Dementia-friendly music player

Lovechild of MP3 & 1940s radio UI. For seniors with dementia who can no longer use CDs & iPods. Good project for kids.

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I was inspired by the documentary Alive Inside, which shows the profound joy that music can bring to people with dementia. But my Dad could no longer operate CD players or iPods. But he could use this, because it operates like a familiar 1940s radio (but with a Pi & music files inside).

1. Bring the joy of music to those dementia
2. Bring the joy of meaningful giving to makers

If you have a 3D printer, use the model with a 3D printable case. If you print with wood PLA, you can even stain it.

If don't have a 3D printer, use the other models as you can simply mail order the pre-cut wood pieces.

Either way, it's very easy to make - no soldering, no woodworking. Once you have the parts, it then takes 2-3 hours to make (not including 3D printing time).

Questions always welcome.


The challenge & benefiting society. Go to Netflix and watch Alive Inside -- better than any words I can write. You'll see the joy that a person with dementia can experience when listening to their favorite music. 47 million people have dementia, and many of them cannot operate modern devices like iPods and CD players.

Addressing the challenge. For people with dementia, the user interface (UI) must already be familiar. Not just easy to use, but already familiar. In general, people with significant dementia do not learn new things. But they may have strong memories of how things worked when they were much younger e.g. in the 1940s. Thus DQMusicBox borrows the UI of a 1940s radio.

Documentation & design. Everything is in github. You probably mostly need the step-by-step instructions. But you will also find the requirements doc, the design doc, and the files for laser cutting. The code is also in github, but you'll probably want to get the code as part of the disk image.

Boundaries. Hackaday asks, "Is the project creative, original, and pushing some boundaries?" IMHO, the project is creative and original. It deliberately does not push technology boundaries as the intent is to keep the build process simple, so makers can get these devices out to people in need. 

This is a deliberately simple build. No woodworking. No soldering. The step-by-step instructions include lots of photographs. Some key bits:

  • The case is laser cut bamboo. You can cut it yourself. Since most makers don’t have a laser cutter, I tested sending the design to a company that cuts it for you (works well).
  • NEW! There is now a 3D printable case, thanks to volunteer Trey Bagley.
  • Raspberry Pi A+ inside
  • Music is stored on a regular USB thumb drive
  • Parts cost ~$60 (US) if you cut the case yourself, add $28 (US) for a company to cut for you

Although it’s a straightforward build, there are some interesting nerd bits:

  • Really good sound. Uses a firmware update from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
  • Avoids corruption by using a write protected micro-SD card. Takes rare advantage of the TMP_WRITE_PROTECT feature of micro-SD cards. I learned about this on Hackaday

It’s all open source of course. Code uses GNU General Public License, version 2. Laser cut wood case uses Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

This project was submitted to the Final Round of the 2017 Hackaday Prize, which has eight criteria. I paid attention to the criteria, and discussed some of them above. For more on the criteria performance, see the final project log. And for general information, see


Introduction to the dementia friendly music player

MPEG-4 Video - 4.24 MB - 05/13/2018 at 21:10


  • Laser Cut Cathedral Style Model Now Available

    Ross Porter08/11/2018 at 18:25 0 comments

    New model available for making. Laser cut cherry. In the style of a vintage cathedral radio. Easy to make - no soldering. Same interior parts & software bits as in earlier models.

  • Going to the Bay Area Maker Faire?

    Ross Porter05/18/2018 at 03:52 0 comments

    Hi There. If you are going to the Bay Area Maker Faire you can stop by and see the Dementia Friendly Music Player. It will be at the Makers Making Change table which is in Zone 2 in Expo: South. I'll be at the table much of the time. See you there.


  • 3D Printable Model Now Ready

    Ross Porter05/13/2018 at 21:57 0 comments

    There is now a 3D printable retro-style case available for the project. For people with dementia, the strongest memories are often of their youth. So I had wanted a case that follows the "cathedral" style of that era. Thanks for new volunteer Trey Bagley for the wonderful 3D design. Shown below is a 3D print with wood PLA then stained with regular wood stain. The components on the inside haven't changed - it's still an easy no-solder project.

