There is an internet meme about software eating the world. In the world of digital audio systems, there is an overwhelming selection of software and services to help us play music.
I feel that picking the software you want to use first may be a better way than picking the hardware and using the software they provide. In this post, I am going to outline some of the considerations and a few options. Sometimes software choice dictates the operating system in use. As an example, Audirvana software used to only be available on MacOS. Now it is on Windows too. JRiver Media Center runs on MacOS, Windows, and Linux.
One of the newer software systems for music playback is Roon by Roon Labs. Roon is a three-part software system that provides extensive support for a broad range of hardware. It can playback local files, Tidal, Qobuz and internet radio.
There is a segment of software systems that run on custom variants of the Linux operating system. A couple of examples are Volumio and Euphony Stylus. These are complete packages of operating system and music playback.
Many of the hardware providers have their own system for operating and playback. Wolf Audio Systems uses a customized implementation of JRiver Media Center. Innous has its own Linux variant and custom playback software, or they can run Roon. Volumio has an OS and player software and now a streamer hardware system. There are multiple software applications for Raspberry Pi. A final example is Logitech Media Server that is now Open Source and runs about anywhere. The list goes on.
In my experience, there are many statements about the sound quality of the hardware. I feel that there is not enough discussion about the effect on sound quality from software and Operating Systems. In several years of extensive listening myself, my customers and many experienced listeners have found significant differences in how systems sound with different operating systems and software on the same hardware. While this may not be practical for some, it is a new line of research and development in the hobby as well as the industry at large.
Developing a basic understanding of the software is a simple way to improve your enjoyment of your systems.
On my systems, I am currently using Euphony Stylus and Volumio. I swap over to Roon regularly.
I have used MacOS and several Linux variants over time. Most recently Roon ROCK, Sonic Orbiter, and AudioLinux.
In closing, this is a very light touch for a critical set of components in your system. Your local audio dealer may have a different selection of hardware and software that I have outlined. Do your best to listen to the different software systems in an environment you know and trust, such as your home.
Your ears deserve more than a test drive with four right turns in an unfamiliar neighborhood.