Linear power supply for the Raspberry Pi: is it worth it?

Pretty much everyone agrees on this one, still, it took me a while to get on the bandwagon. Probably because I am not using an RPi as my main transport..

In order to test this I needed a proper linear power supply, capable of outputting at least one “real” amp at 5V. It would also have to be as low noise as possible. After some searching I ended up picking the TPS7A4501 for the job. Since its output voltage is adjustable, it would also come in handy for various projects. So I designed a PCB that would do a proper job of “hosting” the regulators along with the necessary rectification and filtering stages and had a bunch of them made.

I also ordered a proper custom-made toroidal transformer, one that would have 5 secondary windings, each of them outputting 6VAC at 1.5A and one sixth winding outputting 3V at 2A. The end game would be to replace all of the RPi’s on-board switching regulators with linear ones.

But for starters I’d just power the RPi with 5V via its USB port. Here are a couple of RPi 3s being powered by my linear supplies. This setup would be used to compare the original Boss with its new “v1.2” version. More on that in another post.

Power draw on the linear power supply was measured to be at about 500mA @ 5V.

My “reference” 5V SMPS is this one:

It’s an old but beefy switching mode power supply from an old HP tablet. It’s specc’ed at 5.3V @ 2A.

In order to be as impartial as possible, I took the setup to a friend’s house and had him and a couple of other friends audition the RPi powered either from the SMPS or by my linear power supply.

In both cases, the RPi was running Archphile and was connected to my upgraded-with-ES9028Pro-and-Mercury-Buffalo III DAC via USB.

The difference between the two power supplies was immediately obvious. It was like with the SMPS we had an at-best mediocre source – DAC combination, while with the linear power supply the setup became “proper”, it sounded “in-place” among my friend’s high performing system. The sound stage became better defined, the detail level went up, overall the presentation was more realistic. In other words, it was like the jitter of the system went down, but perhaps the noise levels in the system also decreased.

In other words, IMHO no serious audiophile should be powering his RPi by a run-of-the-mill 5V SMPS, even if he is using it as “just a USB transport”.