USB audio dock for Android

If you want to get audio from your Android device to your speakers in a transparent (not application-specific) way, there have traditionally been two options: Bluetooth and the 3.5 mm jack (I guess MHL and HDMI are also valid options on some devices). Android 4.1 introduced another way: audio over USB. This has one additional benefit: you don't have to plug in an additional cable for the phone to charge. Problem is, I'm not aware of any actual products like audio docks that would make use of this feature. So I decided to make one myself.

I used a simple USB dock and a Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi's audio output is connected to my living room amplifier. Below I describe the steps necessary to make this work.

Obviously you'll need a dock that matches your phone's physical shape (or you can skip the actual dock and just use a USB cable). The Raspberry Pi could be replaced by any computer running Linux. The Pi is a good fit here because of its small size. Then again it is a bad fit because its audio components are low quality (this could be worked around by using HDMI as the audio output or connecting an external sound card via USB, but I haven't tested these options).

The good thing about Android's audio over USB feature is that it uses a standard protocol, so if you connect your phone to a modern Linux box, it just shows up as an audio input. Therefore we only need to do two things here: enable the audio over USB feature after the device is plugged in and route the sound from the input to the output that goes to the speakers. We'll use a simple Python script to send the necessary magic over USB and PulseAudio for the audio routing.

I used a Raspbian "wheezy" image on the Pi, if you're using another distribution (or not using a Raspberry Pi), some adjustments may be necessary.

First, install git and PulseAudio:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install pulseaudio git
Use git to install a newer version of PyUSB than is available in Debian repositories:
git clone https://github.com/walac/pyusb
cd pyusb
sudo python setup.py install
Next we configure PulseAudio. Edit /etc/defaults/pulseaudio to start the daemon at boot and allow module loading:
In /etc/pulse/system.pa change the line that says:
load-module module-native-protocol-unix
load-module module-native-protocol-unix auth-anonymous=1
(This will allow us to use the pactl command without worrying about authentication.)

Add the following line to /etc/pulse/daemon.conf:
resample-method = trivial
(I don't know why this is necessary. It wasn't needed on my regular PC, but audio wasn't working without it on the Pi.)

Then create a file named /etc/udev/rules.d/dock.rules and put the following line in it:
ACTION=="add",SUBSYSTEM=="usb",ATTR{idVendor}=="04e8",ATTR{idProduct}=="685c",RUN+="/home/pi/phone_docked.sh %s{idVendor} %s{idProduct}"
This will run /home/pi/phone_docked.sh every time my phone is connected. As you can see, unfortunately the USB vendor and product IDs for my specific phone are hardcoded here (they are then passed to the script as parameters). You'll need to change them to match your phone (you can look up the IDs by running lsusb with the phone connected). I don't know how to write a udev rule that will trigger when any Android phone is connected (instead it's probably more feasible to write a rule that matches Android phones and also some other devices and then just try to talk to it as if it was an Android phone and gracefully handle the situation if it doesn't respond).

The phone_docked.sh script does two things, first it runs the Python script (android-usb-audio.py) that enables audio over USB on the phone (passing along the vendor and product IDs), then it loads a PulseAudio module that routes the audio from the phone to the default output. Here's what the script looks like (put this in /home/pi/phone_docked.sh):

/home/pi/android-usb-audio.py $1 $2
(sleep 3s ; pactl load-module module-loopback source=`pactl list sources short | grep alsa_input.usb | cut -f 1`) &
As you can see, the second part is not very elegant, it just waits 3 seconds where it should wait for the PulseAudio source to actually show up. Also it assumes there are no other USB audio sources.

Finally, here's the Python script that sends the necessary USB magic to the phone. This tells the phone to send audio over USB. The script gets the USB vendor and product IDs from command line parameters (put this in /home/pi/android-usb-audio.py):
#!/usr/bin/env python

import usb.core
import time
import sys

dev = usb.core.find(idVendor=int(sys.argv[1], 16), idProduct=int(sys.argv[2], 16))
mesg = dev.ctrl_transfer(0xc0, 51, 0, 0, 2)
# here we should check if it returned version 2
# requesting audio
dev.ctrl_transfer(0x40, 0x3a, 1, 0, "")
# putting device in accessory mode
dev.ctrl_transfer(0x40, 53, 0, 0, "")
(The magic numbers come from the Android Open Accessory protocol.)

Give the two scripts executable permissions:
chmod 755 /home/pi/android-usb-audio.py
chmod 755 /home/pi/phone_docked.sh
And that's it, reboot, connect your phone and enjoy audio coming from your speakers. (I know what you're thinking: all this work just to avoid plugging in the 3.5 mm jack??)

Since the phone will charge from the Pi's USB port, you should use a power supply that will be enough for the Pi and for the 500 mA that the phone will draw.

I'm not demonstrating it here, but while the phone is connected, you can also send HID commands like play/pause/next/previous to it. This way you could make some physical (or web) controls for the dock and pass them through to the device.

While you're at it, you could plug a Bluetooth USB dongle to the Rasbperry Pi and make your dock also accept audio via Bluetooth. There are tutorials on the web showing how to do that.