Roon Advice - tabula rasa edition

Hello Roon Community, sorry if I have a few ignorant questions and sorry if I wrongly categorized this post. Still learning all things audiophile and Roon.

Recent convert from 15+ years on iTunes/Apple Music. Morbidly depressed there is no easy solution I’m aware of to convert my listening history, play count, ratings and playlists to Roon. I understand a few manual ways to get my ratings and playlists into Roon, but not found any solution for play count and listening history. Either way, I’m increasingly “done” with Apple and on the verge of buying Roon lifetime for the whopping $700, but in need of some more insight to see if Roon is my lifelong solution. Been using it for about a month now and surprisingly enjoy it much more than Apple Music although I’m missing workflow details I’ve come to expect, mostly playlist folders.

In (hopefully) switching to Roon, it’s also timed with building a new pc and upgrading my multimedia system. Currently I listen to Roon in the following ways: (1) On DROP + THX Wireless Headphones via Bluetooth 5.0 AptX Adaptive. This is 60% of my listening experience. And no, my iMac isn’t using the AptX Adaptive, I’m just listing its best wireless spec as that might affect new build and purchases recommendations. (2) iPhone 6s connected to portable Oontz Angle 3 Ultra portable speaker. This is 30% of my listening experience. (3) On a Logitech Z-5500 THX-Certified 5.1 Digital Surround Sound Speaker System connected to iMac Retina 5K late-2014 via TOSLINK optical [Play high sample rate digital audio on Mac computers - Apple Support]. This is 10% of my listening experience.

In building a new PC and multimedia system, I’m going tabula rasa on everything except the Panda wireless headphones. I rely on wireless for work and I’m fairly happy with their performance. This means I intend to upgrade my portable and surround solutions in addition to adding stereo bookshelf speakers in my living room for Roon and LPs. Overall, I’m looking for advice along the lines of "If I was able to start with a blank slate and given how you use Roon: I would do X, build Y and buy Z.

Here we go.

1 - Workstation-Server PC
Currently leaning to building a ~80TB RaidZ2 “always-on” workstation-server running bare metal Ubuntu with servers for Roon, Plex, and Nextcloud. May dual boot the machine into windows for some gaming or just go with Linux native and VM gaming, but not a priority as this activity is so infrequent. Daily use of the workstation is multitasking with writing programs, 100+ tabs of internet browsing (yes its a disease) and productivity apps. A couple times a month I’m running Adobe apps. In trying to build the machine to get the most out of Roon, I’m trying to understand the following:

PC - If the workstation-server has the right specs, is there any issue with running Roon core on Ubuntu along with the Plex and Nextcloud servers and workstation use? My Plex server has not outside users and it rarely transcodes. It is for personal use only and we only really stream to one device at a time. In other words, to “get the most out of Roon” how important is it to run core standalone on a NUC, NAS, or the Nucleus? Ideally all my 80TBs of media is in one machine, although I’m open to doing the RaidZ2 on the HHDs for Plex and some SSD solution for the 2TBs needed for my Roon/Nextcloud media… if that’s a thing. Not sure.

Hardware - Does Roon benefit from any sound cards? Although gaming is only a couple hours a month, when I game, I like full specs and full immersive experience. I’ve come across the EVGA Nu Audio sound card that might benefit both experiences. I’m sure there are more products like this and I wonder how they will help or hurt Roon’s final output on my PC? Another way to ask this is: If the Roon core recommended specs are only relevant to the “server” functionality, then does Roon running as an audio device on this same workstation-server PC have separate recommended specs for the hardware to get the highest quality output? If so, what PC hardware would give you the best results? If not, what audio device(s) am I looking for to ensures my (1) wireless Panda headphones, (2) upgraded portable speaker, (3) upgraded surround sound (4) and new bookcase speakers are processing the same quality output? If there is not a single device that ensure all these endpoints have the same quality processing, I’m to understand that every endpoint is “on its own”? In other words, quality specs on the PC, ie a sound card, have nothing to do with the quality coming out of the surround sound or bookcase speakers? Those require their own devices to process the digital Roon data?

