Zones - need DAC I don't have to assemble that works with Ethernet for less than $3000

I am switching over to a whole house digital audio system. Zones are important to me. I want to be able to play music in 4 areas and control it all (meaning selecting what is playing in each zone and controlling the volume) from a phone or iPad without the data running through the mobile device (the mobile device is just the remote control). I’ve looked at jRiver, Twonky, and Roon and I want to use Roon. I am very frustrated at this point. I like the Roon architecture, a DMS that can push the digital files over Ethernet using RAAT to a Roon end point - but where are the end points? It seems most of the “roon ready” DAC’s and DAC/Amps don’t support Ethernet (require USB or digital connections). The whole zones thing is pretty much worthless without the ability to push the data around an Ethernet network (forget wireless - i’d settle for wired).

I’ve read through all the community discussion boards and the only solutions I can see are either hand assembling a raspberry Pi solution (around $200) or buy a $3000 DAC or integrated AMP with a DAC that has Ethernet and is Roon Ready. I am not a programmer and I don’t really want to hand assemble something and I was hoping to be able to get a decent quality Roon ready end point for less than $2000 from a vendor.

In reading your RoonBridge user guide, it seems like I could purchase an inexpensive Windows 7 PC, install RoonBridge on it, and then connect my DAC or Amp/DAC to that via USB and use that as my zone end point. I don’t see any detailed instructions on your website on how to do that. Also, there is some discussion around HQ Player and it is not clear if that would be required on the PC to use it as a Roon end point.

The ideal solution is a powered speaker with a DAC, Ethernet, and Roon Bridge. I would love it if the KEF wireless LS50 was Roon ready, or the Klipsh wireless speakers, or the Definitive wireless speakers. Plug them in, turn them on, Roon recognizes them and your done. It does not sound like that is going to happen any time soon.

Sorry for the long winded discussion. In summary, I don’t see any out of the box Roon ready DAC or DAC/amp combo with Ethernet for less than $3000. Is my best solution a PC with Roon Bridge installed as the zone end point that is then connected to a DAC/AMP via USB? Also, is HQ Player required for that? (I am not interested in the AppleTalk architecture).


Maybe a microrendu connected to a dac? Hoever the assembly for a RPi, with DAC hat and case takes literally minutes. Then just load an image such as dietpi and away you go. You should be up and running within 30 minutes or so.

A complete ecosystem that is or will be Roon Ready is the Bluesound range of products. That is worth a look.

I would suggest a MicroRendu (or a SonicOrbiter), leaves $1000 - $1700 for a DAC, which is quite adequate. (People swoon over the Dragonfly, you can get in $500 - $1000 for the whole endpoint.)

I have both, in addition to bigger and more complex endpoints. I love the little things.

I crave simplicity. Whether you go with a Pi or a PC, there is an ongoing burden of management. The MicroRendu and SonicOrbiter just work.

In fact, I envy your opportunity to set up a simple system from scratch. I had some legacy hardware.

Obvious solutions:
Sonic Orbiter
SOtM SMS-200
Sonore microRendu

These are in the $350 -$700 dollar range and need almost no setup. Roon Ready. Then you have lots of money left over for a DAC. Or several.

HQ Player isn’t necessary. It’s a high end player for people who want to upsample and play with the sound of different filters. Only an add on for those that specifically want it. Not needed in a “regular” setup.

Exasound makes great DACs. The E12 is around $1300; They also make the PP, which is a specialist design Roon endpoint. By all accounts, it is a fantastic combo. The drawback is that the PP only works with Exasound DACs.

As far as other DACs, you can go from the $99 Dragaonfly Black up to mega DACs that go for most of your budget. Other brands to consider that give good value: Meridian, TEAC, and iFi all make relatively inexpensive DACs that are very good.

Here’s an idea.

Schiit makes a couple of dandy multibit DACs.

Are your zones going to have individual separate players, or are there wireless speakers in the different zones, and you want to have a party zone environment with the same music in all rooms?

Hard wiring is best, but you’ll need strong wifi with multiple streams rolling.

I know you say you don’t want to build, but I’d seriously consider going Pi’s with an onboard DAC. Once you’ve done the first one you’ll know how to do the rest, and it’s pretty straightforward - 1/2 hour including setting up the OS (plenty of tutorials and willing helpers here). Then you can connect to any speakers you like.

