I’ve been playing with the free trial version of Roon for a little while and now it’s over I find myself still hesitant to purchase. Why? It’s a great product, the interface is pretty good and it works. Just not quite enough. Let’s see why.
In my house I have what I suspect would be a pretty common set up. I have two Apple MacBook Pros with high quality speakers attached in spaces we’ve setup as home offices, a Marantz home theatre receiver that’s HEOS and Airplay capable in the lounge, a HEOS speaker in another room and to boot, a couple of Lenovo smart clocks in the bedroom which I can use a some small speakers via Google home. I’m running the Roon server on a Synology NAS.
Yet despite Roon’s ability to talk to many different devices I’m quite limited in what I can do. Roon will talk to all of these but not at the same time and with a lot of limitations. Effectively killing the idea of any sort of house wide music.
For example I can get Roon to Airplay to the MBPs and the Marantz at the same time, but only if I run around and accept the connection on each laptop. I can’t stream to the clocks or the 2nd HEOS speaker though because they’re on different technologies and when Airplaying HEOS won’t allow me to include the HEOS speaker.
The trigger point for me would be for Roon to be able to group and send to more that one technology at the same time and to also talk directly to a HEOS setup as opposed to using Airplay. Being able to do this means I could stream via Google to the clocks, HEOS play to the Marantz and HEOS speaker, and Airplay (or directly play) to the MBP attached speakers.
I don’t know the technological problems of getting this to work. But for me it would the winning killer feature.
Roon is built around its own network audio protocol, RAAT. RAAT is found in Roon Ready products (not to be confused with Roon Tested, sigh). Roon makes RoonBridge software to turn a PC, Mac, or Linux box (including Raspberry Pi) available at no cost. There are a number of solutions for streaming endpoints to convert RAAT to USB audio or SP/DIF. DIY starts at about $80-100 for an RPi running Ropieee and takes 15-30 minutes to build if you have computer skills and can use a screwdriver. Commercial solutions start at a few hundred dollars, and go up to, well, pretty much the sky is the limit.
RAAT really is at the core of Roon, and enables all the features you want. All other network audio protocols are second class citizens in the Roon world. If you’re willing to build/buy Roon endpoints for your devices (assuming they have digital or line level inputs), Roon will work for you. Otherwise, sorry to say, Roon probably isn’t the solution you’re looking for.
And Synology based Core also have limited processing power to handle multiple zones, just to set up a core with small library on your best MBP ideally with Ethernet hardwired, maybe your Roon Experience will be a lot better.
You can always setup 2nd, 3rd core at home for trial under one account without uninstall or delete your existing core on Synology, just deauthorize the previous running one, and switch to new one as long as only one core at a time, so naming the new core carefully to avoid confusion.
No software can do sync playback to different protocols, they all use very different technologies, clocks and audio processing that causes delays in each device. To have multiroom you need a very tight sync between each device or they will drift very quickly and it would be a mess. This is why Roon works as it does. If you want to play to all devices at once you have to have devices that work on the same protocol, this goes for any eco system , Roon gives you the choice of which one to choose unlike others which just support one. It’s preffered one is its own RAAT which is getting supported in more devices by the day.
This is the crux of the issue. Different (closed) technologies have different ways to control the clocks, rendering it impossible for Roon to keep different technologies in sync with each other. I don’t think any other technology comes close to Roon when grouping multiple zones. When you have a mix of Airplay and Chromecast devices, this is always going to present difficulties regardless of the player you chose. Wherever possible, you should aim to use Roon’s native RAAT and add inexpensive Roon bridge into the mix.
Roon server doesn’t run on arm only Roon bridge so is moot, but your very correct about intel Synology or Qnap depending on the model chosen they are capable but the lower end ones which most users have are not the best experience although getting better than they once where.
First of all, I love Roon. I think Roon is amazing. I really do. However, I think I do understand the OP’s qualms about Roon. For a total newcomer to the world of Roon and LAN-based streaming, it is very difficult to wrap one’s head around what Roon is and how it works. If you go to the Roon website, parts of it read like a word salad. There are a few pieces of software, each running on its own hardware, available for a few different platforms. Intel, Apple, or ARM silicon? Windows, Mac OS, or Linux? What’s the difference between Roon Server, Roon Bridge, Roon Remote, CORE, ROCK, Nucleus? For most of us, seasoned Roon users, it’s second nature, but for beginners, it’s rather daunting. Roon makes claims to work with most of the major streaming and casting protocols - and it does - but there are a few quirks and limitations that are difficult for a novice to figure out. How does RAAT differ from AirPlay? What about AirPlay 2 or Chromecast? How about Heos? Can I use WiFi? And even if you manage to set everything up and hear music play, you can run into performance issues, some of which might be due user error, and some of which due to inherent Roon limitations. Roon Server does run on Synology NAS, but, some of those NAS boxes, especially the older ones, are seriously under-powered for advanced Roon functionality, such as synchronizing multiple Hi-Res streams. And then, there’s the “Roon Ready” and “Roon Tested” dichotomy - yet another can of worms. I could go on, but I am sure you all get the picture.
I think Roon needs to find a way to lower the “cost” of entry for novice music lovers. Improving the website would be a start. Perhaps collaborating with a smart evangelist to produce instructional videos, à la John Darko, but focused specifically on Roon? Relying on the community to help newcomers works well, but it is not sufficient, in my opinion.
I think I’d take some issue with this. Roon seems to have done a careful job with Sonos, KEF, AirPlay, and particularly Chromecast protocols, as well. Chromecast works pretty well for non-extreme sampling rates, and I’d say is competitive with RAAT. But if you know something we (the contributors to the thread below) don’t, please add that knowledge to the thread below.