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Roon Streaming 101 

 

If convenience and great sounding music are not for you, hit the back button. If they are, read on!

 

       Going back to the early days of reproducing higher fidelity music, it was primarily based on purchasing a playback device, ie, phonograph, reel to reel, 8 track, cassette, CD player, and then purchasing the media you wished to play . This physical collection created your music library and had a tendency to take up a lot of space. You had to care for them, keep them in a relatively controlled climate, keep the playback devices clean, it was a responsibility, but it was fun. There was something special about holding your music in your hand, pot seeds in the album crease included.  

       Today, we are a click away from almost every kind of music that you can think of. That in itself is an amazingly beautiful thing. Now most of you probably own Sonos, Alexa, Google Home, or some device capable of Bluetooth or Casting. All of which are cool and convenient, but all of which also compress and distort your music in some way . Roon has solved this with their operating system.

       So what is Roon? It started back in 2007 when a few guys developed a new streaming system called Sooloos. They had the control, the software, and the hardware to store music, access it, stream it, and play it back. It was musically revolutionary- and being a bit pricey for the masses, designed more for audiophiles. Then a pretty well known English company called Meridian bought out Sooloos. They added their higher quality digital technology to the playback side of things and expanded the product line, making Meridian /Sooloos a force to be reckoned with. After several years helping to improve the Sooloos software, the original Sooloos founders left Meridian and formed Roon.

       Roon only supports access to Tidal/MQA, Qobuz/Hi Res, network storage devices, internet radio stations and any music you already have stored on a hard drive. So it is for the end user that intends to play high quality files. All of these services will coexist in the same library, making your searches seamless. An ipad is the best way to control Roon; I recommend the big one with the Stylus pencil, no fingerprints and lots of real estate. Smart phones and really any computer will also act as a controller.

       Roon is a high performance service, and as a result it needs a reliable computer to call home. This home is known as a Core. Setting up a Core is as simple as putting the Roon App on any “hardwired” computer connected to your network. Users looking for faster performance and more features can purchase Roon’s own Core; the Nucleus. Nucleus’ sole purpose in life is to serve up your music in all of its digital bit glory without being slowed down by other systems running in the background. Less of a chance for hiccups, freezes, and reboots that interrupt your listening. There are also other devices that you can utilize for your core- which device you use comes down to personal preference.

       You will need a “Roon Ready” endpoint that is hardwired to your network. Most Roon endpoints (which are the devices that receive the info from what you select and play), can be turned on and off wirelessly from your iPad, smartphone, or computer. You can go to the Roon website and see their listing of Roon ready devices- there are quite a lot and more are added regularly. You can group several endpoints together to play music simultaneously in multiple rooms, all while having individual volume control of each zone (as the line goes “ya gotta keep it separated”). This is really where the Roon Nucleus comes in handy; it has the horsepower to send out several HD streams with no issues. We have 9 Roon enabled rooms at the store and I can fire all of them up playing different songs with no hiccups at all. That’s a ton of bits. Ok, now we have the main ingredients for a Roon system. Next is the subscription stuff. Roon is $120 a year or $500 lifetime, Tidal and Qobuz are $20 a month each for lossless audio streaming. You don’t need both. I like both because Tidal will offer CD quality, 44.1/16bit and MQA files while Qobuz will also give CD quality but also will go up to 192/24bit files (which sound pretty damn good). So for $50 a month, basically buying 3-4 CD’s, you get better sound plus unlimited listening (and a lifetime worth of music). Really an amazing deal. Tidal and Qobuz also have offline downloads which allow you to take any music with you on your phone. Here’s a scenario that happens quite often with me- I’m listening at home and find some new cool music I’ve never heard before. Its 2am and I need to go to bed ( the worst part of Roon: not enough time in the day!), so I save a couple of albums from that artist onto my phone as an “offline download” then stream them in my car when I’m driving the next day. Sometimes I find an artist I love, sometimes I want to keep looking elsewhere- its throwing darts. Every once in awhile you get some bullseyes and Roon makes it easy to experience that new content. A lot of this music is stuff that you can’t go out and find easily. And you definitely won’t hear it played on the radio. If you have unlimited data you can live stream Tidal and Qobuz while on the go for higher resolution without the need to offline download. Just another perk of Tidal and Qobuz.

