Stream Vinyl To Your Sonos Without The Financial Penalty

One of the unexpected success stories in the world of hi-fi over the past decade has been the resurgence of the vinyl LP as a musical format. What was once old hat is now cool again, but for freshy minted vinyl fans there’s a snag. Hi-fi itself has moved on from the analogue into the digital, so what can be done if your listening comes through a Sonos system. Sonos will sell you a box to do that of course, but it’s as overpriced as 2023-pressing vinyl. [Max Fischer] has a far better solution, in the form of a Raspberry Pi loaded with open source software.

At the vinyl end is a Behringer audio interface containing a pre-amp with the required RIAA response curve. This acts as the source for the DarkIce audio streamer and the IceCast2 media serer, all of which even with the cost of a Pi and the interface, is considerably less than the commercial device.

We’re guessing that a more humble interface coupled to an older RIAA pre-amp could cut the cost further, and we’d be hugely curious as to whether a simple mic pre-amp could be used alongside some DSP from the likes of Gnu Radio to give the RIAA response.

Either way, he’s made a handy device for any 21st-century vinyl fan. Meanwhile if you’re one of the streaming generation seduced by round plastic discs, we’ve gone into some detail about their audiophile credentials in the past. And if you have found yourself a turntable, of course you’ll need to know how to set it up properly.

47 thoughts on “Stream Vinyl To Your Sonos Without The Financial Penalty

    1. The difference is that the sound engineers actually work on the vinyl records. There are so many limitations (dynamic range and signal to noise ratio to name a couple) that the engineers have to work to make it sound like anything at all. They put some effort into it, and you hear that difference. The recordings aren’t simple one-to-one “make it sound like the original.” The vinyl recordings have had their frequency response tweaked and the loudness adjusted over the entire length so that you get a pleasant sounding recording.

      For CDs, they just do “make it as loud as possible” and call it a day. I expect they’d like to polish things like they do for vinyl, but they don’t get that option. The suits running the studios say that CDs gotta be loud, the engineers make ’em loud.

      1. The final step of preparing a commercial recording for release is called mastering, and it’s still a thing. Yes in the pop world, loudness and limited dynamic range are popular goals, but if the goal was radio play, vinyl masters in the days of yore were also tweaked for loudness, and most every pop radio station employed fairly drastic AGC and multiband compression to further crush dynamic range and boost loudness. For most jazz, classical, and many “not-pop” artists, overall sound quality of the release is still paramount.

        If using a modern low-noise opamp, DIY phono preamps can be pretty good, and you can also get inexpensive premade boards from the usual far-east suspects. The low input impedance of most mic preamps would make them unsuitable for phonos. Most mid-grade stereo receivers from the last 30 years will also have a decent enough phono preamp. And if you’re only used to streaming audio, you won’t notice the small improvements of stepping up to an esoteric phono preamp ;-)

        1. A long time ago, there were audio compression and expansion chips available. Audio expansion can be done either by analog or digital means, tweaking the dynamic range. It won’t be original, but it might be OK, like tweaking recordings with an equalizer

      2. Yep, every popular-music pressing mastered (or “remastered”) since the late ’90s has been ruined with dynamic compression. What was once a huge advantage for digital recordings has been squandered, to the point where records may offer MORE dynamic range.

        So pointless, stupid, and infuriating.

        1. It’s what most consumers demand, since pop music is used by most people today as streamed wallpaper, where a constant level is an advantage.

          There are still many artists and genres that make use of the wide dynamic range of digital. Not usually in pop, sorry.

      3. The simple explanation I’ve heard a few times and can’t confirm is that there’s credit due to the RIAA curve, without which a low frequency would cause the needle to travel farther than a high frequency for the same actual rate of movement because of the longer time.

        Supposedly the result is that you’ve actually got more room in the lows than in the highs rather than it being brought back to flat. So if you engineer it as loud as you can without screwing up the mids or highs, then you’ll still have a fair amount of range left in the lows where a drum hit can come in at above the average volume level every now and then. Conveniently the lows are the part that *should* be loud in the first place if your recording is of common types of music with drums, so there you go.