    You can still laser cut a case, see below. This design has worked very well for people with dementia. 

    If you don't have a 3D printer or a laser cutter, no worries. You can order the laser cut case parts for ~$29 from an online laser shop (see the build instructions). 

    For more information, including plans and build instructions, see



  • Happiness, Scaling, 3D Printing

    Ross Porter11/05/2017 at 23:12 0 comments

    It's been a fun few days on the project.

    I spoke with a group that connects non-profits with needs to makers with skills. That could turn out to be a really good way to get more dementia-friendly music players to people that need them.

    I talked with a 3D printing expert who gave me some tips on designing a 3D printable case, as an alternative to the current laser cut case.

    And I got a wonderful message from someone that made a dementia-friendly music player for his father. This is why we do it:

    I recently assembled a dqmusicbox per your instructions - and it just . worked. Yesterday I turned over my incarnation of the box to my father. It has been a long time since I saw such an emotional reaction from him. I let him at it without explanations at all, and he made it work without instructions. He could not help me much naming songs and music he would like for the box, so I went from my own memory of what he enjoyed listening to. Some of his favorites triggered immediate responses - I should have filmed it. It is perhaps early to say, but I think this is a very nice thing for him to have, and that he will be enjoying it quite a lot down his path.

  • The Eight Evenly Weighted Criteria

    Ross Porter10/21/2017 at 04:20 0 comments

    There are eight evenly weighted criteria for this Final Round of the 2017 Hackaday Prize. How did the project do? Here is my biased evaluation. This is sort of like doing a self-evaluation at work. That is, it’s important to convey key information, be self-critical, but also a bit self-promotional :-).

    1) How thoroughly have the final round requirements been completed?
    I have built about a dozen working prototypes. Other makers have built ten units that I know of. I published a video that “sells” and demonstrates the device to a non-technical audience. I published 17 project logs. The build instructions are detailed, illustrated (photographs), and have been tested by non-technical makers. I also published a requirements document, a design document, and instructions for creating the software image (the mini distribution). There is a complete components list on both the Hackaday site and in the build instructions. These lists include links to the components. The build instructions have product links for both the US and the UK. The build has been shown to be reproducible by other makers. There is deliberately no custom hardware in the project, so there are no schematics, though there is a wiring diagram. This is deliberate – I want to keep the build accessible to as many makers as possible so devices get into the hands of people in need.

    2) Does the project benefit society in some way?
    Yes, it can specifically help those with mild dementia find joy in listening to their favorite music. Another benefit is that makers, including young makers, can find joy in helping their elders. There are approximately 47 million people worldwide with dementia. I was inspired by the documentary Alive Inside which shows that people with dementia can find profound joy from listening to their favorite music. The documentary covers the Music & Memory Foundation. There are now 3,000 care institutions that have Music & Memory programs. However, many people with dementia are no longer capable of using modern technology like iPods and CD players. Feedback so far suggests that people with mild dementia can generally use this dementia-friendly music player. Presumably because the old-timey two-knob approach depends on the old strong memories, not the often weaker memories of more recent decades. It certainly worked for my Dad.

    3) How well documented is the project?
    The build instructions are working for other makers (at least ten makers have done builds). The build instructions include 23 photographs / diagrams / screenshots of key steps. One veteran maker on YouTube described the build instructions as the most professional that he's seen in a long time. And for those that want to extend the project, I also published a requirements document, a design document, and instructions for creating the software image (mini distribution). All of this is in github of course. And there is a project site:

    4) Is there base-level planning for the functionality (e.g. functional block diagram, list of specifications and how they will be met, etc.)?
    Yes. See directly above.

