I was alerted to very cool software called Duet Display, by a couple posts in the CA forum (post one, post two). When I first saw the software, I thought about how far we have come since the days of Active Desktop being state of the art. Then, I thought about how I could make this applicable to audiophiles and music lovers. It was almost as if I found a solution before I found a problem. I was determined to wrap my head around how to use this cool new tool in my HiFi system.
Duet Display has been around a little over two years. The software enables one to use an iPad or iPhone as a display when connected to a Mac or PC. At first blush, this seems like an expensive way to add a display to a music server, when one can be purchased for a few hundred dollars almost anywhere. However, I had other thoughts. The iPad is versatile and much more aesthetically appealing than any computer display near this price. It's also small and can be run off power straight from the music server (for better or worse).
I originally thought about using an iPad as a display by placing it on my equipment "rack" between the loudspeakers. This display would harken back to the days of placing the large LP cover where it was visible, while playing music. I could connect this iPad to any of my PC or Mac music servers, and place the servers out of visible range. Keep in mind that a wired Lightning connection is required from the computer to the iOS device.
Ideally, I would setup the music server to display the playback application on the iPad. Some applications feature really nice Now Playing screens, while others don't offer much that's appealing from 10 feet away. I tried Roon running on the iPad Air 2 display, but the visual is pretty underwhelming. Roon offers some information and a small image of the album cover. Certainly nothing I can't see with a glance over to my iPad while it's sitting next to me in my listening chair.
I tried the old standard iTunes, as well as Audirvana, and Amarra, but none of them really did it for me. I couldn't find a "Now Playing" type of screen that would give me the information I wanted on a display that would be 10 feet away, in between my loudspeakers. Just like the old album jackets.
The only app that really has anything going for it, with respect to an iOS display, is JRiver Media Center. I installed Duet Display from the app store on my iPad Air 2, and on my MacBook Pro running macOS Sierra / Windows 10 (Boot Camp). This way I could test both Windows and Mac on the same hardware and hardware that I would actually use as a music server.
Running JRiver Media Center version 23, I experimented with different views such as Standard, Mini, Display, Theater, and Cover. I found two views that worked great with Duet Display and an iPad.
The simplest view is Display View. This is very similar to the old school LP. It just displays the album cover at full screen. With the iPad placed between my speakers, it presents a nice visual, that also doubles as a touchscreen display if I want to get out of my chair to make an adjustment for some reason or another.
An even better use of Duet Display, JRiver Media Center, and the iPad is when JRMC is placed in Theater View. After getting help from JRiver's Jim Hillegass on setting Theater View to 60% in the JRMC options, the display was perfect size, even though the iPad is only 1024x768. There are several views within Theater View that can be used in this instance. The Now Playing screen and the Info screen are my two favorites. The Now Playing screen is for those with a bit more ADHD than I. It continuously rolls through images of the artist and the album cover of the currently playing track. Beneath the images, it displays the artist, track name, and total time of the tracks. This text is very small. Don't expect to see it from 10 feet away when it's displayed on an iPad. It wasn't designed for this scenario.
My preferred way to view JRMC on the iPad is the Info panel in Theater View. This very panel is customizable. I set it to display information such as artist, album, track #, track, time remaining, dynamic range, file format, bit depth, sample rate, and bitrate. Again, the text is small because I set the screen to 60%. Adjusting this setting increases the text size. Users will have to play with this setting because the text can be displayed larger at the sacrifice of cutting off some data at the bottom of the screen. If you're not displaying too much info, like I am, then setting it to 100% will be totally fine and the text will be large enough to read at 10 feet. In addition to the information and album art, the Info Panel displays artist images in the background. It's a nice visual.
- The first image above is with JRiver Media Center running on my MacBook Pro (macOS) and the screen mirrored.
- The second image above is with JRiver Media Center running on my MacBook Pro (Windows 10) displaying the Info Panel.
- The third image above is with JRiver Media Center running on my MacBook Pro (Windows 10) displaying Theater View.
Note: On my 2012 MacBook Pro running macOS, I couldn't get Theater View to work on the iPad. On my iMac and and the same MacBook Pro running Windows 10, Theater View worked great on the iPad.
