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Roon Me for Life: Transforming Your Digital Music Listening Experience

Roon may not be inexpensive but it is the best digital music streaming and music library platform available and that’s not changing anytime soon.

Roon 1.8 on MacBook Pro

If you have been buying CDs for more than thirty years, there is a fairly good chance that your investment in both music, hardware, and media furniture to store all of those jewel cases has not been a small one. Roon is also not an inexpensive investment, but arguably the world’s best digital music management and playback platform and something that I’ve become a little obsessed with.

The last time I moved, the 2,000+ CDs in my collection required over a dozen large boxes and were not kind on my back. Frustrated with having to reorganize, and reshelve every CD that I’ve purchased since 1984, I made the decision to toss all of the jewel cases; please accept my belated apology to the environment for all of that plastic I dumped.

Jewel cases take up a lot of space. They also lack the mystique of album covers which look sexier in your hands when listening to music. I did keep my MoFi, DCC, and JVC XRCD cases because they feel like a part of history and the album art is of a much higher quality. 

Roon My Albums
Roon My Albums

After organizing all of my music into some rather expensive photo albums with static-free sleeves, I came to the realization that other than saving shelf space, I had not made listening to CDs any easier.

Computer-based audio servers were not really a thing in 2003; audiophiles tend to be early adopters of unproven technology at great expense, but a brand new Apple Mac Mini backed-up with an external hard drive became the CD player. My Rega Planet CD player got packed up and disappeared into a closet. 

iTunes was not the only game in town as far as CD ripping was concerned at the time, but if you lived in the Apple ecosystem, it became your digital playback platform.

iTunes did offer the option to rip CDs in WAV, AIFF, Apple Lossless, MP3, and AAC; and being an audiophile, I swore to never use anything but WAV or AIFF. iTunes was above average when it came to metadata, sourcing its album information from Gracenote, but it was hard to change mistakes, and it failed miserably when trying to read albums from obscure labels or your own CD mixes. 

Being locked into the iTunes music store was an immediate red flag as it offered zero access to the first generation of audiophile download stores. Having to purchase from third party sites, download and then transfer over to iTunes wasn’t very convenient. The launch of digital streaming services was the last nail in the iTunes coffin for me as a consumer.

With over 2,000 CDs, 300 downloaded albums, and subscriptions to Tidal, Qobuz, and Spotify, there had to be one comprehensive platform to host all of my digital music, offer updated editorial content, and one that works with the myriad of digital streaming devices in my home. The only platform that comes close is Roon.

The Roon team has been in the digital music space for many years. Back in 2006, the team launched a product called Sooloos, which was a high-end audio digital audio management and playback platform.

Sooloos was not inexpensive; the earliest versions of the platform ran into the thousands of dollars and the company was eventually sold to Meridian Audio who have been the leading force behind the adoption of MQA by the the streaming services and hardware vendors such as LG who have adopted it for their smart phones. 

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The original Roon team moved onto Hewlett Packard to create HP Connected Music. From there, the team decided to create their own music player software launching Roon in 2015. The goal was to create a music player that gave you more than just the track and album name, but actual context to your favorite artist and albums.

Roon uses metadata to display bios, album reviews, credits, concert dates, and lyrics. The entire experience was designed around your own musical tastes, but it also helps you discover new music much more easily.

Roon’s GUI is second-to-none; on a computer screen, tablet, or smart phone. If your music server/laptop has an HDMI output, you can transmit the image to your HDTV and see your entire music library on a larger screen.

Roon updated to Roon 1.8 and I have a more detailed review of the updated platform on the Nucleus Music Server that you can read here.

But what is Roon?

Roon is a unifying library that combines music you own as well as Tidal, Internet Radio, and Qobuz. Roon will then analyze all of the music and categorize the albums into genres and subgenres. Because the service is always connected, the software continuously updates album information, concert dates, new music, and biographical information about artists. 

Roon with Qobuz
Roon with Qobuz

Roon also works with many streaming protocols including AirPlay, Sonos, Chromecast, iOS, Android, Mac, PC, and Roon Ready. You are no longer limited to a single streaming eco-system. The platform also allows for an unlimited number of remotes and profiles. You can have multiple remotes in your home and each family member can have their own profile to add music to the library, and custom playlists.

None of this would be very useful unless there was an app to control your Roon Core; either a computer, or dedicated music server like the Roon Nucleus. The Roon app is a music player that utilizes metadata to organize your music and analyze each album and track automatically providing hi-res album art, hi-res artist art, artist bios, album reviews, album credits, lyrics, concert dates, and much more. 

The integration of Tidal and Qobuz allows you to control both streaming services via the app giving you access to millions of CD quality or high-res digital albums. Tidal’s Master Series is available with MQA if you care about that format – something that I’ve become less interested in over the past 12 months. 

