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Volumio Primo & Rivo – Good Sound marred by buggy Volumio software

What are they?

Volumio Primo & Rivo Review: Volumio hail from Italy and started developing streaming software for Raspberry Pi based streamers as a hobby and have relatively recently been selling their streamer offerings.

Volumio’s remote-less Primo and Rivo are DAC and transport-based streamers which retail for £679, €799 and $849 for the Primo, and £849, €989, $1049 for the Rivo, which in Italian means stream. These are not recommended retail prices the brand has given me but those which I have found online. These units provide useful comparisons as transports because they both have digital outputs. 

The DAC in the Primo is an ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M which outputs up to 192/24 PCM from its analogue outputs and coax digital output, and up to 768khz PCM 32-bit from the USB audio output. Maximum sample rates output from the Rivo are the same over USB too.

The Primo is in its second iteration and has XLR balanced and RCA single ended analogue outputs as well as digital outputs (Coax and USB). On the other hand Rivo has the same analogue outputs but additionally an AES-EBU digital out for use with XLR cables and connections.

Volumio Primo & Rivo Review – Primo rear connections

The front panels of both streamers are wood-effect plastic to allow the Wi-Fi signals in, which would otherwise not be possible with both units, similar quality, metal cases. This wood effect does connote something different and to this extent I like the design. Attention to detail in build quality is OK, if not amazing. The cases are well made but you notice differences in the gaps in the front plastic panels and the case, between the top and sides. Whether intended or not, I would say Primo feels it’s built right for price but personally I couldn’t help wanting more for the pricier Rivo variant, given it’s near to the £1000 price point and considering what streamers like Eversolo’s DMP-A6 gets you with a fully machined / slabbed case. The machined Eversolo feels more luxurious to the Volumio’s one piece industrial aluminium moulded case too.

These streamers use Volumio 3 which is accessible via an iOS or Android app or browser interface of a Mac or Windows PC. Version 3 is more feature laden than the old version 2 and in some respects, it could be perceived to be a cheaper challenger to Roon in some circles. More on similar features in a minute, but if you buy either the Primo or Rivo you get the premium Volumio software version free. Cost for loading the full premium version onto a Pi based streamer, for which Volumio was initially developed, because the Software came before Volumio streamers I understand, will set you back €5.85 a month or €70, $80 or £60 in one upfront payment for the year. These prices give an idea of the worth of the premium version in buying the Primo or Rivo.

Volumio Primo & Rivo Review – Primo

Both have an HDMI output to mirror the Volumio interface on a larger screen. I never got around to trying this and, in any event, it is not a feature I would use, but I do realize the feature is a feather in the cap of these streamers, particularly as it outputs to a 4K / 60 frames per second standard, and many people do now use TVs between HiFi speakers and want a bigger visual representation of music being played. Of course, a fixed ethernet connection is possible with the rear RJ45 connections on both streamers.

The Rivo has 3 USB A connections – one is a USB 3.0 for high-speed drives for connection of SSDs and CD drives. Another USB 2.0 is for connection of keyboards, other thumb drives, and mice and keyboards for interacting with Volumio. Finally, a USB 2.0 drive, serving as a low noise filtered type, for connection to a DAC. The Primo doesn’t have such a connection but its two USB drives serve the purpose of connecting to a DAC and high-speed drives in the case of USB 3.0 and other peripheral connections for USB 2.0.

Volumio Primo & Rivo Review – Volumio interface

If you do connect a CD drive, as is shown in a video on Volumio’s YouTube channel, then selecting the CD icon from the main list of sources lets you rip or play CD’s. Because you can link Volumio devices – you could send music over the network to each player simultaneously, much like you can with the analogue inputs of Bluesound or WiiM Streamers. In-built music recognition software within this CD functionality in Volumio allows recognition of tracks and I believe that you can, although again I didn’t try, store these to either the internal memory or USB storage drives. Both the Primo and Rivo have an Armlogic Quadcore CPU running at 1.9GHz and 2GB of RAM for processing, but the RAM obviously allows some music storage. You can expand the internal memory by use of rear panel Micro SD cards and because you can buy cards with 1TB, or even 2TB memory, it in theory gives these streamers server capability. That said I would premise this by saying I didn’t get to the stage of trying or ascertaining, if for pragmatic purposes this would be a reliable or fast way to incorporate such server use. Judging by the perfomance of the software, as I’ll come onto, this is perhaps of moot issue.

The front orange button acts to turn the unit on with a red LED denoting stand-by status, green for booting up and blue for active/ready.

