Roon Emotional Rescue


Here’s my situation. Have a lifetime Roon license, but am struggling to find a place for Roon in my musical universe. Here’s why.

I have a 2020 M1 Mac Mini operating as the Roon Core. Also have HQPlayer.

My sound system is a Marantz Model 30 integrated, Marantz SACD 30n, iFi Zen Stream, and Magnepan LRS.

The problem centers around the Marantz SACD 30n. It plays CDs, SACDs, and can stream Tidal or Spotify. Roon on the M1 Mac Mini (with or without HQP) sounds quite good. The problem is the Marantz playing optical discs smokes the Mac setup. And streaming Tidal directly to the Marantz, or to the rather amazing Zen Stream, also sounds several notches better than the via Roon on the M1 Mac Mini.

I had hoped the Zen Stream would fix things, but it has not. It’s not that Roon sounds bad, it’s just that music played via optical disc or streaming without a computer involved sounds clearly better. My theory is that the Mac Mini is somehow the weak link.

I’m wondering if a Roon Nucleus would fix things? Running the Nucleus into the Zen Stream, and onto the Marantz SACD 30n via Coax. My hesitation is that isn’t the Nucleus just a NUC with a fancy case?

And what’s all this about the Roon Core should be on one device, and the something something should be on another?

I’m simply not satisfied with the perspective that Roon isn’t the best sounding software, but boy oh boy is it great at library management, and that’s the inherent trade off. If that’s the trade off, I’ll not longer use Roon for music playback and instead only as a master library.

I only have $499 invested into Roon financially, but enumerable hours of self generated curation. Genuinely want Roon an active part of my system, but the sound quality needs to match that of my sans Roon (computer) options.

Kind gentlemen of the Roon universe, please show me the Light!


Just a clarification… are you going from the Mac mini straight via USB into your DAC? If so, before I got a different core, I’d get a pi2AES or an Allo Signature with a good power supply, install Ropieee and try USB out and AES or SPDIF into your DAC. A layer of electrical isolation, and more importantly a chance to try connections that many on SBAF prefer hands down over USB connections. Also, cheap at the price for a proper endpoint.

That’s my 2 cents. Requires some tinkering, but there are a lot of reasons why an inexpensive streamer beats any core straight into a good DAC.

(And to be fair, I’m posting the tinkerers answer. There are many plug and play streaming endpoints. I belong to the bitsisbits club & so I save a few bucks on this part of the chain to spend elsewhere, but lots of folks would get a nice streamer; there are plenty to choose from, whatever you do get a dedicated endpoint and stat)

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I have a 2020 M1 Mini and used it for a while as my Roon core and player (with HQPlayer) connected directly to my Benchmark dac. Sounded pretty good.
Because I had my old 2012 i7 Mini lying around I decided to experiment using the i7 Mini as a HQP Network Adapter endpoint between the i7 and dac. This sounded better - so I decided to get an UltraRendu dedicated streaming endpoint. This provided a significant gain in SQ.
Ultimately I went back to my i7 Mini as the dedicated Roon core streaming to the ultraRendu- which can be switched between Roon and HQP endpoints (as well as other options).
So now I use the M1 Mini for general use and as my Roon player. The M1, i7 minis and ultraRendu are all Ethernet connected, the ultraRendu is on a dedicated etherregen switch.
Sounds very good.
So my experience is that for best sound put the Roon core on a dedicated device and connect via Ethernet to your streamer.
As always, YMMV.

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My best guess is that there’s a levels matching issue somewhere. TIDAL Connect via the ZEN Stream is significantly worse than TIDAL via Roon into the ZEN Stream. It’s not close. After careful level matching (I use REW to measure output to within 0.01 dB).

That, or the $3k Marantz does not perform well over S/PDIF, but that seems unlikely.

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This is simply not the case in my system, and to my experienced ears. Tidal directly to the Zen Stream sounds better than Tidal via Roon to the ZS. If you were here, you would agree.

There is no level matching issue. I understand that in your system, Roon sounds better. But we have different systems.

