My Journey: Roon Nucleus - Auralic Aries - Mesh WiFi Setup

About a year ago I decided I wanted to be able to stream high resolution music throughout the house. I was using SONOS with Micro Mesh and Wyred4Sound re-clockers with good results, but still very voice forward so obviously losing a lot of information somewhere in the chain. Good, but not good enough to warrant upgrading components or speakers. The source had to be improved first. Had I known at the time how much time, effort and dollars this would involve I may have postponed my seemingly reasonable goal. In the end it was, however, worth it so don’t despair if you happen to be in the middle of this journey or thinking about it. I am sharing my journey and conclusions in the hopes it will save someone time and frustration. I am not an ethernet expert by any means, but I know from experience and advanced physics that WiFi is a very finicky and fragile radio signal that can easily be distracted or obstructed. It is quite frankly not a good way to stream high resolution files, but it is what we are stuck with. The following is based on countless hours spent with Auralic and Roon support, internet research and system testing. No one had all the answers so much had to be pieced together from bits of information here and there. I also do not by any means purport to have all the answers - just hoping the following will be helpful to someone so we can get on with listening to music.

First step was to pick a streamer. As this is not a streamer review suffice to say that I settled on Auralic for the sound quality (better than any other digital source I have encountered), DS Lightning app, reputation and support. The app makes it easy to set up the units, but maybe not the best for playback. It tends to be a little unstable so after a lot of testing I went with Roon, which was much more stable right from the start without any of the below adjustments. Initially I had hoped I could stick with he DS app, but now I am hooked on Roon so it was a blessing in disguise. I tried using my Mac as the core, but it just became too unstable to be viable. There is just too much going on in the background for a computer to be a viable streaming controller in my mind – it needs to be separated and dedicated. Not being a techie I went with the one box Nucleus+ option. Not cheap, but worth it to me to not have to worry about one more variable. So what I ended up with is 3 Auralic Aries G1’s and one Femto with Roon controlling the four zones that I would also ideally be able to group together in any combination.

I started out with upgrading my router to the AX90 – the biggest, baddest router I could find. I use the Xfinity supplied router as the modem in bridged mode and that end seems to be just fine. Thought about upgrading the modem as well, but so far I have not experienced any reason to. The bottom line is that a single router is just not going to work unless the streamer is in sight of the router or hardwired. I experimented with extenders in a mesh setup and this may work for other applications as you do get a strong signal, but there is just too much communication going on between the extenders and the router for it to be a stable streaming environment. In my rather challenging three-bedroom, two-story condo in the city the only viable alternative was a mesh system. I settled on ASUS ZenFi 6e for the speed, future proof, free security and number of ports on each node making it easy to hardwire select devices. I am sure others will work well and the below should apply equally.

The following are the steps I went through to create a stable operating environment. WiFi is still the enemy and will play a big role but we want to eliminate as many other variables as possible. They are in no particular order and some may or may not be absolutely necessary, but I take the better safe than sorry approach as this is complicated enough as it is. Who knew streaming a high resolution file could be so complicated in this day and age! So here we go:

    1. Get the fastest most stable internet service you can get.
    1. Set your streaming service to CD quality for WiFi service. Most albums are in CD quality anyway. Going higher will increase the file sizes and cause confusion when formats change at many stages of the chain. It is not worth the increased complexity and if you want to change back for late night listening it is easy enough.
    1. Connect the Nucleus to the same node as the modem. This will be the main router. You could technically connect to any node, but this involves one more WiFi link, which we are trying to eliminate.
    1. Turn off all functions such as processor, airplay etc. in the streamer. The only on button should be Roon Ready. This will focus the streamer on the task at hand. Set the streaming quality to FLAC Lossless for your streaming service (better safe than sorry).
    1. Set the IP addresses for the Roon Core and the streamers to static. After much research it turns out that the Roon remote does not operate well in a multi-lan environment with DHCP. Well, a mesh system could be considered a type of multi-lan system. In essence the remote is looking for the router and sees, in my case, four as it cannot distinguish the main router from the others. So unless you are close to the main router it will in essence go on a wild goose chase. The solution is to give the Nucleus a static IP address - along with the streamers as I have found that this helps stability as well.
  • a. In the Ron app go to settings – setup. Tap Find Roon OS. Tap IP Address for the Nucleus. Go to bottom of page. Change IP Address setup to Static IP. Copy the information from the DHCP fields into the static fields so write them down first. Save.

  • b. In the Lightning DS app go into settings-lightning device-your devices-additional operations-hardware setup-connection status. Turn DHCP off. Repeat for all your streamers.