    5) Is there a depth of design detail available (like a system design, CAD models, project test methods, etc), and how well do they demonstrate the project impact and viability?
    See above for discussion of depth of design detail and project impact. Regarding project viability, I believe in direct audience feedback. There are about 20 units in the world right now, and the feedback from dementia caregivers has been fairly positive – people with mild dementia can generally use the device and find joy in their favorite music. No reported reliability issues from caregivers or makers.

    6) Is the project creative, original, functional, and pushing boundaries?
    It is creative and original in the sense that I couldn’t find anything else like this (if I had, I would not have done the project). It’s fully functional, and working for other makers. Is...

    Read more »

  • Getting Really Good Audio Quality from a Raspberry Pi

    Ross Porter10/20/2017 at 06:10 0 comments

    Several people have asked me about the audio quality of the dementia-friendly music player, given that it uses a Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pis are known for good but not great audio quality from the built-in headphone jack. But you can now get really good audio quality from the Pi's built-in headphone jack. You need an experimental firmware update from the Pi Foundation, see this thread. Or see how I built the software image for the dementia-friendly music player. Prior versions of the Dementia-friendly Music Player used a USB audio adapter. And the very first version used a rather expensive external USB audio adapter with an integrated headphone amplifier. But it's really hard to hear the differences between those three versions. So the current version just uses the built-in headphone jack. In other words, the firmware update is pretty darn effective. It's an experimental firmware update, but for my limited purposes it's been wonderfully reliable. The firmware update works with the Pi A+, Pi 2, and Pi 3.

    I should also note that the Dementia-friendly Music Player supports MP3, AAC/iTunes, FLAC, and Ogg Vorbis music files.

  • Schools?

    Ross Porter10/20/2017 at 05:02 0 comments

    I think this would be a good class project. Maybe a middle school class. Get a local business to sponsor the parts. Let the kids choose the recipient - maybe a senior care center in their neighborhood. The seniors get something they need. And the kids get the joy of making and of meaningful giving.

    The above is not my idea. It comes from a conversation with Michael Rossato-Bennett. He is the director of Alive Inside, the documentary that inspired me to do this. I don't remember his exact words, but it was something like, "When the young help the old, everybody wins". I later corresponded about this with Dan Cohen. Dan is the founder of the Music & Memory Foundation which has trained and certified thousands of care institutions on implementing personalized music programs. He agrees about getting schools involved. So it's probably a good idea. 

    But I don't know how to get started with schools. If any of you have advice, I'm all ears.

    -- Ross

  • Why is the Case Laser Cut Rather than 3D Printed?

    Ross Porter10/19/2017 at 07:08 0 comments

    Why is the case laser cut rather than 3D printed?

    • Because 1940s radios were made of wood. IMHO, the device is usable because it is familiar to people whose memories of the 1940s and 1950s are much stronger than recent memories. My Dad was immediately able to use it, saying that it "felt familiar". And I think the wood helps with that.
    • Inexpensive. A company will laser cut the case for you for $28.

    But I would like to try doing a 3D printed case. If you read the discussion page for this project, you'll see that Dave Neff made a 3D printed case. He made a larger version of the dementia-friendly music player and added speakers. Nice work. I'd like to try making a regular-sized 3D printed case. A key reason that I want to try this is that there seems to be a small army of makers with 3D printers that just love to make things for themselves and others.

  • Why no Cloud?

    Ross Porter10/19/2017 at 06:50 0 comments

    Some people have asked if an Internet connection is required for operation. NO. And that's deliberate. I want to keep it simple for the caregiver. I don't want the caregiver to have to deal with wi-fi problems. Or deal with ongoing software updates to fix security problems. So the dementia-friendly music player is not an Internet of Things device. It's just a Thing. And it's happy being a Thing. Sort of like a standalone CD player that is pretty happy in it's own little world.

  • Music is Stored on a Regular USB Thumb Drive

    Ross Porter10/19/2017 at 06:30 0 comments

    A number of people have asked where the music is stored. It's stored on a regular USB thumb drive. This is to make it easy for a caregiver to change the set of music from time to time. And to make it even easier, the thumb drive is externally accessible. Caregivers generally seem pleased with this approach. An earlier version stored music on a micro SD card (alongside the OS), which is the cheapest way to go. But I reasoned that most people aren't used to working with micro SD cards, so I changed to the USB thumb drive approach.

