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Roon: for the hardware you have, not the hardware you have to buy

With Roon Core running on a server – any PC/Mac or QNAP/Synology NAS – we can stream music to Roon Ready to devices like the AURALiC Polaris, the PS Audio DirectStream DAC, the Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty, HiFi Berry and IQAudiO, all via the company’s in-house designed (and asynchronous) RAAT protocol. Roon’s hardware partners now number sixty (60!). The point? Roon is an elegant, audiophile-centric music library manager and network streamer.

However, Roon also dreams of mainstream acceptance. With full AirPlay compatibility baked into its code, it will stream audio to an Apple TV, Airport Express or any other AirPlay-equipped device. It will stream to legacy Squeezeboxen. It will stream to any other PC or Mac running Roon. With the advent of Roon v1.3 it will stream music to any Sonos device.

Straddling the audiophile and mainstream worlds sits Bluesound. Each of their eleven streamers and wireless loudspeakers are Roon Ready — any one of them would happily stand in for a Sonos device.

At the Berlin DARhaus, there isn’t a single system that cannot talk to the Intel NUC running Roon Core from the kitchen: a pair of Sonos Play:1 in the bedroom; an AURALiC Aries Mini (via AirPlay) in the upstairs headphone station; a Sonore microRendu and an 11″ MacBook Air that front the office headphone system; an Apple TV Gen 4 in the lounge (with the TV splitting out digital audio via TOSLINK); a PS Audio Network Bridge II and a Wyred 4 Sound-modded Sonos Connect in the main rig. Talk about comprehensive coverage!

Roon Labs aren’t blind to their growth potential. Steve Silberman, formerly of AudioQuest and Ayre Acoustics, was recently appointed as Roon’s VP of Sales and Marketing.

In his new role at Roon, Silberman “will be charged with with expanding Roon’s presence in the dealer and distribution channel.”  That’s Roon’s press release talking.

Here’s more: “In addition to working closely with dealers and distributors, Roon Labs expects to leverage Silberman’s product development experience and knowledge as the Roon Ready program continues to expand to an ever-wider range of audio partners.”

From the man himself: Roon has become a household name among computer audiophiles, but the partnerships we’ve built with our Roon Ready program mean that Roon can now be a valuable tool for retailers and integrators as well. It’s our goal to introduce new systems and programs that will allow our partnership experience to be more fluid, dynamic and profitable for our partners.”

With Silberman settling into his new role, Michael Lavorgna (of AudioStream) and I thought it an appropriate time to hit up Silberman and co. with a few questions about Roon and their future plans. Lavorgna’s Q&A will land on AudioStream in due course.

Coming up frequently among DAR readers is the issue of Roon’s pricing structure: US$119/year or US$499 for a lifetime subscription.

DAR: Why does Roon cost more than other music players?

Roon: Roon costs more than other music players because it’s much more than just an “app”. An app is a standalone piece of software that can be developed by an individual or a small team. Roon is an ecosystem consisting of apps, protocols, cloud services, and a network of partnerships with nearly a hundred companies.

Let’s start with metadata, which in many ways forms the foundation of the Roon experience. We aggregate some crowd-sourced metadata, but we license most of our metadata from commercial sources, which costs real money per user, per year. We designed and built cloud infrastructure to distribute metadata and software updates, we host it at Amazon for reliability and performance, and we have a senior engineer dedicated exclusively to the operation and enhancement of those systems and the services they provide. No other player app even offers this caliber of content identification, and certainly not with the metadata Roon provides.

We build all our software for Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux. All those versions are released in lock-step with every build we release, and we maintain feature parity between all of them (with the exception of a small number of platform-specific technical constraints). No other player app even attempts a deployment model of this scope.

Next, we have the Roon Ready program. We designed the RAAT protocol, built an SDK to provide to partners, and have relationships with over 60 brands that have Roon Ready implementations done or in progress. We support each one of those brands in their engineering efforts, and then offer a rigorous testing and approval process to each device submitted for Roon Ready certification so that all users get the same stellar experience. No other player app even has a streaming protocol, let alone audio brands working with them to build an ecosystem.

But it isn’t just how much it costs to make Roon and operate the infrastructure on which it depends. On the other end of the price spectrum, look at iTunes. Apple spends orders of magnitude more than Roon Labs on developing, testing, and maintaining iTunes, and yet it appears to be free. Of course, nothing is actually free; Apple gives iTunes away because it’s a feature of a $1,000 phone and a computer that can cost up to $5,000. Maybe most importantly, it’s the portal to a content/app store that grossed nearly $30 billion in 2016.