    1. Hardwire all the streamers to a node. I know that Auralic for one claims WiFi provides better quality. I have tested both and cannot tell difference. I may even prefer wired. It is one way or the other worth the added stability to go wired. Again, we are trying to eliminate WiFi as much as possible. Don’t forget to change the Network Connection to wired in the Lightning DS app for each streamer. Settings-Lightning Device-Your Device. Use good quality wires in as short a length as you can. I use BlueJeans which seem well built. I have been told to stay away from Cat 8 wires but not sure if there is any foundation for that concern. I have used them and can’t tell if any remaining issues are related.
    1. After your streamers are set up delete the Lightning DS app from your phone and/or iPad. I have found it can interfere in the background – not sure how but definitely an issue.
    1. Change WiFi channels to less congested alternatives. Most routers automatically picks a channel and it is not necessarily the optimal. Many times channels such as “1” are very congested and can cause interference. My neighbors WiFi for example is very strong in my unit so I want to avoid being on the same channel. For ASUS I have to go to their web based interface and change from automatic to the channel of my choice. I use the Airport Utility on the iPhone to scan for other networks in the area. It is also very useful for detecting WiFi dead spots and testing the WiFi signal strength in general. Just go into iPhone Settings-Airport Utility and turn on the Wi-Fi Scanner. Then open the app and tap wi-if scan and then scan. It will pick up all networks in the area so just browse for channels that are not widely used. It will also give you the signal strength of each in -dbm. This will allow you to look for WiFi dead spots in your house. Just hold the phone in the area you want to test and see the signal strength for your network(s). Some general guidelines I have surmised are:

-30dBm You are probably next to the router

-50dBm Still very good

-60dBm Probably OK for most applications

-70dBm Weak

    1. In the Lightning DS app you can set the delay time for the unit before it starts playing after format changes. Theoretically, since you set the streaming service to CD quality it should not change formats, but I have noticed on occasion my DAC acts as if format has changed. I have mine set for a couple of seconds – better safe than sorry.
    1. In this context backhaul may be worth mentioning. I am no expert for sure but this is in essence the communication between the various devices back and forth. This is usually done over a, in today’s terms, relatively slow 680MHz band. It can get crowded depending on how many devices are hooked up to the network and again this communication is over WiFi. Hence, this can potentially slow things down and cause issues. I think this is one of the main reasons the router/extender setup does not work well even in a mesh setup. In my case the mesh system uses the new 6GHz band with seven 680MHz channels so not too concerned. One way around this is to wire the nodes together through the WAN ports but this to some extent defeats the purpose of the whole idea and is not practical in most circumstances. It is something to be aware of and look into further.
    1. Now we come to maybe the most perplexing variable of all – the placement of the nodes. After doing all of the above the only WiFi signal we have to rely on is the communication between the nodes so at least we know where to look for issues in this regard. The “operating environment” should be stable. As an example I have one node hooked up to an Aries G1 in my office. The office is next to the living room where the main router is only separated by a studded drywall. The main router has a clear shot of the whole wall in the living area. The router app showed the signal between the two as “Great” or about -40dBm – the strongest node in the network. Nevertheless, I was having severe issues with the music just randomly stopping. Roon would not lose control over the streamer as can happen in unstable environments – the music would just stop. I would just have to hit play again. Very annoying as it would happen every 5-10 songs. This was one of those moments when I seriously considered scrapping the whole thing and go back to SONOS. So I got a long patch cord out and moved the node to the other side of the room along the same wall or about 8 feet. Problem solved instantly. I played for 5 hours straight without any hiccups (had to go to bed). I have no explanation for this as the distance to the router did not change. The strength of the signal may have improved a couple of dBm’s, but it was already “great”. So there must be some unknown object in the path that interferes with the streaming. If you are still having issues after all of the above do get a long patch cord out and experiment with various positions of the nodes.

In conclusion, applying the above has created a stable platform for me to enjoy high resolution music with the convenience of a streaming environment. Since I am still depending on WiFi to some extent there are minor hiccups now and then, but nothing to outweigh the benefits and quality of the music. So was it all worth it in the end? That would be a resounding – yes! I have upgraded to Marten Django speakers and am enjoying music like never before. Did I achieve all my goals? Not quite. Playing more than 2 zones grouped together is still unstable at best. Still working on that one and appreciate any feedback.

I hope the above is helpful to someone and please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or suggestions. This is still work in progress – maybe some day we will figure out a better way to do this.

Happy Listening!

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A good journey. Perhaps xhange the title to something to reflect the post content better; my journey to or how to or notes on…

A quick update on how I finally was able to group three zones together. I was experimenting with WiFi vs hardwired and noted that one of the G1’s would connect to the main router rather than the node sitting next to it. So I eliminated one node going to three nodes in order to cover the house. I set two of the G1’s to WiFi and bound them to the main router leaving one of the G1’s hard wired to the main router. Now I can group all three without any issues. Seems having them hardwired to separate nodes, while OK when only playing one zone at a time, became too much communication (for lack of a better term) when grouping them all together…