Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: transparency and micro-details

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Certified “Best digital source 2020-2021” by EISA, the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player is equipped with a PCM 24-bit/192kHz and DSD compatible ESS Sabre ES9039Q2M DAC. It ensures the playback of music shared over the local network in DLNA, but also of music stored on a hard drive or a USB stick thanks to its four USB ports. In addition, music can also be played via AirPlay or Bluetooth from a smartphone or tablet. This Hi-Fi Edition of the Volumio Primo also supports many online music services including Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player is an ultra versatile model designed to play all digital music.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition has a UHD 4K compatible HDMI output that allows you to enjoy a comprehensive playback interface and a USB port that provides 32-bit/768kHz playback when connected to an external DAC. Sold for €619, is the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player truly the best digital source of the year?

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: the brand

Volumio is a young brand founded in 2013 in Florence, Italy. The idea behind the project is to respond to the lack of reliable solutions for playing digital music without using a computer. The brand initially focused on developing an open source Linux distribution and software specifically designed for music playback. The software was a big success, so much so that the company quickly claimed to have over 30,000 users. Volumio then licensed its software to over 30 third-party brands, including Pro-Ject that uses it for the Pro-Ject Stream Box S2 Ultra player.

Volumio made a name for itself by providing software specifically designed for music playback.

After acquiring a global reputation, Volumio more recently began to design its own network player in order to have control over the whole system, from the software to the hardware. This resulted in the creation of the Volumio Primo, the Italian manufacturer’s first network player. It comes in two versions: the standard Volumio Primo and the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition. Both versions can play music stored on USB flash drives or streamed over the local network. However, the Hi-Fi Edition version is compatible with the majority of online music services. It is this second version of the Volumio Primo that we analyzed in this review.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition is the Italian brand’s first network player. It benefits from the manufacturer’s tried and tested software system coupled with audiophile-quality components.

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: packaging & accessories

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition’s box is wrapped with a cover presenting the different technologies compatible with the player. Once it is removed, you discover a plain cardboard box in which the network player and its accessories are placed in different foam cut-outs. Although not very luxurious, this packaging has the advantage of ensuring perfect support and protection for the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition player during transport. Finally, the accessories include an AC adapter, a WiFi/Bluetooth antenna and a quick start guide.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player comes with an AC adapter, a WiFi/Bluetooth antenna and a quick start guide.

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: presentation

Design

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition is a small, simple player. It has a metal chassis that is 17cm wide, 12cm deep and 4cm high. Other than the Volumio and Primo logos on the front, the device is very plain and has no control interface, on/off button or LEDs. Volumio states that these elements were purposely omitted in order to keep only the components related to audio quality. Consequently, the player must be controlled using a smartphone, tablet or computer as it doesn’t come with a remote control. It is possible to use a mouse and USB keyboard, but it isn’t particularly intuitive.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition has a metal chassis without any controls or LEDs.

The back of the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player features the connectors, which include 4 USB A ports to connect external hard drives and USB flash drives. These USB ports can also be used to connect a wide range of USB devices, such as a USB CD player, with the possibility to rip CDs, or a turntable with a USB output, or even an external USB DAC. In this last case, the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition can transmit PCM streams up to 32-bit/769kHz. It is also possible to connect an external DAC using the coaxial output. Moreover, when the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition uses its own internal DAC, it transmits the stream to its analog RCA output. The level of this output can be fixed or variable, allowing the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition to be used as a source with a hi-fi amplifier or as a pre-amplifier with a power amplifier. Finally, a 4K UHD compatible HDMI output allows the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition to be connected to a TV to benefit from a large playback interface.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player is equipped with 4 USB ports, a 4K HDMI output, an RCA analog output and a coaxial digital output.

Inside, the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player has the advantage of being built around an Asus Tinkerboard S microcomputer rather than the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi of rival players. This Asus chip is quite simply the best microcomputer currently available thanks to its fast processor, high-speed network connection and separate USB and network signal path. This optimizes sound quality when using USB as an audio output. In addition, instead of storing the Linux distribution system and application software on an SSD, the Asus Tinkerboard S chip uses a 16GB eMMC card to optimize the transfer speed and responsiveness of the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition.

