Category Archives: WiFi Radio

Guest Post: Richard builds a WiFi radio with the Raspberry Pi

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Schreiber (KE7KRF), who shares the following guest post:


Yet Another Internet Radio!

by Richard Schreiber (KE7KRF)

After deciding that an internet radio could be an important source of entertainment in our household, we formulated a few general guidelines:

  • We opted not to use an aggregator but would pick and choose stations we enjoyed and discover the URL’s ourselves. Also would be satisfied with a couple of dozen stations. Based on a recent decision to pare down the number of TV channels we were paying for, having access to hundreds of stations seemed impractical and unnecessary.
  • The price had to be affordable, thus eliminating many stand-alone, commercially available internet radios.
  • We already owned a quality portable speaker (Bose SoundLink Mini) so the internet radio didn’t need to duplicate that component.
  • Didn’t want to tie up nor be tethered to a laptop, tablet, or netbook. We predicted that would eventually lead to less and less use of the radio.

After some research, coupled with the fact I already had some experience with Raspberry Pi computers, that small device appeared to be our best choice. I had recently purchased the newer 2 B model, which has plenty of computing power, and had installed Ubuntu Linaro as the OS. (As an aside, this OS has not to my knowledge been upgraded for the latest Raspberry Pi 3). There are several other operating systems that will work just as well including the official Raspbian OS available through the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

I installed the MPD music player daemon and its client MPC, which is used to add to and delete station URL’s from the playlist, control volume, etc. An important find was the iPhone app called MPod which provides remote wireless access to the features of MPC. At the moment it is a free app for the iPhone (in my case the iPod Touch).

For portability, my Raspberry Pi is being used “headless”, meaning it is not connected to a monitor, keyboard or mouse. If maintenance is required you can use PuTTY, a SSH and telnet client, wirelessly from a Windows (or MAC?) PC, using a command-line interface. Mainly this is needed to shut down the Raspberry Pi properly before turning off the power, but it boots completely on its own when powered up. The MPod app will then load the playlist of stations and let you start playing the radio without direct access to the Raspberry Pi.

The sound output of my Raspberry Pi is connected to the auxiliary port of our Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker. But instead of trying to implement Bluetooth on the Raspberry Pi, I took the easy way out and use a direct connection. The sound reproduction from this setup is very good, though audiophiles might be somewhat more critical.

The above represents a minimal investment if you already have a good speaker on hand. It does require some on-line research and learning at least enough to install the OS and software. The good news is that there are many websites and forums providing step-by-step instructions and helpful hobbyists willing to explain some of the more cryptic aspects. A few of the websites that I found to be helpful:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-Raspberry-Pi-Internet

http://cagewebdev.com/raspberry-pi-playing-internet-radio

https://learn.adafruit.com/raspberry-pi-radio-player-with-touchscreen

A couple of these also explain how to add a display to your Raspberry Pi internet radio.

Our Raspberry Pi radio is on each evening and has been trouble free. It is worth mentioning that this is a very portable setup, and can even be powered by a battery pack (the kind used for recharging tablets and cell phones) for a few hours. Of course you need to be near a wifi hotspot.


Thank you, Richard! What a great way to use the inexpensive Raspberry Pi. I have a spare Pi2 and an amplified speaker here at the house. Though I don’t need another WiFi radio, it would be fun putting this little system together. 

Muzen Audio handcrafted radios

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, John Figliozzi, who writes:

This [company] was mentioned in regard to the CES show out in Las Vegas:

http://www.airsmartaudio.com/

It’s a Chinese company with a rather novel approach to the design of modern radios — AM/FM/Internet Bluetooth, along with the use of tube amplifiers in some models. The web site is almost all in Chinese but the pictures are cool.

Air Smart Audio is the parent company; Muzen Audio the subsidiary.

John also shared the following item from Radio World:

Muzen Audio Group’s founder Dejun Zeng, referred to as the “Father of the Tube Amplifier” in China, is looking forward to the new challenge, saying in a statement: “It is my greatest desire to build a legacy with this organization that will lead customers to say, ‘I am proud to have a Muzen radio.’”

The company received a 2017 CES Innovation Award for their new AM/FM/internet radio and Bluetooth speaker lines, the fifth CES Innovation Award received by Zeng. Muzen Audio also designs a series of vintage-style tube amplifier radios and what the company calls “on-the-road” radios.

(Source: Air Smart Audio)

Thank you, John!

From what I gather, Muzen radios are very much “boutique” radios, thus come with a “boutique” price tag–some models costing as much as $500 US.

Still: it’s refreshing to see a Chinese radio manufacturer marching to their own beat, making handcrafted products in small batches.

According to Twice.com, Muzen recently introduced the  “Classic 1” AM/FM radio with Bluetooth speaker that is powered by a “fluorescent display tube amplifier.” Twice notes:

The Classic 1 is handmade and crafted with real rosewood, and every unit comes with a unique code verifying its hand craftsmanship.

Frequency response of the speaker is 75Hz to 16KHz, of the amplifier, 30Hz to 20KHz.

