Review: Roon

TL:DR

+ Great user interface, artist and album meta-data and tagging, great auto-playlists, great for music exploration.

+ Great audio quality, bit-perfect playback of lossless and lossy file formats, including high-resolution audio content like PCM and DSD. All major audio formats supported at the highest resolution.

– Uses propriety RAAT (Roon Advanced Audio Transport) and doesn’t support UPnP/DNLA (nor has any intention to), and is therefore incompatible with many end point devices unless they also support RAAT.

– It’s expensive for what it is, free alternatives are available

My experience

I want to share with you my experience of Roon, the music server and player from Roon Labs, which i have tried for free over the last month. I installed the core on my Synology NAS and installed the app on my tablet and smartphone and the Roon software on my PC.

I found the user interface to be the biggest selling point for me, it’s intuitive and simple yet offers great insight into your musical tastes by serving up information about your music collection, the artists, albums and genres. It’s great for musical exploration, i found tracks i forgot i had, and loved listening to them again, and took great pleasure in learning more about the artists and bands i have in my collection.

(Image credit: Roon Labs)

The auto-playlist generation is great, it uses the meta-data from the tracks to generate playlists consisting of the same or similar genres and also uses the information about the bands and artists to suggest other music i might also be interested in listening too via relationships i never new existed. This insight allows for more interesting playlists to be created, which other music library’s often lack.

(Image credit: Roon Labs)

It has multi-room playback which can be controlled from any Roon endpoint device, and the music quality, or my perception of music quality, was excellent. The playback did however suffer in my experience from drop outs and stuttering. Now this could be due to my hardware, running the core on a NAS, but this is a supported configuration, and it works flawlessly with Plex and MinimServer which are also running on the NAS so i expect the problem to lie with the client, or the end point listening device. This is where things start to fall apart.

You see Roon playback worked great (flawlessly) on my PC and through my DAC and headphones, but not so well on my tablet or smartphone which obviously are connected wirelessly and then connected via AUX to RCA phono on my stereo. I would of preferred to connect my stereo directly to the Roon core (wirelessly) but sadly it’s not compatible as it doesn’t support RAAT.

My stereo is a Yamaha MusicCast/UPnP/DNLA enabled device, unfortunately the Roon system doesn’t support UPnP/DNLA, and my Yamaha stereo doesn’t support RAAT. This is a major stumbling block for me personally as i’m heavily invested in Yamaha audio equipment and quite happy with that, so this is a deal breaker for me.

Conclusion

I would recommend trying Roon out for yourself, especially if you already own RAAT supported devices, take advantage of the free trial and see what you think.

A Roon annual subscription will cost $120, which i think is expensive, that said it’s aimed towards audiophiles who tend to have deep pockets and no common sense so go figure. The subscription gives you access to the Roon software, it doesn’t include any streaming content or music.

You can buy a purpose built Roon core, they offer two models, the Nucleus at £1500, and the Nucleus+ at £2500. That includes a year’s subscription, but doesn’t include HDD’s. £2500 for a bare bones PC in a silent chassis. Enough said about that.

If your a tone deaf Scrooge like me then you might consider the free alternative, which is a widely available UPnP/DNLA audio device (i like the Yamaha MusicCast stereo receivers), MinimServer running on your NAS or PC serving up your media library (you could use Plex Media Server but it doesn’t support UPnP/DNLA remote search), and a UPnP/DNLA control device on your mobile phone or tablet, i like to use Hi-Fi cast. Okay you don’t get the benefits of the music exploration and the interface isn’t as pretty but it’s functional and sounds just as good. Oh and did i mention it’s free. If you want the music exploration you can always scrobble to Last.FM and get music recommendations and artist/album insight from that.

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