Roon 1.2: Meet Core (and More)

From the press release:
New York, April 13, 2016 - The 1.2 release of Roon marks the launch of the Roon Core partner program, which places the Roon Core software functions into partner devices so that server companies can offer a turnkey Roon experience.
"For many customers, the journey of building and managing a computer audio system is a hobby that they enjoy, but for others, working through the challenges of making an ideal computer audio system is an obstacle to enjoying music.

"The Roon Core program means that these customers can leave the technology to others and have an off-the-shelf experience of Roon from trusted partners."—Roon Labs CEO, Enno Vandermeer

Current Roon Core Partners include 432 Evo, Amare Musica, Antipodes, Blue Smoke, Computer Audio Design, dCS, Elac, ExaSound, Melos Audio, Music Vault, Pink Faun, Rockna, Salk Sound, Sforzato, Small Green Computer, SOtM, and Sound Galleries.

1.2 also brings with it Roon Remote for the iPhone and Android devices and Roon Bridge which turns your PC/Mac/Linux computer/Raspberry Pi into a Network Zone.

"Computers have been part of music listening for many years, but making all the pieces fit together can still be difficult.

"With Roon Bridge, we’ve added another way to break down the walls between operating systems and protocols and hardware ecosystems, to help bring all your audio devices together with one interface."—Enno Vandermeer

What does all of this mean in real-world use-case terms?

Are You Ready For RoonReady?
If you have a digital music collection and you'd like to listen to that music, and stream from Tidal as if its library of 40M+ songs are part of your library, on multiple systems from different manufacturers ("from DIY to dCS") using the same control app loaded on your tablet, smartphone, Windows-based PC, Mac, or Linux computer, you may be ready to be RoonReady.

image credit: Roon Labs

Think architecture. Roon Core can be thought of as the central Roon brain, handling all of the heavy processing tasks Roon performs (metadata processing, file format conversion, Radio and Discover, etc). Here's Roon:

Roon's library management is based around an object database. This means that instead of storing data in the traditional tabular form, we model your music as a web of interconnected entities and their relationships to one another.

For a typical music library, Roon is tracking millions of objects--everything from tracks and albums to works, performances, labels, genres, credits, and a dozen other kinds-of-things. Modern CPUs, generous memory allotments, and modern solid state disks are enabling technologies for software like Roon.

So you want a fast processor and a fast drive to feed that brain (more on Core). Peaking inside Roon's architecture a bit further, we see Roon Advanced Audio Transport (RAAT), the company's proprietary audio streaming protocol, as the language used for communication among RoonReady devices, Roon Bridge computers, and Roon Core.
RAAT is plumbing. It gets the audio from point A to point B without screwing it up, and without bringing limitations to the table that might compel the software/hardware on either side of it to screw things up. It's an enabling technology for "doing things right" everywhere else in the system. Otherwise, it shouldn't get in the way.
Think possibilities. Roon allows you to send the attached DAC only the file formats and resolutions it can handle. If you have a DSD-capable DAC in your main system, Roon will send it DSD. If you have a non-DSD DAC out in the garage, Roon will convert DSD to PCM so you can still play all of your music files through it. What's more, that DSD DAC could be getting its bits from a streamer made by Auralic or Bel Canto, or a server from SOtM, or you may opt for a RoonReady server/DAC from totaldac, while out in the garage the Pi-DAC+ from IQaudIO could feed a pair of active speakers. (see the complete list of Roon Partners)

Think freedom. The idea that I can use Roon, my favorite by far (and wide) interface, to control playback for multiple devices from different companies, a streamer here, a computer over there, a server somewhere else, all sharing the same music library (or libraries) and Tidal, and send the attached DAC in each case only the file formats and resolutions it can handle, thus making every system compatible with all of my music regardless of format and resolution, is frankly dizzying in terms of the newfound freedoms offered. It's also worth noting that Roon's centralized architecture means that the computing requirements for RoonReady and Roon Bridge devices are minimal, or if you prefer, modest.

