Imagine you accidentally walk into the largest record store in the world. A shop with endless aisles, filled with millions of albums. The store isn’t just filled with those albums. There are also dozens, if not hundreds of artists from the past. Suddenly, Freddie Mercury comes to you with a story and several photos from Queen’s early days. Not much later, he also introduces you to other musical greats such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and John Lennon. Before you know, you’ll be six hours on and you know more than ever about the music you’ve been listening to all your life. A romantic representation of how Roon works. In this article we answer the question ‘what is Roon’ and explain what it will do for you.
In a nutshell: Roon is a software service designed to manage music from different sources and even dramatically improve the listening experience around it. Now you’re probably thinking ‘I’m streaming from Spotify, why would I use Roon?’, which we understand very well. Before we explain why Roon and a streaming platform like Spotify cannot actually be compared, let’s first look at the history of Roon.
How did Roon come about?
In 2005, a group of music-loving software developers launced a music server product called Sooloos. These weren’t just any developers, many of them were part of the team that developed Bloomberg’s electronic trading platform: a very talented bunch of people. The Sooloos system was great, but at $10.000,- it turned out the be a tough battle to get it going. In 2008 Sooloos was acquired by Meridian and Roon was founded as an independent company in 2015.
Roon’s goal with this software is to offer superior user-friendliness and super high-quality sound. Roon claims to play ‘both lossy and lossless file formats bit-perfectly, including high-resolution audio content (PCM and DSD). This is an interface designed to be richer than anything else ever released. Think of showing an album cover, the large booklet, lyrics, photos and background information. Other similar software platforms and streaming services offer some of these aspects, often with a simplified approach. We have never seen the experience that Roon creates before.
What do I need for Roon?
To use Roon, there are three things that need to be arranged:
A Roon License
How much does a Roon License cost?
It will come as a surprise to few that the cost of high end audio equipment and the associated user experience can be high. Similarly, Roon is not free to use. Fortunately, Roon does offer interested users the opportunity to use the software for free for 14 days. If you are convinced after those two weeks, there are several options from which to choose:
- Annual license, pay all at once: $119,88 (9,99 per month)
- Annual license, pay per month: $12,99 per month
- Lifetime license: $699,99
What is a Roon Core?
Every Roon setup needs a Roon Core. This can be seen as the conductor of your streaming orchestra. It centralizes the Roon application and is responsible for all the thinking that your system has to do, such as the link between separate music files, streaming services and audio equipment. This way you don’t have to collect all your music again with every update.
The Roon Core is actually nothing more than a piece of software. According to Roon self, the easiest and most powerful way is to purchase a Nucleus. This is a device developed by Roon. You can also choose to install the software on selected QNAP or Synology NAS servers, an Intel NUC running ROCK or a Windows/Mac/Linux computer. Since is is quite heavy software that you install, we recommend using a device with decent computing power.
What does the Roon Core do?
After purchasing the licence and installing the Core, Roon becomes the control center of all your music. You indicate where you have stored all your different pieces of music, think of streaming platforms such as Spotify, Qobuz and Tidal, NAS drives, HDD’s, USB’s, iTunes and live radio. Roon will merge everything, organize it and provide it with extensive metadata. For example, you will see photos, biographies, reviews, lyrics and concert dates. Links are also made between artists, composers, conductors and producers. Do you have a certain number in several places? Roon detects them and automatically displays the version with the highest resolution.
In addition to organizing your music library, the Roon Core is also responsible for playing music with the aim of taking as much of the heavy lifting from your playback equipment as possible. For example, it manages the play queue, the output devices (in multiple rooms) and also automatically performs software updates. It basically does everything except control and play music.
What is a Nucleus?
Many Roon users think using their computer or laptop as a Core is not ideal. Many of these devices are noisy when running such heavy software. Then we are not even talking about the heat that this entails.
