Reviews

Review: Volumio Primo – unparalleled streamer at reasonable price

Review of Volumio Primo - Audiophile Music Player and unparalleled streamer at reasonable price. Simple bluetooth device to an audio system

While reading a review of Volumio Primo, Are you looking for a way to add streaming to your music system, receiver or soundbar? The Primo from Volumio is one option that differs from most alternatives in several ways. Perhaps the most striking thing about this compact box is the software is relatively “hackable”, making it easy to add functions.

The Volumio Primo

The Volumio Primo is a streamer that is initially a bit difficult to locate. It is somewhere in the balance between very cheap, simple solutions to add bluetooth to an audio system (something like the iFi Audio Zen Blue for example) and ‘real’ hi-fi components that focus on audiophiles who are willing to spend thousands of euros.

In theory the Primo is comparable to something like the Sonos Port or the Bluesound Node, but in practice the target audience of this streamer is slightly different. This is a device intended for people who do not want to be locked into one service or streaming technology and who are also willing to dive a bit deeper into the settings. Thanks to a plug-in approach, you can go in many directions with the Primo, including integration with smart home platforms, including Ikea’s Tradfri.

There are two versions of the Primo available: the Primo Community Edition of 479 euros. (only from the manufacturer itself) and the Hi-Fi Edition of 599 euros. The latter is also in stores in the Benelux. Hardware wise, both editions are the same, but the Hi-Fi Edition includes a lifetime license on MyVolumio Superstars. In addition to all kinds of useful extra functions, this includes a cloud service with backup and remote options. The advance of the Primo has not gone unnoticed, because its enormous flexibility, but also the DAC part, earns the Primo an EISA Award as best digital source this year.

Streamer for the tweaker

The name ‘Volumio’ will some tweakers sound familiar. For a long time, media software was available under this name that you could install yourself on DIY platforms such as the Raspberry Pi. The software also found its way to some audio manufacturers, who then adapted and used it for their own products. That is why we were immediately familiar with the Primo: the interface and way of working is very reminiscent of the Stream Box S2 from Pro-ject, which was indeed co-developed by Volumio. However, the Italian start-up decided a while ago to focus on its own hardware. The Primo is their first product, but they are still working hard on a streamer that takes the form of a very large touchscreen that lies on your coffee table.

However, the beating heart of the Primo is not a Raspberry Pi, but a Tinkerboard S from Asus. The concept is very similar to the Pi. It is a hardware platform (or single board computer) intended for hobbyists and “makers”. Volumio has further expanded this computer on a printed circuit board, which is powered by a Cortex-A17 processor with 2 GB of RAM, with an audio section that includes an ES9038Q2M DAC chip. Volumio itself says that it has further optimized the hardware for audio performance.

The housing in which all this is placed is very compact and sober. The matte black powder coating is certainly not an eye-catcher and there is not even an LED light to indicate that the device is on. Not all of them are necessary, and perhaps this is just a product that in most cases will find a place somewhere in a cupboard or behind a music system. Storing the Volumio Primo in a closed piece of furniture is also possible without any problems, because it doesn’t get really hot. The power supply is external, which helps to keep the device cool.

Volumio Primo

Maker hardware

On most streamers you have an audio output or two, maybe a network port, and not much else Lake. The Primo also stands out in this area, because many more ports are provided here. Most striking are the four USB ports. These not only serve to connect, say, an external hard drive, but also function as a digital audio input. If you have an amplifier with a USB class B port or a DAC / headphone amplifier with the same, you can connect it to the Primo.

The amplifier will then appear in the Volumio software as an additional audio output. The big advantage of this approach is that at that moment you use the Volumio purely as a digital transport of your music stream. In this case, the actual conversion of the music files to audio takes place entirely in the connected amplifier or DAC. Since there are four USB ports, you can connect four audio devices to the Volumio in this way. There are quite a few; it is difficult to imagine that many consumers need this. Intriguingly, you can use one of the USB ports for an external CD drive. If you connect such a device, you can have music CDs ripped by the Primo.

As mentioned, the Primo also has its own DAC section, making it also analog audio ready-to-use. ready to send out via a pair of cinch connections. That is interesting if you want to use the Primo as a streamer for an (old) wireless speaker, a set of active speakers or a soundbar that has few or no streaming options itself.

There is also an HDMI output on the Primo. . It only serves to display the Volumio interface on a large screen. Cannot play video files. Well, that’s the official statement. But with this we touch on the core of the Volumio experience: the software that runs on the Primo does a lot out of the box, but via optional plug-ins you can do more. Maybe also play videos, for example by installing a Kodi plugin. That was certainly possible with the original Volumio software, but it is unclear whether it is also possible with the Primo. We bet you will find an answer somewhere on a forum.

Set up and personalize

The first thing to do is connect the Volumio Primo to your network. It is easy to do with an ethernet cable, if you want to use WiFi you have to put in a little more effort. The device brings its own Wi-Fi network into the air, which you then connect to and then enter the data of your fixed network via a web browser. Just reboot and the Primo should be online. For those who are used to a quick configuration via Google Home or the Airplay method via the iPad / iPhone, this will seem a bit more cumbersome.

