I’m running Roon trial, with only a few days to go.
We had the chance to do some careful testing last evening, and came to a conclusion that we had already suspected from casual listening: Roon’s sound quality is simply not as good as our usual setup, PureMusic over iTunes.
Please note: This post is not to bash Roon’s sound quality. I enjoy Roon for the ‘relationships’ and exploration capabilities. I’ve already found a number of ‘new’ artists. What I’d like to do is to have Roon sound more like our usual setup, and I am looking for ways to do that.
Actually, in our setup it wasn’t even close. There were clear and obvious differences in SQ, taking only seconds to discern. It caused my wife to say, “So, Roon is for when we’re in the other room,” as we often listen from the kitchen and dinette while making dinner. Serious listening is in the sweet spot in the living room.
This leads me to the question, which is, “How can I enjoy the benefits of Roon’s iTunes library and Tidal integration without taking such a hit on sound quality?” Perhaps I have to take the bad with the good, as Roon’s strength is ‘relationships.’
We have what we would call a resolving system. Mojo Audio Mac Mini with Joule V power supply; external FW800 HDD; PS Audio Directstream DAC running Yale OS; Rowland Continuum S2 integrated amp; Magnepan 3.7 speakers; Transparent Audio USB and interconnects; Stillpoints; Shunyata Triton Hydra and Shunyata Anaconda PCs; Room treatments galore.
PureMusic is running in Exclusive Integer mode, upsampling to 192 except on DSD, which passes at that DSD’s resolution. So, in most cases, I’m upsampling Redbook 44.1 to 192.
We chose one of our favorite testing albums, Graceland. (Later we tested with others; same results.)
We first played tracks from the album ‘Graceland’ using Roon to pull bits off of Tidal’s version. We then quit Roon and flipped over to PureMusic/iTunes to play a WAV version ripped from CD. Winner: PM/iTunes, by a wide margin.
What was most interesting, though: Using Roon, we played the track “Under African Skies” from the WAV rip in our library, then flipped to PM/iTunes and played the exact same track from the library. Winner: PM/iTunes, again by a wide margin.
While the Roon version wasn’t bad, the PM/iTunes presentation was obviously more clear, with deeper and wider soundstage, better bass slam, resolution of individual instruments… everything was just more ballsy and present. Very engaging. And again, an obvious difference.
This is a disappointment for me; I’d love to hear some older or unexplored recordings, but want to hear all of the music.
Now, I know that we say “bits are bits.” Yet, I’ve got Roon running in CoreAudio Exclusive Mode, so it’s using the best possible path, as I understand it. But if it’s true that bits are bits, I find it weird that one can play the exact same track from an album – once through Roon and once through PM/iTunes – and get astonishing different results. Either upsampling in PM is making a difference, or PM’s processing simply results in a better sound.
I cannot run Roon through PureMusic, unfortunately. Well, I can, but PureMusic runs in “passthrough” mode for anything other than iTunes. It would be interesting to test that combination, but in theory, PureMusic doesn’t touch the bitstream as it passes through, so I’d expect that in that case, Roon == PureMusic Passthrough == less than optimum SQ.
So, sorry for the long post, but I’d love to get some input on what I’m hearing. Is there any way to get Roon’s SQ up to the level I’d expect? Or, should I consider Roon to be good at exploration, but not quite suitable for the most discerning listening sessions? Might HQ integration make a difference? Any theories on why bits-are-not-bits in this case?