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kiren7044 wrote 06/13/2023 at 07:29 point

This approach ensures that World Music Views® delivers content and services that are grounded in accurate and up-to-date knowledge.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Cynthia N Hill wrote 08/10/2021 at 08:51 point

I would recommend using bamboo for the laser cut enclosure, but you could also try other materials such as birch plywood, which would probably cut faster and be easier to work with (although it might not be as robust) than bamboo

The edges should be rounded over with a router table if you have one. In my opinion, a radius based on the walls' width works best, although smaller radii may also work. Sanding wooden surfaces quickly with sandpaper with a grid of 600 or even 1200 is beneficial. As a result, there is a box that feels and looks fantastic and one that is also built much faster than using a 3D printer.

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calculerunpourcentage wrote 07/06/2021 at 19:13 point

This is a great resource, thanks for creating it. The idea is fantastic and the design is beautiful. On the same theme of ideas, I wonder if it is possible to make a pseudo-TV. Using such a box, for example, you could "tune" it to preregistered YouTube channels or use a sufficient-sized screen to look at videos.

  Are you sure? yes | no wrote 07/06/2021 at 13:37 point

From my mother's CD collection, I ripped all the MP4 files into M4As... There were a lot of names on Gracenote! When trying to look at the log using my wife's little 3" monitor, it showed file names and knob turns but did not play. I may try again but I have a 4-year-old. visit  now

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garev534 wrote 03/02/2021 at 10:13 point

If you've got a router table at hand I'd advise rounding over all the rims. Using the width of the walls as a radius appears satisfactory IMHO but smaller radii also work. Also wooden surfaces advantage plenty from a brief sanding with 600 or even 1200 grid sand paper. see here

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Florian Festi wrote 05/19/2018 at 13:09 point

Really cool project!

For the laser cut enclosure I would give something like birch plywood a try, to see if it cuts faster and is easier to work with (although it is probably not as robust) as the bamboo.

If you have a router table at hand I'd suggest rounding over all the edges. Using the width of the walls as a radius looks best IMHO but smaller radii also work. Also wooden surfaces gain a lot from a quick sanding with 600 or even 1200 grid sand paper. The result is a box that is a pleasure to touch - and still much quicker to build than using a 3D printer.

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Graham wrote 11/05/2017 at 12:22 point

Bit of a delay, but I now have everything working on a Pi Zero W.

Further to my previous comments:

*  I did a clean install of Rasbian Stretch. I then needed to install the VLC player (sudo apt-get install vlc) before will work. 

*  The logging method I mentioned previously does not work with Thonny but is still okay with Idle....

*  I bought a pHat DAC (12.00GBP) from PIMORONI.COM as well as a 40 pin connector with long pins (2.50GBP) so I could push on the connecting wires. The pHat DAC has a 3.5mm socket for connecting the speaker/phones.

I'm now looking for an old loudspeaker cabinet to house it in.

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Ross Porter wrote 11/05/2017 at 18:29 point

Hi Graham. Glad to hear that it is working. Were you able to use the same GPIOs? I'm curious if the pHat DAC and my code were trying to use any of the same specific GPIOs.

If you send me a photo, I'm happy to add the photo (with attribution) to the instructions, so people can see the Pi Zero option.

An old speaker cabinet sounds good. If instead you want to 3D print something, see below for the gentleman that made a 3D print including speaker mounts.

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Graham wrote 11/06/2017 at 08:43 point

Hi Ross, there was no GPIO pin clash, I was able to use your original pins. The DAC uses the I2S interface - physical pins 12, 35 & 40. Everything then just worked from the IDLE/THONNY Python GUI. However, I would like the system to auto-run, have you solved this. I am struggling with mounting the USB drive (I think that is mentioned in an earlier post).

