Roon Music Player and Streaming Software Page 2

Michael Lavorgna on Roon

Did you ever wish your music library software knew more than you did about the music in your library? That it offered ways to learn about connections between performers, albums, and songs? And wouldn't it be great if you could add music to your library from Tidal Hi-Fi's 25 million+ lossless tracks with a simple right click? Of course it should also sound good, maybe even great, and play most any file format you throw at it. No more Apple FLAC aversion, no more DSD proxy files, no more one dimensional view into what is in fact a multi-dimensional and interrelated playground. Oh, let's also add multi-room, multi-device playback so we're not locked into Sonos or similar. Wouldn't it be nice?

Welcome to Roon from Roon Labs. To say that Roon is head and shoulders above any like app I've ever encountered save Sooloos is like saying the Rockies are tall. Roon is in fact another kind of animal altogether and one that has evolved beyond the confines of the file tree. It may be difficult to swallow but the people at Roon have outdone Apple and iTunes by a country mile and moved on to another playing field. If you want the most advanced music server software, get Roon.

I've been using Roon for roughly 3 months so I got to play around with earlier beta versions as well as the initial public release and the ensuing updates. Jon has already done a great job with the heavy lifting so I'm just going to cover some of Roon's high points.

"Your Laptop Gets Around" Jon Iverson
When I initially installed the beta version of Roon on my MacBook Pro, everything went more or less swimmingly. Roon had no problems connecting to my NAS-based music library, digesting it, correcting its messy metadata, forming connections/links between performers and tracks across disparate albums, and more. But when I hit "Play" nothing happened. Hmm. I spoke to Jon who helped me try to troubleshoot the problem but we came up empty. Odder still was the remote copy I loaded on iMac worked like a charm.

So I ended up talking to the very helpful guys at Roon who eventually took over my MacBook using TeamViewer and they proceeded to weed out the problem. After removing about 16 apps including SonicStudio, Devialet, Channel D PAD, Spotify, Max, xpcd, Amarra, Dirac, AudioGate, Fidelia, Hi-Res Audio Player, Korg , TC Electric, Audirvana Plus, Pure Music, and Amarra SQ Settings (you see that Jon was correct) Roon still wouldn't play. Hmm.

After more digging, playing, logging, and examining, the guys at Roon found that a driver, CMediaDSF.plugin, was buggy and preventing Roon software from doing what it needs to do to play. Once removed, I was playing in no time.

"Watched" Folders And "Organized" Folders
During setup, I had Roon ingest my iTunes-based AIFF music library. Of course being the impatient person that I tend to be, I didn't read anything about the difference between a "Watched" folder and an "Organized" folder and set up my new Roon directory as an Organized folder. This means that Roon will move things around, fix file names, and generally get your music library and metadata into shape. What I also found that this process may, in my case it did, relocate some folders from your iTunes library into the Roon "Artists" folder.

A "Watched" folder on the other hand, will not mess with your files and folders. Instead, it will simply keep an eye out for any new music added to this folder so that it automatically shows up in the app. You can also designate your iTunes library as your "Watched" folder in Roon.

With this information in mind, I would recommend setting up your Roon directory as a "Watched" folder if you'd like to keep your existing music library as is, especially if you intend to continue using iTunes (although why you'd want to is beyond me). What I've done, since I needed to be able to compare iTunes/Audirvana with Roon, was to install my Roon library on its own NAS and iTunes on its own NAS. This iTunes library will serve as a backup going forward as well as my music source for network player reviews.

Multiple Roons
As Jon mentioned, you can have multiple Roon installations on different devices. I ended up installing the main Roon on my iMac and a Remote version on my MacBook Pro. I've read some comments where people have found that they perceived a sonic improvement by running the Remote version on the computer that's attached to their audio system. While I cannot speak to this perceived improvement since I did not compare the two installations, I can understand the logic behind this approach. It's safe to say that the less work the computer serving your music has to do, the less internal noise is generated.

