My experience with Roon's trial, and why I'll stick with Plex

I’m near the end of my Roon trial, and I thought I would give my feedback, in hopes that Roon improves. I am sure some of this feedback is not new for Roon or the community, but I feel it’s important to leave it anyway, as a new user.

First, the good qualities:

  • Roon’s UI looks beautiful. It has a unique and mostly consistent look across devices and applications.
  • The tagging functionality is great. Most software stumbles on unidentifiable music, but Roon allowed me to organize it in a way that was sensible.
  • I also really like the options the DSP functionality provides. Knowing not only how the audio chain is functioning, but that I can tune it to my needs, is fantastic.
  • Having the option to integrate Qobuz and Tidal to supplement my library is really great for convenience.

Then the mixed feelings:

  • The Roon desktop application feels like it can’t decide what it wants to be. I think it should always have a clearly defined boundary between server and client - having to keep Roon in my taskbar instead of the system tray (or even as a Windows service) is confusing and prone to accidental shutdowns.
  • Because of the above, Roon app also doesn’t act like a media app, including missing media controls in the taskbar.

Then the bad stuff:

I have an entire section just for ARC

  • It keeps trying to stay in fullscreen mode, covering up my home button.
  • There appears to be absolutely no way to give feedback on Roon Radio songs that are currently playing. It instead buries the thumbs up/down on the next song in the queue screen only. This makes no sense, as how can I give feedback on a song I haven’t even heard yet?
  • It will consistently skip once when moving to a new song, as if it’s not buffering it correctly before attempting playback. Note that this isn’t a bandwidth issue.

And then Roon overall issues:

Roon will consistently stream the exact song in my local library from Tidal or Qobuz rather than the local file, and there’s no way to fix it except on a per song/album level. This seems backwards, as the local files will have more Roon metadata (such as the waveform viewer), and there’s no quality difference between the local and Tidal/Qobuz files in most cases.

Library and recommendation system make little sense. I’ve read forum posts, and I get how Roon has implemented this functionality, but I fundamentally believe this to be a broken system. I don’t know if Roon was just trying to copy something like Tidal, which similarly tries to just shove everything in your library before you can do anything with it, but it makes for a frustratingly confusing experience. It means for 90% of the music I am listening to, there’s a nice big heart button that will never do anything. It makes what appears to be a very nice UI suddenly feel like a boxing match, where I have to fight Roon to do what I want.

I really believe Roon Radio needs to use a more Pandora-like experience. Radios siloed away from my library, able to be liked/thumbed at will AND tracked for later review. Roon seems to have the concept of liking a song in one set of music, but not liking the song in another, but that information immediately disappears once that Roon Radio is gone. Maybe the recommendation engine tries to intuit that for future invocations, but if it does, it really does a poor job of it.

The whole idea of Roon Radio, to me, is facilitate exploration of music, and it falls flat in that area. Given that some other services also struggle with this (like the aforementioned Tidal), I would normally give this a pass, but this is a headline feature of Roon as a whole! If I’m not able to make use of the recommendations, then I have no real reason to pay the very expensive cost of admission.

Overall, I can’t help but feel like Roon trips at the finish line. It has a ton of promise, and there’s clearly a great deal of work that’s gone into it. Actually playing music is fantastic, and if you know what you want to listen to, Roon’s does a bang up job of serving it to you. But I can get an acceptable playback experience anywhere. Recommendations is why I came, and it’s why I’ll be leaving.

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