        As for CD’s / basic digital audio that isn’t low-bitrate streaming; it’s not common but once or twice I found something mastered with a bit more range. As for streaming, I believe there’s actually a benefit of some of the entrenched platforms in that they will forcibly reduce volume to somewhere between -10 and -16dB (Can’t remember) average perceived loudness, which sort of stops people from pushing things way too far. Wish they’d add even more range to that, but oh well.

        1. The concept of “room” (aka dynamic range) is different for different media. With digital consumer audio formats the maximum level, the ceiling, is a hard limit. Anything over that get clipped/distorted, so working up to, but NOT over that limit, is essential. Analog media (eg analog tape, phonographs) do not have a hard upper limit on level; instead it’s dictated by many things. For vinyl that’s groove width (how many grooves you can accomodate per side, which affects total length), and the maximum practical modulation velocity and excursions. So the best one can do with such analog media, is to work to a predefined “average” level (usually defined in the olde days as 0dB on an average-reading VU meter). So not the same need for hard limiting on peaks as with digital releases.

          RIAA curve: noise in audio is most noticeable in the higher frequencies (“hiss”), so both analog tape and phonographs mitigate this by boosting the higher frequencies during recording, then cutting them by an equal amount during playback, which then also reduces hiss.

          Sometimes, seriously out-of-phase bass in the stereo mix is problematic for vinyl; it causes mistracking on many consumer phonographs. A specialized “elliptical” EQ is usually used during vinyl mastering to tame the low bass.

          Mastering should be different for vinyl vs digital:

          1. Yes, room aka range. Anyway, the ceiling on analog things can be a hard limit even if the components may do other things than squarely clip like the digital example.

            Take old-style AM radio. The transmitter has a certain maximum output and can’t go below zero output. That means that the audio signal has a clear threshold at which its amplitude is great enough to cause issues. So stations want a strong signal, but must use limiters and compression in order to keep the peaks below the hard limit while keeping the average high for good intelligibility. Though I won’t say no-one would intentionally push the “hard limit” in search of some extra oomph, it still counts. And I’m sure we all agree that radio is a great example of where average loudness generally won over other concerns.

            Oh, and the more specific keyword for some of that is modulation index, it’s greater than 1 in this case. You can get around the issue if you are prepared to no longer support simple envelope-based receivers, and then you’re able to do away with the carrier entirely if you like. But for conventional AM, no chance. And even if you were doing single sideband or something, you’ll still be limited by your peaks, and you’ll still want to bring your average up so there’s less of a ratio between them. Still nothing digital there, but there you go.

          2. “Take old-style AM radio. The transmitter has a certain maximum output and can’t go below zero output. That means that the audio signal has a clear threshold at which its amplitude is great enough to cause issues.”

            Yes, zero carrier is a hard limit in AM radio modulation. But there’s no such hard limit on maximum carrier, so many AM processing and transmitter combos use asymmetric audio modulation, with strict limiting on the negative going peaks ( zero carrier), but not as much on the positive-going peaks. This adds punch without distortion or rule violations.

            FM broadcasting has a mandated limit on frequency deviation of +/- 75 kHz. That’s a “hard” limit on maximum level. Note that in both AM and FM, these are mandated regulatory limits, not limits imposed by math or physics, like with recording formats and media.

      4. I bought a turntable (sony) with bluetooth. I just bluetooth it to my sonos roam downstairs, and it can then be played on all my sonos speakers everywhere through the house by choosing them in the sonos app. Am i missing something?

  1. That Behringer interface costs a good 20e. If any value to the resulting audio is given, I’m not sure if one should seek further savings on that point. There are even some quite strong opinions about the adequacy of the low-end Behringers for serious use. But sure, for hacking something together, why not.

  2. Could someone explain me why I should listen to music through an impressive technologic mean from a remote room in my house and then have to walk every 20min to the record-player to change the play side…

          1. It can be better… except if it turns out that the CD version came from the same master as the vinyl, which I’ve heard is common. More often the lower quality is with radio stations or low quality audio codecs.