I also very much look forward to getting in some network players that have incorporated the RoonSpeaker app, an embedded version of Roon. I also cannot wait! for the Roon iOS app so I can control playback from my listening seat.

Discover Music
Jon has done a great job of describing Roon's features so I'm just going to add my $0.04 cents. There are four features that I'm particularly fond of in Roon; Performances, Credits, Radio, and Tidal integration.

When viewing an album from your library, you'll see the associated tracks listed down the page. You may also see "Performances" with a number preceding the word under a given track(s). If you click on this, Roon opens a new page showing you all of the other performances of this same song that reside in your library. For example, when I look at Billie Holiday's Lady Sings The Blues, the track "Trav'lin Light" shows 2 Performances. Clicking on this, I'm shown that in addition to Billie Holiday's version, I also have Chet Baker's version from Baker's Holiday. This view also includes the songwriters listed at the top of the page and clicking on one of them like Johnny Mercer, nearly everything you'd want to be a link is a link in Roon, brings up all of the songs in my library written by Johnny Mercer including showing multiple performances of the same song! Roon knows more than I do about this so it's teaching me about my music and that is HUGE.

When viewing an album from your library, you'll also see a gray rectangle just above the tracks listing with the word "Credits". Clicking on this brings up the album credits including the label, composers, performers, current distributor, engineer, etc. All of these are also links and my favorite action so far is clicking on a performer and learning what other music from my library this person plays on. Roon again knows more than I do about this so I'm learning even more. That's HUGE-ER!

Radio hands over the reigns to Roon. If you enable Radio, Roon will pick out and play related music after your selection is done. I have this turned on and Roon has delighted me with its picks and presented me with music from my library I haven't listened to, and probably wouldn't have otherwise, in ages. That's also HUGE-ER. You can also choose to listen in Radio mode instead of playing an album.

Roon's integration of Tidal is as seamless as you'd like. Of course you need to have a Tidal subscription, but once you do Tidal's 25 million+ track library may as well be yours. Let's say you love Alice Coltrane's music, I do, and you already own all her LPs, I nearly do. Let's also say that you hate re-buying music you already own, I do, so you don't have all of her music in your digital library. Just search on Alice Coltrane in Roon, scroll down to where it shows all of her albums that are on Tidal, right click on the ones you want in your library, and select "Add To Library". That album(s) will now appear in your library with a little Tidal logo in the upper left corner. That, for me, is HUGE-EST.

I mainly use Audirvana Plus and Pure Music with iTunes but I've also used JRiver and Amarra. Roon/Tidal is simply much, much better. I've already switched over to using Roon on both my iMac/desktop and on my MacBook Pro as part of my main system and I'm never going back. Beyond the reasons described above, Roon sounds great and I actually prefer using Tidal on Roon than using Tidal's app and I listen to music from Tidal daily. It's become my go to source for discovering new music.

Confession time: I am not by nature a tweaker. I also do not change my system very often. My desktop consists of my ADAM A3Xs which I've owned for three years and the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC which I've had for even longer. I've also had my Pass Labs INT-30A for about three years and I've owned my DeVore Fidelity The Nines for much longer. I am more than perfectly content using the Auralic Vega DAC going on two years+. Pure Music and Audirvana (with iTunes and Apple Remote on my iPad) have been my mainstay apps forever. I never cared for JRiver's complexity and found that in terms of sound quality I was perfectly happy with Pure Music and Audirvana.

I am much happier with Roon.

A Game Changer
Roon is it. It is the killer app we've been waiting for. And it continues to get better. Roon will grow with your library, the company will continue to improve and expand its metadata keeping pace with a musician's personal info and output as well as any new associations with stuff in your existing music library.

Roon is a snap to install on one or more computers, it can access music from your computer's internal storage, external storage, and network-attached storage and of course from Tidal. It sounds great, looks great, and it can teach you about the music you love enriching your experience. What more can you ask for?

