I had Roon running on my desktop PC, worked fine but that machine is used for other stuff that sometimes interfered with music play. And I had a NAS, and a lot of networking, and it just felt complicated. A distributed computer system—I just wanted a simple music player. So I set up the simplest, most appliance-like configuration I could. I wanted a box with no moving parts. No spindles. The proverbial “solid block of silicon.”
The key recognition is that using RAID for a music player is unnecessary. RAID adds reliability but not enough: it saves you if a drive fails completely, but it doesn’t save you from fumble-finger delete or software errors or theft or… So you need backup anyway. And if you have backup, why bother with RAID? Disk failures are rare, no reason to optimize for the rare event.
I built a self-contained NUC, with a 2 TB SSD for the music (and 500 GB SSD for the OS and Roon and extra). 2 TB easily holds my current library, by the time it runs out, either I’ll be dead or SSDs will be 16 TB…. I wired that directly to the Meridian 818 v3, which connects to the Meridian DSP 8000SE speakers (which contain their own amps). Minimal box count: server, streaming end point, speakers. No other networked devices, not even a switch. The NUC is connected to wifi so it can get to Tidal (and Windows Update). I use the desktop to download and rip music, and transfer it to the NUC by wifi. And I backup to the NAS over wifi. So there are some components in the system, but I keep all that extra stuff out of the way of the NUC/Meridian music system. Two boxes wired together, like in the old days.
I do have a Geek Pulse DAC/headphone amp that is connected to the NUC by USB.
I wanted the whole system to behave like a consumer electronics appliance. You turn it on and it works. No logon, no passwords, no starting apps. If there is a power outage (short blips are frequent in my area), the appliance should automatically restart when power is back. It should behave like a 1976 FM radio. I got very close.
As always, it took a fair amount of investigation and experimentation to get simplicity. Some of the info comes from these pages, some from the Roon guys, some from the internet, some from friends and colleagues at Microsoft, some from my own experimentation. Thanks to everybody. So here is my summary, hope it is useful to anybody who wants to replicate this.
- Building the NUC was quite simple. Ordered from Amazon: Intel NUC NUC5i5RYH, Samsung 2.5” 2 TB EVO SSD, Samsung M.2 500 GB EVO SSD, Crucial 16 GB, total $1345. (The 2 TB is over half of that.)
- Installed Windows 10.
- Wired it directly to the Meridian with a short network cable.
- Connected the NUC to wifi.
- To run on a separate wired subnet, disconnected from other things, both the NUC and the streaming endpoint must have static IP addresses, since there is no DHCP server to provide a dynamic IP address. To set up the NUC with a static IP address you go the Windows Control Panel. For the endpoint it will depend on the brand, Meridian endpoints have a web page for setup.
- To make it auto-start when power comes on, I configured the BIOS. Intel provides a very neat BIOS configurator, press a key on startup.
- Set up Windows to auto logon on startup: Windows+R Netplwiz
- Installed RoonServer, per instructions.
- Set up RoonServer to auto-start when Windows starts. The Startup folder is well hidden in Windows 10, support even says the feature is removed, but you can find it by entering Windows+R shell:startup and drag a shortcut to the RoonServer exe into that folder.
(During setup and troubleshooting and content download I had it wired to a network switch and connected to monitor and keyboard.)
I initially had a problem with Roon discovering the endpoints without DHCP. I thought it was a discovery problem with static IP addresses, don’t know how the discovery protocol works, but eventually found it was a firewall setting that was wrong. Should have checked that first, it is usually the firewall. (Thanks, Brian.) Both Roon and Roonserver were listed several times, with random firewall settings; don’t know why, maybe because I had installed Roon first before installing Roonserver; I turned everything on and it worked fine.
The NUC no longer has a monitor and keyboard, so I use RDP (remote connection) from another Windows machine when I need to control it. But there is a twist: by default, the remote connection takes over audio and sends it to the remote machine, and when you shut down the remote connection it didn’t release audio back to the NUC. Probably a bug in a driver. Wasn’t a problem for the Meridian streaming over the network, but the Geek Pulse connection over USB was disabled after every RDP connection, until a reboot. This default behavior is what you get when you just right click on the NUC in Windows Explorer and select remote connection, and there is no control for changing that. In order to control the audio behavior, I run mstsc which brings up a control panel; once I change the audio behavior here, this changes the default for the simple right-click connection. (Btw, I have been told by the people who build this stuff that this is not the behavior with Windows Server—changing the audio setting has the effect of turning off audio on the server. This is true for WS 2016, don’t know how WS2012 or 2012R2 behave, but if you use server and have trouble this may be a factor.)
The Roon server should always be on, don’t want it to fall asleep. In the control panel I went to the Power section and set the system to never power off. But I had occasional problems where Roon was unavailable, the whole NUC was unavailable, after being unused for a while. Turns out that regardless of the Power settings, there is a separate setting in the Network area:
• Control panel, Network and Internet, Network and Sharing Center, Change adapter settings (on the left)
• Click on the wifi connection
• Power management tab
• Uncheck Allow the computer to turn off this device
So a fair number of steps. But by now, it does work like the 1976 FM radio, except it takes 45 seconds after power-on until Roon is available from the iPad.
By the way, if you haven’t seen a NUC in the metal, it is adorable: a 2.5 TB SSD machine and it is smaller than a stack of 5 CDs. It looks puny next to the Meridian box.
The standard Intel NUC has a fan. I have never heard it while playing music, Roon is not a heavy load, but I did not want any moving parts, on general principles. I bought a fanless case for it (Akasa Plato) and I intend to move all the innards of the NUC into the Akasa. Seems straightforward, haven’t done it yet.
And I am a little suspicious of the NUC’s wall-wart power supply. Don’t know if it introduces any ill effects over the wire, but I bought a linear power supply (HD-Plex), just in case. $365. All together with the fanless case and LPS I’m still below $2,000; a lot of money for a computer but not for the hifi world.
Very simple and elegant. And Roon on the NUC can still play to other Meridian MS600 endpoints in the house, no problems with 802.11ac wifi. Don’t know if there are sound quality differences with wifi, and I don’t care, the serious music room is wired and minimal.
So that’s the good news, simple and elegant and appliance-like. The bad news is the amount of investigation and troubleshooting and support by helpful people to figure it out. I’ll write a separate discussion on that, in the Roon Software section.