reduction of information and I’ve heard people complain that Jimi Hendrix on Vinyl sounds much better than on a CD even though it was “the same” record.

So why would you digitize a Vinyl?

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A lot of the “sounds better” is to do with a perception of “warmth”; actually the characteristic crackly sound that you get with a vinyl record. Ultimately, this is a nice little streaming project to make people’s office – I don’t think we want to get bogged down too far in audiophile territory!

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A tremendous amount of that perception comes from when the CD format was first introduced. Many of the early releases weren’t mastered for CD and instead they just took the existing masters for tapes and used those. A tremendous amount of material didn’t get releases actual mixed properly from the masters until the late 80s and even into the late 90s. And then to add insult in injury a lot of those were run through a dynamic range compressor as part of the “loudness wars” which still rears its ugly head on releases to this day. Nobody ever assumed people were playing records in their cars. But many MANY people were listening to music in their cars that had very poor sound insulation. Not that you want perfect sound insulation in a car as then you wouldn’t hear important horns and sirens. But because of all the noise in vehicles the started using range compression to ramp up the volume on the music at the cost of the quality.

In short, for the most part it isn’t the format that is the problem but lazy/awful mixing and mastering on many CD releases.

Modern digital formats are capable of storing music in higher quality than the masters of everything from earlier decades. While I doubt their quick and dirty setup is doing lossless streaming icecast is capable of it. The second thing to know is that with a record player like this I doubt they had super high quality speakers anyways. So with the silliness of the whole setup even if there is any loss of quality I really doubt anybody cares.

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Digitizing is not “reduction of information”. It is the creation of information based on various measurements taken at discreet times.

When you digitize a record, you just get information about the audio signal in order to be able to reproduce it at a later time. When a Hendrix CD is produced, they usually take the original recordings (which were made using analog tape) and digitize that. What you get is the sound of the original recording processed in order to be able to be stored in the CD + the distortions generated by the samplig process. When you transfer the original recordings to vinyl, what you get is the sound of the original recording processed in order to be able to be stored in the disc + the distortion created by the disc itself. So you see, even when you start with the same material you can end up with two different products (sound wise).

And of course, “sounds better” in this case is totally subjective. Objectively speaking, digital audio offers quality way beyond that of what Tape or Vinyl can achieve. Whether we like that transparency over material with certain amounts of distortion of not is another discussion.

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My parents had that disco Star Wars track on a “Top Themes” album which lived in the car. That one and the theme from Van Der Valk were my favourites. The fact that this was on cassette makes me feel old.

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My parents had a double album called Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Songs on cassette that we listened to on a loop through YEARS of driving holidays. I know them all by heart, and I was really pleased when I found it’s still available thirty years later – made me feel ten again!

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The parents-driving-cassette from my childhood was Cliff Richard :-/

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Oo. Commiserations.

(I think that’s how the song goes.)

Alex Bate

Ours was some weird collection of 80’s and 90’s disco. I only remember Ace of Base though.

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Interesting….perhaps I’ll add a project to my queue to use a Pi to digitize the vinyl we have, particularly the University Chorus (UC Berkeley) of Hindemith’s _Apparebit Repentina Dies_.

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Those USB-connected record players seemed to be a bit of a “thing” a few years ago (never bought one myself)
http://www.maplin.co.uk/c/home-electricals/media-archiving

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I actually bought that Van Halen album when it came out… Oh dear…

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Seems really fun — would be great to have “guest DJs” during lunchtime or similar.

I was wondering if there was a way, ala Sonos, to sync up all the clients so multiple output devices (PCs, etc.) playing the same stream would all be synced up with each other. There’s likely more than just this, but here’s something I found which could accomplish the synced playing: https://github.com/badaix/snapcast

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i found our “now thats what i call music” the first one

sure makes me feel old when i see they are now on No. 94

and all my old dire straights, Queen and ELO vinyl from the 80’s :)

but the most cringe worthy found was the original top of the pops album with chirpy chirpy cheep cheep by middle of the road https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSNSTerj2Kc and billy don’t be a hero by paperlace https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cdFuMgMkBM
luckily unplayable due to a scratch :)

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I’m getting an “anti vinyl” vibe from the first paragraph

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It’s the other way around – vinyl is anti-vibration :)

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Oi! No slagging off Van Halen’s “5150”. In addition to the stonking “Why Can’t This Be Love”, it also features two of their better ballads in “Love Walks In” and “Dreams”.

The rest of it is pretty dire though, now I think about it. Still better than Meco’s disco version of the Star Wars theme though…

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You do realize that with the size of your audience you may have just made disco star wars go viral????

I’m off to find it too…..

what have you done LoL ;)

P.s. Great story

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Have you heard of cleaning vinyl with pva glue guys??
this works exceptionally well, you smear pva all over the surface, let it dry for 24hrs, then pull it off in one sheet, it pulls all the micro-grit and dust out of the grooves!

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Does that make disco star wars sound better? ;-)

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The Close Encounters album by Meco is the one to have!

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I cannot get the Soundcloud to sound on the Raspberry Pi 2 with Raspbian. I’ve tried Firefox ESR and Epiphany. In Firefox it works slightly better because the display works and there is a very weak white noice.

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I was looking for whether the R Pi could be used to convert the analogue signal from a record deck to digital. This sounded like it. Then I read your record deck has a USB output, so the conversion is being done by circuitry already built into the deck, not by the Pi.

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