Volumio Primo music player/streamer

Is this all there is to it? I had done some superficial investigations of Volumio online, after the Primo was suggested to me for review. I had learned that the Volumio player software is available for several hardware platforms including Windows, Mac, and Raspberry Pi, but I had not tried it before. I discovered Volumio's reputation as an efficient, Linux-based music player, installable with an SD card on minimal hardware and said to support virtually all music formats and resolutions including DSD and multichannel. But I had not experienced any of this for myself.

When I unpacked the Primo, I was surprised to find such a small black box. Could such a small, lightweight device do all that and do it with adequate sound?

There's a precedent, but it's 10 years old—ancient in digital-audio terms. My experience with streamers began a decade ago with the amazing Logitech Squeezebox Touch, which was not much larger than the Primo, weighed about a pound, and played (at the time) only PCM and MP3 formats. On the other hand, it supported internet radio and had a user-friendly touch-screen display. I wrote an enthusiastic review.

In the last 10 years, however, audiophiles—including me—have come to expect (indeed, demand) more from audio streamers: more formats, higher resolutions, internet streaming, and, for some of us, the frissons of multichannel and DSP. Our expectations have been satisfied with multipotent, proprietary, often expensive audiophile-quality streamers of full-component dimensions and ever-more-complex PC-based boxes such as my Baetis Prodigy-X and the impressive Pink Faun 2.16x I reviewed in our December 2020 issue.

A refreshing counterpoint to this trend toward bigness and expense has arisen from DIY, hands-on culture: the proliferation of project-based streamers that utilize small, single-board computers (SBCs), generic computers adapted as single-purpose machines running slimmed-down operating systems and relying on external devices for control, display, and storage.

The Primo (€619, equivalent to $735 at the time of writing) is the best of this breed. It comes with OS and software loaded and ready to go. It is based on a minimalist computing platform, the ASUS Tinker Board S SBC, to which Volumio has added an audio processing board. The Tinker Board, which you can think of as an alternative to the better-known Raspberry Pi, runs a Rockchip Quad-Core RK3288 CPU with 2GB RAM and 16GB eMMC storage. The Volumio audio board sports multiple low-noise voltage regulators, a high-precision clock, and a top-of-the-ESS-line ES9038Q2M SABRE Reference DAC. Aside from "Volumio" and "Primo" discretely printed on the front, there are no indicators or controls anywhere on the box.

There are, of course, inputs and outputs around back. These include a Gigabit LAN connector (RJ45) and four USB 2.0 Type A connectors. There's an HDMI output above an RCA S/PDIF digital output and a Wi-Fi antenna above a pair of stereo analog outputs (RCA). A coaxial barrel jack connects to the 5V DC power supply that comes in the box.

My Primo's 5V power supply, which was first shipped to the US for the EISA awards competition—it won the award for its category—came with an EU plug and no US plug adapter. Fortunately, the power supply works at both European and US voltages, and I found an adapter in my parts bin.

What makes Primo run is Volumio, a server/player application that's also available by itself, intended to run with a variety of SBCs as well as with the X86/X64 processors in PCs and Macs. In this respect, you might say it resembles Roon.

Volumio, which is advertised as "a free and open source audiophile music player," is controlled via a web interface or by apps that run on Android and iOS devices. Apps support Tidal and Qobuz streaming as well as, eg, the TuneIn internet radio service. The standalone Volumio service is available at levels ranging from "Volumio Free" to "Superstar." The purchase of the Primo Hi-Fi Edition makes you a Superstar for life; separately, a lifetime "Superstar" subscription costs €199 ($236).

Volumio is indeed an open-source platform, with plug-ins contributed by Volumio's techie users. Those plug-ins, which are available at the Volumio website, have significantly expanded the player's capabilities and continue to do so. I tried a plug-in that allows the Volumio device to act as a Roon Bridge; it worked fine. Another plug-in, for BruteFIR convolution engine, disappeared from the list when I tried to install it. User-designed plug-ins are likely to be a mixed bag, from buggy to excellent and often both. This is a great system for those who like to tinker, but don't expect polish.