Lastly, just compare Roon’s user-facing features to other player apps. We set the bar very high, and we work hard to make it look easy. We’re a tiny team compared to Apple/Google/Microsoft, but we hold ourselves to the same standards those companies do.

The reality is that we’re a team that is dedicated to making listening into a genuinely delightful experience, both sonically, aesthetically, and intellectually. When you pay for Roon, you aren’t buying an app… you’re paying for the dedication of a team of music lovers who are committed to earning your money year after year. This was the reason we chose an annual subscription as our pricing model; it means our users will just go elsewhere if we don’t keep innovating and improving constantly, which is exactly what we want to be doing.

Useful analogies can be found in many other product and service categories, but consider premium foods. When you pay extra for microbrew beer, hand-roasted coffee, or artisanal cheese, you’re making a decision about the extra level of dedication and effort that goes into making those products, and you’re saying that the superior quality is worth it to you. You can easily buy cheap mass-market equivalents if it’s not.

DAR: The audiophile world is only so big. Are you guys content serving only we audio nerds or do you intend to reach a broader audience? If so, how?

Roon: Roon is for people who love music. Whether they identify as audiophile or not, people who love music also care about how it sounds, so we don’t really see these as mutually exclusive things the way others might.

At launch Roon was available only as a desktop app, meaning that it was accessible only to computer audiophiles, or people comfortable having a PC+DAC at the center of their music system. The strategy behind our partner programs (Roon Ready network players, Roon Tested DACs, Roon Core servers, and NAS-based Roon Cores) is to provide our users with a wide variety of choice, and to provide a consistently great experience at the same time.

This also means Roon can be available to a broader audience of listeners.

We believe that Roon’s approach to interacting with music is something that appeals to more than just audiophiles, and we’re committed to exploring new ways to deliver that experience for different markets. The ELAC Discovery is a great example: by including our Roon Essentials software, it provides the Roon experience (minus many of the audio and power user features) in an affordable, widely-accessible product.

Our commitment to supporting mass-market streaming technologies like Sonos, AirPlay, and Squeezebox is another indicator of our commitment to  all music-loving customers and use cases. It’s true that Roon Ready devices give you multi-room, high-resolution synchronized streaming, but that isn’t a requirement for everyone. By supporting the products that customers already own, we constantly strive to make Roon more useful to more people.

Both of these concepts (more choices for Core hardware and more support for audio devices of all kinds) are trends that will continue. For the first time, we’re seeing people with just an iMac or all-in-one PC and a few Sonos speakers using Roon, and we consider this a sign that we’re doing something right for music lovers outside of the hardcore computer-audiophile set.

DAR: Would it be fair to say that Tidal is Roon’s Achilles heel? Any plans to broaden the range of compatible streaming services? Qobuz, Deezer for audiophiles. SoundCloud and Bandcamp for the rest of us?

Roon: We chose TIDAL as our streaming partner when we launched in 2015 because they had the two things we considered absolutely necessary: lossless streaming and availability in a broad range of countries. In addition to our great relationship with their founding team, those factors made them the best fit for Roon, our values, and the customers we serve. At the time, Qobuz was in an uncertain situation and was focused only on Western Europe, which remains the case. Deezer had just launched their lossless Deezer Elite service, but in the US it was available exclusively on Sonos.

Of course we want our customers to have choices, and we’re constantly evaluating options for providing those choices. Because we don’t just do stock API-based integrations of music services, getting ramped up with other streaming partners takes more commercial and technical effort than it might for other software players. We’re in discussions with several potential partners and expect that other services will be available in Roon in the future.

Roon’s ability to stream to audiophile- and mass market devices, to deliver advanced features to power users, to look beautiful and behave elegantly, means we get a user experience with one foot already outside the audiophile bubble. I call that Future-Fi.

Further information: Roon Labs

Comments are welcomed below but readers are heartily encouraged to keep them on topic: Roon.

Written by John H. Darko

John H. Darko

John is the editor/publisher of DAR from which he derives an income from its ad revenues. John is also an occasional contributor to 6moons and AudioStream and lives in Berlin, Germany.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

32 Comments

  1. I love Roon (currently on a trial) because it allows me to interact with my collection (sitting on a Bluesound Vault 2) in a way no other interface does. It’s a great user experience. My dilemma is where to run the core? I don’t like having my laptop running all the time, and a tablet isn’t powerful enough. I suspect I’ll end up with a headless solution, but may have to wait until ROCK is released.

  2. The Roon response in justification of the extraordinarily high cost made sense while they were small and targeting a smaller number of niche users.
    As they look to grow (which they clearly are!) then the economics of scale will come into play. To have any chance of achieving this, they *must* move to a pricing model that makes more sense to more mainstream users. I am quite confident that there is a large number of potential users (myself included) who like what they see and trialled, but for whom the benefits don’t come close to the cost. Charging as a service makes good sense, but it has to come in some considerable way cheaper than a typical streaming service cost. Then I am all in.