          2. “Digital doesn’t inherently have worse dynamic range than digital” – 1 is not less than 1, either. :P
            But surely you don’t choose your music based solely on the audio quality, or maybe you’d like to listen to someone bang a rock against another rock in 32-bit 768kHz lossless format?

    1. Does seem a bit odd to me. But if you can still get the full locally played qualities of the vinyl with that interface then it could be really worth it for some folks – not only is the walk to change/flip part of the experience that some folks like but it also lets you have that vinyl character audio played across your whole house – which could be good for parties, while you are roaming around playing with your kids, when you need to keep track of time a bit without serious clock watching.

    2. Some people simply have Sonos gear that they like using, and also vinyl that they like playing.

      It doesn’t matter why they like these things — they’re allowed to like them anyway, for whatever reasons they choose.

      This hack, while certainly obvious to some (streaming with Shoutcast and friends is a concept that is decades old) presents one method by which a turntable can be both properly and fairly inexpensively connected to Sonos gear.

      The parts of it needn’t be spread across the house. I mean, they certainly could be, but they could also be sitting on a singular shelf in one room near a comfortable chair.

      And even if they are sitting right next to eachother, the hack still has utility.

  3. so let me get this straight. people are buying vinyl because it “sounds better”, then they are jacking their audio signal into a crappy adc, converting it to bits, streaming those bits over the network, converting it back to analog with a crappy dac so now you got all the effort and expense of owning a vinyl collection with the all the degradation to signal quality that comes with digitizing it. at that point just use flac.

      1. Not even close. Popular music wasn’t even digitally RECORDED until around 1980, and it definitely wasn’t universally mixed that way for another decade and a half at least.

        Plus, you’re ignoring the fact that records today may be LESS dynamically compressed than the same release in digital form. Compressing shit losslessly still leaves it shit.

        Meanwhile, I have 45s that will sound better as MP3s at 192 kbps than a lossless copy of their “remastered” version from the last decade.

      2. Well yes and no. Records mastered for vinyl sound different because they have to. They are mastered for the RIAA curves and the effects of physical records, making them sound different. Besides, it’s the experience that also counts. I love my record player. I put one on, sit down, and actually listen. Sounds weird but it’s different from recording it and playing it back.

    1. Yeah it’s super dumb. So is the fact that this rigamarole is required to use a speaker you bought with an aux signal instead of online streaming service no. 18237878438923.
      Of course the real reason vinyl is a superior format: it is so finicky that it makes you actually sit down next to it and listen actively.

  4. Here’s a little something regarding compressing the dynamic of recorded music.

    For the moment, I’m more concerned with how the audio mix-down will sound on any modern vinyl?
    And NO…. 256 or 320 kbps is not CD quality.

    I was hearing some real messes in commercial pressed CD’s 20 years ago.
    Stuff just began to really sound like it was all done on an old laptop with the free version of Cool-edit set at a low bit rate.
    Mouse clicks in the Madonna remix (ray of light). A commercially produced disc.

    I’d love to get new some vinyl. (the Third Mind)
    But if it’s just going to be another medium to shift lossy formats?
    Then for the pricing, I’ll take a pass.

      1. From all the things you could have chosen to pick on Sonos about, you went right for the things that simply aren’t issues.

        Sonos does sound good compared to many other integrated products of similar form factor. It has excellent DSP to help with this that does not require adjustment to work well OOTB. It’s a very early player in networked audio, wherein Sonos gear was building automatic, reliable meshed 802.11 networks in-home before terms like “Wifi” or “IoT” were even coined, and long before we all had pocket supercomputers or portable streaming devices or even common Bluetooth speakers.

        None of those things are problematic aspects.

        It is easy to find legitimate problems with it, though:

        1. It’s very expensive, across the board, for what it is. A person can always get better sound at a given price point using conventional audio gear if they know how, and if they have the space.

        2. It’s even more expensive to interconnect it with regular audio equipment. Devices that provide analog IO are a profit center for them.

        This hack addresses part of the second problem.

