First let me say, I don’t believe there is a better suite of software for sending high resolution music, whether streamed or local all over your house. RAAT is stable and the sound quality is top notch. So why am I writing this article? I feel as though Roon is going the wrong direction with its software development.
My Roon journey: I got into digital music using a Rune (that’s right, RUNE, not Roon), which was a near open source software package that ran on a tiny chip computer (think Raspberry Pi, Cubox, Beaglebone, etc). The software resides on a computer, and the Rune software is the endpoint. It was buggy, often had to be reflashed, and sometimes would just not work randomly, BUT, when it played, the sound was glorious; It didn’t take me long to recognize the benefits of a dedicated streamer.
Frustrated with the lack of reliability with Rune, and seeing development slow down, I started reading about alternatives. Roon emerged as the lead contender when it appeared as though they had everything dialed. The presentation/marketing promised an experience that pulled together music server technology with rich information and art environment, “like a full color magazine for your music”. The info appeared to pull in album art, but more than that, it appeared to promise articles about artists, album art that went beyond just cover art, like liner notes and more rich media (I had visions of music videos, and links to content). None of this has really ever materialized. The software reliably pulls in album art, but let’s be honest, this is more like iTunes than a rich, engrossing media environment. This is my gripe 1. No efforts appears to have been made to enrich the media and art in the application in the last 3-4 years.
Secondly, beyond the simplicity of use, and flawless ability to integrate whole home audio, Roon was attractive because it was LIGHT. A small application that could run on old PCs, an old lap top, the demand of the application wasn’t such that you needed the latest pc or Mac to run it at its peak. Soon after adopting Roon (and being a little surprised by the price point, BUT, feeling that was a good sign for development and product support) I decided I wanted to get a dedicated server. I researched and settled on a Mac Mini i5 2012. Plenty of power to run Roon, and the little silver box resided in my rack for 6 months. Still though, I couldn’t get the sound I heard from having a separate, small endpoint only delivering the tubes to my DAC from my early Rune experience, out of my head. Roon could do this, but it meant more investment. I wasn’t worried though, Roon had great endpoint integration, so I was pleased knowing I could still use the Mac mini as a server, and ended up getting a Sonore endpoint. More expense, but back to the sound quality I’ve missed. Now fast forward 2 years, and Roon has continued development, added more features (but to me, not the ones that matter, like a SiriusXM, Apple Music integration, mobile streaming from your server (something Plex has offered for 5 years), or richer media. Instead they’ve added more extensive dsp functionality, slicker graphics, different radio AI, and many other small tweaks that have cause one major limitation in my mind… Roon is getting bloated and slow. Now we all know Roon offers the Nucleus, and that it will win Roon perfectly, but it’s another $1500, and kind of against the entire point of this idea, that you can have a light server that runs streaming software, and then spend your bigger investment on an endpoint. You almost NEED a powerful server now to run Roon swiftly and take advantage of the features. I’m running a very simple setup with no dsp, and everything hard wired, and search is SLOW. Crashes on IOS are somewhat more frequent these days, and oftentimes my setup disconnects from Qobuz or loses an endpoint. It’s pretty easy to fix, but it bothers me to pay over $100 yearly for a service like this that doesn’t contain any music on its own, and is buggy lately.
Roon seems content being a hardware company now, and the recommendation is to use a Nucleus if server is slow, but it seems like another option would be to have a bit more modularity in the software. Maybe offer a version that is optimized for IOS search, and make the add on functionality like DSP, etc, an add on option so that people can add it or not to keep the software lighter/quicker.
Finally, some feature requests I think would be really great and popular:
mobile Roon access to your server while out of the home. Seriously, this has been rumored for years, and Plex figured it out in 2017…
Some way to allow us to send music to the Roon Server from other services (I.e. Sirius XM). For example, when I go to Sirius XM application, and I select the output (like Bluetooth or send it ti my tv over network), it would be nice to have ROON as an option there to be able to stream other streaming services softwares to a Roon node. As it stands, the only music I can play on my Roon server is Qobuz and music on my hard drive, but I subscribe to Sirius, and regularly watch concerts, so being able to use Roon as an endpoint for those services would be awesome.
Rich Media: for the price of this software, there is no reason Roon can’t partner with a company to bring more art and rich media to the platform. Like a music magazine in my hand like you promised way back when.
I’m not leaving Roon, I still believe it’s the best software for this, but it could be SOO MUCH BETTER, by lightening things up through modularity, and making good on the original promise of the software after all these years.