Living alone under lockdown can be challenging. Thankfully I have Roon / Spotify / Radio… Music has never felt more important actually. No idea how much longer we will be stuck inside here in the UK so I have decided to expand / add end points (beyond the 2 I currently use). This made me realise … it is not so simple.
No doubt Roon sounds great. I love it (despite quirks) but … here is my thought / question: Going forward with expanding whole home audio (zones in sync), is it risky to rely on Roon-Bluesound exclusively?
To elaborate on this question a bit: I like to play music on multiple end points around the house. I set the main hifi on a reasonable (medium) volume level and then set other endpoints at a lower (background) level. I can enjoy the main hifi and still have music ‘follow’ me as I move around my place.
Raspberry Pi based end points are great (most reliable in my experience) when space is available but they require cables, psu, external speaker etc. This does not work for smaller spaces like a bedroom / bathroom etc. My Bluesound Flex 2i works well for that purpose but my experience with Bluesound has been bumpy. In addition (in my system at least), I find it only works with powerline ethernet. As far as I am aware, Roon has officially certified the last gen of Bluesound products but please correct me if I am wrong.
So here are the options:
Expand using more Bluesound end points (e.g. Flex 2i) and hope it all works out (syncing all zones, reliability and stability)
I love the sound (Roon / Tital => Bluesound endpoints) but this solution feels a bit risky to me. Going from currently 2 Bluesound endpoints to about 4… Should I?
Split the system. This is probably the solution I see many have employed. For example i see quite a few use sonos around the house but also employ 1 or 2 RAAT enabled endpoints. This means having an ‘easy’ whole home solution with Sonos speakers dotted around and a RAAT endpoint for higher quality listening. I used to own and love Sonos for many years but in recent years I found the sound ‘flavour’ quite fatiguing (especially Sonos One, 5 etc.).
More drastic system split. This option would probably mean using Roon on my main hifi exclusively. Whole home audio would then be served using Airplay 2 enabled speakers around the house, probably in conjunction with Apple Music or Spotify (via Airplay 2). This solution may be easier (?) for whole home audio but the way I listen to music means i would have to limit my use of Roon. Apple Music would essentially take over the majority of listening. It feels less risky though as I find Airplay 2 / Apple Music works reliably and with greater ease of use. I find that Apple Music via Airplay 2 sounds a little worse than Spotify (at least though my Bluesound speakers) and clearly worse compared to Roon / Tidal.
So… what do you think?
Apologies for rambling
I also enjoy a whole house synchronized listening experience and want to get the most out of my Roon investment. Like you I’m also an Apple user and like to have the convenience of AirPlay for certain things.
My advice would be to look for devices that include both Roon’s RAAT technology and Apple’s AirPlay 2. This in my mind gives you maximum flexibility in selecting your audio source and combination of speakers/endpoints that can be synchronized together for multi-zone listening.
There are not many products that do both, but there are some.
I went with the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Flex. I have two in my kitchen set up as a stereo pair, and one in my bathroom. I also have a Node 2i connected via toslink to my KEF LS50W main system. Although the KEFs are Roon “capable” on their own, they do not have RAAT or AirPlay (1 or 2). With the Node 2i, I can use Roon OR Apple AirPlay 2 to mix and match any of these speaker combinations together. I can also choose to listen to high resolution music (24 bit / 96 kHz max) via Roon, or a podcast, YouTube, etc. via AirPlay to any or all of them.
RAAT + AirPlay 2 = “win win”
I have (and still have) several endpoints from different manufacturers in addition to my ‘maiin’ system.
The results have been frustrating but I think improving. For a secondary (and primary for that matter) consistent availability is very high on the list of requirements. Here are some thoughts:
KEF LSX ethernet connected: disconnects frequently from both Roon and their app. Have to unplug to get it to return. Also, not Roon Ready so cannot join a group.
Elac Discovery, wifi: works fine for a while and then disconnects often before it settles down. I finally moved it out off the kitchen, tired of plugging and unplugging.
BlueSound Flex: used to disconnect all of the time, which is why I bought the Elac. Attached via wifi. Has not become very stable and was returned to the kitchen to replace the Elac. They seem to have this system working properly.
BTW, the wired dcs Rossini in the main system is also rock solid. Almost never flakes.
Obviously many other factors are important, but fiddliing with a disconnected system was never my idea of fun.
System otherwise is a ROCK NUC with various controllers including android phone, tablet and a IPAD pro for the main listening room.
Recent updates to Roon seem to have improved the Android connectivity which was also a frustration. Connection is still slow but rarely requires an application restart.
Final comment, I do have a complex network setup with vlans which I want to maintain for overall network integrity. I know Roon recommends simple networks but with multiple uses, network management is important.
opps correction; the bluesound has Now become stable, instead of Not become stable. Sorry
Great suggestion Al, out of curiosity what do yo use Airplay 2 for? Spotify or something else?
Running speaker wires and getting a slave amp would probably be cheaper and everything would always be in sync.
Totally agree this would be both stable and reliable (especially with an Rpi as Roon end point)… problem is there are areas at home where limited space makes this less practical.
With speaker wires there is no endpoint. Just speakers. The slave amp is fed by your roon endpoint wherever it is. Wires in the wall take up no space, and speakers can be mounted on a wall, in a wall, or in the ceiling. Of course, all of that is easier if done when the house is originally built, but it’s doable after, just a little harder.
I use AirPlay 2 for podcasts and internet radio stations that are not available through Roon (example: iHeart Radio stations, my LiveXLive radio subscription, etc.). You certainly could use it with Spotify though.
I say AirPlay “2”, because that is what you need to group and synchronize AirPlay devices to play together outside of Roon. Roon allows you to group any AirPlay devices together for synchonized playback (which is great!), but then you are limited to only content that’s available through Roon and to 16 bit 48 kHz streaming which is the maximum for AirPlay.
So in a nutshell, Roon for all serious music listening and AirPlay for podcasts, some internet radio stations, Pandora, etc.
I’ve had no drop outs, disconnects or any other problems with my Formation Flex speakers. I have a Nucleus running my Roon core, and an Eero mesh wifi system in my home.
Knock on wood that it all continues without issues…