As a solution to these problems, Roon created a small, superfast and stable computer that can stay on day and night and does not overheat. For this they have used an Intel-based Linux box. This supercomputer is available in two variants: the Nucleus and Nucleus Plus. In the table below we have highlighted the biggest differences between the two variants:
|Roon Nucleus Plus
|Up to 10.000 albums
|More than 10.000 albums
|Up to 6 rooms
|More than 6 rooms
|Certain combinations of DSP + DSD may not work
|All DSP combinations are possible
|Includes 1 year license
|Includes 1 year license
|2 TB, 4 TB
|2TB, 4 TB, 8 TB
How do I control Roon?
Roon has made an application for this, called Room Remote, which is available in almost every app store. This application should be seen purely as the remote control of your Roon setup. So it is neither the Core nor your library. To achieve this, Roon has developed a special technology called ‘Roon Advanced Audio Transport’ (RAAT). They call this technology ‘AirPlay for audiophiles’ themselves. As mentioned earlier, this makes it possible to seperate the Core and remote control.
The Roon Remote application is available for iOS, Windows and MacOS. So it can be used on almost any desktop, tablet and mobile phone. All applications are created with a ‘single code base’ to ensure that the experience is the same on all devices and operating systems. There is also no maximum on the number of applications you install. The data is synchronized in real-time and Roon even claims that there is no delay and no outdated data is visible.
Which devices work with Roon?
Now that you have a license for Roon and installed the Core, you only miss Roon Endpoints, which is nothing more than audio equipment. In this case we call it audio equipment and no speakers, because you can connect more than just your speakers to Roon. Some examples of this are wifi speakers, streamers, headphone amps, USB DACs or even laptops. Within these Endpoints there are again different categories, which can cause confusion for many.
On the Roon website you will find a long list of products that are ‘Roon Ready’. This is equipment where the Roon software is built in, so that Roon works perfectly with it. When you are installing your Roon setup, all Roon Ready devices will be found and paired automatically.
Via the Roon Remote application you have full control over these devices, including volume control and mute. If you have multiple Roon Ready devices, they will also remain mutually synchronized. This makes it possible to play the same song all over your system, which makes Roon unique in our opinion. Another possibility is to distribute the different Endpoints over various rooms to create a multi-room setup.
As with Roon Ready, you will find a list of devices called ‘Roon Tested’ on their website. It is important to know the differences between Roon Ready and Roon Tested.
Most of the Roon Tested devices have a built-in USB DAC. This can be a ‘stand-alone DAC’ or a fully integraded amplifier with built-in USB DAC. It is possible to send music to these devices from the Roon Remote app, but in most cases it is not possible to adjust the volume and they can not be synchronized with Roon Ready devices in your system.
When you go to the audio settings in your Roon app, you will see all AirPlay Ready devices in addition to the Roon Ready devices. Roon can also communicate perfectly with these devices and, unlike Roon Tested devices, you have the option to adjust the volume. In addition, it is also possible to group AirPlay devices and adjust the volume individually or as a group. It is important to note that Roon AirPlay does not sync with Roon Ready or Roon Tested devices.
Roon supports Chromecast with music streaming up to 24-bit / 96kHz. This way, any device where you can plug in a Chromecast can become part of your Roon setup. This works for 1st and 2nd generation Chromecasts, Chromecast Audio, Chromecast Ultra, Google Home, Google Home Mini and Google Home Max. Most devices with a built-in Chromecast are also detectable by your Roon Core.
If you use a Chromecast Audio, you can stream in the highest quality, up to 24-bit / 96 kHz. Other Chromecast devices lose something, with a maximum of 48 kHz. If you have a Chromecast device that supports video, you will see album covers, artist illustrations and background information. This is also known as Roon Display.
What about audio quality?
For software with such a price as Roon, you naturally expect the quality of the sound to be perfect. When streaming to Roon Ready devices, the maximum resolution is 32-bit / 768 kHz PCM and DSD512. Not all devices can handle such bitrates. In this case, the Roon Core automatically converts your audio to the most optimal resolution.
the future of hifi?
We have been familiar with the possibilities that Roon offers for a long time. After we have worked with it for some time, we can only conclude that this is a huge addition to your hi-fi setup. Especially the listeners who have an enormous audio library will benefit greatly from Roon. The possibility to set different rooms and adjust the settings per room will also be very welcome for many. Not completely convinced yet? Try Roon for two weeks before making a choice.