This is an ongoing issue with Roon on the Mac Mac Mini. During my 4 years with Roon, it has always been the poorest sounding music player of my stable of all the Mac based players. But I’ve never divided the Roon Core from whatever it is it’s supposed to be divided from within the Roon software system.

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I have both a MircoRendu 1.4 (w/ Sbooster) and the iFi Zen Stream, both which separate the Mac Mini from the Marantz via the network. I’ve been down that road.

Thanks for this. Are you suggesting that I get a second Mac Mini? This is the part I don’t understand. I’ve heard people refer to putting the Roon Core on one device, and something else on second device (computer, NUC?), and that dividing up the two elements makes it sound better. A second Mac Mini would be too many Mac Minis, perhaps the NUC route is the answer??

But if Roon Core is on the Mac Mini, what other part of Roon goes on the NUC?

As mentioned, I have the MicroRendu 1.4 (which is like 85% of the UltraRendu), and the better sounding iFi Zen Stream. But the issue is that the way I have Roon (entirely on the Mac Mini) is only helped by the streamers in a relative way. The Zen Stream improved over the mR, but it also improved Tidal playing directly. Thus the gap remained the same, even though the Zen Stream is an improvement.

I’m extremely impressed with the Zen Stream playing 16/44 Tidal. It can bring certain tracks to near SACD quality levels. It’s that good in my system. But Tidal played through Roon via the computer rig, on the same streamer, and same DAC, is a step down. Not night and day, but there.

The Marantz SACD 30n is so good. It showed me how much better sound can be without a computer involved. Prior to its arrival, I simply didn’t know. But I’m not giving up on Roon just yet!

I’ve never been able to beat my meridan 506 cd player,it clearly sounds the best compared to my ifi zen stream/node2 into my denafrips ares 11 and bel canto dac3,in theory it shouldn’t as bits are bit s but I reckon you’d need to spend a right few thousand to beat a good cd player,even then

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Well, not necessarily a Mini, I still had my old 2012 Mini after upgrading to the M1, so it was convenient for me.
I think most people agree Roon sounds best when the core is run on a dedicated computer.
I agree your MicroRendu should give similar results to the uRendu, so separating the core would be a worthwhile experiment.
My 2012 Mini was already upgraded with an Uptone JS2 LPS though whether this now offers any benefit when used as a Roon core is debatable. The JS2 also powers the Etherregen switch in my set-up. The ultraRendu is powered by another LPS.
I run Roonserver and HQPlayer on the 2012 Mini (2.3Ghz ‘ivy bridge’ i7/16GB/SSD), PCM upscaling only with HQP. When playing its only running about 3% CPU load, so cruising. I run it headless with no screen and BT, wifi etc turned off. If I need to access it I use screenshare from the M1 Mini over the network - an advantage of using a second Mini.
I run the Roon player GUI on the M1 Mini - so player, core and endpoint(ultraRendu) are all on separate computers.
Of course I could use the M1 mini as my dedicated Roon server - its far more powerful than my old 2012 i7 mini - but I want to use the M1 for general computing and doing other stuff while I listen to music. For my situation the M1 would be wasted running Roonserver/HQP doing just pcm upscaling as I am.

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@DancingSea, you’re not going to like my comment, so feel free to ignore…

I read posts like yours quite frequently, and by what you wrote, it seems you’ve never really taken the time, or found it necessary, to browse Roon’s KnowledgeBase.
Do yourself and the forum a favor and have a look to better understand the concept of…

I also wager to postulate, that you’ve never really studied HQ player’s documentation either, in order to maximize sound quality.

On another note, why is it to be blamed solely on Roon that using different inputs on a piece of kit worsens the sound?
Did it ever occur to you, that it may be Marantz’ implementation of the unit’s inputs causing your frustration?

By what you chose to disclose about your signal path improvement trials, the rub seems to be, that if you insist in keeping your cherished component, you will never get “there”.

