Roon is designed to appeal to the audiophile and to the music lover. It can play PCM and DSD files, and is the first program I’ve seen (other than Tidal) that has announced support for Meridian’s highly-touted MQA encoding. Also promised is DSP processing, although no details are given about that.
Classical music lovers will appreciate Roon’s ability to sort albums by composer in addition to album title and artist. When I searched for works by Beethoven, Roon even showed me a picture of Beethoven, along with a short biography. You can also sort by work, which produces an alphabetized list of all the tracks on your library. That can be helpful if, say, you want to find out how many recordings of “Autumn Leaves” you have. I’d like to be able to do a secondary sort by work after sorting by composer, so after I find the tracks I have by Beethoven, I could see all the performances of his piano sonatas.
Roon can be downloaded from roonlabs.com. You’ll note the encrypted URL, which keeps all the information you provide private. Click on the button that says “Start Free Trial,” and you’ll be asked to choose whether you want an annual membership or a lifetime membership. You’ll also be asked whether you want to run Roon on a Macintosh or Windows computer.
When you prepare to install Roon, you’ll need to identify one computer that will be the main Roon computer. For me, this was a Hewlett-Packard Envy laptop located next to my equipment rack. The Envy, which currently runs Windows 7, is connected to the DAC in my main hi-fi system via a USB cable, and to my home network via an Ethernet cable. The version of Roon known as RoonServer gets installed on the main computer. You can install other versions, including Windows and Macintosh versions on computers on your network, which will become RoonRemotes and be able to control the RoonServer over the network. The iPad version of the RoonRemote runs only on 64-bit iPads, which left out my older iPad3. I wondered why RoonRemote for iPad wouldn’t work on my 3-year old iPad, but then Darling explained why: “It’s not really a choice for us. Older iPads don’t have as much memory and don’t support OpenGL 3.0, so they just can’t run the Roon interface without a ton of custom development that would still end in a lot of compromises and an experience that is far inferior to all the other platforms.”
So in lieu of an iPad RoonRemote, I used a Toshiba Windows laptop computer as my remote, which connected to the network via WiFi.
Roon will do most of the setup automatically when it installs, but there are a few adjustments that you’ll need to make manually. The Setup menu is accessed by clicking the icon in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.
Unfortunately, there is no instruction sheet for setting up Roon on a computer. An online forum where you can ask questions and get answers from the Roon staff is available when you click the Community menu item, but it’s nowhere near as useful as a no-fooling instruction sheet would have been. Roon is hardly the only program not to provide an instruction sheet, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. Fortunately, the setup is pretty intuitive, but newcomers to playback software might still find it puzzling. In my view any instructions that don’t end at a point where music plays from your speakers are inadequate, but I must be weird; lots of playback software and hardware doesn’t take you that far. Come on guys, this stuff isn’t intuitive. End of rant. [That may be the end of Vade’s rant but it’s just the beginning of mine. The computer-audio manufacturers seem to think that because their technology is second-nature to them, consumers should understand how to use it without an owner’s manual. When I reviewed the original Sooloos system in 2007, the product arrived in a box with zero documentation. I was told that no owner’s manual was available or needed. I know that engineers and software designers detest creating documentation, but it’s an essential part of the product. And have it written by a professional writer, not the designer.—RH]
The Audio sub-menu on the Settings Menu is needed for audio playback, so let’s look at it.
After clicking on the Audio selection on the Settings menu, find your DAC on the list of installed DACs. In my example, the installed DAC when I was writing this review was Chord’s 2Qute DAC. You’ll need to name the DAC by typing its name into the Zone Name field. Then you’ll need to specify how the DAC operates by clicking the gears icon after the Zone Name field. You should then be taken to the Output Settings screen.
At the top, click the box labeled Use Exclusive Mode. The rest of the menu should drop down. If, and only if, your DAC will play DSD files in native format without converting them to PCM, in the DSD Playback Strategy field, click the dropdown arrow at the end of the field, and select DSD over PCM v1.0 (DoP). That should do it for the audio setup. Click somewhere outside the menus and they should disappear, saving the settings you’ve made. A message at the bottom of the screen will ask you to select the audio zone you want to play. Click on the message icon and pick the name of your DAC you just entered in the Audio Settings Menu to select where Roon sends its output signal. An icon should appear on the lower right corner of the screen displaying the name of your DAC. Now you’re ready to play some music. Apologies for the lengthy instructions, but they may help some folks get set up to play music with Roon.
Since RoonRemote for iPad wouldn’t work on my 3-year-old iPad, I downloaded a copy of Roon for Windows, installed it onto a laptop computer running Windows 10, and during setup, specified that it would run as a remote. I had to indicate what output zone I wanted to use (my system DAC) and bingo! Roon on the laptop ran just like it did on the RoonServer computer. In some ways, that’s actually better than it probably would run on a tablet, since I see exactly the same screen and use the same controls. And instead of a 10" tablet screen, the laptop has a 15.6" screen and a real keyboard. I use a mouse with my laptop computers, because it gives me far more precise control than my fingertip does on a tablet. The downside is that a laptop’s battery life is much shorter than a tablet’s.
I installed a third copy of Roon on the desktop computer on which I’m typing this. I can use it to control the RoonServer computer, but since I often like to listen to music through headphones, I can pick the local computer as the output device, and voila!, the music plays through the headphones. So I’m getting two different copies of Roon to play through two different systems for the price of a single subscription.
Under the Storage setting, I told Roon to watch the NAS drive on my home network as the location of my music files. There are over 1600 albums on the drive, so Roon took several minutes to scan them, and then presented a view with very few generic cover art pictures.