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Pre-Disclosure: I’m an active, paying Roon Labs subscriber (annual subscription) so my article is based on my personal experiences with the Roon Labs service and its applications.
I’ve probably mentioned it a thousand times and I won’t stop telling folks how I think Roon Labs is THE easiest to use and most elegant music streaming architecture on the market bar none. It works so well, you simply forget the computer stuff that makes all of this tick. But for newbies visiting the Roon Labs website opens Pandora’s box with more questions popping up. So I decided to put together a small recipe for easy success.
If you don’t know WHAT Roon is, please check out their website.
What You Need To Get Started
Besides a Roon Labs license plus DAC and your audio system – you can choose between annual and lifetime Roon subscriptions (which are costly but worth it in my opinion if you are in it for the long term) – at the least you essentially need a server for the Roon application and ideally a remote control so you can kick back and relax. This could be an iPad or an Android tablet. Roon runs well on both. If you’ve got no tablet, a smartphone will do.
Ingredient No 1: Roon Server
Roon software is available as a fully integrated server/playback client or as a standalone server package for “headless” installation. Roon Server is the beast that crunches the data and hosts your music library. Ideally , you would keep your actual music collection separate on a NAS. Almost anything can be turned into a Roon Server starting from a current laptop up to powerful desktop machine running in your basement. Roon Server runs also on more powerful Intel processor based NAS boxes such as from Synology or QNAP. You don’t need to worry about the OS itself as Roon Server runs on Linux, Windows or MAC OS. What you do need to consider though are the power requirements: Roon needs a reasonably fast machine to shine – ideally with an SSD and plenty of RAM. And that machine needs to be on all the time – at least when you’re listening to music. Forget any low-powered computers because they won’t work here. Roon’s philosophy is to constantly add to their feature set such as digital room correction. I would expect the minimum system requirements to rise in the future.
The following machines are suitable and proven candidates for your Roon server taking into account performance, power consumption and your music library’s size:
- Intel NUC (SSD and 8GB or more RAM recommended)
- Apple Mac Mini (SSD and 8GB or more RAM recommended)
- Powerful laptop or desktop PC
If you want to spend less money or prefer a less energy consuming solution, check out the Intel Compute Stick for smaller libraries (500-100 CDs). I haven’t personally tried this yet but some users at least considered it usable.
Roon recently released their own system software that was designed to run on the Intel NUC so you generally might want to build a system around the NUC.
Ingredient No 2: Roon Bridge
Yet another computer that would connect to your DAC and receive its music stream from Roon Server. Fortunately, Roon Bridge can be a lightweight computer such as the Raspberry PI with a Linux distribution of your choice. I personally use DietPI which is fantastic and lets you set up the whole thing in about 10 minutes! If you’ve got more cash to spend, you can also choose from dozens of readily available streamers by audio manufacturers that can act as a Roon Bridge such as the ones from Auralic, T+A, Melco, Burmester, NAD or Bluesound. Many of these also come with a DAC which is great if you want an all-in-one solution.
Ingredient No 3: Roon Remote
Finally you need something to browse your music library and interact with Roon. Roon Remote is your visual “front-end” to your library. Roon Labs offers apps for iOS and Android. For greater comfort I highly recommend a tablet even though a smartphone would do just fine. I’ve had great success turning my Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8 into a full Roon Remote and the whole thing costs less than 100 bucks. If you want to go this route, you need to install the Google Play Store or sideload an Android APK. Even a good old-fashioned laptop can run as a remote control although many audiophiles would rather not have something sitting on their lap while listening.
Roon is a fantastic product with a great eco-system. But it isn’t and probably won’t ever be cheap. If price is an issue, familiarize yourself with a Raspberry PI setup that sounds just as good, costs nearly nothing but requires some tweaking.
How do you personally use Roon? Let me know so I can keep this guide up to date.
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