Monthly Archives: May 2014

The last puzzle piece: an Android mini pc as Spotify Server

Tronsmart MK808II Mini-pc
Tronsmart MK808II Mini-pc

Earlier I wrote that you can upgrade the soundcard of your tablet of smartphone with an external USB-DAC. I also wrote that not all android devices support those USB-DAC’s. Fortunately, the solution is amazingly easy.

These days there are a lot of cheap Android mini pc’s, which are meant to make a Smart-TV of your old digital TV. It is in fact a small pc, with Android running on it. You can connect it via HDMI to you TV and watch YouTube etc. But we don’t want that, we want Spotify on our Hifi-set! It turns out that some of these Android mini pc’s support USB-DAC’s out of the box! No ROM-hacking or rooting, just the basic firmware (Android 4.2.2) I bought the MK808B or MK808ii for about 40 euro’s. It’s fast enough to show 1080p video, so it’s definitely fast enough to play a Spotify stream. When I connected my USB DAC it immediately recognized it. You can choose to which soundcard you want to play the sound in the audio-setting of Android.

The good thing is, this device is really small, uses little energy, you can leave it on always, and it doesn’t go into lockscreen, which most smartphones and tablets do. With Spotify Connect, you have to unlock the screen before Spotify can see the other Android device (strange behavior I think…). The mk808 doesn’t have that problem, so it’s always available!

For example, you can just install Spotify on the mini pc, and nothing more. It’s a good thing though to install an auto-start-app, to make sure Spotify is started when the mini pc boots. Connect the USB DAC and you have a real Dedicated (to) Spotify Server with audiophile sound, which you can connect to your Hifi-set.

In the next article I will tell more about a great audiophile sounding but cheap amplifier, which is ideal for a setup like this.

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Add audiophile sound

Hifimediy Sabre U2 Asynchronous USB DAC
Hifimediy Sabre U2 Asynchronous USB DAC

So, now you know how to create a Spotify server from an old android smartphone or tablet. But if you really like music, you probably want good sound too. The problem is that most tablets and smartphones doesn’t have the greatest soundcards. You can stream Spotify on the best quality, but when your soundcard makes crap of it, it still isn’t very good.

The solution for this is to use an external soundcard, also called a DAC (digital-to-analog-converter). There are DAC’s which cost a fortune, but there are also some DIY’ers (do-it-yourself’ers) who make cheap DAC’s from great sounding DAC-chips. An example is Hifimediy. They sell really good sounding DAC’s for not much money at all (43 euro’s).

I have bought the Sabre U2 Asynchronous USB Dac. It works directly on Windows, Mac and Linux pc’s without drivers. It sounds great! If you want even beter sound, you can use this USB isolator between the device and the USB Dac.

Now there’s a catch here. The DAC doesn’t work on all android devices out of the box. First, it has a normal USB connector, and you need a micro-USB for android devices. You can work this out with a OTG cable (On The GO). But still, it doesn’t work on all devices. There are lists on some fora where you can see which device works with USB soundcards/DAC’s and which ones doesn’t. I will post the links to these lists soon.

Now you don’t have to buy a high-priced smartphone of tablet which support USB soundcards,  because there is another, cheaper solution. The solution is to use an Android Mini PC. You can read more on this here.

A little warning; if you use an Android Mini PC, make sure you buy a USB DAC which not consume a lot of power, because the USB port of some Android Mini PC’s deliver low power. One user (Guus) reported for example that the Audioquest dragonfly DAC does not work on a MK809II Android Mini PC without a powered USB Hub.

The Sabre US USB DAC does work on all Android Mini PC’s as far as I know.

 

The solution

Spotify Connect
Spotify Connect

First, the problem
I’m a Spotify addict, and for two years or so, it’s the only audio-source I’m using. I used to stream the Spotify audio signal via Bluetooth to a Bluetooth-receiver (Nokia), which I connected to my hifi-set. But bluetooth isn’t the best thing to stream audio. When somebody walks through the signal, it stutters, which is very annoying!

So what then?
Since a while now, Spotify features Spotify Connect. It’s a great feature to stream your Spotify signal to a Spotify Connect device, such as some hifi-receivers who support Spotify Connect. But, those devices aren’t very cheap, and when your hifi-receiver is still good, it is not very attractive to buy a new device just for Spotify Connect.

But wait… It turns out that with Spotify Connect, you can send your Spotify signal to any Android device with Spotify on it. Any device! It can be another Android smartphone or tablet for example. So when you have an old smartphone or tablet, you can use that as a “dedicated Spotify server”! You just lay it next to your hifi-set, connect it via mini-jack and there you go! The advantage over bluetooth is that with Spotify Connect, you won’t stream the signal from your phone or tablet to the other Android device. No, it just sends a signal to the other device to stream the audio from that device (over wifi), so directly from the second device. That’s great, because now you don’t have stuttering sound anymore!