    1. The Shoutcast protocol handles uncompressed audio just fine (and has for decades), and so does Sonos (for almost-decades).

      Unless the local network is bandwidth-constrained, there’s no reason to even discuss lossy audio codecs in this context.

      It isn’t 1996 anymore.

  5. I’ve had a project on the backburner to digitize all my old family records. I have a nice audio interface but I need a RIAA phono preamp to get things to line level. (As far as I’ve learned, this stuff is chock full of weird audiophile gatekeeping, obnoxious language and even worse pricetags)

    Does anyone have any leads for a DIY or reasonably priced pre-made preamp for the year 2023? The only active project I’ve found so far is the Bugle3 but some of the audio forum discussion about it isn’t super positive.

    1. Do you have a top-notch turntable, precision arm, and premium phono cartridge, with a new needle? That’s more important than preamp.

      Google gives many hits for “simple diy phono preamp”. With a decent low-noise audio opamp , even a simple modern RIAA preamp design will perform acceptably well. (example: I haven’t tried the Bugle3, but unless you are an uncompromising audiophile with a listening system to match, I’d bet you’ll find it more than suitable.

    2. In the 90’s, I found a RCA RIAA preamp (cheap) at Best Buy to use with my sound card, very expensive 4X SCSI CD burner, and noise/pop reduction software of dubious licensing. For a while, I was Mr. Popular, cleaning up records and transferring them to CD’s for friends and family. I didn’t have time to do my own! Anyway, I think you could get good results for ~20 bux US for the Pyle units on Amazon. But either power the RIAA preamp with a battery or a linear (NOT switching) wall wart (AC adapter).

    3. Moukey MPAMP1
      Adjustable input and output.
      RIAA curve . Handles most magnetic phono carts and even old ceramic.
      Very low noise.
      I think it’s about 25 bucks on Amazon.
      I’ve used one for several months now and it has performed very well.

  6. I dunno, man. There is just something to listening to a record the way it was listened to when it was new in the, let’s say 60’s or 70’s. By analogy, the local film school used to get period projectors and show original film viewing. They did Faust from the 20’s with a real dude playing piano and also creature from black lagoon from, maybe, the 50’s? Sure Top Gun is 4k is better in every way but, eh. There’s room in this world for nostalgia no matter how impractical.

  7. Most of the music that I listen to was designed to sound good played back by a single 2″ speaker powered by a nine volt battery.

    Sadly, many of those recordings are beyond even the most amazing technologies and the most brilliant and dedicated audio engineers to help. And many 60’s recordings were made by broke musicians and third rate studios, definitely not by unlimited budget Columbia, RCA, or Apple (Records).

  8. Originally I didn’t like classic country. But now it’s the only stuff on the radio where I can hear the words which in pop music I haven’t been able hear since starting with the Beatles. Since then most music is mixed all together at one level like a soviet skyline in even flat blocks not assembled like a big city skyline with the vocals on top with no similar pitches present in guitar etc. at the same time.

    The big band era had writers knowing what instruments could be sounded at the same time and which could not be played together as well as to vocals and instruments. Now it’s just all crammed in single leveled loudness.

  9. I have a vintage late-1970s/early-1980s amp at the heart of a set-up that has a more recent AT-LP3 turntable and AT-VM95E cartridge firing through a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 220s.

    Adding a Sonos Port allows me to send vinyl output to a pair of Sonos Era 100s in another part of the house, and the sound is fine (to my ears) from both Wharfedales and the Era 100s.

    However, I’m intrigued by the idea of popping a Raspberry Pi between the deck and the amp.

    Currently, I use the AT-LP3’s built-in pre-amp.

    Can the audiophiles/techies reading these comments advise on whether I’ll get a better signal/wider dynamic range with an external preamp, or is it unlikely this “hack” will offer any sonic improvement?

    1. I’d guess that the AT-LP3’s own phono preamp is a good match for its cartridge. But try to borrow a phono preamp and try that too, to see what if any improvements it brings. You could also try the phono preamp of your old receiver (if it has one), feeding line level from the receiver’s REC OUT into your Sonos Port.

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