In any case, have a happy third Advent Sunday!
:evergreen_tree: :candle: :candle: :candle: :evergreen_tree:


That was last week… :wink:


Ooops, I’ve got to be close to the event horizon then…
Of course you’re right


If you have an ifi stream the mac mini should only be the core, its not part of the listening experience its running a database and passing data.

You should have the mini as the core and use the ifi as the end point connected to the dac.

I’ve just got an ifi and at the moment i’m starting to test, Roon to the ifi, and tidal connect directly to the ifi and onto my dac.

Both the Ifi and dac are new so i’m spending some time to get used to the new sound and levels.

But David is right, i noticed a level difference between Roon and the ifi, with the ifi i need to turn my amp down a notch to get it about the same, i think its about 2db different. makes a big difference.


Such a level difference means that something along the way from Tidal to the DAC is doing DSP. It could be that Tidal serves differently processed tracks to Roon than directly, or the Zen is doing DSP for one of the sources (or for both differently), or Roon has been configured to do DSP leveling. If the same bits were being served, the level should be the same.

In general, the first thing to check in these comparisons is whether one of the multiple processors along the path is being “too clever.”


I appreciate your comments. However, the sound quality with Roon has persisted over multiple DACs, not just the Marantz. DirectStream and Border Patrol as well. It’s not an issue with my gear. Or with the various streamers. And it’s not a level matching issue as I know Roon outputs at a lower volume and I’ve compensated for that.

For several years, HQP was a very satisfactory solution in combination with Roon. The Marantz has exceeded that and exposed the limitations of my admittedly rudimentary implementation of Roon and HQP (both in the Mac mini).

I have read through the Roon Knowledge base some. But didn’t quite understand it, hence the post.

I’m down to trying to grasp the two box Roon setup and how that differs from the use of Streamers.

Is it that Roon Core ought to go on one machine, and Roon Control on another? Have the streamers (mR or ZS) provided the “control” part? Or is that done some other way?

I’m not so concerned about hqplayer anymore because the Marantz up samples to DSD 256 on its own. No need to do it twice.

What also confuses me are things like the Nucleus or Sonic Transporter are one box solutions. And they are essentially computers.

I’m just not clear if I’ve already done the two box Roon dance or not. And if not, what I could try.

I totally get that the Marantz playing CDs and SACDs has an inherent advantage over Roon. What has stirred the waters is how much better Tidal sounds when played directly through the Marantz or Zen Stream vs via Roon. And yes, levels are matched. It’s not a matter of levels.

Perhaps I’ve become such an audio snob that I need an expensive dedicated server to be happy? Like Aurender or Auralic or HiFi Rose?

But, I’d like to run the course with a proper Roon two box setup. The first thing is to understand if the Mac Mini / mR or ZS has done that.


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It’s a mystery for sure. I have all DSP turned off in Roon. Roon has always outputted at a slightly lower level in my experience.

I keep coming back to the idea that the Mac Mini is part of the problem. That it’s a good server up to a certain level. But it’s still a noisy computer and those limitations become revealed as one climbs the HiFi mountain.

Any competent, modern DAC will filter any computer noise. If you’re hearing obvious noise it’s most likely a ground issue.


You should disclose your budget that your willing to invest in solving your “ source problem” however there are various companies offering high quality at a high price, music servers that can connect to your dac in a variety of inputs, through a one or two box solution. These roon partner players are remarkable in sq, and your iMac/phone/pad all can become remotes. No more noisy computers….

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I’m assuming your selecting the MAC as the output devise in Roon and that’s connected to the DAC?

The preferred way would be to have the ifi stream connected to the DAC and then select the ifi as the output.

I would then listen to a track on roon via the ifi.
Then using Tidal connect listen to the same track and compare adjusting the levels as required.

I’m now thinking direct from my iFi using tidal connect sounds a little more detailed.

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This is not right. Unless you are doing volume manipulations via DSP in the source, there is no volume difference between Roon and any other proper digital source for a given source track. Either the tracks you are comparing are not the same bitwise, or something else is doing DSP volume change along the data path. Same bits into same DAC via same DAC input => same volume.