tl;dr: Everyone should try streaming (again), if available to them; it is better than you imagine (or remember).
Earlier this spring there was extensive discussion regarding whether Roon “cares” about local music libraries (pace @danny). My sole contribution to that thread was to posit that certain subsets of the Roon population might have rational reasons to have local libraries, at least in the short to medium term. While my views were met with some combination of pity and scorn (my admittedly sensitive soul’s view of it anyway), I wondered whether I should really try streaming again. Tidal offered a $4 CAD plan for 4 months, so effectively with no risk or investment. (Qobuz is not available in Canada, alas.) Here are some personal observations to share about my (re-)discovery process.
It is astonishing how many recordings are now available via streaming platforms. Outside of a few (critical) label holdouts (Hyperion for example), I have not found any glaring, material omissions in the genres I know something about, so far. Sure, I have a (not insignificant) number of CDs that can’t be streamed (yet), but if I didn’t already have them (and know about them) I might not likely miss them too much, truth be told.
More to the point, I have felt like a “kid in the candy store”, poking about for new things to listen to, with the magical “Add to Library” action which feels so great. It is the akin to the feeling I had when I first went to Oberlin Conservatory and had access to their recordings library; the euphoria I felt listening to organum for the first time for example, something that I had never even heard of as a young musician growing up in rural Alaska. It is astounding how fun it all is.
I finally understood the Roon Advantage™, because the process of following Artist and other links to discover new stuff is so much fun. I hadn’t needed to do this with my own library before because a) my library was only 55k+ tracks and b) I remember most of it pretty well. So, I didn’t “get” it. I do understand dicoverabiliy via Roon better now.
Are there problems? Yes, especially related to metadata accuracy: occasionally ensembles get conflated (La Fenice for example), and this is even more apparrent with the much larger volume of available recordings now. And, I suspect that metadata will continue to be a significant problem in classical music.
The only negative part so far? The design decision to display “tracks” (AKA “works”) instead of albums (in some views at least). An album view is almost always easier to navigate, at least for me. Let’s say you want to view what Tidal recordings are available devoted to Landini (14th century Italy composer): a list of works (aka “tracks”) is much less readable than a list of albums, because there will be many (short) pieces but relatively few albums. Maybe there is a way to toggle this in the GUI?
Verdict: A (still amazing)
Well, a polarizing experience. At times, I was led to some amazing finds: early on, a recording of Vivanco by Capilla Flamenca that somehow I had missed. Or a contrabassoon recital that I never would have even considered buying. Or an old Alla Francesca recording that was new to us… and on and on and on.
On the flip side, occasional blips into absolutely “crappy” recordings. Classical isn’t curated in any meaningful way, so for every major label there is a budget knockoff with many “50 best piano favourites” albums or some such nonsense. This is the cost of serendipity I guess: there is no effective “quality” meter (yet).
If I could implement any integration I wanted, I would try to work out a deal with Presto (classical and jazz retailer in the UK) so that Roon had access to the meta information about recordings (the awards won etc) that Presto has amased, and use that to preferentially weight those recordings slightly higher. Maybe in return for a link to Presto to buy the recording, for those that still want to own rather than rent? A dream, perhaps.
Verdict: pretty good, all things considered.
New Releases For You
This feature has so much promise, and yet also has somewhat of a long road ahead. For example, one time when I looked, of the first “screen” of 8 classical albums, 4 (half) were “garbage” recordings. Subjective, yes, but instantly recognizable. To my eyes, these were “spam”. Again, poor consistency in classical metadata will limit possibilities, but in other genres this feature will be interesting.
Another challenge is that there are some ensembles that are between or even blends of genres: easy to hear and describe verbally, but not currently defined in metadata in a way that allows Roon to understand their “essence”. For example, my wife is a fan of Kris Drever (Scottish singer and guitar player), and to suggest classic British folk music is really to miss the point. Or, another example: The Cat Empire (Australian band). For Roon to suggest other Australian bands also is to miss the essence of their music and why you may like it, simply based on one of the few data points available.
Verdict: the future is bright, but a work in progress.
I have continued to pay for Tidal.