The Volumio can be controlled via an app (iOS / Android) or via the web browser. There is not much difference between the two methods, although we find a larger computer screen a lot more convenient if you dive into the settings. When selecting and playing music, the app is just more practical.

While preparing the Primo for first use, you will quickly discover the many options in the extensive settings menu. You will also find the option to show the interface in Dutch, which you do not often find with streamer products. Given that there are many options, this can also be very helpful. It certainly doesn’t stop there in terms of personalization. The interface can be enriched with your own background or colors, for example. There are also a surprising number of settings about how your music is presented. Fortunately, there is a wizard that can guide you through the various settings.

Music player and more

By default the Primo is ready to play its own music files. This can be done from attached storage or from a share on a NAS. The flexible side of the device shows itself quickly when you dive into the settings. You can enable all kinds of extra streaming options, so you can actually work how you want and with whatever source you want. Take DLNA for instance. The Primo can function as a DLNA player. You control it via a DLNA app, such as BubbleUPnP or mConnect. But you can also use the Primo as a DLNA server (if storage is connected) so that you can play media files elsewhere in the house on a DLNA device such as a smart TV.

Want to stream from your smartphone over bluetooth? You just switch that on. You can also connect streaming services in the same way. By default you can do that with Tidal, Qobuz and High Res Audio, but much more is possible if you install additional plugins in the settings. That sounds complex, but you shouldn’t do more than search and click. In this way we were able to make the Primo Spotify Connect compatible in seconds and set it up as a Roon Ready device.

Strangely enough, there is no Airplay option anywhere, but the device is fully Airplay compatible. For now, there is no plugin for Chromecast compatibility, which is a shame. The fact that a Chromecast hack is not being tinkered with on other platforms such as Raspberry Pi suggests that Google is putting a stop to this.

Volumio Primo In use

We have the Primo in a number of configurations used. Since we had a relatively large number of integrated amplifiers with a USB Class B port, such as the Hegel H95 and the Musical Fidelity M8xi, visited us in recent months, we mainly connected the streamer in this way. While a USB port for audio might sound complicated to some, it just works right away. Another advantage of USB is that you can deliver hi-res streams up to the quality level that the DAC in the amplifier accepts.

The user experience depends on which streaming option you prefer. If you send music via Airplay or via Roon, for example, the Primo acts as an invisible link in the streaming chain. Everything related to use takes place in the app of the chosen streaming service or Roon. The same if you also decide to stream over DLNA and get started with an app like BubbleUPnP. In those cases, you do not have to be in the web interface or the app of Volumio and you especially want the streamer to respond quickly, not falter and offer good quality. You get those three things effectively with the Primo. If we selected music on the iPad in Roon or, say, Apple Music on the iPad, it played a fraction of a second later.

There is nothing wrong with the output via the analog outputs of the Primo. The ESS-based DAC seems well implemented and sounded excellent to us given the price range. The sound quality you experience will of course depend on the speakers that follow it, but with the Primo connected to an iFi Audio iCan Pro headphone amplifier and with an AKG K371 we couldn’t detect any problems.

Are you really using the Volumio as a media player, then that Volumio app suddenly becomes important. Functionally it is well put together. It is not difficult to do anything and you can play an album from a NAS just as quickly if you have chosen an internet radio station. In terms of aesthetics, it is not that the app is ugly, but what we noticed when switching mobile devices is that the experience is sometimes not quite right. This has to do with things like different screen sizes and resolutions, so that for example on our Huawei P30 Pro the main screen is full of gigantic icons and you have to scroll a lot, while on an Android tablet sometimes settings float lonely in a large, empty window. It’s not that bad, but the app experience could be a bit slicker by focusing more on a dynamic design.

Conclusion of Volumio Primo

The Primo is very difficult to compare with other streamers. It is clear that the target audience of this device is completely different from the Sonos Port or a high-end product such as an Auralic or Lumin streamer. Does it suit you? The answer is “yes” if you are looking for something you can customize to your liking and if you don’t want to be married to a particular streaming technology forever. Today Airplay, tomorrow maybe stream directly via Qobuz, the day after tomorrow via Roon, you have those options.

In terms of audio performance and possibilities the Primo offers something unparalleled at this price point. It sometimes takes some perseverance, but the flexibility of this device allows to get a good streaming solution in the most diverse scenarios. It is a kind of Swiss Army knife of streaming.

The Volumio platform also exudes a lot of potential. Plugins such as one that switches on / off lighting linked to an Ikea Tradfi hub when you listen to music are nice, but it remains to be seen whether many more of those smarthome extensions will appear.

For more streams click here.

Cons

  • The Volumio-interface is a bit overwhelming
  • Not exactly an eye-catcher
  • App sometimes looks a bit unadapted to screen size

Pros

  • Modular plug-in approach is unique and valuable
  • Very wide support streaming services
  • Both analog and digital outputs
  • Integration possibilities with smarthome
  • Prima DAC

[kkstarratings]

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment