Update: 100% availability with Autostart and StaY!

I’m using the app Autostart and StaY! now for about a week, and wanted to share¬†my experiences with it. I’m happy to say that I experience 100% availability now with the Spotify Connect server. This means that whenever I want to play a song via Spotify Connect, the MK808II (android mini-pc) is available and reacts immediately. I didn’t have to restart the mini-pc anytime this week.

First, when I was using a normal autostart app to let Spotify start at boot, I had to restart the mini-pc once a day or more, because it was not available anymore at Spotify Connect. The Autostart and StaY! app though keeps Spotify running and active (on the foreground) so it’s always available for Spotify Connect.

Now even my wife thinks this is a great system, because it always works, now that’s the ultimate test!

A fix for the mini-pc sometimes not being available: Autostart and StaY!

In my previous post¬†I wrote about some issues I experienced with the “dedicated Spotify server“. One of the issues was that the mini-pc (MK808II) sometimes is not available, mostly after I didn’t use it for while. After a reboot the problem is fixed. I was thinking about a solution to reboot the mini-pc on a regular basis by another app. But, all the apps that can do this, require root-access.

Now I found another solution, which is even better and doesn’t require root-access. It is an app called Autostart and StaY!, by Athanasios Tasoglou. What it does is that you can select any app to autostart at boot. But there’s more. You can also select the setting to make sure the app stays active (by example if the app gets killed when there is too little memory). The last important setting is to make the app persistent, which means that it is always on the foreground. Together are these settings exactly what we need! I think this will solve the problem of the mini-pc sometimes not being available. I will post my experiences after I tested this for a while.

Tip: make sure you also go to “settings” in this app, and check the “autostart service at boot” setting.

User experiences with this system

MK808II + USB DAC = Dedicated Spotify Server
MK808II + USB DAC = Dedicated Spotify Server

I’m using the dedicated Spotify server for some weeks now, time for some evaluation.

Overall this system works great; I’m using an Android tablet (a rooted Kindle Fire HD with Android 4.4) with Spotify on it, from which I start the songs etc. Spotify Connect is overall pretty fast; when I start a song on the tablet, it immediately starts at the Android Mini PC, so I can hear the music directly from my stereo set.

There are some issue’s I noticed:

– when Spotify is playing, and my tablet is in sleep-mode, when I power on the tablet and unlock the screen, Spotify Connect sometimes changes to another song. I think it’s a Spotify Connect issue. It looks like the tablet is not updated with what song is playing, and then give a wrong signal to the Android mini pc. It often plays the last song I saw on the tablet when the screen wasn’t locked yet.

– sometimes Spotify Connect can’t find the Android Mini PC (MK808II). Don’t know what the problem is. It often happens when I didn’t play music for a while. When I look at the mini pc via the screen, it just shows Spotify, and it reacts too when I control it directly. When I restart the Android Mini PC, the problem is solved. I thought about a solution to let the mini pc restart every day, but Android has to be rooted to do that.

– The strangest thing I notice sometimes, is that a song sometimes just restarts playing halfway the song, or suddenly another song starts. Really strange thing, I think it’s a Spotify Connect problem, but don’t know for sure.

– last thing is not an issue, but a tip. Check your music-quality settings in the “slave device” (with me this is the MK808II). Default is the “normal quality”, but you probably want “extreme quality” for streaming. Also, let your Play Store update your apps automatically on the “slave device”, so that Spotify is updated automatically.

These are the issue’s I noticed while using this system for some weeks. The system has great benefits (wifi streaming from the “slave device”, very high quality audio by using a USB DAC at low costs, the comfort of controlling Spotify from your tablet or phone while using the original Spotify App, while hearing the audio from your stereo set. I hope Spotify will fix these Spotify Connect issue’s, so this system will be the greatest audio system ever made ūüėČ

 

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.

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!