Needing advice about Roon Core devices

Hello everyone, this is my first post. I had been hearing over and over about Roon, and thought I would give it a try, and so yesterday I signed up.

What I did not know was that I’d need to dedicate a device (or nuse my Macbook Air 2020) as a core. I’d like to briefly describe my setup and listening habits and hope someone will take a moment and give me a straightforward solution.

I’ve searched and read as much as I can about using a NUC or an old Mac Mini, etc (I’m on the budget end of the spectrum), but really not sure if this is the best solution, and don’t know much at all about non-Mac intel devices.

So, here’s my situation, really simple: I currently stream Tidal into an iPad Air 2 via wifi, which goes via Audioquest Carbon USB to a Schiit Bifrost 2, to a Saga+ pre and an Aegir power amp. Speakers are standmounts with RAAL 70-20 tweets and Satori midwoofers, quite beautiful presentation.

My systen isn’t super high end, but it’s enough to hear when I feed it something tasty!

The iPad is near my system, and I have no problem cuing the music and sitting down, in other words don’t even need a remote, although that is likely to change if I end up with a dedicated Core, in which case the iPad will become the controller.

I don’t have a large stored library so really this is pretty much a straight streaming setup.

My primary reason for trying Roon is audio quality, and secondarily the UI and recommendations, and curated lists, including radio.

All that being said, is there a low cost way to set up a core device (I’ve read so many varying opinions so I’m asking here)? And since audio quality is my primary motivation, if I go to the trouble and expense of setting up a core and learning what I need to know about Roon to make things work, will the difference be worth it? Will the quality of the sound improve?

From what I’ve read, the answer would be yes but I don’t know by how much (subjective, yeah). I DO know that the streaming services manipulate the output and I’d prefer bit perfect and if I want to mess with things, that’s my choice.

Thank you if you’ve read this far and I know this is probably the 100th time these kind of questions have been asked, but I’ve not found the specific answers so far so here we go again! Bryan

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Is there any reason you cannot use the Macbook Air as the core for now.
To get a good taste and feel for Roon before spending more hard earned money?
It would work best if it can be hard wired rather than wifi of course.
Then connect this via your Audioquest USB cable to your Schiit dac.
Maybe not the most perfect solution in the long run but it should give you a good idea what Roon is all about.
Then your ipad would become your controller/remote as you say and you can stay seated for your journey


Thanks Paul, that’s very useful info. I’d like to spend as far under $500 as possible. I recently layed out close to $2000 building my new speakers, and planned my next upgrade to be a Schiit Freya+ preamp and so I’m trying to budget for that. I entered the Roon world unaware of the need for a dedicated core, thinking the Air would work. Oops. It might be best for me to wait until I can layout for a decent core. Everything I do to improve my system is bang-for-buck, and Roon might be the icing on the cake. The Tidal interface is not bad at all, so it may have to do for now. Even so, if I can find a way to get Roon set up, I probably will!

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Thanks Hammer, I think you are absolutely right, and that’s what I was thinking today also. This would answer the question of SQ, and I’ll get a real taste and if the experience is that much improved regardless of SQ, I’ll prioritize Roon.


Another option would be to put Roon on your Mac, which could be anywhere, and use your iPad as an output zone from Roon, and connect your iPad to your hifi as you currently do. You would use your iPad or your Mac to control playback. This would give you a chance to evaluate Roon without spending anything. Might push your wifi a bit on higher resolution stuff, but worth a try. I sometimes stream from Roon to my iPhone or iPad when I want to listen on my AirPods while I walk about my apartment. Works fine. Or just hook your Mac up to your hifi when needed.

Thank you Jez. I’ve designated my Mac as the Core, and will give it a spin tonight. I was just reading that it’s not recommended to use the same computer as an all-in-one, but for now it’s what I’ve got. The tech stuff here is pretty involved, it’s going to take some time to get familiar with the layers of settings, not intuitive at all, definitely not plug and play. But oh man the UI is incredible, seductive! This is by far the most intelligent and informative music related environment I’ve seen, don’t think I can turn around now…


True it might not be recommended as a long term ideal situation but for your purpose it may well be more than acceptable.
As an aside I run two systems where the PC does duty as all in one and I’m very happy with the performance and SQ.


A lot of things would work. I run the Core on my NAS, which is technically underpowered, but I’m not the only one in the forums to do that. If I wanted to dedicate a device, I’d probably buy a used i5 Mac Mini and put Ubuntu on it as the operating system, and use that.

For instance,

@Bryan_Shaw, Note that you can’t run Roon Core on a Raspberry Pi.

I’ve noted thanks.
I’ll keep my future comments to myself.

Right now I’m all set to run the mac as an all in one, the next step will be to add the ipad. Either one of them will be connected via USB to the Schiit Bifrost 2. I’m a bit confused about whether I need to change any settings in order to properly send to the Bifrost, ie exclusive mode? And thanks a lot Bill for that heads up on the mac mini! That’s most likely where I’m headed, been an Apple guy for 15 years so it’s familiar to me and it’s a path well enough trodden.


Maybe if you are serving to six different zones, or doing heavy DSP, or your DAC is USB powered then you might want to consider putting Roon Core in a dedicated machine not connected directly to your hifi, but otherwise just streaming music as is without exotic DSP is a pretty insignificant load - you can check yourself using performance monitor on your Mac.