I use this approach connected to Marshall Acton speakers in secondary rooms, and it gives a decent sound and very hassle free. Actually they’re more robust than my microrendu connected to my main hifi DAC which sometimes loses connection or drops off network.

If I were starting over I’d perhaps consider Bluesound, buttheyre quite expensive for what they are and they don’t look particularly nice IMO (not horrible, but just not ‘cool’). That said the advantage is zero faff and fewer cables etc.

Seeing Bluesounds appear makes me think more will follow, and of course you have Sonos now but with restrictions if you’re using Roon only.

A bunch of sonicorbiters, and simple DACs like Dragonflys as already mentioned is also an option, but you still need speakers. You’re also paying a premium for portability you won’t use.

It’s a nice position to be in… :slight_smile:

I can only concur with Steve, Raspberry Pi are really the way to go.

I was a Pi virgin up to about 8 months ago and now all my 3 systems have a Pi element in them.

It really is much simpler than it can appear when reading about it for the first time. If you can use Windows and lego you can manage a Pi.


I’m smarter than a slide rule on steroids, but also getting old and slowing down.

Can I ask, why is it that if Pi stuff is so easy, there isn’t a decent market in already assembled stuff? If if’s just click, slot, etc. etc. why can’t I just pay someone (say) $50 to do that for me, and send me the finished product?

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Because most people would rather save the 50 dollars.

You mentioned a spare windows 7 pc. All you need to do is download and install RoonBridge. Plug in a DAC (loading any DAC software if needed). Done. The server will just see the Roonbridge PC on the network. Easy to try it out as a test (assuming you already have a spare pc).

Because you have you get the box FCC/UL certified and you don’t have to do any of that for parts.

That costs $10k+


You can pay $50 dollars if you wish but it cannot be done professionally for the reasons stated above. But if you were to ask and specify what you wanted I am sure someone close to you might step up.

Maybe the soon-to-be-released Meridian 218 Zone Controller?

It’s a zone controller, a DAC, will be recognised by Roon as an endpoint, can deal with MQA, has digital & analogue outs and is connected via LAN.

Have you looked at the ELAC Discovery? (There’s a review on FWIW.)

It’s the simplest Roon device to implement I’ve found (in my opinion anyway) and it also works with Tidal if that matters for you. Lets you control multiple zones without the need for any PC. (For me, I just copied my iTunes folder to a USB SSD drive and plugged it into the Discovery USB port.) Has built in DAC with 2 analog outs, also a digital out and an ethernet connection. Also works with Airplay so you can stream music wirelessly to an airplay device as an independent zone (when you do Audio Set-up, it shows all airplay devices it sees and then you click on “Enable” for each one you wish to add.) I believe ELAC also offers powered speakers which can be set-up as additional zones which you can then play to from the Discovery (though you may not wish to have ELAC speakers.)

Anyway, please also note that the Discovery does have several limitations, including:

  • 30k track limit
  • It runs “Roon Essentials” rather than full Roon 1.3, so you do not have all the complete functionality of Roon (I have not used full Roon, so I don’t know exactly what I’m missing, but I think it includes EQ and some additional music search parameters? Probably more as well)
  • sound quality is likely somewhat less than a more dedicated computeraudiophile type set-up, but it still sounds much better (to me) than streaming from iTunes on my MacBook

If the 30k track limit and Roon Essentials (rather than full Roon) are deal-breakers, I’ve read that ELAC has announced a newer higher-end version (the Discovery Q I think) that is meant to be available in a few months. This supposedly will have full Roon and no track limit. (I am debating whether or not I want to upgrade, myself. At the moment, I’m about to experiment with connecting a microRendu to the Discovery and running it to my main system to see what happens to sound quality.)

Hope that helps. Just another possible option.

Buy a gently used PS Audio DS Jr. They list for $4K so used I bet they can be had for about half that or so. Great Dac. There is one on Audiogon right now for under $2700. Comes with a Bridge II and is Roon Ready.

If you don’t care about MQA the Meridian MS200 is a good option. There will be plenty for sale S/H once the 218 hits the market.

What sort of price bracket is the 218 likely to be in?


Ah, that makes perfect sense. Thanks very much.

sMS-200 and LH Lab Puilse-Infinity are both Roon certified and it will cost you <$3k. Both provide clean, transparent sound, with excellent imaging if a flat passive speaker monitor is used. ROCK can also be added on a $500 NUC.

Thanks so much for all the suggestions! This gives me enough to chew on for now. I’m really looking forward to working with Roon and watching it develop as a standard.