I'll email you a photo, although it is a bit embarrassing as I had a brainstorm and soldered a female connector on to my Pi Zero W, so I then had to add a male/male connector. Hence the assembly is a bit taller than it aught to be!

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Jean Pierre Le Rouzic wrote 09/17/2017 at 17:29 point

Thanks for having created this. This is a great idea and it is also beautiful.
I wonder if it would be possible to make a pseudo TV on the same thread of ideas.
For example the box would be equipped with an enough large screen and the box could be "tuned" on pre-registred Youtube channels.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Ross Porter wrote 09/19/2017 at 03:11 point

For sure. Especially with a beefy SBC inside.

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moonlitmilkman wrote 09/17/2017 at 06:15 point


This project is amazing and well-suited to the target audience. I'm curious as to why you chose VLC over Music Player Daemon (MPD) or another music-targeted platform?

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Ross Porter wrote 09/19/2017 at 03:04 point

VLC (specifically vlc-nox) made it easy. Has callable methods that matched up nicely to the project e.g. build playlist, go to next song. Has Python bindings that are well documented. So I only had to write about 300 lines of Python. VLC's support for many audio file types is great. VLC has a built-in volume boost that can be helpful for people that are especially hard of hearing (the Pi's headphone jack isn't super loud). VLC might be overkill, but the performance is great even on a Pi A+. MPD and others may work just as well or better. I happened to start with VLC and it came together pretty quickly.

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David Neff wrote 09/13/2017 at 13:57 point

Hi Ross,

I just finished my 3d printed version with enclosed powered speakers. I'll do some documentation soon and put files on Thingiverse.

A question for you, when I ran my first tests, I sampled my MP3 library, after building everything I loaded my mother's M4A based library which seems problematic. It seems to stall or hang on files (silence). I tried shortening names, filling blanks with underscores and still had probems. Once again loading up my MP3's it seems to work. Still, some of the M4A files did play and I can't seem to find a reason why some do and some don't. All of the M4A files were ripped on the same machine from original CD's through Itunes within a week.

I hooked up a monitor and keyboard but don't have enough tech chops to get any useful info...

Any ideas?

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Ross Porter wrote 09/13/2017 at 16:10 point

Hi David,

Congratulations on the 3D printed version with speakers.

The system uses VLC (specifically vlc-nox) under the hood, which is known for playing anything and everything. I have used files from iTunes on the box, but not extensively. I'll try some more files in the next few days. I'm curious if your files play for you using desktop VLC. In case you are not familiar with VLC, it's available on lots of platforms e.g. Linux, Windows, MacOS.

I'll be at the Seattle Mini Maker Faire this weekend (they gave me a table). If you like, I'm happy to print and display an attributed photo of your 3D printed case as an alternative to the laser cut wood case. 

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David Neff wrote 09/13/2017 at 17:29 point

Here's the thingiverse link to 3d printed parts, I'll have photos soon.

I tried VLC, it plays the files no problem. I tried to convert them to MP3s but it didn't fly. I'll try another version on a newer machine and report back.

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Ross Porter wrote 09/14/2017 at 06:26 point

Hi David.

I printed an attributed copy of your Thingiverse pages. I'll put those on the table at the Maker Faire.

I tried 20 .m4a files from iTunes. They all played normally. If you send me a link to iTunes to one of the songs that fails, I'm happy to spend a buck to test that song file specifically. 

Also, you can monitor a dqmusicbox-specific log file on the device. Connect the device to Ethernet, turn on the device, determine the device's IP address from your router, putty to the device, tail -f /var/log/dqmusicbox. The logging is fairly verbose, so you'll see the result of each knob event, particularly including the song that you select by turning the songs knob. You may also see some error messages.

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David Neff wrote 09/14/2017 at 15:09 point

It's a deliverable! I transcoded files to MP3 and shortened names to about 10 characters. Likely it's the latter that made a difference but I'm done testing for the time being. Thanks again for a great project! Can't wait to see it in use.