One thing though. When you first start running Roon it busies itself analysing the audio levels of any stored music you may have. This slows it down a bit. You might want to turn that off if you haven’t got a fast machine - Settings > Library > Background Audio Analysis Speed: Off, On-demand Audio Analysis Speed: Off. You lose a bit of graphics showing you the dynamic range of a track, but you can live without that for your first listening session. Turn those things back on before you go to bed, and it should all be done when you wake up.

Excellent heads up, thank you Jez. So I get it now, I misread the article in saying “USB powered DAC” as “USB connected DAC”. Maybe it’s not as complicated as I try to make it haha.

I’m not saying that some DACs might not be sensitive to some computers under some kind of loads, but nowadays most decent DACs are sorted. You should certainly get more than acceptable results using your MacBook or iPad. Obviously if your DAC takes its power from USB then there’s a chance that it will be more sensitive to what’s going on in your Mac, but if your DAC has its own power supply it should be much less influenced. Some times people can get ground loops causing key clicks to come through their system, but in the unlikely event of that happening, disconnecting the charger from your Mac will break the loop. I’d just get set up as simply as possible and get stuck in and listen to some music and get a feel for the Roon interface.

Hey Hammer…feeling Irregular today I see? Hope you and your family had a good and healthy Christmas weekend!

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As you’ve no doubt been advised, there are many inexpensive options for machines to run as a Roon Core.
I’ve used an old optiplex i5 quad core 8GB RAM and later picked up a used i7 Mac Mini 16 GB which serves as my current Core.

Hardware requirements will vary depending on the library size, number of endpoints and DSP settings. Small libraries, few endpoints and no DSP won’t need as much horsepower as their opposite.

I think you’ve figured this out already but one of the things I see new users struggle with is keeping the basic architecture straight so I’ll repeat it here. To run Roon you need 3 things:
Core - Library manage, endpoint management, DSP, etc.
Endpoint - Takes the digital audio bits from Core and feeds them to something that can convert them to analog.
Remote - The thing you, as a user, use to interact with Roon.

You can only have one Core. You can use, simultaneously, many endpoints and remotes. You can have a “all in one” that is both Core, Endpoint, and Remote. You can add additional Remotes and Endpoints at any time. Moving your Core takes some work.

For a trial its perfectly good to put everything on one machine. As your trial progresses you may find it more convenient to add a new endpoint or a different remote. Roon is flexible in this way. Enjoy and keep asking questions. It’s a lot to take in.


Jumping on the long tail here …

I’m a recent Roon convert, and I used my gaming laptop as the Roon Core for my evaluation period. Now I’m running it on a dedicated Mac Mini, but a separate machine is just not something you need for evaluation purposes.

When thinking of how things should be laid out, consider what’s “network” and what’s “direct”. Network is just bits over the wire - your ethernet connection (or un-wire, in the case of wifi). Direct is the USB, Coax, BNC, etc. segment of the signal path.

Network operations are buffered, meaning that the data is already at the destination before it’s read. It’s stable in a sense. It’s either there or it’s not. Direct operations are not buffered in any meaningful sense and are subject to the quality of the equipment, including jitter from the device on the sending end of the cable, and the ability of the device on the receiving end of the cable (your DAC) to mitigate any signal artifacts and rebuild a smooth clock signal.

Basically, failures in Network operations are obvious and binary - the audio stops and starts. On the other hand, failures in Direct operations are less obvious and more analog in a sense. Signaling jitter between your endpoint and your DAC is where we really get into “audiophile” territory of detecting (and caring about) any defect.

TLDR; stick your Core on what device is convenient for you. As long as it’s a machine that you expect will be on when you want to play music, you’re going to have a good time. For the network segment, all you need is a network that is reliable, whether wired or wireless. For the direct segment, all you need is an endpoint and DAC combination that sound good to your ear.

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I’m learning a lot here, and thank everyone for adding to the conversation. IP, it is a lot to take in, for sure. I’m not completely in the dark with tech and audio, but this is really new information to me. In response to BC, my requirements will be small, only one zone and small library, basic stereo setup. I’m pretty confident my DAC will handle the clock issues as the Bifrost is known for the tech in the clocking particularly in the USB stage, so we’ll see. I also have a dedicated high quality power cord running to it, and so yeah, the power supply is internal.
The only thing I’m confused about is what the “endpoint” is. For instance, if I were to set up a Mac Mini as my core, and connect the ipad to the USB into the DAC, the ipad would be my endpoint, yes? And if so, I could also use it as a remote, as I do now to control Tidal directly? Since I don’t have another viable option to use as an endpoint, the ipad for now is the best solution, and I’d rather interact with the larger screen than on the screen of my iphone. Eventually it would be great to set up a Pi or something as the endpoint, and use the ipad as my remote. I like to read about what I’m listening to, and make new connections, and Roon seems to excel in that regard, the geek in me is pretty stoked about that.

The other thing I don’t quite grok is that Roon suggests an ethernet connection between the Core and the output device. If I connect a Mac Mini to my router via cable, it makes sense, but the router is 50 feet from my gear, so would I still be able to stream directly to the Ipad endpoint like I’m doing now? I honestly don’t know what is meant by “output device”. It would be great if the engineers at Roon hired a translator and at least gave some brief parenthesized examples or explanations for those of us who haven’t been soldering stuff onto motherboards for the last 20 years!

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