Hello folks, quite the busy, boisterous, helpful and only occasionally bitchy community you (we) got here. Wondering if any of you might help out a total newbie (both in the Roon and the audiophile fields, if I’m honest) in his attempt to build a system from scratch. I say from scratch and I mean it almost literally: having walked away from a domestic situation where I had the relative good luck to listen to my records, stream my little mp3s and apple ALACs and play my CDs all in a high-end 7.1 system that, 15 years ago, cost about three times what my budget is now, these last few months I have been reduced to my iPhone/MacBook Pro streaming to a little UE Boom via Bluetooth!
If you ask what’s any of this got to do with the company hosting these fora and how does an admittedly high-end product like Roon figure in the calculations of a pauper like myself, well, it may be putting cart before horse, as it were, but ever since I experienced Roon second-hand at a friend’s place a year ago I’ve been smitten and have determined to make it my musical home - not least because I have had a horrific experience with iTunes in the past (laying waste to my metadata, losing already bought and even ripped music files, endless talks with various flustered minions and their confounded managers in seemingly every country in Europe for over a year, no compensation but plenty of apologies) and the one thing I need more than anything, even more than a decent sound, is a music library I can control and enjoy. Roon became the inevitable choice.
With that in mind, and after reading about the architecture, getting confused with the terms and frustrated with the always way-beyond-budget examples of Roon-friendly machines, I made the plunge and became the proud, if fearful, owner of a NUC (an 8i3BEK with the Roon-suggested memory and SSD) to serve a modest collection of no more than half a Terabyte happily housed in an external USB HDD (a swanky brand new LaCie 2TB specifically bought for the purpose). I wanted to go for a NAS initially, but this combo worked out a hell of a lot cheaper than the kind of NAS that could run Roon Core! And then there’s my c.1200 cherished pieces of vinyl, currently languishing in storage and waiting to be resurrected and played again on (I’m pretty sure) a Pro-ject T1 Phono SB, which I’m waiting to purchase alongside something through and by means of which to listen to it.
I mention these cos really, in a sense, they are the bits I am committed to so I guess ‘from scratch’ is perhaps not entirely accurate, for one, and for seconds I am trying to steer those of you kind enough to think about responding with suggestions away from complicating the picture by suggesting alternatives there (no doubt there are plenty!) and towards the missing bits, i.e.: DAC, amplifier and speakers.
I have to admit that here the unique architecture of Roon had me flummoxed for a long while, before it finally sank in that the NUC could be both core and output if USB-connected to a DAC, just as my friend uses his iMac. For a while I had my mind set on a solution comprising a pair of decent but decidedly low-budget (for audiophiles at least) speakers (eg: Dali Spektor 2; Elac 5.2 or 6.2; Monitor Audio Bronze 2 - this is the range I’m looking at) and a little amp I completely fell head over heels for just on looks and functionality, namely the PSAudio Sprout 100. But then another friend, someone with a healthy disregard for audiophile protocol but also with impeccable good taste, said ‘pah! Why on earth do you want an amp these days? get a pair of active speakers, like these’ pointing to a picture of KEF LS50s. Now, don’t get me wrong, I very much nodded in agreement, but, at over £1500 they’re way above my entire budget, even my budget minus the already bought NUC! Even their little siblings, the LSX, don’t give you much change from £1000.
But I decided to investigate, and, unsurprisingly, there are lots of interesting offers in the world of active or powered speakers, propositions that would do away with my newfound object of desire (the Sprout) and still allow me to connect both my USB-linked digital files and my turntable. The models in the Klipsch range, from the R-41 all the way up ‘The Sixes’ would do exactly the jobs I want them to do - and would cost less, or even significantly less, than the Sprout plus a pair of passives plus all the cables and interconnects. My friend (from the KEF appreciation society) says ‘end of story’, but I’m not so sure…
It’s not the amp function really, I have come to understand why active speakers are better, and I think I get the point about crossovers. But whether it’s via Bluetooth or wi-fi, an optical or a coaxial or a USB cable, the speakers get digital data raw, so they must contain a DAC. I am well aware of the latter’s cardinal role in the whole scheme of things and, having hesitated not a little over the Sprout and the idea that it ‘merely’ uses an internal DAC, until I discovered that it’s the same DAC (chip, that is) as that used by many a lionised box DAC including some of the RPi3 HATs, I now find it a bit disconcerting (quietly outraged disbelief may be nearer the mark) that, as per my research at least, not a single manufacturer of active speakers deems it important enough to divulge the kind of DAC technology used in their circuitry, despite making all those attractive claims about 24/192 or even native DSD decoding abilities and so on.
Can anyone shed any light over any of this? Specifically, does anyone know what the DAC components in speakers like the Klipsch or any others are and if they’re worth their salt? Or rather, if they’re worth their salt enough to outshine the solution I thought I had finally landed upon, with the Sprout and a nice pair of modest passives? Is it a case of buying a DAC to bridge the NUC and the active speakers (an RPi HAT would offer the most attractive solution then, no doubt) - or can I rely on the built-in promises of the speaker manufacturers? And let’s say the proposed ‘active’ solution comes to roughly the same money as a Sprout and a pair of Spektor 2s - which would you go for and why?
Thanks for your time and patience chaps.