Associated Equipment

Also in-use during the Roon review: Audirvana+, Pure Music, JRiver Media Center


Priaptor's picture

During my first trial days the SQ was very limited especially when using "core=server mode" on the same MacBook Pro 13" as that used as an endpoint. However, so much has been added since the first day of release that my early experience is far gone and am happy to say, I am really enjoying ROON as my go to at this point.

I am using AO 1.31 Beta + Fidelizer on Windows Server 2012 R2 and am experiencing SQ as good if not better than anything I previously experienced with JRiver. Also, there appears to be information released that HQ Player will soon (by end of summer) be an integrated option although details of just how have not been released. Right now I am just playing with HQ Player and while I see what all enjoy, I really just want an easy way to listen to music with the best SQ possible. Until the integration, I think Roon meets that mark and if and when it does integrate with HQ Player, one will have the best of all worlds.

I have a huge library. In addition now with ROON I have done the Tidal streaming. I am having a blast with Roon and discovering albums I forgot I had. The app is so intuitive so enjoyable that I just can't see myself going back to anything else.

I am still waiting for "Roon Speakers" and iOS app and all will be good. I am ultimately wanting to run "roon core" on my high end desktop on my network, with a "roon speaker" to my main system controlled by my iPad. This will be occurring soon. HQ Player will be the cherry on top.

Last thing. These guys are amazing. They hear requests from their end-users and within one to two weeks at most incorporate what most of us audiophiles "demand". Their incorporation of ASIO and DSD and Native DSD was with lightening speed.

Kudos to Roon!

mlknez's picture

Does Roon support .iso files? .cue with associated .flac files? Does Roon support multichannel DSD and PCM? Does Roon support MLP or MQA files? What about Auro 3D, DTSHD, or Dolby TruHD, or ac3? I have lots of different files in many formats.

Michael Lavorgna's picture the the Roon forums and joining in:
Kendrick2's picture

Does Roon Software work better at finding more classical music on Tidal than Tidal's own software? As much as I like Tidal music, it's simply too hard to find quality classical music on the company website. For example, a search of composer Mozart results a small number of "no-name" symphonies or record labels, and "Best Classical Music Collections." New music is nicely displayed under the classical genre but is limited to 50-60 albums. So where is the rest of the classical music? This is disappointing, to say the least. I wonder if the problem is a poorly curated library, a poorly designed search engine, or both? I have recently switched to Classics Online HD and love the experience, but would return to Tidal if Roon improves on the way classical music can be accessed.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
One example - if I search on "Bach" I'm shown results from my library. If I then click on a particular album, then click on the "Composer" link "Johann Sebastian Bach", I'm shown all of the albums in my library composed by him as well as all of the albums composed by him on Tidal (854). I can also browse within these results by "Genre" (Chamber Music, Choral, etc.) and sort by a number of criteria including Title, Composition Fate, and Catalog Number.
batmanunderoos's picture

Thank you for this wonderful overview of the Roon software. I recently setup my first "audiophile quality" (Parasound Halo A21, PS Audio PerfectWave DAC, B&W 802 Diamonds - I hope this counts) system and chose Roon as my music management software. I have a much more mixed perspective than what I get from your reviews, and I think this is because I'm approaching it from a different direction - one that I'm concerned may not last without support from the audiophile community. I hope creating a conversation about how we listen to music but also how we jump from one approach to listening to music to another will help continue to move this industry along. Specifically:

It appears all the reviewers use Roon primarily as an ingestion point for their pre-stored digital music. Although I have a fair amount of music stored in iTunes (much of which has to be re-saved in a lossy format...ugh), until I read the article it didn't occurred to me to try to load it into Roon. My path to music (I'm 38) has been: tapes, CD's, Napster, iTunes, Spotify, and now Tidal. I felt immoral using Napster but I wanted to send a message to the record companies that selling whole albums versus individual songs was even more immoral since only a small percentage of albums are fully realized enough to listen to the entire thing. When iTunes changed this I changed with it. And, for the same reasons, as soon as Spotify became available in the US I made the move from iTunes and I've never looked back. I love the subscription model far more than having to purchase songs or albums and by the way things are trending much of the rest of the world agrees. That I have to go buy a Radiohead album on actual CD every once in a while is not that big a deal, but I expect all these services to consume all music eventually. Now that I have a decent system, I can tell the difference between the lossy and lossless streaming and I want lossless. I think Spotify is a better product than Tidal, and I would go back to it if they offered lossless streaming, even if it cost more than Tidal, but sadly that doesn't appear to be in their plans. I'd also switch to iTunes if they offered lossless streaming. But I'm stuck with Tidal, which is not all that bad, and happily it's integrated with Roon.

So if I only want streaming, why Roon? Well, Tidal doesn't do what Spotify does, which is allow you to control one instance of Spotify with another. In this case, I have a headless Mac Mini connected to my DAC, and I wanted to control it with my laptop. Spotify does this brilliantly - I just tell my laptop to play from my Mac Mini and I'm done. Tidal doesn't do that and I literally bought Roon because it does for Tidal what Spotify comes with built in. Even though I've now loaded my own iTunes library into Roon (this, along with the exclusive mode bit-perfect audio, may keep me using the software once Tidal matches its feature set with Spotify), I still mostly use Tidal through Roon, which seems to me is essentially the opposite of how all the reviewers do it, but I wonder if it's the norm for newer audiophiles like me? If so, here are my thoughts on the application. I'd love to hear from others who have come at it from my direction.

- I haven't made enough use of it, but Focus is a fantastic feature that is very deserving of the praise it gets in the article. As an IT professional, it's great to see big-data concepts brought to music management. All the other platforms could learn a lot from this.
- You have to click more than once to make a song play. This paradigm is so different from music streaming software and kind of maddening. It's a small thing but it weirdly makes adoption more difficult.
- Sometimes - I can't figure out when - I start a playlist from a certain song and it plays only that song (instead of continuing to play subsequent songs in the playlist). Sometimes it keeps going. The difference might be albums versus playlists, but either way, this is another paradigm shift that's totally bizarre to me.
- I love all the hyperlinks but this part seemed totally obvious to me. If you've used any streaming application you're used clicking on all kinds of stuff (names, albums, etc.) and wandering through millions of songs. It's joyous.
- Playlists are really important to me. I listen to them more than albums. Roon is not particularly friendly in this regard - what I want is all my playlists to appear on the left side of the screen and to be able to drag and drop songs on top of them. This is the standard way most streaming applications I've used do it and it works great. I think in Roon you have to click a button, add to playlist, choose the playlists... it's too hard. I just jump back to Tidal.
- The license model is not streaming friendly. I get why there's one 'server' and a bunch of remote controls, but I want to listen at home and at work. If Roon is first and foremost my Tidal controller, shouldn't I at least be able to load it up at work and stream my Tidal songs, if not my iTunes songs?
- Many applications - including Tidal and Roon - divide the wold into "Music" and "My Music." But for someone streaming-focused, it's all my music. Even if some of it lives on my computer and some in the cloud, and some is a playlist that only I know about and some is an album that everyone knows about, it should all be the same big bunch of music. Going from one to the other seems unnecessary and confusing to me.
- I dearly miss Spotify's ability to share playlists, and follow playlists so that when they are updated, your music is updated, too. I don't think Tidal does this but why couldn't Roon? I'd happily share playlists with all the great audiophiles out there who know the best 500 songs to make my stereo sound amazing.
- Until using Roon I had thought other services had done enough with metadata, but Roon is way better, and I love all the artist and album descriptions. I don't know where these come from but I hope they keep coming!