It also makes perfect sense that hardware manufacturers can stick to what they do best while letting Roon do what they do best. The real beneficiary, imo, being us.

Stepping Into a Real-World Use-Case (or my Roon Future)
To my mind the most attractive and cost-effective way to be Roon Ready is to run Roon Core on its own dedicated computer. While a NAS-based Roon Core implementation is very tempting, my Synology DS412+ NAS is not up to the task and there are no NAS-based solutions available...yet.

I'm going to be trying a number of Roon Core solutions from Roon Partners as well some other options: I've got an Intel NUC on the way, provided by Intel, who are very interested in addressing our market with their solutions. Stay tuned for more on that note. I've also got another $399 Roon Core device coming my way from a Roon Partner, details to follow...There are also a number of RoonReady devices coming (shhh - one is already here from SOtM).

What's the big deal?
Why all the fuss over Roon? For me, the big deal and fuss is over the fact that I find Roon to be head, shoulders, and body above every other control app and music library manager I've used. And I've used a bunch of them including, but not limited to, iTunes, JRiver, Bubble UPnP, Linn Kinksi, Linn Kazoo, Aurender, Auralic, iPeng, PlugPlayer and BluOS. This clear superiority relates directly to the experience of interacting with digital music, turning a once cumbersome and at times frustrating experience (I don't care for DLNA or proxy files) into a seamless musical journey of discovery and enjoyment.

Of course Roon is not for everyone. Nothing is. You may be married to devices that don't run Roon, and you don't see any reason to change. And I completely understand that position and wouldn't suggest you do. But for those people looking for a multi-room, multi hardware manufacturer solution using one interface to control playback of your music collection and Tidal to multiple systems, being RoonReady sure makes a heck of a lot of sense.

See Roon Labs for more.

garrettnecessary's picture

My Antipodes will run Roon Core soon. Does that mean that I can dispense with the computer to run Roon? I'm enjoying Roon, although a lot of the music I listen to is from Soundcloud and other sources that are not part of the Roon musecosystem. So I think I would probably forego it if I need a dedicated computer to run it.

Thanks for all the clear explanation as always!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Of course you'll need a Control to control playback (computer, Android or iOS device).
2_channel_ears's picture

garrettnecessary wrote: "Does that mean that I can dispense with the computer to run Roon?"

and you: "Yup. Of course you'll need a Control to control playback computer<\b>, Android or iOS device)."

Just how do you dispense with the computer (i.e. use just an Adnroid device)? Especially since "there are no NAS-based solutions available".

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...can run Roon Core.
garrettnecessary's picture

Thanks for the all the valuable info.

KeithFree's picture

Michael, thanks for posting this. I hadn't seen their release notice, and this update is massive! I'm curious to see what hits the market that includes their RoonBridge software. Aside from going the Rasbperry Pi route to get Bridge running, can you think of any other options that are equally as inexpensive?

Also anxious for Roon to reach their conclusion as to how they'll support Chromecast Audio; a RAAT device or not. I love the idea of having all endpoints in the house use the same "tech" so they can be grouped/linked together as needed.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...that RoonBridge is for implementation in computers. RoonReady is another option for servers and streamers and there are RoonReady devices available like the Sonore Sonicorbiter SE (starting at $298).
2_channel_ears's picture

I'll be more to the point (of personal interest).

NAS >> Tablet >> Aries
QNAP >> Android >> Aries
My understanding is you still need a PC in the mix running Roon. Yes?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...the Aries is a RoonReady device (it does not run Roon Core) so yes, you need another device running Roon Core.
2_channel_ears's picture

Follow the Core. Core, RAAT, Roon, Bridge, Brat (I made that up), it's all a confusing language so thank's for helping to parse through.

tulysses's picture

Your diagram would be more helpful to me if it included the DAC. Originally ROON required a computer to feed the digital files to the DAC, which is not something I want to do. Does this new development allow you to use ROON as a controlller on a laptop/tablet, but allow music to be fed to the DAC from a player/music server or other device on the network? If so, does the device feeding the DAC have to be RoonReady or from a ROON partner? A simpler question is will the new development allow me to use Roon on a laptop as a controller/interface, and still play files from a Bryston BDP or similar device?

deckeda's picture

Does this new development allow you to use ROON as a controller on a laptop/tablet, but allow music to be fed to the DAC from a player/music server or other device on the network?

