Roon Labs Roon v.1.0 music-playback app Kalman Rubinson September 2017

Kalman Rubinson returned to Roon v.1.3 in September 2017 (Vol.40 No.9):

The Roon music-management and -playback system is no longer new (footnote 1). Its history, from its roots in Sooloos and Meridian, is outlined in Jon Iverson's review of Roon v.1.0 in the October 2015 issue. At the time, I found Roon intriguing but frustrating, primarily because it lacked support for multichannel audio. But in the last two years Roon has been improved and extended, driven in part by a lively user website that's supported by the active participation of company personnel. Turns out I wasn't the only one asking for multichannel.

With the announcement of Roon v.1.3 early this year, the multichannel barrier was breached, and the updates since then (currently, build 234) have transformed it from just another pretty face to a formidable application (footnote 2). To merely list the accumulated enhancements would take pages, and many of them work in the background, unnoticeable by users except in making Roon's operation smoother and faster. Here I discuss Roon's handling of multichannel, high-resolution files, and DSP.

Using Roon to play multichannel files is as easy as with mono and two-channel files. You just tell Roon to add the location of the files to the Music Folder, and it adds the files to its library. This doesn't entail moving or changing the original files, as links to the files and to Roon's rich stores of metadata are incorporated into the active library, and it's done very rapidly. Roon's analysis of the files to enhance metadata and playback continues in the background and can take days, depending on the number of files and their sizes. Albums are ready to play as soon as you can see them on screen.

Setup for Roon playback of multichannel files is the same as for stereo—the new setup menu serves both. You still need to recognize and choose an output device (DAC, computer, AVR, processor, network device, etc.) and choose which file formats and resolutions that device can handle. You also need to define the number of output channels, and whether downmixing or remapping is necessary. But that's all there is to it.

Roon is installed on my Baetis Prodigy X i7-based server, which I used with Roon Ready exaSound DACs and the miniDSP U-DAC8 via USB, at all of the resolutions and formats those devices can handle. Playing through the Roon Ready exaSound PlayPoint audio player via Ethernet was a piece of cake, and a vision of the future of networked audio. On the other hand, while Roon recognized the Playback Designs USB-XIII Digital Interface after I'd installed the latter's ASIO driver—see this issue's "Music in the Round"—it restricted me to stereo. (Both companies acknowledge that Playback's ASIO driver is not yet compatible with Roon.) But Roon also recognized the Playback Designs Sonoma Syrah music server on my LAN, and I was able to play multichannel files up to DSD256 via Ethernet.

In addition to playing hi-rez multichannel, Roon has implemented advanced DSP capabilities. I've only sampled these, but enough to be impressed. They begin with Sample Rate Conversion, which can be applied conditionally for compatibility only, maximum PCM rate, maximum PCM rate (power of 2), DSD output, or individually for each sample rate. This is useful if your DAC seems to work or sound better under certain conditions. Below that are dropdown windows with which you can precisely define the conversion filters (precision vs smooth, linear vs minimum phase), choose the type and gain of Sigma-Delta Modulator used to convert PCM to DSD, and how Roon uses the multiple cores of your CPU. Finally, there's an option to process and resample DSD without PCM conversion.

The next DSP option menu, Crossfeed, permits the headphone listener to introduce interchannel mixing (by bandwidth and gain) based on the seminal work on binaural listening done by Ben Bauer of CBS Labs (footnote 3). Two additional recommended settings and user controls are included.

A nifty multiband Parametric EQ is next. You can interact with this graphically or numerically, and apply the results to one or all channels. From this top-level option you can also access options for Convolution (running on external impulse response or convolver-style files) and Procedural EQ, which lets you insert a generic IIR filter and control volume, mute, and phase, and/or add delays to individual channels (and to mix channels). Using these, you can implement bass management and/or crossovers.

Last is Speaker Setup, reminiscent of similar controls on preamplifier-processors for balancing channel delays and distances, gain, and phase, and is de rigueur for good multichannel. Moreover, all DSP options can be used in multiples and in any chosen order.

You don't have to take advantage of any of this added capability, of course, but all together it makes Roon an all-in-one solution for multichannel and two-channel playback. It eliminates the need to feed the server's output to a pre-pro or AVR for bass management, or to add an external EQ box such as the miniDSP DDRC-88A, and it largely supplants the need add Signalyst's HQPlayer for DSD upsampling, unless you're more obsessive than most readers.

How did Roon v.1.3 sound? In a word, superb, and with the capacity to be optimized for the user's particular needs and ears. I can't say that I have a good grasp on all the competing products, but, out of the box, it sounds more like HQPlayer than JRiver—with the proviso that all of these can be tweaked in different ways.

I found the new Roon easier to set up than past versions, as its improved engine failed to recognize and properly incorporate fewer than 100 of my more than 60,000 files, and correcting and enhancing the metadata is easier than in earlier versions. The display and user interface are as before, and pretty intuitive, unless you're biased by a history of different expectations. I am not yet ready to relinquish JRiver as I try to adapt to some operational aspects of Roon, such as horizontal scrolling and the nesting of certain setup operations.

Still, Roon v.1.3 is a brilliant advance on the potential evident in Roon v.1.0. If this version is a portent for the future, it may approach perfection.—Kalman Rubinson

Footnote 1: Roon Labs LLC, 96 Round Hill Drive, Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510. Web:

Footnote 2: Roon's prices remain unchanged: annual subscription, $119; lifetime subscription, $499; 14-day trial, free.

Footnote 3: See John Atkinson's discussion of the Bauer concept here.

Roon Labs LLC
96 Round Hill Drive
Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510

AvilleAudio's picture

Roon 1.1 gets it right in areas where 1.0 fell just short of the mark. There's no huge change, just a lot of small mods and tweaks. I didn't notice any difference in sound quality between v1.0 and 1.1. The big news with v1.1 is the near flawless integration of the iPad. With the iPad app you can get a big, beautiful touchscreen remote for as little as $230 (the price of a refurbished iPad Mini 2 direct from Apple).

I love classical music. No other programs I've tried handles classical well (and I've tried iTunes, Audirvana, Decibel). It "gets" that classical music consists of works, not just movements. If you tilt to classical, Roon is compelling.

My advise: give it a try for 2 weeks together with Tidal. I did and then signed up for both. Don't like it? At least you'll "get it" when it comes to the Sooloos/Roon approach to computer audio.

Happy listening, boys (and the 2 girls who'll read this--ha!).

malosuerte's picture

My concern is that it will be around long enough to justify the lifetime membership.

For the most part it handled my library correctly, and the sound is good. I do not see much of a difference between Roon and Amara. The GUI is nice and the metadata is very good.

Ali's picture

So If I change my DAC and buy a new one, should I also buy a new license from Roon for new DAC? Also I have a Mojo but can't find it in the list of Roon, does it mean that I can't use Roon with this DAC?