Esparagus media center boards introduction

A project log for Loud ESP

I'm looking for perfect audio DAC for ESP8266/ESP32

andriymalyshenkoandriy.malyshenko 02/15/2024 at 14:560 Comments

Loud-ESP can be described as a universal tool that can be used for a bunch of occasions. You can feed audio either from cd-card or internet stream, you can control it via IR or button, you can visualize it on the screen or LED bar. You rather have a lot of choices about what to make of it.

Even though I'm not too strong in software, I was constantly thinking what kind of project I'd like to do myself using all capabilities of Loud-ESP

Streaming services have a lot to offer, and for devices such as Loud-ESP it is actually a replacement for UI (you have a phone to pick your tunes, no need for buttons). Also they would take care of music sources, as long as the internet is available. Screen is nice to have, but again you have everything you need on your Spotify app.

At this point I started to get rid of the peripheral that I don't really need, giving up sd-card, battery management (I personally don't move speakers around at home) and even screen. I replaced it with an aluminum case that gives that finished look and feeling that it is no longer a development board but a product. At this stage Loud Esparagus was born, which follows the Loud-ESP in many hardware aspects, but much more focused as a consumer product.

Another major change coming was obviously the DAC, which had to be upgraded to something more capable. MAX98357 used in the Loud-ESP is a great little IC, but to drive a large speaker you have to bring more power, and here TI has many options to offer, in fact that are basically own the market. It was not a hard task to find the one DAC that has the right input, the right power and the right level of support.

Last piece of the puzzle was to address those that already have amps at their homes (As I do). Perhaps they already use it with different sources and don't foresee a need to change it. Esparagus Hifi Medialink is the last board in the series that brings streaming capabilities to dumb old amps. It has line level output via Hi-Fi (and I mean it) DAC and can be connected to your beloved audio gear to prolong its life in the 21 century.

Summarizing, you have a HiFi version that you embed into your existing setup, adding modern sources to aging hardware. Then you have Loud Esparagus, that is not way too powerful, but combined with small speakers can enlive a small room or work place. And there is Louder Esparagus which would be a full scale media center you usually find in the living room (or dorm) with relatively large speakers.

I passed the formalities necessary to actually start a Crowd Supply campaign to support production of the Esparagus series boards.

If you're a hobbyist maker it is actually very hard to produce these small projects in small volumes, because of fundamental costs of initial development. When you know in advance what kind of volumes you should expect to produce, it is much easier to build up an adequate price for the unit. 

Public campaigns also help to understand if a product is finally ready for a launch, as adding improvements and new features is a never-ending effort. At some point you have to say "Although it's not perfect, it's sufficiently near".

I invite everyone interested to subscribe to campaign updates, as in coming weeks I will need to work hard to finalize the design and prepare for the production run, which will strongly depend on the community interest.