      • I am sorry, but I do not understand why people are happy to spend their money on hardware, but are not willing to pay a larger sum of money on game changing software. IMHO half of the pleasure in listening music on a good system is in the interface between you and the hardware. Many big audio companies, Linn and Devialet come to mind, have mediocre apps. Why are some not willing to pay for Roon which makes the enjoyment of a system great-although it is “just” software?

        • Folks are getting there, albeit slowly. For the same reason that people like their music on physical media, it’s easier to make a value-proposition with hardware – something that is tangible, can be held, moved, and ultimately, shown off on a shelf.

          • Ignoring the lifetime subscription, Roon is really ‘only’ $10/month for the annual subscription. Sure, there are ‘cheaper’ options and I’ve tried many of them, but Roon is the one that stuck for me. As long as they keep fixing bugs and adding features, I think Roon is worth every bit of $10/month.

  3. I find Roon absolutely indispensable these days. I resisted for a while as I thought it might be just another audiophile fad, but once I actually tried it, I was hooked… and I haven’t looked back. Easy multi-room audio, tons of compatible devices, excellent interface, and now a bunch of sound tweaking options thanks to the new 1.3 update – what’s not to love?

  4. Though I currently run Roon Core on a MacMini, I too look forward to ROCK so that I’m not at the mercy of having potentially competing software vendors on my hardware. And I fully expect ROCK, as a purpose built software environment, to be the best it can be as a purpose-built music server.

  5. I got a Blusound Flex this week because it was Roon Ready and integration couldn’t have been easier. Other than using a web browser to enter wifi password and letting the speaker reboot with a software update (done automatically)’ it immediately was seen by Roon. I haven’t even had to download the Bluesound app to my phone.

  6. Mac Minis are available on well-known auction sites for under £400 and make good Core locations.

  7. Is it me or did they avoid answering about soundcloud and bandcamp? Great interview tho, It has opened my eyes to how much effort they want to put into future proofing Roon. For me personaly no soundcloud is and always wil be a dealbreaker tho.

    • I agree wholeheartedly that Soundcloud, Spotify and others needs to be addressed. I consider myself an audiophile but there is a lot of music I listen too that is only available on Soundcloud. Like most computer audiophiles we stream our music to a DNLA endpoint. In my case a Sonore Microrendu. Currently there are two options for doing this. Logitec Media Center and the their Squeeze server option. Unfortunately while this enviroment allows the use of Tidal, Soundcloud, Spotify within the Logitec environment the interface for these is terrible. The other option is the use of Linn Songcast which acts as a virtual soundcard sending all desktop sounds to a DNLA device. Great in concept but an extremely bug filled frustrating bit of software.

      The only response from Roon on the integration of Soundcloud is that it would be difficult to do due to something about how the streams are delivered. Their problem is that they do not feel they could capitalise on Roons ability to seamlessly integrate this into their environment.

      Perhaps they can but in the meantime if Roon could launch a virtual soundcard similar to Songcast which would send desktop sounds through Roon using there RAAT protocol to Roon endpoints this would be a perfectly acceptable solution. We could listen to our favorite streaming services with the web interfaces we have come to love. This would avoid having to log on to my Microrendu and switch the software to accept a different render profile.

      This seems like a simple solution to keeping everyone happy while Roon works on how to integrate other popular streaming services into their environment.

      If this is something that would make Roon more valuable to you as well please get on their forums and let them know.

      https://community.roonlabs.com/t/soundcloud-mixcloud-streaming/11401/3

  8. It’s great to hear that Mr. Silberman has landed at Roon, another fantastic company. He’s got quite the resume. I’m excited to see what he can bring to Roon in this new role. I have learned a lot from the online recordings of his Computer Audio seminars and I think he’s one of the more articulate ambassadors for this segment. Best of luck, Steve! I hope to see your input on the Roon forum from time to time.

  9. Love Roon!!! It literally addressed 95% of my Tidal feature wishlist. In fact I just helped set up a good friend with a Roon account yesterday. I would however like to see an iOS Roon Core happen. Having to depend on either a laptop or desktop to serve as a core, absent a dedicated Roon Core Enabled component, is inelegant IMHO. It would be far preferable to use an iPad as both remote and core. One other feature that I’d love to see are album collections, apart from favorites (which contain all your favorites.) Lets say I wanted to create a collection my top 100 albums, another of my newest jazz albums, etc. etc. Playlists are ok but you lose the whole “album” experience and are instead left with a list of a billion songs. Additionally, internet radio really needs to be fleshed out in a more full featured way. Apps like Lightning DS feature internet radio amenities such as locale searches, favorites, Tunein Radio integration, etc. At this writing Roon’s internet radio implementation is bare bones, requiring that you enter a URL for your desired radio stations. Again inelegant and annoying as the software doesn’t come cheap and a full blown internet radio feature set seem like basic and widely available technology. If the desire is for Roon to have more mainstream appeal this is kind of a must have. Hoping these things are in the near term pipeline. Keep up the great work Roon team!!!