The Asus Tinkerboard S chip inside the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition is paired with an ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M DAC that works in tandem with a high precision clock to pace the data to reduce jitter and maximize conversion accuracy. This system supports the vast majority of audio formats, including HD files at up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution for PCM streams. DSD files are also supported up to DSD 128. Note that it is possible to bypass the internal DAC of the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition by using one of its USB A ports to connect an external DAC, in the same way as you would with a computer. It is then possible to read PCM files up to 32-bit/768kHz.

By pairing the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player with an external USB DAC, it is possible to play PCM files up to 32-bit/768kHz.

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: DLNA, AirPlay and Bluetooth

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player connects to the network using an Ethernet cable or wirelessly thanks to its WiFi controller. Its compatibility with DLNA, Open Home and UPnP technologies allows it to read all music shared over the local network, whether it is stored on a computer or a NAS.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player has a WiFi antenna that allows it to access music shared over that local network, as well as many online music services and web radios. This antenna can also be used to stream music from a smartphone via Bluetooth.

In addition, the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition can also stream music via AirPlay from an iPhone, iPod, iPad or Mac. A Bluetooth receiver is also available to stream music without having to go through the local network. However, this receiver is only compatible with the SBC Bluetooth codec, which does not allow you to take full advantage of the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition’s audio qualities. It is therefore preferable to reserve this connection mode for secondary use.

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: HD streaming

The Hi-Fi Edition version of the Volumio Primo has the advantage of natively supporting a wide range of online music services including Spotify, Pandora, Qobuz and Tidal. 24-bit/192kHz compatibility is possible for Qobuz and MQA file playback with Tidal. The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player can also access thousands of web radios from around the world thanks to its compatibility with TuneIN.

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: IP control

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player can be controlled by connecting it to a TV screen and pairing it with a USB keyboard and mouse. While functional, this configuration is not the most intuitive, as the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition is designed to be controlled through its web interface, which can be accessed via a browser on a PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet connected to the same home network.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player can be controlled through its web interface, which can be accessed on any browser.

To access the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition player’s web interface, simply enter “volumio.local” in the address bar of a browser on a Mac or iOS device. For a Windows computer or Android device, you’ll need to enter the IP address assigned to the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition by the network router. It will be something like 192.168.92.68. Note that Volumio also offers an iOS and Android control application that replicates the web interface. Sold for €2.29, this app can be downloaded for free using a code included with the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition device.

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: configuration

The quick start guide that comes with the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition contains all the necessary information to get the player up and running. However, for a more advanced configuration, it is preferable to download the full manual from the Volumio website.

Once you have all the information, the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition is very easy to set up. After connecting it to the various sources and to the mains, you need to wait 5 minutes for the player to initialize. You must then connect to the WiFi network called “Volumio” that is created using a smartphone, tablet or computer, then enter the password “Volumio 2”. The web interface of the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition player is then automatically launched to configure basic settings such as the menu language, device name, WiFi network to be used and audio output (RCA, coaxial, USB or HDMI).

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition player can be set up in a few quick steps.

Once the configuration is complete, the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition interface can be accessed from the web browser of a device connected to the same local network (smartphone, tablet, portable player, computer, TV, etc.) or from the Volumio mobile application. The Volumio interface is smooth and very intuitive. The home page acts as an audio player, displaying the title, sample rate and album art of the track being played. It is possible to adjust the volume, change the track, add a song to your favorites or to a playlist and pause playback. These different functions are easily and instantly controlled, without the slightest delay between the modification of a control and its execution on the player.

