I understand there have been some questions about why Roon Radio picks lower quality version of a song when higher quality copies of the same song are available.
First off, it’s important to understand that the goal of Roon Radio, generally speaking, is to pick the best possible music for you. These selections are based on what we know about you, and the content Radio started on (also known as “the seed”). A number of complex factors are involved in determining what the best song is, but the starting point is generally going to be relevance – Roon Radio is designed to play songs you love, whether you’ve heard them before or not.
So, the question we’ve heard a few times is, once Roon Radio has selected a song – particularly a song available in multiple versions – why would it ever pick a low quality file when the same song is available in a better format?
The answer comes down to the definition of “same song” – the high quality file on your hard drive may appear to be equivalent to a track on TIDAL, or you might think that the AAC copy on TIDAL is clearly matched to the CD quality version on Qobuz. And of course, you’re probably correct – those may be the same song, same recording, same mastering, etc. Roon may even mark the two albums as “versions” of each other.
But Radio is not picking albums – it’s picking songs. And albums frequently contain all sorts of different versions of a given song – outtakes, remixes, instrumentals, false starts, and so on. And so while Radio will always pick the highest quality copy of a given song, the criteria Radio uses for “equivalencing” two songs are actually quite conservative, because the alternative is not acceptable. A mistake here could cause real harm.
Say our system makes a mistake and matches a remix or outtake with the original. If the remix happens to be higher quality, no one using Roon Radio will ever hear the original, because our system always picks the highest quality.
So the system errs quite heavily on the side of caution – If Roon isn’t 100% sure that two tracks are the same, it’s going to consider them different. And so there will be instances where humans are easily able to discern that two tracks are the same recording, but our system is going to consider them different, in order to ensure we don’t mistakenly match up the wrong tracks.
This is not a description of our goals – this is a description of the current state of this technology. Improving our ability to accurately match tracks is an area of active research right now, and that’s not just to encourage higher quality Radio picks – there are a number of major improvements we are planning that depend on Roon being able to confidently say that all 10 versions of a song are the same recording. Accuracy in this area will improve significantly over the coming months and years.
For the moment, the system errs on the side of playing what it believes to be the best picks – when Roon Radio thinks it has the perfect pick for you, and that pick happens to be available in AAC, it’s going to play it. Because the alternative is rolling the dice, and potentially choosing a higher quality copy of a lower quality song.