       The shot above is the Overview page that allows users to create their own customized library. As an example; if one user is a big metal head and you are not, your user profile can hide the whole metal genre. You can also do a “Focus” from this page which allows you to follow a particular genre, artist, band, resolution, etc. Very cool if you are having a mellow dinner party and want to continue playing that light jazz that randomly popped up while streaming.

       By clicking the Hamburger (triple lines highlighted in blue in the upper left corner), you can access all the categories Roon has to offer. When clicking Artist, they will all populate together. What I mean by that is- let’s say you have a hard drive with a bunch of ripped cds, maybe another with HD downloads, plus any artist that you’ve added to your Tidal or Qobuz library. Roon makes it very easy to see them all as one big library.

       When you click on an album, you are given all of this great metadata and information about the release. Click on the artist name and see the artist profile. Anything highlighted in blue is clickable and will take you to that subject. You can see all the musical genres that the artist and album fall under, which are also clickable and great for starting a curated Roon playlist for that genre. You can click “focus on similar” to stay very tight on the sound of what you’ve chosen. You can click on the heart and make it a favorite or hide the album so you no longer see it. Click on the green tag (if the album is in your library) and create a tag. Tags allow you to save an album as a favorite to start your own special library of similar music, saving it into a playlist will also put it in your favorite tracks. Bookmarks allow you to take albums and group them together, kinda like a playlist for albums. For instance you could bookmark Buddy Guy, Joe Bonamassa, and BB King, call it Blues, access the Blues bookmark later and only play those artists. Going back to creating your own user profile on the Overview page; Tags, Playlists, and Bookmarks make it easy to fine tune your musical taste as well as that of other users. As an example, my wife loves bluegrass (not really my cup of tea), but when I’m in my user profile, there will not be any bluegrass, and in her case no heavier rock. Keeps us sane!

       Under the Album artwork is Tracks, Credits, and Versions. Tracks is just that, a listing of all the songs. Credits gives you all the info about who did what on the album. Versions is great because it allows you to find the best version of the recording, whether its your ripped CD, a Tidal stream in MQA, or an HD Res on Qobuz. I’ve found that a ton of my CD’s that I’ve had for years are available in higher fidelity versions better than 44.1khz/16bit. A great example of this was when one of my favorite bands, TOOL, “finally” decided it made sense to put all their music up for streaming. They released it on both Tidal and Qobuz, however the Qobuz version was 96/24. It was a beautiful day. Got to hear all of their music like never before.

       The search feature is available all the time and on every page. Bookmarking the page you land on after searching allows you to play around with various categories and search criteria. At the bottom left is the track up/down, play/pause, in the middle is the CD cover/artist/track name of what you’re listening to. Click on the little purple burst to reveal Signal path info like the playback device, resolution, etc. Bottom right is the queue, the room/zone selection, and volume. The queue lets you know what songs are next and if you start moving around throughout your library, you can add tracks to the queue without disrupting what’s playing. Your queue can easily be saved as a playlist for the future if you want.  When clicking volume, it will pull up a slider for rapid adjustments or a vol-/vol+ for a more fine tuned adjustment, mute is to the left of the slider. Other things that pop up are Power for that room/zone (not all Roon ready devices can be shut off from the app), DSP, zone grouping, and Room/zone settings. More on DSP later. Zone grouping lets you join other Roon zones together for easy multi room control. Settings allows you to see the MAC ID and IP address of the zone, MQA capabilities, volume leveling, volume limits, etc. You won’t spend much time there but it can be helpful to know.

