Roon on trial

If you read magazines and articles (and I do) then Roon is a topic that comes up frequently. And you start to wonder if this something you must have, especially if you have addictive tendencies towards hi-fi! The reviews are generally very positive

Because this is intended as a safe space for those who share my rather obsessive behaviour regarding the acquisition of hi-fi equipment, this will not be a review of Roon, but rather an account of my recent encounter with the Roon system, which has not resulted in me succumbing to temptation where Roon is concerned.

Roon is described as “The audiophile player for music fanatics”. It offers a way to bring together your digital music whether streamed or locally downloaded in one place, and provides a slick interface with rich metadata.

Roon Labs was founded in 2015, but has its roots in the Sooloos system developed for Meridian Audio from 2004 onwards. To operate, Roon requires a Roon core which may be a Windows or Mac computer or a dedicated device such as the Roon Nucleus and some but not all of the more powerful NAS boxes.

Once you have installed the Roon application on your designated Core, then you can connect a wide range of audio components and control them in a multi-room system from a dedicated app on your phone, tablet, or computer.

It all sounds very seductive, and having experienced it recently at an enjoyable music evening provided by a local hifi dealer, I was keen to try it. Over the Black Friday weekend, the opportunity to take up a 2-month trial was too good to miss.

I was very keen that my shiny new toy would blow me away, but I found that things were not as straightforward as I might wish. For those unfamiliar with my audio systems, I run two main audio systems, one based around an Auralic Polaris and the other around a Naim Unitequte 192/24. My downloaded music is stored on a Diskstation NAS.

One of the attractions of Roon is its wide hardware compatibility. However, the first challenge is that my Diskstation NAS does not appear to be powerful enough to operate as my Roon core, although in theory it may be. Experiments are ongoing. In the meantime, this means keeping one of my computers running to operate as my Roon core.

The next challenge is the audio hardware at the heart of my system. There are two types of equipment that can play music via Roon. Roon Ready network players have Roon’s high-resolution streaming technology built in. Alternatively, Roon Tested devices are profiled by the Roon team to enable their use.

My Auralic Polaris is listed as Roon Ready and installs nicely and works easily with Roon. Unfortunately, although more recent Naim equipment is Roon Ready, my Unitiqute is too old to work with Roon, and so the opportunity to run a seamless integrated multiroom system is lost. My first generation Muso Qb which provides music in my study is however, Roon Tested and will work with Roon.

So how does it sound? As I write this, I am getting in the mood For Christmas by listening to a 2020 chamber recording of Handel’s Messiah, and very fine it sounds, too. But I can’t say it sounds better because I am listening through Roon. I listened to Part 1 directly through the Auralic and that sounded very fine, too.

So I won’t be continuing with Roon after the trial. Essentially, it comes down to the high cost of ownership. I can’t justify it. First, there is the annual subscription, a minimum of $150 a year from 2023: That’s almost as much as my Quboz subscription which gives me access to all of my streamed music. But secondly, even assuming I can get my Diskstation operating as the Core, I will not be able to realise Roon’s true potential without upgrading my Naim Unitiqute, and that puts me back on the upgrading path, which I am trying to resist. In fairness, the Auralic Lighting software whilst not as nice looking as Roon is functionally pretty similar if I am just using the Polaris, so until I can use the Roon as a single interface to a multiroom system, it will do just fine.

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