Yes, so long as that player/server can be recognized as a Bridge, i.e. a "network zone" in more common parlance. Why it's not called instead Roon Zone is a mystery and somewhat of a missed opportunity IMO.

If so, does the device feeding the DAC have to be RoonReady or from a ROON partner?

I believe so. A Partner is just that, a company that's worked with Roon the company, in order to work with Roon the software.

Apart from what runs on a computer (the Core brain) or a smartphone/tablet (a controlling part, does it have a name?), all other pieces of hardware get confusing rapidly. I *think* Roon Core "just recognizes" the endpoints because Roon has either figured out how to do that on its own or because they've Partnered with someone to Bridge the music over, making it Ready.

What Roon really needs to do is name a few more pieces of software, relationships and partnered hardware "Roon." Just call everything Roon so that Roon no longer has any meaning. It's a lot like naming everything in your fridge "food."

"Hey, hand me two food eggs, and the food milk, and those other food things and let's make some food food for dinner food at food time."

My head hurts.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Roon's own protocol, Roon Advanced Audio Transport (RAAT), takes care of communication between Roon'd devices.

I prefer to think of it this way: I need one device to run Roon Core and then I can hang RoonReady and Roon Bridge devices off of my network.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I added the attribution.

In order to run Roon, you need to run Roon Core. Core runs on a computer or on a Roon Partner product. Once you are running Roon Core, you can add RoonReady devices, i.e. servers and streamers and computers, and Roon Bridge enabled computers. For servers and streamers, you'll need an iOS or Android device as remote control. For computers, if you installed Roon, you can control playback from the desktop. If you installed Roon Bridge, you'll need to use a remote control.

The somewhat confusing part comes into play with DACs that also offer Ethernet/Streamer functionality like the dCS Rossini and PS Audio DirectStream Junior, for example. In these cases, essentially DACs that connect to your network that also have the processing power to run Roon, the DAC can also be a Roon Ready device. You still to run Roon Core on another device.

The Bryston BDP can become a Roon Ready and they're working on it. Here's a recent comment from Gary Dayton of Bryston from the Roon forums (in February):

"know that we're still working on it! Roon Ready certification requires a lot more than just accepting audio. We are impressed with what Roon is, does, and how it sounds on our hardware. That's why we were interested in partnering to begin with."
Chrisg2229's picture

If, like me, you have multiple Sonos zones in your house, you can have Roon around the house without buying new gear.

Any Roon connected DAC with unused audio outs can be used as a source to feed Sonos. Just connect the DAC's audio outputs to the inputs on a Sonos Connect or Connect:Amp and you have Roon on Sonos.

In my case, I have two Roon "zones" currently - the core runs on a SOtM Windows server in my main listening room and the other is on my PC in my office. The DAC in my office has both balanced & unbalanced audio outputs and I've connected the unbalanced outputs to a Sonos Connect.

I use the Sonos app to group zones only. I use the new Roon app for phones to control the playback.

You could also connect audio outs from a preamp, but I chose to use the DAC to keep timing sync issues to a minimum.

If Sonos was Roon ready (good luck with that ever happening), all zones would sync up perfectly, but because the DAC I've connected to Sonos is an audio source, the sync on the Sonos zones vs the room where the Roon connected DAC is playing is a little off, but it's not terrible and well worth it!

jameslockie's picture

A simple solution is to run Roon on Macmini connected directly to DAC. I do this using QB9 on USB and it works well. Controller is iPad.