An alternative approach for a Roon music server?

I have been searching for a replacement for my Intel i7-7700 based dedicated music server PC seeking the best sound quality for my room and ears, and I thought it might be helpful to others to share my practical experience.

Background research

Not too much advice from Roon themselves other than some 5 year old information about minimum requirements plus some hints about gaming /database processing similarities, the improvement made with SSD storage for the Roon core and database, and the importance of CPU cache.

Most searches online seem to indicate that Roon itself doesn’t use many CPU threads unless it is streaming to multiple outputs and doesn’t require a very powerful processor unless a lot of DSP is taking place.

Most approaches I can find seem either driven by the need for a simple “appliance” or a passively cooled PC of some kind, perhaps with the addition of a “reclocked” network card and other technology tweaks.

Several online discussions discussing the different sound quality from other software, for example JRIVER, compared to Roon. So, they might be working in a slightly different way and need a different music server computer configuration.

I thought I would share my recent experience of a slightly different approach focused on Roon and my personal interpretation of sound quality in my set up:

The hypothesis:

If Roon is really driven by a database/gaming requirement then high levels of CPU cache, fast RAM (DDR4 or DDR5) and fast SSD (with NVMe PCIe4) will be important. CPU speed itself is probably not a limiting factor once a certain level of performance is reached.

The experiment:

A semi-passive PC based around the AMD X570 Chipset, with AMD Ryzen 5 5600X, CPU, PCIe4 based SSD storage, 32 GB DDR4-RAM, 3600 MHz. Running Windows10 Pro with Roon core.

The result:

As expected, standard PC monitoring tools show that Roon uses a very small amount of CPU and this means the PC is running fanless while it’s in use. If there is a greater processing requirement, the fans will come on, but I have yet to experience this while music listening.

Roon is running several data “threads” even without any DSP.

When Roon is loading or reindexing the database there is quite a lot of memory activity, as indicated by the “hard faults/sec count” which means the processing cannot find the data in high speed memory.

During music playback however, the “hard faults/sec count” is consistently zero , meaning that Roon is always finding what it needs in high-speed memory.

What does it sound like:

It has provided a significant sound quality improvement over the previous intel-based approach. Notably better ambience, improved timing and energy, much better percussion “edges”, piano and voice realism.

I have honestly been very surprised in the improvement which has also been commented on by non-audiophile family members.

Further steps:

Adding an optical section in the network segment that links to the streamer and then the DAC provides an additional small change in the area of bass definition and a slight treble improvement .

Next steps may include trialling a product such as Audiophile Optimizer to simplify the Windows10 operating system.

Thanks for sharing the information!
In my experience the results of products like Audiophile Optimizer, Fidelizer etc. do not do much more than what you can do by hand. They de-activate some Windows services, change some Windows performance settings and change some priorities for processes. Nothing you can’t do by hand:

Optimizing Your Computer for Audio - Windows 10 – Knowledge Base | PreSonus

Optimising your PC for Audio on Windows 10 – Focusrite Audio Engineering

7 Tips for Optimizing Your Windows 10 Computer for Audio | B&H Explora (bhphotovideo.com)

How can I tune a Windows PC for best audio performance? | Audinate | FAQs

Of course, that is only my opinion. YMMV! Do with it what you want :slight_smile:

Thanks Andy - very helpful.
the Latency Monitor tool is very interesting

I think some of the older recommendations don’t really pertain to today’s computing capabilities. I’m new to Roon but decided to get my feet wet to using a fanless Celeron 4125 mini PC with 8GB RAM as a dedicated Roon core server running it on Windows 10 Pro even. It runs perfectly fine even while serving 3 devices at once with DSP on (I haven’t tried more than that yet). This thing cost me $200 total.

1 Like

Hi Anthony,
Happy to hear that you have started on the Roon journey - hope you enjoy!
I think you are correct that modern computers can almost all run Roon without experiencing any dropouts or problems. Things have certainly changed from a few years ago . Personally, I haven’t had any dropouts or malfunctions since trying to run the Roon core on a QNAP NAS many years ago.
My original point was a little different. Once Roon is running without any problems, it then becomes possible to improve the sound quality, sometimes significantly. It depends what you are looking for from your music system and whether the audible return is worth the extra expenditure - that, of course, is a personal choice. Some of us, especially in this “tinkering” section of the Roon community are seeking improvements where we can. Roon and digital playback has amazing potential, so experiments, tinkering and the search for “better” goes on!

1 Like

Glad to see this as I just picked up a mini Pc running this Celeron chip and also 8gb ram and windows 10. I figured it would run fine seeing my 2011 Mac runs it fine as well.