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David Neff wrote 09/14/2017 at 15:12 point

I ripped all the M4A's from my mother's CD collection... names came from gracenote and they were long! My wife, did try looking at the log while it was running using a little 3" monitor but we didn't see errors, it logged knob turns and showed file names but just didn't play. May try again but... I have a 4 year old!

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Ross Porter wrote 09/14/2017 at 16:57 point

Ah, long filenames. All the m4a tests I did were from iTunes downloads, which might have shortened filenames. I did have some problems a year ago with some crazy extra long with special characters filenames on ripped FLAC files from a few classical albums.

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Graham wrote 08/30/2017 at 13:31 point

Hi Ross,

Great idea.

As I am familiar with Rasbian, I decided to build this project on that OS. I have a Pi 3.  know have it working on the bench - no case yet.

Some additional notes:

1) python-vlc ( needs downloading into same folder as the two Python files you provide.

2) I amended the initialisation of music_path to the path found in File Manager (Go/Devices etc).

3) I struggled with the logging system and ended up commenting out your five lines of logger/formatter/handler code and replacing them with some code I found in a tutorial.

logging.basicConfig(level=os.environ.get("LOGLEVEL", "INFO"))

logger = logging.getlogger('dqmusicbox')

This logs to the Python Shell window, which is ideal for testing purposes.

Next, I am going to implement on a Pi Zero using an additional audio circuit board connected to the GPIO. While I awaiting its arrival from the US (I am in the UK) I will use HDMI.


  Are you sure? yes | no

Ross Porter wrote 08/31/2017 at 02:38 point

Hi Graham,

I'm glad that it is working for you and that you were able to do the DietPi --> Raspbian changes. I will update the admin instructions as per your notes. Good luck the Pi Zero work, sounds like fun.

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David Neff wrote 08/07/2017 at 16:01 point

Hello Ross, thanks for a great project! I was thinking of designing something like this for my mother but happily your project appeared in my inbox a last week.

I just assembled the parts this morning, it booted up immediately and works great. 

I am making a few modifications and did a few things differently on hardware. I'll share it all once I finalize the build. I do have a few questions if you or the community could help out.

I built the project an a Pi B so that I could have additional USB ports for power/keyboard/mouse, partly because I'm a newbie, partly for modifications. One thing I am doing differently is using USB powered Altec Lansing speakers instead of headphones. I designed a case to be 3d printed, and am still tweaking the case before printing.

I just found the config file, updated the screen res to readable. Now I guess I should just ignore the updates available as it's working.

You mentioned the Pi Foundation firmware update for better sound, of course I want the best I can get, but once again, is this doable using Diet Pi or do I need to boot using the NOOB card.


  Are you sure? yes | no

Ross Porter wrote 08/08/2017 at 01:43 point

Hi David. Glad that it is working for you. 

I chose DietPi because it is so lightweight e.g. boots quickly, and because it does some things that likely reduce SD card corruption e.g. RAM logging by default. See I haven't changed from the default DietPi username (root) and password (dietpi). 

When making changes, I usually put the DQMusicBox on Ethernet and use Putty to connect. Works well for me. The only annoying part is figuring out which IP address it got.

At the moment, I don't recommend updating to a new version of DietPi, as last time I checked, there was a change in how USB thumb drives are automounted, which unfortunately breaks how DQMusicBox finds music files. I'll handle that, but I haven't yet. The box doesn't need to be on a network (that's deliberate), so I'm less concerned about getting security updates than I would be in other circumstances. Fundamentally, DQMusicBox is an old school appliance, content to live a simple non-evolving life.  

Happily, you already have the Pi Foundation firmware update. It loads from the micro-SD card as part of the boot process. In other words, it's already in the image that you downloaded.  To read more, see This is an "experimental" firmware update. But it works reliably for DQMusicBox purposes. And I'm quite impressed by the audio quality.

I have tested DQMusicBox with a Pi A+, a Pi 2, and a Pi 3. Seems to work fine on all.

Questions welcome. And I'm curious to see how your project turns out.


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