All in all I really like the application and hope it continues to grow and expand. I'm worried Tidal won't survive the onslaught of competition from Spotify and iTunes. If that happens and no lossless streaming successor emerges I'll probably just sell my audiophile equipment. It's amazing how much it makes you appreciate good recordings versus merely just good music. I'm thoroughly enjoying music (especially Jazz) in a whole new way, but would I go back to buying CD's? Tough one.


loeribas's picture

I am interested Roon, and using it for some days now. I'm not a hifi-freak, but i do like a good sound quality. That seems OK for Roon and, as you tell in your article, Roon is much more.
One thing that worries me though is how alive is Roon?
I have sent some emails, but until now haven't received any answer.
For me this is the biggest hurdle for subscribing their service.

loeribas's picture

I'm glad to say: it is!
I have got a response.

tubefan9's picture

The metadata features seem great. For some reason this reminds me of the old Windows Media Center (and that's a good thing!)

I'll need to try it out for myself, but I'm confused how it sounds so good. With everything I read about tweaking Windows OS and the recent push AWAY from using a full blown OS to play music... rasbPI, HQPlayer.. I thought that was going to be "the way" to go. It seems almost a step backwards to require this always running Server machine & "remotes" which seems like more servers (full fledged computers) however they can't be used without that specific 1 server being run.

I love the TIdal Integration (since I loathe tidal's interface)

Biggest problem though.. There needs to be an Iphone app yesterday. Jremote, monkeymote, even volumio on iphone/Ipad have been ruling my control capabilities for the past few years, the product seems unfinished without having this. Sadly, I don't want to waste my 14 day trial until this arrives.

Looking forward to it though!

galacticz00's picture

First let me say I love Roon and have paid for an annual subscription. However readers should know that this is very much a beta product at the moment and far from the finished article. Since signing up 4 weeks ago I have had to uninstall and reinstall twice, I have had great difficulty running as a remote on two windows laptops, on one I had to uninstall and reinstall my graphics driver to allow roon to install. Nearly every listening session ends with a problem I am learning that I have to switch things on in a certain sequence: Mytek DAC first, Roon on host/server PC, then remote controlling device, otherwise rebooting is inevitable. Playing certain albums makes Roon freeze, starting to play one track whilst another is still playing makes roon fall over sometimes. Yes I'm running windows 7 on all devices and that might be a contributor but all I want to say is that this is far from a finished product at the moment and despite all the great reviews.

Fyper's picture

This is light years from how I Listen to music.
When I'm serious about listening music, I don't want any visual distraction, I usually close my eyes and listen.
I'm not interested in any information relative to that music when I'm listening to it. If I want some info when I'm not listening to it, well, Internet is my friend.
It may be easier to use a software made for this, but here again, it depends on what you expect/need. My needs are pretty basic and already don't have the time to test all the suggestions I get through friends, forums and websites such as this one...

I even see a danger in having this kind of software : not being able to resist looking for related info and songs, to resist using those fancy algorithms, and end up spending my time browsing music rather than actually listening to it.
The same danger exists when you have a potential access to millions of files through streaming, either you don't exploit the possibilities of such a library and spend money for nothing, or you spend you time exploring, and end up distracted by the thought of what you'll listen next instead of actually listening to what is playing...
So the 2 combined...
As always when there is such a field of possibilities, we'll have to follow suggestions from others, humans or software, to avoid spending hours building our playlists.

And I should be paying for this ?

Casimir's picture

I use the JRiver and roon, both of them have a bit perfect ASIO audio output.
They sohould play music the same, but as Steve has noticed they do it very, different. Why?

tulysses's picture

Sorry if this is too obvious. Do you have to output digital data from the pc containing Roon to the dac, or is it possible to output the digital signal from a device like a vortexbox appliance (or other device where music files are stored) and simply control the library and music playback from Roon? If the latter I am highly interested. If the former, not so much.