People sometimes bring up the issue of Roon’s price, some complaining it is high, some (including me) defending it as a bargain. I have been thinking of a more constructive way to think about this. On the occasion of the two-year anniversary, I thought I should share it.
It’s centered on what you would spend your money on. I first had this insight a long time ago when I was moving across the country: I was looking at one neighborhood, closer to the city but expensive, and another neighborhood further away that was less expensive. How much is city proximity worth? Very difficult valuation problem. But I realized that’s the wrong way to think about it: I was not going to spend more money for a house close to the city. I was going to spend what I could afford. The money was fixed. So the tradeoff became between attributes: proximity to the city vs. a bigger house, more land, more modern house. That’s a comparison I could make.
So the analogy here is, don’t think about whether Roon is worth $500, think about whether you would choose Roon or a $500 better DAC, or speakers, or CDs.
It is not about whether Roon is “worth” $500, it is about what other investments Roon would displace. Investment displacement analysis.
Of course that depends on how good your system already is: if you have already achieved sonic Nirvana and have a huge music library, Roon becomes easy to justify. So another way of asking the question is, at what system budget is Roon justified?
I found myself thinking that I would not recommend Roon to somebody with a $2,000 total system budget, but somewhere above that.
But the point of this investment-displacement approach is that it becomes a practical discussion, something we can get our arms around, instead of an abstract discussion of value. Is my statement about $2,000 correct?
Let’s put speakers aside for a moment, and think about a headphone system.
And let’s recognize that technology has become very, very good and inexpensive, due to the digital revolution. You can get a remarkably good DAC and headphone amp for a few hundred dollars. And good headphones for a few hundred. Yes, I know some of us spend thousands chasing the elusive magical DAC, because we can and it is fun, but honestly the Dragonfly meets very high demands, and so do Grados. And I assume you already have a computer to do homework and the web and Facebook - a computer is a modern necessity like electricity, and getting a dedicated, stripped down, isolated hifi computer is an unnecessary luxury. So I can see electronics plus cans well under $1,000, and a few years of Tidal, and Roon fits comfortably in that budget.
And I would make that recommendation: Roon gives me so much value in exploring the library, tracing influences of musicians and composers, and my favorite concept of “serendipitous discovery”, that it comes well before upgrading the headphones or electronics or content.
Ok, what about a $1,000 budget? At this level, it makes sense to move Tidal to the annual budget, so we would look at one year of Tidal, plus Dragonfly/Grado, plus Roon - yeah, probably.
But of course we could move Roon to the annual budget too, so we might say that Roon fits in a budget of $500 plus $200 per year. And again, I would make that recommendation.
If we want to include speakers, it becomes more complex: small speakers can be very good at what they do but there are real limits imposed by physics. But my point is, we can make this kind of displacement analysis: get the speakers you need, add a couple of hundred for an ok DAC, plus $200 per year for Roon and Tidal.
Interesting, isn’t it? More actionable than abstract thought of value. You may adjust the tradeoffs as you see fit, the framework helps.
So go forth and make your recommendations to friends and family.