Volumio Primo & Rivo Review – Volumio interface

The manual is not massively well written – why not describe what drives the ripped music files can be stored too so people know the full specs of the unit? How about storing to network drives too? Also, it states you can access Volumio’s web browser interface with Mac’s and PC’s by typing in http://volumio.local, however this did not work – it is actually http://primo.local in the case of the Primo. This isn’t a biggie for me as I’d know to type in the IP address of the unit, visible in Volumio’s network settings, but for streaming novices it is exactly the sort of thing that could start to infuriate and separates a well thought out easy to use product, from a trickier one. Particularly as it is one of various issues that I could pick out this way. Volumio must surely put themselves in the position of novices and experts alike.

Volumio can handle DLNA music shares and drives for access to local music on Network Attached Music Drives, plus Tidal, Qobuz and Spotify and HiResAudio Services are built into and integrated into the Volumio app and Operating System. Spotify is unique in this sense as usually the Spotify OS has to work in Spotify connect configuration – i.e. using the Spotify App to find your unit and playback from the Spotify App. In Volumio 3 you can browse Spotify tracks locally once you install the Spotify plug-in. Volumio is Airplay capable via an inbuilt plug-in within the Volumio OS called Shairport. Obviously this could be used for the AirPlay playing of music within apps like Apple Music. The lack of ability to play streams in a bit perfect fashion for such music streaming services is a downside of Volumio being that Apple Music is not built into the Volumio OS (at the time of this review). The same, it appears from perusing the app plug-ins available for Amazon Music too. There are additional plug-ins for YouTube Music, Soundcloud and Radio Paradise as other commonly used music services. The Internet radio plug-in built into Volumio is I believe TuneIn radio and there is Google Chromecasting support too.

Two features in Volumio 3 and available for the premium version, stand out. One is called ‘Infinity Playback’, which is akin to ‘Roon Radio’ in Roon. Essentially similar to the built in AI of the Tidal app too, where if your music que ends, the app starts choosing music for you and adding tracks to your playlist. I’m not sure if Volumio works off of both DLNA music and your streaming services to make such selections. Roon does…. But the first time I turned it on and had finished my playback que, it wouldn’t load new tracks into the que – music just stopped even with the feature turned on. After that, use was more reliable. I would say that such playback in Tidal and Roon, that I use, is more intuitive at finding unique and quirky music, without bugs too.

Volumio Primo & Rivo Review – Primo front panel

Another useful feature is Volumio’s ‘Supersearch’ which allows you to type in a search term for music such as ‘Italian funk’ or ‘Chill out electronica’, for Volumio to list a selection of such music. I found it not as useful as infinity playback – there is a limit to how AI can be pleasing to human taste after all and of course it relies on accurate meta-tagging from all sources.

Volumio is capable of Room EQ using a plug-in called ‘FusionDsp’ which is searchable from the plug-in section of Volumio’s main hamburger icon. Volumio apparently allows access to approved or authorized plug-ins which implies that not just one type of DSP plug-in is or could be, potentially available. Upgradeability is a good thing, but this all said I didn’t go looking to find out alternates since FusionDsp seems to do what I needed for review testing purposes… from a Parametric EQ setting and various selectable graphic equaliser types of varying numbers of bands. I did notice when you enable it, it seems to upset reliability of the Rivo and Primo being selected as Roon Ready end-points in Roon – perhaps no issue to some…just disable it as Roon has its own EQ anyway.

Sound Comparisons

Sound Quality of these Volumio Streamers is generally above par against the competition. For instance the Primo sounds better than a £550 Bluesound Node 2021, premised with the fact of course these changes will always be slight. It should sound better as it costs £130 more though!  Midrange pops against the Node, there is a nicer defined bass and insight into soundstage improves. Conceivably this could be a function of the XLR inputs into my Hegel H390 but that’s perhaps academic as you sometimes get this improvement with balanced connections, which come with pricier gear, so it’s a feather in the Volumio’s cap that it has these outputs at this slightly higher price and the Node doesn’t.

Volumio Primo & Rivo Review

Against the Eversolo DMP-A6 the treble and midrange is more effusive, transient dynamics improve and female vocal tracks, or any vocals for that matter, are more open in the Primo’s favour – with the Eversolo the vocal is not projected as forward in the soundstage. With the Primo the vocal is more multi stranded – harmonics of the voice conveys more layers – a little sibilance, breathiness and the tone, compared relatively to the more one layered approach of the Eversolo. There is more treble with the Eversolo in the upper registers too. Again I would give it to the Primo.