  10. I have a Mac mini that is strictly used for a Roon Core. I added a 1TB SSD and it smoking fast. Backs up to a 1TB HDD also inside the MAC Mini. My iPhone and iPad let me control it. What’s not to like? I’m new to Roon though (less than 60 days), but I think it blows away Pure Music and Audirvana. So much more thought put into the design. iTunes should look at this. This is what they have done.

    I have not dipped my toes into to Tidal yet, as I have almost half a terabyte to listen to of my own rips.
    Interesting to read how Roon customers are using Tidal which blends with Roon.

    It seems John borrowed Schiit’s saying in the Title exchanging “Music” for the word Hardware …;-)

  11. Sorry to put in a downer, but the Roon – Sonos is still problematic. There is also a certain stubbornness and inflexibility about which cover art can be used. JRiver sounds as good if not better.

  12. I adopted Roon early and often expressed frustrations with its heavy handed approach to controlling metadata. Things are better. Now I have two licenses and have gifted two. Why? It really does work better than anything else as a music browser/player – not a library manager. Why not? For all the success with certain high end companies, Roon adoption is surprisingly sparse in the more established network audio player market. Roon have adopted many other standards but always refused to adopt UPnP, for reasons which I can understand but seem odd when the audio limitations of AirPlay, for example, are no impediment to integration. Tidal integration is exceptional, but not my thing. I never doubt that the Roon team want what I want: great, reliable, elegant network audio. I just wish that more of the brands I know and trust were willing to adopt Roon.

  13. Thank you John for yet another solid article, intriguing subject and product.
    Q: is there any sensible way to run Roon without a core/server? My main listening is through Tidal on a Bluesound Node, so the server seems rather pointless right?
    Oh and indeed 120 a year seems a bit of a stretch, 10 a month would probably be acceptable

  14. I’m really enjoying Roon. I finally signed up for the trial a few weeks ago when I heard from Silberman that he was there. I’m now an annual member and really digging the interface (I’m running the core on my Mac mini), iOS interface and easy AppleTV connection for multi-room. Since I already had a Tidal subscription, this was a no-brainer.

    Nice article John.

  15. I like Roon but if Spotify provides red book streaming I would probably cancel Tidal and Roon and revert to Spotify GUI.

  16. I use Roon for 16 month and it was the best investment I ever did in regards of audio .Used some other apps >Decibel and >
    Audirvana Plus but Roon is better in many ways and the Price is justified . Looking forward for even better improvements

  17. The idea of Roon is great, and its a forerunner of what you will find in streaming services eventually for their own catalogues, better rich metadata, links out to bio’s and stuff, excellent. But there are two problems, Roon won’t (sorry, isn’t able) to link with Qobuz because Qobuz won’t countenance the deep integration they require. Yet Lightning DS for Auralic and Audirvana manage close enough integration to make using their app with Qobuz both useful and enjoyable. So problem one is the integration Roon insist upon.

    Problem number two is eventually, if a streaming service is to survive and differentiate itself from its competition it must provide an interface of its own that users will recognise and like – this is it’s brand – otherwise people will just use Roon or Auralic or whatever and which streaming service you use becomes irrelevant (providing it has access to enough music of course).

    So, as those with their own vast library become less and less, and streaming becomes more commonplace – what of Roon then? Looks to me like Roon are showing streaming services the way to go with metadata, so I would have thought they need to build a business model with those streaming services pretty pronto before the services simply pinch all their ideas!

    • “Roon won’t (sorry, isn’t able) to link with Qobuz because Qobuz won’t countenance the deep integration they require.” <--- got a source for this insight?

      • I concur with the view posted having seen it as the position articulated several times by Danny Dulai and team on the Roon forum. I won’t go pasting his comments in another forum but over there they got so sick of repeating the same mantra they shut down threads requesting qobuz.

        • This is why I think a virtual soundcard similar to Songcast that would send all desktop music via Roon is the short term solution. Better yet would be the ability to open a Chromium window inside Roon ala Jriver. However it would need to work for streaming services which JRivers window, at least in build 20, doesnt do very well.

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