How is this different from just running JRemote or Gizmo on an iPad? I kept asking myself this question because there are some similarities and some feature overlap. For some people the Duet Display solution doesn't make any sense, but for others it just might be what they need. The thing about the Duet Display, iPad, and JRiver Media Center combination is that it's a full functional display with touch capability that can operate the compute to which it's connected. Also, the remote apps running on iOS were designed to be displayed to your eyes from an arm's length. Placing them 10 feet away isn't that desirable.
Duet Display, an iOS device, and JRiver Media Center, or name your app, isn't a solution for everyone. I wanted badly to make it work. I tried to shoehorn it into my system, but I doubt I will keep it in place in the capacity I first envisioned. At the same time, I wanted to write this article to introduce the application to others who may see a great use for the software. I'm sure some people will use this connected to a music server and really enjoy the functionality. It's really cool, if the show fits.
There's one caveat to consider when using with a Mac Mini music server. Without a main display connected, you may need an HDMI display emulator. I was unable to test this or the need for it, I just know in some situations this emulator is needed. Here is a little discussion in the forum (link).
- The first image above is Audirvana running on the iPad in portrait mode.
- The second image above is Roon running on the iPad in portrait mode.
After using Duet Display for a few days, I realized it's calling may be for music lovers short of desktop space or at a coffee shop. I started using the app to display my music playback application of choice. Be that JRiver Media Center, Roon, Audirvana, Amarra, Tidal, iTunes, or Spotify. Connecting my iPad Air 2 to my iMac and attaching my iPad directly to my MacBook Pro with a Mountie by Ten One Design, gave me extra real estate that I could repurpose any time I needed. It's not a dedicated monitor, but it acts like one when I need it to and I can take it over to my listening chair to be a fully functional remote control whenever I want.
The ability to drag windows, ad use my mouse, from my main screen to this iPad second display was incredibly handy. Sure, I could have just launched the Tidal app on my iPad, but it's so much better to search using my full keyboard and mouse. In addition, the ability to attach any USB DAC I want to my laptop or iMac is much better than finding a DAC to work with the iPad. Duet Display as an extension of one's desktop / laptop is really where this app shines.
As you can see in the screenshots and photos, when Duet Display works, it's wonderful. When it doesn't, it's unusable. The scenarios where it was unusable had more to do with the applications I was using rather than the app itself. For example, some apps just aren't meant to be sized so small, and they require a substantial GPU (Roon is a classic example). There are several options in the app's settings that I tried to maximize performance and usability. BY far the best combination of settings was Regular Resolution, Touchbar Disabled, 60 FPS, and High Quality. Changing the resolution to any of the other options really slowed down performance and even made the screen unresponsive in some cases.
Overall, I really like Duet Display, especially when combined with the Mountie from Ten One Design connected to my MacBook Pro. The price for Duet Display, when I purchased it, was $14.99. The Mountie was between $16 and $23 depending on availability and color. Considering the cost of everything else in our wonderful hobby, this stuff is cheap. Give it a shot.
Duet Display website - LINK
Ten One Design Mountie website - LINK
- Image 1 is Tidal running on the iPad display. You can see the Now Playing screen.
- Image two is JRiver Media Center running on the iPad display.
- Image three is the Spotify app running on the iPad display. The Spotify web client works better.
- Image four is iTunes running on the iPad display.
- Image five is Amarra 4 Luxe running on the iPad display.
See the photos to view how well Amarra, iTunes, Tidal, JRiver, and Spotify worked with Duet Display and the Ten One Design Mountie on my MacBook Pro.
Roon worked when connected to my 5k iMac in landscape mode but not MacBook pro. In portrait mode the minimum roon windows size was too wide and maximizing the window turned the main display black on the iMac. Roon in portrait connected to the MacBook Pro was abysmal.
Audirvana worked in portrait mode on iMac 5K but it's a touch too wide. Setting it to full screen turned the main display black.
iTunes worked in portrait mode on iMac 5K but it's a touch too wide. Setting it to full screen turned the main display black. Note that in portrait mode and when viewing the Now Playing screen (as seen in the photo) Tidal offers a search box that's accessible on the iPad.
Tidal worked in portrait mode on iMac 5K but it's a touch too wide. Setting it to full screen turned the main display black.
Amarra didn't work well in portrait mode with iMac 5K. Too wide and same black main display issue.
Spotify web player in chrome worked great. The app is a touch too wide for portrait mode but still fine to use because of smart placement of the search box and browsing links.