In addition to managing music, the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition’s web interface and app also provide access to numerous settings. In particular, it is possible to enter all your USB and network sources to classify and centralize your different tracks and albums. In the advanced settings, Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition allows the installation of multiple plug-ins to support certain music services or to bring additional functions to the player: CD ripping, Roon server, support for an external remote control, a mouse and a USB keyboard, etc. All the instructions are clearly explained in the manual available on the Volumio website.

The web interface lets you configure the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition player’s many settings.

For our review of the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition, we used our Spotify and Qobuz playlists as well as FLAC and DSD files shared over the local network. We connected the player’s RCA output to a NAD C375 BEE amplifier using Audioquest Yukon RCA cables. We used the Cabasse MC40 speakers, a three-way model with a coaxial tweeter. We also connected the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition’s HDMI output to the LG OLED65CX UHD 4K television with an Audioquest Carbon 48 HDMI cable, which allowed us to enjoy the playback interface on a big screen.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player connected to the NAD C375 BEE amplifier.

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: listening impressions

We began our test with Pink Floyd’s 1988 Delicate Sound of Thunder concert that was recently remastered in Hi-Res. The tonal balance was excellent, and each timbre was completely natural. The lows were dense, energetic and deep. They were accompanied by nuanced and textured mids, while the highs flowed smoothly and effortlessly. David Gilmour’s voice was well rendered with texture that was beautifully reproduced by the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition.

Listening to the Delicate Sound of Thunder concert revealed excellent tonal balance with natural timbres.

We then changed genres completely with Jazz Samba Encore! by the iconic duo Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfà. The different tracks were incredibly transparent and soft. The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition has an impressive ability to distribute the sound throughout the room. The soundstage was as wide as it was deep and faithfully reproduced the recordings by accurately positioning each acoustic element. The saxophone was perfectly structured and we enjoyed a lot of texture and detail.

Throughout our listening sessions, the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player displayed incredible finesse and refinement. It always strove to reveal the subtleties of recordings, allowing us to enjoy many more micro-details than with a classic player. The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition’s analysis provided a reproduction of a rare quality. Each instrument was well defined and precise, and the sound was perfectly coherent overall.

With the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player, each instrument is well defined and precise, and the sound is perfectly coherent overall.

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: compared to…

Bluesound Node 2i: sold for €549, the Bluesound Node 2i has been one of the best network players on the market for a few years now. It is equipped with a 24-bit/192kHz compatible DAC and benefits from numerous network functions including AirPlay and Bluetooth aptX HD compatibility, as well as access to several online music services such as Spotify, Deezer and Qobuz. The Bluesound Node 2i provides first-class performance, but the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition offers even more transparency and micro-details. The Volumio player also has the advantage of natively supporting DSD and can be connected to many USB devices. 

Cocktail Audio N15D: the €649 Cocktail Audio N15D network audio player is equipped with a 32-bit/384kHz and DSD 64/DSD 128 compatible ESS Sabre 9018 DAC. Like the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition, it can be controlled through a web interface with any computer, smartphone or tablet. However, its interface is less intuitive than that of the Volumio model. The two players also have very similar features, with DLNA playback, AirPlay and online music services including Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz. When it comes to sound, however, the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition has the edge with superior accuracy and a fuller, clearer soundstage. 

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: conclusion 

For its first network player, the Italian manufacturer offers a top-class device with unbeatable performance. The web interface is undoubtedly the main strength of this network player, providing comprehensive and simplified control of the device from any computer, smartphone, tablet, etc. Despite this sophisticated interface, a remote control would have been appreciated to quickly adjust the volume or change tracks.

The Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition’s design provides it with outstanding analysis capacity. The restitution is always well balanced and nicely defined. Each note has a very clear outline and unfolds in a natural soundstage full of micro-details. It always displays excellent definition, from the low end to the high end of the spectrum, with accurate sound levels and timbres. We can only confirm EISA’s verdict by saying that the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition is by far the best digital source of the year.

What we liked:

  • The transparent and clear soundstage
  • The perfect spectral balance
  • The many micro-details
  • The web control interface

What we would have liked:

  • A remote control
  • Native support for files with resolutions higher than 24/192


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