Quick setup
The instructions in the Quick Start Guide are simple: Plug in your LAN's Ethernet cable. Connect an output device via USB, S/PDIF, or analog jacks. Power it up, stand back, and wait 5 minutes.

The next setup step is to access it from your phone, tablet, or computer, to make sure that the silent Primo has in fact been establishing its own mobile "hot spot." (There are no flashing lights or other indicators.) Now you can customize the Primo to your environment and preferences, via Settings.

Volumio SRL
Via dei Pepi
76R Firenze, Italy

Strat56's picture

Congratulazioni Michelangelo

DH's picture

I tried this and liked it - except for the Volumio SW user interface, which I hated.

But it is impressive that Kal liked the internal DAC so much - no need for a DAC makes this a real bargain.

I wouldn't use it without a Roon or other interface. Fortunately, with it's plugin library you have a large number of SW user interfaces available to choose from.

If someone is just looking for an audiophile digital streamer- without DAC - I'd recommend the Stack Audio Link II. Can interface with almost any SW (and is Roon certified) and allows you to choose between network or direct to PC USB streaming.

skikirkwood's picture

Really enjoyed your review Kal. I am one of "Volumio's techie users", being a principle contributor to its Spotify plugin.

One thing worth mentioning is Volumio has a very large, friendly and engaging user community. If you ever need help, people are always out there to give friendly advice.

And for others out there who enjoy contributing to open-source software projects, we are always looking for more contributions!

hb72's picture

Hi, am using pro-jects stream box s2 ultra which runs a reduced version of volumio, unfortunately without the possibility to use the spotify connect plugin (possibly in favour for stability, not sure). While Volumio has the fantastic ability to enable mixing all music sources (own server or usb ssd with music from various streaming services , e.g. Spotify) in one and the same playlist, i really suffer from the very limited access to existing contents in Spotify due to Volumio/Libraspot not reading beyond entry number 50 (or so) in any list (it appears), meaning long playlists created in Spotify app show up truncated in Volumio/Libraspot, long album lists of very prolific artists do not show their earlier albums and so forth. While running and searching in parallel in the spotify app and carrying over e.g. album titles into volumio/libraspot somewhat mitigates that issue, the truncated personal original spotify playlists remain an issue hard to live with. Do you have any suggestion to that? Many thanks in advance and keep up the good work!!

BR, hb72

skikirkwood's picture

Yes, the Spotify Web API returns a maximum of 50 objects per call. I never had the time to add pagination to the plug-in. Hopefully someone can pick up evolving the plug-in - that would be the first thing to do.

hb72's picture

Thank you so much for prompt reply - would be really great to add pagination there


AaronGarrett's picture

I love Volumio. It's more clunky than Roon -- I'm also a lifetime Roon subscriber -- but due to the Spotify plugin you can access so much more music. And it sounds great, as good or better than Roon to my ears. I wish there was a Soundcloud plugin, but I understand that is a problem on Soundcloud's side. Thanks for your good work!

skikirkwood's picture

Hi Aaron, it turns out there is a new beta release of a Soundcloud plugin for Volumio. I just installed it and it works great!

It doesn't support authentication, so you can't log in. But just search for your username to see the playlists you've created.


AaronGarrett's picture

Fantastic! Thanks for the heads up!

jimtavegia's picture

I always wait for your sound quality reviews as I have paid great attention to the changes and the improvements you have made in your systems over the years and when you are impressed with the stock DAC that is saying something.

alphorn's picture

Thank you for your great review.

First of all I liked the analog output (stock DAC), too. It is excellent for the price. In absolute terms I found the performance to be "ok".

In my opinion the main strength of the Volumio is internet streaming (Qobuz, Tidal, ..). The quality of digital data seems to be very high. I came to the finding that the device does not implement fully effective jitter/noise reduction, though. Adding a inexpensive USB-converter like Audioquest jitterbug or - better - ifi ipurifier brought the data stream on a level of my Auralic Aries (first version) at least. That is great!

The only thing I do not like is the missing sleep/wake-up function respectively on/off knob. But given the price this is a minor concern, of course...