Pricing and availability will be announced during CES 2017.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Muzen radios! I do love the designs.

Click here to view the Air Smart Audio website (in Chinese). 

Post readers: Anyone familiar with Muzen Audio or own one of their products? Please comment!

John responds to the Wired.com review of the Como Audio Solo

como-audio-soloMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, John Figliozzi, author of The Worldwide Listening Guide, who comments with this critique of the Wired.com review of the Como Audio Solo:

I wonder how experienced this reviewer is with this class of audio devices.

First he states that the Solo receives AM. I doesn’t. (Unless you count receiving AM stations via their Internet streams.)

It does receive FM, although its sensitivity to fringe signals is a bit substandard comparatively, even with the built-on rod antenna. He notes a disappointing audio performance at higher volumes, but fails to distinguish between sources. Lower bit rate digital audio does reveal its insufficiencies with increased volume, but that would be true regardless of the speaker ratings.

A 30 watt RMS driver/tweeter speaker combo in a box this compact bespeaks a pretty efficient and powerful digital amplifier that would shine if fed audio of sufficient “heft”. With so much compressed digital audio out there–especially on Internet radio–it’s hard to judge what the objective limits of this unit aurally truly are.

He also doesn’t seem to be conversant with the set-up process, which is quite intuitive, or the fact that the unit comes with a remote.

At $300 MSRP, it is premium priced and will be too rich for the blood of some. Furthermore, its Internet station list as provided by Frontier Silicon seems a bit more limited than others I’ve experienced. But it is beautifully designed and presented and is quite versatile. Then again, as much as I like it, I can’t see myself populating my home with one in every room. There are other products out there that do this more efficiently and affordably.

Wired.com reviews the Como Audio Solo

como-audio-solo-tableMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jeff McMahon, who shares this review of the Como Audio Solo:

Here’s a $300 internet radio review from Wired:

Review: Como Audio Solo

Click here to view on Wired.com.

I was an early backer of the Como Audio Solo and reviewed it in October.

Since then, the Solo has become my WiFi radio of choice. I have it hooked up to an SSTRAN AM transmitter and use it to pipe audio through my whole house via the AM broadcast band. Though this only concerns a tiny fraction of hard-core radio geeks: the Solo has a very quiet power supply and my AM transmitter picks up no hum from the Solo. All of my other WiFi radio induce a hum if connected to mains power. This is what makes the Solo so useful in my household and shack.

Of course, when I have it tuned to a music station, like RFI Musique, its built-in speaker system provides ample fidelity!

As I mention in my review, FM analog reception is mediocre, though I imagine it would improve with an external antenna.  Wired believes the Solo is good, but not great.

Bob recommends Radio Tray

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Bob Chandler (VE3SRE), who leaves the following reply to our WiFi Radio Primer:

radiotrayI have been streaming online radio using a PC for a number of years using a really simple programme for the GNU/Linux operating system called “Radio Tray“.   Radio Tray is a tiny programme written in Python that uses the Gstreamer “back end”.

This programme is so small, that you can turn that old 1990’s vintage Pentium II laptop that’ gathering dust in a broom closet into an internet radio.   Just choose a very “lightweight” distribution of GNU/Linux.

For instance, on an old “original” Asus EeePC netbook, with a 900 MHz. Celeron processor, 512 MB RAM and a little 4 GB solid state hard drive, I installed the “Debian” distribution but used the lightweight “JWM” window manager for the GUI.   JWM isn’t pretty, but it works great!

You can get “Radio Tray” using the package management system of just about any GNU/Linux distribution.   I know for sure it’s in the “repos” for Ubuntu, Debian, Arch and Fedora along with all of the derivatives.    Unfortunately, it’s not available for Windows and MacOS.   But, the GNU/Linux OS is “free as in freedom and free as in free beer” as they say!

All of your radio station “bookmarks” are stored in a simple “bookmarks.xml” file that makes it a breeze to copy your bookmarks from computer to computer.    Over the years I’ve accumulated a thousand or more (I’ve lost count) internetradio stations in Radio Tray.

Radio Tray is capable of handling just about any streaming format.

My online “dx challenge” is finding the “real” stream URL of the station that’s often buried inside of browser based “Flash” players.    But, since these days most radio stations outsource their audio streaming to one of about half a dozen streaming audio providers, once you’ve figured out the provider’s URL pattern for one station, you’ve figured them all out.

I’m able to figure out the “real” stream URL about 90% of the time.   Some are easy, while some require a bit of detective work.

That also means that I don’t depend on streaming aggregators, since stream URL’s are changing all the time and sometimes it takes the aggregator a while to do an update.   I can just update a station that I’m interested in myself.

Here’s the website for “Radio Tray

http://radiotray.sourceforge.net/

I also wrote a blurb about radio tray on my own (very much neglected) website a couple of years ago.

http://ve3sre.com/wordpress/radiotraysoftware/

Thanks, Bob! I was not familiar with this app–seems like a simple addition to any PC.