Roon with TIDAL
Roon with TIDAL

Tidal recently announced some changes to their streaming tiers that will put a premium on Tidal streaming with MQA and I’m not sure how much longer I will be willing to spend the extra $6.99/month for that when I already use Qobuz for my hi-res audio and I’m seriously considering adding Apple Music and Spotify HiFi to my list of streaming platforms.

Roon adding Apple Music, Spotify HiFi or Amazon Music HD would be a great way to attract more mainstream listeners to the platform but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of movement in that direction at the moment. The launch of Apple Music with lossless streaming and some hi-res content would make it a very welcome addition to the Roon platform but Apple seems far more interested in selling its own streaming devices like the Apple TV 4K and brand new iPad Pro tablet. 

Roon also contains a powerful DSP engine, and support for high-resolution digital codecs up to 768kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD512. Roon also added Roon Radio a few years ago giving you access to even more music. 

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Before you decide to use your laptop or an older Mac Mini or PC gathering dust, you need to understand how the Roon ecosystem works and what makes it truly unique. Any Roon set-up has three components; Roon Core, Roon endpoints, and the control device that you decide to use. 

If you decide to use a computer/laptop as your Roon Core, be mindful that it will demand a lot of memory; based on our experience running it on a 2016 iMac and 2016 MacBookPro, 16GB of memory would be a safe bet. My MBP has 32GB of memory and we have yet to experience an issue running Roon with other programs such as Adobe Illustrator being used at the same time.

Apple iMac Spring 2021 Green

I have a new M1-powered Apple iMac coming in a few weeks and I plan on using it as a Roon endpoint in my home office. 

The other option would be to use a dedicated music server such as the Roon Nucleus. The Nucleus is always on and checking their metadata service for any updates. With a computer, once the computer is shut down or goes into sleep mode, the app does not check for updates until the computer is turned back on. 

Roon has also written its own OS for Roon Core which quite frankly works much more smoothly on a dedicated music server. If you are building your music library from scratch (something we did when decided to use a dedicated server), our advice would be to rip everything in FLAC. A lot of people may not hear the differences between a WAV, AIFF, or FLAC file, but we do. Are they huge? Maybe not, but FLAC files sound the least compressed to my ears.

Bluesound NODE Wireless Music Streamer Front
Bluesound NODE

The second component is a Roon endpoint; which can be a streaming device like a Bluesound NODE, Sonore microRendu, or even a loudspeaker like the KEF LS50 Wireless II or LSX. Roon has dozens of hardware partners offering products that are Roon-ready allowing you to control multiple networked systems throughout your home. We use a Roon-ready Sonos speaker in the kitchen and I’ve had great success with Roon-ready network amplifiers from Bluesound, Naim, and Cambridge Audio so far in our home.

Is there a downside to Roon? 

Roon is not inexpensive. Some people may find it absurd to spend $12.99/month ($155/year) or $699 for a lifetime membership with unlimited remote devices, but we think Roon is a bargain if you have a lot of CDs, digital downloads, and subscriptions to streaming services like Tidal or Qobuz.

The integration with Roon-ready devices is plug-and-play, and the interface is years ahead of anything else on the market. Yes – you are paying for a music management and playback platform (ahem…iTunes), but nothing else works as well or is as comprehensive. Roon is a constantly evolving platform that will grow your music library for many years to come. 

To learn more, check out our review of Roon 1.8 and the Nucleus.

For more information: roonlabs.com

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Scott Lylander

    May 19, 2021 at 9:15 pm

    Great article. I love Roon, especially with the exaSound DSD512 capable e62 DAC. I wish the “recently played” feature of Roon 1.8 would store my music indefinitely. What was the music I so enjoyed last month? I lose it in Roon if I don’t bookmark it. BluOS will bookmark your TIDAL favourites and keep them in chronological order; maybe Roon will do that too, I’ve yet to discover how.

  2. Fabrice E

    April 11, 2022 at 7:27 am

    You say you can hear the difference between a WAV, AIFF or FLAC file. What is the difference?

  3. Stefano

    April 11, 2022 at 7:48 am

    I tried Roon few months ago and I was really surprised that, being a lot of enthusiastic reviews like your, on classical music the “ability” of Roon is very very poor.
    My library, local files, consists of about 11k albums, classical music mostly, and I could experiment the absolute inability of Roon to find a lot of albums.
    One example for all:Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte was indexed in many different ways and one was … astonishing: Act1, Act2, Act3.
    Roon can be quite good with many genres but with classical music is a real shame, and I should expect to find at least some remarks about this in a “real objective” review

    • Ian White

      April 11, 2022 at 10:29 am

      Stefano,

      I agree that it is poor with classical. Many of the services are. I know there is the one in Germany that launched, but I’ve yet to try it.

      Ian

  4. ORT

    April 11, 2022 at 11:32 am

    Roonacy. Sheer Roonacy.