Native DSD… I’m not experienced with listening to music at this level of quality yet, but I intend to be at this level one day and want this machine to be ready for that time. How do I get native DSD? Does it work differently if Roon core is running on Windows, Linux or Mac? Does it need specific hardware? Or is native DSD something you only get from each endpoint and the devices processing for those speakers? Also, are there other high quality features like Native DSD that I should be aware of?

2 - Surround Sound
As I understand it, stereo music isn’t meant for surround so its basically anathema for audiophiles that I enjoy doing this, although I do have native 5.1 albums… Return to Ommadawn, anyone? Either way, I enjoy the immersive experience a lot and whatever black magic the Z-5500s has been doing to the stereo music to mix out a 5.1 experience has been very enjoyable. I want this same experience but upgraded. The surround is in my office/theater room and with an upgraded system, what devices am I looking for and needing to learn about to get the most out of Roon while the surround system also serves my movie watching needs? Especially a bonus if this system can also do Dolby Atmos.

3 - Portable Speaker
I bought the Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i and had to return it after a few days. I can’t consider the device portable when the battery pack cannot play the sound above 30% without the bass blowing out. What a horrible flaw. Hoping an updated version solves this problem as that speaker sounded excellent. Any other options out there that are best for Roon?

PS, I’m looking for products/builds that take me into the next level of audiophile kingdom… not trying to be king of the hill. So please no empty responses like, “well if you want the best, these $40,000 speakers…” My budget is flexible, but I’m not close enough to the fiat faucet to blow money like that.

In pure IT terms that’s not ideal. Ideal it will be to have a centralized storage outside the working machine, imagine a dedicated file server or NAS. From the media files perspective for example, this will allow you not to keep it “always-on” (I suppose you don’t watch movies 24/7) which contrary to the most believes it is not a good thing for personal computers, even if we like to call them “servers”. Anyway, i believe this It’s something worth considering especially if you start fresh, in the long run it will have real benefits even if initially will came with a bigger cost. For example I see that you need the computer for other stuff too so occasionally and/or periodic reinstalls may not be so unusual for your setup, in which case having the storage on a different machine it’s a big advantage.

Though in the computer world there are millions of possible combinations both hardware and software you should have no “native” issues running al of these together.

The most important thing is for the hardware to be in the roon’s recommended specifications. Since you plan a wider use of that machine keep in mind to scale it accordingly, as long as roon gets the necessary resources it should work well beside any other software that you want to run on that computer (same applies for the other software).

From the roon point of view the apex of resource consuming is when it scans your library (especially the initial scan) and when you are using the DSP engine.

The second important thing and generally and strongly recommended both by roon and most of the users here (me included) is to separate the audio from the server by using wired end points, regardless of the server hardware (NUC, Nucleus, NAS, Linux PC or whatever).

Also, search the forum and do your home work about an issue that apparently roon has with linux and/or nas systems regarding a memory leak, it is reported many times. If it proves to be true for your setup too, it may be an issue for your use case (you don’t want a memory hungry application on an workstations that debugs code).

Yes, if you use a sound card as an end point for roon then the better the sound card the better the roon’s sound. But then again, see above about keeping the audio separated from the server. Also, if you want to go and try DSD see that the sound card is capable of playing DSD (via ASIO for example or whatever).

You get DSD in the format of .dsf files, which roon understands. Native DSD is related to the end point, in order to fully benefit from the format the end point needs to be able to play native DSD (otherwise roon will transcode/downsample/whatever that via the DSP engine in something that the end point understands).

Big thing to pay attention here: is important to know how will you connect the end point (like I’ve said before, wired network from the server is the best, but not the only, solution) because a lot of native DSD players have different DSD capabilities for different inputs (DSD64 for network, DSD256 for the usb input for example, but they only advertise the highest rate, which depending of the situation may not be possible to your setup).