I felt the digital USB out of the Node and Primo is pretty much of the same quality in sonic terms. As regards to the test of why you might buy the Rivo on transport duties – is the Rivo’s best USB noise filtered output the improver over the Primo’s less well specced USB out? The answer is yes. There is a bit more immediacy and nuance and subtlety with the Rivo than the Primo, staging is better, a cleaner overall sound. It is quite obvious after some time that the Rivo as a transport performs better than the Primo, but it isn’t huge.

I compared the Rivo, Node 2021 and Eversolo DMP-A6 as transports into an Aune S9c DAC with paired Aune SC1 Clock, all over digital USB connections. The other digital outputs of these streamers as transports are much of a muchness. However these differences with USB connection were too, much closer than the DAC comparisons before. Against the Node I felt the Rivo has more dynamic heft in transients, more pleasing decay and sound is a little more separated and organised, and resolving too.

I felt the DMP-A6 has a little extra mid bass warmth than the Rivo. It’s very very close. The Eversolo projects a slightly deeper soundstage and stronger muscular bass to the Rivo’s wider soundstage. It’s a cleaner airier sound with the Rivo and the difference here is closer than the Rivo Vs Node. I slightly preferred the Eversolo as I felt the sound is a little more balanced and with that lovely bass too and not quite as edgy and airy with treble as the Rivo, but equally as pleasing sound in most other sonic areas. This is in difference to a review I watched by iiWi reviews who takes the opposite view which struck me as odd as to whether he had put in the listening time. Put it this way, and in credit to him, because we are talking small fry, possibly opinions could go either way.

Volumio Primo & Rivo Review

Keen though to see if I agreed with iiWi reviews as regards to adding a Allo Shanti Linear PSU ($160) to improving the sound of the Rivo, and having such a PSU myself, I do agree with his opinions…The Rivo comes alive with electronic music, and the airy edginess of some female vocalists is more natural than when not using the Shanti. Switching back to the Eversolo the treble is not quite as balanced and the sound is a little less focused at you.

The Bugs

The problem with these streamers is the software is very buggy, an issue one of my Patreon’s was finding too, which is ironic when they are based around Volumio and Volumio hold themselves out as a streaming software company. Initially I didn’t suffer any issues but it is only when I started to delve into features in a more involved way did I face problems. This is a rarity of most streamers I review. I run my system off a Netgear WiFi extender which communicates with my main BT router over WiFi and then I use a network switch connected to one of the extenders LAN Ethernet ports. The Primo and Rivo were plugged into the switch. I also configured the streamers off my main router in another room where my main PC is routed to a FiiO R7 streaming pre amp and SP3 active speakers. I agreed with Volumio support I would try this alternate network, but similar issues arose.

Initially problems included not finding the Rivo and Primo over the network, not allowing you to type in passwords in the Volumio interface. Both Streamers would keep dropping out as Roon players. There were issues of the album artwork glitching once during an update. Also the players not finding any wired network signal requiring turning off and re-booting. Use in switching between one source – say selecting music using the Roon app and then selecting DLNA music via the Volumio app, was not seamless. Often making selections in one app would lead to no playback change. It would sometimes take 7-8 seconds to refresh album artwork in such cases where such cross-app selections did work. There are also bugs in the text of the app I noticed with text sometimes overwritten over other text. Additionally pressing play and pause buttons in the software which don’t respond. I was using an iPad and Volumio told me that these issues are known to exist with Apple devices which dramatically reduces their appeal. I never tested Volumio with Android so conceivably use could be much more reliable there. In the fullness of time I will try.

The system becomes particularly unstable when you use the DSP and Spotify plugins. Galling when using Spotify in Volumio to modify audio with DSP, as well as doing the same with Volumio in-built Tidal playback, because this feature has been a big selling point of using these streamers (Darko Website). Using Spotify connect didn’t work and sometimes I experienced audio stuttering playing over AirPlay, much like with the ifi Zen Stream which is apparently built around the same Volumio platform and uses Khadas internal components. I did seek Volumio’s support but they were rather non-committal and resigned in how they would resolve all matters being that they were not that pro-active and I felt the issues were too numerous and widespread to be resolvable. That they were the norm too in line with their comments about using Apple devices.

The problems were not confined to my own HiFi network using the extender but in use connected directly with my main router too. In this regard I tested the units on two networks.

I also consulted others who have similar issues. The fact one of my Patreon’s had just bought a Volumio streamer, was the first person I made enquiries with, and was having the same issues, said it all to the likelihood of buggy Volumio software being widespread! Also confirmed in chatting to others. I am sure if you are using few sources and you keep Volumio app use to a minimum, you might have a good experience but doing so makes the products more expensive. The ‘infinity playback’ and ‘supersearch’ features are nice, but a big reason to buy these streamers is Volumio app features and plug-ins and if you don’t get all these self-professed advertised features in reliable use, then you miss out on a large part of why you buy a Volumio streamer in the first place – the software. It’s as if this streaming platform is continually in beta testing when the software is ‘live’, and that you very regularly don’t know how the software is behaving in terms of connecting to the network and making music selections. I was, to be blunt, loosing the will after a week of trying to get it to all work properly.