       On to DSP. This is really amazing because it allows you to create your own EQ curves to match your room or correct imperfections in the recordings. A couple of thoughts on EQ- When you get a new car, one of the first things you do besides syncing your phone and setting the seat/ mirrors, is adjusting the audio (bass, treble, balance, and fader) to match your preference. When you go see a live band, the sound engineers are spending tons of time getting the sound right for the venue, and when you set up a home theater you run the room EQ or correction circuit to optimize the sound. Wouldn’t you want that control no matter what you were listening to? Other services may provide basic EQ adjustments, however Roon is the only service of its kind that gives its users a professional grade EQ loaded with capabilities. You can add bands to fine tune the curves you create. Each band can be set at any frequency, gain, and Q [width]. They can be easily enabled or disabled, which is great when listening to MQA files (they don’t like any DSP). You can name your settings and save them as your own custom EQ profile. A good example is the curve I created above. Pretty flat, just a 3db kick at 50hz. It helps out older rock recording that typically are a little light in the bass and I can save this curve as “classic rock”. You could also do just the opposite for say night listening when you don’t want too much bass bothering anybody. 

       I remember once when I was checking out a system for a client who already had Roon, I went to play a song I know well, played it for about 30 seconds, paused it, went into DSP, tweaked the EQ, started up the song again and the customer couldn’t believe how much better it sounded. He didn’t even know this feature was there. It can really transform a system.

       Just a minor interruption- sitting here writing this up, listening to Roon, I started off playing Lightning Dust, Roon went into radio mode after the album was over, song called Space to Bakersfield by Black Mountain came on, wow, great tune, I clicked the triple dots to the right of the track, added it to my Hell Yeah playlist. Went to the artist profile, turns out they’re the same people, 2 different bands! Lots more music to listen to and another late night! Alas, I digress. There are a few other things to play around with under DSP. Another cool feature is the Audeze headphone presets that enhance playback for their phones.

       Internet radio is another option you will see after clicking the hamburger. To import your favorite stations just cut and paste the radio station's URL when prompted. Thats it. Roon can also save your play history, which is great because it will track every song you’ve ever played on Roon since you started your subscription. Say you have a few friends over and they play some music that you really dig but it wasn’t saved to your library at the time, you can go back and find it. There’s even a time stamp.

       Lastly, there is the settings page. This allows you to check on all the various parameters of the system. You can get deep into it if you want, but mostly this is where you’ll set up the Core, login to your streaming services, and configure the endpoints. I’ll go into more depth on all these categories in our next write-up.

       So to sum it all up. Once you have your Core, your streaming services or hard drives, and your endpoints plugged in and ready to go, it literally takes under 2 minutes to have music playing. The thing that takes the longest is registering all this stuff. I suggest going online ahead of time and signing up for Roon, Tidal or Qobuz (or both), then plugging in all of those credentials in the Services tab of Roon’s settings page.  To get music playing, go to the Audio tab (Roon will find any Roon ready device automatically) then simply enable and name it, done. All of these products have free trials, I recommend trying them out and getting familiar with their interface. And of course feel free to pop into the store and play around with our setup! We have a few Nucleus cores, endpoints by Sonos, Meridian, Cambridge Audio, and Krell, and are happy to set everything up for you or answer any questions.

       Happy listening, thanks for reading, and we hope to see you-roon! For those curious about my systems; Main room is a Meridian 818v3 into Meridian 857 amp into Burmester B80’s, Dining room is Meridian 218 into Bryston 4B into B&W sub and in walls, Theater is another 218 into Meridian G65 into Krell Theater Amp into Paradigm Persona’s, Woodshop is a Meridian MS200 into a classic Tandberg 3012 integrated into some custom made speakers with B&W drivers and Velodyne sub. I use a Roon Nucleus + as my core.

Dave Shore, Owner and Sooloos/Roon user since 2008