    ORT

    • Ian White

      April 11, 2022 at 4:26 pm

      ORT,

      I thought so too at first. Then I figured out how to get all 1,900 of my CDs into the platform, and properly merge all of my saved music on TIDAL and Qobuz.

      I connected the Nucleus to my router. I added 5 Roon endpoints. I can access everything I own with an iPad, MacBook, or iPhone. It works.

      I get that it is expensive. I’m not into $$$$ DACs and network players as you know. I like things most people can afford.

      But this damn thing has actually made listening to digital music fun.

      Ian

      • ORT

        April 12, 2022 at 1:40 am

        Ian, when I tried Romper Roon it was totally without merit to me. It could not catalog a majority of my 19,000+ songs on my computer, which is the same problem MusicBee has. It could not locate the correct art work, which is the same problem MusicBee has. And with MusicBee or JRiver, I am NOT FARCED into upgrading if I neither want nor need to. And I really don’t use the one I have and that is MusicBee. I pretty much do NOT use my computer for music. I just do not care for that. But when I did use it for that I just hit “RANDOM” and listened to the music and NOT the software delivering it. Roonies, or at least some I have spoken with in the real world, like to claim Roon “sounds” better. Ridiculous and with out verifiable proof. No…It is just plain stupid of them and that is what a clique does. Stupid stuff to look “cool”.

        I have a couple of 300 and 200 disc Sony CD Changers and when I use either one of them I put it on “RANDOM”. When I listen to one of my music providers I choose the station my self and I hit “PLAY”. When I want to listen to vinyl (*GASP*) I get up and put the record on and push the button marked “PLAY”. Unless of course it is one of my totally manual models then it is a bit more involving and depending upon the mood, maybe more “satisfying”. For me. 😉

        It is just that I do not need ROON. And…I do not want it in my system as it does nothing for me. I tend to think it attracts some folks who want to be a part of a clique. Roon might have more of a chance with those like me if they were not so Hades bent on being “Roon Ready”. It is all about feeding the Roonacy of that slogan along with feeding their coffers.

        I am honest as that is how I was raised and for ME, Roon ain’t worth it. It does NOTHING that others cannot do and two of those “others” do NOT hold you hostage to upgrades some folk may not want or need. It also fails at what other programs have failed at for me, including iTunes, LOL!

        Apparently you do want and need them. That is just as fine as the way I think on this.

        I listen to music for fun. I listen to music to remember. I listen to music. Not equipment and not software. HEOS works great for me. It even will send a CD’s music through out my home and if I am correct, it looks like it will do the same for vinyl. But that does not make me “HEOS Happy” instead of “Roon Ready”. Both those are nothing more than fAd Copy. I hate fAd Copy.

        To me, Roon is nothing but fAd Copy. I can get the same for less commitment, i.e., “Life” but whose life? Oh yeah…Roon’s life.

        Sounds more like a life sentence.

        ORT

  5. BobPM

    April 11, 2022 at 6:20 pm

    Could the M1 run as the Roon server? The M1 is a low power chip that would reduce some of the demand of having the need for an always on server to use the software.

    Media Servers are all about the software, whether its Roon, BlueOS, or Volumio, and be all accounts ROON is the premium option. It just seems to demand a lot of hardware to run, and as you note, does not interface with a lot of other services.

    • Ian White

      April 11, 2022 at 11:15 pm

      Bob,

      It’s funny that you mention the M1-iMac. I bought one with the most memory and I’ve had a lot of issues with it so far. It’s faster than my older iMac but when I run Photoshop, Illustrator, and Safari at the same time…it’s really kinda laggy. I’ve run Qobuz, TIDAL, and Roon on it and it hasn’t blown me away as a hardware platform.

      Best,
      Ian White

  6. Catherine Lugg

    April 13, 2022 at 10:38 pm

    Ian,

    I have been a “Roon Lifer” for a year and a half. I broke down and am now running a headless Mac Mini (M1) as a dedicated Roon core. It’s silent and runs 24/7/365. This is it’s ONLY job. I have the M1 Mini directly plugged into the PC port on my KEF LS50 Wireless 1. I can also wirelessly connect to a BluSound Node 2.1, and BluSound Powernode 2001 (in a dedicated listening room). Everything is rock solid. I had to ditch all of my CDs and Albums thanks to having “RA” hands (rheumatoid arthritis). It’s much easier just to use my laptop or iPad for control–and I never have to worry about dropping fragile media.

    I find Roon quite brilliant. I think the highest resolution MQA files are amazing. I stream from Tidal, Qobuz, and a few CDs (maybe 100) ripped to FLAC on the M1 Mini. But with the vagaries of RA, I wanted something that was rock solid and gave me access to as much music I could stand (and occasionally could NOT stand).

    Yes, Roon could do a better job handling classical music. For example, finding recordings by Telarc can be a laborious process. But the irritants are few and the rewards are many. And when it comes time to downsize, my audio systems can go with me. I consider myself very fortunate.

    Thanks for your review!

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