Quite possibly the sheer number of updates Volumio have completed to version 3 – 616 by the last update version I installed to both streamers, tells a story as to the overall reliability of this platform. It is definitely not a Roon, not a BluOs, nor does it work as seamlessly as Sonos or WiiM software. These are all Turnkey streaming solutions which is what we expect…. Volumio in difference requires an understanding of what is happening and then a modification in behaviour of use, piggybacking another app on top perhaps (I noticed that Volumio refer people to using other apps), or some request to Volumio maybe for yet another bug update. I don’t have the patience or time!….Its use is going to be advocated I’d expect by those who don’t mind same, mirroring their comments online that Rivo/Primo are good products, or as per my aforementioned point are using its app features sparingly….but I’d reiterate that defeats a large part of buying. Software of which is so featured packed they seem to have aimed it at challenging Roon. But it doesn’t get close in reliable use. In fact it was only the fact the iFi Zen Streams problem is mainly sound drop outs (stuttering), and lots of them, that made it the more annoying product. I very likely believe the reliability of this platform or software kernels used, is why I’m having similar issues again.

The Verdict

It’s all rather regrettable that these streamers do sound really good and are decently, if not amazingly, built. The Primo in particular has a price that matches its sound quality, if you were just to consider sound alone, and is a small improvement against the Bluesound Node. But when let down by the software and bombproof use of BluOs software on Bluesound, the Primo is nowhere near the value (or ease of use) proposition of the Node 2021 and is uncompetitive. You’d easily put up with the small change in sound for the lower priced Node if using the analogue outputs and if using the Node as a Transport then aside from favouring some smallish picky use benefits in the Primo, the Node is the equal sounding with way nicer software.

Volumio Primo & Rivo Review – Rivo & Primo

It’s the same for the Rivo when you consider it is of course marred by the Volumio software too. The reason for buying the Rivo for sound quality, if at all, is the higher sample rate USB output, but the same output of the Eversolo DMP-A6 sounds slightly better and the Eversolo costs less. Also the DMP-A6 has better build quality and more features like utilizing the Android interface for bit perfect streams of Apple Music for example, the lovely display, full server design capability, and glitch less app use. To boot Rivo is nearly £100 more expensive and you’d need to spend more on the power supply to improve its sound beyond the Eversolo. Why would you do that when the DMP-A6 is so good? Conceivably the Rivo could be of value with a good PSU, in a sound quality sense, if it is compared to some very expensive digital transports that sometimes sound no better than those half the price, but then the Eversolo DMP-A6 still gets in the way. The Lumin U2 mini on all accounts, or the original Auralic Aries G1 I reviewed (admittedly now an old model) are very pricey transports outdone by cheaper competition.

It has left me scratching my head as to why other reviews have praised them – the Rivo got an EISA award??? Although I suspect money talks with that outfit. If money is less of a concern (but sound quality is what you want) and you are looking to play the units back through more reliable software like Roon, then I can see how the Primo could be a choice over the Node. However if you are considering them as a first foray into streaming and want to use the software, or are considering a change to Volumio which motivates you, or just a new streamer to use the inbuilt software, then I cannot recommend them at all. As they currently stand I personally would not buy either – the Node is so close using its DAC and the same as a transport to the Primo and I felt the Eversolo sounds similar to the Rivo as a transport for less money and with better build quality, features and offers a much better way of integrating with your music. There is a multitude of turnkey streamers on the market that will do the job better and infuriate you much less than the Volumio software. Notably the DMP-A6 app integration, however another which springs to mind is the Primare NP5 mk2 (now left me to compare and I cannot recall its sound), which gave me a similar impression of great sound to the Node but which just works better than the Volumio streamers too. Maybe something like the new Cambridge Audio CXN100, which replaces the old CXN V2, might have it over the Rivo too. Watch this space.

I will keep attempting to try different ways of making the software more reliable and if I can achieve that I will update this review. SP 29.2.24

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Written by Simon Price

I'm music lover who shares experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in an ENGAGING way with HIGH VIDEO PRODUCTION VALUES. I enjoy and make reviews as I love audio gadgets, being a voice on audio and producing creative videos that ultimately benefit the industry and new participation. I keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio serves music and music is inclusive and to be enjoyed by all!

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